Entrepreneurs Taking Back Control Of My Lives – Paul Sullivan:
At a time when the world thought they’ve gone 10 miles up in providing human comfort with technology, we have suddenly seen a surge in stress related issues, worry, and more and more people are beginning to struggle with their life balance. Most of the people in this spectrum the more are entrepreneurs who have had to keep up with the speed of social media interaction, trends and competition. More entrepreneurs end up working round the clock and this building trend of imbalance in people’s lives. My aim in this series is to find how thriving entrepreneurs are able to be in control and achieve a balanced life irrespective of the challenges they face, with hope that you too can learn a thing or two.
My first stop is, Paul Sullivan, owner of an award winning Digital Marketing Agency, a business consultancy and a Digital and Business Skills Training Academy. He has built, owned and sold his own businesses for around 10 years. More recently, some of you may have seen him on BBC The Apprentice 2016. Follow the series here
What does your typical day look like?
These days a typical day isn’t typical. I spread my time evenly over my 3 enterprises, living 100% out of my Google calendar. For me, if it’s not in the calendar, then it isn’t happening.
I wake up around 7 am and if I’m working from the home office, boil the kettle and then grab my phone to see what’s been going on with my social media accounts. Once I’ve made the tea, I sit down at my desk and open my calendar to see what is going on that day. Often, if I have an important meeting, I add two reminders, one 24 hours ahead, the other 1-2 hours ahead, depending on location of meeting. After that I message my girlfriend or give her a call.
Then I shower, and follow the prompts in my calendar. I literally time my work related efforts to the minute. I check/answer all of my emails at the same time everyday, same with social media, same with the time allocated on each business.
I also put the time in to work on my client deliverables. This way I ensure I work on the businesses as much work for the businesses. I’m pretty much like clockwork, but that’s what works for me now. I no longer allow myself to work incredibly long hours, I need to recharge my batteries to ensure a consistent delivery of outputs.
What has been the most difficult thing that’s come between your job/business and your family or social life?
The most difficult thing I found was how lonely it became when I first became an entrepreneur. You convince yourself that in your spare time there is something else you can be doing to help you achieve your goals. Rather than switching off, as you get to do when you have an employed job.
Personally I threw myself into it, that is who I am, I’m either in or I’m out. This made me unsociable, highly strung and I suffered with bouts of anxiety when things went wrong over long periods of time. I think the worst of it was the insomnia, not being able to sleep and to have your brain constantly ticking over was ridiculous. I cannot count the number of times I found myself going for a run at 2 am or 3 am in the morning.
However, loneliness doesn’t just come from being away from your social circle or family and friends. It often comes from the perceived perception people have of you, and if you feel respected or not.
Let me explain. I have a pretty close knit family, like most we have our ups and downs and we don’t always see eye to eye. But my nan kept referring to my business as a project. I hated that. In fact, so much I stopped going around to see her for a while.
We often blame others for how we feel, and I know that although I have a dogged belief in myself, when you decide to go alone, you constantly assess and reassess your decisions. If you happen to be in a bad patch and you are questioning yourself, you really don’t want to feel that people aren’t taking you seriously. Unfortunately in the UK I have adopted the mind-set, that unlike our American cousins, in the UK many people would rather say I told you so than help you out.
Luckily for me, I’ve always been quite aloof. Never really had a lot of friends, but a number of very close friends and a lot of acquaintances, I was generally quite liked. So being alone and suffering from that, came from an association with the stresses that you will go through as your business develops.
Have you experienced any moments of overwhelm? How did you cope?
As far as far back as I can remember, working as an entrepreneur or being self-employed, “the job” had always taken up most of my day and my nights. Often working from 6:30 am to 11 pm, I had convinced myself that being busy, meant I was being productive, and in hindsight I realise that the two do not go hand in hand.
Sitting here responding to you, I cast my mind back to where I had become accustomed to these crazy working hours, and why I found it acceptable to be answering client emails at ridiculous times of morning night and weekends. Prior to going out alone, my background had been in Investment Banking, and whilst I didn’t work the hours I’ve mentioned, the lifestyle I led certainly mirrored them.
At the time, it was common for myself and my colleagues to work 12 to 14 hour days, 5 days a week. At one bank, we even worked some weekends and a number of bank holidays!
As the working days were so long, you would get up even earlier to go to the gym before work started. There was this climate of being in early and staying really late, and so many people simply grabbed some food and came back to their desks at lunchtime, that you felt compelled to do the same.
I suppose to be more precise about that, I had already become accustomed to a culture of working long hours taking minimal breaks, so it felt quite natural to do what I was doing.
Are you in a place where you think you now have your life in control regardless of what responsibilities there are?
If so, could you share 3 major ways you have been able to take back control of your life.
Fast forward to today and I’m a completely different animal. I know that you need down time as much as you need to concentrate of work. Focusing on outputs daily, helps you manage your time far more effectively and productivity should stay high. I don’t slip out for a cheeky coffee or lunch with friends, I don’t worry about when I can get to the pub and I use football as a way to keep social and give back through the charitable work we do.
If I could give a reader three tips about developing their business effectively but managing time better, it would be these:
1.The Diary – All devices, PC, Laptop, Tablets, Mobile Phones have calendars. Ensure you are synced across all devices and ensure you correctly use the reminders. Ensure you allocate time for all of your work efforts and try to leave one day per week for meetings. I try and ensure all of my meetings happen on a Thursday. I also ensure I never make a business decision on a Monday. Try and use something like Calendly to make your customers book time in with you online as it syncs with your diary and blocks out time you aren’t available.
2.Routine – I know it sounds boring, but routine, routine, routine. Habits breed actions, if you adopt bad habits, you only get bad outcomes. Adopt good positive habits and you see more successes and your mind-set changes.
3.A Ticketing System – This may not be relevant to all businesses, but I had a revelation when I installed a ticketing system. The first thing was that a client who thought it quite okay to email me morning, noon and night plus weekends for the most trivial of things left. After that, email enquiries from my clients practically stopped. Now I’m not talking about the really important strategy emails, but the “Can you send me my password for my social media account” type queries. You have to draw the line between being of service and being the service.
By making these 3 simple adjustments in my life, I can now work set hours, get to spend time with my girlfriend and family and generally feel less tired and more productive. My profit margins are up as I’m now able to focus on bringing in the business I want rather than accepting what has come and I now also say no.
What singular advice would you give anyone in your business shoes now but not coping?
I hope that at least some of you can relate to the points I’ve touched on. Quite often we believe it’s only us going through our pain and it isn’t. Entrepreneurs, business owners all have the same struggles at different times, so just know you are not alone and making simple adjustments in your life could go a long way.
Paul is working on how to help reduce overwhelm in your life with 90 days of success. It’s a data driven business event being held in London in March 2018, you can find out more at www.90daysofsuccess.com