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Allen Harris: 10 tips to help business owners live their optimal life

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Among the 10 tips for business owners shared by columnist Allen Harris is to make sure you take time to be still and do nothing for few minutes every day.

Last month, I was honored to present at the 2022 Exit Planning Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz. The keynote speaker was Gino Wickman.

Wickman is the founder of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) and author of "Traction: Get a Grip on Business." Wickman describes EOS as “a set of simple concepts and practical tools used by more than 142,200 companies worldwide to clarify, simplify, and achieve their vision.”

He listed 20 disciplines business owners should follow to live their optimal life.

“I believe you deserve it.” Wickman shared. “I believe you owe it to yourself and the people in your life to live your optimal life.” Of those 20, I’ll share 10 designed to help you manage and maximize your energy.

1. Ten-Year Thinking. Wickman’s business mentor, Sam Cupp, taught him the “10-year business cycle.” Cupp cited, “Every 10 years, you’re going to have two great years, six good years, and two terrible years that can put you out of business.” That feels true. Throughout the 21 years my company, Berkshire Money Management, has been in operation, there were the two years of the popping technology bubble, two years of the financial crisis, and two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back, their effects on business feel like a blip. Ten-year thinking isn’t about goal setting; it’s about changing your focus. The trick is to write down what you want to accomplish in 10 years and focus your energy on the tasks required to do so, and personally spend less time on managing those tough blips.

2. Take Time Off. Some people proclaim to be workaholics as if it’s a badge of honor. Instead of admitting that they can’t manage their lives, those people (transparently and poorly) flip the script to suggest that it’s somehow a good thing. If you’re working 60 hours per week, probably only 35 of them are your best work. If you work 35 hours per week, they’ll be your best 35 (especially if you follow the other disciplines).

3. Know Thyself. Consider your telephone voice. We answer the phone with a polite, professional voice made for all occasions. Then we adjust to one of many other voices and energies we have, depending on who answers. Life is easier if we work with people we want to be friends with. My twist on this is don’t work with jerks.

4. Be Still. Take 10 minutes a day to do nothing. Sometimes I do it when I sit out back with my dogs in the morning with my coffee. Sometimes I take an afternoon drive during the workday. Or maybe after work, I watch “Barry” on HBO for 30 minutes. I don’t like the idea that I should do nothing to be better; I like to think I’m a machine. However, I don’t operate optimally if I don’t enjoy an appropriate amount of daily downtime.

5. Know Your 100 percent. The Law of Diminishing Returns is real. In my 20s, I’d work from 10 am until midnight nearly every weekday, plus weekends. The only thing I needed was more hours in the day. A couple of decades later, I’ve caught myself at the office at 10 pm on a few rare occasions. Those last two hours of work yield a fraction of the productivity compared to when I’m fresh. It’s essential to know your limits.

6. Say No … Often. This one is my favorite. And not just because I’m lazy. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult. Wickman references "Essentialism," a book on simplifying your life. Author Greg McKeown acknowledges that we can feel guilty about saying “no.” McKeown offers perspective by reminding us that “we can say no and regret it for a few minutes, or we can say “yes” and regret it for … years.” If you need help deciding what to say “yes” to, McKeown suggests, “If it isn’t a 'hell yes,' then it’s a hell no.” If you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing.

7. Don’t Do $25-An-Hour Work. Let’s agree that $25 an hour is good pay, and the work associated with it is valuable. However, as the owner, you take on tremendous risk, so higher compensation for you is fair. Wickman advises hiring an assistant to eliminate all administrative duties. I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it before: “it only takes me 5 minutes to do this or that, but it takes me 10 minutes to tell someone how to do it.” That’s true. However, you probably don’t even realize that you perform a dozen such tasks per day. Investing some of that time upfront can yield significant returns before you know it.

8. Prepare Every Night. There is a saying, “If you don’t have a plan for your money, then someone else does.” If you don’t have a plan for your day, then someone else does. Wickman goes analog and, before bed, writes out his day on a legal pad. I prefer to review my day from my phone’s calendar. Wickman argues that his way allows him to visualize those efforts better.

9. Put Everything in One Place. Your energy will be drained if you don’t have a centralized location of information. If data is not integrated, moments of your day will be chaotic. It doesn’t take too many chaotic moments to turn your entire day into chaos. Those days will define your life.

10. Be Humble. Wickman confessed that he once was going down a path of arrogance until his father-in-law, a successful businessman, set him straight. In “The Purpose of Driven Life,” Rick Warrant wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” You’ve done great things, and that should be celebrated! However, instead of spiking the ball in the endzone, act like you’ve been there before. It doesn’t mean you’re any less remarkable, but you gain more respect. People will work with people they respect.

The beauty of these 10 principles is that they’re easy to understand and execute. The key is to accept that there’s an upfront investment of time that is a pathway to your optimal life.

Allen Harris is the owner of Berkshire Money Management in Dalton. He can be reached at aharris@berkshiremm.com.

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