As a small business owner there comes the time where you think it’s all too much. The day doesn’t have enough hours anymore to tackle all the tasks that are piling up. And it’s stressing you out! I get it, because I’ve been there! I currently still am, to be honest.
Now it’s time to start analyzing your business and check how you can get out of this vicious circle of overwhelm. If you aren’t careful, this can easily turn into burnout. And we don’t want this to happen.
As I’m in the process of analyzing my own business due to my ever-growing workload, I wanted to share five strategies with you. Hopefully they’ll help you as much as they help me.
So here are my five tips on how to lessen the workload on yourself:
1. Optimize Workflows
Start by examining your workflows and systems. Because you want to work smarter – not harder! Think about your day and routines and ask yourself if there are any repetitive tasks you could structure in a more meaningful way to free up your time.
I realized that I use my 1:1 client forms as a guide, but I don’t have a set template. This means I have to create each document from scratch and need to figure out placements and layouts – every single time. This is time wasted I could use on other more important tasks! So now I’m going over every single step of my workflow to look for time-wasters and for ways to improve my system to work for me – not against me.
Have you ever thought about using automations for your business? I’m sure there are certain aspects of your business that don’t require your personal touch (Or at least not every single time). This can be writing email templates for specific scenarios or actually having automations in place that do the work for you (like sending mails when pre-defined conditions are met – e.g. sending a payment reminder to clients 1 day after payment was due). So instead of using 15 minutes of your time you can now do the same by the click of a button!
2. Efficient Time Management
If you’ve ever been in a similar situation (and I’m sure you have), you start thinking about what’s absolutely necessary to get done. That’s when I start making to-do lists. It also helps me with getting a sense of achievement. We often work all day, but afterwards we aren’t sure what we actually did - even though time flew by! A list helps you to visualize your time, because you can tick off each item after it’s done. If your list is long, I’d suggest you colour-code certain elements to create a priority hierarchy. This way you know exactly what has to be tackled first.
Still wonder about how to prioritize your tasks? You can use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle. He categorizes each task into one of four categories. But therefore you first need to know if a task is important or urgent.
Important: Any task where its outcome leads you towards your goals.
Urgent: Any task that has to be handled immediately, because the consequence will be immediate as well.
These are his four categories. Number one has the highest priority and number four the lowest:
1. Important and Urgent
Most of this category will be dictated by outside forces (e.g. clients) or you’ve just waited for too long and it became a number one priority because there is no time left (=procrastination).
2. Important but NOT Urgent
As a business owner you want to achieve your goals. That’s why this category is so important. Because it’s not urgent we tend to ignore these tasks. Make sure you spend enough time on category number two, because it will help you and your business grow.
3. Not Important but Urgent
These are often tasks that can be delegated and outsourced, because they don’t need to be done by you specifically. You’ll read more about this in my tip number three!
4. Not Important and not Urgent
Anything that’s on your list that falls into category four should be eliminated altogether. It doesn’t help you and your business, nor is it urgent. So why keep it there, if it doesn’t serve anyone? If it’s other people asking you to take on work of this category – politely say no. No is a full sentence, by the way 😉
Sometimes we have a million tiny or similar tasks that build up and stress us out. They make our list feel absolutely enormous! Tackling those tasks usually only takes us very little time. They are a great starting point – because you can scratch off many items quickly, which will leave you with this sense of achievement I was talking about, and lighten your work- and mental load for you.
We usually also do similar tasks throughout our work-day or week. Jumping between many of them within a short period takes up a lot of our time. Whenever we switch, our brain needs to refocus and get into deep-work mode. That’s why time-blocking can help you immensely to get rid of wasted time. You could have a single day for meetings, prep and schedule all your social media posts in one day or only send out invoices twice a month.
