By Erin Golden
Eric Owen has the type of schedule many small business owners can probably relate to.
The Ottawa, Ont.-based general contractor, who owns The Better Living Solutions Group, is usually awake by 5 a.m. By 6 or 7 a.m., he’s already taking calls from his crew and customers—and from there, things get even more hectic. He’s on the move all day, skipping from job sites to suppliers to customers, before finally getting back home around 8 or 9 p.m.
And somewhere in between all of that, the rest of his life happens—talking to his wife, shuttling the kids to soccer practice, doing chores around the house, etc. Giving everything the attention it deserves, and figuring out when to set work aside, is a challenge, to say the least.
"You get to a point where the kids are saying, ‘You’re never home for dinner,’" he says. "You get to the point where you have to start saying no to clients and start making more time for the family."
Striking a good work-life balance can be a particular challenge for people in the trades, says Ted Mallett, vice president and chief economist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Builders, electricians and plumbers, he notes, have unpredictable schedules. And that doesn’t take into account the 24/7 workload that comes with running your own business.
But experts say making work a priority—rather than the priority—in your day-to-day life can be crucial to the success of your business. Here’s how to get started:
Even with small stuff, a little planning can go a long way. An hour spent sorting through disorganized paperwork is an hour that could have been spent playing a game with the kids or sweating it out at the gym.
Mallett suggests taking a close look at the administrative side of your business. If you’re doing your billing or inventory by hand, consider investing in a computer program that might speed up the work. If you find yourself taking multiple trips to pick up supplies, try to sort out your needs sooner, so you can get everything in one stop.
"Invest in a system of some sort," he says. "Systematizing these kinds of things certainly helps a great deal. You’re reducing your time spent away from the job site."
Plus, you’re increasing your chances of getting home a little sooner.
Smart phones, tablets and laptops can help you stay in touch with clients, suppliers, friends and family, but they also make it more difficult to separate work from home.
Make sure you’re using tech tools to your advantage. To save time, program devices with shortcuts, put your customers on speed dial or map out the quickest route to a job site before you leave the garage.
But it’s also important to know when to turn it all off.
Donald Robichaud, president and owner of Ottawa, Ont.-based Floodlight Business Solutions Group, helps small and midsized businesses, including several in the trades, with business development. He says not being able to put away the phone or let an hour pass without checking for new e-mail messages means business owners aren’t really running their business—they’re letting the business run them.
"Technology allows us to do things faster," he says. "But if we don’t already know how to schedule our time, then technology just adds to the total burden."
Remember, doing everything yourself isn’t the only way to get things done right.
"We are all human beings, and we all have specialties," Robichaud says. "We need to understand our strengths, and bring people in who have other skill sets."
For Owen, that approach has been key to being able to set aside time for himself and his family. Within his company, he’s found a person he knows he can depend on to keep things running smoothly when he’s away.
"I know when I go somewhere, the projects I leave will be done properly," he says.