You own your own business or freelance, so of course you work for yourself.
In one way, sure. If you’re self-employed, you work for yourself. You’re the boss, you make the decisions, and you set the rules.
But you can run your own business or freelance career and never actually work for yourself. How?
You work for your customers or your clients instead. You dedicate all your time to meetings, projects, tasks, to-dos, plans, consulting, articles, products… you get the idea.
To put it another way, most of us get caught up working in our businesses and not on them. We may feel a little superior to those in the corporate world stuck in the rat race — but in reality, we tend to get stuck on our own hamster wheel.
And just because it’s a wheel we created ourselves doesn’t mean it’s any better. Stuck and making no progress is still stuck and making no progress, whether it’s in our business or someone else’s.
Let’s do something about that and gain momentum.
What It Means to Do Work for Yourself
When you first started your business, you probably experienced a lot of movement. You spread the word, you networked, you did what you could to gain your first clients.
Back then, you had time because you just started. There weren’t that many clients to provide for, and you worked for yourself in order to grow this business you launched.
But now, with a full (or nearly full) roster of clients and shrinking bandwidth, you churn out what you need to keep those clients on board and happy.
Your “work,” or what you do day in and day out in your business, tends to revolve around what you need to produce and deliver to the ones that pay you. In this way, you work for your clients.
Obviously, this is critically important. If you don’t provide services or products, you don’t get paid. If you don’t deliver on what you promised, you lose clients. You don’t have a business.
But working for your clients cannot be the only work you ever do. You need to truly work for yourself, too.
You need to get back to spending some of your time working on your business. This is where you can start getting un-stuck and start making progress again.
What does this look like? It’s different for every business.
For me, working for my clients means creating content, developing content marketing strategies, providing project management, writing articles and blog posts, and meeting for consulting calls.
Working for myself means doing things like:
- Writing blog posts for my own site
- Creating content to send to my community of business owners and entrepreneurs dedicated to turning ideas into actions
- Running my own social media accounts
- Reading new and interesting articles about content marketing, writing, business management, business strategy, and creative work
- Researching opportunities to write, teach, and speak
- Attending meetings and building relationships, from mastermind groups to networking events
- Managing my team and training new team members
- Handling administrative tasks like creating processes, building systems, and keeping finances organized and up to date
In other words, it’s everything I can do to take care of my audience, promote my services, expand my reach, and take my business to the next level.
And even though those results are awesome and clearly something any business owner should want to achieve, I still find it crazy difficult to carve out the time required to do all these tasks.
Working for yourself and on your business is an investment of your time and effort. It requires you to put in that collateral upfront for a potential return down the road. The “potential” return on my investment is resistance I face most often when I need to make time to complete these tasks.
It’s hard to sit down and write a 2,000 word blog post for myself when I could write another article for a corporate brand and get paid for that work.
But that’s a shortsighted approach, because it doesn’t take the long term benefits of writing that 2,000 blog post into account.
Spending my time to write one more post for the blog of a major brand pays off immediately. Writing for myself may not pay off for another 6 months — but when it does? It could be much more than the flat, one-time rate.
A blog post written today could generate a new client months down the road. It contributes to my own body of work that’s mine forever, instead of contributing to someone else’s business assets that they use to generate clients.
The same can be said of less tangible deliverables, like the plan from a consulting call or strategy session that I create for someone else’s business.
That client can pay me for that work right now, and I’ve used my time to generate income. That’s a short-term business win.
For a long-term business win, I need to dedicate time to create my own business strategy. And then I need to commit time to executing that plan.
We need to balance how we spend our time between the short-term successes and what we need to do for long-term business growth.
Dedicate Time to Working for Yourself
Most business owners I know face the same struggle: we focus on the short-term payout because we need to generate revenue today.
It’s time to take a deep breath and pull the focus back. Let’s look at the big picture — and the even bigger payout we could receive in the long run if we can take an hour each day to invest in our business now.
Getting better perspective can help us orient where our priorities should lie. It’s how I chose to use the time it took to write this blog post to actually write it — instead of squeezing in just a little more client work into this hour.
I know I need to have a little bit of time every single day to work for myself and on business in some form or fashion. I plan out each week and make sure that no day is so overloaded with assignments and work I need to deliver to clients that I won’t have any time at all to focus on my own business needs.
Some days, that means I have 30 minutes to schedule a few tweets to send out and that’s it. Other days, I can devote an entire 4 hours to tasks that build up my own business.
Each day is different, but the constant factor is that there is time dedicated to my own work no matter what.
How to Make the Time for Tasks Your Own Business Needs
That may sound a little easier said than done. And I get it: the first time I tried launching a freelance career, I burnt out so fast because all I ever did was work for clients.
I was exhausted, constantly behind, and worst of all, stuck in my own business. Assignments devoured my entire work week, leaving me with no time or energy to focus on how I could get out of the situation I created for myself.
Eventually, I took a position as director of marketing for a financial services company just to escape.
See what I mean about that hamster wheel? Who cares if you’re the one who made it. It still sucks to find yourself trapped on it.
