Our news feeds are overrun with articles on work-life balance, avoiding burnout, how to be more productive, and numerous other iterations of the same theme. Are you surprised? What happened to the productivity improvements we were supposed to get from technology? Oh, technology is definitely playing a role here, just not quite the way we expected. And, no, I am not going to suggest spending less time on social media is the answer to all of your problems – although, disconnecting once in a while from that onslaught can’t hurt.
Focus – it’s what you need
No matter the size of the business, the biggest issue causing burnout or your work-life reality to be out of balance is a lack of focus. Technological developments and enhancements over the past few decades continue to reduce, and sometimes completely eliminate, the more mundane tasks we do in our lives. Calendaring, document sharing, even administrative paperwork have all been automated within many industries to the point where we spend very little time on these activities any more. That’s a great thing! Unfortunately, many of us are terrible at filling in time that is freed up. We found new, more, and different tasks to add to our already overwhelming list of things we need to do. What may have seemed impossible became reality..we are even LESS focused than we were before.
This lack of focus and trying to do too much is a huge problem for smaller businesses and solo practitioners in any field. Too often in these businesses the emphasis is on cost containment or cost reduction in everything you do. I know, I’m a small business owner myself. However, trying to do everything yourself is not only a recipe for burnout and unhappiness, it also leads to sub-par results in everything you do – including those areas of your business that are your strengths! You end up spending a disproportionate amount of time trying to learn and complete tasks where you are weak, allowing you less time for the tasks where you can add the greatest value. Burnout – unhappiness – less success – business failure..very possible.
What to do? Here are 4 steps to add more focus to our work, and life:
1. Step back and assess – Do you even know all of the things you are regularly doing? If you are like most people, you may think you do but the answer will be a resounding “No” after you complete this step. Take 10 – 15 minutes (it shouldn’t take any longer than that) and write down all of the tasks, responsibilities, projects, and anything else where you spent time over the past 3 months. Go back through your calendar if you need a reminder for items that are not top of mind.
2. Segment and prioritize – Now that you have the brain dump, take a new sheet of paper (yes, we’re going “old school” here) and draw a line from top to bottom down the middle of the page. Label one side “Strengths/Important” and the other side “Weaknesses/Delegate.” I’m sure you can already see where this step is going. Separate the items from your brain dump onto one side or the other based on whether that task is a strength for you or one that is important for you to work on, versus those tasks that fall into your weaknesses or where you are not vital to the task.
3. Set a 90-day plan – This time frame is not too short, nor too long..it is “just right.” Break your 90-day plan into 30-day increments. In the first 30 days identify those tasks under “Weakness/Delegate” that will be easiest for you to move away from and commit to getting those off your list within 30 days. Tasks that may take a little more effort to delegate should go on your second 30-day list, and those that will require meaningful effort or negotiation should be placed on the last 30-day list.
4. Begin to narrow your Focus – Each day in your 90-day plan you must commit to eliminating at least one task from your “Weakness/Delegate” list and spending the remainder of your day focused only on tasks on your “Strengths/Important” list. For small business owners this step very possibly means paying someone to take on the tasks you are taking off of your plate. Yes, it is adding to costs, but there are still cost-effective ways to find outsourcing partners, consultants, and freelancers to turn these tasks into strengths. If you follow this plan consistently for 90 days you will find that yourself more productive, feeling more in control of your time, and able to add more balance in your life.
We don’t need to avoid technology or work harder to get more done. We need to sharpen our Focus on where we spend our time. Trying to do it all is not the secret to success, instead keying in to those tasks where you are strongest and can add the greatest value will lead you to greater success and happiness over time.
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