How to Work On Your Business Instead of In Your Business

Early on in an entrepreneur’s career, it can be hard to say no to things, which is why many allow themselves to drown in a never-ending mountain of tasks. If left unaddressed, this can lead to important aspects of the business being neglected.

The key to success is working on our businesses, not in them. But what does that mean, and how do we ensure we're working on the right things?

Working On vs. Working In - What's the Difference?

Working "on" your business means taking the time to focus on what you need to do to grow your company. This could mean setting goals, planning your work schedule, and making sure you're following through with all your commitments.

Working "in" your business means focusing on day-to-day operations and running your company as if you were an employee. These tasks may need to be done to keep the business running, but the time commitment they represent can lead to neglect of higher-level tasks.

Higher-level tasks include things like marketing, planning, and customer outreach. If you’re answering emails, sweeping up at the end of the day, or staffing the cash register, there is no time to spend on the tasks that help you grow your business!

How to Be More Productive by Working On Your Business

The question becomes obvious: how do I stop getting bogged down by the little things and start tackling higher-level tasks to grow my business?

Step 1: Determine Your Business Objectives

In the sea of things to do, it can be difficult to keep your business objectives in focus.

Do you have specific revenue goals?

Did you start your company because you wanted to be your own boss?

Do you want your business to be your legacy?

More likely than not, your answer is some mix of all three of those objectives, and more. Sitting down and thinking seriously about your business objectives can be a clarifying experience. Think about what you have achieved, and take time to prioritize your objectives—the things you have yet to achieve.

Once your objectives are defined and prioritized, it’s time for a good old business planning session. Your business plan might be a helpful tool here (you do have a business plan, right?).

Create a plan that keeps your high-level objectives in focus. Answer these questions:

What tasks or activities help me work toward my high-level objectives?

Independent of all the other things I do, how much time should I be devoting to these activities?

This is a brainstorming session, so don’t feel overwhelmed if the list you come up with is really long. This is your working-on-the-business list.

Next, make a list of all of the tasks you currently do that are oriented toward day-to-day operations. This is your working-in-the-business list.

If you’re like many entrepreneurs, the time commitments represented by these lists will greatly exceed the number of hours in a week. That’s okay for now.

Our next step is to start trimming.

Step 2: Set Up Business Systems that Automate or Delegate Nonessential Tasks

Now that you have a good idea of all the things that need to be done to reach your goals, it's time to begin focusing on which duties require your attention and which don't.

Start by circling the tasks you enjoy doing. These could be things like product development, marketing, bookkeeping, or whatever you like to do during a workday.

Once you've picked out the things you like to do, you'll need to decide what duties are specific to a business owner. Tasks having to do with managing and oversight, sales projections, and business growth will most likely need your input, at least initially, and should probably stay assigned to you even if you may hand parts of them off to a subordinate in the future.

Next, circle all the tasks that are critical for your business to function but don't necessarily bring you joy. These could include customer service, order processing, or administrative tasks—all things that could be automated via apps and systems. Things like accounting, manufacturing, and shipping could be delegated to professionals, since they'll most likely require a human touch, even if only on a part-time basis at first.

Once you have completed this step, it's time to start setting up systems in your business that will automate or delegate nonessential tasks to employees, contractors, or apps and services. This will free up your time to focus on the tasks that are either things you enjoy doing or things that are essential for your business to function.

If you’re having trouble determining exactly what you should outsource, check out this post for a handy rubric you can use.

Automation vs. Delegation: What's the Difference?

If you're like most business owners, you probably spend more time working in your business than you do actually running it. This is where automation and delegation come into play.

Automation can take a lot of forms, from simple systems that keep track of sales or expenses to more complex systems that automate customer service or marketing tasks. Thanks to AI and other sophisticated software, there is a whole cottage industry of services and tools that can automate business processes for a fraction of the cost it would take to pay a contractor or employee. Automation takes tasks off your plate and assigns them to software solutions.

Delegation, on the other hand, takes tasks off your plate by adding them to someone else’s. It involves assigning tasks to subordinates or other employees, or outsourcing contractors or agencies.

For our purposes, you need to start identifying tasks that can be delegated to free up more of your time to work on your business. It can sometimes be challenging to give up control of aspects of your business that you have worked very hard to build. That’s why it’s important to start with the tasks you aren’t super excited to do on a daily basis.

Getting those tasks off your plate is a good way to warm yourself up toward finding more things to delegate and giving yourself time to focus on your working-on-the-business list.

Step 3: Start Working Yourself Out of the Business

Once your systems are set in place and running, it's time to start stress-testing them by removing yourself from the nonessential tasks as much as possible. To do this, simply choose one task on the list of duties you're not directly responsible for and take one intentional step away from it.

For example, if one of the tasks you've delegated or automated is social media engagement, commit to blocking yourself from any social media apps for one week while letting either your apps or contractors handle it. After the week is over, unblock yourself and look at the data.

How did it do without your oversight? If things look good, you now have proof that the task can go on without you. If it took a negative turn, you now have insight into what tweaks should be made and a week's worth of backtracking to do while you recalibrate. Once you get things back on track, try again.

The Bottom Line

The goal of this entire process is to gradually remove yourself from the day-to-day operations of your business while still maintaining control and oversight. By doing so, you can free up more time to focus on the truly important things, like growing your business!

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