As a recovering overachiever, I've learned a thing or two about spinning plates. In fact, some might call me a pro. I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say:
"Damn, Lisa! How do you manage to get so much done?"
"Lisa, you are EVERYWHERE! How do you do it?"
"You seem like you've got a lot going on, Lisa. How do you manage it all?"
The truth is, my days are fairly light. I may have an appointment or two on a given day, but I spend a lot of time home alone, focused on doing the work. Whether that's practicing piano, scripting or filming a new video, or taking my kids to the doctor, I've created crystal clear priorities that keep me on track.
For all the stuff I am doing, I still say "no" to a lot of things that don't mesh with my priorities.
And yet, I'm not perfect. I still manage to say "yes" to enough activities that can distract me and take me off course from time to time.
What I've learned in my years as an entrepreneur and coach is that it's easy to get distracted from your priorities (REALLY EASY). Add to that the fact that very few people will volunteer to hold you accountable to your priorities, and you've got a recipe for overwhelm.
So how do you mitigate overwhelm and keep your business on track? Here are 5 tips to help you create a focus and stick with it throughout the year.
1. Pre-plan your priorities. In my Dreamblazing program, we set your objectives for the next 12 months, and then we prioritize them. By deciding your priorities in advance, you've got a filter you can pass every opportunity through for the coming months. By pre-planning your priorities in this way, you've got a much better chance at staying on task and not getting sidetracked by pop-up "emergencies" or "special opportunities" that don't support your priorities. For example, one year, my top priority wasn't in my business - it was to build a healthier relationship with my son. When I had the opportunity to speak at an event that conflicted with a commitment I'd made with him, I had to say no to that opportunity. Did I miss out? Not based on my priorities. I held firm to what was most important for me at that time. It would have been easy to re-prioritize in the moment - especially if we'd needed the money. But I'd made a decision months earlier to focus on quality time with my son. That decision made saying "no" easier.
Pre-planning your priorities isn't just an annual thing. I use The PEACE System to clarify my priorities on a daily basis. By making sure my top priorities are on my radar each day, I accomplish more of what matters in less time, because I'm not distracted as often.
2. Guard your self-care time. This has been the most valuable lesson of my business career. When lots of tasks, challenges, and opportunities are coming down the pike at the same time, it's easy to neglect your personal time. Everybody wants a piece of you. Everybody wants to pick your brain, get a little of your time, and it all adds up. Next thing you know, it's been days since you've had a shower, and you can't remember when you had any white space in your day.
Not that I speak from experience, or anything.
When I was working as an Admin in the automotive industry, I routinely managed the calendars of six (yep, SIX) executives. I was their sole support person, which meant juggling the needs and priorities of five high-powered, driven, single-minded guys - and one woman who was probably the most driven of them all. Multitasking was my specialty. But self-care was not. I remember the day I came to work in a pair of hose I'd rinsed out and blow-dried that morning because I'd put in so many hours at work I'd forgotten to do my laundry.
Self care is making sure you've got time to see to your own needs. It isn't always about going to the spa and getting a massage - though that's nice, too. It's about white space in your day. The auto industry was filled with people who'd wolf down lunch in 5 minutes - never leaving their desk because of an all-day conference call. I watched these execs turn their offices into sleeping quarters, changing rooms, and occasionally a bathroom (don't ask).
That's what a lack of self-care looks like. I've spend the last 10 years shifting away from that, creating more "white space" in my life so that when a true emergency crops up (like a phone call from my kid's school, asking me to come get him), it's not a Herculean task to rearrange my day. A quick call or an email and I've got things handled.
