Being busy vs being business: tips to get a better work-life balance

“How was your week?” they ask me all the time. “Busy, busy, busy…” I answer all the time. “Oh, what are you working on?”… Then I tell them whatever projects I have at the moment, it sounds kind of busy, but inside I think… I cancelled meetings with friends because I was busy, I postpone going to an exhibition because I was busy, and so on… It feels like if I am not busy all the time I am not a business. But why?

I the years of being my own boss I notices that I fill my calendar to the brim, sometimes more than I really need. A few weeks back I had a significant backlog of work, some projects ran over the time and started to overlap with the projects that had to start then. On Top of that, I got ManFlu, and because I was too busy to get ill, I started taking medicine to postpone the inevitable. It was then when I most needed to be well that happened: my body said “Enough!”, and gave me a migraine that kept me into bed for 48 hours.

It was then that I wondered how did I get to here? How I have been so busy and what am I going to do to solve this problem? I’ve been doing some research and looked through blogs and books to help me to organise my business-life-balance. Here some of the tips I am adopting at the moment to be more productive and less busy.

Time management

Block time for you in your calendar

I usually put all my business commitments in my calendar, and sometimes that I go as anal as adding the task I need to do by the minute. What I find useful is that I block my meetings with friends in it too. And as from now, I started blocking time for things that I fancy doing such as writing this post or going to a museum. When it’s in your calendar feels more like a commitment, and if you are missing the appointment, it feels like a failure, so it is likely that you cancel it.

Don’t eat more than what you can

This one is pretty obvious… But yet I fall into this trap quite often. When I go to the Indian, my eyes are bigger than my belly, and always order and eat more than what I need, and then I feel ill for a few hours. Well, I have the same when it comes to business: I find difficult to say NO, so sometimes I overbook myself. I have started to be honest with my clients, say: “I will work on in the next couple of days and come back to you with a first draft early next week, would that be ok?” instead of asking them when they need this by. It is not convenient for me it’s also good for them, because I can’t take the time for that the project requires instead of rushing it and deliver a lower quality product. Sometimes there are time constrictions, and then it’s time to juggle things around.

Schedule time for mail and calls

Instead of having my email on all the time I pop in it three times a day. When you answer emails fast, you create expectations for your customers. Most times soon doesn’t mean good. When you reply fast, it’s usually acknowledging that you have received the email and that you will look into it. I find the best use of time when you schedule time for email, where you spend the right amount of time for the answers. Same with calls, a bit more challenging to manage as call usually means urgent. But if it’s not, you can just make a quick note to call later.

Spend minimal time in social media and more time in real social

Social media sucks all my time and my soul, sometimes I wondered how come I spend 30 minutes when I was posting one picture… the answer is the infinite scrolling. For this reason is why I try (note that try) to use the minimal amount of time by scheduling all my posts within 30 to 40 minutes. And do I a little bit of ad-hoc through the week.

Focus mode

Shut the door or wear headphones

I work in a co-working space. It’s a great place to get out of the house and separate your working environment that living environment. But sometimes you get a lot of distractions. What I have been doing for more than ten years is to wear headphones in the office when I try to concentrate. It works for me in two different ways as a cue to signal my mind to focus and also to indicate to my colleagues that I am busy. Same principle than having a door open to invite people in or the opposite.

Logout and turn off notifications

When it’s time to focus I turn all the notifications out by putting my Mac into ‘Do not disturb mode.’ This trick is the simplest ever tick, but a lot of people, including myself, suffer FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and prefer to be interrupted by a kitten picture sent from Skype or any unimportant thing that goes around.

Put your mobile away

Apart from putting my mobile in ‘Do not disturb mode’ I also put it in my backpack. When the thing vibrates my brain blocks everything I’m doing and anxiety levels go up and until I see that is just my friend sending a silly joke I can’t relax and concentrate again.

Fewer meetings but more effective

I see a lot of businesses that spend days with back to back meetings and also see them struggling to bring progress the actions of these meetings. I remember once I had a day packed with meetings for a Christmas campaign that needed to be ready in a few days. And management kept planning more meetings, in one of the last ones we were tackling the HOW we were to accomplish that. And I said, “How about fewer meetings and doing more work?”. Everybody turned to me, including the CEO of the company, but no one had anything to say.

Here is an excellent tip for quicker meetings. Stand up and clock it! Have your meetings standing up. It will make people want to finish sooner so they will go straight to the point. The same happens when people visualise that the time is ticking away with a TimeTimer

Some of these tricks I have been using for a lot of time some I’m just adopting now and will evolve. I’m sure there will be more posts on business time management and quality of life. If you have found this interesting, I would appreciate if you spread it around because the whole point I write this blog posts is to help people.

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