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How Small Business Owners Can Find Balance in an Always-on World

If you’re seeking a bit more balance while simultaneously wanting to continue growing your business, this article is for you.

Dec 8, 2021 4 min readSmall Business
Photo of Hailley Griffis
Hailley Griffis

Head of Communications & Content @ Buffer

No matter what you do, in today’s world, it can be incredibly hard to unplug. We see this every year with our State of Remote Work report. In our most recent report, 27% of respondents shared that not being able to unplug was their biggest challenge.

For business owners, this can be even more difficult as so many parts of a business are managed online. But, that doesn’t mean you actually need to be “on” all of the time, and in fact, you might not be doing yourself or your business any favors if you are.

Our own CEO, Joel Gascoigne, has written about his experience with burnout, and he’s not alone, one study showed it affects more than half of small business owners. While it can be tempting to push yourself forward to see how much more you can do, ultimately you won’t be helping your staff, your customers, or your brand by running yourself into the ground.

If you’re seeking a bit more balance while simultaneously wanting to continue growing your business, this article is for you.

Determine Your Must-Dos

The first and arguably most challenging task is getting clear on what you need to do, versus what someone else could do or what you could eliminate from your plate altogether.

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, created a matrix just for this purpose: Outline what is urgent and not urgent and what is important and not important. Both boxes in the top row are tasks you should continue doing and the bottom row are the tasks to either delegate or eliminate entirely.

Created by Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the 4 Quadrants Time Management Strategy helps you to prioritize what’s on your plate. (Source)

Note that what’s important will look different for everyone. While bookkeeping, for example, is urgent—there’s not a lot of wiggle room in those tax deadlines—some business owners find it important to do it themselves, while others might find it far more valuable to delegate the task to a professional. Placing that in the “urgent but not important” category, then, allows more time for important (for you to do) responsibilities.

Learn to Delegate

Kevin Xu, a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of MEBO International and Skingenix, Inc., wrote, “If everything in your company depends on you, it can only grow as large as your personal capacity allows.” If your aim is to grow or expand, then doing everything yourself is not the answer. And if your aim is more balance, then either delegating or eliminating are your best bets.

Using your matrix above, consider who on your team might have the skills for the boxes in the “not important” (for you to do) boxes. If you are a company of one you could work with freelancers rather than grow your team. For example, you could have someone else write your social media posts and upload them into Buffer’s scheduling tool, where you can approve them before they go live. You save time writing and posting, while still having the final say.

Start by dipping your toe into the water of delegation by picking the thing you feel the least protective of. Assign it out, give others the chance to shine, and gain some of your own time back.

Set Expectations of When You’ll be on and Off

If you’re consistently taking late-night calls and answering emails as soon as they come in, then people come to expect that you’re available. Instead, set expectations for when you’re working, especially if you work across time zones or in an industry like social media that never sleeps.

Here at Buffer, we are a fully distributed team with teammates based around the world, meaning that oftentimes our working hours don’t align with each other. We’re clear with each other about when we’re each working, and we use that staggered schedule to our advantage, tackling projects asynchronously when others are sleeping.

A key, however, to setting expectations is to publicize them. For our team, our working hours are all in our Slack profiles. If your small business only responds to customer inquiries on social media from 7 am - 7 pm, note that in your account’s bio. If you’re giving your entire team a week off over the holiday, put up a message on your website and social media accounts making that clear. We close Buffer over the end of the year every year and share that information on our social profiles. Once you set that expectation externally, you don’t have the pressure of responding immediately, and people know when to expect a response.

A few more tips from our community for avoiding burnout.

Schedule Everything

Now that you’ve sat with the idea of delegation, handed over a few responsibilities, and set expectations for when you’ll be off, it’s important to use your newfound time wisely.

According to 24 entrepreneurs, scheduling personal events in their calendar in addition to their work events is their number one tip for work-life balance. While adding a time block for dinner with your family every night or creating a recurring date night may feel odd at first, it’s a great way to protect the time you’ve carved out. Plus, you’ll be able to see everything in one place and spot if you’ve overcommitted on any given week.

As Covey once put it, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

What would you add to this list for other folks looking for more balance? Reach out to let us know!

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