I recently returned from a long weekend to a slew of emails from lovely and important people wanting something from me – startup founders and investment bankers and coaches and branding strategists. My publisher needed a laundry list of things for my upcoming book. I had client websites to review. And sales pages to tweak. And course development to do.
And my answer to all of it was, “Nope. Not today. Today I write.” Because writing is a part of my business that nourishes me. Interestingly, it’s also the part of my business that would be the easiest to ditch. No editor is breathing down my neck. If I missed a blog post or skipped an article I doubt anyone would even notice. I’m accountable to exactly nobody. Except myself.
And so I have to actively choose nourishing work (for me it’s writing, for you it might be teambuilding, speaking, planning or designing) above other very important things. Every freaking time.
And, holy smokes, is that ever hard to do. It’s a goddamn struggle every time. Totally worth it, of course, but it ain’t easy.
Running a business that actually feels good means asserting yourself, making sure you carve out something of your own when everybody wants a piece of you.
Think back to why you first started your business, or why you initially chose the work you chose to do.
I’m guessing you didn’t choose it so you’d feel scattered and overwhelmed, reacting to “urgent priorities” at the expense of some of the tings that matter deeply to you.
The easy thing to do is to let your work become one big administrative sinkhole, with every email, every task, every request pulling you a little bit deeper.
But that’s not what you signed up for.
You probably chose your work because you thought it would be cool, that it would be fun, that it would be exciting and fulfilling – maybe not for every second of every day, but most of the time.
If you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, here are four questions you should ask yourself before you take on yet another task that pulls you away from your most nourishing work:
What are my priorities?
You’re a successful professional. Of course you know what your priorities are. Right? Right?!
Er, maybe not. Not exactly, anyway. Sure you have a vision for your work – the big picture. It’s just that you haven’t taken that vision and applied it to how you actually spend your time.
If this sounds like you, you need to do some strategic scheduling. How can you best spend your time to achieve your vision? Pretend your hours are dollars and make only the best investments.
Don’t forget to add some wiggle room. Because shit always takes longer than you think it will.
Is this important or just urgent?
Wait. Shouldn’t urgent things come first? Like, always?
A lot of urgency is manufactured. And it’s contagious. You’ve got a team member or a collaborator telling you there’s a fire that you and only you can put out. Suddenly you’re abandoning your work and coming to the rescue – taking a last minute meeting, writing a report at the 11th hour, scrambling to solve the problem.
It all seemed so urgent that you forgot to ask how important it was. Here you are, skipping lunch, losing sleep, and abandoning your nourishing work when someone else could have put the fire out. Or worse, you realize there was never a fire in the first place, and that this particular “emergency” wasn’t so important, after all.
Can I hand this off?
Most of us place too much emphasis on our own impact. The truth is there are likely many other people who can do this task for you.
Can you outsource this work? Refer it out? Hand it off? Nine times out of 10, the answer will be yes.
We often don’t hand it off because we think handing it off will take more time than actually doing it ourselves. Until a two-minute email becomes a two-hour meeting, and a “quick review” becomes a 20-page report.
If this request isn’t aligned with one of your priorities you shouldn’t be spending time on it. Delegate.
Can I just say no?
If you’re feeling particularly hardcore, consider saying no. Period. You don’t do the task and you don’t hand it off to someone else. Because other people have shit to do, too. Don’t bog them down with stuff that isn’t important.
If the incoming request isn’t a priority, say so. Be polite, but tell the truth. And skip the hand-wringing and drawn-out explanations and apologies. Ladies, I’m talking to you. We tend to do the apology song and dance more than men.
Say no, be done with it, and get back to your more important work.