When Is “DIY”-ing Your Business More Expensive Than Hiring Help?

When Is “DIY”-ing Your Business More Expensive Than Hiring Help?

If you’ve been with me for a while, then you probably know that I’m kind of a super nerd when it comes to time-tracking. But if you’re not a super nerd like me, let me break down this common scenario for you.

If you have even 2 clients, you’re spending at least 5 hours a week on admin and marketing tasks.

Let’s say your hourly price breaks down to around $100 per hour. If you’ve been in business a while, it’s likely higher than that, but we’ll go with this nice, round number for now.

So that means, if you’re doing 5 hours a week on tasks that someone else can be doing, then that’s $500 you’re leaving on the table. Every. Week.

That’s $2000 a month.

And that’s a low estimate!

I was talking about this issue with my mentor Mel Pharr and she told me, “I have the perfect example of this and I want you to use it.”

Years ago (when she was still DIYing her biz), she spent 12 weeks making her own website and writing, formatting, and scheduling her newsletters.

Time spent? 132 hours.

Revenue generated? $0. Plus, she was overwhelmed, frustrated by tech issues, and had no energy left for the parts of her business she actually loved. But at least she had a website?

After that, she shifted so that she would be concentrating her time on CLIENT-ATTRACTING WORK over the next 12 weeks: Direct outreach, creating webinar content, and offering assessments to potential clients.

Time spent? 76 hours.

Revenue generated? $28,882.

LET THAT SINK IN.

Plus, she was fulfilled and energized by the work she was doing, and confident that she finally had built the sustainable business she desired.

If that’s not the perfect example of what can happen when you STOP saying yes to doing all the things and START saying yes to running a real, sustainable business, I don’t know what is.

And I can’t speak for other support people out there, but I can speak for what happens when you work with me.

When you say yes: You know that your biggest needs are being met because we’ve dug deep in our strategy session to dial-in to your goals, your strengths, and what really drives and energizes you.

When you say yes: Those 5, 10, 15 hours you were spending every week on admin and marketing? Boom. Now you’re spending that time making an impact with your clients AND attracting new ones.

When you say yes: If attracting more clients isn’t your jam, you could also spend those hours going hiking, playing with your dog, or having cocktails with your girls. It’s your time again.

When you say yes: Your systems are seamless, your clients get a professional experience, and you didn’t have to spend hours and sacrifice untold energy to create it!

I’m booking calls now for spring and summer spots for my most comprehensive client package, Set Up to Scale Up. If you’re ready (or just curious) about what it could mean for your business to finally have real business support, book a free, no-obligation consultation now.

5 Things You’re Doing Everyday That Make You Feel Overwhelmed (and What You Can Do to Regain Control)

5 Things You’re Doing Everyday That Make You Feel Overwhelmed (and What You Can Do to Regain Control)

I’m not really into generalizations, but I don’t think it’s much of a hot take to say that we live in a culture (and we’re part of an online business market) that deals with a lot of feelings of being overwhelmed. 

It’s a common complaint from my solopreneur clients, fellow parents, and most people I hear from in the online business owner world. I know it’s something I face on the regular. You probably do, too, yes?

Part of it is definitely beyond our control (thank you, 24-hour news cycle!) But there are still ways we can regain some calm in our physical spaces, our time, and our chattering monkey minds to lessen the overwhelm we deal with every day. Ready to take back control? Me, too.

Overwhelming Habit 1: Notifications

At the beginning of the year, I switched from an Apple phone to an Android. When I had my iPhone, I had pretty much all of my phone notifications switched off and only allowed the really important ones (phone calls, text messages, and reminders).

But when I moved over to Android, even though I would say “Don’t allow notifications,” I still seemed to be getting notifications from a lot of my apps. Really weird ones that I don’t care about. 

Like the fact that some product went on sale at Amazon.

