Time is a precious commodity. It is a finite resource that we squander easily. And the ongoing pressure of having too many things to do and not enough time to complete them is a constant source of stress for most of us. For me, this video is the perfect representation of how I feel when I'm overwhelmed by the demands of too many tasks and not enough time to complete them.
As a business owner myself, I'm all about finding a path that allows joy and happiness to abound. We put too much of ourselves into our careers and businesses to allow it to be a constant source of negativity, exhaustion, and resentment. One of the biggest levers of change at our fingertips is to change our relationship with tasks and time.
That's why today, I'm pulling back the curtain and exposing the most common time thieves that steal our happiness and keep us stuck on that gerbil wheel of frustration.
Are any of these thieves at work in your business?
thief #1. The Planning fallacy
The planning fallacy describes our tendency to underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task, as well as the costs and risks associated with that task—even if it contradicts our experiences. (The Decision Lab)
This thief takes advantage of our innate bias towards optimism, especially regarding our abilities. It causes us to overcommit, and the impact becomes an avalanche of missed deadlines, delays, and costs.
Consider this example of a contractor hired to complete a remodeling project in your home. (I am confident that the vast majority of you share this experience.)
During the contract phase, you discuss the timing of the project, including projected start and finish dates. At the beginning of the project, the contractor's team is onsite working daily, and you see lots of progress. At some point, the project hits a delay for an inspection or materials. The workers disappear, and everything comes to a halt. Living in a construction zone is painful, so you're anxious for the work to resume the minute the cause of the delay resolves. The earnestness of the contractor, however, doesn't match yours. The contractor is busy on another job, extending your wait and the projected finish.
Now, the contractor juggles time between two projects instead of focusing on one, and the two clients see progress slow as the team spends fewer hours onsite each week. Meanwhile, a third client who has a punch list of finish items from their recently "completed" project is angry that the contractor hasn't returned to make things right. The only resolution is for the contractor to return after hours to do the work personally or pay an employee overtime.
Now you know. Remodeling professionals aren't deceitful or trying to get away with doing less than their commitment. They are victims of the planning fallacy that has them trapped in this endless cycle.
The planning fallacy can infiltrate all areas of our lives. We plan too many errands into our lunch hour and don't leave ourselves time to eat. We arrive late to the meet-up with our friends because we thought we could get one more task done before heading out the door. We work late into the night to finish a deliverable for our client because we underestimated the time it would take and didn't get started early enough.
I know. You get it, and now you want to know what to do about it. Here's the advice I give to my coaching clients.
ONE. Steal a page from Tim Ferriss and start each day with a clear focus on the three most important things to accomplish and do those first.
I am often amazed at how quickly time passes. I can easily lose an hour scrolling through social media, chatting on LinkedIn, or reading articles online. By putting my most important tasks at the start of my workday, I tackle them with a clear mind that isn't distracted by my anxiety that I need to leave for school pick-up in less than thirty minutes or I'll be late.
TWO. Let the data be your guide by using time and task logs.
I know I've shared this before, but the good stuff is always worth repeating. Here's how to set up your own time and task study.
THREE. Plan to fail.
Being highly aware of the planning fallacy, when I'm feeling rushed and overwhelmed, I make my list of everything I'm planning to get done, then I reduce the list by 20-25%. This is simply a form of prioritization. I decide the most vital 75% on the list and get going. Then, if I have more time remaining, I add on something from the 25% I tabled.
Similarly, when building a plan for a client, I extend my time estimate, knowing that I may complete the work sooner. I prefer to delight them by finishing earlier rather than disappoint and stress them by missing a deadline.
Speaking of the planning fallacy, I'm off to record my episode of "A Nickel and A Plan" podcast and am out of time for writing this week. We'll continue this conversation next week with theif #2, routine tasks.
Until then, drop me a line and let me know how the planning fallacy has impacted you. I'd love to hear your tips for keeping it at bay.
This month is all about mental health awareness and I saved the best for last. I want to talk about taking care of you.
