28 Lunch and Learn: How to grow a business, work part-time and raise a family. Phew!

Written by  //  May 4, 2012  //  Daily Juice  //  No comments

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You may have heard of the term “bootstrapping”. It means funding the start-up days of your business yourself – from your own pocket  – rather than borrowing or getting investors. The term comes from the story of Baron Munchausen who apparently saved himself from drowning by pulling on his own bootstraps.
Alarm Clock in a Box

Most people imagine the bootstrapping business owner to be an impoverished young guy (yes, male!) working 24/7 on his business and living on 2 minute noodles.

But lots of Mums bootstrap their businesses and it’s way harder for them than it is for the young noodle eating guy.

I know a lot of bootstrapping Mums.They would love to be locked away working on their business 24/7! But instead they are doing paid part-time work (to help support their family),looking after a busy bunch of kids and fitting their business around all that.

So how do they find the time to run their business? It’s a tricky one.

A few people have asked me for some tips on running a business while simultaneously doing paid work and managing a family. Not because I am an expert at squishing a business around work and family (stuff still falls through the cracks), but because I’ve been doing it for a few years and have gotten much better at it!

So today and next week I’m going to share some of the stuff that has worked for me.

Today’s recipe: “Time in a box”

This is a technique to help you use your limited time on the most important aspects of your business .

Why it works

Before I started doing “Time in a box” I spent my weeks squashing a long to-do list into whatever time crevices I could find. At the end of the week I was always surprised at how little I had accomplished despite being so busy.

Frustratingly I would find that I’d reach the week’s end (not the weekend, because the weekend was rarely down time) having done lots of little jobs but, to be frank, getting no-where on the real build-my-biz stuff.

One day I sat down and did the exercise that I’ve outlined below. It changed the way I worked on my business and I moved further forward on it in the following couple of months than I had done in the whole of the previous year.

In doing the exercise I discovered that I actually had even less time available to spend on my business than I had thought, groan. But it didn’t matter. Once I had a clearly defined amount of time available it was quite easy for me to focus on using it properly.

How you do it

The idea of this recipe is that you define the amount of ‘usable’ time you have available to spend on your business. Once you’ve done that you then work out how you are going to spend it.

Funnily enough the ‘how-to-spend-it’ bit is easy. Our brains are wired to work within constraints. As soon as we put boundaries around a problem our brains fire up with ways to solve it. If we don’t define the problem clearly enough our brains just fluff around and get nowhere. That’s the magic of ‘Time in a Box’, it sets constraints for our brain.

I call the amount of usable time we have ‘time in a box’ because it’s finite, like money in a piggy bank. Here are the 10 steps to calculate it:

  1. Start by keeping a diary of when you work on your business- I use a little notebook but feel free to do something more fancy. Jot down every time you do some business work -even if it’s just 5 minutes – and note the time of day etc.
  2. Keep the notebook for at least a couple of weeks, but a month if you can. The longer you keep it, the better you will be able to see the patterns.

  1. Once you feel you’ve got enough information, draw a up what a typical week looks like. So you might do a daily planner for a week showing when you work on your business and how long each (even mini) session is.


  1. Add up all the business hours on your planner and call these #1.


  1. Take another look at your planner.  This time highlight the the blocks of time that are more than 45 minutes long. These are your ‘usables’. Periods of less than 45 minutes are tricky to get proper work done in because by the time you start and get your head in gear etc it’s almost time to pack up!


  1. Add up your 45+ minute blocks of time (call this #2). This is your ‘Time in a Box’.


  1. Look at your total #2, your ‘Time in a Box’. This is the amount of good time that you have each week to spend on your business. It’s not much is it?


  1. Write the #2 number of hours in BIG on a piece of paper and stick it on the wall in front of you. That’s all the time you’ve got. How are you going to spend it?


  1. Start putting together a priority list of what work you are going to do each week. Part of the #2 time will be spent on day to day stuff (packaging the existing product, say) and some will be on business building stuff (developing the new product). Only you can decide on the balance between the two types of work but remember that the less you do on business building, the longer it will take you to build the business.


  1. Now, because we worked out your ‘time in a box’ on your #2 hours you do actually have a wee bit more available. Remember the first calculation – the #1 hours. Well if you take the #2 hours away from the #1 hours what you are left with is all the little scraps of time. These are your bonus minutes. I keep a list of stuff to do in ‘bonus’ time (for example I listen to audiobooks on the way to school pick up) so that I don’t waste it wondering what to do. This is free business time – you can do what you want with it as it’s not part of your serious business building time!

Three more little wisdoms:

  1. You might think that I’ve rather skipped over what you actually do with your ‘Time in a Box’. Have a go at doing the calculation and thinking about how you will spend the time. I’ve done this exercise with lots of business owners and, once they’ve defined the time they’ve got available, they’ve always found working out what to do with the time quite intuitive!


  1. If you have a lot on your plate – such as family and paid work – then it will take you longer to build a business than a single guy living on 2 minute noodles. Fair enough. But don’t let this make you anxious. Unless you are in a race with another business with the same idea (in which case I would suggest you duck out of either the race or your family) your business will not be harmed by building it a little slower.


  1. Don’t be ridiculous about the time you have available. You need to make time for you as well as your work, family and business. So you can’t – sustainably- work every hour of the day and night.  If you do try to, you will quickly fall out of love with your business, and your family may fall out of love with you! So work in moderation and keep yourself sane!

Now you might be looking at your ‘Time in a Box’ and thinking that it’s simply not enough. In the next blog post I’ll share some ideas for that!


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