Ask any entrepreneur why they decided to start their own business, and most would say their passion for their product, the desire to build something from the ground up, or the chance to make a difference in the world.
It’s this powerful ambition and drive that fuels them to put every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears into making their vision a reality.
But why is it that only around 33% of businesses reach their tenth year?
It’s clearly not for a lack of trying. According to findings from recent reports, the average entrepreneur works 50.5 hours per week, which is 39% more than the national average for full-time employment. Other reports have found that 16% of business owners work in excess of 60 hours per week and that 86% of business owners work on weekends.
As these figures show, there is certainly no doubt that entrepreneurs are among the hardest-working individuals in the world. So why is it, then, that their efforts are not paying off?
Since I started this business in 2007, I’ve had the opportunity to meet hundreds of business owners from all industries and all walks of life. From my own experience and that of others, I’ve learned that there are 3 Ps that pose the most significant risks to entrepreneurs achieving their goals.
If you want your business to be in that top third that reaches long-term success, it’s crucial to understand and overcome these barriers that hold us back.
Between 20-25% of adults worldwide are estimated to be chronic procrastinators (some may struggle with it more than others, as procrastination can play a significant role in conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], depression, and anxiety) No matter how organized or committed we are, no one is completely immune to it, and entrepreneurs, in particular, may be more susceptible than others.
Many business owners love the flexibility and freedom of being their own boss, but this can be a double-edged sword. You’re in charge of everything–from your working hours to your workload. With no upper management to answer to and only yourself to be accountable for, self-imposed deadlines and due dates can feel a lot less pressing. Although we’re unlikely to impose harsh consequences on ourselves for not doing what we were meant to, it doesn’t stop us from feeling guilty, anxious, or stressed as a result.
Another reason lies in our tasks themselves. No matter how important it is, if a task seems too daunting or mentally taxing, we may find ourselves looking to replace it with something easier or more pleasurable. We still get the satisfaction (and hit of dopamine in our brains) of ticking something off our list, and we still feel like we’ve accomplished something. But the truth is, this approach will not get us far in the long run. The more we avoid business-critical tasks and fill our days with low-impact work, the harder it becomes to make progress and achieve growth.
But regardless of the reason, procrastination is an insidious habit that prevents us from reaching our full potential.
If you find yourself regularly putting things off, there are a few things you can do to try and regain control.
In most cases, procrastination is an automatic response. Very few of us deliberately make a conscious choice to put important tasks off. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re procrastinating until it’s already happened!
With this in mind, one of the simplest ways to tackle procrastination is arguably one of the most effective. First of all, simply being aware that we’re doing it can often be all we need to reel ourselves back in. But knowing how often we do it, and what causes us to do it, is key. Keep a tally throughout the day to see how many times you procrastinate, and the whens and whys that led it to happen. For example, does it happen at certain times of day more than others? Are there some tasks you put off more than others?
Knowing this information can help you build a better daily routine and structure your schedule around the times when you are most productive. If, for example, you tend to procrastinate more often in the afternoon, you might benefit from scheduling your most important or challenging tasks in the morning.
Bring The Future Forward
When we think about our long-term goals and the success we want to achieve in the future, it can feel a lot more distant and less tangible than the things that we have to deal with more frequently where the results are more immediate. As a result, the important work we need to achieve our goals often falls to the bottom of our to-do list.
However, the importance of always being mindful of your future self and what you hope to accomplish cannot be overstated. As the proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”
If your future goals feel out of reach and hard to connect with in the present, break them down into a series of smaller, easily digestible goals. Then, set one for yourself every day or week, with a firm deadline. When the feeling of satisfaction (and dopamine hit!) of achieving a small win is always close at hand, you’ll find it easier to get it done. Not only that, you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed when the once-intense task feels more manageable.
Defined as “more important than other things and needs to be done or dealt with first”, the second most significant threat to an entrepreneur’s success is their priorities. More specifically, the fact their priorities are skewed.
It leads to a lack of focus and direction, which can result in crucial deadlines or opportunities being missed, and a lower return on the time and energy you invest. Working hard is only part of the equation - you also need to be smart about what you're working on. Spending time on tasks that don't contribute to the growth of your company is a waste, no matter how efficient you are.
So, how can we make sure we’re spending our time and energy wisely?
When you’re having to juggle so many different responsibilities as the head of your business, chances are that you often have to "wing it" or “go with the flow” and take the day as it comes. But this makes it all too easy to fall into the trap of working your way through tasks that feel urgent or important but won’t actually take you closer to your goals.
Block out time each day or week to identify the most impactful work that you should be focusing on. Then, always complete your top-priority task first. Because even if you do nothing else that day, you can rest assured that the important work is done and any progress towards your goals is better than none. Any other work you can tick off beyond that is a bonus!
This isn’t just a valuable habit for you to cultivate yourself, it’s worth getting your team involved in priority planning, too. This way, you can ensure everyone is on the same page and knows exactly where they should be focusing their efforts to take your business further.
