If you're like most entrepreneurs, you started your businesses because you didn't want to work for someone else. At some point, reality sunk in. Your new boss works you to the bone and makes you feel guilty if you're not working 24/7. You suddenly realize that your new boss is even worse than your old one. To add insult to injury, this terrible new boss is you.
Short of simply working fewer hours -- and running the risk of tanking your business -- how do entrepreneurs achieve a better work-life balance while increasing their bottom-line?
In a word: Focus.
The late Steve Jobs said focus isn't deciding what to do, it is deciding what not to do. People rarely disagree that narrowing one's focus can be helpful, but few actually do it. That's because it's often unclear how to focus at a practical level.
Here are six simple steps to help you strategically focus on what's most critical in your business life so that you can earn more while working less:
1. Monetize your to-do list. Determine the financial value of completing every task on your list, then write those dollar amounts next to the corresponding items.
For example, if the task is to prepare a proposal to land a $150,000 contract, write "Finish Proposal ($150,000)." If the task is to return a phone call from your number-one customer, who generates $1 million in annual sales, write: "Return Mary's phone call ($1 million)."
2. Sort your list in descending order. Start with the highest dollar amount at the top and the lowest dollar amount at the bottom.
3. Draw a line through the middle of your list. Split your list in half with the top most important tasks at the top and the least important 50 percent on the bottom.
4. Spend four days a week working on the top 50 percent of your list. Focus on the number-one item on the list and finish it completely before you begin the next item. If you find that you can't finish this item until someone else does something first, move on to the next item on your list.
5. Spend one day a week on the bottom 50 percent of your list. By forcing yourself to work on the less important (but seemingly urgent) tasks only one day a week, you won't be able to complete them all. You'll find that some tasks remain on the bottom 50 percent for many weeks at a time. You should expect this to happen and realize it's a deliberate byproduct of this approach.
6. Reevaluate the bottom 50 percent of your list weekly. Drop the tasks that become obsolete. If you're forced to procrastinate on the unimportant tasks, they'll stay on your list week after week, and you'll quickly realize just how unimportant they are. It would be better to leave these items off your list in the first place, but sometimes people have a major aversion to dropping things from their to-do list. Using this approach, the items just become obsolete on their own, which makes them easier to ignore.
For example, if you have several $100,000+ opportunities at the top of your to do list, it makes sense to have the bottom of the list include items like reworking your company logo, scheduling lunch with someone who wants to pick your brain for free advice or price shopping to lower your insurance rates by $750 a year. Focus is not free. To get extreme results from less work, you need to be willing to sacrifice good opportunities to focus intensely on great ones.
You want to dedicate the majority of your time and energy at work to your most important, highest impact activities. When you follow these steps repeatedly for a long enough period of time, your sales and income will increase substantially. With more money in your pocket, you'll be able to outsource and hire people to work on the bottom 75 percent of your to-do list, while you shift even more of your time to the top 25 percent of your tasks.
The key to focus is to ignore trivial tasks while doubling the time spent on the things that make a big difference. Only by doing so will you start to love your new boss a little more.