Running a business can be a lot of work, especially when you’re doing it all yourself. When you can hire help and delegate tasks to ease your own workload, that can be helpful, but sometimes you have to be the one doing it. And while we are capable of handling a whole lot, sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and admit that you can’t do it all, at least not in the current moment.
With all the projects I’ve been juggling the last few weeks, I’ve had a few people ask how I’m getting it all done. I wish there was one simple answer, but it really comes down to prioritizing, logic, and self-awareness.
Prioritizing is crucial when you have what feels like 8032 things to do, and when every time you answer an email or get one thing done it seems like 6 new ones have appeared. There are so many apps out there to organize your to do lists, so find the one that works best for you. I’m still old school with Excel spreadsheets and Word docs. Partially because it’s how I started, and partially because every time I come across some software I want to try, I don’t have time to learn something new. So I stick with what I know and think, “I’ll try that when I’m done with these projects.” But then new projects replace those projects and I don’t get around to it. It’s not a bad problem to have.
When I’m feeling like my mental to do list is out of control, I write everything down to get it out of my head. Then I shift things around in order of priority, which can be a mix of deadlines and duration. Meaning, if something has to be done by a certain day or time, those are top priority and listed in order. Then, if something is going to take a short amount of time to complete, I get those done. I do that because it allows me to delete more from my list faster, and fewer items on the list make me feel like everything is more manageable. Once I have everything listed out and in order, it’s much easier to get to work. As new things come up, I add to the list where it belongs and keep going.
Another element of my to do list is my email inbox. Or, in my case, my 15 email inboxes. I wish I was exaggerating. Some clients give me an email from their domain, and then I use my main address for everything else. But I actually like having the different addresses because it allows me to focus on one client at a time when I need to. A perfect example of this is at the end of the month when I have to make sure I’ve done everything I need for my retainer clients and send out my invoices. I can go through each inbox and see what needs to be done. My system is that once everything in an email has been answered or completed, it gets filed into the appropriate folder. If it remains in my inbox, that means there’s something that still needs to be addressed. It’s another way to keep track of everything.
Logic is a big part of all of this, at least for me. It’s thinking practically about what needs to be done, by when, and organizing it in a way that allows me to be as efficient as possible. I use logic when I’m prioritizing, like I just talked about. It’s easy for some to get emotional about their work, in the sense of getting overwhelmed or freaking out that there’s too much to do and not enough time. That’s completely normal. But bringing a logical perspective into it can help a great deal because you’re being practical. What can and can’t be done?
I also apply logic to how I schedule my time. Sometimes this involves batch work so I can make sure the same part of my brain is being used in blocks of time instead of hopping all over the place. So if I’m needing to book travel for 40 crew members, I’ll usually do all of the flights, then all of the car rentals, then all of the hotels if I don’t already have a room block secured. This allows me to get in a better rhythm because I’m repeating a process. If I’m only doing it for one or two people, my brain sometimes works better if I’m linear with everything and book one person’s flight, car, and room and then start that process over again. So it changes from time to time. It’s always about what works best for you and your brain.
That’s where self-awareness comes in. You really have to know yourself to create a good system for managing everything you have to do. You need to know which things you can do quickly, which take more focused attention, what’s going to keep you up at night if it’s not finished, and how all of this is going to affect your mental health. When you know these things, it’s much easier to make decisions about what to do now and what should wait.
Even though I have pretty strict boundaries in place about not working evenings and weekends, there are times when I know for myself it’s going to be better to do it. If I can take an extra 2 hours at the end of my normal workday and power through some of my to dos, it will help me sleep better that night and also start the next day off in a better place. Or if I know the next week is going to be intense, it might make more sense to get some things out of the way on Saturday. The important thing to remember is that, in these cases, the only person making me do this is me. It’s not crossing a boundary when it’s me setting and breaking that boundary.
And most importantly, you should acknowledge that sometimes you can’t get everything done in a day. You can do the best that you can in the moment you’re in, and that has to be enough. Sometimes you need to take a break even though you feel like every second you’re not working is somehow putting you another hour behind. Sometimes you just have to say, “this is all I can do today” and you’ll come back to it in the morning.
You Will Get Through It
Your business is important to you. Your clients are important to you. You are important to you. With some proper prioritizing, logic, and self-awareness, you know you’re going to get it done. You are not going to let your clients, or yourself, down. You will get through it and breathe a huge sigh of relief when it’s all done. And then you’ll look back at this time, realize how much you’ve accomplished, and you’ll be ready to take on the next challenge.