Sometimes you end up in a situation where you are literally flooded in your business, overwhelmed by all the work that needs to be done so you can barely see how you will make everything in time. There simply is not enough time to do everything on your to-do list.
A while ago I had to cut down my “work time” from 70 to a maximum of 10 hours a week. Impossible! That was my exact reaction at first. And then I did it anyway. Without compromising on quality and results.
In this blog post, I share my much enquired after strategy that I used to achieve the impossible and still use today. It is based on all my experience as a project/incident/team/change manager, business manager and as a mom.
Impossible to reduce your work time
When presented with my options at the doctors, I was shocked: prepare for my funeral or reduce my working hours and make a massive change in lifestyle happening. I had to figure out how to keep the business running without compromising on quality or income, with only a seventh of the time available.
And that was just the business part: as a mom, there was, even more, I kept in the air that I needed to let go of.
The Kubler-Ross grief cycle seemed to take ages to get through so I could move on with my life. The 5th stage finally got me the insight I needed to make progress in this matter: get over it, accept it and figure out a way to do it.
I can hear you say: that is impossible. I can’t do that in my line of business. Let me tell you this: you can. Everybody can. You just need the motivation, know what to do, get in the right mindset, keep looking for a way to do it and invest a minimum of time to set it up.
From overwhelm to under control: a 6 step strategy to reclaim time
The 6 step strategy allows you to find a way to make your deadlines, to get more work done in the same amount of time or to cut down on your hours in your business. Make an end to being overpowered by the amount of work, the endless pressure of having too much to do and missing out on what life really is about.
The 6 main steps are relatively easy to implement. The key lies in doing all of them and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to go to the bottom of it. Remember, if you do this thoroughly, you may get the same results in only a seventh of the time frame.
I went from 70 to 10 hours, just simply on cutting the right tasks. Imagine what results you can get if you add a couple of expert freelancers or employees to the mix….
Step 1. Reframe your mindset
Do yourself a favour. Don’t get started unless you are in it wholeheartedly. If you have any doubt whether you can do it or if you are not willing to open up to the possibility this might work, I can tell you right now: it won’t. It is just a waste of your very precious and scarce time. In order for this to work, it is vital you focus on finding solutions instead of turning circles around the problem.
We often forget there are a million ways to get to the same result. If you are still working too many hours in your business without having the results you are after (whether that is having enough money to hire an assistant, getting the right customers or simply having fulfilment from doing your job), it simply means you are not there yet.
So buckle up, trust yourself, the process and the universe and before you know it, you will find a solution. No simply is not an option anymore!
Step 2. Objectify
Why numbers matter
A huge part of being overwhelmed with work in your business is due to the impression you don’t have the situation under control. The pressure mounts as your reptile brain feels you have literally 100 000 things to do and too little time to do it in. We absolutely want to avoid the fight-flight-freeze reflex, leading to solutions that are not serving you or your business.
Before attacking the dragon, it is important we figure out just how big and scary it is. Often it looks, sounds and smells quite different in real life than in the fairy tales we have heard and kept telling to ourselves. In this step, it is all about clearing the smokescreen and get a clear view of the situation.
Tools to clear your sight on the situation
There are a lot of things you could do to obtain a more clear and objective view of the situation. My tools of choice are the following:
- Clear your head.
Centralize all those thoughts and different to-do lists and draft up your master to-do list. Do you think of another task? Just simply add it.
Unless you actually know the number of tasks ahead and how much time they usually take to finish them, it will always be a guessing game. So go ahead and figure out how long it takes you on average to make that sales call, write that proposal, have that meeting, …
Do not guess what the possible options are or how much time something will take up. A huge part of the overwhelm is due to the lack of clarity. You can make plans all you want, but as long as the allocated time is not reality-based, it is just another timeconsuming task leading to no results at all. Also, check out alternative ways to obtain the same result.
- Question everything.
Why do you do this, how much, how often and what it is exactly what needs to be done? Is this working for me or do I have to find another way to get there? Again: clarity is king!
Step 3. Prioritize
Whenever I froze under the pressure of having too much on my to-do list, I found priorities to be a key element to get out of it.
I learned it was better to deliver a few high-quality results over a million unfinished mediocre attempts. I check every single task/job against a number of criteria before deciding on the final priority.
Is it “mission proof”?
We all have a mission or purpose in life. If the task at hand is not helping to accomplish that, it lands without any further ado in the waste bin. Yes, not even on the “I will pick it up sometime later list”. Be honest with yourself and use your critical eye for this one! Your time is limited. Why spend it on tasks that do not help to achieve your goal in life? I deleted at least 4 hours a week simply by eliminating tasks that did not meet this requirement.
Does this add value to your customer’s journey?
You’d be surprised how much time entrepreneurs spend on things they absolutely hate, that are not legally required and that do not have any added value to their customer.
For me, for instance, one of those items was my calendar management. I used to spend hours a month finding a slot that would suit my clients, without having to give up all my spare time. Now that is replaced by an online tool. And guess what: my clients were raving about it. They are now back in control of their own agenda, and so am I!
So check if you can delete these tasks or replace them with more valuable ones.
Does it have any impact on the cash flow?
