Here’s something almost every business owner struggles with at one time: When are you done with your workday? How much work is enough work? How many hours do you work in a day?
It’s very hard to stop doing what we’re doing at any given point because we’re so invested in wanting things to go faster or whatever it is to move things forward.
Particularly for those things that don’t necessarily have a direct, short-term impact on your bottom-line revenue or so much of what you do has indirect dotted lines with long-term impacts, it’s hard to stop. It’s hard to set and enforce boundaries.
When you run a business, it’s very hard to turn your brain off when it’s everywhere. You don’t necessarily go to a place and come home. That’s a very different mindset for what we do. There’s always something that we could possibly be thinking about or doing or working on.
The fun part of owning a business that you are strongly invested in is that you get to come up with all kinds of ideas and you get to make those ideas happen.
But the tricky thing is that unless you hit a brick wall or burn out, there’s not going to be an end to those ideas. There’s always going to be something more that you could or should do to reach your goals, advance the business, and keep making bigger strides.
The Danger of Goalposts
It’s so easy to move the goalpost and to say, “Okay, I hit this, so let’s push it out further.” And always moving your goalposts feels like a never-ending impossible.
It’s something almost every business owner struggles with: the concept of always moving forward. If you’re not making strides forward, then you’re falling behind, even though we’re all on our own timeline! And there’s also the comparison trap of “Am I keeping up? Should I be doing better? Moving faster?”
It’s easy to compare yourselves to others and want to emulate their successes. You think if you’re not doing something then you’re not serving your business to the best of your ability—and that’s not necessarily true.
It’s a trap to always want more and never be satisfied with where you are and what you’ve done in a day.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t have goals or be ambitious. We want everyone to achieve their biggest goals for themselves and their business! But it’s imperative to accept where you—and your business—are at the current moment and acknowledge what you are able to accomplish in a given day or a given week.
Tactics to Limit Work Hours
Our team sets quarterly goals and focuses on the most important things that are going to impact our business. We learned to focus on no more than three prioritized goals that make the biggest impact first. And some goals we put in the “parking lot” and look back on later and realize they weren’t important. So, it’s beneficial to be a little more strategic with the projects that we’re choosing to work on.
To avoid burnout, we take vacation time and half days. We’ve implemented some automated parts of our business to ensure our operations run smoothly and allow us to step back as needed.
If you think you need to contribute daily, you’re going to burn out and not be good to anybody. Not everything we do is equal in terms of impact. For instance, we tag all our tasks in our project management system to take a look at what has a direct line impact to revenue.
We set time limits for the amount of time we schedule in each other’s days. If a fire comes up, you have the bandwidth to jump on it.
We are a team of A-players. As a high achiever—and if you’re an entrepreneur, you certainly are a high achiever!—you want to get everything that you can get done, done. And that’s the chronic challenge of being a high achiever—being satisfied with good and not necessarily great every single day or every single week.
The Body’s “Circadian Rhythm”
There is a natural dip at some point in the day in your energy. Working eight consecutive hours in the day is in complete contradiction with the way our body functions. The “circadian rhythm” is a very specific daily biological cycle that dictates when we are more productive at certain times of the day. We have two productivity peaks in the day: mid- to late morning and late afternoon.
Our bodies naturally think better in the morning. It’s best to do tasks that require little concentration in the early afternoon. When we hit our second spike in the afternoon, our brain gets a little more energy for thoughtful activities.
Taking that into account, you should also know when you work best. Tip: Track what you do over the course of two weeks. When did you feel most productive? When was your energy highest? Lowest? Are there times of the day when you felt you could be most creative or other times that you had little energy and could just take knock out some simple tasks? This will help you create a healthy working schedule for yourself.
The Perfect Amount of Time to Work in a Day
In fact, the max hours a day people can concentrate hard on something is five. Research shows that five work hours a day can improve productivity and bolster well-being.
As a business owner, you need time to think creatively and strategically. Just executing on the to-do list, it’s just producing. But it’s an essential part of running a business.
Find your sweet spot when you can think creatively and strategically and block that time on your calendar.
For other tasks, try grouping meetings, similar things like that, on certain days. It comes down to knowing yourself, knowing where you tend to trip up, and putting in boundaries and enforcing those boundaries.
Create Achievable Tasks
And yes, deadlines are important. But set them so they’re actually achievable and doable. We don’t have to beat ourselves up that we didn’t do it super and super fast! The more we prove to ourselves that things are going to continue on, then the more it becomes, “Okay, this is enough for the day. I can stop and leave, and it’s going to be here tomorrow.”
Your to-do list should never be a reason to be disappointed with yourself! If you were looking at your to-do list and you feel overwhelmed or you feel disappointment with yourself, then the problem is with your to-do list, it’s not a problem with you.
Give yourself that opportunity to finish what’s there and accept that you have finished what you’re supposed to do for the day, and that is enough. And, of course, sometimes there are going to be times when you can’t get through everything in the day because things come up, because you realize something’s more complicated than you thought it was, or any number of things.
Be Kind to Yourself
But if you have worked on your business, if you have thought carefully about what you are doing for this day not just spinning your wheels, be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Let that be enough. And it might be that your definition of “enough” changes from day to day.
We’re never going to completely finish all our tasks, which means that that can’t be the goal! So, just making progress on something worthwhile in your business should be enough. And there are also going to be some days when just taking care of yourself or spending time with your loved ones or doing something that you find enjoyable is “enough.”
For a lot of us, the default is to just keep pushing. But we have to take the time to pause and actually look at how we spend our time and celebrate the wins we’ve had. And, at the same time, be kind and gentle to ourselves.
Remember: The whole reason we started this business way back was not to work ourselves into early graves but to make a positive impact on the world and our lives a little bit more fun and flexible and fulfilling. And if you’re not heading in that direction, or if you’re not feeling that regularly, then that should be an opportunity to take a moment, look at how you are working, look at how you are interacting with your business, how you’re interacting with your team and your customers, and just maybe redefine for yourself what enough is actually going to be.
As high achievers, small business owners are also highly productive people. Sometimes we just need to let go of that productivity guilt. Here are some tips on how to do just that >>
As a business owner, it’s hard to know when enough is enough. When do you know you have hit the end of your to-do list when there isn’t an end? The truth is that you will never really hit the end of that list. And when you achieve your goals, the goalposts tend to move. That’s okay! But you need to know when to stop, when to close the laptop, and when to say you’ve done enough.
Listen in as Nicki and Kate help break that down for you, discuss their own personal challenges, and offer tips on what works for them.
How do you maintain a healthy work schedule? What is the ideal amount of hours you feel you should work in a day? Let us know how you find a work-life balance in the comments below!