Commercial Currents: Life and Business Balance—Part 1

Craig Olson
Posted 2018-12-21

Life and Business Balance
Part 1: Personal Time Management

The holiday season is hectic for everyone but even more so for small business owners.

If you own a retail business, this may be your biggest month of the year. For some businesses, much of their year-end profit is realized in the month of December. Other business owners have just come off of a hectic summer and fall season, and now they just want to rest and recover. So, it stands to reason that we are often asked:

“How do you achieve a work/life balance as a small business owner?”

One of the best ways to do this is to step back as much as you can and look at your business and its systems as objectively as possible. Most small business owners are so wrapped up in daily operations that it becomes hard to achieve a balance. Now—and during the holiday season when we all would like to spend more time engaging with friends and family—it might be a good time to reflect on how you manage your personal time. 

Personal Time Management

We all struggle with planning our personal time. There are only so many hours in the day, and for business owners, time is even more precious. It often feels as though the only time we aren’t working on or thinking about our business is when we are sleeping, but it can even take over our dreams.  

Here’s a tip from legendary management thinker and writer, Peter Drucker, who said:

“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” 

One of the tasks Drucker would assign to executives and business owners who came to him for help would be to spend a week documenting their time. It doesn’t matter how you do it—in a notebook, on scraps of paper, or on your phone—just write down everything in the order in which it happened:  3 minutes on a phone call, 12 minutes reading and sending emails, 5 minutes getting coffee, 15 minutes on the shop floor, etc. 

Even after only one day, you’ll be amazed when you look back at that log and see how your day can jump around. Jumping between separate tasks dilutes your attention from all of them. Try putting like tasks into blocks of time where you are doing just one thing: phone calls, writing blog posts, email, or web research. 

Short-Term Planning and Prioritization

Many business owners also find great benefit from planning the next day at the end of the previous work day. Before you head home, make a list of three things you need to accomplish, and make the first project or task the biggest lift of the day. Once you get rid of that big rock, the following tasks get easier. 

Then, after you have success with this short-term planning, make time to sit down on a regular basis and look a week (or a month) out, and pencil the key dates into your calendar. It also never hurts to keep a paper calendar on the wall with those tasks or deadlines marked in red!

Time invested in training, efficiencies, and systems documentation is never wasted. Are there things you’re doing because you feel you have to do them, or because you actually need to do them? As a small business owner, the hardest thing to do is let go and prioritize. Not only should you train the person in the task, but document the process as well. If you begin to do this on a regular basis, you will soon accumulate standard operating procedures that will help you manage your business and refine things that you do every day. 

Integrating Business and Personal Time

Most business and personal lives are integrated out of necessity: you feel you are the business. So, what we all have to start with is awareness. Is your business driving your life to distraction? Are you present for family and friends when you should be? What tools are out there, and relatively inexpensive if not free, that will make you a better business owner and fully present in your personal life as well? We’ve made a few suggestions with resources below. However, we’re always looking for more things to add to our toolbox as we help entrepreneurs in our island and coastal communities. Are there suggestions you might have for us? If so, please reach out to Craig Olson, senior community development officer for the Small Business team, with your ideas.

Resources for Small Business Owners and Managers

The Island and Coastal Business Launchpad

Maine’s islands and coastal communities have a high percentage of households that operate their own small businesses. While the national average of small business ownership is 22%, Maine is slightly ahead of that with 23%, and seven Maine islands and coastal communities have small business ownership at over 50%. (Waypoints 2018).

As part of the Island Institute’s Island and Coastal Business Launchpad program, we can guide you through some of these hills and valleys, helping to bringing an integration of life and work that keeps your eye on your business and your family. We can help you with business start up and set up, funding, and how to manage the finite time you have to get everything done. Learn more here.

What We Do

The Island Institute’s Small Business Team provides business and financial planning to help entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of starting and growing a business. For more information on our small business support services, feel free to contact Craig Olson.

Commercial Currents is an email and blog newsletter that shares buoyant stories from Maine’s island and coastal communities about economic stability and resilience. To find archived editions, go to

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