Ok, true, you can always decide to no longer do your taxes. I would not recommend it, for many reasons. One of them being a negative impact on your cash flow. So, before deleting all of the above tasks, check if will cost your company money by not doing them. If not, just never do this task ever again! If there is, find a way to make this task mission and customer journey proof.
The first time you use this framework, you will be proud of yourself if you managed to delete 4 or 5 tasks using these previous questions. This is where it gets awkward: there are still a whole bunch of tasks that require the delete button. The number of open tasks is still too big for your timeframe, so how do you know which one should be done first? The priority tools to the rescue!
Just to name a few:
- The matrix of Eisenhower is one of my favourites. Assessing every task on their importance and urgency, allows you to know which task to delete, delay, delegate or do straight away (4D model).
- The effort versus impact matrix is a good one to give you an idea which tasks could help you achieve quick wins and which ones are more likely to be bigger projects and need some serious planning.
- “Must I do this now?” finally is one you can use on the spot, easily at any time of the day. Ask yourself this question 5 times, each time with an emphasis on the next word. You will be surprised by the outcome.
One pitfall most of us professionals and entrepreneurs have to be aware of, is the “I can do this better” syndrome.
Whether it is about the money, the time it would take to explain everything or the time to correct the delivered results.
Newsflash. No, you can’t do everything better!
Everybody has something they are better at than anybody in the world. Call it your zone of genius, your life’s mission, your superpower, whatever suits you. Remember the value you are not generating for your clients when busy filing or creating and designing your own website.
If you can do the job better than the person you hired, you either have to find better experts to take tasks out of your hands or learn how to delegate better. You can learn either skill rather quickly by the way. So whatever task is not in your zone of genius, is up for delegation, literally.
Step 4. Prepare for better use of your time
Start owning your schedule
At this point in the process you know your priorities. Now it is time to set everything up to start owning your new schedule.
First and foremost, make sure to remove all unnecessary tasks in your business. In step 3 you have created your “delete” pile. So get started on notifying people and making arrangements for these task to never ever get back on that to-do list. Dare yourself and go through every process you have going on in your business, deleting every step that does not pass step 3.
The most efficient way?
When going through your processes, also check whether you are doing things the most efficient way. Are you still entering data by hand? Does your process take 40 steps just to get that one email out? Challenge every single step and question yourself whether there is not an easier way to make it happen. Every sought after result can be obtained in different ways, so make sure you pick the one that suits your nature and mission the best.
Finally the time has come to make that game plan. Arrange for the improved processes in your business to be put in action. Use all the best practices on efficient time management. Get reinforcements in for the tasks you choose to delegate. Make your schedule for the next few days or weeks and plan out at least a month ahead. Most importantly: make it all official. That is: make it in writing! Then you are all set for step 5: time for some action!
Step 5. Implement the game plan
Ready… set… go!!! Instead of being stressed out by the humongous workload and long hours ahead, you have a nice planning and a checklist to perform. This will help you focus on the task at hand.
Watch out: stay away from multi-tasking. That is just a very efficient way of doing things very inefficiently as studies have shown regularly in the last few years.
Now, be aware of the pace of work. As you have just managed to plan that 70-hour workweek in a new 10-hour plan, you may think you have to hurry up and run like hell during your working hours. That could not be more untrue. Because you are now focussing on the tasks that are close to your nature and that you are brilliant at, all leading to fulfilling your life’s mission and having a huge amount of time to spend on yourself, you will find that your productivity and effectivity is 10 times higher than before.
Probably for the first time in your life you will have the luxury - that is the birthright of every human being - to adapt your workday to your own personal rhythm. Again boosting your output, creativity and quality of life. A proper win-win situation, if you ask me.
Step 6 - Monitor and adjust
Great, that’s it then, not? No, there is one more step, to make sure you won’t find yourself in the same pickle as you were just before: working 70 hours, delivering only half of the job at a questionable level of quality. As time passes by, your skillset changes, your business evolves and life distracts you from sticking to your plan. Unless you do a thorough check on your activities.
Check on a regular basis if you did get the results you needed within the timeframe. Whatever takes more time than planned for? Are there extra tasks you can start delegating thanks to the great results? Did you find out that some of the tasks still take too much energy or are too time-consuming? Track down where you can adjust the framework, experiment and make the required changes.
Maximize that extra time
So, now you have potentially up to 60 hours extra every week. What could you do with that time? Ever thought of that?
You could take up golfing, following art classes, do volunteering work, binge watch whatever series floats your boat, … the sky is the limit.
That could be quite overwhelming too, that much freedom and having so much time on your hand now…
So prepare yourself for that one as well.
A word of advice from someone who had to relearn to unwind and sit still for at least 5 minutes… It is worth investigating what use of time gives you the best results. Because being tired from working too hard is one thing. Being tired from unfulfillment and boredom is far worse. Get to know yourself, your real true nature, and spend that extra time on reinforcing your life’s mission and taking care of yourself. That is the only way you are guaranteed you can actually help other people in life.
Ready to get started on implementing the strategy? Just schedule some time in your calendar to do the work. You will not regret it, I promise.
Could do with some help to make it all more specific and concrete? For the go-getters who just can’t wait to implement this, download the tools I use(d) to implement this 6 step strategy to reclaim your time.