A few years ago, I came home from yet another day where my business meetings had nearly overlapped. I had had to pencil in time just to breathe. My exhaustion was bone-deep.
I thought, and not for the first time, about the freedom I'd lost, and craved, about the workdays that had devolved into series of to-do lists. I felt deeply that I needed to make some major changes or risk losing myself to my business.
So. . . I made those changes. And that turnabout was one of the best things I've ever done. Ultimately, the changes I made to take better care of myself and to value my time enabled me to land my first multimillion-dollar contract.
What were those changes? There were four that enabled my success -- and they can serve any entrepreneur:
1. Stop believing in “busy” and rethink “hard work.”
I viewed my mounting task-list as a sign that I was doing well. But it was just the opposite: I had become too distracted and spread myself too thin to make any valuable progress.
To turn things around, I thought deeply about the woman I wanted to be and what I wanted my employees and clients to feel when they thought of my company. I cut anything from my schedule that didn’t align with whom I desired to be and the culture I wanted to create for my team. I began saying “no” to anything that didn’t inspire me.
I thought about Stacy Snapp-Killian, an entrepreneur, mother and member of the women’s leadership movement, who began JustUs Love. I thought about how, when she was starting her business, her mother made her promise not to date for a year.
“I didn’t understand this request until after fulfilling it,” Snapp-Killian says. “It meant sacrificing my weekends, but I was able to do so much with my extra time. In one year, my business grew into a YouTube series and social media buzz, and I published my first book.”
You can follow Snapp-Killian's lead and not date for a year, or decide to do the exact opposite -- prioritize dating and make your business secondary. The point is to align your daily mission with what’s most important to you in order to fulfill your individual definition of success.
2. Make yourself the priority.
I let my mental and physical health fall to the bottom of my priority list, and that mistake started to tear apart everything good. I experienced extreme mood swings, was short with people and constantly tried to “keep up.” Operating from that place didn’t allow me to do anything at my best.
When a coach I worked with helped me realize I had to take care of myself before I could be of service to my company, I mustered the courage to cut all unnecessary “business” from my life and make space and time for myself. Dropping some unnecessary tasks gave me the clarity to focus on and grow my business in the right way, which played an integral role in my winning that first multimillion-dollar contract.
As Mindy Lamont, founder of The Insurist, says, you have to make a habit of trimming the fat. “There are always things you can eliminate in your life to make it more efficient,” she says. It’s a practice, not a one-time thing.
3. Get creative with time management.
For a long time, I had burned myself out trying to squeeze my work into the space of “acceptable” working hours. I was going through a period in my life when my energy peaked at 8 pm. Yet had I allowed myself, I would have gotten into "the zone," from 8 pm to 11 pm, which is when I finish some of my best work.
Once I stopped forcing myself into a typical business-hours schedule, I gave myself the freedom to design my days around my energy levels. My productivity and contributions soared.
4. Stop mindlessly chasing business.
Many entrepreneurs feel the need to chase all leads -- even ones that aren’t ROI-positive and don’t fit their business model. My team used to feverishly pitch clients in any industry if an opportunity popped up. But once we focused our attention and resources on the healthcare industry, for example, we were able to win the 1-800-MEDICARE support contract, which has been one of our company’s most rewarding accomplishments.
So, take a lesson from my experience: If the current price for your business is your sanity, it’s time for a change. You may not succeed at every lofty goal you dream up, but if you’re willing to make tough decisions, eliminate distractions and clarify your focus, you’ll succeed at the things you care about most.