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Looking to yellow reminders (Erik Reis/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Looking to yellow reminders (Erik Reis/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Starting Out

Four tips to staying focused after leaving the corporate scene Add to ...

This isn’t my first entrepreneurial rodeo. I started my first business in the early 2000s, before I was lured back into corporate America and all its fancy resources, stability and brand names.

But after five years of the so-called stability, I was ready for that freedom again — freedom to tweet, to travel and ideate. Freedom to speak as I saw fit, to work where I wanted and to manage my own time. That’s just not possible in the corporate world.

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I get it — there are brands and images to protect, a voice to maintain. But I’m from Philadelphia, and we’re just not quiet people.

Unfortunately, another run at entrepreneurship came with an unexpected freedom — freedom from focus.

All this newfound freedom meant zero accountability to anyone but myself. Before I knew it, I was spending more time tweeting than consulting, more time having coffee than getting new business.

As an entrepreneur, freedom must be managed properly and use it for true business productivity. Here are four key ways to do just that:

Avoid the downtime spiral.

No more commute. No more required 9 to 5. No more endless executive approval meetings. It’s amazing how your calendar opens up! But it’s also easy to fill because initially, you have the perception of having more downtime (at least until you really get the business cooking). All of that flexibility means you can visit Mom and Dad during the week, or extend that weekend by an extra day. But it also means you quickly turn well-deserved downtime into wasted time. Instead, schedule your downtime in a way that works for you. I’m not a morning person, so starting my day at 10 a.m. is a gift. The ability to go to the gym in the afternoon means I avoid the morning and evening rush times, but that also means I keep working well into the evenings, sometimes until 2 a.m. Aim to get a certain minimum amount of work hours in every day — and recognize that it’s likely to be more that what you were clocking in before.

Use travel time wisely.

 Now that I’m not chained to a desk in a building on the other side of town, it’s easy for me to go anywhere for lunch or a meeting. Because of that, I often found myself spending more time in the car or on the subway than I did when I had a long commute to my corporate gig. I always offered to go to the person directly instead of meeting somewhere in between. Though there are cases where it’s appropriate and imperative to make that sacrifice, don’t always be the one to travel to an appointment. If you’re meeting someone in person, see if they’ll be in your area anytime soon or suggest a good halfway point. Include travel time in your schedule, and make sure appointments are scheduled after rush hour and in an order (whenever possible) that makes sense.

Be social with a purpose.

As an entrepreneur, you can now use that limitless voice as loud and as often as you want. But it’s so easy to get sucked into a long Facebook conversation with a fellow entrepreneur, or join every live Twitter chat your industry has to offer. Stop. Instead, be purposeful with your time on social media. If you’re using it for business development, limit your time for other purposes. Schedule your social media time — over a lunch break or a set hour each week. Don’t engage just to engage; do so with a purpose that’s tied to your business mission (in the early days) and then to your brand (as you develop and grow).

Be free from being an entrepreneur.

While entrepreneurs are famous for living and breathing their businesses 24/7, there’s real value in stepping away, even if only briefly. I found that stepping away into something completely different is the best way to refocus. What really helps is taking major mental breaks. For me, that often means cooking. When I’m focused on a difficult recipe, I am physically unable to take a call and be online at the same time. Find what takes you away from work and engages your brain in a different way for at least a few hours a week.

Susan Strayer is the founder of Exaqueo and is known for helping companies figure out the talent problems that impede growth and stunt culture. She has worked inside startup, high-growth and Fortune 500 companies. Her firepower comes from a passion for why talent matters.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.

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