Over the past few years I’ve talked to a lot of business owners who are struggling with how much they have to get done, and let’s face it, us business owners have a lot of ‘stuff’ to do. So much stuff and all of it urgent. A bulging inbox controlling our day, forcing us to react, impossible to prioritise.
Of course, everyone has days like this, where you can’t see the wood for the trees, where your to-do list for the day is so long it will take you to the middle of next week just to get through half of it. Those days when you don’t feel like your life is your own; when you’re working to other people’s priorities and everyone wants a piece of you; when you feel completely chaotic and out of control.
As one-offs, these days are manageable, there are simple tools and techniques to get you through them, to deal with them, and still get stuff done. But it’s when these days start to merge, when as a new client said to me, ‘Overwhelm becomes the norm’, when you forget where the hell you’re going, let alone how you’re going to get there.
That’s when overwhelm has become a real issue. That’s when you lose focus on your vision; when what’s really important to you seems a million miles away. So what do you do? You go chasing off down rabbit holes looking for the answers, in time-management programmes and apps.
You start subscribing to lots of ‘successful people’ – you know, those people who seem to have it all, looking for the magic pill that’s going to bring you their success. And of course, that’s exactly what it is – their success. You start to believe that success only comes through long hours and even harder work. You lose sight of what’s really important to you; what success means to you; what your ideal future looks like.
So, what can you do about it?
Well, you can start by asking yourself this one killer question:
What am I trying to achieve, and why?
I’m a pretty organised person these days, and this one question (ok, technically two) still has a massive impact on how focused I am, and how much I get done on a day-to-day and month-to-month basis.
It’s a powerful question, whether you’re thinking about the next year, or the next hour.
To find your answer, go back to what I’ve talked about in previous blogs when I asked you to look at your personal ‘why’ you’re in business, what you really want for yourself, your Big Vision.
Are you really clear about what you’re trying to achieve, and why? Because when you are, you’re ready for the simple exercise that will get rid of overwhelm every time it raises its ugly head.
And here it is:
Step 1: Decide on the timeframe that’s overwhelming you. Is it what you have on today, tomorrow, the coming week, the coming month?
Step 2: Next, get yourself a big sheet of paper and a pen.
Step 3: Write down everything — and I mean everything you believe you have to get done in the coming week: personal, business, everything…
Step 4: Once you’ve done that–once you’ve exhausted everything – and you’re sure you have it all on that sheet of paper, grab a big, black marker pen.
Step 5: Go through your list and cross off everything that doesn’t move you towards what you’re trying to achieve; everything that doesn’t move you towards your big vision.
Be ruthless here, look for other people’s priorities on this list and get them crossed off. Look for things that are easy to do, or that feed your inner procrastinator, like setting up a to-do list app, or reading through all those emails you’ve subscribed to, and get those crossed off too.
Cross off anything that doesn’t move you to where you now know that you want to be. Ruthless is the key word.
Step 6: There will be things on your list that do have to be done, but most of them should not be done by you; things like book-keeping, expenses, managing your database.
These things can stay, but they get moved onto a second list, called ‘Delegate’. Add all the things that need to be done, but not by you, to this list.
Recognise those things that you may be busying yourself with because they’re maybe in your comfort zone or you’re good at them but are really a waste of your time and could be done much cheaper elsewhere. This will free up your time to prioritise what only you can and should be doing.
What you are left with after this exercise are three lists:
Your Do list – the things you’re going to do because they move you towards your vision
Your Ditch list – full of other people’s stuff, and things that you’ve just got into the bad habit of adding to your list every day
Your Delegate list – things that you’re going to get other people to do
Give this a go and see what it does for your overwhelm. I promise you, it works like magic.
You have to be ruthless though, and you have to get over your guilt about ditching other people’s priorities. Just remember that’s exactly what they are – other people’s priorities, not yours! You have plenty of your own to be getting on with.
Do One thing: Your DO, DITCH OR DELEGATE exercise!
Thanks for reading.