Over the last few months, people have asked how I am doing since leaving my CEO post at Thomas Nelson. For the most part, great. I am really enjoying this new phase of my life.
But last week, I was feeling overwhelmed. It seemed that I was spending all day, every day mired in administrative detail—responding to emails, making travel plans, and filling out expense reports. Ugh.
This the first time in more than a decade that I have been without an executive assistant. I had clearly taken this role for granted, not realizing how much it had freed me up to do what I do best.
So what to do?
At first, I decided to power through it. But that didn’t work. The tennis balls have been coming over the net faster than I can hit them. My volume of email alone has doubled in the last 90 days.
Next, I tried to enlist my wife, Gail, to help. Bad idea. She already has a full-time job as a homemaker, mom, and counselor to countless women. (After watching her in action for the last few months, I have a whole new appreciation for her!)
Finally, I decided that I had had enough. Something had to give. I needed to take a different approach if I was going to get my head above water.
I took the following seven steps:
- I decided I had to make a change. This sounds almost trivial, but it is essential. Evidently, some people like being overwhelmed. They wouldn’t admit this, of course. But they thrive on stress in a perverse way. Perhaps it makes them feel important or indispensable. They may complain about their workload, but they are unwilling to do things differently. Are you ready for a change?
- I identified my three high payoff activities. I asked myself, What is it that only I can do? Where do I add the most value? What is really important as opposed to merely urgent? For me, that is writing, speaking, and networking—in that order. Anything else is a waste of what I have been given. What are your high payoff activities?
- I identified my three biggest productivity sinkholes. This was easy. For me, it is responding to email, booking my own travel, and meeting with acquaintances who want my advice. (As much as I’d like to do this, I am drowning in requests.) I decided I had to eliminate—or at least dramatically reduce—these activities in my life. What are your productivity sinkholes?
- I spent time reviewing the productivity basics. In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss, says that the key to productivity is elimination, automation, and delegation. Some stuff is just no longer worth doing. Other stuff can be put on auto-pilot. Most of the rest can be delegated. Have you made a list of which activities fall into which category?
- I decided to do the math. Unfortunately, I had fallen into a common paradigm: I was thinking that if I could do something I should do it—myself. Balderdash! If you can make $50.00 an hour, is it a good investment for you to do tasks that you can hire done for $12.00 an hour? I don’t think so. This is not only bad math, it is bad stewardship. What do you make an hour? Could you be more financially productive if you delegated?
- I hired a virtual executive assistant. I realized that I wasn’t ready for a full-time one. I wanted to take this one step at a time. Thankfully, there are scores of companies (offshore and domestic) that specialize in providing virtual assistants for as many hours as you need. I did this several years ago, and it was a positive experience. I decided to go with Miles Advisory Group. I am very impressed with their responsiveness. Have you ever considered a VA?
- I am scheduling the important tasks. I know, I know, I teach this stuff. You’d think I would already have this nailed. Well, I did. More or less. But it was a completely different context, namely, CorporateWorld. Now I am having to implement the same thing in a different context. I am now scheduling my important tasks first and forcing my productivity sinkholes into small blocks of time. How much of your calendar this week is dedicated to high payoff activities?
Just going through this process has had a huge, positive impact on my attitude. Nothing has really changed yet, but I am already feeling less overwhelmed and more in control. I am ready for a change. Are you?