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For the past few years, one word has taken over the entrepreneurship world: Hustle.
Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe that you have to “do the work.” What I don’t believe is that you need to spend every waking moment of every day working on your business in order to succeed. So many gurus out there push that narrative: “Work hard for five years and you’ll be able to take it easy for the rest of your life.” Well, maybe I don’t want to miss out on these next five years! (Seriously, I don’t, my kids are at an amazing stage of life and I want to be present for this.).
Which brings me to my next point: women have a tougher time with this than men. I think it’s because we’re a little more prone to layering ourselves with guilt. Add that to the entrepreneur’s issue of not being able to shut work off and you have a recipe for disaster. The mental load easily becomes too much and we find ourselves in drowning in overwhelm and headed for burnout.
So what’s a person to do when they want to grow their business, but not blindly give over the next few years of their life to the Hustle-gods? Three simple things:
One of my favorite writers in the Minimalism space is Joshua Fields Millburn, and he once wrote: “The easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it.” And this theory applies not just to the physical items lying around our homes, but to the tasks and commitments filling our days. The very first step to battling overwhelm is removing anything that isn’t necessary, helping us reach our goals, or bringing us joy. Simply put: fewer commitments means less stress.
Action Step: Brain-dump all of your commitments and to-dos on a piece of paper. Don’t sort or filter, just write down anything and everything that you can think of. Appointments, clubs, meetings, things you need to schedule, kids’ activities, housework, calling your grandmother, following up with that client, paying that bill…if it pops into your head, big, small, or “oh crap, I meant to do that last month!” — write it down. Now find a couple colored pens or highlighters and mark them into these categories:
• Must be done by me
• Must be done by someone
• Brings me joy
• Really doesn’t need to be done at all
Go down this list and mark the must by me’s first, then back down the list and mark the second category, and then the third, and then the fourth. Don’t overthink it. If most of your list ends up marked in that first category, you may have control issues and need to reevaluate why you think those items must be done by you. (This was me the first time I did this, and I’m still a work in progress.)
I could go on for days about letting go of commitments and activities that we’re told we should do, but don’t really benefit us. Long story, short — pay attention to clubs, committees, and outside activities and really evaluate if there is a true, personal benefit to being a part of them. If it’s just one more damn thing on your calendar, bow out. There’s no shame or guilt necessary. Just let it go.
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Once you’ve lightened your plate, it’s time to see where we can add some shortcuts. There are certainly things on those first two “must” lists that can be either automated or delegated. Automation is your best fricking friend when you want to both grow your business AND live your life. There are things that simply need to be done, but no reason you have to be the one doing them. Look to automate repetitive, simple tasks like paying your bills or following up with clients. Automate decision making by implementing routines (I’ll deep dive into that another day). And then delegate anything that’s reasonable to your spouse, your kids, or your team.
Action Step: Pick some simple tools to help you automate anything you can. Listed below are a few of my favorites.
• Digital Calendar — yes, I love paper planners, but the digital calendar has the power to send me reminders, and that’s important.
• Bullet Journal — or any small notebook you can take with you everywhere. Or use an app like Trello or Google Keep. This is for brain-dumping. If you write it down, you automatically reduce your mental load because your brain knows it’s filed away safely.
• Dubsado — for all of that client follow-up. Workflows are the magic pixie dust of client on-boarding.
• Acuity Scheduling — for automating scheduling meetings. The “are you available ____ or ____?” back and forth is a total waste of time!
• Zapier — for automating business tasks you didn’t know you could automate.
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You’ve whittled away that massive list you started with and put what you can on auto-pilot. Now you’re faced with actually doing the work that’s left. This is where I used to get majorly stuck.
“Great, I know what I need to do, but where the hell do I start?!”
First, you start with understanding what’s urgent versus what’s important. Sometimes a task is both. Sometimes you find you spent a whole day working on urgent while important fell through the cracks. Realizing that is a great way to feel like a very busy day was a very wasted day. It’s a pretty shitty way to feel. We don’t want that.
I’m not going to wax poetic about time-blocking. Honestly, I hate when people tout that as the answer. I’m a nomad with five kids and I’m a freelancer + business owner. The mix of travel, homeschooling, client work, and trying to work on my own damn business is enough to drive anyone crazy, and no two weeks look the same — ever. This is why prioritization is so important.
Action Step: Break down your goals and commitments side-by-side over a timeline. Your own business and personal goals can be looked at over a bigger period of time, while client projects tend to have a shorter lifespan. Don’t get too wrapped up in the long-term though if you’re just getting started. You don’t have time for that. But make sure that those longer-goals are represented on your weekly and daily to-do lists so they don’t get buried beneath the urgent.
Take a look at what’s left on your list from the first action step. What items relate to helping you achieve those longer-term goals? Don’t be surprised if it seems like hardly anything on that list does. If you’re in the thick of overwhelm and burnout, it’s likely because you are blinded by urgent, small tasks and you aren’t making time for the tasks that help you get off that hamster wheel. (Yes, I’ve been here.) If those goals are under-represented on your list, take a moment to add some items that you need to do for those.
Now break out that list into what needs to be done this month, this week, and today. Be mindful to keep those tasks related to your big goals front and center. They are your priorities. Tasks related to those get done FIRST each day. Next comes the tasks that pay your bills; this is probably your client work or major content creation. And then the bottom of the list is any admin-type tasks that you didn’t manage automate or delegate. This hierarchy keeps you from getting bogged down by the urgent tasks that pop up (let’s face it, that’s almost always client work, and it can wait until we’ve tackled the tasks related to our long-term goals each day).
My absolute favorite tool for this sort of planning is the Momentum Planner pages from ProductiveFlourishing.com. I use their Monthly, Weekly, and Daily pages and their Individual Project Planner and Action Item Catcher–both are offered in paid and FREE versions. The game-changer for me was the emergent tasks spot on the bottom of the daily page. Those used to plague me, but now they have a safe place to reside so they don’t add to the mental load, but are clearly separated from the important tasks of the day.
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Systems are the key to having your cake and eating it, too. You absolutely can build a business without sacrificing 3–5 years of your life. And you can do it without going insane. Systems aren’t just apps or programs. They are routines, habits, and boundaries you set for yourself and your work. Everyone’s systems look a little bit different, but I guarantee you that the secret sauce of every successful entrepreneur isn’t hustle, it’s systems. Hustle only gets you so far before you max out your own capacity. Growth comes when you simplify, automate, and prioritize.
This post by Dani Schnakenberg originally appeared on Medium.com.