I’ve been bellyaching for weeks now because my birthday is right around the corner. On July 17, 2012 I will be 29. I know it isn’t that old, but the number is a lot bigger than I expected it to be. By 29 I wanted to be married with 4 kids and have a doctorate. Instead I have 2 Masters, 2 dogs and an online startup that keeps me from dating. Oops.

Life never turns out the way you want it to. And if it does, you are doing it wrong. Be intentional but flexible; otherwise, you will break!

Herding Cats

One of the many skills I learned during my twenties was my ability to herd cats. Not literally of course, I am totally a dog person. My online startup uses freelancers exclusively. This means I work with people that all have their own thing going on. Plus, my company is 100% virtual. This is akin to herding cats when you are pushing 25-30k words a day.

How do I do it?

1. Recognize your place in their world

Freelance writing is tough and it is getting tougher everyday. I remember pining for jobs for hours and hours for little to no money. Since I personally worked up the ladder of freelance writing, I know exactly the issues my freelancers are facing. This is crucial because it means I know what their dream job would be like. I strive every day to make working for me that dream job of theirs.

If you don’t have the insight that I do for your workers, ask. Knowing their priorities is the only way you can be sure you are giving them what they need.

2. Recognize their place in your world

I have a tendency to over-trust. I’ve learned the hard way that “gullible” is not a good business trait. Make sure that you provide clear and consistent guidelines, tracking and discipline. For example, in my business I pay very close attention to output, hours and quality. And, I have very clear cut guidelines for those who stray off the path.

Every business is different but each business has its unique priorities. Make sure that your priorities are known and that you have clear cut ways to deal with people not hitting the bar. Otherwise, things get personal, which is a whole lot of extra chaos. Keep business stuff business-like by having the same rules for everybody.

Killing Zombies

1. Cut the fat from your schedule so you can enjoy the protein.

I have a running list of red flags that I keep by my desk so I can gauge a client in an unemotional way. This way, I can know when it is time to fire a client. Clients take up 60-70% of my day, so I love bending over backwards for them. However, when they start sucking away my energy by being disrespectful or unrealistic, I cut the cord. That way, I can be 100% ready (and happy!) to bend over backwards for the next client.

You might not deal with customer service, but there is always a way to efficiently cut the fat from your day. I’d start with whatever takes the majority of your time and move from there. Again, the key is intentionality and flexibility.

2. Pack the big boxes first

If you’ve ever filled up a moving van or a trunk, you know that you have to put in the largest items first. This is the same way you need to build your daily schedule. If you know that managing your company’s blog takes 90 minutes a day, be sure to block out time you are least likely to have interruptions. If your email starts blowing up at 11am like mine does, make sure you are managing your blog before that time. Then, fill up the little things as soon as they happen.

I’m incredibly fast when replying to emails, so much so that my business partner Laura actually called me the other day thinking her email wasn’t working when I didn’t reply to her within 45 minutes on a Sunday! Typically, I reply to emails within minutes and that’s because I use the above system. I do all my heavy lifting during off hours so that the little things (answering emails, making calls, checking job boards) can be done right away.

3. Make time for Zombies

My company is still officially in the startup phase. Yes, we’ve grown immensely in the last 20 months, but there is still quite a ways to go. That means it is still my baby and I work toward building the company 80+ hours a week. There is nothing I would rather be doing than plugging away at building my business.

However, to avoid burnout even I need some time off. This means I might play Dead Frontier for 45 minutes a couple times throughout the day or I might veg out in front of a Netflix movie in the middle of the day. This is incredibly embarrassing, but I am an avid People’s Court fan and watch it religiously. How do I this and still answer emails within minutes? It’s called multi-tasking, people.

Since I work from home that means sitting on the couch watching a movie with a laptop refreshing my emails, or doing a zombie desktop game with a laptop on a credenza. This probably won’t work in a typical office setup but find something you can do at your office. These little breaks recharge me for those 16-hour days!

Time management is an elusive creature. For some of us, it is natural. For others, it is completely alien. We all have our own strengths, but time management is something we all need to learn at some point or another. When you are running a business it is about knowing the priorities of your team, and keeping your own priorities in line. The rest of this stuff just makes life a ton easier!

Do you have any time management tips for business owners?