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Last week I wrote to you about doing less and doing it better. I talked about the liberation that comes from focusing on less and finding your flow.

This week I want to dive a little deeper and get more specific.

As a small business owner, I never expected it to be easy to manage a bunch of things at once, but I also didn’t expect to feel so overwhelmed that I’d want to crawl up in a ball and ignore all of my responsibilities.

Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation where things just keep piling up, and you have absolutely no idea where to start… so you just pretend things will take care of themselves somehow and queue up Netflix again.

And what happens when you do this? You end up completely frustrated with yourself and even more behind.

Though I’m still learning how to prioritize what’s most important, and I doubt I’ll ever find perfect equilibrium as a business owner, there are some things that have worked over and over for me, no matter how “busy” I get or how many things are firing all at once.

Here are my top suggestions for gaining back control when you feel like you have too much on your plate…

Plan Your Week Ahead

I spend the final 90-minutes of every Friday planning my week ahead. I have 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM blocked off in my calendar every Friday afternoon.

Why Friday afternoon? Because almost nothing productive is happening during that time and it’s the perfect way to wrap up the week.

I’ll spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes identifying the most important things I need to accomplish the following week. And I head into the weekend with clarity and confidence knowing what I’ll be focused on for the coming week.

I start this process by doing a quick weekly review where I capture my favorite moments from the week. Anything goes! Big wins, little moments, special memories, etc.

Then I spend some time writing down what I learned that week. I capture any new insights, growth experiences, challenges, etc.

I’ll wrap up my weekly review by evaluating myself in five categories; health & vitality, cash flow, love & relationships, fun & enjoyment, and meaning & contribution. 

I’ll rate myself on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being best, in each of these categories. I find it really powerful to spend just a little time reviewing how I showed up during the previous week. I can spot trends and make adjustments much quicker when I’m attuned to the areas that give my life meaning.

Then I move on to creating my weekly plan. I write down everything I can think of that I need to do in both my business and my personal life. Then I choose the top 3 things in each of those areas that are non-negotiables for me to complete.

This idea was born from having so many tasks & projects every week that I never made any real progress on anything. Every week felt more like a jumbled mess with me getting further and further behind.

Now I choose what’s most important to accomplish every week and and the rest can wait until later.

For example, here are my top 3 from last week:

Business Top 3:

  1. Complete the sales page copy for an upcoming project I’m launching in mid-June.
  2. Secure a space for my upcoming Visionary Business Builders immersion.
  3. Finish up market research for a new vertical market that I’m considering an experiment for.

Personal Top 3:

  1. Walk or light run 4 times
  2. Read every morning for 45 minutes
  3. Go to the river with Jill and Addie

This informs what I prioritize and where I put my time and energy. These are the things that will absolutely get done… no matter what!

Identify Your Focus Time

While I’m planning my week and identifying my priorities, I need to plan when I’ll actually have time to work on them. I know from experience that I need to block out 2-4 blocks of time in my calendar every week so that I can work distraction free for a minimum of 90-minutes to two hours per block.

This is where the magic happens. Monday mornings (from 8 AM – 12 PM) are always off limits to everything but moving my most important ideas forward. This is a non-negotiable time for me. This is my do-not-disturb time. This is when I work on those “Top 3 Business Priorities” mentioned above.

I then move on to looking at my calendar and scheduling around my other commitments. I primarily work with clients on Tuesday – Thursday but these days often have open spaces where I can sneak in a 90-minute block of focus time.

This is a screenshot of my calendar for next week. You can see that my “Focus Time” (dark blue) is built around client work (orange) and other activities during the week. Click on the image to see a larger view.

Here’s how I create this focus time. I’ll look at my Google Calendar and I literally block off the time so that I can see how much focus time I have to work with in the coming week.

I already know what my top priorities are and now I know where I have blocks of time to focus on them. Now, all I have to do is choose which of the Top 3 priorities I’ll work on in those predetermined chunks of time. I usually make this a game-time decision based on how I’m feeling and which project is calling me.

Plus, I enjoy having the flexibility to choose vs feeling so locked in to a specific project.

Don’t Take On More Than You Can Handle.

I learned this one the hard way. I’m a chronic optimist, meaning I’ll almost always overestimate how much I can actually accomplish.

To keep myself from getting into trouble on this one, I live by a few simple rules…

  1. No more than two projects in a given month. Most small businesses, and especially freelancers and solo-entrepreneurs, have no business taking on more than two projects per month. There are rare exceptions to this because there simply aren’t enough resources available to take on more than this. Note: When I say “projects”, I don’t mean client work. I work with several clients every month. A project is something outside of your normal client work that allows you to grow your business, learn a new skill set, or experiment with new ideas.
  2. Never start a new project (this goes for courses and books too) before finishing an existing one. The exception to this rule is that sometimes a project simply doesn’t go anywhere and it’s time to kill it off. Same for lousy courses or boring books. Life’s just too short!
  3. Identify ONE most important thing that needs to get done today.Notice I didn’t say identify the most urgent thing that needs to get done today. There’s a big difference between “important” and “urgent.” By identifying just ONE most important thing to complete every day, you’re giving your brain the clarity and focus it needs to do just ONE thing. Otherwise, the urgency and overwhelm of the day will take over.

Plan Tomorrow In Advance

I can’t remember where I learned this one but it’s been one of the single best pieces of advice for starting the day with absolute clarity and focus.

Every day before I wrap up, I know what my ONE most important thing to accomplish is for the next day. I write it down at the very top of my planner page so that it’s the first thing I see.

I also list the other priorities that I’ll be focused on as well as what I’ll do for wellness and fun.

By planning out my day in advance, my brain gets to relax, knowing that everything is written down and that there is a clear plan when I wake up in the morning.

Hell Yes or No

I first heard this idea from Derek Sivers. I love the simplicity of it and it’s hands down one of the most powerful concepts you will ever use to craft a simpler and more focused life.

The concept is simple but not easy. Too often we agree to commitments that we aren’t utterly enthusiastic about. This keeps us from investing our precious time and energy into things that we’re really excited about.

When deciding whether to engage in a project, a partnership, a client relationship, if you feel anything less than “Hell Yes! That would be absolutely incredible. Let’s do it!” – then just say “no.”

If you’re saying “Hell Yes” or “no”, this opens up a lot of room to really throw yourself into those wonderful and rare opportunities that are a 10 out of 10. It also eliminates the “maybe’s.”

Everyone is busy. We’ve all probably overcommitted. Eliminating the “maybe’s” and saying either “Hell Yes” or “no” might just give you the freedom and clarity you’ve been looking for.

If you find yourself feeling constantly stressed, overworked or overwhelmed, consider trying any one of the above suggestions – one at a time.

It’s still difficult for me to accept that I can’t get everything done that I’d like so I need a simple solution that works for me, week after week – something can keep me disciplined and focused. Otherwise, I find myself at the whim of the day and responding to other people’s problems.

It’s imperative that we get a handle on our energy and place our focus on the things that will give us the most clarity and generate momentum and results. No one can do this for you. It’s 100% up to you to figure out.

I hope that you try out one or more of the tactics I outlined above. It’s not easy being an entrepreneur and we must have processes in place that allow us to have absolute clarity and focus. Otherwise, we’re swimming against a very strong current.

Live bravely,
Michael

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