As I enter my fifth year of full time entrepreneurship there are two things I’ve found to be universally true: there will never be enough hours in the day to finish everything I had set out to accomplish, and I will never get to the bottom of my To Do list.
A good meditation practice helps with accepting this (and, if you don’t have time to meditate, see below).
Since overwhelm and burnout are frequent challenges for small business owners, I’m sharing a few of the hard-learned tricks that help me get through the day and unplug at night.
Last year I (finally) implemented two things that have absolutely transformed my work experience.
Meeting Hours: between all the various aspects of my business and nonprofit I could be in meetings basically all day for the rest of my life. Building relationships and having conversations are both really important parts of entrepreneurship (and life) but can also start to interfere with all the other work that needs to be done too, leaving very little time and space for long projects and creative projects (and I need time and space for both). I finally figured out how to put some boundaries around this endless meeting situation and set up a Calendly page where brands, clients, and partners can schedule a time to speak with me or meet with me on 1 of the 3 days when I take meetings. Then, the rest of the week I can focus on everything else!
Email Hours: I used to think that I could never get to the end of my inboxes (probably because I couldn’t) and would find myself constantly checking email all day long from every device I owned and it was consuming my life. So, like all healthy relationships, I finally set up some boundaries. For me, that means that I generally only check emails in the mornings (usually no later than 11am). Anything that can’t be dealt with in that time period is pushed to the next day. For a long time I even had an auto-response that let all incoming email knows about these boundaries (and how to contact me in case of something urgent). And it turned out there is very very little that is actually urgent, and that the less time I spent returning email the less emails I received.
Speaking of emails…
I frequently see two types of entrepreneurs; the type who never returns emails because their inbox is so out of control (which, can be frustrating to those of us on the other end of it) and the type who is obsessively clearing their inboxes (which, can be frustrating for those who are living that way). Luckily there is a middle way.
Canned Responses: There are certain patterns in my inbox and I get a lot of the same unsolicited requests. And unfortunately I simply don’t have the time to write out thoughtful individual responses to each email. Luckily I discovered Canned Responses for Gmail and it’s simplified my email time remarkably. I currently have 19 pre-written responses and with the press of a button I can have all the links and info I need to share. Of course it’s nice to keep things a little personal - I still always add edits and notes as appropriate, but it saves me so much time to not start from scrach. And time is money for an entrepreneur.
Folders: Between all of my projects and passions I have quite a full inbox with emails and newsletters and receipts and it all used to be a source of massive anxiety for me. So, after reading about what other smarter people do, I set up two folders: To Read Later (for newsletters and stuff that isn’t time sensitive) and Bills & Invoices (for all that eco-friendly paperless billing). When I have time I can read through them, and in the meantime I only see emails that I actually need to respond to.
Tip: Anything that hasn’t been read in the past 3 months I delete - if I can’t prioritize it in a 90 day period then it’s clearly not that important.
Unread First: In Gmail you can set up your inbox so all your unread messages are at the top. This helps ensure that your unread messages don’t get buried.
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” - ZEN PROVERB
Whenever I’m very busy (which is always) the first thing to fall off my calendar is time for myself, which is rather silly because I know that prioritizing self care actually makes me more productive, more efficient, and way nicer.
Some of my favorite things to keep me focused on self care are:
Insight Timer: this free app has guided meditation, a timer to track your meditations, and some really lovely chimes to start and end each session.
Meeting for Walks Instead of Drinks: Instead of getting together for drinks or meals for networking or meetings or catching up with friends, I usually suggest we take a walk. Exercise, fresh air, nature is always a good idea - and it’s free!
Charge Your Phone In Another Room: I now plug my phone in another room to charge overnight and it’s made such a big difference to not wake up and immediately jump into email or social media.
AND ONE FINAL TIP
I used to feel that if I said “no” to offers or opportunities I would be missing out or hurt my business in the long run, or, worst of all maybe people wouldn’t like me. And in my experience there isn’t one thing that will make or break your company, plus people will or won’t like you no matter what you do, so you may as well learn to say no to things that aren’t a good fit, aren’t the right time, or don’t give you the right things you need.
Life has enough obligations, keep you time and energy open for the things that make your heart go “YES!”