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Returning to a 40-Hour Work Week

It is possible to be an entrepreneur and work just 40 hours per week. All it takes is the right kind of planning and some delegating.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: When I first started my business, I was single and I didn't have family obligations. I could work 80 hours per week-and I did. But now, I'm married and have two small children and I really want to spend more time with my family. How can I take time for them, make sure my employees and clients know I'm committed to my business, and still run a successful business?

A: This is one of those questions that, at first blush, we're tempted to answer in a single sentence. It seems so clear. But, upon reflection, there's more than meets the eye.

Yet, there does remain that first quick response-your customers and employees will know you're committed to your business if they see that you continue to produce a high-quality product or service. They'll know you're committed because you still take their calls and make time to listen to your employees' concerns and suggestions. In other words, they'll notice that you haven't lost your "people" skills. And, we have a little surprise for you: They'll be relieved to know you're not working 80 hours per week any longer. Customers and employees alike will be delighted to see that it's not just a one-man show that sputters and dies when the owner suddenly begins working normal hours.

Even better, your family will be happier than ever. You may well have worked 80 hours per week, but when you got married, you made a commitment to share yourself with another person and now children.

So, it's time to examine where those 80 hours are going each week. You, or your secretary, will need to keep a log of your time for several weeks. Once the log is complete, you must sit down and evaluate where the time went. This log is critical. You cannot accurately determine how much time you spend on various tasks without a meticulous, contemporaneous log of every activity. Upon reviewing the log, for each entry ask yourself: Is the task necessary? Then, if it's necessary, ask: Should I be the one who performs it? Immediately drop from your future schedule those unnecessary tasks, as well as any undertaking that doesn't contribute to the business in a real way.

Next Step
For more insight into the benefits of achieving a good work/life balance, read Way of the Guerrilla: Achieving Success and Balance as an Entrepreneur in the 21st Century by Jay Conrad Levinson.

For the other tasks, make a simple T chart. In one column, list the really important stuff that only you should do. In the other column, list the work that should be done by others. Finally, delegate those duties that should be done by others. If they need additional training, you should provide it. Just make sure that once you decide who should perform various functions that you're able to absolutely commit to letting go. When Rod first started his business, he did the payroll and just about everything else. He thought he'd do it all himself until that distant day when he might retire. Today, though, he has about 125 employees-and if he has to do the payroll (or other administrative task), he considers it a personal failure on his part because he didn't delegate it properly. As the owner, he knows he should be focusing on other responsibilities.

We believe that one of the most important benefits of working fewer hours will be the pressure it takes off your employees. If you're working 80 hours each week, some of your employees will feel the unwarranted pressure to either do the same or quit in frustration. And, perhaps the most significant benefit to your business: Those entrusted with new responsibilities will realize you really do trust them; that it hasn't all been lip service.

Guess what? You'll be amazed at how good a hot meal tastes at 6 p.m. instead of leftovers at midnight. And it's just delightful to realize that your kids will finally be able to put a name to your face.

Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners of Semper Fi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authors of Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.