Several years ago, when my girls competed in cheer and gymnastics, my side hustle was coaching their sports. Now let me be perfectly clear, I'm not an expert in either of these sports, so I spent a lot of time working side-by-side with seasoned professionals, soaking up all the wisdom they could impart.
The physical training for these sports is incredible. Strength and endurance are required, so every practice included conditioning. Often we used stations so that each individual worked at her own pace. Each athlete chose to complete the whole set or cheat by reducing the number of repetitions. As coaches, we decided not to micro-manage this. Instead, we always remind the girls of this simple truth.
If you cheat on your reps, you are only cheating yourself and your ability to achieve your scoring goals at the next meet.
Today, I'm putting on my coaching hat and sharing a similar message with you.
When you need to make a decision and commit to an action, not making a decision is a decision to keep the current state, and you're cheating yourself if you pretend otherwise.
Inaction is a choice, and frequently it's the wrong one. Why? Because it is a passive acceptance in which active options such as the following are ignored.
Decision fatigue is legitimate. It is best to avoid important decisions when we are not thinking clearly. It is also different from the avoidance behavior resulting from fear that allows indecision on little things to grow into more significant problems.
Can you relate to any of these examples of fear-driven avoidance?
The next time you face a decision, and the thought of it makes you tired, be sure to ask yourself why you are feeling this way. If you don't have the energy to deal with it, put it on the top of the list for the next day. However, feeling dread or avoidance is a symptom of fear.
So, how do we combat our tendency to default to passive indecision when we're uncomfortable. The simple answer is to shift from feeling pressured to make a change to actively seeking more information. This response de-escalates our fear response and sets aside our default assumptions and judgments in favor of learning.
Looking at the examples above, consider this.
Instead of "confronting" your employee about their inadequate performance, ask questions to assess gaps in skills or knowledge before deciding what to do.
Instead of telling your customer, inquire about the impact of changing the deadline and whether it negatively impacts them.
As in the third example, sometimes you have to swallow your pride, face your fear, and own it. However, as the above examples show, often it is helpful to choose curiosity over decision avoidance.
Remember, when we avoid because of fear, we get a short-term respite followed by a more significant problem down the road. Your future self will thank you for avoiding the trap of passive indecision.
I'm fortunate that my husband is often my counterbalance. I'm a cliché product of my generation, driven to prove that I can do it all and be it all, which frequently results in over commitment on my part. Where I am quick to say yes to requests and demands, my husband excels at boundaries. He easily rejects crowding his schedule with back-to-back engagements. He grasped the importance of #selfcare long before it became a mainstream conversation.
The reasons so many of us struggle are numerous and universal, but most are grounded in fear.
Fear is often a hidden but dangerous motivator. Of course, we can attribute our actions using nicer terminology--I'm a people pleaser—but it is just a mask for a mindset tempered by fear.
Time is finite, making yes and no two sides of the same coin. So when we say yes to something, we are also saying no to something else. Consider these examples.
When we say yes to going out to a fancy dinner, we say no to putting that money into our savings to purchase a new car.
When we say yes to meeting our best friend for a run in the mornings before work, we say no to getting an extra hour of sleep.
When we say yes to doing the bookkeeping ourselves, we say no to spending that time on income-generating activities.
Filling our time with activities eventually means that our dance card is full. Initially, this may not be problematic, but over time problems tend to arise. We grow tired and overworked, raising feelings of resentment. Or worse, we feel forced to say no to something we want to do (like a highly lucrative client) because we can't fit it into our schedule.
One of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Peter Block is this, "Your YES means nothing if you can't say NO." Giving thorough consideration to when and why we agree to a commitment is good business. When we allow YES to become our default, we may please others while limiting ourselves.
So how do you stop the YES bully from stealing your time? Try these actions.
ONE. Set boundaries
My work with clients always begins at the end. We focus on outcomes and visualize how things will be different six months after the change. This exercise is also helpful for shining a light on what matters most to you so that you can set limits that honor your priorities.
When I was a corporate employee, I worked long hours. However, I also had a clear boundary. Once I parked my car in the garage at the end of the day, I did not take phone calls or work on my computer. My evenings and weekends were family time and a chance for me to disconnect from work. It was a healthy boundary that helped me avoid burnout, and I never received pushback from my colleagues, clients, or superiors.
Permission to create the balance you want must start with you. And as we say on our podcast, A Nickel & A Plan, it is never too little and never too late. Often changes don't have to be drastic. Start small. Once you open yourself to the idea that things can be different, you'll start to identify previously hidden shifts that allow your boundaries without sacrificing your other goals.
TWO. Listen for your NO
A few years ago, I worked with a therapist who told me that I had excellent instincts, but then I talked myself out of them. In other words, my gut reaction was to say NO, but then I'd talk myself into agreeing instead.
Here are some helpful hints that you know you should say NO.