I’m continuing to fine-tune my settings all the time (seriously, Android), but I noticed that I feel physically tense every time I get a notification. Is it something I actually need to pay attention to? Can I ignore it? Well, I guess I’d better check it just to know!

And then once the phone is in my hand, it’s like I think, “Welp, might as well check Instagram.” Ugh. 

Notifications may not be a huge deal in the scheme of things, but it’s distracting enough to impact your day, especially if you get multiple notifications throughout the day. I’m definitely not the first person to advise this, but seriously: turn off almost all of your phone notifications. You do NOT need to know the moment every email comes in or someone responds to your Facebook comment.

That almost-insatiable need that we feel to respond immediately to requests doesn’t just rob our productivity, it also contributes to that feeling of being overwhelmed. 

When you give a person or thing permission to interrupt you, you’re relinquishing control of your time. You’re basically handing over control in a box with a big red bow. Who is benefiting from this gift? Be discerning with who and what is allowed the gift of your limited time and attention. 

Overwhelming Habit 2: Task-Switching (aka Multi-Tasking)

Task-switching is kind of woven throughout all of these habits, but I thought it deserved a mention of its own.

By now, you may have heard people say that “There’s no such thing as multi-tasking.” And while I think that argument is at least partially semantic, it’s a helpful reminder that switching gears from one focus to another is not a seamless process.

It takes time and mental energy to switch focus, so in order to take back a little more control, reduce task-switching as much as possible.

Here’s what this might look like in practice. 

I block out my time for the week every Sunday or Monday. But, for some reason, it took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t actually getting 3 hours of work done when I blocked out that time.

The reason? Task-switching. When I stopped doing one job and started doing another, I had to go back and review notes, open new browser tabs, stop and restart my timer app, and so on. We’re not machines. And I wasn’t accounting for that transition time in my schedule, which meant that I always felt a little behind.

Now I make sure to add a little bit of a buffer between my time blocks to account for task-switching time AND get a more accurate sense of how much I can get done in a day.

One popular way to reduce task-switching is with “batching.” In other words, do similar activities in the same block of time (and mark it out on your schedule in advance.)

This may look a little different for everyone, depending on your tasks. 

I like to batch my client work together as much as possible. So I’ll do all of my work for client A and client B on Monday, for instance. Then Client C Wednesday, and so on. 

But for you, it might make more sense to batch similar types of tasks together. Content brainstorming might all go together, for instance, and you might set aside time to come up with all of your ideas for social media, blogs, and videos all in one day. But then you might save the writing for a separate time when you can just focus on writing itself.

It will probably take a little bit of trial and error to find the right combinations for you, but you’ll feel the difference in your mental energy when you’ve found a good flow.

Are you someone who pushes back at this idea? Are you afraid that reducing your multi-tasking will make you bored more easily? I’d love to know if you’ve tried this before and what your experiences were (positive or negative!) Write back and let me know.

Overwhelming Habit 3: Writing Scrap Notes

Ooh, ok, I can feel a little bit of push-back on this one (maybe that’s all coming from me because I tend to take a lot of scrap notes).

Here’s the thing. It’s not bad or wrong to jot down a quick note on a scrap of paper (especially if you finish with it soon and then throw it away). But if we’re being honest, it’s also not the best habit if we’re trying to reduce mental clutter and overwhelm.

I once took a time-management course that talked about the concept of “gathering spots” and this idea was kinda revolutionary for me. The nutshell version is this: every place (physical OR virtual) where you store information is a place that you then have to keep track of.

So to feel less overwhelmed, reduce the number of places where you allow information to be gathered. This includes every email inbox, every place you store papers, files, digital notes, etc. According to this training, the average number of gathering spots for a person is 30-40. But the ideal number of gathering spots is 6. 

When I did this exercise a few years ago, at the time I counted 72 gathering spots. Thanks, ADHD!

And do I have 6 gathering places now? No, I definitely still have more than that, but I’m mindful about keeping my information in one spot as much as possible. A lot of people like Evernote for this because you can store information in a lot of different ways, share it, etc. I personally use GoodNotes instead because their Apple pencil integration was far superior to Evernote for me (and I love writing notes by hand).

