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So we’re approaching the end of the year and you’re thinking of setting up a business. Well let me tell you… being your own boss is great.

You have the final say in decision making; you get to choose your team, have the potential to earn limitless income, and in general, have more freedom than a typical nine-to-five job. It’s no surprise, self-employment has become a way of life for millions of people, with more than 5 million self employed people in the UK.

But self-employment has its own downsides… After all, a lot of responsibility (and risk) come with being your own boss.

Unlike a typical corporate job, you don’t have your workweeks laid out for you, and there’s no manager breathing down your neck to make sure you meet deadlines. Instead, there’s only you.

For this reason, it becomes absolutely essential that you master the art of self-discipline and accountability, to make sure you’re getting work done.

So, how do you maintain productivity when you don’t have a boss? Well, there’s no secret hack or technique that’ll solve all your problems. After all, productivity isn’t a quick fix. It takes creating a system based on your strengths (and weaknesses).

So let’s look at some of the downsides of being self-employed, according to the latest studies, and share my three-step system to improving productivity.

Problems With Self-Employment

1. No social life

Financial constraints don’t allow self-employed individuals to have huge teams. They’ve usually had to take over many different business roles (e.g., sales, marketing, operations, and public relations). So it’s quite normal for self-employed workers to end up working longer hours than usual. What’s more, self-employed people often work with few to no teammates which can lead to isolation and loneliness.

It’s no surprise, around 20% of self employed people have problems making time for a social life, as they’re always working on their business. After all, when you’re working tirelessly on building a company, you have very little time and energy to go out and socialise.

2. No guaranteed income

Many people want to start their own business because of the potential to earn limitless income. Yes, you can get rich by working for yourself, but there’s also the probability you won’t make as much or worse, suffer a loss. According to one recent study, two-thirds of the respondents felt “moderately” or “extremely” financially insecure. It’s no surprise that around half of all small businesses tend to be less prepared for the crisis than larger companies.

This financial distress makes it difficult for the self-employed to work efficiently. It also builds stress which can reduce productivity.

3. Intense workweeks

Self-employed individuals don’t have big teams and do most of the legwork themselves which can lead to problems like lack of focus. What’s more, in their desire to multitask, self-employed individuals can lose sight of what’s essential, lower their efficiency by focusing on too many tasks at once, and eventually experience burnout.

A two year Stanford study found that the self-employed have increased their working time by 15% while leisure time has decreased by 33%. A staggering statistic strongly hinting at the intense workweeks self-employed workers have, which can lead to problems like overworking, burnout, and, of course, affect productivity.

4. Bad work-life balance

Due to the intense nature of the business, self-employed individuals have problems balancing their work and life. The thing is, when you’re running a business, there are always problems that need your attention and this makes it hard to unplug and take a break. Moreover, this work-focused lifestyle leads to deteriorated mental health in terms of isolation, depression, and anxiety.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking: self employment sounds awful.

There are serious problems with self-employment, but the freedom and opportunities afforded you can make it worthwhile. And once your business gains traction, things can get a little easier. You also need to understand that none of these problems are terminal. They can all be fixed provided you’re conscious about them and make it a priority to address them, which brings me to my next point:

Self-Employment Productivity Guide

As mentioned, improving productivity is not an overnight process. There’s no single solution. First identify what your problems are and work towards improving (and optimising) them.

Here’s a simple 3-step process you can implement:

1. Scrutinise your current work performance to identify where you fall short.

You can only improve productivity when you know what to improve. After all, there are so many areas of improvement that can be targeted (e.g., financial management, time management, and organisational management), you can’t just expect to solve all of these at once.

The best practice is to adopt the “fine-tuning” strategy to identify the processes that specifically need improving. That’ll help you answer the following questions:

“Is it the long working hours that need to be reduced?”
“Am I unable to meet deadlines because of bad organisation?”
“Does my financial management need improvement?”
“Is my working environment too dull for me to function?”

And the million pound question: “How do I makes these specific improvements?”

This is where monitoring performance helps identify areas for improvement.

Integrate KPIs Into Your Work Week

The first step is to track key performance indicators (work time, downtime, etc … ) when going about your work day.

Measure Your Progress

Measure and evaluate your progress based on benchmarks or set smart goals (more on this in a bit). Once you’ve identified the areas needing improvement, adopt relevant strategies. However, for these strategies to be effective, you’ll require direction and focus, especially as it’s quite difficult to measure the growth of a business.

For this reason, it’s important to set measurable goals to drive action.

For instance, if you want to reduce your work time. You can’t just implement a strategy and expect to improve. Yes, you may see an improvement, but by how much? How do you measure how successful you were?

One way of setting trackable goals is by using the SMART Model. Not only does it help to set measurable goals, but it also helps to break down a work performance goal into a clearly defined plan of action as compared to an inexact statement.

Specific: What exact task to accomplish and which specific strategies to use?
Measurable: What data to track for the goal?
Achievable: Do you have the skills and resources to achieve the goal?
Relevant: How does the goal help you achieve your overall goals?
Time-based: What’s the deadline by which the goal has to be achieved?

Keep a check on your KPIs

Due to the intense nature of the business, it’s quite common to overlook KPIs. Remember, you can’t improve if you don’t know what to improve, so keep daily or weekly logs.

Adopt mind mapping

Use mind mapping software to help with decision making and solve other creative ruts. This helps you tackle projects efficiently by graphically displaying relationships and planning hierarchies.

Make personal well-being a priority

Apart from business, prioritise your personal health. After all, your productivity is directly linked to your health. For example, block out hours for exercise or meditation.

Adopt relevant time management techniques

Most business owners work beyond regular hours and, in most cases, it’s because they fail to get the most out of their time.

Segment your work weeks

Business owners have complex workweeks and this can be overwhelming. For this reason, it’s a good idea to set daily objectives and milestones.

Avoid multitasking and adopt unitasking

As business owners manage different tasks, it’s easy to end up overwhelmed by working on different tasks.

3. Analyse progress and adjust your strategies if required.

You’ve set goals and adopted relevant strategies, but don’t stop there. Keep a check on your progress and optimise when required. With self-employment productivity, you never know what works and what doesn’t. In fact, you might implement a strategy only to find it’s not the right fit for you. The point is, you need to audit your performance after implementing a strategy, or you won’t know if it actually worked, and this is where a personal performance review can be incredibly valuable

Don’t Forget to Take a Break

At the end of the day, we’re all human beings, and yes, this even includes the superhuman entrepreneurs. You don’t have to peak your productivity every single day. If you reach your limit, stop and take some time off to rejuvenate.

Taking a break is not a weakness. It’s a great strategy to rejuvenate your energy for another day. So, designate a day off from work at least once a week to prevent burnouts. This will make focusing on things more accessible and will boost your productivity further. And remember, regularly keep track of your work performance, because you can’t improve something, if you don’t know what to improve.

Being your own boss can be incredibly rewarding… but it can also be incredibly stressful and lonely. Working with an experienced coach can remove that loneliness and give you an extra pair of eyes to review the business and help you come up with strategies to improve how it’s running. If you’d like to explore what coaching could do for you, arrange an exploratory discussion.

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