Business ownership is like having a baby or buying an estate. From the outside looking in, the choice seems idyllic. You envision yourself happy, enjoying life, and carefree. It's a pinnacle moment that signals your arrival at a new level of life success.
What you fail to ponder and appreciate is the depth and breadth of the commitment you've just made. From this moment forward, your life includes responsibilities and obligations that you do not have the option to ignore.
I get you. Being at the top is supposed to be fun and rewarding. It's supposed to fuel pleasure, not pain. You want to hold onto the confidence and satisfaction bump you felt at the start. Feeling tired, overwhelmed, and stressed-out is not the future you were seeking.
I often meet business owners when they are at their breaking point. Working harder isn't getting the results they need. And, maintaining their extraordinary effort isn't sustainable. The chaos of their business dictates their mental health.
That's why this week, I'm sharing my 4 secrets for business ownership success without sacrificing your mental health and happiness.
Are you constantly comparing yourself to others around you?
Are you busy doing things that others tell you are critical, even though you don't know how they fit into your business strategy?
You have permission to stop.
You have permission to do less, be less, have less.
The opposite of more is enough. And you get to define what is enough for you.
More, bigger, better is an unhappiness trap if it causes you to sacrifice the things that matter most to you.
BETTER MENTAL HEALTH STEP 1
Know yourself and stay true to yourself regardless of what everyone else around you is doing.
Are you always playing it safe, afraid to make a mistake?
Are you copying others, always trying to blend in?
Peter Block teaches that when you choose safety and security, you give up your power. Fear is a liar that holds us back and keeps us stuck in unhealthy patterns.
You can't attract the right customers and employees if they can't see you.
And, it's not possible to grow to your fullest potential without taking risks.
BETTER MENTAL HEALTH STEP 2
Accept setbacks as part of your growth and trust in your ability to fail-up;
100% success means you're playing it safe.
Do you hold yourself to an unrealistic standard?
Have you designed your life so that you have to be all things to all people all the time?
It's okay to say, "No."
It's okay to delegate to other people.
It's okay to step back so that others have room to step up.
BETTER MENTAL HEALTH STEP 3
Let go of perfect.
If you've put yourself at the center of everything in your business, I can 100% guarantee that at some point, you will become the weakest link.
Tapping into additional resources is essential for growth. Sometimes those are partners for services such as bookkeeping or marketing, while other times, it is the addition of employees and leaders.
Asking for help means inviting others to become fully contributing members of your team. It requires you to let go of control, extend trust, and create new ways of working together.
BETTER MENTAL HEALTH STEP 4
Invite others who share your purpose, passion, and commitment to help you.
It is nearly impossible to provide for the mental health of your employees if you are not setting the example by taking care of your own mental health. I hope this gives you a helpful blueprint.
Yesterday I visited a client's office. I'm working with the entire team, and so I spend a few minutes before the meeting chatting with people. As one woman greeted me, she asked me, "Did you bring your couch today?" I chuckled to myself at her inquiry because she's not the first client to compare our conversations to therapy sessions. Years ago, I was at a social function in a client's office and introduced as their business therapist.
I've reflected on this moniker and identified the following reasons for this recurring theme:
My clients are proud to call me their business therapist because they experience a new level of mental health from our work. They feel happier, heard, understood, accepting of their shortcomings, and free to forgive the imperfections of others. They feel less stress more control. Knowing they have someone in their corner who listens and readily offers support eases their minds.
Here's the thing; I could know everything I know and fail miserably as a coach if I didn't know how to be fully present and listen. And the best part is that those are skills anyone can master. That's right. One of the most significant contributions you can make to supporting the mental health of others is to listen and understand.
Mastering this skill requires work. It is hard to silence that voice in the back of our heads. Suppressing our desire to give answers and fix things is a deliberate shift in how we engage. Intention and practice are needed. That's why I'm recommending this article from Psychology Today about improving communication. Don't discount it because it is talking about communicating with spouses. Trust me, the same ideas apply to all relationships, including those with your teammates. I'm certain you'll find inspiration for yourself and those your lead.