I even integrate my bullet journal into GoodNotes! This was kind of a big deal for me, guys. I love my BuJo and I don’t want to give it up. But I also know that I prefer to store info digitally as much as possible. 

I set up GoodNotes to house each category that used to be in my BuJo (except for my monthly and weekly trackers, which I still keep in my BuJo because I don’t store them digitally.) 

Then I took a photo of each page of my BuJo and uploaded it to the correct category. The awesome thing about this method is that I can toggle back and forth. I can take digital handwritten notes, typed notes, integrate photos, pdfs, etc. Whatever I need in the moment, I can put in GoodNotes AND keep everything organized AND in one spot. Talk about reducing overwhelm.

Overwhelming Habit 4: Social Media

I told you guys up front this wasn’t all hot takes, but don’t click that next button just yet! 

Is it surprising to anyone that social media contributes to our feelings of overwhelm? I’m guessing not. Regardless, I hope to share some helpful reminders (or maybe an option you’ve never thought about) for dealing with social media overwhelm.

Whether it’s comparison-itis, Aunt Gretchen’s politics, or that one friend that posts every scary climate change article in existence, there’s no shortage of ways that social media can stress us out.

And while it may not be feasible for us to reduce our social media consumption as much as we fantasize about doing, there are ways to get back some control over it.

  1. Use the “unfollow” feature. Liberally. Seriously, if Aunt Gretchen’s posts stress you out, unfollow them. This doesn’t mean unfriending her (and then incurring her wrath about it at Thanksgiving), it just means managing your settings so that you don’t see what she posts. Out of sight, out of mind.

  2. Use an app to block certain keywords from appearing in your feed. I used an app for a while called Social Fixer that worked pretty well to block out election-related posts. But there are more out there. Here’s a post that lists a few to try out (it’s not a brand new post so caveat emptor).

  3. Give your phone a home (other than your pocket). This is one that I’d really like to do more often. When you’re at home, consider housing your phone on a shelf or desk; somewhere where you’re not tempted to reach for it at every opportunity.

Overwhelming Habit 5: Putting Out Fires

This goes back to habits 1 and 2 (notifications and task-switching), but, again, it needed a special mention. 

When you’re the boss, it can be easy to wind up spending your whole day putting out fires: those little tasks that pop up that feel like they demand immediate attention. And when you spend all day putting out fires, you might be getting a lot of work done, but it’s reactionary work. It is not business-building work.

That may be fine from time-to-time, but you will feel the pain if you let your business building work fall to the wayside. 

To avoid building a habit of putting out fires, I suggest developing a system for incoming requests. It might look something like this:

  1. Schedule your inbox check-in times in advance (allowing enough time in this block to send quick responses).

  2. At your inbox check-in time, go through and process your new emails. 

  3. If a response will take you less than 3 minutes, go ahead and do it. 

  4. If responding/resolving will take more than 3 minutes, then don’t respond immediately. Instead, decide three things: what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and where the email’s home is.

Here’s how this might look in practice. I set up filters on my inbox that automatically label emails by their category (each client, mastermind groups, etc.) So already, my emails are going to their appropriate “homes” for easy reference (even though they’re still coming to my inbox).

When I check my email, if it’s something that needs to be done later, I add a label: “Kate To Do”. I colored that label red so that it stands out to me when I’m glancing through my inbox. 

So at a pre-scheduled time each day/week I go through the “Kate To Do” items and resolve them (and remember to remove the “To Do” label when they’re done.)

You could even break down your “To Do” labels by when the items needs to be done, if you want, like “To Do Monday”, “To Do Tuesday,” etc. Careful not to overdo it with the labels, though. At some point if they become hard to remember or manage, they will cause their own sense of overwhelm!

What Is a Back Wall (and Why Do You Need One?)

