I am a planner by nature.
I love lists. I make lists for today, goals for the financial quarter, food shopping lists – you name it, I probably make it. Over the course of the past year I have learned a lot about starting and running a small business, and the most important thing I have learned so far is that you cannot plan for everything. Every time Gillian and I sit down and make a game plan about what we want to accomplish by the end of the month (which is a frustrating but necessary process for us), guaranteed later on something comes out of the blue that renders those plans impossible. Sometimes the car breaks down or the only time I can get an appointment is over the time we are supposed to meet. Sometimes a selling opportunity comes up and we have to rearrange our plans to make enough stuff to fill a booth at a craft fair. Sometimes a computer update makes it impossible to use our software. Sometimes one of us gets the flu.
We are lucky because having 2 people behind the scenes means we can call each other and the other person immediately picks up where we left off and finishes the necessary work. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur or you have a partner in crime, you can plan all you want and then something knocks you off of your feet. You must learn your limits and acknowledge when you can (or cannot) accomplish what you had intended to do. Even when you do everything right and set yourself up for success, sometimes things just don’t work out. We have chosen to largely divide and conquer our tasks and do things the best way for each of us. We have different strengths and so we each have things that the other person can’t do, and we meet in the middle for the things that we both love to do.
I like my lists because they help me see the bigger picture. With everything in front of me I can make a path that includes each of the steps I need to take to get to the next task. I can’t list an item on Etsy without taking photographs first. I can’t make a paper box if there’s no paper in the house. I know that I love what I am doing when I find it hard to turn off the computer or put down the project. I have to set reminders to stop working each night or I will keep going until 3 am. Those reminders are little tidbits of kindness that I give to myself.
Most of the time I am fine with the little bits of kindness throughout the day. Other times the little stuff is not enough. Some days you wake up and you just know it’s not going to go right. When you are self-employed and don’t work outside of your home, lines get blurred. You can work in your pajamas. You can schedule your work around your life. You can do whatever you want whenever you want – or so people think (or you might think before you start working for yourself!). In reality, it is up to you to get everything done – personally, professionally and for the business. There is a lot more pressure when you are self-employed and your resources are very limited, especially in the beginning. This is why it is crucial to take time off. You cannot plan when you need the time off, only that you will need the time off. When you are working 7 days a week, 12-16 hours a day, it feels wrong. It feels lazy and irresponsible, but it is essential. If you were working for a company, you would have sick days and vacation days. When you work for yourself you need take that into account when you plan your time.
So how do you plan for the unplannable? I take sick days when I need them. I set limits on my working hours so that I get enough sleep to recharge for the next day. I try to eat well. I get up and move throughout the day. I take 1 day a week to take care of errands and cleaning and all the other annoying things that pile up while I’m off having fun working. I set up a binch of small acts of kindness for myself and each month I tweak this a little to better suit my needs. Most importantly, I accept that outside of those guidelines there will still be one day a month I will not want to do anything related to the business. I don’t know when this will happen or what will cause it, but giving myself permission to take a day to myself to relax and recharge is crucial to my happiness the rest of the month. Sometimes I just watch tv. Sometimes I only take 1/2 a day because my batteries are fully recharged and I want to work. Sometimes I reconnect with friends and family who live far away. No matter how I end up spending my time, I don’t feel guilty any more because it’s a part of the plan.
This may not work for you. I am a strong introvert. For me, disconnecting from noise and people is what I need to recharge. You may find that going out to coffee with a friend or spending some time with your family is what works for you. If a whole day seems like too much, break it into several chunks and take 3-4 hours off every week to do something for yourself. No matter your personality, it can be overwhelming dealing with all the responsibilities of day-to-day life as well as a small business. You won’t find the perfect balance at first, but paying attention to your needs and making small adjustments to the way you tackle your (ever growing!) list of responsibilities will help you deal things as they happen and make the unexpected less stressful.