Peaks and valleys. We talk about them a lot here on Wobizzle. It’s pretty much the norm when describing the workflow of many solopreneurs. A rough patch with too little work can be a pain in the purse. But a peak with too much work can be stressful in other ways.
Too Much Work Is A Good Problem To Have – Or Is It?
When you are experiencing a peak, everyone around you responds to your situation with a “too much work is a good problem to have.” Perhaps it is, but those intended words of comfort don’t make it easier to punch through to the other side of an extreme influx of projects.
Too much work can make you feel like you are in triage mode. I’m there right now. For the past two weeks, I have been over-scheduled on meetings and phone calls. Monday morning before breakfast, I already felt the urge to stress eat. Not the way to start the day – or the week!
I can physically feel the burden of several deadlines bearing down on me. The air in my office feels heavy. The endless meetings and phone calls suck time away from my ability to work on projects that are currently in play.
And, I know that all of those meetings and phone calls are going to result in more work and more deadlines that will all converge around the same time. That creates a constant state of underlying anxiety that stifles productivity and clear thinking.
I am also acutely aware that I am missing out on a chance to enjoy some outdoor time on a perfect spring day.
So here I am, just trying to maintain some semblance of control and sanity as projects, tasks, and deadlines are closing in on me. It’s happened before. I have survived it. It will no doubt happen again. Peaks and valleys are standard operating procedure in my line of work.
As I sit here enjoying the gift of 45 minutes given to me by a client who had to reschedule our call this afternoon, I am choosing to use it to write myself (and you) a survival guide for the next time this situation comes around.
Accept It As Reality.
As a freelancer, work is full of peaks and valleys. You often don’t have control over workflow. At least not completely. When the orders come in you need to fill them. That is if you want to eat and pay your house payment or rent and do all the other things in your life that require income.
Know that it is completely normal to experience a peak. It won’t last forever. You will make it to the other side.
Fight The Fear Of Famine.
I don’t know about you, but when I find myself with too much work, it seems like suddenly even more work starts flowing in. A full plate apparently attracts more helpings.
And, if you are prone to a “feast or famine” mentality, which a lot of us solopreneurs are, your fear of a famine next month may tempt you take on more this month than you can handle.
Don’t get caught up in that kind of chaos. When you feel that urge to take on more, instead take a step back. Be realistic about how much time you have available and what you can accomplish within that time. Don’t overschedule yourself. It’s not fair to you, your clients or the people you love. No one does their best work under duress.
It doesn’t mean you necessarily need to tell a client or potential client “no.” It may just be that you have to tell them “not right now, but here’s when I can do it.”
The bonus in that scenario is that you’ve just booked yourself some work for the future to help ward off that fear of famine that lurks in the back of your brain.
When you are in a peak, diligent (even militant) organization is critical to getting it all done.
I use lists to keep me on track and on deadline. It gives me a sense of control over what might otherwise be an overwhelming load.
Every Sunday (or Monday morning if I had a busy weekend), I create a master list for the week ahead. I organize it by client/project with the tasks under each client/project heading that need to be completed that week to move forward.
What doesn’t get done, gets rolled over to the following week. It took me a while to develop the right system for me. Think about your work flow, how your mind works and develop a system that will work best for you.
When I am in triage mode, I also make notes on my list of tasks that will take an hour or less to complete. Then, if a client reschedules a meeting or call, or I otherwise find myself with a little time to spare, I can pull something into that space that will fit, and boom! – I am ahead of the game.
And, if you charge an hourly rate, don’t forget to track your time! When you are crazy busy, bouncing from one project to another, it can be easy to forget to keep track of all of those hours, minutes and seconds.
When you are fully booked, you need to make the most of every minute you have. Minimize distractions by putting your phone in silent mode. Turn it face down to keep pop up notifications from catching your eye.
And by all means, stay off of social media. If you must be active on social media for your business, make a list before you log in of what needs done while you are there, and set a timer for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes tops. When the timer goes off, get the heck out of there.
Social media platforms are built to attract your attention and keep you engaged. It’s just too easy to get distracted and end up eyeballs-deep in someone’s high school reunion photos with no idea why you logged in to begin with.
Track Patterns & Anticipate.
Peaks are not always predictable, but if you have regular clients, you may be able to anticipate and plan for busy times by looking back at your history together.
Review past invoices to look for patterns of when they have needed you most. If you have projects that occur at a certain time every year and you see a log jam on the horizon, check in with those clients to see if you may be able to get started on their projects a little earlier than you typically do.
Let them know the blocks of time that you have available and when you anticipate your time to be more limited. Get them on your schedule so they can count on the same level of service they have come to expect from working with you.
Give Yourself A Break.
Self-care and enjoying a little downtime is always important, but it’s especially critical when you’re working harder and longer than you normally do. Long hours and deadline-oriented stress are hard on your body and your spirit.
Your brain can only stay focused on one task for around 90 minutes, so keep your productivity high by taking breaks every hour and a half.
Carve out a little time in the morning for a walk, a little yoga or some meditation. Find the time and space to enjoy a distraction-free cup of coffee or tea. Whatever helps you clear your head, make a little time for it.
When your work is monopolizing your time, something else is going to have to give. Empower yourself to say “no” in other areas of your life – social, volunteer work and other commitments. Ask for (or hire) help with the household chores. And, you absolutely have my permission (if you feel you need it) to order carryout or delivery for dinner.
Remember How It Feels To Have Too Much Work.
Work-related peaks can feel overwhelming, unfocused and chaotic. They can be downright uncomfortable. While they tend to come with the territory of being a one-woman show, there are steps you can take to make them more manageable. When the dust settles and the work is complete, remember how it felt to be overwhelmed. You will be more motivated to do what you can to make it a little easier on yourself the next time around.
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