3. Right-size your expectations. There's a running joke that if you give a man a piece of paper and a list of things to do, he'll use as little of the paper as possible, whereas a woman will fill up that to-do list, turn the page over, and keep on writing. It's easy to find things to do, things that need our attention, and that's where overwhelm starts the slow creep. I don't care who you are, without a small army, it's virtually impossible to clean an entire house, prepare three meals from scratch for a family of four, do all the dishes, take all the kids to all their appointments, balance the P&L statement, create your blog content, do three interviews, create four web pages, host a webinar, make seven sales calls, get in an hour of exercise, take a nap, and be bright eyed and bushy tailed, showered and shaved for your evening out with friends. And if you have a chronic illness or need to take care of ailing loved ones, you have to expect even less of yourself.
It doesn't make you a bad business person. It means you're human! Something has to give. Maybe you get a support team, call in reinforcements, or just postpone some happenings for another day. As much as you might like to believe it, NO ONE can do it all (so quit trying!).
Right-sizing your expectations means getting more of the right things done. (tweet this)
Coming down off a multi-tasking high in the auto industry, I had to re-assess what I was truly capable of on a given day. I knew I wanted more white space, more peace and ease, but I was also used to getting a lot done in a day. At first, my to-do lists were incredibly long. Then I let the pendulum swing the other way: no more than one appointment per day. Over time, I managed to find a "groove" that works for me: most days are appointment free, with two days a week dedicated to handling scheduled appointments (coaching calls, doctor visits, etc.) This gives me plenty of white space to stay in creative flow, while also giving me plenty of energy to handle the scheduled appointments during one or two days of the week (and lots of energetic "recovery time" thereafter).
4. Get an accountability partner. My pal Winnie has been my stalwart business buddy for over two years now. We connect via skype almost every week, and together we've launched best-selling books, grown new business divisions, re-branded, and so much more. There's no way I could have stayed the course over the past two years without her willingness to show up and hold me accountable for the priorities I've set for myself. We don't nag each other. We know that priorities change, and we go with that flow. But we're also willing to call B.S. on each other when we're dragging our heels on a project to which we've committed.
An accountability partner provides a powerful level of support & encouragement on a frequent basis. Because you're working together, there's an added benefit that you're going to learn from each other. I count Winnie as one of my best friends - not just because she knows where all the bodies are buried! It takes a certain kind of person to be willing to put up with me, call me on my crap, and still be willing to cheer me on and celebrate my successes. And I get the honor of doing the same for her.
5. Make friends with "no". Get used to saying (and hearing) no a lot more often. When you ask for help, sometimes the answer will be no. Keep asking. It's not always because you don't want to say yes. Sometimes you need to say no because it's not in alignment with your priorities. That's wonderful. Oh, and don't take it personally when someone else tells you no.
I remember coming home from a week-long workshop a while ago. Upon my return, one of my clients called to "fire" me. I was SO happy for them that it kind of threw them off guard. They didn't need me anymore, and while I knew it, they couldn't imagine a different path than they one they'd envisioned with me on it. I had even suggested they replace me with an employee at much less cost, but it wasn't happening... until I left for the week.
That time away gave them clarity to see new possibilities and alternatives that would better suit them and their bottom line. When I picked up the phone and heard "we've decided not to renew your contract," all I could say was "HOORAY! THAT'S AWESOME!" It totally threw my client for a loop because it wasn't the answer they were expecting. I reminded my client that my sole purpose was to help them get profitable and find the path that worked for them. They were finally taking my advice which meant a more profitable direction for their company. Keeping me on wouldn't be in alignment with their best interests, nor mine. So, like Nanny McPhee, it was time for me to go.
Bonus tip: Be forgiving with yourself. In all my years of prioritizing and planning, I still get it wrong from time to time. Nobody's perfect. Even the best laid plans change. Pick a course and stick with it to the best of your abilities, but if something happens that requires a redirect (like your kid going to jail), go with it. When I was a financial advisor, we were taught that "life happens every six months." So rather than rail against it, we made a plan for it. I still do. My Dreamblazing program has built-in check-ins every quarter, to ensure that the priorities you've set are still the right ones for you.
Let me hear from ya! What's been keeping you in overwhelm lately? How do you manage to get more of the right things done? Share your comments below and let's be a rising tide for the entire community.