Finding Time to Do Strategic Work Inside Your Business

Michelle Hunter by Michelle Hunter

While client work and operational tasks feel incredibly valuable, they are actually less important than the work we do strategically inside our businesses.

Clock on a desk

I’m a pretty focused entrepreneur. My business is fueled by core values like generosity, service, and gratitude. I believe in giving my clients my best effort and putting their needs first as I collaborate with them to get results. The high value I place on client work was something I was pretty proud of… until recently. Until I realized the importance of strategic work.

While client work and operational tasks feel incredibly valuable, they are actually less important than the work we do strategically inside our businesses.

Did your eyes just roll a bit? I get you.

I’ve studied at the feet of productivity gurus for most of my business life. I’ve tried the planners, embraced the systems, and watched the videos. Nearly every book, course, or video I’ve consumed has made the point that working ON my business is more important than working IN my business. Strategic work is more valuable than client work, hands down.

I’ve nodded my head in agreement. I’ve written their quotes in my planner and on my white board. I’ve set goals and intentions. But honestly, I’ve continued to put client work ahead of the other things on my list.

Recently, Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year sparked a major mindset shift for me. (If you haven’t heard about 90DY, you really should check it out. I’m not an affiliate. I’m just a fan.)

I realized that I…

  • Procrastinated strategic tasks (like mapping out a sales funnel, optimizing a process, and creating a system for delegation) because they are challenging and difficult.
  • Used client deadlines and urgency as an excuse for delaying strategic work.
  • Considered strategic tasks to be “extra” or “non-essential” parts of my week.

I also realized that while I didn’t have time for strategic work, I had plenty of time for…

  • Random administrative tasks that could be delegated.
  • Social media engagement, often without a plan or intention.
  • Reading the latest business book or productivity guide.
  • Recharging, refreshing, and otherwise feeding my own interests and energy levels.

Bottom line – – > I realized that nothing would change for my business until I changed my mindset. I needed to prioritize strategic work over client work, administrative work, and anything else that landed on my calendar. I needed to give working on my business a place of importance and honor in my mind and on my calendar.

Tired of struggling to make progress? Wondering why you’re stuck with the same revenue, same client base, same problems as you faced last year, quarter, or month? Maybe it’s time you made strategic work a priority in your week. Here’s how…

Schedule strategic work before client work.

Before I shifted my mindset, I scheduled client work at the beginning of the week. The writing work I do requires focused time without interruptions or calls…and I put this time into my calendar before anything else. Strategic work that would actually help me market more effectively or streamline my processes? I fit that work into my schedule at non-peak times, during gaps, and at the end of the week.

So, what happened when I decided to take Friday off to spend time with my friends or family? No strategic work that day. What if a client had an urgent request or need? No problem… I can just move that strategic work to another time slot. No wonder nothing really changed in my business. I wasn’t prioritizing the work that would truly move things forward.

Work on strategic projects is now my first priority. This means I dedicate focused time early in the week to those projects that will help me achieve my goals. Client work is shifted to time slots later in the week. Do I still give my clients focused, quality work time? Of course… but only after I’ve taken action to move one step closer to my goals.

Use a “Zero Budget” method for your time.

For years now, I’ve managed my money pretty conservatively. This means paying attention to the money that comes in and creating a plan for how it goes out. A few times a year, I put myself through an exercise I think of as “zero budgeting” meaning I look at every line item in my budget and make myself justify it. If I can’t make a compelling argument for a line item, the budget for that item goes to zero. (I’m looking at you, Google Play account.)

I’ve started using a zero budget method for my time too. During my normal work week (10 am – 6 pm EST M-F), I schedule my time in 30 minute increments. I plan for breaks, lunch, and social media engagement. But here’s the thing… I have to justify the use of each time block.

Is it okay to have lunch with my adult daughter? Sure. Is it okay for that lunch to expand beyond the 90 minute window I’ve scheduled and morph into an afternoon at Barnes & Noble, chatting while drinking lattes and leafing through magazines? Nope. While that may be time well spent, it’s not work time and Saturday is just around the corner.

Does this mean I’m perfect? Oh, absolutely not. But – this zero budget method helps me to stay accountable. I review each week and look at how I spent my time (just like I might review my checking account to see how I spent my money) and I reflect. The goal is constant improvement, not perfection.

