Either you run the day or the day runs you;

either you run the business or the business runs you.

Jim Rohn

Although self-bossers are quick to realize that having control of their own time is one of the great rewards of self-employment, using time wisely may be a new skill we need to acquire since most of us have spent a fair amount of time following schedules set by others who told us when to arrive at class, the office or the dinner table.

Go For Balance

Travel writer Rick Steves says, “When you let your time become money you cheapen your life. One measure of a culture is its treatment of time. In the United States time is money: we save it, spend it, invest it and waste it.”

This can be a difficult attitude to get over, but the key may not be to manage our time, but to balance our lives.

“Whenever our schedules become disproportionate, our energy drops,” Doreen Virtue points out. “Lowered energy creates the illusion that there isn’t enough time in the day, so a vicious cycle of time limitation ensues….Balancing your life between work, play, spirituality, exercise, and relationships helps you to grow and feel joy.”

Being self-employed gives us a head start in creating the balance Virtue talks about.

Check Your Priorities

It’s only with regular and frequent reviewing of our priorities that we can create a life that reflects what we value most. Otherwise we get swept along by chores, tasks and the demands of others.

In his book How To Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, Alan Lakein shares his simple method for setting priorities on a daily basis.  Once you’ve written down your To Do List, you give each item an A, B, or C rating.

A items are the most important; B items are those you’ll get to if the A items get done; C items may just be busy work. Eventually, C items disappear altogether as we focus on our most important activities.

Sometimes our true priorities dictate that we be obsessive about a single task until it is done. At other times, our priorities may be to have lots of variety of activities in our day.

The important thing is to know what truly matters and then set up each day to reflect that.

60 Minutes did a story that illustrated how little attention is given to creative idleness. The piece was a study of the young people known as Echo Boomers, children of the Baby Boom generation. Now reaching their late teens, this group has grown up with jam-packed schedules and endless encouragement to be team players. Sadly, many of these kids are at a loss given unscheduled time on their own.

Staring out a window or walking in a woods is not necessarily the sign of a slacker. Writer Anna Quindlen concurs.

She says, “Downtime is where we become ourselves. I don’t believe you can write poetry, or compose music, or become an actor without downtime and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.”

Successful entrepreneurs master the fine art of woolgathering.

So don’t ditch your Day Planner or Palm Pilot, but do give attention to alignment, balance and creativity in arranging your moments.

After all, you put yourself in charge when you decided to go after a dream and only you can decide if you’ll move closer or farther away minute by minute by minute.

Whenever I’m writing a book, I never get out of bed,

because if I get out of bed,

I always see something that needs dusting.

.Jessamyn West

Interruptions can plague anyone who is trying to accomplish a dream, but this seems to be especially true for those who are running a business from home. Years ago, my mother called to ask me to run an errand for her and prefaced her request by saying, “Since you don’t work, dear….”

Such disruptions can not only impede progress, they can cause us to lose sight of our goals.

An interruption occurs when a lower priority intrudes on a higher one. We usually think of interruptions as being caused by another person who distracts us from what we are doing, but we can also interrupt ourselves by letting petty things take up our time and attention.

Sometimes, of course, it makes sense to give into a brief distraction. What is less desirable is allowing time-consuming interruptions to become the norm.

The best way to handle interruptions is to prevent them before they happen and that requires taking a proactive stance. If you sense that distractions are sabotaging your efforts, keep track for a day or two of every interruption you encounter.

Is there a pattern? Are there people who keep showing up? What causes you to be distracted?

Create Boundaries

Your first line of defense is to establish boundaries with those people who may have gotten used to your availability.  “No, I can’t run over and help you turn your mattress right now, but I will be glad to help you this evening,” is one way to handle requests that interfere with the project you need to complete.

One woman with teenaged children took to wearing a hat  when she was working to signal her family that she was to be left alone. Another gave her children permission to interrupt her only if someone was bleeding.

