In the world of an entrepreneur, there is always a battle for time. There never seems to be enough of it in a day, between trying to reach your personal and business goals, taking care of your family and yourself, and responding to events in your business, often in the form of putting out fires. When I begin to lose control of my time and it gets eaten up not by the activities I had planned but by the things that come up during the day or week, that’s when I start to feel a sense of burnout.
Unfortunately, burnout is a very real problem most entrepreneurs have to face at some point in their careers. And while it’s a multifaceted problem with many causes that can’t be addressed with any single solution, one of the best ways to treat burnout—and avoid it in the first place—is to maintain control over your time.
Beware of Schedule Creep
As a business leader, if you tried to solve every problem yourself, you’d never end up getting any of your own important work done—the work that goes into growing your business and achieving your goals. I’ve found that as soon as I begin to think of my time as malleable and solving problems as they arise in my business, I become much less productive and even less effective at making decisions.
I call this phenomenon schedule creep. It happens to all of us in one way or another as we begin to add things to our schedules a little bit at a time without stepping back to account for how much time all those extra tasks add up to. It often occurs in the moments in which we decide to take care of something that will only take a few minutes, which may cause us to get side-tracked from the work that really matters.
What Gets Scheduled Gets Done
The most powerful tool I’ve discovered for combatting schedule creep, and therefore burnout, is to create strong boundaries around structuring my time. I use a calendar tool to do this, and I recommend that you also use some kind of visual time-blocking tool as well. The rules around my time are this: If a task needs to get done, it goes on my calendar with an appropriate amount of time blocked out to complete it. If a task isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t get done.
Calendar blocking has proved much more effective for me than creating a task list because it puts parameters around each task and defines when I switch from one task to another, allowing me to focus on that task alone rather than an entire list allows me to focus more effectively. Yes, there does have to be some level of flexibility to deal with the unexpected, but you can put rules in place for how those situations are handled as well. The majority of the fires I put out in my business are solved by placing them on my calendar. And because I take this approach, I have the brain power available to handle truly urgent situations when they arise.
Steps to be More Productive
Here are a few tips to help you structure your time and create boundaries for a more productive schedule:
Accept all the help you can get.
While it’s important for leaders to put their team ahead of themselves and help their teams wherever they can, the best leaders are also able to accept help just as often. You cannot grow your business all by yourself, and you’ll get much more done with the power of your team working alongside you. That often means giving up some level of control over tasks that don’t require your expertise and delegating whatever you’re able to delegate. If you do this well, your business will grow much more quickly as you delegate tasks to people with the skills to execute those tasks even better than you could. It may be nerve-wracking, but it’s also important to trust your team members enough to delegate problem-solving where appropriate.
Create a priority system and boundaries for problem-solving.
In order to effectively delegate problem-solving, your team needs to understand what problems should be brought to you and what they should use their own judgment to solve. Of course, these problems will be unique to your business and industry, but it’s also a good idea to keep the criteria simple and empower your team to solve problems on the level they arise. Then, create a system to add problems worthy of your expertise to your calendar as well as a system for when your schedule should be interrupted to put out a truly urgent fire.
Prioritize your productive time.
What time of the day do you find that you’re most productive? Some people find they’re very effective late at night while others do their best work right after breakfast. If you know when your brain power is at its highest, that’s a great time to block off on your calendar for your most difficult or focus-intensive work. Don’t waste that time of day responding to emails or sitting in meetings. Analyze your schedule around your productivity time.
I recommend actually running a test to evaluate your best productivity time. It’s possible that your most productive time isn’t the time you think it is. Try doing the same intensive task at four different times during the day, repeating the same time block for several days at a time, and take notes about what you accomplish. Even if you’re right about when your brain power is highest, it’ll be valuable to know when it’s second-highest and also when it’s lowest to help you maximize your schedule.
Craft your schedule around your goals.
Goals are a very important part of growing your business and growing personally, and when you’re burned out or wrapped up in putting out fires all the time, it can be easy to forget about your goals or even forget to create them in the first place. It’s a good idea to schedule regular goal check-ins for you to reflect on what you wish to accomplish, whether you’re on track, and if your goals need to be adjusted. Then check your schedule—are the actions you need to take to reach those goals adequately reflected in your daily or weekly time blocks? If you’re not regularly scheduling time to work toward your goals, you’re not going to achieve them. Remember, what gets scheduled gets done.
Enhancing control over your time is one of the best skills an entrepreneur can develop in order to succeed because it allows you to improve your performance on every level. By creating space in your day to focus on the tasks that are most important, you give your brain a break from the chaos of constantly responding to new problems and allow yourself to become more effective at the tasks you complete. Ultimately, this will help you become happier and more fulfilled as you reach your goals and create more time for what matters most to you. You alone have the power to control schedule creep and prevent burnout.