Have you ever had one of those weeks where you feel like you just can’t catch up? Like every time you cross one thing off of your to do list, you’ve added three more? That’s the kind of week I had last week. I started off with what I considered to be a reasonable list of things to accomplish. Get all of the year-end reporting done for my business and for my clients. Send out all the 1099s. Produce a short video to kick off the new year. Get some podcast episodes finished so I can get ahead again. And all of my usual weekly client work.
Some of the things on that list, mostly related to the podcast, I had planned on doing the weekend before. New Year’s Day fell on a Friday so it felt like I had an extra day. I had every intention of being productive. I did get some things done around the house that I’d been wanting to do for a while. Remember back in March of 2020 when everyone was organizing their pantries? I took a bit longer to get around to it. But organizing my pantry turned into organizing every single thing in my kitchen. It took a bit longer than I was expecting. And there was a new season of Cobra Kai I had to watch, of course. That was very important.
Then Saturday I just wasn’t into it. I woke up with a headache and I knew I needed a day of rest. I always think it’s important to listen to your body when it’s telling you what you need. So even though I kept hearing in the back of my mind that I should get some stuff done, I knew I needed the break. Sunday is my food prep day and I got a bit ambitious with all of the recipes I wanted to make for the week. And then suddenly the long weekend was gone. Oops.
I wasn’t too concerned about it though. I only put things off when I know there’s enough time to put them off. So I often bargain with myself. For example, “I’m going to binge this show this weekend and then if I need to work later than usual next week, that’s fine.” Or “I am going to spend all day Saturday on my personal projects this weekend and next weekend I’m going to stay away from all screens.” When you run your own business, you get to do things like that because you really only have to answer to yourself. And maybe your clients, but I would never put off work that needs to be done for them.
I always say you have to put yourself first sometimes. Whether that means taking a day for self-care or turning down a client project because you have things you need to do for your own business. But sometimes the right move for you and your business is to delay your plan and focus on what they need. Within reason, of course. The level of service I give to my clients is why they’re so loyal to me. They know they can depend on me. And I never want to be the person that someone is waiting for. I get frustrated when I’m delayed on what I need to do because someone else hasn’t done their part yet. I know how many times I’ve been venting to someone that I’m at a standstill because I can’t do anything I need to do until someone else gets back to me with something. I don’t ever want to be the person someone is venting about.
I think it’s important when you’re running your business, or just in being a human in general, to keep in mind what it would feel like if the roles were reversed. If you were the client and were being held up because someone you were paying wasn’t getting their work done, would you want to keep working with them? Again, within reason. I’m not talking about those clients who don’t respect boundaries or expect you to drop everything any time they need you. That’s a separate topic. But being considerate of other people’s workflow is really important.
And when your workflow involves managing several clients who are all on their own schedules and timelines, you have to balance those with your own. That’s where prioritizing comes into play. Determining which tasks you need to do first and which can wait. There are a number of ways to do this, and the best way really depends on how you process information, because we’re all different. For me, I do best with good old-fashioned to do lists. Well, I guess not TOO old-fashioned because mine are digital, but every now and then I do go back to my trusty post-it note system. That’s where I actually write down things I need to do so I have something right in front of me (versus a to do list in my phone that I only see when I’m intentionally looking at it). When I’m done with it, the post-it note goes away. This is what I used to do when I worked in an office. It was simple and effective.
And don’t worry, I fill up both sides so I’m not just wasting paper. And I recycle.
But for the most part, I stick with my digital lists. I usually have a few – one for the day, one for the week, one for the bigger picture, one for a specific project, etc. I’ll start by listing everything I know I need to do. Once it’s all there, I start moving things around in order of priority. Anything with a hard deadline gets put to the top. Anything that’s going to take less than 30 minutes is next, mostly because I can knock those out and get them off the list – and the fewer things on the list means the fewer things my brain is thinking about, which means a lower possibility of feeling stressed.
Sometimes it’s best to take a few minutes, even when you feel you don’t have a few minutes to spare, to make sure you’re working effectively. Prioritizing is a huge part of that. Take a few deep breaths, and then make a plan. Look at your list and check in with yourself – are you stressing about things you can get done tomorrow? Stop. Focus on what you legitimately need to get done today. This isn’t about procrastinating, it’s about being realistic with how much time you have and making sure you aren’t burning yourself out trying to get it all done, especially if some of it doesn’t actually have to be done right away.
That’s where last week got a little tricky for me, though. While I know the importance of prioritizing, and I have my own systems in place for doing that, I wasn’t paying attention to them. Or I was, but my systems collided a little bit. I would be making progress on something, but then a client request would come in. I knew that it wouldn’t take me very long, so I’d get that done and then go back to my own stuff. But what seemed to happen, in a way that became almost comical, is that everyone needed something little at the same time. I also wasn’t expecting the final episode of the series I’m working on to get cast this week. So I was already managing one shoot, and then had to start prepping for another, so there was a lot added to my plate in the middle of the week.
And the silly thing is, one of the things that was bugging me was feeling like I had all this extra stuff to do. I’ve always spent the first week of January getting everything done for taxes – for myself and for my clients. Filing quarterly and annual reports, reviewing P&Ls and balance sheets, 1099s, making sure we all have what we need for our CPAs. I love getting that done early for two reasons. First, I just like to have it out of the way. I usually get my taxes done in February. I feel like I get more attention from my accountant because she gets busier and busier the closer it gets to April. Secondly, as I mentioned before, I don’t want anyone waiting for me.
But the thing is, none of that is actually due in the first week of January. I have 3 more weeks to get 1099s done. Even longer for the tax stuff. So there’s no reason to feel like I’m behind on that. Sometimes we just have to acknowledge when we’re not being rational, laugh about it, and move on.
So here’s what I did. Anything related to the show got done immediately. There are a lot of people involved and a lot of moving parts, so that always has to take top priority. Then I worked on any client requests that would take 30 minutes or less. I periodically checked all of my various client email addresses to make sure all questions were answered. Towards the end of the day, when it seemed everything pertinent had been addressed, I started working on my own projects. I worked later than usual, but stopped when I knew it was best for me, which is usually when I need to eat dinner. I rarely work after dinner unless something is truly urgent. That is my time to decompress and make sure I’m at my best for the next day.
I got the important things done by the end of the day Friday. Did I get to everything on my list? No. Will I have to take time on Saturday to make sure I have a podcast to publish on Monday? That’s what I’m doing right now. Will I get all that tax stuff done? Nope. That’s not weekend worthy this far ahead of the actual deadline. I’ll do my best to get to it next week. Because doing my best is all I can really do. And best can have different meanings. To me, my best is not working so many hours that I’m exhausted. My best is not beating myself up because I couldn’t get everything done in the amount of time I had hoped. My best is a balance of setting ambitious goals and accepting my limitations.
So if you’re feeling like you have too much to do, you can’t get caught up, there’s not enough time… we’ve all been there. We will all be there at various points in our lives. Take a break, give yourself a break, and do the best you can to prioritize and get back on track.