Whether it’s your family or friends, you’ll lower your frustration level considerably by explaining in advance that you are serious about your business and will be unavailable at certain times.  Don’t assume that other people will know that you don’t want interruptions. Tell them when it is and isn’t appropriate to contact you.

Limit Your Accessibility

People who are highly productive tend to guard their time carefully. You wouldn’t expect that your favorite novelist, who is working on her next book, would stop in the middle of writing to have a phone chat with you, would you?

Your work matters, too, and deserves your full attention when you’re creating, inventing or planning.

Yet many people seem oblivious to the importance of limited accessibility and the mobile phone has made it possible to reach them anytime, anywhere.

Unless you deliver babies or repair computers, there’s probably no reason to be on call twenty-four hours a day.

Since the telephone is most frequently the instrument of interruption, it makes sense to be its master. Some people find it easiest to have a regular time to receive and return calls. Your answering message could even explain to callers that you will get back to them between 2 and 4—or whatever fits your schedule.

It’s About Time

Preventing unnecessary interruptions falls under the general heading of Good Time Management. “Without the management of time,” said William Reiff, “you will soon have nothing left to manage.”

If you have no plan for slowing the flow of intrusions, they’ll keep coming. You may not have a battalion of receptionists and secretaries to protect you, but you can find creative ways to limit interruptions. Consider a quiet location other than your office for doing some of your work, for instance.

Another helpful tool is The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch who points out, “Twenty percent of what we do leads to 80 percent of the results; but 80 percent of what we do leads to only 20 percent.”

When we identify what that productive 20 percent is, everything shifts.

Know Your Priorities

“Things that matter most,” said Goethe, “must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” Start every day with a brief review of what you want to accomplish and determine what has the highest priority.

Knowing what matters is what makes it possible to finish that novel while the dust piles up—or to give your partner your undivided attention because you’ve finished your work for the day.

Since each of us is one-of-a-kind, the market, for all its
supposed predictability, is actually vulnerable to
falling in love with any of us at any time.
Julia Cameron

It’s been a long time since I was in high school, but one thing hasn’t changed much: adolescents still want to be like everyone else. Teenagers dress alike, listen to the same music, love the same movies. Being different is a surefire way to become unpopular, the most dreaded horror of teen life.

While conformity is comforting in adolescence, it only serves a purpose in human development if it’s treated as a stopover in the journey. Unfortunately, many adults suffer from arrested development and spend years trying to conform.

Who’s going to notice a conformist?

On weekends when I have an out of town seminar, I often pick up a copy of People magazine at the airport. Even though the cover of the magazine usually features a celebrity, I find that the stories I enjoy the most are about people who aren’t famous, just fascinating.

One memorable issue included a section called Starting Over and featured six people who had made dramatic life changes. Four of the six of them became self-employed.

One of the others, a former chef in upscale restaurants in New York and Washington DC, reached the point where (in his own words) he’d, “Been there, sautéed that.” Wanting to do something more meaningful, he now cooks upscale cuisine in a soup kitchen.

The other person, Omar El Nasser, abandoned his cubicle in a windowless office in Buffalo and now works as a cowboy in Montana. When an ex-colleague saw a picture of Nasser on horseback, he hung it above his own desk and labeled the image, “Omar’s Cubicle.”

For all of these people, Starting Over was about putting themselves on The Road Less Traveled.

Then there’s Danny Meyer. In his late teens, Meyer spent a year and a half in Italy filling journals with notes on restaurants he visited there. Besides taking note of the food, he sketched light fixtures he liked, flooring that caught his fancy, and studied the ambiance of various establishments.

Today he owns popular restaurants in New York that include Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park and Shake Shack, places that regularly top the Zagat survey. In addition, he’s revived a neighborhood near his businesses by spearheading such things as a year long outdoor produce market that serves the residents and restaurants around Union Square.

As a television piece pointed out, he’s created his own village within New York.

