Are you a manager juggling properties and problems? A parent trying to find balance between work and home? A business owner who is overcommitted?
What about all of the above?!
We all get overloaded and stretched too thin sometimes. What’s important is that we don’t stay that way.
I know, I know. Easier said than done, right?
I get it. It sounds like I’m asking you to commit to yet one more thing. You’re already overwhelmed. You don’t have any spare minutes, even for something that would make things better.
Let me ask you this, though: Can you afford to stay the way you are? If you’re overloaded and stretched too thin, you’re probably not very happy. You might be getting snappy with people. You might find yourself doing subpar work. You’re exhausted and not eating well. It’s a vicious cycle: the longer you stay overloaded, the snappier and unhappier you get. I know. I really do. I fall into that trap too sometimes, when I feel so swamped by my to-do list that it seems like the best thing to do is crawl back into bed with something fried.
When you feel that way, expending any effort at all on change can seem impossible. That’s why I’ve boiled things down to five simple steps that will give you instant relief and energy so you can breathe and thrive in business and in life.
#1. Get Organized!
People all over the world have been spring cleaning for thousands of years. The longer days and more sunlight wakes us up from those shorter, darker winter days, giving us the energy to sweep the cobwebs out of our brains—and our homes and offices. I’m writing this in spring, and after the crazy year I’ve had, my home and office definitely needed decluttering. But any time the spaces you live and work in have fallen into disorder is the right time to get organized. Mess equals stress; by putting order to the physical things around you, you’ll find there’s more order and calm in your mind and heart.
Because so many of us have been working from home, let’s start there: Do you have a dedicated space for your home office and the tools you need? Just about a year ago, I heard from a client who was struggling with working from home; he wasn’t as productive as he was at the office. I asked him to describe his space, and it became clear that he hadn’t really committed to creating a work space at home. Once he set up his home office with the same equipment he had at his work office, including that great dual monitor that was so essential to getting things done, it changed everything for him. He got back to his usual productivity level and felt happier and more energized.
Regardless of where your office is, what does your desk or workspace look like? Can you find what you need, or are things buried under mountains of paper? For instance, if you go looking for the client contract you need to finalize, it would be easy to get distracted by that unfinished project plan you come across while searching for the contract. It would also be easy for that unfinished project plan to stay unfound and never get finished. Out of sight, out of mind.
I like piles. If you came to my office, you would find piles on my desk, on my table, on my floor. Piles work for me, but I have to manage them. That means keeping everything off my desk except the things I need to work on right then. (We’ll talk more about determining what needs to be worked on, in #5.) When you put things in their proper place—whatever their proper place for you is—you’ll feel more in control and focused.
So get to your spring cleaning, whatever season it is for you when you’re reading this. Even just tidying your desk will give you a sense of accomplishment that will carry through the rest of your day.
One final thing about getting organized: Being organized isn’t just about your space; it’s also about your time. I have so many clients who are working from home whose families are also at home right now. If you find that you’re constantly being interrupted and distracted, it’s time to set some boundaries. I recommend an open door/closed door policy: When your door is open (or, if you don’t have a door, when a sign that says Open is up), you are open to visitors. When your door is closed (or when that sign says Closed), you are closed to visitors. Setting that open/closed schedule may take some trial and error; if you’re juggling a child’s school schedule or a spouse or partner’s meeting schedule, you may have to get creative. But setting those kind but firm boundaries will enable you to be welcoming and receptive during those open door hours and also give you the time you need to be head’s down and productive.
That kind of policy works at the office, too. By setting expectations about when you’re available, your teammates know they can get the answers and support they need without worrying they’re disrupting your concentration.
For more on working successfully at home, read my blog Succeed—and Stay Sane—While Working From Home.
#2. Learn to Say No
This is a hard one for a lot of us. We don’t like to tell people no; it feels like we’re rejecting them, that we’re telling them their cause isn’t important to us. Saying yes makes us feel helpful, accepting, supportive. The problem is that if we never say no, we end up with way too much on our plate. I had a client who ran her own business, was active in her university’s alum association, volunteered in the community and on top of all that agreed to coach her child’s soccer team. As you can imagine, she found herself stretched way too thin.
What she didn’t realize—what’s hard for so many of us, myself included, to realize—is that whenever you say yes to something, you are automatically saying no to something else. We only have so much time in our lives; we can’t fill those hours infinitely. When my client said yes to all of her activities, she didn’t realize what she was saying no to: family dinners, time to recharge, the energy to pursue her own goals and priorities.
Whenever you’re asked to say yes to something, ask yourself, Does this get me closer to my goals? Of course, to answer that you have to know what your goals are, in business and in life. If you don’t have a good grasp on yours, check out my blog articles Living Is More Than Just Working and How to Start Dreaming Again.
I’ll be the first to tell you that saying no can be hard, especially at first and especially with people who are used to you saying yes. That’s why I have a trick I use: Don’t say no. Say, “That sounds interesting. Let me get back with you. I need to check on something first.” That way, you don’t actually have to say the word no directly to someone, and you take the immediate pressure off yourself to say yes. Later, you can get back to the person with, “I’m really sorry. It’s a great cause/project, but I don’t have the capacity to take it on right now. I know you’ll find the right person for the job.”
