These past few weeks, after setting my goals and intentions for the New Year, launching into new freelance work, and working to honor previous commitments, it hit me: I am doing too much. I’ve always been someone who has been tightly scheduled and prided myself on accomplishing as much as I possibly can and sticking to deadlines. These past few weeks I’ve hit a wall. I’ve stayed up past midnight and woken up at 6 am to finish jobs that have nagged at me for weeks and should have taken me one day of focused, concentrated work. I’ve run around the city from appointment to appointment with barely a second to process what I’ve been talking about. I’ve had to resist the urge to nap on my keyboard at work and feel nearly incapable of answering emails, much less planning, strategizing or honing a new skill.
The quandary I’ve found myself in is a familiar one for handmade business owners. To a certain degree we have an unshakable belief in ourselves to get things done and tackle whatever life and work throws at us. That belief in our ability to actualize no matter what propels us to take risks and work hard brings our businesses to life. However, it can have a downside: over-scheduling, exhaustion and neglect of our commitments, health and inner life, otherwise known as the things that can keep us sane during difficult times.
The problem is not a classic “work versus life balance,” question, but rather, how I value my time and how I choose to spend it. I need to put my commitments back in line with my personal and professional goals to ensure I’m spending my time in a way that is the most beneficial to me personally, professionally and financially.
There’s always going to be days, even when we work for ourselves, which feel like a slog. There are plenty of strategies for getting through the necessary, but unexciting, daily grind of owning a business, whether it’s setting aside a certain time each week for tasks like bookkeeping or updating web text, or working with a friend to make the work load less onerous. However, sometimes I look at my calendar and say, “No way.”
If you are like me and have found yourself, like me, over-committed, stressed and overwhelmed here are a few coping mechanisms:
Take the time to check in with yourself. Work out. Meditate. Make a healthy meal. Write a nice note to a friend. When you do take a moment to do something nice for yourself, even just for a few minutes, it can give you the perspective you need to move forward. I made a commitment in the beginning of the year to meditate five times a week. While sometimes this is only five minutes in the morning, it helps me focus and I can begin the day knowing I did something just for me.
Focus and be present.
When I’m overscheduled I feel like my energy is going in a thousand different directions. It’s hard for me to focus on the task at hand. Instead of sitting down and completing something substantial off my to-do list, I flit between tasks, post a tweet, half-start an email and ruminate in my anxiety. Make the most of the present moment and chunk off a few hours to steady work on one, and only one, task. If you have a really hard time at this try setting a timer for short durations, such as 15 minutes at a time, and reward yourself when you maintain that focus.
Which tasks have hard deadlines that must be done by a certain time or have to happen first? Take a moment to list your commitments and then prioritize them. Schedule time to work on, and complete, the most pressing ones first.
Honestly reassess your schedule.
This is a longer-term goal that will prevent you from getting back in this quandary too often. Take a hard look at your calendar and figure out which commitments you can scale back, streamline or eliminate. Make personal guidelines about taking on new projects. If you work with clients remember the adage to “Under promise and over deliver,” and set a longer timeline than the absolute minimum time it takes you to finish a project. You’ll have breathing room and they will get a quality product.
Today I read advice from Tim Ferriss, the somewhat controversial efficiency expert and author, to only take on projects that you are 100% excited about. He noted that that “kinda cool” only serves to clutter up your schedule. His advice was right on. My schedule has been filled to the brim with “kinda cool” projects and freelance work, leaving me no time or mental energy to fully engage with the “really cool” projects that are sustaining and exciting to me. Time to make some changes!
What are your strategies for tackling stress and an overcrowded schedule?