His passion and philosophy of making a difference right where he is makes him a standout.

If you want to stand out from the crowd you first have to leave the crowd. It’s a message philosophers have espoused for centuries, but only the most determined among us has paid attention. “

In this age,” wrote John Stuart Mill more than a century ago, “the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service.”

While we can be inspired by the Danny Meyers of this world, we fail if we try to duplicate their path. It’s only when we can revel in our uniqueness that we start making the real contribution that is ours to make. Not only will that lead us to optimal joy, it might even bring the media to our door.

Imagine your story in People magazine (or some similar story-filled publication). What would you like the headline to say?

You don’t have to be a math whiz to put numbers to work for you. Assigning a number to a project can help you focus and, also, give you a finish line.

Open-ended goals have a way of never reaching completion, but attach a numerical addition and getting started is much easier. Here are a few ideas to borrow.

Pick a number under ten and use it as a goal setting guide.

For me, it’s the number five. You might prefer three or six. Then instead of thinking, “I need to get more clients,” set a short term goal to get three (or whatever your favorite number is) new clients.

Of course, you can repeat this exercise as often as you like, but your chances for success increase enormously when you work with a smaller number.

Years ago, when I was floundering around trying to get my speaking  business launched,  I met a successful, but unhurried, seminar leader who told me her business plan was, “Do one, book one.”

As soon as she finished a program, she’d spend time marketing her services until she’d booked just one more. It’s been a policy I have used ever since with great success.

Stumped about your next steps?

Challenge yourself (and your subconscious mind) by asking a idea-generating question such as, “What are three ways I can grow my business right now?” Or “Who are four people I could collaborate with?”

Write a tip sheet.

Don’t forget how useful numbers are in writing tip sheets which can be turned into articles. Six Ways to Get More Exercise is an easier article to write than one called How to Get More Exercise.

Using numbers also is a reminder that when you write a tip sheet the intention isn’t to tell everything you know.

Numbers work equally well for subtracting things from your life that you no longer want.

Instead of trying to unclutter your life all at once, for example, get rid of nine things a day until the job is done. It’s far less overwhelming if you break it down into bite sized chunks.

Go through the junk drawer and throw away nine things or toss out nine magazines or find nine things in your closet you never wear and put them in a bag for the thrift store.

Assigning a number to necessary, but not necessarily pleasant, tasks can break through procrastination and get positive momentum going.

Pick a number, any number, and then pick one of the projects listed below.

*  Ways to get into the conversation

*  Books to add to my library

*  New profit centers to design

*  Things to study

*  New adventures to schedule

*  Self-bossers to invite to  breakfast

*  Fresh marketing tools to create

*  Media interviews to book

*  Nonessentials to eliminate

*  Ways to support other entrepreneurs

*  Articles to publish

Or add your own projects to the list—and then get busy making them happen

I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise creative instincts.  ~ Richard Branson

When you decide to follow the path of self-employment, old notions that you can only make a living working for someone else may not be the only thought you need to leave behind. Your idea of what it takes to be an entrepreneur may be as outdated as the typewriter, too.

Listen in on a conventional business conversation and the first thing you’ll notice is how often sports are used as a metaphor. You’ll hear things like, “That’s just par for the course. You gotta step up to the plate. We need more team players around here.”

Business as a competitive game reflects another outdated image.

Much of the information about starting a business reflects a limited concept, too. When the idea of starting my own business took root in my mind, I began doing research.

What I discovered was the assumption that everyone wanted to grow a massive enterprise. Did I really want a building with my name in six-foot high gold letters? Employees? Pension plans? None of that appealed to me.

The idea of working for myself wouldn’t go away and I decided there must be another way of doing things—a way that’s high on satisfaction and simplicity. Happily, Dr. Schumacher came along and affirmed my hunches.

