Are You Tired of Feeling Overwhelmed?

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.

A Frustrated, Over-worked Manager - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/OtmarW, Image #15900242

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/OtmarW

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?

Question: If you hired a productivity consultant, what would they advise you to do with your workflow? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.thegiftofmondays.com/ colleen laquay urbaniuk

    as always, your advice is not only spot on but also very timely.  thanks!!!

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    It always surprises me how your posts have application to a stay at home mom! But they do. It’s a huge help to evaluate where I’m spending my time, what’s important to me, what’s necessary and what’s just business eating up energy. I wonder if my husband would agree that making dinner is a sinkhole in my life…

  • Anonymous

    I can’t wait to hear the followup posts (I’m assuming) about the VA.  

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Two weeks out of the country and just catching up on emails wears me out as much as jet lag. I felt overwhelmed the 1st time I pushed “publish” on my website. You’ve increased your influence exponentially on the web.

    I hope you’ve got time for a handshake in Indianapolis. I’d love to at least look you in the eye and say, “Thank you.”

  • Kevin

    I enjoy your blog ver much. The overall theme is one of deliberateness in all we do. The simple awareness that each thing we do presents us with a choice is itself a powerful catalyst for better, more deliberate choices. I do not agree that anything we do that does not fall into our “most valuable” buckets is necessarily a waste. To be sure, we want to maximize our value and minimize time spent on stuff that is less valuable. But characterizing the less valuable work as a waste may diminish its importance if we do not have a balanced perspective.

  • http://www.irunurun.com Travis Dommert

    Fact is that there is more stuff to read, plan, think about, or do than we could ever possibly keep up with these days.  We have to decide, in the absence of a massive inbox, what handful of things are most aligned first with who we want to be (our “BE GOALS”) and then with what we want to accomplish (our “DO GOALS”).

    It’s still a challenge to consistently deliver on even just 4-5 priorities/week.  But without that explicit framework and some measure of accountability to give it teeth, it’s like deja vu all over again next Monday.

  • http://www.andrebor.nl Andre J.C. Bor

    Thank you for this insightful steps.

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  • Jmhardy97

    Good post. This is exactly why I use your calendar to schedule my three years out plan in order to take time off to refil my energy.

    Jim

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  • http://www.irunurun.com Travis Dommert

    Pleased to see choice of Miles Advisory Group…great folks here in Atlanta making a kingdom impact!

  • http://www.shopmychurch.com Jason Stambaugh

    I’m pretty sure they would tell me to make a list of things that are NECESSARY to do everyday. There are many things that I find myself doing throughout the day that have little to do with my goals, but I’ve managed to convince myself they are all necessary. Kinda like budgeting. Spend my time on paper before the week ever happens. 

  • http://www.arock4him.blogspot.com Amy Hunt

    I need to get back to the basics of what I’ve already learned in previous positions. The one I’m in now requires more self-discipline with structured times focusing on the high payoff activities, as you suggested, versus what seems like a must-do, but really isn’t a payoff. Also, using the productivity sinkholes as “rewards” would make sense for me–would keep me energized and give me a break when it’s natural. I also think I need to literally set a clock and place a schedule of what I’ll do in a day on my calendar…truly getting back to the disciplined approach.

    Also, a coach once suggested that I “close out my day” with a notebook at the end of each day. What did I get accomplished. Who do I need to talk with. What’s next. Thoughts. Conversations.

    I keep a running notebook (that I’ve just gotten back to doing) of random thoughts during the day or during meetings, and conversations I have with folks, and this helps tremendously.

  • Hannah

    Hi there! I am wondering if you can recommend any other Virtual EA companies? It seems as though there are so many to choose from. We are looking for a company who supports other types of businesses aside from churches.
    Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You might check this link on Tim Ferriss’s blog.

  • Reader

    Dear Mr. Hyatt,

    Your blog is a helpful resource!  Thank you!

    I was recently reminded of a couple of things
    #1 There are activities and people who drain and fill my energy just like a gas tank
    #2 The time management illustration of filling the empty glass jar with rocks,pebbles,sand and water.  Amazingly, so much can get done if “first things are first”  (from Stephen Covey’s book)

  • Bbhouse

    Your post was a big help to me as I feel very overwhelmed at this time. So by being able to sit down and write out the top things that are most important to me and just do those things is just what I needed to see in print.

    Your posts are very helpful as I am a new writer and want to start out doing the right things.

    Thank you,
    Bonnie

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Futrell/100000383065042 Robert Futrell

    Be honest about your short comings, the assistant is there to help you not inflate your ego.  How can they know how to help you unless you are capable of indentifying areas or tasks that either wiast you time or it’s not your bag.  An Assistant donot need to know why you aviod tasks they can usally see why if you did a good hire.  

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  • Anthony Dina

    Great stuff Michael!  I just now re-read this post.  It seems that no matter what the level, what the experience, there are always trade-offs to make.  The hardest for me are the ones that silently bite the ankles.  When you work from home then travel, it’s easy to forget to schedule time with the family.  Despite being fully conscious of this dilemma, I continue to flub this one up.  Wouldn’t it be grand if the virtual price tag came with every decision?  You know, if you choose this, then you’ve just gave up on that?

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  • Tim

    Good stuff Michael!  I just posted the link to this for 4726 friends on Facebook. I am sure that at least 4725 of them could use your wise counsel in this area. You know, there’s always one who…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for posting this to your Facebook page, Tim. Much appreciated.

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  • Sean

    I really appreciate this post and most all of the things I read on your blog. Organization and intentionality have been seriously lacking in my life and this past year has been a rude awakening. Whenever I read your blog I am helped in becoming a better more effective version of myself. Thank you.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=719995367 Marisa Wikramanayake

  • http://twitter.com/mwikramanayake Marisa Wikramanayake

    I did this recently, identifying my work, my Masters and certain other personal goals as the most important. I fall off the plan regularly though. 

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