Market season meant that I had very little time outside of production, packing and unpacking – and getting well after being sick (which happened a lot during market season this year). And I also realized, some of my products where in demand more than I could manage on my own. That’s why I started to look into manufacturers for certain items. By no means I’m telling you that this is a quick fix! Especially if you design your own products from scratch (Getting my whale shark pouches manufactured was a two-year process altogether). But having products ready for sale without having to make them myself meant, that I now have much more time to focus on work I absolutely HAVE to do myself (like 1:1 client work).
Freelancers and Virtual Assistants
By now I’ve started to accept that I can’t do it all – at least not on my own. And that’s ok! (I’ve only realized that too, recently). As your business is growing it will change and you have to adjust accordingly. Because if you stick to doing the same old as usual, there probably won’t even be any growth. I’ve completely neglected my Instagram page (except for some quick, low budget reels on the go) and it’s something I’m not proud of. But social media is a full-time job on its own and doing it right takes a lot of time. No one is expecting you to do it all. That’s why I’ll start looking for help with my online presence. I don’t exactly know how it will pan out, because there are certain tasks I don’t want to hand over to another person. Whatever I decide to get help with will mean less work for me – however tiny those tasks are.
Also, there is no need to waste time on tasks you absolutely don’t enjoy. For me it’s the posting and planning of posts in particular. It’s boring labour that has no creativity. Instead of a full day of scheduling social media posts you could onboard a client or take an online-class! So write down all the things you keep pushing off, because you hate doing them and then ask yourself which of those you actually have to do yourself. You can outsource all the rest. This way you also ensure that your clients get the quality they know you for. So never outsource anything you enjoy or your personal touch is needed for!
4. Educate Yourself
This might seem counter-intuitive at first, because learning a new skill takes time. But if you’ve perfected that skill you will be much faster than before! The same goes for implementing new programs into your workflow, like automation software. At first it’s tricky to use because it’s new to you, but after you’ve got the hang of it you can complete tasks much faster and save time in the long run. And if you don’t start today, tomorrow won’t be any easier for you. So make an informed decision on how you can educate yourself today so your future you can benefit from it.
5. Set Boundaries
Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves where none is needed. I’m a people-pleaser and sometimes promise deadlines that are hard for me to achieve (Not impossible, but stressful). Maybe your clients are like mine. Usually it’s not them asking for short turnover times, but they happily accept after you offer them (Why wouldn’t they?). So think about who’s adding to your own workload. Is it actually your client – or you?
Make sure you set clear work hours and office hours for yourself and your business. It’s not healthy if clients can reach you 24/7. It’s also a habit that’s tricky to get rid of, because you “trained” your clients a certain way. Also, having specific days or hours off work gives you time to recharge your batteries. I know we all love our business, but we shouldn’t work without a break. Burnout is real! If you overdo it, you might end up being unable to work for a long time. I myself still struggle with this, especially because I love what I do, but also because I am my own boss. It’s the benefit and the curse of having your own business. You can do whatever you feel like – you choose when to get up and how long you want to work. There are no outside forces that tell you to do anything. Let’s create healthy boundaries for our clients and us. Both will benefit in the long run.
I’m sure these tips will improve your workload and business! By the way, analyzing your business is always a great idea. Taking the time to focus your energy within your business will give you clarity for future steps. My five tips can be a starting point and help you reduce that feeling of overwhelm. Make sure you check in with yourself after a while. As your business continuous growing, so will the tasks around you. Keeping reevaluating your business and processes regularly will keep you sane, because you know you are focusing on what you should be doing and get help for anything else. Even if you are a sole business owner – this doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own.
Level up your business with regular tips on branding, product design and strategy. My Magical Biz Letter (aka newsletter) is for business owners young-at-heart who want to get the party started and leave a lasting impression with their audience. Ready? Let's go!
Written by Nina Schindlinger
Hi, I am Nina - the founder and creative director of MilkyRosa Design Agency. I specialise in branding and product design for companies that are young-at-heart. My design style is bold, playful and charming, which I use to make the world a little bit more colouful and to make your company tangible for your customers and create an experience they will remember.