What Is a Back Wall (and Why Do You Need One?)

When my husband was in graduate school for English, he had a professor named Chris Bachelder who, among other things, introduced him to the concept of the “back wall”. This is one of those ideas that has now weaseled its way into our relationship short-hand, so it’s a concept I think about a lot.

In writing (movies, TV, or literature), the idea of the “back wall” is that the reader or audience should always know what the characters are working toward. In other words, you should have some idea where the story is headed and it should be clear that the audience will know when the character has gotten there.

This isn’t always the main plot point, either. Rather, it’s the most immediate problem or question that needs to be resolved. So good stories will generally have multiple back walls. And when one is reached, another one will be there to replace it, just further away.

LET ME TELL YOU A STORY THAT WILL HELP EXPLAIN WHAT THIS HAS TO DO WITH PRODUCTIVITY.

My family went down to Nashville for a month to stay with my (incredibly generous and patient) parents. While we were there, my mom had given each of us a to-do list to help her prep for a big party they were hosting.

My (beautiful, wonderful) mother is… singular in the way she approaches delegation.

When I ask her what she needs me to do, it will often turn into a much longer conversation that sounds something like, “Well, we need A, B, and C, but when the cleaners come, that means that B is then going to need D and E, but we won’t know until later, and it will just be easier if I do A, and I think your dad said he might take care of C.”

Which means I’m usually left sputtering in my head, “So… what do you need me to DO?”

“I need a back wall,” I told Cory as he and I were working through our respective to-do lists. “I need to know exactly what she needs and what the end point is, otherwise I feel like everything she needed is only half-done because I’m not clear on what she’s asking me to do.

In other words, we needed clear direction and we needed to know when the work would be done.

This is not only a super helpful reminder for any of you who delegate work to VAs or other assistants, but it’s also helpful in your daily to-do lists. Does your day, week, or quarter have clear direction? Are your goals specific? Do you know when you’ll have reached them?

MAKING THESE DISTINCT AND CLEAR HAS A HUGE IMPACT IN YOUR MOMENTUM IN YOUR WORK.

Cory recently told me that the way he works through to-do lists is that he will keep adding items to his list as he works through it. And what this means is that by the time he finishes the 10 items he expected to get done, when he looks at his list, there are 25 more items on it.

It exhausts him and makes him feel like he will never get done. He never gets that feeling of accomplishment, of a job well done. That little shot of dopamine that tells your brain, “Hey, good work!”

He needs a back wall.

Deciding your back wall for the day can be as simple as deciding your top three (or 5… or 1, even) priorities for the day, then knowing that if you finish those and that’s all you can handle for the day, you can stop. Or you can set a new back wall and keep moving.

I recently sat in on a webinar led by one of my favorite business coaches and humans, Michelle Ward (The When I Grow Up Coach). She reminded us in the webinar of that handy little “45-minute timer” tip.

Decide that you’re going to work on something for just 45 minutes. It’s a short enough time that it feels manageable, but a long enough time to actually accomplish some work.

Not only is that so true, but it’s also a great example of instituting a back wall. The end of that 45 minutes is your back wall, and when you get there, you get to choose whether or not to set a new back wall. AND when you get there, give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge what you accomplished!

So what’s your back wall for the day? Hit “reply” and let me know

How I plan my week (so nothing falls through the cracks)

How I plan my week (so nothing falls through the cracks)

If you’ve been hanging out with me (virtually) for any length of time, then you probably know I’m a big fan of time blocking (and its time-management cousin, time-batching) as a way to help business owners get control of their time and improve work-life balance. If you’re not familiar with time blocking, it basically just means setting aside blocks of time for a specific purpose.

Today I wanted to give you a super-quick visual to show you how I create my own schedule each week in advance to make sure every client is getting the hours and attention they need (along with all the other people in my life—such as my family— who also want attention).

Create your own blocked-time schedule 

For a lot of reasons, I recommend doing your time blocking in the actual calendar app you use the most. I use Google calendar.

