One of the original images of an entrepreneur might be the shopkeeper -- a person who spends much of their time behind a cash register, smiling at customers as they browse the products on display and who, around dinner time, locks up the store and turns the “OPEN” sign around to read “CLOSED.”

That kind of scenario is probably all but unrecognizable to many entrepreneurs trying to grow a business in 2019. Although you can still run a successful business with a single location in a small community, the digitization of almost everything has changed not only what entrepreneurs can do, but what they’re expected to do.

Even if you have a physical presence, for example, your online presence is arguably even more important as a way for potential customers to reach you. Selling can happen online via e-commerce, or through a rep that works across email and the web, or a combination of both. After they make a purchase, meanwhile, customers will often want to get help at any and all hours of the day.

As if that weren’t enough to keep entrepreneurs busy, there’s the need to master a mix of digital marketing channels from online ads, email campaigns, social media promotions and more.

This is where many people starting a small business or startup might start to feel overwhelmed -- when it feels like you have to be “always-on” in terms of the time you spend to help a company survive and thrive. The reality, however, is that everyone needs to sleep sometime, and that if you’re never able to come up for air there’s a danger of running yourself into the ground.

Fortunately, seasoned business pros have learned a number of practices that help them find a bit more balance in their day-to-day lives. These are some of the ones we like best. Hopefully they’ll help you move from 24/7 to something more manageable:
 

1. Own your agenda from the outset


What happens when you wake up? Too many of us immediately dive into our inboxes to see what’s happening -- what customers are asking, fresh complaints or service issues and so on. Before you even get to those things, however, the phone might already be ringing, or you see news online that suggests you should be following up on something entirely different.

Being an entrepreneur means you’ll inevitably have a lot of unexpected things thrown at you, which is why you need to plan each day with intention rather than being in a reactive mode.

Don’t just list appointments or meetings in your calendar. Think through the top three things you’d like to accomplish each day -- most experts will say it’s unlikely you’ll get through a to-do list with more than five items to check off -- and rank them in priority. Then look at the remaining hours and carve out blocks based on when you need to strategize, act and evaluate. This will get you off to a running start, rather than feeling like you’re constantly on the run.
 

2. Set it, even if you can’t afford to forget it
 

Automating tasks doesn’t mean you have to ignore them, which entrepreneurs might be understandably nervous about doing. It just means you’re able to work on the business, but not necessarily be knee-deep in everything.

In other words, look at the extent to which you can take tasks you’ve already done many times over and use technology to lend a helping hand. This could include everything from chatbots that handle frequently asked questions and service calls to scheduling social media posts and only dealing with sales that can’t be managed through e-commerce.

You may find the extent of what you can automate changes over time. Make an appointment in your calendar every quarter to review all your key processes and assess where you need to be really hands-on. Then look at your current technology tools and determine if there is more you could be automating, or additional tools that would be worth investing in to automate lower-level tasks.

3. Keep focused with KRAs
 

Many large companies have helped their teams prioritize by having them work based on what are called “key result areas”, or KRAs. Unlike key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure how a company is doing overall, KRAs can be used at an individual level to set goals, and they can work as well for entrepreneurs as they do for big businesses.

Some of your KRAs might include “customer acquisition”, “win rate” or “customer retention”, for example. Instead of randomly moving from one task to another, look what’s on your plate and sort the activities based on the extent to which you can achieve something that aligns with one of those KRAs.

The more you can measure your KRAs, the better. Use analytics about your marketing results, sales deals closed and volume of service issues to help determine if you need to adjust which KRAs to spend more of your time.
 

4. Apply the ‘quality, not quantity’ principle to your best customers


We’ve all heard it before: it’s not the quantity of time you spend it’s the quality. In an entrepreneurial context, that means recognizing that you’ll never be able to do everything at once. And you probably shouldn’t.

Instead of chasing every single customer opportunity that beckons, for example, use the data at your disposal to determine who your best customers are, and spend as much of your time looking at how to nurture those relationships and grow the share of business you enjoy with them.

By effectively cross-selling, upselling and offering more personalized attention to those accounts, you won’t have to be up all night and day trying to please the whole world. To put it another way, instead of prioritizing volume, you’re prioritizing value.
 

5. Make mental space for new ideas


You don’t have to meditate or keep a journal, but there are countless examples of successful entrepreneurs who will tell you such practices are key to fending off burnout.

Mindfulness is really about getting out of the weeds and allowing your attention to come back to simple things like your breath, the warmth or cool air you feel on your skin and noticing colours that might normally be ignored as you stare at a screen at all.

Similarly, journaling is a way of reflecting on what’s happened before immediately moving onto the next thing. This might seem like you’re taking time away from working, but look at it this way: that mental “white space” will most likely be filled up with inspiration for your next product, marketing campaign or prospective customer you want to pitch. A meaningful pause can bring great value.

There are only so many hours in the day, and you can’t realistically spend all of them working. Figure out how to make the most of the best hours instead, and life as an entrepreneur will be a lot less tiring.