At the start of the Pandemic, I made a momentous decision. Spoiler alert – this is not earth shattering but it was significant for me.

I combined my work and personal to do list into one list.

As far as things go for me, this was a biggie. I’m very much a “to do list” kind of person. In the old days, this was a written list which I re-wrote every Saturday. Nowadays it’s a spreadsheet with numbers down the side that gets re-jigged each morning. Anyone else love the data sort feature on Excel. No? Just me then. Ok.

Anyway, there seemed little point having two to do lists when I was primarily working from home and work and life were jumbled into one. I suspect this is how most people who run their businesses from home have worked for years but I always had that office routine discipline thing going on.

This made perfect sense to me because like most business owner-managers, I’m never truly switched off from work issues even if they are just bubbling away in my back brain.

These days technology has caused work and life to merge. Many of us are answering emails whilst watching the TV in the evenings. And of course, we all get texts, WhatsApp messages and calls about personal stuff during normal working hours.

It’s all about balance, isn’t it? Work-life balance; which was the subject of this week’s Mindsetting video (and last in the series) with Steve Backley and Roger Black.

The term “work-life balance” can be a pretty emotive one. In my experience, it’s usually a stick for employment groups to beat employers with.

Sometimes, they deserve to be beaten of course. We’ve all read stories about city firms expecting staff to do 90 hours a week or more. From my younger days, I remember some of the horror stories about errors made by junior doctors who hadn’t slept for two days.

But work-life balance works both ways.

A4G doesn’t operate a flexi-time system but we’re pretty flexible. If people need to sort something out like a boiler that’s stopped working or a holiday that needs to be rearranged and its in working hours, it’s not a problem. I know those same people have the same give and take attitude to their job and will also do work outside hours to get a presentation or urgent set of accounts completed.

It’s annoying when its take and take of course. We had an ex-colleague who we used to refer to as Levi because he was always out the door at 5.01. During his working day, there would be phone calls about his pets, parcel deliveries from Amazon and Candy Crush at lunch time. Every lunch time.

Then there was the “difficult” trainee who was always looking at her mobile. I suspect she had about ten different feuds going on by text. Unsurprisingly, her work was rubbish and we breathed a sigh of relief when she left.

But we all need downtime as well. You may have your phone with you at all times but that doesn’t mean you have to look at your emails constantly. Just because someone emailed you at 2.30 on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t mean they expect you to reply at 2.31. They just had an hour to themselves to catch up on whatever they needed to catch up on, on a Sunday afternoon. They probably don’t even want you to reply. They were trying to clear their inbox, not watch it fill back up again!

We all settle into a pattern of some kind but from time to time its important to challenge whether that pattern represents the right balance for you.

Most business owners goal is to increase their income whilst reducing the hours they work. This is forgotten by most accountants for whom 90% of their work is all about telling clients about the income bit. Maybe that’s because it’s easier to measure.

But failing the achievement of that holy grail, the next best thing is to either:

  • Keep your income the same and work less hours

or

  • Increase your income whilst working the same hours.

There is often a choice between those two or some kind of trade-off. As the business owner gets older of course, if successful the desire to work less hours becomes stronger.

What no-one wants to do is work more hours for less income. But that’s exactly the situation people find themselves in sometimes.

Occasionally, if your business has suffered a catastrophic problem (like I don’t know, a Pandemic maybe), then there’s no choice. Sometimes, we have to accept we’ve gone backwards before making progress again.

But ultimately, we’re all working towards that elusive balance.

My personal view is that if you’ve run your own business, then the sweet spot is being able to work about three days per week. I have a few clients who have achieved that. Work more than three days and you don’t have the time to do all the things you want to do. Less than that and you’re bored.

For most people, it usually takes until their 60s until they get to that point. If at all.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of juggling to do.

I once played golf with someone who took about 20 phone calls during the first half of a round of golf. Of course, his golf was terrible. As 5pm passed, the calls petered out and he played really well. If that’s a normal day, you’re going to burn out or make some big mistakes, golf or no golf.

But there are things you can do. Obviously, I am going to talk about improving systems but which ones?

The key to making your business less dependent on you is empowering your team and putting steps in place so they can deal with problems and small issues without involving you.

Where do you spend most of your time? Dealing with suppliers or customers? It’s usually the latter so think about the things they call you about. They probably don’t want to call your mobile for the smallest issue. Do they have a member of staff assigned to them? There are lots of job titles that you could use. Account Manager, site manager etc.

Introduce that person at the start of each new customer relationship. Ensure that person has a customer care process to build a relationship with your customer. The phone calls to you will reduce considerably.

And what about the calls to your office? How well are the people who answer the calls, trained to answer them.

At A4G everyone who answers the phone is required to ask what the call is about. We know its mildly annoying to be asked that as a client, but it makes it much easier to deal with it. If I’m on the High-speed train back from London (not done that much recently) and I see a message that one of my clients has called about a particular issue, often I know that issue is better answered by another member of my team. I can then forward the email to that person who will call the client back.

About one in ten calls are definitely for me. But now I’ve got 90% more time to deal with them.

Of course, the better you become at this, the more efficient your business will be and (probably) the more new business you will get. The cycle starts again. Work-life balance is an ongoing challenge for everyone, no matter how big or small your business is.

Anyway, it’s Friday night so time for some life. The football is about to kick-off. Where’s my beer? Come on England!

Have a good weekend.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer

FCA

Managing Partner

01474 853856

Send me a message

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