I’ve been talking to several clients recently who are really struggling to fit everything in. It’s a very common challenge when you’re running your own business!

One of the biggest reasons this happens is because it’s easy to give away huge chunks of your time for free without realising that’s what’s happening. Possibly because there are invitations or opportunities that might lead to some juicy work down the line; or because deadlines are a little blurry; or because they’re just really nice people who love to help others.

The challenge though is that when you give away too much of your time, that may help others but it definitely won’t help you! It’s a recipe for busyness and overwhelm.

Here are some of my favourite tips to help you identify your own time-stealers and reclaim some of those lost hours to put to better use.

Respect your own value

What’s the value of one of your most productive hours? Do you know that information? If not, can you spend a few minutes working it out? I’ll give you a clue though, if you have  no idea of this number that’s a very loud warning bell about the value you place on your own time.

Clarifying this number can really help to change your perspective about what you do with every hour. Whether your best hour is worth £30, £50 or £500, each time you give away an hour of your time for free you’re giving away the opportunity to bring in that kind of income into your business. Your time has a value and every hour given away is actually a cost to your business.

Limit your speculation

Have a look through your diary for last week and look at how much time you spent on speculative things that may or may not lead to paid work in the future. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you cut out your marketing and business development activities because that would be a false economy. I’m talking more about things like those free consultations you’re giving away every week; the casual coffee meetings with people you met at a networking event; the proposals or initial assessments that you spent hours on; or the 20 minute telephone calls with people who wanted to pick your brain.

All of these things might one day lead to paid work. But at the same time every single one could also turn out to be a fruitless distraction.

This is where you really need to get brutal!

Firstly, take a look at how many of those things are genuinely likely to lead to new business. And don’t base that on gut instinct or ‘wouldn’t it be brilliant if …’ Instead use the concrete evidence of what’s happened in the past. What does that tell you about the real likelihood of making money from these activities? I’m not suggesting that you should instantly cut out all of these things, but if the evidence shows you that the chances of them turning into invoiced work are slim then my advice would be to limit the time you allow for them.

If you allocate a maximum amount of time in your diary each week to these things then you’ll very quickly find that you become far more discerning about which ones you get involved with and which you quickly decline. You’ll be surprised how in-tune you are with which of them hold the genuine opportunities for you and which are the red herrings or the free-loaders!

Respect your personal time

One of the biggest challenges I see amongst people running their own business is their willingness to put themselves last and to sacrifice their personal time in favour of the business. If you don’t respect the importance of your personal time then you’re likely to allow yourself all too easily to blur the boundaries between work and home. Very few people started a business because they wanted to hustle and grind 24 x 7. It’s perfectly OK to not just want, but to actually have a decent work-life balance. It doesn’t make you any less dedicated to your business. If anything it’s likely to make you more motivated and more focused because you’re getting personal fulfilment.

Some easy ways to start to respect your personal time more are to give yourself a definite finish time every day. There’ll be days when you absolutely can’t finish at that time but by at least having a time in mind the likelihood of you achieving it is significantly higher. Build in some personal accountability by creating defined appointments for yourself. Whether it’s arrangements to meet friends and family or booking into classes at the gym it’s far harder to break these arrangements when it involves letting down somebody else!

Recognise those who don’t respect your time

I bet if I asked you you could name at least 2 or 3 people who always seem to take up too much of your time. It might be the customer who phones or emails 2 or 3 times a week for advice. It could well be a family member who thinks that you working for yourself means that you’re available any time of day to nip to the supermarket or sort out those appointments for the kids, the cats or the dentist! Or it could be that absolutely lovely customer who can talk for Britain so that every meeting massively overruns.

You need to get brutal with all of these circumstances. Not by being rude or hostile. That wouldn’t be very British would it! But when you know that a meeting is likely to overrun you can state very early on that you have another meeting or call straight afterwards. When you take a call that you think may go on, you can start by explaining that you have 10 minutes to talk but then you have another customer waiting. Deadlines are a wonderful thing.

It’s a little trickier with family or friends who don’t realise they’re disrupting your working day and stealing your time so that you can’t focus on the things that could bring the money in. But generally an honest conversation and asking for their help to reduce your distractions can lead to really good progress.

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Do any of those things ring a bell for you? Can you spot something in there that will allow you to get just a little more brutal with your time?

If this is a challenging area for you and you know you need help send me a message and I’ll see whether I have any of my allocated speculative diary slots still available for you! 😉

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