Having a Type A personality has distinct benefits, including a competitive nature, a confident disposition and the drive to succeed – all of which are necessary for an ambitious entrepreneur and business owner. At that point, downtime wasn’t an option, but my inability to “switch off” began to beget consequences, starting with tiredness and escalating to mood swings, irritability and exhaustion. Years of 14-hour days, working weekends and on holiday caught up with me. I was tired to the bone, miserable and a slave to the business – and I totally resented it.
Something had to change. I cancelled my plans for the following weekend and dedicated it to getting my life back. I went onto Amazon and bought as many books on the subject as I could find, and I started to develop a plan.
The Book That Changed Everything
I read a lot during that time. However, one book stood head and shoulders above the rest. “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown showed me a whole new way of looking at work. Rather than showing how you can get more done in less time (the old school time management approach), the book focuses purely on getting the right things done. It helps you discern what is absolutely essential and then eliminates the rest.
With this in mind, I studied my task list for the previous month, mining it for clues to better understand where I’d been spending my time. I grouped the tasks into the following categories:
- Could be done by other people
- Caused the most stress
- Took the most time
- Added the most value
The result was predictably eye-opening and extremely helpful. I now had a clear idea of where I was spending my time well and where I was frittering it away. These are some of the key take-aways from the exercise:
Speaking Engagements I was saying an ego-driven “yes” to all speaking engagements that came my way. They took a lot of time to prepare for, caused me undue stress and didn’t result in anything of value for the business. I decided to decline all speaking engagements for a period of 18 months.
Business Lunches I was saying “yes” to business lunches, despite the fact that I don’t enjoy them. Having a meeting over lunch takes much longer than a phone call or an in-person meeting. It’s also expensive, and the food is invariably unhealthy. I now decline all business lunch invites; meals out are for friends and family, and talking “shop” is taboo.
Volunteering I was being guilt-tripped into volunteering for things. From judging awards to reading over a friend’s business plan, the requests kept coming in and I kept saying “yes.” The extra hours piled up. I’ve learnt to set better boundaries and say no gracefully.
Meetings I was in meetings more than I was at my desk, leaving me with no time for actual work. I then spent my evenings and weekends catching up (hence the 14-hour days and hijacked holidays). I started blocking out my diary from 9-11:30 every day and focused purely on work. This has resulted in fewer meetings and way more productive mornings.
Firing Clients Two of our clients were causing more grey hair than their respective accounts were worth. Managing their demands and helping the account team stay sane was a drain on all of our resources. I fired both clients. It freed me up to pursue better prospects and lifted a weight off my shoulders.
Realisation I was letting the business rule my life. If we lost a client or a key team member, I took it really personally. Our business is doing well, but I always had this underlying fear that something would go wrong. This negative way of thinking was all-consuming. I still have moments like that, but now I have the tools to help me cope.
Tips for Staying Sane in a Busy World
Meditation I try to meditate on a daily basis. Taking the time first thing in the morning before your day starts to sit quietly and follow your breath, even if it’s just five minutes, can make for a calm and productive day.
Gratitude I made a list of everything the business has done for me to remind myself how much I have to be grateful for. I saved the list in Evernote so I can refer back to it whenever I feel overwhelmed or resentful (yes, those days happen occasionally).
The Worst Case Scenario Game Thinking of the worst thing that can happen puts everything into perspective. If TopLine were to close its doors tomorrow, I’d still have my health, my family, my education and my home. Whatever happens, I am better off than 95% of the world’s population.
Learning when to say “no,” setting boundaries, identifying the fruit-bearing tasks (and delegating or eliminating the rest) set me on a course to become a more efficient CEO and a happier human being. In spite of what we’d like to believe, doing everything just isn’t possible. Greg McKeown’s maxim to “do less, but better” frees us up to make our highest possible contribution in this life. And isn’t that what we’re ultimately here for?
In addition to her role as founder and CEO of TopLine Comms, Heather Baker wears her B2B digital strategy and inbound marketing hats with equal verve and gusto. She also makes a point of closing her laptop at a reasonable hour and no longer works on weekends.