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.
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.