Setting Limits as Business Owners: When Is Enough Too Much?

By | January 24, 2022

You’ve heard it said, “if you want to get something done ask a busy person.” While that may be true, if you’re the busy person, there is a limit.

Generally speaking, entrepreneurs are driven, hardworking, goal-focused people. They are people for whom “yes” comes automatically and “no” is a long-forgotten word in their vocabulary. As new challenges come their way, they respond with longer hours. When this no longer provides a solution, they invest in systems to work “smarter” or “faster.” That often works for a time, but eventually entrepreneurs burn out or learn to set limits.

The COVID era has amped up the problems that busy people face. The new miracle technology we’ve adopted, like Zoom, has helped us cope with new challenges, but these solutions have also added to the time and attention burden we face. According to a study by the Harvard Business School titled Collaborating During Coronavirus: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Nature of Work, the sheer number of meetings are up 12.9% while the number of meeting attendees is up 13.5%.

Simply put, we are in more meetings than ever. A study by Gartner Research points out that the average workday has increased by 48.5 minutes. And I’m sure for entrepreneurs, who are natural over-achievers, it’s worse.

Though we’ve come out of our caves to some extent during the last few months, the very nature of remote or hybrid work means less mental downtime during the day. This is true because we aren’t driving to the office as often, or to other locations, for meetings or other activities. So, the breaks or opportunities for mental and physical downtime decrease in turn.

For many of the entrepreneurs with whom I speak the relentless nature of these issues, combined with less time off and increased opportunities that both COVID and a rapidly changing economy are creating, is simply exhausting. And it’s dangerous — not just in terms of health but also in terms of potential business progress.

Dan Sullivan, the founder of The Strategic Coaching Program, often notes that time away for the entrepreneur isn’t a reward, it’s a requirement for maintaining and increasing creativity and productivity. The rest one gets from disconnecting, whether it’s for a few minutes or a few days, is important to maintain not just current levels of success, but to gain increasing levels of success.

So, how can we adapt to the new world we live in and maintain our progress while also maintaining our sanity?

Prioritize time away from work.

As you’re reading this, it’s still early in the year. Have you scheduled vacations, long weekends, and other time off? Doing so now will allow you to set limits on how much time you’ll be available for work. It will also allow you to make sure you actually take the time away that you need. In business terms, you will be more focused, energetic and productive when you are working.

Set limits for meetings.

Limit the number of days per week for meetings. I’ve found that getting all routine, internal, management or similar meetings out of the way early in the week works well. We have what I call “Meeting Monday,” which is the only day of the week these kinds of meetings are held. This clears the rest of the week for productive, growth-focused work.

“Chunk” related meetings on the same days. Client meetings work better when they’re scheduled all on the same day or days. It allows me to get into a “flow” state which helps with effectiveness. COVID has challenged this meeting “chunking” because it has created an assumption that, because we’re all in the same place all the time, every day is the same. This is not true.

Limit the amount of time for each meeting. While Zoom calls seemingly are scheduled for 30 or 60 minutes, I find they can drag on longer. Consider shortening the time you allot for a meeting by a third. You can accomplish more in less time this way.

Stop participating in meetings where there is no agenda. Many meetings are unnecessary and could have been tackled via email. Meetings are often best reserved for when decision-making is required.

Shorten your workday.

The dividing lines between work and time away are less clear. The solution is to determine what you want your week to look like and set limits. Force yourself, if necessary, to stop working when you reach them. You will return to a level of efficiency that you may have lost and you will regain control of your life.

Say no.

As “opportunities” to do more increase, it can often be easier to say yes, than no. This works until you break. Unfortunately, the COVID era is just pushing more business owners to that breaking point. Delegate what you can to more junior staff.

I’ve learned to put my work activities into three buckets: what I love doing, what I don’t like doing and what I have to do. By reviewing this routinely, I’ve learned to better delegate tasks others should be doing in a very practical way. This not only frees me up, but also prevents burnout.

We are beginning our third year of disruption in the workplace. Some of the disruption will be a boon to our lives, but it comes with the price tag of longer hours, more days at work and less time off. Decreased limits and boundaries between work and free time all threaten to limit our productivity, our success and ultimately our health.

As entrepreneurs and leaders, we can’t allow that to happen. We have to set limits for ourselves and our team members, so that enough doesn’t become too much.

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