It's easy to get bogged down when you run your own business. We have bills to pay and responsibilities to consider, so we naturally take on as much work as possible to survive.
But alongside our clients, we also want to give back and do some good in the world, so we end up doing favours for people or supporting the creative community, leaving our schedules bursting at the seams.
Hard work and sacrifice becomes a common theme. But we become swamped and stressed. How did it come to this? Always running around like headless chickens and never having enough time to relax or do our own thing? And when will we ever get round to that creative side project?
Here's the thing. You don't have to do anything if you're too busy or don't want to. You can say no. You should say no. You can also change direction. You can let go of overbearing clients, for instance. You can also explain to friends and family that you're too busy – they'll understand (if they don't, that's their problem). You can even develop your business in such a way that you earn more money in less time.
If you've been feeling overwhelmed lately and something is holding you back from making necessary changes, then the following advice should offer some reassurance that it might be time to put your own needs first.
Release the guilt
You're not a bad person if you say no. You're not letting people down. You're putting yourself first, and that's completely fine. It doesn't make you selfish. If you have time, great! Feel free to help out. If you want to help, go for it. But don't do something because you feel obliged to. Let go of any guilt trips imposed on yourself or by others. Permit yourself to turn things down.
No one notices
One truth about humans is that they're typically focused on themselves. We're all guilty of it. We're so worried about our own lives or what people think about us; we don't tend to notice what's going on in other people's heads. Will the world implode if we remove something from our lives to free up time? No. Life will go on as usual, and all will be well.
If someone reacts negatively, it's their issue
Those who care about you will understand if you don't want to do something. Those who respond negatively aren't the type of people you need in your life. I can't count the number of times people asked for my help over email, and I've spent 10 minutes or so, offering some free advice only never to hear back from them again! Not even a thank you! The cheek.
Become ruthless with your schedule
It pains me to say it, but I go through my Creative Boom inbox these days like a demon. I've become so attuned to what will or won't work on my magazine; some emails go straight to trash.
I used to feel like a horrendous human being for doing this. The guilt would eat away at me. Now? This is strictly business. If I read every single email and responded to everyone, I'd spend all day doing so. I don't have time.
Equally, if something is taking away your focus, become ruthless at dealing with it. Time is money. And you shouldn't have to work long hours for the sake of not hurting anyone's feelings. (Which, by the way – you're not deliberately doing!)
Limit your exposure to negativity
The creative industries can be hugely supportive. They can also be very disappointing. Twitter, for example, has shown an uglier side to the sector. Negativity can bog us down, feed our anxiety and stop us from conserving energy for the things that matter.
In which case, limit your time on Twitter or other such platforms. Don't be afraid to "mute" or even "block" people who don't deserve your attention. Instead, surround yourself (both online and in real life) with positive people who give you energy and encouragement.
It's ok to take a risk and change direction
It happens to us all: a client becomes such a large or overbearing account that they suffocate us, take up all of our time and stop us from doing anything else. Sure, the money's great, but are they helping us to develop our skills? Are we enjoying the work anymore? Have we become stuck in a rut?
Sometimes, we have to let go of things to open new doors and be happier with our work. It might feel scary. But a change could lead to much better opportunities. Just make sure you have a plan in place before making any decisions.
Listen to your gut
I've been to dozens of new business meetings and come away thinking, there's something not quite right about this. Sometimes I've ignored my stomach and carried out the work, later regretting my decision. More recently, I'm getting better at turning things down that I know will be a waste of my time.
You have to consider how much value that client will give back to you. If you say yes, will it align with your own business goals? Will it push you in the right direction? If the client doesn't intend to pay your going rate, for example, should you negotiate? Is this a sign of worse things to come? Which leads me nicely onto my next point.
Get paid more for less time
When you work for yourself, you only have so many billable hours in one day. You have to choose your projects and clients wisely. Ask yourself the crucial questions: can I add value to this business? Are they already listening to my advice? Are they a quality company with a decent budget that will help elevate their brand and mine? Do I want to associate myself with this client? Will they lead to bigger and better clients?
You want to do great work, achieve brilliant results (we're in the business of making commercial goals a reality, after all) and get paid well for less time. That's your goal: less treadmill, more high quality, well-paid work.
Ignore everyone else
Instagram is lovely, but it can make us feel inadequate in a heartbeat. We see people producing such brilliant work, building seemingly successful companies, we suddenly feel insecure about our projects. It can dent our confidence.
Ignore everyone else. Concentrate on your own business and spend a little time each day on improving it. Always consider your goals and the people you'd like to work with. A little marketing every day will go a long way.
Are you that busy?
Sometimes, we make ourselves busier for the sake of feeling busy. Perhaps we feel guilty for running our businesses and subconsciously fill up our days with unnecessary tasks. Maybe we need to ramp up our productivity instead and get super strict with how we spend our time.
Start tracking what you're doing on a typical day. Are emails distracting you too often? Set aside half an hour each morning to go through your inbox and once more after lunch. Do things keep popping up, demanding your attention? Switch off any "notifications" from social media. Make focus your new mission. Devote each morning to a challenging project, and you can then get all those crappy admin tasks sorted when your brain's not as sharp in the afternoon.
You know what to do. Get focused and disciplined. Ditch guilt and expectations. Respect yourself and cherish your precious time. Become ruthless about who you work with and what you do each day. Before you know it, you'll release yourself from the chaos and suddenly find the space you need to do more of what you love.