I learned from that initial mistake when I launched this business to help financial advisors and other entrepreneurs create compelling content that allows them to gain influence and clients. Before I started, I figured out the formula that worked for me as far as how much time I could devote to clients each week so I’d still have availability for myself.
How? By using these strategies.
Schedule everything. Seriously. You will never have time for tasks unless you make the time. I use my Google Calendar to record everything I need to do to keep my own business running smoothly.
Mostly this applies to meetings, workshops, events, and major projects. But it also applies to personal things that would negatively impact my business growth if they didn’t happen.
That’s why I schedule gym time on my calendar and treat it like any other meeting I need to go to. Eric and I even have a standing grocery store date: I pick him up from his BNI meeting every Tuesday morning and drive to the store. This gives us access to healthy meals made at home to keep us going throughout the week.
The grocery store “meeting” is my favorite example of the importance of scheduling the important stuff that must get done — even the stuff that you may not think counts as working for yourself. But there’s a dramatic difference in the week if we don’t make it to the grocery store.
I spend more money eating out and I feel guilty about that. Even though my business and personal finances are separate, I generate my income from my business. If I don’t spend that money wisely (like when I overspend to eat meals out), I feel stressed — it’s just that much more money I need to generate in my business this month to keep up with my spending.
Plus, I feel worse because I’m not eating as healthy or as clean. That impacts my productivity, creativity, and mood overall. When you own and run your business, how you personally feel deeply matters to how effective you are — and that goes for working for clients and yourself.
Use tools to track everything you scheduled. For the little tasks that need to get done each week but don’t require a specific time assigned to them, I use a task management system. I could not function without Asana.
My Asana workspace includes all my work, from what I need to do for clients to what I need to do for myself. I treat my tasks as if they are just as important as my client’s tasks — because they are!
While they’re obviously organized and tagged appropriately, I don’t distinguish between the types of work I’m doing. If it’s in Asana, it needs to get done.
Don’t just make a to-do list. Another reason my tasks live in Asana and not just on a regular to-do list is because I can assign due dates to everything in the system. Client work obviously has a deadline — but I give my own work deadlines, too.
If you don’t create a due date for your own tasks, they will not get done. You can plan in advance and give yourself much longer turnaround times with your own work than you would for client deliverables. But you still need to give yourself some sort of deadline.
Create systems that maintain your dedicated time. Carving out time to work for yourself is only step one. That time will quickly fill up with client work and other tasks if you don’t protect it or set up a system to keep everything else out.
I rely on batching the most. This means I set aside a chunk of time in which to work on a specific group of tasks all at once, even if I won’t need the deliverables right away.
That’s actually how I write content for my blog. Most recently, I used NaNoWriMo as a system to generate lots of new posts all at once.
Even though the intention behind the movement is to get writers to create a novel in 30 days, I applied the idea to my own needs. Throughout the month, I wrote with the goal of trying to reach 50,000 words of new content by the end of November.
The end result: enough blog content to take and schedule over the next year. Batching can help you use a month to generate a year’s worth of content, too — or it could help you take 30 minutes a week to turn out a month’s worth of social media posts.
Batch similar tasks together and produce as much as possible. Then distribute or deliver as required.
Get productive and manage your time wisely. At the end of the day, you only have so many hours to get everything done. You’ll get more work for yourself done if you’re smart about how you use those available hours.
Notice when you’re most productive. Is it early in the morning? Late at night? Whatever time you do your best work, that’s when you need to tackle your most pressing, important tasks.
Sometimes that will be work for your clients. Other days, it will be your own projects. Don’t be afraid to prioritize your own work over others when it needs to get done.
Leave smaller tasks — again, whether they’re for your own business or your clients — for times in your workday when your productivity and energy levels naturally decline.
For me, I realize that I take an hour or so to ramp up in the morning. I use my first hour at my computer to perform simple, mindless tasks that don’t require much creativity or decision-making.
Then I use the rest of the morning to tackle the big, hairy, scary stuff that requires a lot of focus, creativity, and powerful thinking. When I start realizing my energy is dwindling, I wrap up with more of the necessary-but-simple tasks.
Using your time wisely also means focusing on what’s actually important for you. My blog is much more important to me than building a huge Twitter following, so that’s why I focus on when I work for myself.
Look at what’s essential for your business to grow and expand, and focus your energy there. If you have more time, that’s when you can also complete less important, lower impact tasks for yourself.
Do One Thing, Every Day
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Small, sustainable efforts every day add up to bigger results than one massively productive day that only happens once every few months when you feel particularly inspired and motivated.
So start somewhere. Do one thing for yourself, every day. It doesn’t matter how small. It just matters that you get it done today. And the next day. And the day after that.
Start today with this small action: pull up your calendar. Create a recurring event that happens every day. Set it for 30 minutes or an hour.
Now, devote that hour to working for yourself.
This is how you build momentum and avoid getting stuck on a hamster wheel of your own. Your business can only grow if you give it some of your attention and energy.
Carve out the time for those small efforts that you can stick to every day. You’ll see massive results from your dedication to your own work over time.