“I have no time!” is the lament of workers the world over. This is especially so for self-employed folk. Over and over again, people tell me all the things that take up their time, leaving them with none.

My clients sometimes go into great depth and detail listing out what’s stopped them from doing what they told me they really, desperately want to do. They tend to be juggling children, relationships, ageing parents. Sometimes they have a side business they’re wanting to grow into a full-time concern while also holding down a job. If they’re working in the creative arts, they’re not likely to have just one source of income.

Confronted with this great pile of seemingly important responsibilities and obligations, how can we make time for more important things? First know, I’m never going to suggest you set the alarm for some ungodly hour (I’m not that kind of punk). But let’s start by defining what important things are while appreciating that they’re different for all people.

Important work

You can define important things in your work by two criteria: assets you’re creating to leverage (hopefully for many years into the future); and of high monetary value.

Your assets could include (but aren’t limited to):

  • A book
  • A course, workshop or program, whether delivered face-to-face, online, or a hybrid of both
  • A repeatable framework or process
  • A video series.

High monetary value could be work that translates to a high dollar rate per hour invested by your business. That could come from a premium-priced product or the fact that you’re leveraging your time to deliver one-to-many services that, again, delivers a higher rate per hour rate of return for you.

Bits and things and stuff and guff

Most business owners are spending way too much time on bits and things and stuff and guff. Admin is a major culprit. A lack of processes, procedures and templates is another. Another major culprit is low-value jobs and low-value service offerings.

The first thing I do with clients who are suffering from a bad case of timeitis is to clear some space. It’s a pointless undertaking to pile more stuff on top of an already over-full schedule. (This is a short road to overwhelm and burnout.)

In my Hustle & Heart program, the first thing we do is carve out space to do the program by saying no to non-essential things. Following this, one of our first exercises is the Profit Plan, which enables you to analyse all your different service offerings to quickly see which are profitable, and which aren’t. Unless you have a strong strategic reason for offering something that isn’t delivering a healthy profit, it should be the first to go.

Second, admin. Most people spend way too much time dealing with one-to-one inquiries that don’t translate into new paying clients. If this is you, take your email address off your website and possibly your phone number too. Replace these with a smart form that asks intelligent questions that set expectations, subtly educates your prospects, and arms you with all necessary information to get back to prospects more effectively.

When digital marketing is done well, admin should be reduced because your marketing is comprehensively addressing concerns, overcoming misconceptions, misunderstandings, and barriers to purchase, and answering frequently asked questions (once and for all). Your digital marketing leverages your time – not just by attracting prospects but also by reducing the need for one-to-one communications.

Third, boundaries. If you work in the helping or healing sector, you almost always will have loose boundaries. Why? Because you tend to be empathetic and have a strong drive to help others.

If your ideal client group is impoverished and marginal, you’re far better off soliciting for work from agencies that have the funding to serve this group, rather than continually discounting your services for people who can’t afford you. When you take on others’ financial burdens as your own and begin believing that you are morally obligated to help people who cannot afford to pay a fair rate, you are undermining your ability to do this well, for many years to come.

Repeat after me: you are not an emergency doctor. You are not here to triage your clients, or anyone else. You can take all care and no responsibility. Your responsibility is to yourself and your family. Your time is your own to spend.

Time, effort, cash and kind

Your actions speak louder than your words. Words (and good ideas) are cheap. Good intentions are good, but follow through is so much better.

Technology has been deliberately designed to be addictive. This is only going to get worse. It’s time to take back control.

Your action plan (should you choose to accept it):

  • The first thing you do is the ‘important thing’ – give yourself an least an hour as soon work for things that create leverage in the long-term and/or things that are high value. (In the Hustle & Heart program, everyone is given a challenge in the second week to do just that – to create a new, premium-priced offering that can be leveraged.)
  • Marketing, lead generation, and business development should be a close second priority. If you want to be in business for the long-term, then a major part of your role is developing ninja marketing and sales skills (this is what my Hustle & Heart program teaches). Yes I know you’d rather do what you love that persuade people to buy it, but it’s marketing and business development that enables you to do what you do, and for your work to have a far greater impact and reach (far) more people.
  • Write down your working hours. Give yourself a clear start time and finish time each day that you work. (Time off is essential. Please. For the love of sanity and sleep, take a day or two off every week!)
  • Take control back. If your personal life is regularly eating into your working life, it’s time to get mad, and then get even. Use what resources you have available to create stronger boundaries, to set the agenda, to plan ahead and follow through. Healthy boundaries create healthy profits and a future-proof business.
  • Take control back from technology by using it to play its own game. Restrict access to your digital heroin to create better boundaries with communications and improve the quality of yours while reducing wasted time. Use constraints to stop depleting your natural reserves. If your attention is splintered and you’re a chronic procrastinator, use a timer when you’re at your computer.
  • Accountability buddies are the bomb. In the Hustle & Heart program, everyone is paired up with an accountability buddy. This helps to ensure that people follow through. Most people aren’t intrinsically motivated and are far less likely to break a commitment to someone else than to themselves.

Nobody is going to give you time. ‘The perfect time’ to build your business is a myth. Your clients, boss, friends, family and assorted others aren’t ever going to take away your pressing responsibilities so you can focus and find clarity and set your business direction, unhindered. You aren’t gifted time. You make time.

Actions speak louder than words. What you give your precious time to are things that you demonstrate that you value. Is this true for you? Remember, more profits can buy you more time and more ease.