Often it is easier for us to turn someone down when we can offer them something instead of sending them away empty-handed. Your cultivated network of professional resources is handy in these situations. For example, you can provide an introduction to someone else, send articles or other reference materials, or offer connections to other resources. These actions allow you to add value without making a time-consuming commitment.
Standing up to your YES bully requires intention and practice. Remember, fear is a liar. Challenging your assumptions and beliefs and identifying alternatives to avoid the worst outcomes taking over your thoughts is the path to freedom from this time thief.
How do you avoid falling victim to that niggling thought that you have to say yes? Let's crowdsource more strategies from this brilliant community and take back our time.
Welcome back!!! Thanks for joining me for the second part of my series on Time Thieves. 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. That's why I'm talk about one of the biggest levers of change at our fingertips—our relationship with tasks and time.
Last week I told you about Planning Fallacy and how it causes you to get behind and feel like you can never get caught up. This week we're exposing another thief that plagues everyone.
thief #2. Confusing activity for productivity
Prioritization and time management are two of the most common struggles for which people seek help. It is easy to overcommit our time and fill our day with too many tasks. Without clear boundaries and criteria to prioritize our effort, we quickly fall into a pattern of activity that leads to exhaustion. And, unfortunately, our fatigue compounds the problem because it slows us mentally and physically.
One of the biggest differentiators of business owners and leaders is the volume of competing commitments business owners juggle daily. Business owners wear all the hats—sales, marketing, development, accounting, operations, etc. And let's be honest, most of us lack the knowledge and training needed to do these roles efficiently.
Consider this example from one of my favorite clients, Stephanie.
Stephanie's business was flourishing. She had a steady book of business and clients who gave her glowing reviews. However, she still had room to grow and wanted to reach and maintain a client book that was 30% higher than her current volume.
As the company owner, Stephanie was the primary sales and marketing person. She had a small staff who managed many of the operational duties. When Stephanie focused on making sales calls and invested in marketing, she always saw an increase. The dilemma was that daily operational issues constantly filled her available time. She'd quickly allow weeks to pass in which her attention remained distracted from sales and marketing. Then, as her income began to decline, she'd make it a priority again. She was caught in a cycle she wanted to break.
We tend to procrastinate on challenging tasks, choosing instead to complete easier, more enjoyable, or urgent duties. By failing to consider the relative importance, we treat all things as equal, which is rarely beneficial. As a result, we are always actively working in our business, leaving insufficient time for tasks that fuel growth, build market share, and generate income, commonly referred to as time working on the business.
When working with clients, I teach a three-step process for stopping this time thief.
I'm a fan of Stephen Covey's work and like to share his prioritization tool with my clients. Covey uses a 2x2 matrix with importance on the y-axis and urgency on the X-axis. His teaching is that we tend to respond to urgency, to the detriment of important things.
Things that are important but not urgent tend to have a longer-term focus and require more time and effort before seeing results. Thus, when we ignore them until they become urgent, we've backed ourselves into a corner because we cannot get the results we need as quickly as we need them.
To combat this problem, our daily and weekly plans must include time committed to items that fall into the important but not urgent category. But where do you find the time? The answer is in the matrix. The next step is to look at the items that are not important.
Automation is one of the only ways to create time, as I learned many years ago when I bought my first Roomba. I could walk out the door to go to work or the grocery and come home to clean floors that required no attention from me. And the mental boost was more significant than the efficiency improvement.
Today, many hosted software programs automate routine administrative tasks. There is often a small fee, but you have to look at your matrix and remember what your time is worth. If you are spending hours on work that is not income-producing, you are likely losing money, and you are definitely losing time.
My fantastic colleague, Senathia Johnson, can get your business humming with automation for under $100 a month. Her services include coaching as well as doing the setup for you. Just click her name above, and you can learn more about her services.
Some tasks require people, but that person doesn't have to be you. Perhaps you may have employees to whom you can delegate responsibilities. However, if you don't, getting help doesn't mean you have to hire staff. Outsourcing is an effective solution for many small businesses.
One of the best learning from the pandemic is our ability to collaborate effectively across distances and time zones. Virtual assistants are abundant. Some focus on traditional administrative tasks, while others specialize in managing social media.
Website designers, bookkeepers, and marketing managers are examples of professional skill sets that most business owners do not possess. Therefore, we are not as efficient when we do this work and are typically less effective. Engaging the services of a professional is a vital growth strategy that enables you to stop squandering your time and mental capacity where you are least effective and focus instead on your zone of genius.
I frequently coach business owners through the process of identifying the highest and best use of their time and talent and the subsequent decisions regarding how to build the best operating structure to handle the responsibilities they are delegating. When done correctly, the ROI on these changes is less than six months because the business can scale to match the new revenue growth.
Confusing being busy with being productive is more than just a time thief; it's a grave mistake for business owners. For certain, it limits your growth and adds stress. It also has the potential to torpedo your success and happiness. To learn more about Covey's work around this issue, read First Things First (1994).
Don't let this thief steal your time and the soul of your business. I'd love to help! You can get your FREE initial coaching session by clicking this now.