See: Why You Should Write A "Stop-Doing" List Instead Of A To-Do List
Protect Your Time
Identifying your priorities is one thing, but as business owners, having the time to focus on them can be a whole other thing entirely.
There’s always bound to be someone or something that wants your attention. And whether it’s a genuine desire to be helpful, not wanting to let others down, or because whatever you’ve been presented with is more appealing than what you should be working on (hello procrastination!), it might not seem like a big deal to stop what you're doing and pitch in. But if we’re not careful, the time it takes out of our days can add up significantly.
This is why it’s essential to set clear boundaries around your time and energy, and how you spend them. This often means needing to say “no” a lot more than you might be used to, which can be more challenging for the people-pleasers among us, but always remember the bigger picture and the future you are working towards. Before agreeing to any new work requests, take a moment to consider whether or not it is the best use of your time. If it falls directly within your area of responsibility and you have time available, then go ahead. However, if neither of these criteria are met, politely decline and offer an alternative solution if possible.
When you think of the level of effort and attention to detail required for a product to stand out in today’s competitive market, it’s easy to assume that perfectionism and successful entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. So, why is it on this list?
For many entrepreneurs, the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming and the fear of failure can be paralyzing. As a result, this feeds into the belief that there’s no option but to get everything just right. Again, some of you may be wondering, surely this isn’t such a bad thing? But while there is much to be said for holding yourself to a high standard, if left unchecked, perfectionism often does more harm to your productivity than good. It’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing we should all be wary of.
For starters, you might think of perfectionism and procrastination as being almost complete opposites, but in fact, they’re more closely related than you’d think. If you're constantly striving for perfection, you might find yourself avoiding starting certain projects or putting off important tasks because of the fear of making mistakes or not meeting expectations (either yours or others).
On the other hand, perfectionism often rears its head on the opposite end of the spectrum, too. Perfectionists may not trust others’ abilities to do things as well as they could, so they end up with a list of tasks and responsibilities a mile long. If you're constantly biting off more than you can chew, you're writing a recipe for disaster. We only have a limited amount of time and energy each day, and you’ll struggle to give your high-impact, business-critical tasks the focus and attention they deserve when you’re spreading yourself too thinly.
If you’re worried that tips for tackling perfectionism will all boil down to killing your conscientiousness or caring less about your work, fear not! A few simple tweaks to your habits will help make sure you’re not hindered by the pitfalls of perfectionism.
Rechannel Your Energy
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about perfection is how subjective, and often undefined, it can be in our minds. No matter what we do, it can feel so close yet so far.
Have you ever spent twice as long on a project as it needed because you kept changing your mind, or constantly found things to tweak? “Maybe a font change here will do the trick, or maybe swapping these around will be better, or should I get rid of this completely?” Without firm deadlines or consequences, we could find ourselves working on these tasks indefinitely, as we’d unlikely to ever be satisfied with the end result. But it’s important to ask ourselves, what are we actually achieving here? Will spending double the time on a task really result in double the impact? Or are we actually just robbing our future selves of valuable time?
So instead of pursuing an intangible goal of perfection, create a set of clear, measurable standards you can focus on. For example, is it free from errors? Does it follow your company guidelines or SOPs? This way, you can make sure your work is still of high quality, but you don’t waste any time trying to gild the lily. Once it’s ticked all your boxes, it’s officially done.
Relieve The Pressure
Of course, any self-respecting entrepreneur would never aim for merely “satisfactory” or “average”, and neither should they. It’s the determination to go further that will enable them to stand out from their competitors. However, going further is all but impossible when you’re doing everything yourself.
Use our free to-do list optimizer tool to find out just how much of your regular workload actually needs to be done by you. Then, find competent employees or virtual assistants to handle the rest. If you’re still a firm believer that “If you want something done right, do it yourself”, remind yourself that each member of your team was hired for a reason. They should be more than capable of completing your tasks well.
See: Why Entrepreneurs Should Delegate Their Way To Business Growth
Always remember the bigger picture and the future you want to achieve. Doing all the tasks on your long list of responsibilities might feel like the only way to maintain your own high standards, but this is only a shallow, short-term gain. Freeing yourself of stress and reclaiming time and energy for creativity, innovation, and strategy is key to achieving more in your business.
What’s The Bottom Line?
It’s frustrating when we don’t achieve the results we want, and even more so when we don’t know why our progress is slowing.
It’s time to stop being overwhelmed, stressed, and stalled. By making a few simple changes to your routine, you can eliminate these pitfalls and make sure that you’re fully focused on the things that really matter.
If you’re ready to cut out more distracting, energy-zapping elements from your work day to do more, achieve more, and earn more in your business, Time etc is here for you. We are dedicated to helping hardworking and ambitious entrepreneurs take back control over their days by providing the best virtual assistants for their business. Each step of the way, our team will carefully assess your requirements to make sure your custom plan is perfect for you and to match you with the best assistant based on the skills and experience you need. We’re so sure that you’ll be delighted with your support that we offer all our members a complete lifetime satisfaction guarantee.
Speak to our expert team to get started or try a skilled virtual assistant for free today.