Create a prioritized punch list for strategic work.

Rather than wasting time trying to decide what to do with my strategic time block (hello confusion and frustration), I maintain a prioritized punch list of strategic action steps. This list lives in my Asana system, but it could easily be a handwritten list or a spreadsheet. The method doesn’t matter- it’s the prioritization that makes the difference.

The system that works for me involves breaking down a big project into manageable 1-hour chunks plus a secondary list of little things that take 30 minutes or less. I typically schedule my focused time in 2-hour blocks. So, in a given time block I can complete two bigger chunks or four smaller ones (or some combination of the two).

Breaking them out this way and prioritizing them allows me to stop overthinking. When I’m planning my week, I can easily determine what I should do next to make progress. If I have a 30 minute segment of time unexpectedly, I can scan my list and grab a task rather than opening up Facebook.

When something new comes up- a strategic idea, unexpected complication to a project, or worthy opportunity that aligns with my goals- I can review the list and add it in where it fits in terms of priority. No worry, no drama.

Of course, this system required me to get good at prioritization. Maybe this is an area you struggle with… if so, I have a little tip for you. You’re the boss. You get to decide which tasks are most important to you. There’s no right or wrong answer, so just focus on a single goal and then prioritize tasks however it seems best to you. You’ve got this.

Use rules and routines to stay consistent.

As a creative person, I thrive on variety and the unexpected. In the past, I’ve resisted routines because they can get boring, restrictive, and dull. Yet, routines actually limit decision fatigue and allow us to get things done with increasing efficiency. This conflict between my temperament and my logical mind kept me from creating routines in my business.

During a discussion with my husband (an engineer who loves routine), I had an epiphany. I thought about my morning routine and how I brush my teeth. There’s no variety. Nothing unexpected. Honestly, there’s actually very little thought. But there is a routine to how I grab my brush, the hand I use, the side of my mouth I start with, and so on. Variety? Sometimes I get a new brush or switch up the toothpaste. That’s it.

Business routines can be constructed intentionally to automate the steps that don’t matter and allow variety in limited ways. I now have a routine as I enter my office that supports productivity during my peak focus hours (10 am – 12 pm daily). I move through the same 8 steps upon entering my office to prepare my mind for focus. The variety comes in the music I play (background music is part of the routine) and the task I focus on. The focused task is scheduled the day before so that I don’t have to think about it.

At the end of each day, I stage my desk for my focused time. My planner is open. The files and tools I need for my focused work block are ready. In the morning, I simply turn on the lights and begin moving through the routine. Before I know it, it’s time for lunch.

Similarly, I use rules to create boundaries for myself. I work in 50 minute increments and move for 10 minutes in between…setting a timer to keep me in sync. I do this because alternating between a standing desk and seated position are helpful to me. I set a theme for each day (Thank you, Todd Herman) to create mental flow around my tasks. Thursday and Friday are “client work” days. This creates an artificial constraint that keeps me working efficiently at the end of the week – otherwise my weekend is sacrificed in order to keep my promises to clients. Ouch!

Quit lying to yourself.

Honestly, this point was key for me. You see, I can justify anything. I can tell myself that I’m just too tired, bored, busy…whatever…to stay focused and productive. Overbooking my schedule because money feels tight, pushing difficult tasks to the future because something else is “more important” and skipping my routine because I’m tired are some of my favorite points of self-deception.

Here’s the thing – – > These business goals are MY goals. The lies I tell myself are actually forms of self-sabotage and I’m better than that. So are you.

Gut check: Failing to make progress on a goal means one of two things. Either the goal isn’t personally meaningful (and shouldn’t be pursued) OR the goal is incredibly meaningful and resistance is keeping me from getting it done.

When I quit lying to myself and instead added honest reflection to my life and my business, things improved dramatically. I started looking forward to my project theme days with energy and excitement. There’s nothing as rewarding as actually achieving your goals… trust me.

Tired of struggling to grow your business? Shift your mindset.

Get strategic with your time and your focus. Work on the projects that will amp up your marketing, expand your revenue, and streamline your operations. Not sure what will really move the needle for your business? Let’s talk.

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