Business owners and entrepreneurs: Do you feel stressed when you look at your to-do list? Is it so jammed with urgent tasks you need to do NOW that you can hardly work out where to start?

If you’re scaling your company internationally, it’s highly likely that you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-dos … and it’s making you a little crazy..

This is something I see all the time – as companies start to expand internationally, workloads do too, because teams suddenly find themselves running two or three different businesses (one domestic and one or more international) without any extra resources.

That’s why Time Excellence is one of the core skills business leaders have to master if they’re going to succeed at scaling internationally. But most entrepreneurs and business owners aren’t very good at it. 

This is partly because entrepreneurial personalities often find it tough to stay focused – they’re tempted by new concepts and possibilities which distract from their main goals.

Running a business can also be stressful and chaotic. The combination of competing priorities, limited time and financial pressure can be enough to break the focus and upset the equilibrium of even the most organised person. Business owners often have so much going on that they don’t stop to think about how their time is being spent … and that’s a problem. 

Because if you’re not in control of your time, you don’t have the focus and energy that you need to do the critical thinking that creates smart strategic decisions. Without smart, strategic decisions, your business is going nowhere, fast.

So, with so much going on, how can you get your time under control?

In my experience, there are three things that you need to do:

  1. Prioritise
  2. Organise
  3. Delegate

Prioritise

Let’s talk about prioritising first. It’s the natural first step in the process, because it helps you to figure out where you should be spending your time. 

A simple way to identify and prioritise your most important tasks is to get a piece of paper and make a list of all the tasks you do at work. ALL of them. Get out your calendar and take a look if you can’t remember what you’ve done recently.

Then, get three highlighters, green, orange and red. Mark all the tasks that represent a high value use of your time green. If you’re a business owner scaling internationally, your high value tasks should include things like doing market research, creating strategies for different aspects of your international business, talking to potential clients and partners overseas – anything that can be classified as working ‘on’ your international expansion, rather than simply ‘in’ the business. Tasks that you mark green might also be things that involve working ‘on’ the business domestically.

Next, get your orange highlighter and mark all the tasks that you do when you are working ‘in’ your international or domestic business, not including administration. This could include things like working with clients, implementing your marketing strategy or following up leads.

Lastly, take out the red highlighter and mark all the administrative tasks you do: checking email, paying bills, scheduling meetings, etc.

Ideally, business owners should be spending at least 50% of their time on green tasks. Green tasks are the high-value projects which will move the needle in the business and help the company to scale internationally. Unfortunately these are the same projects that often get neglected because they’re not urgent.

Delegate

Next, let’s talk about delegation.

Take all the tasks you’ve just highlighted orange and red and put them in two lists.

All of the ‘red’ tasks, in other words, anything that is administrative must be delegated. That’s pretty much non-negotiable if you want to be a the leader of an international scale-up – there just aren’t enough hours in the day for you to be sorting email and booking meetings, even if you love doing these tasks.

Go ahead and delegate the tasks to someone else in your team. 

Now look at your orange list and try to delegate as many of those tasks as you can. If you’re a smaller operation, you may have to keep some of the orange tasks in the initial stages, but you should be planning a timeline for getting them off your plate as soon as possible.

If there isn’t anyone in your current team who you can delegate to, get creative. For example, think about engaging a VA and a bookkeeper to help you with your administration – there are plenty of capable people out there who can do a fantastic job at keeping the business ticking over, leaving you free to focus on strategy and critical thinking. 

You can save between 5 and 10 hours a week, just by having someone sort your email and book your meetings for you. What difference would it make to your business if you could use that time to sit down and work on your international strategy?

I know some of you are saying right now “But, I can’t afford to hire more staff”!

But, unless you are absolutely broke, you can. Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, and companies like Remote Work make it possible to find qualified people to work on a part-time or contract basis. And if you’re based in a high-cost country, engaging team members from countries with lower labour rates enables you to source help economically. In other words, delegating your administrative work should be possible even on a tight budget. I’ll even go out on a limb here and say that in my view, getting extra help to manage the daily running of your company is one of the first things you should consider doing as you get ready to scale up. This is about intentionally organising your work in a way that allows you to carve out time to focus on strategy.

Organise

And finally, it’s time to organise your time, so that you make sure you spend those precious hours you’ve freed up the right way.

Get out your calendar and map out your ideal week. Start by putting all the tasks you marked green into the calendar. They should take up at least 50% of your week – and you can measure this very easily, by colour coding the tasks.

Some of my clients like to give the days of the week themes, content creation, strategy, sales and business development, etc, but however you do it, the point is to have your time organised so that you are working on your highest-value projects each week.

If you’re planning an international expansion, I recommend that you set aside a minimum of four hours a week to do this. It might be a morning or an afternoon where you meet with your team to update each other on progress, and troubleshoot problems that have cropped up with your international work over the last week. There should also be some time where you, the business owner sit down alone and review your strategy, think about what is working, what could be improved and make adjustments accordingly.

The steps I’ve just outlined are simple to implement, but if you carry them out – work out what  your most important tasks are, delegate non-essential work to others and then stick to a program that maximises the value of how you use your time – it will make a massive difference in your business. I guarantee that within 90 days, you’ll become more productive and you’ll start to notice an improvement in the quality of the decisions you make.

Don’t believe me? Start today and let me know where you get to in 90 days!

Need help staying on track with your international scale-up? Book a Discovery Session today  to find out how we can help!


Cynthia Dearin

Cynthia Dearin is an international business strategist, advisor, keynote speaker and author of Amazon best-seller Camels, Sheikhs and Billionaires: Your Guide to Business Culture in the Middle East and North Africa. With 18 years of international experience, as an Australian diplomat and management consultant, she is the Founder and Managing Director of Dearin Associates and the International Business Accelerator that helps clients to access opportunities in fast-growing international markets around the world.