The day I worked for myself

Jen Dodson

Chief Creative Officer

I’m a small business owner in the professional services space with a few employees. On the surface, it’s easy to think that I work for myself. But the reality is I work for my clients and my employees. I work for the community through board positions, volunteering, and mentoring. I work for my network by making connections. I work for my friends and family planning engagements and making sure I stay in touch. I support all of this by reading and constantly learning about myself and my trade. I spend more time working for other people than I do working for myself.

As a result, I operate on a higher level of stress than most. It’s OK – I honestly wouldn’t know what to do otherwise. If any of this sounds familiar, here are a few suggestions to stay productive and ultimately, take time for yourself.

  1. Permit yourself to cancel a full day’s worth of meetings. When you worked for other people, you often considered it a “mental health day.” That last-minute day to yourself where nothing is really planned and you can do the things you always intend to do but don’t have time for.
  2. Go somewhere without the normal distractions. I love my clients and staff. I really do. But sometimes, I just want to be left alone. Even if I go to the office and close my door, the walls aren’t soundproof. I overhear conversations. The phone rings. Someone wants something. Recently I had several meetings canceled last minute, so I took advantage of the newly found free time to setup in the local library. Free Wi-Fi and a quiet room was the perfect setting to actually think for a few hours straight. I almost forgot that was possible.
  3. Schedule time to be interrupted. As the business picked up, my time to spend with staff was more and more limited. There would be weeks where our only interactions were during client meetings or on a quick call between appointments. That’s not how you lead. Rather than let the morale of the team suffer from my lack of leadership, I started blocking out “staff time.” Two days a week, every week, there are three hour blocks for them. They are able to schedule meetings for whatever they want to discuss or need help with. By having this time, my other hours where I want to catch up on emails and tasks aren’t overtaken by ‘quick’ questions.
  4. Think like a Firefighter. Speaking of quick questions, not everything is an emergency. Don’t be afraid to tell your team that you are in the middle of something and will get back to them. While I wouldn’t do this with a client, I’ve started telling my staff to 1-3-1 things. Basically, if it’s not a fire, they need to clearly define the problem, think of a few solutions, then defend what they think is the best option and why. Sometimes that means the issue is resolved without me getting involved. If not, at least we have a starting point for the conversation.
  5. Refocus on what matters. Rory Vaden speaks about a “focus funnel.” The basic concept is that you should send everything you are doing through a few questions: Can this task be automated, delegated, or eliminated? Does it have to happen now or can it happen later? The end result is that you either make regular things streamlined, train someone else, or take things off your plate. The goal is to focus your day on things that will make tomorrow better. Another model uses a grid. Whatever system helps you process a never-ending task list better, is the best approach.
  6. Regroup Later. As the amount of overdue tasks at Adashmore Creative started mounting, we decided to do a massive regroup. Rather than try to spend time now trying to organize everything into the next few weeks, we ripped off the band-aid. I picked a date a couple months out as a triage session. A day where we’ll go offsite to regroup on priorities for the next period. Everyone was instructed that if something wasn’t related to a few key initiatives, they were to reschedule the task or make a note to revisit it on that date. I can’t tell you yet what type of things we’ll find on that day. Some things will no longer matter or the required approach will have evolved for the better. What I do know, is that it allowed us to focus on what mattered now and gave everyone room to breathe.

What do you do to maintain balance and focus?