• Advice

Why we waste precious time with busy work (and how to fix it)

Hands up if you ever get caught up in the weeds of your business. 🙌

From sending invoices and managing your calendar to messing around in the back end of your website, there are countless opportunities for us to work IN our business rather than ON our business.

Now, tell me this: how’s that working out for you, your happiness, and your bottom line? Are you working with the clients you enjoy, and making the money you want?

As financial expert, Ramit Sethi said (and he’s not the first one!), “Show me someone’s calendar and their spending, and I’ll show you their priorities.”

I get why we get caught up in the busy work. Being busy feels good, all that productivity and checking things off a list is soothing in a productivity-obsessed culture. Meanwhile, all our swinging-for-the-fences ideas and projects remain untouched. Why? Because they’re hard, slow, and messy.

And so, we continue to put them in the “someday” pile. Meanwhile, your business, your relevancy, and your revenue stagnate.

Before you go judging yourself (there’s no place for that here😍), wading in the shallow waters of entrepreneurship is something we ALL do. As a business coach and ADHD life coach for creative entrepreneurs who run the gamut from billing $50,000 to multiple 7-figures per year, I can confirm that we ALL have our blind spots when it comes to spending time on tasks that don’t move the needle.

So, what’s a creative business owner who is serious about building a more fulfilling and profitable business to do?

Create a plan.

I know it sounds simple. It is simple. But for some reason, we don’t do it unless we are given the:

  • Motivation (positive or negative)
  • Actionable steps
  • Space and support

Consider me the person, this the space, and now the time. 

Before we jump in, a quick tip on how to get the most out of the following steps: write down your answers to the questions below. Yes, you’ll get value from reading the prompts, but the extra processing that goes into journaling on something will make a HUGE difference in the quality of your insights, the level of your resolve, and the RESULTS you get. Just sayin’.

1) Identify where you are and where you’re going

I was recently asked by a business owner if she should invest her resources in networking, marketing, or her team. Like any coach worth her salt, I answered her question with two of my own:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What’s getting in the way of you getting there?

Her answer to those questions revealed that neither of the options she presented were where she should invest.

Contrary to what we might think, our businesses, lives, and goals are fluid, so a tool to help you get a snapshot of where you are right now, how well it’s going for you, and where you need to shore up can be invaluable. Enter the life wheel.

Action step:

➡ Write down your answers to the following questions:

➡ How would I grade myself in each of these areas? (1 = needs a lot of TLC. 10 = crushing it)

➡ What parts of my business feel most underdeveloped?

➡ What would it look like if these parts were streamlined and successful?

➡ What area(s) do I want to focus on in the next 90 days? (1-2 max)

2) Declare what’s most important to you

OK people, here’s where the rubber meets the road! You’ve picked one or two areas to focus on in the next 90 days (Why 90 days? Because it’s long enough to sink your teeth into a significant project, but short enough for our brains to comprehend). Now we’re going to have to face an uncomfortable truth: if you had all the resources of time, energy, support, and money required, you’d probably be doing the thing already.

Something’s going to have to give and/or go. That “something” might be:

  • A beloved product or service that isn’t performing the way you need it to
  • A person (client, team member, collaborator, frenemy)
  • Revenue (eeeeeek!!)
  • The perceived goodwill of your clients, audience, or community (I say “perceived” because we think everyone will hate us for stopping something, but in my experience, they’re usually very understanding, and very often, happy for you)

Action step:

There’s a reason why this step starts with “declare”! Take a deep breath and journal on the following questions:

➡ What would I need to prioritize to shore this area up?

➡ What would I need to let go of/stop doing?

➡ What support would I need to make significant progress? (This might include professional support, home help, childcare, etc.)

➡ Who do I know who could help me? (e.g. advisor, coach, life partner, friends/neighbors, family, babysitters, etc.)

➡ What technology and/or processes would enable me to do the work once, then automate going forward?

3) Choose 3-5 projects that align with your new priorities

I invite you to look at the list of your current projects. And yes, a project includes signing the kids up for summer camp, renovating your bathroom, and planning your dad’s 80th birthday party. How many do you have on the go? Too many, right?

If you’ve got way more than 3-5 projects on your plate, chances are you’re stretching your resources too thin. Here are some tips for identifying what to pass or ditch, so you can focus on the projects that matter to you and your bottom line.

Action step:

➡ Identify what projects can be outsourced. I recently read in Charlie Gilkey’s fantastic book, Start Finishing, that if you can explain/outline the steps to something, you should probably outsource it. 🤯

➡ List the projects you don’t want to do but feel obligated to. Did you agree to a “fun collaboration” with someone and now realize it’s a whole lotta work, not a lotta money, and not much fun? (No shame, no blame, we’ve all done it!) What about putting your hand up to be a class parent, on the PTA, or a board? If any of the things on your docket are giving you that queasy feeling, it might be time to own it, downgrade your commitment, or pass the baton to someone else (with their permission of course). Could this involve an uncomfortable conversation? No doubt! But in my experience, if you own it, and conduct yourself with integrity and humility, people will understand and not think any less of you (even if they don’t like it).

➡ Look at the numbers (this can be a back-of-the-envelope rough calculation): What clients, services, and activities generate the most satisfaction and income with the least friction? Which projects do you make little/no money on, tax your well-being, or are beneath your current pay grade?

You know what you’ve gotta do!

4) Bonus step: Map out action steps

OK, I know I said three steps, but here’s a cheeky fourth!

If you’re working the steps, you’ve now:

  • Identified your desired areas of focus.
  • Prioritized what’s important to you.
  • Cleared space by clearing the decks of activities you don’t want to/shouldn’t be doing.

Now it’s time to map out your projects. To stay out of the nitty-gritty details, I’ll stick to the broad strokes.

Action step:

➡ List your 3-5 projects in whatever format works best for you. A Google doc might cut it. If you’re a visual processor, you might prefer to break out the markers and map them on a huge sheet of paper. If you’re a hybrid like me, a Notion template may hit the sweet spot.

➡ For each goal, list all the actions that would need to happen.

➡ Put the actions in order and assign them if you have other people working with you

➡ Transfer deadlines and actions into your calendar. Remember to build in buffers of time for other people’s responsibilities and responses.

I know I’ve given you a lot to chew on in this article, so let me take the pressure off by saying you don’t need to work all the steps to get value from this post. What I do hope you’ll do is question where you spend your precious time and direct a good chunk of it to the ideas and work that matter to you!

Justine Clay Justine Clay is a speaker, writer, business coach, & ADHD life coach for creative entrepreneurs & freelancers. Sign up for her free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients & Get Paid What You’re Worth

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