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I'm So Busy, I Don't Have Time To Think 

A Snapshot of Entrepreneurial Overwhelm.

You walk into your office and see a pile of papers on your desk, more papers on your chair, and so many yellow sticky-notes stuck to every surface that it looks like the room has become a rest stop for migratory butterflies.

Then you switch on your computer and discover dozens of urgent new messages — on top of the old ones. For some entrepreneurs, this, or something very close to it, is a physical reality. For others, it’s a metaphor for the mess inside their heads as they think about the myriad of things that demand their attention.

Moving Through the Emotion To Clear Thinking

The complexities of being an entrepreneur add up, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. It's natural to reach points where you're overwhelmed by it all. You might feel frustrated or even paralyzed.

As your business grows, you'll encounter new challenges, and some old issues will keep coming up until you learn how to resolve them. You'll find, however, that you can operate in the face of any eventuality as long as you develop ways to think clearly about what's in front of you, and then take action on it. The Strategic Coach® Program is designed to be, first and foremost, a place where entrepreneurs can focus.

Just Get Started.

One of the best things you can do when you're feeling overwhelmed is to get started, to hit it head-on. Here are a few ways you can do this:

Look At What's Going On.

When you're overwhelmed, it can be difficult to separate what matters from what doesn't matter. Though it seems least intuitive, a great way to invest a small amount of time when you’re overwhelmed is to step back and take an inventory of everything on your plate. Write it all down so you can see the whole list in front of you.

Then ask yourself, "What do I really need to focus on?" This question is a razor that separates what's urgent from what's actually important. Prioritize things in order of importance. What are your three most crucial results for the day? Is there anything you can delegate or get rid of some other way? An hour spent planning, especially with the help of an assistant who can support you in getting things organized, will often save several hours of time spent inefficiently chasing whatever seems most urgent and will also increase your energy and your confidence, enabling you to get more done in less time.

Take a Free Day™.

This extremely effective technique is often one of the hardest to implement, because it seems so counterintuitive to leave when we feel most needed. The problem is that, when we’re really tired, we lose our creativity and become less and less effective. Our natural instinct is to work harder to make up for this loss of ability, but this is when we’re most prone to making mistakes, overreacting, and misjudging situations and behavior. Ironically, the more we work, the more difficult things get and the more likely we are to create messes that will need to be cleaned up later. This is why teaching ourselves to take time off is so important.

It's easy to undervalue the message contained in that feeling of overwhelm, which is that you need a new way of operating that suits your new, higher level of activity. Give yourself permission to rejuvenate yourself on a regular basis, not just when you reach a crisis stage, and you’ll avoid overwhelm in the future.

Clean Something Up.

You may be surrounded by the "stuff" and "messes" that have built up and that you haven't dealt with yet. These are bits of clutter and the unwanted commitments that have accumulated. Pick just one of these to clean up this quarter, and the relief you experience can go a long way to making you feel better.
Delegate and prevent. One solution might be to literally give the files, notes, and so on in your office away to your team members so that you're not looking at them. Schedule time to deal with specific topics, and have the relevant materials brought to you at the time.

You could also look at the tasks taking up your time and see if you could get back time and energy by delegating some of them. Buffering yourself from these intrusions and distractions is also a great way to prevent that feeling of overwhelm from returning.

It Takes Time.

If overwhelm isn't dealt with, it continues to build up, and it takes more and more energy just to hold everything together. But it is possible to make it go away permanently.

None of this happens overnight — in fact, the first three years of The Strategic Coach Program are largely devoted to setting up structures for thinking, communicating, and acting so that the overwhelm diminishes in the light of visible, steady progress. And the Program takes place quarterly by design: It helps in the midst of everyday demands to also have a way to regularly reconnect with your “big picture.”

Once you get a start with this, you can move on to much bigger things, and make much bigger leaps of progress in the future.

“I Can’t Decide Which Opportunities To Pursue.”

Too much success? We've talked about the overwhelm of having so many obstacles in your way that you can’t act on opportunities.

Another kind of overwhelm occurs when you have so many opportunities available to you that you don’t know which ones to pursue. This can occur early on in your business development, when you first hit your stride and new prospects open up for you, and later as you reach higher and higher levels of success, and your growing reputation precedes you, bringing new referrals, new uses for your abilities, and new markets.

In either case, without the right structures and decision-making frameworks in place, it’s easy to become paralyzed in the face of too many choices.

Deciding Which Opportunities To Pursue

Opportunities are exciting, which is part of what makes it difficult to choose between them. Without any filters through which to examine them, it’s hard to quickly determine which opportunities have the most promise. A common danger is that you will be seduced by the promise of immediate gain to do something that doesn’t take you where you want to go in the long term. The answer to this danger is to have a clear sense of where you want to be in the future. This perspective provides a context for decision making that helps you to move consistently in a direction of your own choosing.

Opportunities often arrive unexpectedly. You’ll be better prepared to deal with them strategically if you’ve already done some thinking about what you want your future and the future of your company to look like. Some of the questions you will want to have considered include:

  What kind of company do I want this to be?
  What do I want my future to be like?
  What kind of clients do I want to have relationships with?
  What kind of activities do I, personally, want to be doing day to day in my business?

When you’ve articulated these goals and have an idea of the future you’re committed to, you gain criteria against which to test new opportunities. This thinking will also make it clear what kind of resources and abilities you’re going to need to develop.

Buffering yourself from these intrusions and distractions is also a great way to prevent that feeling of overwhelm from returning.

Gearing Up For New Opportunities.

There are two main approaches that help you be more prepared for new opportunities: streamlining and expanding.
Streamlining involves looking at areas where your energies and resources aren’t being well used or aren’t returning results, and doing some trimming. For instance, given the better opportunities you’re presented with now, perhaps there are some clients you shouldn’t be dealing with anymore. Certain legacy clients may expect a lot from you but not give much back. The bulk of your relationship with these people is in the past. While it may be scary to consider letting them go, you may have to in order to move on to bigger opportunities.

Expanding involves growing so that you can accommodate future demands. In practice this might mean adding technology, or adding people to help with the thinking and the doing in your business. The bottom line to these additions is capability. If the opportunities you want to pursue are bigger than your capability, you need to grow in order to be ready for them.

In The Strategic Coach Program™, we help our clients do a combination of the two — streamlining by focusing their thinking and activities, while simultaneously expanding by building on their best capabilities. This dual approach allows you to recapture time for the business and personal activities you love, and lays down the track for a smart, efficient, and rewarding entrepreneurial business. You and your business will be capable of the growth needed to capture new opportunities, yet always aligned with an internal sense of direction

© 2007 The Strategic Coach
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