  1. It can sync to your scheduling software to prevent surprise appointment scheduling

  2. You can easily share it with your partner or other people who need to stay informed about your availability

  3. It’s SO quick to schedule and easy to color code (if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am)

  4. It’s super visual, obvs

So, here you have it, what a week at The Efficient/Creative looks like:

(with names and locations removed, of course)

How to prioritize when you create your schedule

Depending on what I’ve got going on, I might set this up on a Friday afternoon for the week ahead (or 2 weeks ahead), or it may be first thing Monday morning of that week. I know I have certain clients with specific hourly requirements, so I’ll block those out first. Then I’ll add fill in the times as needed for other things I’ve got to get done that week, making SURE to set aside time for my own business admin (#REQUIRED).

You can see that I’ve got a pretty consistent hard stop time of 5pm. I really don’t like working in the evenings (#beyourownboss), so blocking out my time this way—in advance—is crucial for me to protect my family time (and the all-important knitting time). 

You know I’m obsessed with productivity and time-management, right? I *love* hearing about the strategies other people use! Got a system that works for you? Hit those comments and let me hear about it!

1 Simple Way to Avoid Burnout When You Work from Home

1 Simple Way to Avoid Burnout When You Work from Home

Whether you work at home as a remote job or you own your own business, the fantasy (or reality) of having control over your time is a huge appeal of working from home. After all, one of the great work-from-home benefits is the ability to create your own schedule, right?

Have small kids at home and you can only work while they’re sleeping? Go for it.

Have a second, more traditional job with odd hours? No problem.

You can do SO many work-from-home jobs at literally any time of the day or night! 

Which brings us to one of the biggest dangers of working for yourself: burnout. There’s a reason that working from home can lead to depression, loneliness, and anxiety. And burnout can be a big component of that.

When you can work any time, it’s easy to work all the time.

Many of us started working from home so we could theoretically work anywhere, but it’s too easy to become just as chained to our desks at home as we were in the office. Worse, we can become even more chained to our desks because they’re ALWAYS NEAR.

Work all the hours and you’re setting yourself up for serious fatigue and isolation.

Here is 1 simple way to avoid burnout when you work from home.

There are 2 methods that I highly recommend you use in your weekly schedule to set boundaries and ensure that you keep a healthy mental work-life balance.

  1. Hard stops

  2. Time blocking/batching

Since I’ve already written about time-blocking (which you can read more about here), I’m going to talk a little more today about having a hard stop.

Having a hard stop simply means deciding on a time that you’ll stop work, then STOPPING work at that time. Follow-through is the hardest (and most important) part, obvs.

How to institute a hard stop in your work schedule

Like most of my time-management suggestions, it often starts with doing an audit of your time. How much time do you actually spend in each of your required categories? If you’re not sure where your time goes each week, then I recommend using Toggl to start tracking your time (it’s free and easy to use!)

Use your time audit to help you block out your week on a calendar. How much time do you need to plan to devote to each of your required categories?

Include your hard stop boundaries in your schedule

While you’re blocking your time, think about when you want your hard stop to be every day. When are you going to say, “Work time is OVER and I’m shutting my computer down”? Depending on your life, it could be a different time each day or consistent across the whole week.

Set this boundary in advance. Then honor it.

While you’re at it, make a point of communicating this boundary with everyone who might be affected.

  • Send an email to your clients and inform them of your set working hours

  • Add language to your contracts or client onboarding documents that specify the time you stop working each evening

  • Tell someone (like your partner) who can help you stay accountable and honor the time commitments you have to your family

  • Set up an out-of-office email autoresponder and turn it on every evening before you stop working

Not all boundaries are created equal (and that’s okay)

If you are someone who has to work in chunks throughout the day, you may have multiple hard stops, For instance, if you work while the kids are napping, you might say “The kids usually wake up at 2, so I’m going to stop work at 1:50.”