As with any habit, saying no becomes easier the more you do it. When you see the positive impact saying no has on how you feel and how much progress you’re making on what’s really a priority in life, you’ll never go back to saying yes to everything.
By the way, my client gave up coaching her child’s soccer team. She found she could support her child even more by cheering from the sidelines because she was able to bring energy and enthusiasm that she didn’t have when she had taken on too much.
#3. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
It’s hard to let go. The tasks we do, we know how to do really well: We’ve got the steps down; we’ve figured out all the efficiencies. We start to believe no one could do what we do as well as we can—or at least that it would take way too long to teach someone else to do it as well.
Here’s something I like to tell people: Yes, you’re good at what you do. But you’re one of 7.8 billion people on the planet. There are other people out there who can make it happen, too. Plus, you’re only one person; if you keep trying to do everything yourself, all you’re doing is limiting what you can accomplish. You’re only one person, and there are only 24 hours in a day.
You have to delegate.
Let me be clear about something: Delegating is not abdicating. You’re not giving up quality or efficiency or productivity. Yes, it can take time to get someone up to speed, but once they are you will have freed up some of your time and decreased your stress without decreasing output.
Here are a few tips on how to get started:
- Delegate tasks you don’t enjoy. When you spend your time working on things you enjoy, you’ll work harder and be happier.
- Delegate tasks that aren’t a good use of your time. There are a bunch of administrative tasks you shouldn’t be doing. Get an assistant (virtual or part time, if that’s all you can swing at first), implement software for calendar management and CRM, and outsource functions like accounting.
- Give direction and follow up. You have expectations for how you want something done, so make sure you communicate those expectations, in detail. Also, check in and follow up to answer questions, help with challenges and monitor progress. The more work you do up front to help the person you delegate to be successful, the less work you’ll do in the long run.
- Get a #2 who thinks like #1. A #2 is a wingman or woman, a full-fledged partner who supports you (the #1) in all aspects of your business. If you want to truly accelerate the growth of your business and give yourself some breathing room, developing a #2 is key.
For more on delegating, read my blogs Letting Go to Grow and Do You Have a Wingman? Getting Your #2 to Think Like #1.
#4. Take Advantage of the Micro to Millions Tools
I recently talked in one of my Lives about some of the tools we use to take our clients from micro to millions. Those tools are all about making it easier to get good work done. You can watch my video Tools to Get From Micro to Millions, but here’s a quick overview:
- The 5 Drivers™ uncover what drives you in business and life. Knowing why you do what you do, where you want to be, and what your business needs to look like in order for you to get there keeps you motivated when things get tough.
- The 5 Functions structures the work of your business to answer the questions What needs to get done? Who is going to do it? How well are they doing it? You can learn more about the 5 Functions in my video The FIVE Functions to Having More Time.
- Strategic MAP™ lays out the specific steps you need to take to build your successful, thriving future.
A fourth tool I talk about in my blog Find Time By Saving Time is block scheduling, which is a way of categorizing the tasks you need to accomplish and setting aside blocks of time to get them done.
When we’re stretched too thin, it’s often because we haven’t mapped out a path to follow—which is because we’re not exactly sure where we want to go; we haven’t defined what success means to us. The Micro to Millions™ tools help you lay out, travel along and manage that path, so you are investing energy in tasks that propel you toward your goals.
#5. Focus on the 2-3 Things You Can Get Done Today
The truth is, even when we get organized, learn to say no, delegate, and streamline our work through great tools, the to-do list is never done. When you chose to run or manage a business and engage in life, there will always be things to do. That fact brings me to perhaps the most important strategy I can offer you: Every day, identify what needs to get done that day.
There are a couple of approaches to this. Some people recommend tackling your toughest tasks first so everything that comes after feels easy and you’re not dreading anything. I like to ask myself What 2-3 things will make the biggest difference in my business or life today? or What 2-3 things do I need to do to take my business or life to the next level?
However you do it, the key is to pick those 2-3 things and then stop. Don’t say, “Oh, what about such-andsuch? It’s important too.” Every morning first thing, decide on what 2-3 things you’re going to focus on for that day and do those things.
What you’ll probably find is that after you’ve done those 2-3 things, you have time and energy to tack on a few more. That’s awesome! Do that! But by identifying the 2-3 most important things you need to accomplish, you will ensure that you are not distracted by or wasting time on less important tasks and that you are always making progress on your goals.
How to Get Going
At this point, you may be feeling overwhelmed. You may want to yell, “How can I do these things, Jim?! I really am stretched too thin!”
I hope you’ll have a look at my video Reset Your Mindset. I shot it during a time when I was having a series of bad days, more than normal. I was stressed and discouraged—and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. In the video, I share some of the techniques I used to get myself out of that rut and reenergize. If you’re struggling to get motivated to change, this video will help you reboot so you can take steps to un-stretch yourself and find balance and happiness in business and in life.
If you’d like to talk to me about any of these steps or about how I reset my mindset, please reach out to me.