Editor’s note: Since September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a Pleasant Street tutoring center that opened in late January. Her journey, though, is far from over.
If you quit the corporate world to embark on a quest for the American dream of business ownership, you’d better be ready to sync up your iPhones, iPads and hardcover planners, because you’re going to have no choice but to become a master of time management.
I don’t mean simply jotting down business appointments and the occasional light activity.
I am describing the kind of time management that allows you to still work out in the morning, attend every necessary meeting (and cut out those meetings of little purpose), have dinner with your family every night, build a team of fast learners, and still have days in the week to push it all aside and take a weekend trip with the ones you love.
In the Flores house, we carve out a weekend every month to take a trip somewhere we have never been. Whether it is a faraway town in the corners of Massachusetts or a five-hour drive to Washington, D.C., we are strict about leaving it all behind three days each month.
With the average small business owner working what feels like about 42,000 hours a year [Editor’s note: We hear you, Giselle! But estimates indicate it’s closer to about 50 hours per week on average; about 2,600 per year. Still a lot!], time management is the tool of all tools to help small business owners win the battles of the work-life balance war.
The Learning Hub, three weeks young, is in the crossfire of this skirmish. Each day bringing a new bottomless list of tasks and priorities, creating a tug-of-war between all of my entrepreneurial and non-business responsibilities.
Four months ago when The Learning Hub was merely a concept, I thought to myself, being overly obsessed with starting the business was appropriate. I needed the fire of motivation to light my way to fully launching The Hub, but as time has passed I have acquired some techniques to help bring about a better balance.
Am I still obsessed with the success of The Hub? Of course. More so than ever before. But I have learned to prioritize tasks.
Entrepreneurs take the plunge into the uncertainty of small business ownership to gain back control, autonomy and time, but if it is not done properly then entrepreneurship will warp into an ugly concept of overworking for little results — an utter waste of time and talent.
A huge goal for me is to inspire others to build their businesses, follow their dreams and continue the cycle of mentorship for aspiring entrepreneurs. In that spirit, I share with you a few tips I use daily to help maximize my time and keep from missing out on huge opportunities:
Say “no”: This is the hardest part of building a business platform. Every day your goal is to network with others in the same industries and meet people who can contribute to your project — you know, build your pipeline. But, as it turns out, the people you are meeting are also looking for others to contribute to their projects, which makes you a perfect candidate. You may want to participate in every new budding business venture you hear about with the potential to grow into a billion-dollar industry, but you have to learn the word “no” and use it in a sentence — repeatedly. I learned early that taking on too much work or working on several different projects at once will leave you exhausted, burnt and dried up. It will leave you useless to your business. Work with others in less involved aspects. Consult but don’t join their board of directors.
Be an email guru: Mobility. Mobility. Mobility. I can’t emphasize enough the positive impact mobility has on a new or existing business. Prioritize your incoming emails, requests, inquiries and proposals to fit your schedule. Time is essential so priority is key. If you’re always on the go, separate your emails into two categories, with category one consisting of emails taking less than 2 minutes to answer and category two consisting of lengthy emails requiring longer responses and additional information such as attachments or reports. Set up a specific hour in the day to focus solely on the category-two emails. Responding within 24 hours is essential to growing your business.
Manage your energy: Sitting at your desk, hunched over a laptop, with an iPad in one hand and a phone in the other can be terrifying for both your physical and mental energy. Get up and move around. This has been my favorite new technique — mostly because it caters to my craving of new scenery and constant movement, but also because it is refreshing. Standing still for 8 hours a day decreases your motivation and overall thought process. Break up your day and constantly refresh your senses. Work out of the office a few days a week. Pick some great local places to sit and revive your energy. My personal choices: my home desk — it sits next to the window so it’s great for inspiration on cold days; the Worcester Art Museum; and the park — this helps with keeping the kids occupied, too.
Understand what really matters: I always see other business owners focused on every aspect of their business at once, and it does not seem to be a proven step in success. Focus your time, energy and effort into what really matters. Each week, set goals for your business, then break down those goals based on their importance. For me, every Sunday, I grab my planner, iPhone and iPad and schedule goals. I spread the goals over a five-day period — Monday through Friday, because Saturdays are spent exploring with the kids — and ensure that I set up blocked time to work on the goals. Busywork and productivity are not the same and once you realize what really matters to the growth of your business, you will be able to separate the two.
These techniques have not only helped in my business but have helped my family focus on what is important.
Despite the long days, I always make sure to prioritize my family at the top of the list. Whether it is taking on a new art class with the kids or spending Monday morning with my husband watching the earliest movie playing in Millbury, my decisions for the week always include a balance between work and life.
To follow Giselle’s journey from the beginning: