How to set yourself free and still run a successful business

As business owners, it's all too easy to work long hours, waste time on things or people that don't matter, and get caught up with silly stuff that eats into our downtime.

If you freelance, how do you set yourself free and still run a successful business? How do you find more hours in the day to relax? How do you break bad habits and start living a happier, more balanced life? The following tips should help...

Set yourself regular working hours

Before you do anything else, set yourself some regular working hours. If 9 'til 5 isn't really your thing, just discipline yourself by saying that you'll work at certain times. For example, between 8am and 11am every day with a two hour break for lunch and then start back up again at 1pm until 4pm. Whichever suits you best. Set a routine and stick to it.

Keep a diary to spark change

To identify what's eating up your time, keep a diary. Log what you're doing throughout the day and you'll be able to spot those time-wasting activities that you could do without. Patterns will emerge and you'll be able to see where you can make changes.

Check emails only twice a day

Emails are a pain and, if you're not careful, you could spend all day checking your inbox. Try to only check first thing, and then maybe once more after lunch. Finally, switch off any email alert services to avoid distraction.

Use social media sparingly

Twitter and Facebook are awesome for business and make great marketing tools. But they're also big time-wasters. Limit moments spent on social networks. The world isn't going to end if you haven't tweeted in the last 10 minutes.

Stop worrying about what other people think

A lot of time and energy is always wasted on what other people think. Who cares! Stop fretting over people's opinions on how you decide to run your business. Don't worry if someone criticises your work on Twitter. Don't take it personally if you lose a client. Just learn, take a mental note and move on. Don't dwell on negativity, it'll only make you miserable.

Take regular breaks

Some people can just put their heads down and work, work, work until 10 hours have passed. This isn't healthy and won't make you more successful. Take regular breaks from your desk and stretch. If you work all hours without any break, you'll never be as productive. Set alarms on your mobile or use online tools such as Online Break Reminder as reminders to relax now and again.

Get outside help

Got some projects you can outsource? Do it. As long as you've found some decent freelancers who can help. Outsourcing will lessen the workload and leave you to have a better work/life balance.

Leave the admin to someone else

Administration takes up a lot of time, so get external help. Virtual PAs and assistants are everywhere these days, and they can do everything from chasing invoice payments and dealing with accounts to answering your phone or emails. Ok, so it's an extra outgoing – but think of the time you'll save. Besides, your time is better spent earning money.

Put the phone on divert

Don't fancy going to your office? Divert your office phone to your mobile, so you run your business on the move. Clients won't know if you've decided to spend the day at the seaside. Just pretend you're in a meeting and that you'll deal with their enquiry when you're back at your desk. If you work from home, hire a phone-answering service. You'll have a receptionist answering your calls and taking messages for a fee – but it can be well worth the money.

Schedule dinner at the same time every night

It sounds silly but if you say to your partner or family that you'll all have dinner every night at 6pm – it will help you to focus on your work and ensure you get everything done in time. You won't want to keep letting everyone down by working late and missing one of the nicest meals of the day.

Streamline your processes

If you've got a current system in place to tackle an administrative task and it's taking too long to sort, then find an alternative solution that works faster and smarter. Look at everything you need to run a business and find ways to streamline your processes. For example, I used to manually create invoices at the end of every month and it would take me a good day of my time to organise. But then I signed up to FreeAgent and invoicing is now a breeze.

Got a long commute? Make the most of it

If you're travelling by train or bus every day, then why not make the most of the time? You can use your commute to think about new ideas for your business, jot down potential blog post topics for your website, or even read a 'how to' book to help you become a better freelancer. By making the most of your commute, you'll free up your leisure time to relax and follow non-work pursuits.

Task management will stop any stress

Keep in control of your work at all times, so you avoid worrying about things during downtime. Use task management software and ensure all your jobs are logged at the end of every day, so you know exactly what you've got to do the following. Remember, you'll never finish your task list, so stop stressing about work and just try your best every day. Check out these 10 project management tools.

Stop feeling guilty

So you've decided to go out and exercise at 10am instead of working, but you're feeling guilty? Don't be! Freelancing is tough and you deserve to embrace some of the positives about working for yourself. Free up your time to do the things you love and you'll be a much happier person. And if you're happier, you'll be more productive when you do choose to work.

Ask yourself the big question...

If you're working long hours and being unproductive, write the following on to a piece of paper and stick it to your office wall: "Am I making the most of my time right now?" Look at that question on a regular basis to stop yourself losing focus and wasting precious time on non-important tasks.