Oftentimes, we business owners can rob ourselves of a personal life by repeatedly saying “There’s so much work to get done!” In reality, it’s completely our choice to work that much and not do what we enjoy. Sure, there may really be work to get done, but if we are too “busy” to have a life, what’s the point? This is usually due to taking on too much of the wrong kind of work (low paying) or we have stupid systems (if any system at all). This creates situations where we feel immense pressure to work so bad shit doesn’t happen (angry clients, not being able to make payroll, etc).
Once we get into this destructive cycle of “being busy”, we lose our ability to be as creative as we could be. When we are “busy”, we wind up sacrificing sleep and/or discounting the value of taking time to simply THINK. Sleep and thinking time become seen as “wastes of time” because there’s so much to do.
The sad irony is that sleep and taking time to think is exactly what we need to be creative. And being creative is how we come up with solutions to being “too busy”…It’s a negative feedback loop that’s incredibly destructive to be trapped in.
Fortunately, our lives are simply a result of our decisions. Whatever results we currently have are mostly due to the combination of choices we’ve made so far. If we want different outcomes in the future, then it’s simply a matter of making different choices NOW.
Our first step to making a change is realizing that working long hours isn’t the point of owning a business - creating value is. Value for our customers, value for society, value to stakeholders in the business, and value to ourselves and our families.
We must come to realize there’s a much better cycle - one of VALUE CREATION. Create more value -> work less hours -> enjoy life and be inspired -> generate ideas for creating more value ->repeat.
Once we can find some time to get creative, we can come up with solutions for implementing good systems. Once we have good systems, we free up even more time, which can then be used to come up with ideas for creating more VALUE. Once we start focusing on value creation rather than being busy, we find we can work less, but deliver more value to the world. Our customers get better products and services, our income increases and becomes more secure, and our personal lives can be more deeply appreciated because we aren’t filled with stress and anxiety about work.
One problem we encounter once we can find time to be creative is the feeling of “Okay, it’s time to be creative now!” often blocks creativity. Writer’s block is an example. If I sit and stare at this page, trying to come up with ideas, it’s gonna be a long day with nothing to show for it. Why is this? It’s because creativity isn’t something that just emanates from no where. So where does it come from?
Creativity comes from making connections between two or more existing concepts. It ISN’T something that just appears from nowhere. That’s why we have ever-increasing brilliant ideas. It’s because there’s a TON of other great ideas already out there. When these great ideas are connected in some way, CREATION occurs. Combinations of already great elements is the genesis of REMARKABLE things.
For example, combining a sharing economy business model with a rental car business to make an app like Turo, where private vehicle owners can rent out their cars. (I once used it to rent a truck for a month and it was a great experience). What’s another variation that could stem from this? I see an TON of RV’s sitting in storage lots…I bet some people would love to rent their RV’s out and earn some income rather than paying for something that just sits idle most of the time. (Still waiting for that app! Anyone know of one?)
How do we learn to connect ideas to create new ones? By going out into the world and living life with an eye for improvement. Always be looking for solutions to problems. There’s almost ALWAYS a way to improve a customer experience, employee process, or marketing message. If we just go about our day with an open mind, we have nearly infinite examples of problems to be solved. We also then become more keenly aware of how other people came up with brilliant solutions. Innovation is abundant these days. Become a student of it.
When you become more keenly aware of problems and solutions as you go about your day, you’ll find you more easily have ideas for your own business. Have you ever noticed that an idea might just “pop into your head” while taking a shower, or while mountain biking, or while ripping some mountain roads on your motorcycle? (maybe that’s just me?) That comes from mulling over other concepts and then making a connection between the two. It’s not just random, no matter how much it seems so.
Once you develop a strong problem/solution awareness, you can start to work on spotting trends in what things spark your creativity. Then it just becomes a matter of planning those things into your daily routines. (You DO have daily routines, don’t you?) If you realize you get most of your ideas during mountain bike rides, then start planning them before you need to brainstorm ideas for say, improving your customer service systems.
Of course, finding a way to be a consumer of ideas is one of the best methods for sparking creativity. For me, podcasts are the perfect vehicle for this. I can listen to them during otherwise lost time, such as driving. Maybe audio isn’t your thing…so instead you could start reading articles about new ideas during times of having to wait, rather than Facebooking about shit that probably doesn’t matter anyway. However you can cram it in, find time to consume new ideas. NOTHING sparks creativity like this. Further, the stuff I’m thinking about while mountain biking is usually some idea I’ve come across in this way.
If you can foster the habits of creativity for long enough, eventually you get to the point where you realize it’s possible to create an entire life that’s more aligned with your values, hopes, and dreams. A life of FREEDOM - not just from a boss, but from work that dominates your life and robs you of full enjoyment when you do make time to have a life. Nothing is worse than finally making time to do something you like, only to have your thoughts consumed with stressing about work. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Get into the creativity cycle and out of the “So much to do” cycle, and then you can start to create the kind of life you’re really after. A life of true wealth - one with FREEDOM. Freedom to do what you love when you want to. THIS is what owning a business can do for you, if you let it.
☐Pick a specific time each day to observe and reflect on problems and solutions you see in the world. Do it no matter what, and do it EVERY DAY. The point is to fully adopt two essential habits for creativity: 1) Setting aside non-reactionary time and sticking to it - and - 2) Seeing problems and solutions everywhere.
☐Consume new ideas however it comes easiest so that you do it routinely. For me, I make it a point to listen to a podcast for 30 minutes, every single day no matter what. I do this by listening during downtime that I’d otherwise be wasting time, like driving and listening to music, or waiting in line and Facebooking.
☐Start to find solutions to the problems that are creating your “busy” mindset. The first problems to attack are ones that will free up time to be creative, along with being easy to solve with tools you can quickly learn and implement. Do you waste time by forgetting things often? Try setting a reminder on your phone to review your checklist before you leave the house.
☐ Learning the art of freeing up time will give you some positive reinforcement that you’re making progress and DO have control of your schedule. Gain confidence with small steps. Make commitments to yourself and DO NOT break them. You’ll quickly learn YOU are the one who is the master of your time. Not a list of shit to get done.
☐As solutions to smaller problems free up more of your time, move on to larger problems until you have a finely-tuned business system that doesn’t require so much senseless busy work. Once your systems are in place, measure and improve them incrementally. Small changes add up to big results. Consistent improvement is the goal.
☐Once you’ve got finely-tuned systems in place, work on solutions that can lead to creating a life of FREEDOM. Do this during your routinely scheduled creative time.
Author - Justin Smith
I owned a small service business from 2006-2016, and you could say I'm totally obsessed with automation and business systems. I believe the need to be physically present is the single biggest challenge small business owners like myself face.