One of the nice things about working for yourself is the flexibility it gives you with regard to the hours you work. This reason alone is why lots of people head off and start their own business – me included. “I’ll be able to take the kids to basketball practice,” or “I can have the whole summer holidays off and we’ll head off camping.” Sound familiar?

As the business grows, you start working harder – before the family wakes and after they have gone to bed. You take work calls while you’re driving in the car on the way to basketball practice. Your family are supportive as they hope you are living your dream.

Father’s Day breakfast comes along, and you go to school with your children (you can do this because you run your own business, right?). After the breakfast, you are invited to see the kids’ work in their classroom. Your eldest daughter has written a poem about Dad and one verse goes: ‘Daddy – talk, talk, talk on the phone all day’.

Ah well. Criticism noted!

Next you go off to your youngest daughter’s class and she has to answer a quiz on Dad. One question is: ‘What does Dad do for a job?’ Your youngest daughter writes down, ‘Talks on the phone.’

You’ve got the message. And wasn’t this the complete opposite of what you sought by starting your own business? You have been isolating yourself from your family and not engaging with them. Before you know it, you’re not running a business, the business is running you.

Business can destroy your family life and your family. If you have your own business and you have a family, then it’s their business too. You might be happy to work 24/7, but they won’t be.

Every business is a family business – but it is only a business and not only your entire life. A business can have a profoundly negative impact on your life if you let it. It can also serve you and your family well as long as you start working more on the strategy and less on the tactical aspects of the business.

While I was reading the Sunday newspaper, I saw an article where Carrie Bickmore from The Project was being interviewed by her co-host Waleed Aly. There was a section where Carrie was talking about the juggle of being the best at her job at work and also the best at her ‘job’ at home. Waleed commented that his wife, Susan Carland, says to him that when he says ‘yes’ to someone he is saying ‘no’ to his family, and he pondered why it is easier to say ‘no’ to his family. Why is it easier to say ‘no’ to your family than to a client, customer or someone else?

Time keeps on ticking

A father comes home from work and his daughter is about to go to bed. She gives him a cuddle and asks, “Dad, how much do you earn an hour?”

Stunned, he asks why she needs to know that.

“I just do,” she replied.

“Around $100,” he said. She then asked if she could have $50.

Her father was tired and said, “Just go to bed – there are enough toys to last a lifetime on the floor!”

The daughter raced off to bed.

After a few minutes, when he had cooled down, he went back to his daughter to tuck her into bed.

“Sorry – I’m tired and have had a hard day. Here is the $50 you asked for,” he said.

“Thanks Dad,” she replied and reached under her pillow and pulled out a pile of crumpled notes.

“Why did you need $50 if you already had all this money?” he asked.

“Because I didn’t have enough, Dad. I’ve now got exactly $100. Can I buy one hour of your time? Come home early tomorrow please, you haven’t had dinner with us for so long,” she said.

There is only a finite amount of time in a day, in a life, and you are using up that time – second by second. Time is life; when time ends, life ends. Time is the most valuable asset you have. You can use that time any way you want, but are you using it rewardingly, intelligently and as intentionally as possible? If not, you’re squandering it and failing to appreciate it and living your life oblivious to time passing you by.

Value your time

It’s your failure to manage your time that leads to your business spilling over into family time. So, what is the value of your time? Are you using time effectively and efficiently? What is the opportunity cost of your time?

Failure to recognise and value your time can actually lead not only to the business failing, but you can also lose the other things where your time is valuable – time with your family, friends or doing the things you enjoy.

Years ago, I hired a cleaner at home. It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to clean, or that I was incapable of cleaning my house. In fact, a bunch of my friends and I were employed as cleaners at our high school when we were students there. I hired a cleaner because I worked long hours during the week and often that extended into the weekend.

I was single and living by myself, so on the weekend I had to do the cooking, cleaning, gardening, grocery shopping and ironing. So, I decided to outsource one of those chores and chose the one I least liked. Cleaning was it.

The opportunity cost of a couple of hours of my time was greater than the actual cost of the cleaner. Have a think about your business – what is the opportunity cost of the time you spend doing a particular task? Can that time be better used?

I like playing with websites. I can and have built websites from scratch. But it isn’t something that I can do very quickly and I don’t necessarily build them as efficiently, or make them as effective, as a website designer could.

A paradox I see all the time in small business, in particular, is that the owners do not spend money. I often hear, “We’re a start-up, we don’t have the money to spend on a website designer, a bookkeeper, a marketing expert, an IT person.” But they expect people to spend money at their business – the website designer might need a plumber, the bookkeeper might need a marketing expert, and so on.

Do yourself a favour. Work out how best to use your time, what that opportunity cost is and then employ people to do the tasks that cost less than your opportunity cost. And get some family time back!