PRODUCTIVITY

Give Yourself Permission Not to Be Crazy Busy in 2013

Think there's no way you can limit yourself to a standard 40-hour workweek? The author of a new book says she can show you how.
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Entrepreneurs are inevitably crazy busy, right?

That's the archetype anyway. Whether you're chasing start-up glory or simply keeping your local business humming, the price you pay for controlling your own destiny is long hours or even nights spent sleeping under your desk.

But Elizabeth Saunders, author of forthcoming book The 3 Secrets of Effective Time Investment, says that's nonsense.

Once an entrepreneur herself with a thriving photo styling business, Saunders fit the stereotype of the workaholic founder perfectly in those days, coming home at 10 p.m. each night and spending much of her remaining waking hours answering e-mail.

She began to feel increasingly overwhelmed, exhausted and unhappy, however, until one night five years ago she simply declared, "enough is enough" and put herself on a self-imposed schedule of a much more modest 40 to 45 hours a week of work. She's been on it ever since.

You can do it too, she says. Saunders now writes and speaks about how to tame your insane workweek and recently explained some of the finer points of her approach to Inc.

What About Busy Periods?

What about the objection that owning your own business is variable and sometimes long hours are inevitable? How can you keep to your 45-hour pledge those weeks? In short, you can't, Saunders explains, but that's OK--assuming it's rare.

"Over the past five years, I've structured my business and disciplined myself to work on average 40 to 45 hours a week. However, I do allow for some spikes in my work to meet extreme deadlines, do large speaking or training events, or to get everything wrapped up before an extended time out of town without Internet access," she says, but goes on to explain those weeks should be the exception not the rule.

"In general, I have about two weeks a year when I'm working more than 60+ hours a week." She returns to her 45-hour norm immediately after.

Too Many 'Must Dos'

Still skeptical that you can shoehorn all your work into a standard workweek? Saunders suggests you take a clear-eyed look at how many of your commitments are truly essential. 

"Distinguish whether this is a 'Must Do' or 'Would Like to Do' item. As an entrepreneur, there are always more things that you could do. I personally only look to work more than my designated hours when it's an absolutely 'Must Do' item," she says. If you're still unable to hold down your work-hours even when you're only tackling your must-dos, perhaps it's time to examine your priorities.

"If you're struggling with containing your hours even when you're only focusing on 'Must Do' items, then you need to really focus on expectations of yourself. Reality always wins," Saunders says. "If you overcommit, you will be in time debt and you will be stressed when you can't pay up when the bill comes due. This is not a micro-level time management problem but a macro-level time investment decisions issue." 

But I'd Be an Anxious Wreck…

For some owners, the biggest objection to limiting work is emotional. Sure, you could work less but you'd simply stress more about what you should be doing. Isn't better just to give in and check your smartphone than constantly wrestle with your state of mind?

Saunders admits that at first she struggled to tame her anxiety and her urge to work more. Now though, her schedule is natural to her. How did she make the transition?

"I planned fun activities that were meaningful for me like getting together with a friend, volunteering at a preschool, or attending a fun event. These plans helped me to tear myself away from the computer and once I was there, it was much easier to forget about work," she says.

The way she communicated with clients also had to change: "I was much more transparent with clients, so instead of working really late to get something done, I would ask if I could have more time if I needed it."

Has her limited work regime paid off? Absolutely, says Saunders.

"It allows me to not only do what I want to do, but be who I want to be. Prior to setting these limits, I really struggled with feeling guilty about ever taking time for myself when I was home. I also would have difficulty being completely present with people when I was being social because part of me wondered if I should be working instead," she says, but "once I established these boundaries, I had the freedom to enjoy reading a book, doing errands, or answering personal e-mail, without mental conflict on whether I should be doing something else instead."

 

IMAGE: micmol/Flickr
Last updated: Dec 28, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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