Work in Progress: The Life of an Entrepreneur in Beta
This is a series dedicated to the new entrepreneur. Welcome to the life you’ve always dreamed of creating.
We entrepreneurs have extraordinary lives. If you’re like me, then right about now, you’re just trying to hold together your sanity. It’s the tail end of one of the worst winters in memory. You’ve been sick a couple of times already, and you’re still fighting some crappy cold. Probably traded it back and forth with one of your kids at least twice already. In fact, you may even work at home and your son is home from school with his third bout of stomach bug and he’s watching some stupid Disney sitcom while you’re trying to get some writing done!
So, you feel my pain.
Whether you’re a parent or childless, a caregiver, a pet owner, or just have a complicated family situation, if you are self-employed, and especially if you work at home, your personal life is sometimes going to pull at you in ways that can be distracting and even threatening to the success of your business. However, there are some things you can do to help you feel a little more in control and able to handle the unexpected.
Life doesn’t give a crap about your professional deadlines.
It’s true. Illness and other personal crises don’t defer to that proposal you promised to your client today, or the Twitter postings you have to do or the sales calls you have to make, or the spreadsheet you’re supposed to deliver. Everyone, at some point or another, has some extenuating personal circumstance that gets in the way of normal, daily activity.
The first thing to do when something urgent intrudes on your carefully scheduled to-do list, is to take a step back and rank your priorities. Figure out which things absolutely can’t wait, and which deadlines actually have a little leeway. Depending on the urgency factor, you’d be surprised how far the priority bar can drop. It’s really important to keep a perspective that allows you to take care of what’s important in the broader scale of your life before you start freaking out about a work deadline.
One of the main benefits of being an entrepreneur is flexibility.
I’m a single mom, and I am grateful to be able to take my son to his karate classes and dance rehearsals and help him with his science project and history reports. However, there are some weeks when my workload is really humming, and I feel like I’m trying to cram three lives into one. Flexibility is one thing, but at some point, time and energy simply run out. How does one deal with this?
Well aside from the need to realistically prioritize your business related activities in the form of a well thought out to-do list, it’s important to always program in a little extra time for things to go wrong, take longer than we expect, or for sudden interruptions, or other things that come up out of the blue. That way, our expectations are realistic, and we are less likely to be caught short of time when it really counts.
As an entrepreneur, you have the advantage of being in full control of your schedule. If it works better to do your best creative writing at 5am before the rest of the house is awake, or after 10pm, when they’re fast asleep, do it. Take full advantage of the unconventional lifestyle you have chosen to create a schedule that works for you. Clients or colleagues in other time zones, publication deadlines, and high traffic communication hours should be considered as strongly as the needs of your family and your own personal preferences. You may even have time for a middle of the day workout or yoga class...
You’re gonna screw up. A lot.
Last year, I heard a lot about making mistakes in business when I was interviewing young entrepreneurs at Under30CEO. Again and again, the term, “iteration” came up. One of the most common lessons these 20-somethings were learning was the value in making mistakes. In fact, some went as far as to say, the more mistakes you made, the more you learned.
Is screwing up the best way to learn? Perhaps, if you want to look at it that way. I prefer to reframe the discussion to think about altering our expectations around business plans. If one is open to the notion of engaging in a learning process every time we push forward our ideas, then we become less hung up on the idea of being an expert and having all the answers. As long as you learn something, then your mistake was also a gift.
Ideally, we’re all living our lives in beta.
Don’t beat yourself up. Learn your lessons and move on. There’s no time for sitting around feeling inadequate. Just get better. Be like a shark. Keep moving. Set your agenda, and quietly tick things off your list. Despite all the obstacles, interruptions, challenges, unexpected left turns and revisions, if you keep moving forward, you are going to find yourself making progress. It’s inevitable.
I find completing tasks, especially large ones, to be so uplifting, that I often force myself to start the day with the hardest ones, just so I can ride the energy of getting them out of the way into the rest of my piddly to-do’s. Then, I make sure I reward myself for my accomplishments.
Work hard and play hard.
Depending on how you’re feeling, you may want to change that to “Work hard and chill hard,” but that’s up to you. Either way, make sure you give yourself a break to recharge your batteries. It’s all about balance. You’ve gotta rest up, space out, act silly or go a little wild in between the stretches of hard work. It’s the only way to keep yourself replenished and inspired.
You have no idea what’s going to happen.
Some of our biggest visionaries didn’t know what the hell they were doing. They didn’t have any guarantees or proof of success. But they trusted their gut and were willing to take a chance on failure. If you have already been brave enough to make an unconventional decision to start your own business, then by definition, you are a risk taker. You’ve come this far - don’t stop now! You may end up being more wildly successful than you could have ever imagined… but you won’t know until you give it everything you’ve got!