Why long hours are dangerous for your business

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With some business owners, working long hours is some kind of badge of honor…for others it feels like it’s just an inevitable part of owning a business and it will never go away. The reality is those long hours are dangerous – not just to you personally but also to your business.

Tell me if any of this sounds at all familiar:

“I do my best work late at night, because it’s finally quiet and I can concentrate.”

“As the owner of the business, I have to work harder than anyone else.”

“There’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done.”

“Someday I will…”

All of the best businesses go through a phase of long days and often sleepless (or at least sleep deprived) nights. As a new business, if you’re not working long hours to get your baby off the ground, then you’re not likely to see much success. There’s a stage (at least one) in every business where you just have to push and get things done.

But…

That sleepless, long hours phase shouldn’t last more than 6 months to maybe a year or so. It’s required that you do some of that, just to build up speed and momentum but if you are more than a year or two into your business and you’re still working crazy hours…and you have trouble imagining taking a few days off, then you are well and truly stuck in the growth phase of your business.

The thing about being stuck in the growth phase is that the only way to get out of it is to fundamentally change how you operate. It turns out that what got you into the growth phase (all of that hard work and long hours) actually starts working against you over the long haul.

There are only 24 hours in a day and even the hardest charger / Type A person isn’t going to do much more than 15 to 18 hours a day for any length of time…so once your growth has driven you to those kinds of efforts, then it’s past time to make a change. Here are some specific ideas that might help you power down a bit so that you can start moving forward again:

1. Take stock of how you spend all of that time

Do an audit of where you actually spend your time during a typical day or week. How much time is spent on sales? How about operations / creating your product or service?  How much of your time are spending on back office billing and bookkeeping type of stuff? How much time are you spending on managing others?

What do you hate doing? What do you love doing? What are you exceptionally good at?  Based on all of that, what should you delegate our outsource to someone else?

Try this – Pick at least one significant weekly task and find someone  you can give it to.

2. Start saying no

Most entrepreneurs are up for the challenge…they will say yes to almost anything, even if they’ve never done it before. But here’s the reality – not every client, not every job or sale and not all revenue is good for you.

I’ll say it again because I know this is counter-intuitive to a lot of business owners.  There are customers, work and money that you should just say ‘NO’ to. You have a sweet spot in your business – the type of work that you do exceptionally well. The kind of work that you enjoy and are passionate about doing. Those kinds of jobs and customers are the home runs – take those all day long.

However there are other kinds of customers and jobs…the ones that are painful…the ones that make you tired just thinking about them…the ones that don’t pay on time. Those are the ones you need to say ‘NO’ to.

And when you say ‘no’…it will free you up to say ‘yes’ to more of the home run types of customers!

Try this – Look at your existing customers and pick at least 1 or 2 that you can say ‘No’ to (or at least raise your rates substantially on them so if they stay it’s worth your time).

3. Slow down in order to speed up

Have you ever had the experience of doing a chore that wasn’t all that hard, it was just boring and took a long time to do?  Then, once you were almost done with the chore, someone came along and showed you a completely new way to do the same chore…but the new way took 10% of the time and was way easier?

That’s a breakthrough…an epiphany and if you are constantly charging head down and grinding your way through a bunch of hard work, you are never going to see the easier way of doing things.

Try this – Block off a couple of hours a week and use that time to find a better way to do your most manual jobs. This also works well as a team exercise.

Bottom line – working extended long hours is a clear symptom of a business that’s out of control and the usual outcome is burnout followed by some kind of crash and burn. Sure you’re really strong and you can outwork almost anyone you know – but that’s not going to help you build a successful business. It’s cliche, but you need work smarter…not harder!

Are you working really long hours? Do you know someone who’s fallen into this trap?  We’d love to hear about it (and we can help them with it). Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

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