Take the interstate towards any major city at around 5 P.M., glance across the median and you will inevitably see a long line of backed-up cars. On your side, there's hardly any traffic at all. The other side? It's as congested as a parking lot.
That's because you're swimming downstream, avoiding the congestion, avoiding the delay, avoiding all the hassle and stress. It's an awesome feeling.
Yet, when you're an entrepreneur, it feels like you're constantly swimming upstream. Managing your personal life and business life feels damned near impossible. You could fill every hour of every day with work and still not have enough time to get everything done. Plus, there's the constant tug of family, of friends, and of that impossibly elusive "me time."
So why not, whenever you can, swim downstream in your professional and personal life?
Finding Time to Tackle Tasks
Take me. I'm a serial entrepreneur and have built several companies. Especially in the early days of a startup, that meant working Saturdays and Sundays -- the days Monday-through-Friday workers typically use to run errands, go shopping, do work around the house, etc.
Of course, the flip side is true. Haircut appointments are a lot easier to get on weekdays. Home Depots are a lot less crowded at 10 A.M. on Tuesday mornings. Buying groceries, getting your car's oil changed, meeting a contractor to talk about home renovations -- you can accomplish tasks like those a lot more quickly, and more efficiently, when you're swimming downstream.
That's why you should take a contrarian approach to work and personal tasks. Whenever possible, work at least some of the time when most other people are on "personal time," and take care of personal tasks when others are on "work time."
The Early Bird Gets Less Distracted
One simple example is starting your workday before others. Vanderkam's study of morning rituals shows that up to 90 percent of executives wake up before 6 A.M. on weekdays. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, famously gets up at 3:45 A.M. (I'm an early riser, but that's a little too early for me.) General Motors CEO Mary Barra is at her desk by 6 A.M. Bill McNabb, the chairman of Vanguard Group, is at his desk by 6:15.
Being an early bird isn't the key, though. The key is that being early allows them to work without distractions. Working when others are not is like avoiding the congestion of rush-hour traffic. It allows you the luxury of working on your most important tasks without interruption, without distraction -- and to take better control of the rest of your day.
Keep in mind you don't have to be the first one to work. You can also be the last. If you like to sleep in, you can shift your quiet hours to the evening. No one says you have to start before everyone else -- you can just as easily finish after them.
Move Those Meetings
Author Laura Vanderkam surveyed professional women who earned six figure salaries and had kids at home. A significant percentage left work around 3:30 P.M. to get their kids from school and then scheduled conference calls (often with people in other time zones) from 8 to 10:30 P.M., moving the latter chunk of their work day to nighttime.
The key to swimming downstream is to create a proactive plan. Need a haircut next week? Fine. Schedule it for a weekday. Need to grab a few items from Home Depot? No problem. Swing by on Wednesday on the way back from a meeting with a client. Feel like you don't get to see your child enough? Plan to eat lunch with her at school.
The tough part about being an entrepreneur is that you are your business, which means you're always on. But the great part about being an entrepreneur is that you can, if you choose, control at least some of your schedule. You can choose to get to work early. You can choose to work late.
And you can choose to take care of some of your personal tasks when other people are working, and vice versa, which means you'll be a lot more productive and a lot happier in both areas of your life.
Swim downstream as often as you can. You and your business will be glad you did.