The philosophy of small scale enterprise gained global attention in the seventies when economist E.F. Schumacher wrote his visionary book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Schumacher mainly caught the attention of the counterculture, since conventional business was still focused on a Bigger is Better mentality.

Yet his ideas made sense to those concerned about global issues, as well as those who suspected that one of the functions of business was to help people actualize their potential.

He argued that those benefits could only come from small scale enterprises that care about people and the planet. It’s an idea that suddenly seems ripe and ready to replace the old model.

Meet the 21st Century Entrepreneur

The signs are everywhere that a new kind of businessperson is emerging. The venerable Wall Street Journal even named an editor to cover Lifestyle Entrepreneurs, as they call them. These are people who start businesses for reasons other than amassing a fortune and building a large organization.

These visionaries don’t resemble athletes at all. In fact, they look more like gardeners.

Paul Hawken, a successful entrepreneur and writer, goes so far as to suggest that every business student should study biology since the lessons learned in the plant world directly apply to successful businesses.

Penelope Hobhouse, a real hands-on gardener and prolific writer, shared her life rules for garden design and the parallels to good business design are obvious. (I’ve added a couple of comments in parenthesis.)

1. Never go anywhere without a notebook. Be a perpetual student.

2. Find a mentor—one or many.

3. Do your homework.

4. Trust your own experience. Keep notes of what works and what doesn’t.

5. Don’t get hung up on plants (or products or services). A garden is bigger than all that.

6. Never think you’ll get it right the first time. If a plant isn’t happy, don’t hesitate to dig it up and move it to a better spot.

7. Encourage self-seeding plants to seek their own place in the garden. (Find your own metaphor in that.)

8. Don’t forget that sunlight and shade are design elements. (Your business needs variety and contrast, too.)

9. Avoid fussiness. Above all, simplify.

10. Focus on the garden you really want.

Passion isn’t something one gets––it’s something one merely allows.

Suzanne Falter-Barns

When I start talking about discovering your passion in my seminars, I notice that some people begin to look uncomfortable. I can almost hear their thoughts: “Passion? Do I have a passion? I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but that didn’t turn into much.”

Sometimes people come right out and say, “I have no idea what my passion is.” Obviously, they’re doomed.

What’s going on here may be a matter of semantics, of having a definition of passion that is limited to things that we think of as creative pursuits or relaxing pastimes. When it comes to dreambuilding, however, passion encompasses an enormous range of possibilities.

Passion is Bigger Than We Think

While it’s true than many  businesses get started because a person is wild about antiquarian books or fixing luxury cars or designing houses, just as many come from having a passion for the activity of running a business.

They’re the ones who love taking a new idea and bringing it to life. The product or service is secondary. It’s business itself that excites them. Richard Branson, whose Virgin enterprises began with selling records and now includes an airline, banks and numerous other divisions, is such a person.

Whether or not you can identify a specific product or service that you consider your passion, I’d like to suggest that there may be dozens of other passions that you possess that are going to be crucial to your entrepreneurial success. Here are a five to consider:

Independence–the desire to be in charge, to take responsibility, to make decisions is a huge catalyst for many an entrepreneur. Being in control of your time, writing your own rule book, and doing things in your own way  isn’t an act of selfishness. It’s the healthy desire for self-reliance.

Individuality–wanting to explore fully what makes us unique. This is increasingly difficult to do in a world that seems bent on conformity. “Nobody can be exactly like me,” said Tallulah Bankhead. “Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.”

Reveling in our uniqueness and making it an integral part of our business can be an on-going exercise in creativity.

Personal growth–giving ourselves a  lifelong project of self-discovery is enticing for many who come to the conclusion that self-employment does just that. As Paul Hawken points out, “Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are.” Amen.

Serving others–knowing that our efforts make life better for other people can be a powerful motivation. As my handyman student Al says, “I have always wanted to help people and I’m doing that now and have never felt so appreciated as I do from my customers. And then they pay me on top of that!”

