Sunday, November 05, 2006

Overwhelmed by Your Business? Get Objective, Then Break it Down

My friend Karen (not her real name) has run a mortgage brokerage business for over 10 years. Recently, Karen had become so overwhelmed by her business that she wasn't even showing up to her office. Her assistant, Mary, was so concerned about Karen that she called me to see if I could help. Sure enough, Karen, had been going through some difficult times in her personal life, including losing a parent, and she fell behind on her business. When Karen went into her office, she felt so strangled by everything she had to catch up on that she literally became paralyzed--to the point where she was no longer showing up.

I recently went through something similar in my own business. In my case, I was completely bogged down by several marketing projects. I was revamping my website and building a second one, creating this blog, planning for two upcoming speaking events, recording two audio courses, writing articles and press releases, pitching for speaking events for next year, and going to four networking meetings a week--all while managing my legal workload. All positive things, but I had taken on too much and was not finishing any one of these items completely. I was completely overwhelmed.

This summer, I met Jennifer Zweibel, who joined a professional organization I belong to. Jen is a "professional organizer" and, in addition to helping people organize their stuff, Jen also helps business owners prioritize their workload and calendars.

As is customary when a new person joins our group, I met with Jen to learn more about what she does. I desperately needed the services that Jen offered, and the meeting quickly turned into a free consultation. What I found out at a later meeting was that my experience with Jen was not dissimilar from that of many the other members in our organization.

What I learned from Jen was that most business owners, at some level or other, can easily get overwhelmed by our businesses--sometimes to the point of becoming paralyzed. Many of us started our own businesses to escape having a boss, yet, most of us could use one to stay focused and be accountable.

In Karen's case, her situation was an extreme one. However, I met with her and Mary and, in only about an hour, we identified the big items that she needed to get caught up on, we broke each item into many smaller steps, and we scheduled the steps in a calendar so both Mary and Karen were doing one or two things each day to complete the major tasks. In about two months, they would be completely caught up. To Karen, each major task seemed very challenging, so much so she wasn't showing up to work, but when we broke the pieces down into the individual steps, it suddenly became completely manageable.

I was able to help Karen because, just eight weeks earlier, I hired Jen to help me do the same thing. We listed and prioritized each of the major tasks I was trying to complete, we broke down the most important major tasks into individual steps, delegated what could be delegated and calendared the individual steps. Since doing this, I finished both websites, I am writing in the blog, I spoke at two conferences, I wrote a press release and recorded two audio courses.

I can't say that what Jen did was magic, or that I didn't already know how to do this, but because she was not emotionally invested in my business, breaking down each major task into individual steps was mechanical for her, where it had become very difficult for me to do. It was the same for Karen. I know very little about the mortgage brokerage business, but what Karen needed to do to catch up was plainly obvious to me, but not at all to her.

Despite putting on our best "game faces", in my professional organization, every member who met with Jen had the same thing to say about Jen helping them manage being overwhelmed by their business. So if you own a business and you feel strangled by your business, don't be embarrassed--you are not alone. List the major tasks you are trying to complete, prioritize them, break them down to individual steps and calendar them. If you are too stuck and don't know where to start, or are not finishing the items on your calendar, speak with someone you trust for an objective opinion, or talk to Jen.

I'm happy to report that Karen is back in her office and is on track to have her best year ever, and I just crossed another small step off my action list!


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