The concept of lifestyle design has certainly gained a lot of traction in the global community of entrepreneurs in recent years. Notable industry influencers including Tim Ferris, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, have pointedly made the assertion that owning a business needs to mean more than just balance sheets and bank accounts. Certainly, there are financial rewards for the effort, risk and ambition necessary to operate a thriving business. But, monetary success can be achieved with more reliability and definitely less stress in corporate employment. The real allure of entrepreneurship is the opportunity to design the business lifestyle based on your terms. This means making your own rules, setting your own goals, building your own path and pursuing what you value. For most of us, it’s this promise of living life on our own terms that drove us to leave the safe but unfulfilling work we had.

Unfortunately, not many business owners are living life by their own design. In fact, many business owners struggle to do much more than keep the operation going. Often jumping from one fire to the next, one day to the next. This happens for many reasons, but there are three excuses that stand out as both common and surmountable.

Excuse #1

“I’m the only one who knows how”

Solution – Teach someone. While you are undoubtedly talented and experienced, you’re most likely not a rocket scientist. And as it turns out, even rocket scientists are taught by other rocket scientists. To be a strong leader means to be a strong teacher. Anything can be taught, given the student is willing to learn and a detailed plan is created and followed. The good news is you don’t need to teach one person how to do your job. Divide your responsibilities, evaluate the strengths of your team and then delegate individual responsibilities to the team members that are most likely to excel at each responsibility.

Excuse #2

“I’m the only one my clients will deal with”

Solution – Elevate someone. If you really have the credibility you believe you have with your clients, use it. Introduce someone on your team as your protege, your right-hand man, the person behind the scenes really making things happen. Bring them to meetings, have them sit in on calls and demonstrate their competence. Relationships are definitely more delicate and complex than administrative responsibilities. The transition will take longer, but it’s critical in your effort to step away from operations and focus on growth, your family, your next business or even your golf game. What is it you want again?

Excuse #3

“I don’t have time to work on this right now.”

Solution – How many times have you said those words? For how many years? This will never change if you don’t take action.  If you dedicated 5 hours a week for 6 months and that yielded 20 hours a week to pursue projects you were passionate about, would you make that trade? Much of the time will be created by simply implementing the two previous solutions. Business happens fast and life happens faster. The time to act is now.

If your business isn’t providing you with the life you imagined, there are absolutely things you can start doing today to right the ship. Priority number one has to be assessing everything you do, right now, that no one else is doing. Once you’ve identified these, the next step is to build systems, policies and procedures that empower people on your team to take over three of those tasks. Finally, you need to delegate those tasks to the appropriate people and take responsibility for training them effectively. In six months, move on to the next three tasks on the list and repeat the process.

Is it that easy? Yes and no. To greatly increase the potential for success, it’s essential to accurately identify the opportunities and implement the correct solutions, which often takes a second or even third pair of eyes. We recommend working with a business advisor, who can provide clarity and guidance at each stage. We’ve worked with many of our small business clients in this endeavor and we’re confident just a conversation will produce powerful insight. When you’re ready, so are we.

Trash Your To-Do List

We’ve been writing down tasks, completing some of them, and adding more to lists for thousands of years. It seems like a rational way to accomplish the things one must accomplish – and it probably was, beginning from when humans made their first mark on cave walls.

But now, the world is faster, more connected and much more complex. We have appointments to keep, children to pick up from school, yoga classes, football games, Facebook and Netflix. There’s shopping to be done, roads to be driven and parties to attend. With all of this going on, for ourselves and everyone else in our lives, simply writing down everything we have to do and hoping we squeeze it in between everything else we have to do, is just not enough.

The to-do list fails because it makes no distinction between tasks that may take fifteen minutes and tasks that may take three hours. It also assumes that these tasks will magically be completed in the amount of unscheduled time available on your calendar.

So, how do we ensure we get things done? One effective strategy is time-blocking your daily schedule.

Keeping a schedule is not a new concept for successful people. Chances are you already keep a schedule of meetings, appointments, vacations and other important events. Some of these events you allocate an hour to, some half a day.

Consider time blocking everything you want to accomplish. Here’s how to start:

  1. Look at your current to-do list and assign an amount of time to each task. Be reasonable and realistic. Can you really write that proposal in an hour? Can you really cut back and forth across town in 30 minutes?
  2. Prioritise. Are there tasks that must be completed before others can be undertaken? Are there tasks that can be delegated to someone else on your team? Do external deadlines determine when certain things must be done?
  3. Put together your daily schedule much like you would for a jigsaw puzzle. Find space for the highest priority and most time demanding tasks first.
  4. Finally, the difficult, yet most crucial, part: You must protect these time blocks and work on the tasks assigned when you have assigned them.

Having protected blocks of time to work on specific tasks allows you to enter states of what Georgetown University Professor Cal Newport calls “deep work.” The concept of deep work is similar to being “in the zone” or in a “flow-state.” These periods of work are exponentially more productive, creative and enjoyable. Scheduled time blocks also ensure that everything on your list gets done when it needs to.

As a business owner, it’s easy to get carried away by the demands of other people. If you don’t control your time, others will. Share your calendar with key members of your team and communicate that you will make time available for them, provided they respect your blocks.

Regardless of whether you use pen and paper or a computer-based calendar system, the process is the same. Take the time on Sunday, or the previous Friday afternoon, to plot out your upcoming week and then make revisions each evening for the next day as you move through tasks. As things come up and priorities change, make mindful adjustments to your time blocks, but do not abandon them.

Commit to converting your to-do list into a time-blocked calendar for the next three months. You’ll get more done in less time, and the quality of that work will be much higher.