Or it may look like setting a certain number of hours per day that you’ll work, then stopping when you’ve reached that amount. Simple enough right?

Institute a hard stop time boundary in your work-from-home schedule and see what a difference it makes in how you feel about your work. Has a hard stop helped you avoid burnout in your business? Scroll to those comments and let me hear about it!

My 4 Favorite Apps for Focusing and Avoiding Distractions

My 4 Favorite Apps for Focusing and Avoiding Distractions

Do you ever find yourself unable to maintain focus on the job at hand?

Or maybe (if you’re like me), sometimes you can’t even remember what you were trying to focus on?

If you’re reading this, then that means you have internet, and THAT probably means that, yes. Yes, you have trouble focusing.

If you take an already busy schedule and add apps that constantly say “CLICK ME!” with notifications, then add more competing priorities of work and home, then you have a recipe for distraction. 

Take it from me: I work from home, which means that I’m immediately surrounded by laundry, dirty dishes, (and during the summer, children) that want my attention the moment I step away from the sanctity of my home office. The last thing I need is an office environment that contributes to the mental chaos.

SO TODAY I WANT TO SHOW YOU SOME OF MY FAVORITE TOOLS THAT I USE TO STAY FOCUSED, REDUCE DISTRACTIONS, AND STAY MOTIVATED.

 

Save important info for later with Pocket (available on iOS and Android)

Have shiny object syndrome? Don’t lose your focus or momentum when you see an article that you want to read or video you want to watch. Use pocket as a place to store all of those videos, articles, any ideas that pop up throughout your day so you can go back to them later.

Pocket’s also available as a Chrome extension, so you can add things right from your desktop, your tablet, OR your phone- they all go to the same place!

BONUS POINTS if you schedule a time in your calendar to regularly go back to those items (so they don’t just keep accumulating). 

Reduce distractions and annoyances with Forest (iOS and Android)

If you have to slap your hand away from your smartphone to avoid visiting some of your favorite apps when you should be working, check out Forest. It’s available for tablets or phones. Set the timer for the length of time you need to stay focused, then put the device down!

While the timer is running, you plant a virtual “tree.” Use your device while the timer is going and your tree dies. Womp, womp.

 

Even better? Save up your healthy virtual trees and you can turn those into REAL trees to be planted by a Tree Planting Partner for a community in need. AWESOME. 

 

Train your brain to stay focused with Apple’s native Reminders app

I’m not sure what the direct Android equivalent is for this app (if you know, please add a comment below), but I have to mention it because it is saving my sanity. At the very moment that I think, “Shoot, I have got to remember to do the thing,” I stop what I’m doing, and add it to my Reminders app. 

I can set a reminder to notify me if it’s time-sensitive, and I can even set regular reminders at just about any interval you could need (so I can actually, finally, keep a plant alive—fingers crossed). Use the “info” section anytime there’s more detail you need.

Force yourself to stay on-task with Self Control (for Mac Desktop- try “Cold Turkey” for Windows)

This is similar to the Forest app, but works on your desktop or laptop.

Blacklist the websites that tend to pull your attention away from your work(*ahem* Facebook), set your timer, then get to work. Self-Control will block your access to those black-listed sites while the timer is running.

If you REALLY struggle with self-control, you can also choose to whitelist ONLY the sites the sites that you need to access while you work. Every other site will be blocked. Eek!

OK, Y’ALL! YOU’VE GOT THE TOOLS, NOW NO MORE EXCUSES!

What tools are you obsessed with right now that help you be more productive? Tell me in the comments below. I LOVE productivity apps (and I love to go “app shopping” when my motivation is low), so hit me with what you got.

P.S. Know somebody who would love this info? Feel free to forward this blog to them (and ask them to sign up for more amazing productivity here!)

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© 2021 The Efficient/Creative   |   DESIGNED BY BROOKE LAWSON

© 2021 The Efficient/Creative
DESIGNED BY BROOKE LAWSON