4 Ways to work smarter, not harder

You’re contemplating taking the dive and setting up your own business, or perhaps you have already. It’s no more 9 to 5, you’re setting your own timelines, you are your own performance review. Your days now vary from being highly productive to highly disruptive. If you’re like me, the thought of doing anything non-work related between 9 to 5 makes you anxious, yet you then end up working all day and throughout the weekend. I’ve come to realise that not only is this ridiculous, it’s also unsustainable!

So what’s the key to settling into the lifestyle of an entrepreneur? Here are some tips I’ve used to help me.

1. Create a project plan

To get somewhere, you have to know where you are going. Your mind is probably running a mile a minute, and you have to lay out a plan to make sure how, and when, you can make those dreams possible.

As a business owner, you should be pretty clear as to what you are going to offer and to whom. You must be very clear on your vision, especially in year one, as to what the product offering is, and an in-depth insight into who your ideal customers are. What do you need to accomplish to get there? Laying out a 12 month, top-level plan will help you see what your year looks like (is it realistic?), the lead time needed for projects, and will allow you to figure out what your priorities are i.e.,. when you need to start planning trips, conferences, vacations, etc. Being clear on your vision and why you’re taking this leap will be the light at the end of the tunnel when days are a bit dark.

2. Set realistic timelines

As new business owners, the amount of work that we could do is limitless. Often we can get caught up in this, and 80 hour weeks become the norm, weekends become “workends”, and family time, social life or exercise become nice to have things that only 9 to 5ers get. Right? Wrong! Yes, we have a lot to do to reach our goals and get those hard earned dollars coming in. But this lifestyle is not sustainable, and it’s not healthy.

With your project plan giving you the outline, break each project down into small bite size chunks, so you know what you need to do by when. I have started to adopt a weekly checklist of “actionables”, so I know what I need to focus on for that week. It helps. Before this, I was doing a little bit of everything and therefore, accomplishing nothing. It’s time for you to work smarter, not harder.

3. Good Focus

Old habits die hard, so start working on good ones. Email, both a blessing and a curse, can creep into our day-to-day tasks and kill off our productivity like the plague, slowly but surely. When you’re working on a task, work on that one task. Turn off email alerts, messaging and block social media sites if you don’t have that kind of self-control. Don’t even answer the phone – if it’s important they will leave a message (unless you know it’s an emergency – there are exceptions to every rule). I have adopted a practice I picked up from Timothy Ferris, where I set a timer to 40 minutes and have that time to work on a task. When the 40 minutes is up, I take a 15-minute break (email, social media, snack), and then repeat. I currently have 25 minutes left to finish this piece!

Learn to focus on the present. Give 100% to everything you are doing, it will come out in the quality of your work. You and your clients deserve that kind of attention.

4. Flexible priorities

I want to stress one thing. Having a plan, tasks, timelines, and focus are daily practices, but you are not shackled to them. As an entrepreneur in a very fast paced world, you have to be able to adapt. I have witnessed many entrepreneurs fail because they were so set on a path, they couldn’t see the world around them change from under them. In other words, they were so insulated, they couldn’t see the wood from the trees. Don’t fall into that trap.

What makes a successful business? People who buy from it. Your focus starting out is your customers. Market research is great, but tangible research is better. Talk to your customers, talk to people you hadn’t considered to be customers, play around on social networks to see what people are saying about your industry, engage online (one of the greatest gifts to businesses today is the ability, in real time, to talk to your audience), blog, attend events; basically get out of that great ‘work from home’ space you’ve created. If no one is interested in what you’re building, you may have to get used to a 9 to 5 again – and we both know that’s not an option.

The world is churning new entrepreneurs by the second; we are the game changers and satisfaction seekers who want to make the world a better place. This is amazing and makes the future incredibly exciting, but also makes the entrepreneur space even more competitive. If you’ve taken the plunge, congrats, but be ready to be on your toes. Don’t fall into the trap of working 24/7 as this will not give you the competitive edge; this comes from knowing your customers, putting in quality time, with quality work as an output, and being agile to the rapidly changing market, so you stay ahead. Make sure you can always see the wood.