Do you sometimes feel that your business takes all your best energy out of you, rather than energising you to do your best work? If that’s true of you, it’s worth looking at the way you are using your time and energy.
When we set up our own businesses we often try to do everything ourselves. We want to be careful with cash before we have a reliable income, and we want to understand our businesses inside out. The problem with this is that it can work against us, without us even noticing.
Why time is also energy
When you are doing something you love, things can flow easily. Time flies, and you can come out with a sense of satisfaction and achievement. But doing something that’s not easy or enjoyable is very different. It requires a lot more energy, a lot more willpower and determination to make it happen. And that comes at a cost.
Science is now beginning to look at willpower as being like a muscle. You can build it up with exercise, but it gets exhausted if you don’t manage it carefully.
When you’re spending your day forcing yourself to do things you don’t enjoy, or aren’t good at, you’re using up your precious willpower energy. And once the brain starts to perceive it’s becoming exhausted, it changes how it functions. The changes it causes in your body and brain damages your ability to work at your best, to make good decisions and to keep focused. The implications of this are huge.
Why dieting makes you unfaithful
Smokers trying to quit are more likely to over-indulge on unhealthy food. Even more alarmingly, dieters are more likely to have affairs than non-dieters. It seems that too much concentration on one thing simply reduces the amount of willpower you have left for other things. The most dangerous thing is that you’re likely not to be aware it’s happening. What are the chances of you connecting cutting out biscuits with falling for the mysterious stranger you meet at a party?
The danger with doing the difficult tasks first thing
Many people try to do the jobs they dislike, first thing in the morning. That makes sense in that you’re likely to have maximum willpower energy available to you. But the problem is that by the time you’ve finished doing the job you struggle with, your ability to do other things has been diminished. If your business is built on your intellectual energy, you’re compromising what you do later in the day.
How to identify the energy drains in your business
The first stage is to work out what’s taking away your time and energy. This is a simple exercise to help discover where you put those two valuable resources. Spend a week writing down everything you do. Next to each task, give it three scores:
- How much you enjoyed it, on a score of 1-5 (hated it – loved it)
- How much the job needed your unique skills and experience, again on 1-5 (1= I don’t add anything unique; 5 = only I could do it).
- The total of the two scores.
It’s worth considering whether you can divide a task into two parts: planning it, and doing it.
Pin down the tasks to get help with
You should start off by looking for tasks with a total score of 2-4. These are to be the jobs that are stealing your energy and your time from more important work. It’s not good use of your time or energy to be doing any of these things. Tasks with a 5 or 6 are probably areas where you’re adding little yourself, unless your unique value score is 4 or 5. Getting the right person to do those tasks will allow you to use your time and energy more effectively.
Improving your systems
You might discover that you’re spending a lot of time on something because you haven’t got the right system or equipment in place. In that case, it’s often worthwhile getting in an expert to help you get things organised, whether that’s updating your IT setup, decluttering your study or setting up a filing system. You’ll quickly regain the cost of it by the hours you’ll save.
How to find the right person
Once you’ve identified the tasks that are stealing your valuable energy, it’s time to find someone else to help. Here are a few questions to ask:
- Do you need someone in person, or could they work remotely?
- Do you need someone to work regularly, or for one-off tasks?
- What skills are essential, and what would be nice to have?
- Do you know someone you could approach already? Who have you met networking, on Twitter or LinkedIn, or even at the school gate?
- If you don’t know someone, might your network be able to come up with some suggestions?
If you’re early in your business, either part-time or flexible help (where you pay just for the hours or projects) may be suitable.
For flexible help, sites like People Per Hour or Elance offer freelance remote help. In London, YoButler provides practical, in-person assistance by the hour, and there are similar agencies or individuals in many other areas. You could check small ads in local cafes or business centres, or place an ad. If you need an individual or company with specialist skills, try searching or asking in a group on LinkedIn, or even Google. Gumtree can be another useful place to advertise or search. You can find other links and resources in my author bio below!
If you’re employing someone, you’ll need to follow legal requirements, but using someone self-employed or through an agency can be simpler in the early days.
Can I afford it?
Getting in help needn’t be expensive. Start small to limit your risk. You could barter help with someone who’d like your skills: just make sure that you’ve agreed exactly what you’re swapping in advance. If you can’t stretch that far, make a plan now of who you’d like to use and for what, and what additional revenue you need to be able to do it. That way you can get help as soon as you get that money.
Use your time and energy to follow your passion
Remember that you’re not paying for that task to be done. You’re paying for the time and energy for you to do what you love and what you’re good at. If that’s at the heart of your business, you’ll find that’s the way you can start to regain your passion for what you do, and with it grow your clients and your income.
I’d love to hear in the comments below how you manage your time and energy!
Maximum Willpower, Kelly McGonigal, Macmillan, 2012.