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7 min read

Working on your own

Many people who run smaller businesses spend a lot of time working alone. Here are ways to work effectively on your own.

How can I manage my time effectively?

We all know what it feels like when we have tons of work to do, but no matter how many hours we put in and no matter how hard we work, we never seem to catch up with things. We’re always teetering on the edge of another deadline.

Our time never seems to be our own. We’re constantly having to juggle our work with our personal activities. Our friends always want to chat at the most inconvenient time… we have to pick up the kids… pay our bills… arrange a dental appointment… get the car serviced… to squeeze in a million and one things. And because we’re working mostly on our own, we can sink deeper and deeper into ourselves in frantic attempt to come up with ideas, to try to solve problems and figure out how to achieve the impossible.

But how can we focus on figuring out solutions when we‘re being pulled around by forces we seem to have no control over?

To take control we need to adopt a new strategy – one which enables us to:

  • prioritise
  • plan
  • avoid being distracted
  • involve others at the right times
  • give ourselves positive motivation. 

We’ll take a look at each of these in this article.

How can I cope when I have so many urgent things to do?

The first thing you need to do is to appreciate the difference between things that are urgent and things that are important.

You’re probably familiar with the 80/20 principle. There are various interpretations of this, but essentially it means that there are certain activities (your 20%) that account for the majority of your successful outputs (your 80%).

You need to recognise that there’s never going to be enough time to do everything – neither in your work life, nor in your personal life. So focus on the things that are really important – try to increase the 20% –  and worry less about (and spend less time on) the things that are urgent (the 80%) but which are in reality are not crucial for success.

Checklist: How can I get through all my tasks?

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How do I cope with constant interruptions?

To cope with distractions you need to be assertive, both with other people and yourself.

  • Shield yourself

Phones, texts and emails are wonderful things – we couldn’t cope without them. But in terms of getting things done, they can be fatal distractions. We need to shield ourselves from them.

  • Step away from email

Don’t be a slave to your email. Instead of constantly going to your inbox, try to look at it say three of four  times a day, especially when you’re focussing on tasks that require maximum concentration. Unless you’re waiting for an urgent and important message, switch off alerts, so that you’re not constantly distracted by the pings of incoming mail.

  • Set expectations 

You could try using an autoresponder to let people know that you will reply to their emails, but just not immediately. 

  • Step away from the phone 

When you’re settling down to work on an intense task, let your voicemail take care of calls for a while. For a service that alerts you to voice messages left on your business number, go to Skype Spinvox.  Alternatively Speakpipe enables visitors to your website to leave voice messages, feedback and testimonials, without the use of a phone. 

  • Ration social media 

Social media can be very compelling and even addictive. Ration your use of it to just a few minutes once or twice during a working day.

  • Say ‘no’ (tactfully) 

If someone asks you if you have five minutes to talk about something, but you don’t have the time (chances are that five minutes will become 10 or even 30 minutes!) politely say ‘No’. Arrange a time that you will get back to them, and make sure you honour that commitment.


How can I bring myself to get started and finish large or difficult tasks?

Here are some tips for when you just can’t bring yourself to get stuck into or complete a task.

  • Supping a hot drink at work
    Making tasks manageable

    Breaking tasks into smaller, more digestible chunks suddenly makes them appear more achievable, and gives you somewhere to start.

  • Adjusting watch
    Use a timer

    Most people’s concentration falls off after 20 or 30 minutes. After this they work slower and make more mistakes. Work in small chunks of time that are tailored to your own abilities to stay ‘in the zone’. Try setting timer so that you’re alerted when the allocated chunk of time has elapsed.

  • Looking at view
    Take a break

    At the end of each chunk of work, take just a few minutes to stretch your legs, walk down the corridor, stroke the cat – anything that gives you a chance to ‘reset’ yourself before you dive back into the task.

  • Hot drink and laptop
    Reward yourself

    Give yourself rewards for completing chunks of work. Have something to look forward to – like having a coffee, reading a few pages of a newspaper or an article, browsing a website – some sort of a mini-treat that gives you the motivation to carry on for another half an hour or so.

What else can I do to make sure I’m using my time effectively?

Consider how much effort to put into a specific task. For example, try to keep your emails short and to the point (without being brusque of course). If you can’t say what you want in just a few sentences, it’s probably going to be more time-effective to pick up the phone and have a conversation, rather than spend ages writing down your thoughts, which will probably mean you receive an even longer reply, which requires another response from you and so on.  

It can be quite hard to get a sense of perspective when you’re working on your own. Make sure that you reserve most of your time and effort for really important tasks and don’t overwork those that don’t need it. It’s vital that work for customers is done meticulously, but you don’t need to carry out other sorts of business tasks to the same high standards. Identify the circumstances when you need to be a perfectionist and those when you don’t.

How can I keep up my motivation?

Sometimes it’s hard to keep going when you’re not being buoyed-up by the buzz of  other people working nearby. Here are a few suggestions for increasing your self-drive.

  • Exercise regularly

Physical activity releases endorphins – the so called ‘happy hormones’ that provide the feel-good factor. Even very short bursts of activity, such as vigorous walking or cycling can make you feel much more positive about things.

  • Get in the right mind-set

Techniques like Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) can enable you to trigger strong positive emotions that help you tackle challenging tasks.

  • Listen to music

There have been lots of studies which show that listening to music can help motivate you and improve your ability to concentrate. Debate rages about what type of music is best, so discover what works best for you.

  • Regularly connect with people who inspire you

Have face-to-face, or telephone, or Skype conversation with individuals who restore your faith in your business sector or even the word!

  • Do stuff other than work

Running a small business can become all-consuming, but everyone deserves a break now and again. Look for inspiration on the internet or even go out into the real world!


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