I want to provide for myself & my family is often most prominent in our thinking when our status is unemployed or under-employed. The more desperate we feel about paying our bills or getting access to health insurance, the less selective we are about the company's qualities or the position. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, this is the base of the pyramid—physiological and safety needs. According to Maslow, these needs are foundational for all humans.
Do you remember preparing for your first day at a new job? I remember dressing to impress. I was awake early, took great care with my hair and makeup, and arrived almost thirty minutes early. [Honestly, I still do this when meeting with new clients.] My focus was items #2 & 3, showing my best self and being accepted. I wanted to prove that I was good enough and be welcomed and embraced by my new employer and co-workers. Maslow called this third level belonging.
Maslow's next level, esteem, focuses on our desire to be appreciated. We all share the need to be recognized and valued by others. Fulfilling this need is vital to retaining your best employees.
Once we feel confident and appreciated, we can pursue item #5--I want to make a difference. This pinnacle is where we are our most creative and able to express our full potential. Correspondingly, this also means that we offer our best selves to the benefit of our employer.
Maslow gave us a clear and concise framework for understanding the levers available to us as employers. Mental health at work isn't just about individuals. Culture and environment enable positive mental health and maximum personal contribution, but it doesn't happen accidentally.
Consider these examples of unhealthy norms at work.
😒Employers who pay low wages, limit employee hours or fail to provide a consistent schedule trap their employees in concern for their physiological needs.
👿Supervisors who use intimidation and verbal abuse to control employees confine those employees to focus on their safety needs.
😨Managers who create competition within the workgroup and use derogatory speech to and about others restrain their team from moving beyond questions of belonging.
😩Leaders who focus on deficits instead of leveraging strengths, chip away at their people's ability to maintain self-esteem.
These are all examples of toxic work environments which cause stress, anxiety, and burnout. Toxic work environments are unhealthy, unstable, and costly.
As you reflect on mental health this month, it is an excellent time to reacquaint yourself with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Constructing a healthy work environment in which people bring their personal best every day requires attention to each level and crafting a culture that supports and maintains psychological safety.
May is mental health awareness month. And since I'm a psychology geek, I've decided to spend this month discussing this topic and its relevance to all of us.
Let me ask you. How many of these statements are true for you?
As you reflect on your responses to the questions above, consider this definition of mental health from the CDC.
"Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act... Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same things."
Work encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, or mental health.
Embedded in our choice of profession are psychological needs (e.g., self-esteem). Social well-being informs our pick of where we work. And emotionally taxing workplaces (a.k.a., toxic environments) receive scathing reviews on Glassdoor by disillusioned current and former employees.
In the late 1950s, Herzberg studied motivation in the workplace. He concluded that it is ineffective to view dissatisfaction and satisfaction as a single continuum because resolving issues that create dissatisfaction only lessens dissatisfaction. The actions required to increase satisfaction are separate and distinct. Decades later, the work on employee engagement by the Gallup Organization supported this conclusion.
The following table presents the top seven factors causing dissatisfaction and the top six factors causing satisfaction, listed in the order of higher to lower importance. [source]
Leading to satisfaction
Herzberg's theory is vital to our discussion about mental health because it emphasizes the need for parallel work paths. To provide a healthy culture where everyone can be their best self and maximize their contribution, one must minimize the dissatisfiers and increase the satisfiers.
There's a wonderful story in The Power of Moments (Heath, 2017) about a woman who dreams of opening a bakery, but after the stress of making cakes to meet her client's expectations, she begins to lose joy for the craft and closes her business. This story supports Herzberg's theory; the motivation to continue to work so hard wasn't possible. It was a lot of responsibility without much recognition, and the work itself was less satisfying with each cake she made. [BTW, the woman celebrates her decision to close her business and hasn't baked a cake since.]
Decisions to walk away from what makes us unhappy to pursue a path of happiness is choosing mental health. So is permitting yourself to create or receive whatever is needed to improve your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Here are some questions to guide you. Be brutally honest in your answers.
Mental Health Check
You know I'm all about work being a place for joy and passion to abound. So let me know if you need help getting back to that place.