I'm a small business owner. My business has many different parts to keep in check: a creative writing/marketing blog, fiction writing blog, marketing podcast, online education platform, speaking, non-fiction books and fiction books. Within each part of my business, there are often several tasks to work on at once, including editing, posting, translations and formatting. If I had 60 hours a week to put into the business on its own, I might be able to keep it all humming in harmony, but my 25 hour per week freelance job forces me to either work nearly 90 hours each week or compromise on how much energy I can put behind the business.
Lately, the compromises have been coming far too often for my liking. A project slips through the cracks here and a June to-do becomes an August to-do there. The constant spinning of plates has left me feeling completely overwhelmed on most days. If you've ever felt this way yourself, here are some ways that I'm trying to cope with my situation.
1. Get Helpers
One of my favorite business discoveries in the last few years is the website ODesk. This recruitment service let you connect with freelancers in your price range to start and finish both simple and complex projects. I had to post a few projects before I found a freelancer who fit my needs, but once I found her, I quickly snatched her up for the next 5-6 projects I needed.
I recently decided to hire my VA on a more permanent basis for 10-15 hours per week. She will help me to take some of the pressure off myself and to feel like I can makes progress on some of the new ideas I receive every few days. It never hurts to have another set of capable hands.
I'm also going to start hiring additional freelancers as needed to help me finish formatting and similar projects that make me use up too much of my will power. My focus needs to be on writing and building my business. If a project will sap too much of that time, I need to farm it out.
The average price I've hired out most of these assignments for is $5 an hour with the occasional $12+ per hour for something more complex.
2. Separate Urgent from Important
I've spoken about Stephen Covey's four quadrant system on many different occasions on BCWI. The idea is that there are some projects that are urgent and important, some that are important but not urgent (quadrant two), urgent but not important and neither urgent nor important. The second quadrant consists of things that can help your business in the future but are often difficult to schedule in because of the lack of urgency.
I get a fair number of quadrant II activities in each week. Nobody is forcing me to write books or craft this blog post. These tasks aren't urgent but they are important for reaching my readers. I'm great at coming up with quadrant II ideas, but I need to realize that I can't do them all right away. By determining what is urgent and clearing those items off my plate as quickly as possible, I can start to get to the quadrant II items more frequently.
The next time you write your to-do list, try Covey's quadrant system or at least write down which tasks are urgent and important. This way, you can knock them all off your list ASAP and begin working on the business building quadrant II work right away.
3. Schedule Relaxation Time
If you're overwhelmed, a very important quadrant II task you may not be fitting in is relaxation. People tend to relax in different ways: a yoga class, a trip to the golf course, the latest blockbuster sci-fi movie, etc. If you don't schedule time to decompress, your brain won't give you what you need to perform at a high level. You need sleep and you need to chill. If you give yourself that time, you'll be happier, healthier and a lot less overwhelmed.
4. Cut the Fat
One of the best ways to fit in more time for your tasks is by making sure you're being as efficient as possible on most of your days.
For the first two years of my freelance job, I took a laid back approach to finishing my articles. I would need about three hours to finish eight articles. As my business began to grow, I looked into new ways I could make my process more efficient. I tried out different writing programs and used as many Mac hotkeys as possible to cut down my time per article by half. I don't reach that pinnacle of effectiveness every day, but when I do, I'm able to get the freelance writing off my plate so I can jump into business building.
Never stop testing ways to improve your processes. A new program or tactic may help you to shave off just enough time to give you 15 minutes to relax, brainstorm or put time into some quadrant II work.
5. Remember What You've Accomplished
There are days where it feels like the sky is falling. You've got 12 hours of work to do in a seven-hour block and there's nothing that could possibly save your skin. Instead of crying to the heavens, try to be grateful for what you've been able to accomplish.
During these moments of despair, I love thinking about what I've achieved in my lifetime. Looking back on the last week may not be that impressive, but when I think about having put three dozen products on Amazon, selling more than 30,000 books and putting myself in a position to interview the most well-known indie author in the biz, I feel a lot better about myself and my upcoming workload. Remembering to have some pride in what I've done will not make me a miracle worker. I still won't be able to do 12 hours worth of work in seven hours, but I will know that with enough time and energy, I can probably finish the work and put something wonderful out there.
Everybody feels overwhelmed from time to time. From the top of the bestseller list to the bottom, every creative person has to cope with their individual limits. There are only so many hours in the day and if you push yourself to the max every single second, you're bound to get diminishing returns. Most success stories come after years of hard work. If you beat yourself up for your lack of accomplishment, you may become too discouraged to finish your amazing project.
Stay positive, healthy and focused. Be the water that wears away the stone of your to-do list. Eventually, you'll win and you'll be free to move onto the next stone. Be the water.
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.