One big to-do a day: I make a to-do list for the week and then break it down by day. This allows me to see if everything is manageable and if I’m creating too much work for that week. Each of these “to-dos” typically takes 2-3 hours and is a substantial part of pushing my business forward. I also allow myself to double up on to-dos: If I can get two done in one day, I leave a day free for whatever may come up, whether a client situation or another opportunity.
Non-work activities on my calendar: I have a calendar software system on my website that clients and prospects use to see my availability and book appointments. It links to my work calendar, so I have to block out all time that I’m unavailable. I make sure that I plan my entire life on one calendar, including non-work obligations -- so I'm not tempted to cancel them for an appointment. If I’m planning to work out until 9:30 one morning, for instance, that gets blocked off, as does any volunteer work I want to do.
Make personal priorities work: Before becoming a financial advisor, I wanted to be a teacher. Now that I make my own schedule, I have joined the Junior Achievement program -- so in every quarter, I spend five mornings teaching K-5 kids about business, money and how it all impacts our lives. I've chosen to make this time non-negotiable. If a client or vendor wants to meet on one of those mornings, they can’t. The kids, and my volunteer work trump them.
Shift your schedule to get work done: Because I'm carving out time for all of these non-work priorities, I don’t necessarily keep a 9-5 schedule. If I have been out of the office one morning, or my kids are off school and I want to play with them, then I’ll complete my work in the evening, once they’ve gone to bed. In the summer, I take off Wednesdays to spend with my wife and children, but may spend some hours on the weekend making sure everything gets done.
I think the most important part of running your own business is “working to live.” As soon as it becomes “living to work”, things need to be changed.
Dave Grant, a Financial Planning columnist, is founder of Finance for Teachers, a planning firm, and Fee Only Consulting, in Cary, Ill. He is also the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young, fee-only planners.