I got an email this week from a blog reader named Sarah who asks a really good question.
Hey Abby, I’m curious as to how many hours per day you work and put into your business? I feel like the constant distractions from my kids doesn’t lend well to getting stuff done. I feel like I need a lot of time everyday to get the things I need done. And this is why I’m curious what’s a realistic amount of time I should expect to pour into my business? I’d love to read a post or article about this to hear what others schedules are like.
I know Sarah isn’t the only person with this question (several people have asked me similar questions over the last few years) and although I really try to share what I know about running a small business from home, especially as a mom of three young children, this is a question that I feel I can’t answer. I got some advice on health and safety for small business owners.
I did write back to Sarah, though, just to explain why I can’t tell her exactly how many hours she should spend on her business and then I thought maybe I’d flesh out my answer further here so that we might discuss the question of time when it comes to building a creative business.
First and foremost, I think purely looking at time spent on a task is not helpful. It would be really misguided for a school teacher to say, “You should study for this test for four hours. If you study for four hours you’ll get an A+.” Or, “You should pull an all-nighter to finish this paper. Only people who work for eight hours straight, all night long, will do well.” That type of prescription simply doesn’t work. Some people can study for 25 minutes really intensely and ace the test and other people can study for 6 hours in a less productive way and get a C-. In the same way some days I have just 45 minutes to spend on my business and I’m incredibly productive, plowing through my to-do list and getting to inbox zero. Other days I have four hours to work and end up taking a nap and clicking “like” on friends’ Facebook posts while eating chocolate chips on the couch for most of it.
Each person’s family situation is also very different. Some people have local grandparents or aunts and uncles who can care for their children during the day, while other people don’t have that. Some people have a husband or partner who works from home and can divide childcare duties, while others are single parents or have a partner who works a 9-5 job or who travels a lot for work. Some people have a child with special needs or are dealing with the chronic health issues of a family member while others aren’t facing these challenges. Tied to this is our individual financial situations. Some people can afford a babysitter or even a nanny to help with their children while others can’t or don’t want to do that. Some people can pay someone else to clean their house and mow their lawn while others can’t or choose not to. All of these circumstances dictate the time we have each day to spend on our businesses. Many people that run their business from home are also choosing to use a virtual office, as it gives a much better level of privacy. So just choose a local virtual office service like one in Birmingham and you then get all of your mail forwarded to you, so you don’t have to list your personal postal address for your business.
On top of this each of us learns differently. Some of us can read a few articles about a topic and feel ready to tackle it ourselves. Others need longer to think things through and still others need to experiment on their own or have someone show them how things work in order to really grasp a new concept. All of these ways of learning are valid, but they don’t all take up the same amount of time.
And finally if I were to write specifically about how I divide my time each day to make my business work it would be easy for someone to say, “Well, I don’t have that amount of time or that family arrangement so I can’t do what she does,” when maybe they could, but in their own way. It’s not following my exact breakdown that’s important. There is no secret recipe to make entrepreneurship work. Instead it makes more sense to think about how to best use the time and situation and learning style you actually have. What do you need in order to succeed? What’s in your way right now? What small tweaks and compromises could you make so that you’re able to get what you want.
I was talking with a local friend a few years ago. She’s a painter and she has two young boys. We were talking about how we use our time in the evenings after our children are in bed. “My husband wants me to sit with him in the family room and watch TV,” she said. “He hasn’t seen me all day and that’s what he expects that we’ll do in the evenings.” Although he craved togetherness and chill-out time after his 9-5 job, she craved solitude and creative time. Once she was able to articulate this to herself, and to him, they came up with a better plan that allowed her time several nights a week to be in her painting studio.
So, Sarah, I hope this better answers your question, or why I can’t actually answer your question. If you feel you can’t accomplish your goals because your time is too limited or two divided right now, try to articulate exactly what would make it better and then work so see if you can make small improvements so that you get what you need.