The Most Difficult Part of Being a Solopreneur

December 7, 2011

The most difficult part of cobbling together my own income is not bringing in clients.

It’s not self-marking and promotion.

It’s not even making enough money.

What I’m finding to be the most challenging is juggling a lot of balls at once.

Ironically, that’s also the best part of being a solopreneur. I don’t have to focus on one interest or skill or project! I can report as a freelance journalist and help small businesses with social media and write my second book — all at once. Since I’m in charge of my time, I can spend it how I choose.

But sometimes I find myself stressing over balancing so many buckets at once. It’s not that I have too much work; three months into solopreneurship, my workload is totally manageable. It’s not even that I have trouble hopping from one project to another. I’m one of those people who thrives on multi-tasking.

What’s challenging is wrapping my mind around all the things I want to do. Because I’m an idea person, my head tends to go a mile per minute, developing an idea for Project 2 even when I’m working on Project 1.

So I’ve been thinking over the last few weeks how to use that energy to my advantage. How can I harness all of those ideas and go with the flow even while accomplishing each task that has to be done on any given day?

Here’s what I came up with: a massive Google Doc, a spreadsheet that will serve as a checklist.

A to-do list isn’t new, of course. I already use or have tried digital tools like TeuxDeux (an online to-do list) and ReminderFox (a Firefox add-on) and Tasks on my Google Calendar. But none of those tools were giving me quite what I needed.

So I created a spreadsheet that includes every task I have to complete, letting me know exactly when I have to complete it (inspired by Jenny Blake’s templates). It reminds me when to tweet for each client, which afternoons to dedicate to editing blogs I oversee, and how many blog posts I have to write on any given day of the week. I rigged it so tasks I’ve completed are red, and those that are waiting on action are green.

That way, I can easily look at my spreadsheet every day and see what needs to be done. And when it’s done, I can work on whatever’s calling my name at that given moment — without stressing that I’m forgetting a crucial task.

Being super organized like this is important partly because I’m planning to travel in March. (It’s looking more and more like Nicaragua…) This will be the first test of whether I can take my business on the road. To succeed, I need to have a plan in place for what works needs to get done when.

A big part of working for yourself, I’m learning, is figuring out which tools and schedules and systems work for you. Because no one can tell you how to be most efficient and effective. You have to learn that for yourself. And you’ll only discover it through trial and error.

So ask yourself: What one tool could I add to my daily routine that would help me be more efficient? It could be a budget-tracker or a networking reminder or a trip-planner or simply switching to a better email system. What would help you do your job and live your life better?

If that tool exists — and it probably does — find it and give it a try this week; I’ll be trying out my new tool, too. If it doesn’t exist, can you create it? Can you find a way to build it from scratch or tweak another tool so it will meet your needs?

I’d love to hear what that life-saving tool might be for you, so please share in the comments!

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    13 Replies to “The Most Difficult Part of Being a Solopreneur”

    • Sarah says:

      Ugh, I totally hear you! I am forever on the quest for the best organizational system. I’ve been using a combination of Evernote and Google calendar (and paper planner), and it works…okay. But, I think you’re right, if the system doesn’t exist, build it! I think I’m going to try something like you’re suggesting, and see if it works for me.

    • Carrie says:

      At this point, I’m utilizing a spreadsheet for tracking all my submissions (and results). I wonder if buying one of the electronic gadgets (smartphone, ipad, etc.) would be beneficial for a writer.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Oh interesting, Carrie — Aren’t there specific programs for tracking submissions? Not that you necessarily need anything more complicated than a spreadsheet. Let us know how it works!

    • Paula says:

      I have a variety of electronic tools I use to keep track of things, but in order to focus during the day, I have had to go back to paper and pencil checklists. The linear quality of this keeps me from getting distracted by all those good ideas, and also from perpetually worrying that I am overwhelmed with tasks, and always robbing Peter while I’m paying Paul.

    • The pulse app has helped me tremendously with keeping up with all the blogs and websites I read. Huge time saver and has helped me be more organized.

    • Staying organized is a must for me! Nicaragua is GORGEOUS!!! Make sure to visit Granada and San Juan del Sur.

    • Srinivas says:

      Having spent a few days in Nicaragua, I’d say make you go somewhere that has WIFI. I’d also recommend picking up one of those external hard drives from Costco. Let’s say you want to watch movies and things like that. Load them up on the hard drive before you go because streaming from these places is a disaster. Make sure you do any major design overhauls or anything like that before you leave. Reduce complexity as much as possible and you’ll be fine :).

    • Cathy says:

      I totally understand the drive to be organized. And I feel it too – there’s nothing more exhilarating than going 100mi/hr and knowing what you have in the air, what you’re currently catching and what you’re kicking to the curb. FUN! 🙂 For me, the trick is just doing. I can get caught up researching all these tools, and testing and trying so many that I dont get anything done. And things drop through the cracks. Currently I use a system of worketc, email, google docs (FOR EVERYTHING), dropbox, and an assistant who means the world to me…

    • Jade Craven says:

      Welcome to my world! You’ve sorta gained an insight to it at the moment, as you’re one of the few people I’ve regularly talked to while juggling these gazillion balls.

      One thing I’m going to implement is a CRM. Currently, everything is organized via notepads. Most of the stuff I write down is people I want to reach out to, and why, as well as other random people related stuff. I think having a CRM will help me to do the connecting stuff better. This is only really useful as a professional connector – I’m not sure how other people work in terms of who they keep in contact with.

      I’ve also bought a real life calender so I can write my real life commitments on it. I’m going to place it above the computer so I know what days I can’t work on. Lately I’ve been just keeping it all in my head and it doesn’t work. I don’t realize how much I’ve got on in the one week – two birthday parties this week! – and then get stressed out due to overwork.

      🙂 Juggling the balls is SO much fun though when they all fall into place. It’s happening with me at the moment and it’s like an intricate dance where everything goes just right.

    • I’m in Nicaragua right now! We just got here yesterday from Honduras. I’m liking it so far. Politics and the left/right split still define a lot of the country and its identity, but I’m also very attracted to their emphasis and love for poetry and literature. I’m making a point of buying a book of Rubén Darío’s poetry while I’m here. (We’re in his hometown of León for the next few days.)

      As for tools, I love the Wunderlist app. It’s a checklist, and wouldn’t work quite the same as your spreadsheet because it’s divided into lists instead of appearing at-a-glance, but I like how I can organize my tasks into lists (blog development, travel writing, consulting and branding, helping my sister market her business…) and I can also set due dates and write notes on each task. The notes section is responsible for a massive brainstorming session I had one morning! It’s a free app, and it’s syncs across devices (though be careful with that, as it uses one device as the “master” and erased half my lists before I knew that).

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