10 Time Wasters in a Soloist’s Work Day


Reclaim Your Time and Meet Your Goals

by Susan Johnston Taylor


When you’re a soloist who bills customers by the hour, time is literally money. But it’s not always easy to manage your precious time, especially with necessary but non-billable activities like marketing, invoicing and networking and without the structure of a boss and an office.

Here’s a look at ten things that could be eating into your productivity. Many of these activities are necessary to running a business, but there’s often a way to streamline and save time. Read on to find out how.

  1. Scheduling phone calls or meetings. Whenever you’re trying to sync up schedules with a potential customer, mentor or business partner, you could spend countless hours emailing or texting times back and forth. “How about next Thursday afternoon?” “Is Monday better for you?” Rather than trying to guess what days and times work for other people, consider using a scheduling tool such as Calendly or youcanbook.me. These tools connect with your calendar and allow others to book an available timeslot without all the back and forth. For large groups, consider Doodle.
  2. Managing email. Responding to emails within a reasonable timeframe is good customer service, but constantly refreshing your inbox or leaving it open while you’re trying to focus on other tasks doesn’t do you any favors. Consider creating template email responses for common email questions. For instance, if you’re a piano teacher, you might get lots of emails asking about your rates and policies, so have a response ready to go instead of writing a brand new email each time. Periodically unsubscribe from email lists you don’t find useful and try to check email a few times per day rather than constantly refreshing your inbox.
  3. Letting people pick your brain. Many consultants and other knowledge workers get requests to meet for coffee and “pick your brain.” While these meetings can sometimes lead to useful connections or referrals, they can also eat up huge chunks of time. Another issue for consultants is that brain picking can border on giving away free consulting time because their brain is a big part of their value proposition. To avoid this, you may want to limit “brain picking” meetings to 30 minutes or to people who’ve already done their homework so you’re not answering questions that could be easily Googled. Marie Forleo offers three tips on saying no to requests to pick your brain.
  4. Browsing social media. Many soloists use social media to build their personal brands and connect with potential customers or referral sources. However, it’s a slippery slope from posting on Pinterest or Facebook periodically and getting completely sucked in. Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and you’ve commented on a dozen cute dog photos but haven’t done anything to move your business forward. Tools like MinutesPlease or Facebook Limiter can restrict your social media time or block certain websites altogether so you can get back to work.
  5. Dealing with disruptions. One of the perks of working for yourself is that you can go for a long lunch or grocery shop in the middle of the day if you choose. But if you’re not careful, other people in your life may grow used to asking you to run their errands or calling to chat during the day. Set boundaries around when you’re available to others and tell them what hours you’re designating for business. If it’s an issue of people disrupting you while you work from home, shut the door or put on headphones to signal that you’re only available for emergencies.
  6. Chasing perfection. Many soloists are perfectionists who want the perfect website, the perfect logo, the perfect Instagram feed. While attention to detail can help you convey a level of professionalism, too much tinkering (adding a comma to your website copy, then removing it, swapping out a photo, then deleting it) can keep you from moving forward. Your personal brand will evolve over time as you hone in on your ideal customer, your strengths as a soloist and more. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You can always hire a proofreader or designer to perfect your website while you focus on the bigger picture.
  7. Searching for files. Disorganized paper or digital files can waste time if you can’t find that contract or invoice when you need it. Descriptive file names and well-organized folders (digital or hard copy) can help ensure that everything you need is within easy reach. Cloud-based storage also gives you access to digital files across multiple devices.
  8. Multitasking. Bouncing between invoices, Snapchat and the latest Netflix show may feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, but most of us can’t effectively multitask, according to Harvard Business Review. Mono-tasking or single-tasking is actually more effective because you’re able to fully focus on the task at hand. Constant switching between tasks can slow you down and stress you out because your brain takes time to shift gears. Instead, try to batch like tasks to avoid frequent shifts. For instance, you could designate Friday morning as your time to follow up with prospects or send out new invoices.
  9. Working for low-paying clients. Every hour you spend working for low-paying clients (or worse, endlessly trying to woo low-paying clients who make you jump through a million hoops) is an hour you’re not spending on your ideal client who pays well and respects you as a professional. One type of work tends to beget more of that type of work, so try to focus your time and energy on work that pays well and aligns with your longer-term goals.
  10. Obsessing over the competition. Granted, it’s helpful to know what other soloists charge or what services they offer. But stalking their Instagram feed and feeling resentful every time they win an award or land a new client isn’t helpful. It’s not only a waste of time but also emotional energy. Have an awareness of other service providers in your area, but don’t obsess or compare yourself. You do you.

If you’re unsure if you do these things or how you spend your time in general, then tracking your time for a week or a month can help you get a realistic inventory. Author Laura Vanderkam even tracked her time for a year! If you’d rather not manually track on paper or a computer spreadsheet, digital tools like RescueTime track how long you’re spending on different sites. By getting a handle on how you’re spending you time, you can prioritize the things that truly matter to your business.

Work Independently, Not Alone.