How to get a better work/life balance as your own boss

I was reading an article earlier this week that talked about a new study that has found that self-employed people typically take only 14 days of holiday a year.

What’s more, one in eight don’t take any days off at all!

Reading further, the article stated that during a study of 1,000 freelance or self-employed workers, it found they typically were ‘on duty’ for 13 hours a day, looking at their first work email at 8.01am and their last at 8.55pm.

This amounts to 65 hours a week on average – almost double the average hours of those in full-time employment – according to the study by online accountancy firm Crunch. Wow!

I’ve never added up my total weekly working hours before, but my estimate is certainly in that region, even now after 12 years of running my own business.

But actually this suits me because those hours may be long, but they are also really flexible – to the point where I can take my work on holiday, still run the business but take time to chill as well.

Looking back, it’s pretty much always been like that, since the day I started my online business. In fact, my one clear memory of that initial start-up time was that I was literally glued to my laptop night and day!

Seeing orders coming in has always been a great motivator for me and it’s also justification to me that I’m actually getting it right. But at the beginning, it was almost like an addiction and at one point when I had a particularly large online inventory, and products selling day in and day out, my email was constantly pinging with orders!

I loved it though, the sheer pleasure of knowing that my business was bearing fruit, long hours or not.

I know first-hand that an online business is one of the best home businesses you can consider. It’s so flexible, easy to start up and can be worked part time or full time.

What I found though, and I’ve said this before, is that it is not effortless, especially at the start. And that’s why you may find yourself with ‘no days off’!

The thing is, you simply can’t go on for ever burning the candle at both ends, because you will become exhausted or lose your motivation and that’s when things end up become less enjoyable and begin to seem like a chore.

As your business grows and you become more adept at day to day time management, you will find that you are able to run your business with a minimal amount of admin and effort each day, freeing you up to really start living the lifestyle you desire.

Learn to strike the balance

Running a business on your own can seem daunting and I am sure that I don’t have to tell you that time management is a very important factor especially if you are running a ‘kitchen table’ business.

You haven’t got an administrator, you haven’t got an accounts person and you certainly haven’t got a very lovely PA who makes you endless cups of coffee and nips out to get you a sandwich at lunchtime.

You need an element of organisation or the ability to wear many ‘hats’. I don’t mind admitting that this is something that I wasn’t very good at when I worked for other people, but something that I am extremely good at now – because I have to be focused.

The important thing is to ensure you combine work and leisure time in equal measures so that you have a work/family balance.

eBay buyers in particular are amongst some of the most demanding customers in the world – they expect their goods to arrive at their door 10 minutes after they have ordered and have notions that you are sat glued to your desk 24/7 just waiting for their order to arrive so that you can label up their parcel within seconds of their payment arriving and get it on to the private jet that you have waiting outside.

But of course, there is a limit to what you can actually do in a day. I used to find myself checking emails as late as midnight or the early hours of the morning, worrying that if I didn’t answer right now, the customer might toddle off and purchase from someone else.

The truth is though, that if an email arrives at 10pm and you don’t answer until the following morning, the chances are the customer won’t have bought from someone else, so it’s really not such a big deal.

To do or not to do? That is the question

Most customers will expect a response from you within 24 hours. Actually, the irony is that if you do answer any quicker, customers will actually start to believe that you really are glued to your desk and that’s when you are making a rod for your own back.

So, you can stop worrying about answering emails as soon as they pop into your inbox. Within 24 hours is time enough. You should set time aside each day for different tasks including answering those emails.

Write a ‘to do’ list each evening (I always do this without fail), prioritise and stick to your list daily so instead of interrupting another task to read an email that arrived 3 seconds ago, only check your emails at set times throughout the day with a reasonable cut off point in the evening when you can stop, relax and have some leisure time – for example 9am, 1pm, 5pm and 7pm or whatever times suit you.

Decide what your working hours will be and try and stick to them as closely as possible. I know there may be times when this isn’t achievable – we all have days like that – but believe me, you’ll feel more in control if you know exactly what you are doing on a daily basis.

If you are employed during the day and running a part time online business, schedule a couple of hours each evening to deal with your admin – this is perfectly possible, I’ve been there and done that too.

If you have packing to do, pack up a whole batch of products in to individual jiffy bags one Saturday morning – get the whole family involved and make it fun – my two children know all about this too!

What’s important to remember is that if you offer a good service and keep your buyers informed at all times then they really have no cause for complaint. You won’t get a negative feedback comment for not answering an email immediately.

Dispatch times are slightly different. If you feel you can only dispatch orders once or twice a week because you are employed elsewhere and can’t dispatch daily, make sure you state your dispatch times so that buyers will be aware of when to expect their goods. Likewise, if you dispatch daily then state that too. But do make sure that you pack orders up ready for posting each evening so that you are not rushing the day before your dispatch days.

People like honesty and to be kept in the loop and so if you give your potential buyers as much information as possible within your listings, this will also cut down on the number of questions people will ask you because they will already have the information.

Like anything, good time management does takes practice and comes easier once you are in a steady routine that suits you. But, if you really still can’t fit everything in each day, there’s only one thing for it – try getting up an hour earlier – you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve whilst the rest of the household are still fast asleep!

Now, I’m off to write my ‘to do’ list for Monday!