If you’re like a lot of people, you started your own business to have more control over your own schedule. But somewhere along the line, you stopped controlling the schedule, and the schedule started controlling you (and your idea of success). 

If you don’t want to work all the time (and who does, really?), you don’t have to. The key is to set up boundaries& systems to best use the time you have.

You found yourself answering emails at midnight or sending clients files at 2AM. Or you were reacting to every ping of a new message coming in whether by text or email or FB messenger. Or you contorted your life into pretzels (let’s face it, this was more than bending over backward) to set up a meeting at a client’s convenience.

You chalked it up to good customer service or responsiveness or meeting deadlines because you just don’t have enough time to get it all done.

Here’s the thing: working all the time leads to burnout. And when you tell your clients you will work any time, they start to expect that. Working all the time is no way to run a business – or to live your life.

Working all the time is no way to run a business – or to live your life. Click To Tweet

So what’s a busy entrepreneur to do?

Start by defining success.

What does success mean to you? That’s where it all starts. Success might mean a 6-figure launch or doubling your income this year. And it might mean meeting a lower threshold of income but taking Fridays off with your preschooler or saying no the high paying clients you don’t love and yes to the work that gets you out of bed each morning.

Your picture of success should take into account money, time, and passion. How each of those is weighted in your definition is up to you.

Your picture of success should include money, time, and passion. How they balance is up to you. Click To Tweet

Once you know what success looks like, set the goals to get you there. Goals might include:

  • Financial milestones
  • Number of people who sign up for a course
  • Number of clients served
  • List growth or web traffic
  • A new project or initiative (like launching a course or writing a book)

If owning your schedule is important to you, then some of your goals might look more like this:

  • Take off three weeks off this summer
  • Shut down for the day when kids get off the bus
  • Schedule weekly coffee dates with people important to me
  • Schedule personal time every Friday afternoon

Identifying what you want from your business and your life is essential to getting it.
To quote Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

And one more thing: be realistic about the time you want and what you can accomplish.

Use systems and tools to reach success.

So you know what you want, but how do you cut back on the time you work? Systems and time-saving tools.

Systems make it easier to do things we have to do again and again. Setting up systems means cutting down on decision making and on remember all the pieces of a task. For example, if you have an onboarding system, you don’t need to remember when you need to follow up with a new client or what documents to send them, and you don’t have to write the same email from scratch to every new client.

Instead, you have a canned response (yes, you can personalize it) to identify next steps and let them know what to expect. You have a checklist of items to send out. You have forms to collect information. You know exactly what to do without thinking about it.

Extra bonus of systematizing? It makes it easier to automate or outsource a process. (More on my favorite way to automate onboarding coming soon!)

Need to systematize? Think about:

  • Onboarding
  • Blogging
  • Email/communication (really, you don’t have to respond to each message as it comes in)
  • Invoicing/bills/book keeping

And while you’re systematizing (or if you haven’t quite figure out what system to set up), tap into tools that make your life easier (hello scheduler, goodbye trying to arrange time via email).

Decide what you are willing to do.

If you don’t want to work all the time (and who does, really?), you don’t have to. But it really comes down to deciding that you aren’t going to work all the time and then sticking with it.

So try this: Decide when you will work—and when you won’t.

If your automatic response to that is “but my schedule is too unpredictable,” make up your schedule each week and build down time into it. Choose not to work weekends or on Wednesdays or after 6PM. And because life is unpredictable, define when that changes.

I tell my clients that I don’t work weekends because I don’t want them to assume I will work weekends. The truth is that sometimes things happen during the week that bumps me off schedule, and I decided that I’m going to finish something on a weekend. But I choose to do that so that I can take time someplace else. That’s different from working every weekend because I didn’t get enough done (or I think I didn’t get enough done).
(And my clients don’t know if I work nights or weekends, because I use Boomerang for Gmail to schedule my email, so it waits until my regularly scheduled business hours to actually send.)

As much as we don’t want to work all the time, it can take a while to get used to it. We need to learn to trust that our clients can wait until business hours to hear back from us. We need to believe that not everything is a crisis. And we need to “train” our clients to know what to expect from us. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Include office hours in the sig block on your email, note holiday or vacation time
  • Use autoresponders when you are not working
  • Tell clients that to better serve clients you only check email twice a day (and only respond during those times)
  • Give clients the channels you will use to communicate with them. If you don’t want them to text you, don’t respond to texts. If you want all communication to go through Basecamp, send reminder emails to post questions or comments there.

You really don’t have to work all the time, but the only way to figure out that it really works is to try it and see.Identifying what you want from your business and your life is essential to getting it. To quote Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Since we don’t want to work all the time, we need to “train” our clients in what to expect from us. Click To Tweet

What gets in your way when it comes to taking time off from work (whether it’s vacation, a weekend, or just an evening)?