Curiosity and adventure–as many entrepreneurs have learned, you don’t have to trek through Nepal to have adventure in your life. The nature of building an evolving business is that it always has new discoveries to make.

“Just when you think you’ve arrived,” says singer Melissa Manchester, “you find there’s another mountain to climb.”  Curious adventurers understand that.

In a world where people like to talk about things they just might do someday, the Joyfully Jobless consider where his or her passion lies and then gets busy living it. Passion shows up bearing marching orders, after all.

Philosophers have often reminded us that what we are is more important than what we have. Passionate entrepreneurs live that every day.


I nearly went into a swoon yesterday when I read Frank Hyman’s New York Times piece called I’m Making a Living From My Hobbies. It’s a delightful example of putting multiple passions to work. Check it out and notice, also, what he says about investing in himself.

Recently I’ve been thinking about several entrepreneurs that I know who don’t seem to be making progress. One of them (although I know this isn’t an isolated case) is quick to brush off advice and information with a, “Yes, yes, I’ve heard that before.”

Hearing a good idea is not the same as embracing and integrating one. You can have a garage full of power tools, but if you never take them out of the box they don’t serve any purpose other than taking up space.

That’s also true for ideas.

So I’m kicking off the new year with a month devoted to Reviewing and Rewinding. It’s a perfect time to revisit a few basics that can make a big difference in the foundation we’re laying for our enterprises.

Let’s start with thinking about recognizing opportunities.

Opportunities are floating around everywhere, yet they remain invisible to those who aren’t seeking them. That may be because opportunity often appears as a problem needing a solution.

Several summers ago, college student Joe Keeley took a job as a nanny.  Before long, people in the neighborhood began asking him if he had any college friends who would do what he was doing.

“That’s when I started thinking there might be an opportunity here,” he says. Now he runs a flourishing seasonal business called College Nannies and Tutors which matches families with carefully selected nannies who have special skills and interests that fit the family’s needs.

Young Mr. Keeley is an  example of the two most common ways in which opportunity appears: by summons and by serendipity. Summoned situations come after we have set a goal or made a decision to do something.

For instance, you decide to set up a practice as a personal trainer and get busy finding clients. Everyone who hires you becomes a new opportunity to expand your business. By taking action you’ve drawn opportunity to you.

Serendipitous opportunities appear to be unplanned. Let’s say you have a client for your personal training business who happens to be a filmmaker and thinks you’d be perfect for a series of exercise videos he wants to produce.

That’s a possibility you’d never considered, but once it’s proposed to you, it is an exciting idea and you start working on the production, planning the marketing and thinking of new ways to share your expertise.

Either sort of opportunity requires that you have opened your heart and mind to the possibility of favorable events occurring in your life and business.

At the same time beware of opportunity imposters. A Google search I conducted a few years ago turned up 3,810,000 listings for business opportunities. Not only were most of these offers questionable, many of them were outright scams created by con artists who cost Americans more than $6 million that year.

If something advertises itself as an opportunity, it probably isn’t.

Real opportunity is never a one-size-fits-all affair. In fact, when you come across an opportunity that is right for you it will feel, well, right.  You’ll have an intuitive sense that you’ve been preparing for it all along—perhaps without even realizing it.

Whether opportunity finds you by summons or by serendipity, it requires that you respond quickly or it will move elsewhere. When an idea gets your attention, stop and give it your thoughtful consideration.

Does it fit into your current plans? Can you make room for it? Is it exciting enough to pursue farther? Might you want to pass it along to someone else?

We are more likely to attract genuine opportunity when we’re willing to meet it halfway. Stuart Wilde points out that closing the gap between where you are and where you want to be may involve taking exploratory action.

“It may be  a matter of showing up in the marketplace,” he points out, “becoming a face that people know, demonstrating your expertise, and getting into the loop where the movers and shakers are. People who could bestow great opportunities upon you aren’t scouring the distant hills for talent. They’re in the flow.”