By Cliff Ennico
“I left corporate America a few years ago. While I wouldn’t go back in a million years, I have to confess that I’m struggling right now.
In addition to running my own Internet business out of the house, I’m on the boards of three local nonprofit organizations, and I’ve been teaching classes as an ‘adjunct professor’ at two local colleges. I also ran (unsuccessfully) for a local public office last fall. I have two kids in high school and an elderly Mom who lives with me.
I think I’m pretty good at multitasking, but I’m running myself into the ground and am barely making a living. I need to cut back on some of this stuff, but I don’t know where to begin. Do you have any ideas?”
In our increasingly connected, distracted, unforgiving, multidimensional and fast-paced world, managing your time is becoming increasingly difficult, if not downright impossible.
But here is some basic math: there are exactly 24 hours in a day, and seven days a week. Nobody has any more time, or any less. There are only so many things you can do in a day, and these get fewer and fewer as your body ages. If you are doing too much, there is only one cause: you are saying “yes” to too many people that want you to do stuff. Often, the only way to get back to a manageable schedule is to cut some things out — ruthlessly, and with the understanding you might turn some people off by doing so.
My father taught me an important lesson when I was in high school. Like this reader, I was overtaxed: I was taking seven classes a day (including three difficult Advanced Placement courses), was President of three after-school student organizations, acting in my school’s Drama Club, and had a six-day-a-week newspaper delivery route with 92 private homes. Frankly, I was killing myself. I had little time for friends, girls, and fun.
Here’s what Dad told me: “Cliff, there are only four reasons to do anything in life. Either it brings you money, helps you make connections, teaches you something, or you enjoy doing it. If something you’re doing doesn’t fit in any of those boxes, and you are not legally required to do it, why in Hell are you doing it?”
Let’s apply Dad’s thinking to our reader’s situation.
Reason # 1: The Activity Brings You Income. Your first priority as a self-employed individual (hell, as an adult human being) is to support yourself and your immediate family. If you have not achieved the financial stability to do that, getting there should be priority Numero Uno. This reader says she is “barely making a living.” Everything else should go on a back burner until that improves.
Reason # 2: The Activity Helps You Make Connections. The next priority is marketing and network building. No matter how busy I am keeping my law clients satisfied, I always take time out to give talks to local organizations, write articles for business periodicals and websites, and do anything else necessary to get my name “out there” and build my base of clients and referral sources. If I don’t do those things, the telephone stops ringing, my fan base stops growing, and the e-mail Inbox is empty (well, except for the usual junk messages).
Reason # 3: The Activity is Educational. Education and learning are not just things you do in school. They are lifetime activities; stop learning and you soon become irrelevant. Always find time to read at least 50 pages a day. Take an adult education class that will help you improve your productivity. Learn a new skill every three months that will help you with your income-generating and marketing activities.
Reason # 4: The Activity is Fun or Personally Fulfilling. “You only go around once in life; you have to go for all the gusto you can” (if that sounds vaguely familiar, you are definitely a baby boom geezer: it comes from a 1960s TV commercial for Schlitz beer). The time to enjoy life is now. You may not be able to do it when you retire. Heck, you could drop dead tomorrow. Set aside some “me” time for a few hours each week.
So what should this reader do? In my opinion, she has two clear priorities: make more money, and get her two kids through college without going bankrupt. Here are my suggestions:
Nonprofit boards are notorious “time vampires” – quit them all unless you are making amazing connections there;
Don’t run for office again, unless the publicity can help you market your business;
Get the kids to help more with Grandma (they can), and vice versa (if she can); and
Weigh the hourly income of teaching “adjunct” courses (what they pay you divided by twice the time you actually spend in class) against the additional hourly income you can realize by spending more time on your business, doing temp work, or getting a part-time job.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of Small Business Survival Guide, The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book and 15 other books. Follow him at @cliffennico.