Managing Overwhelm

As independent practitioners, solo-preneurs, accidental entrepreneurs – whatever you want to call us – we have so much to do! We do our own marketing, attend networking events, write blogs, manage our finances, and provide the service we actually love providing to our clients. It doesn’t take long to feel completely buried.
There’s one trick that can help tremendously.

Chunking Down StepsChunking Down

We call it “chunking down”. It refers to taking a project or task and breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces, then starting with Step 1. And when you’ve finished with Step 1, you move on to Step 2. It will feel so much easier that way. And you’ll begin to see your progress immediately.

For example, let’s say you want to start a blog. Your first reaction might be “Oh, my gosh – where do I start?” Well, you start by naming all the tasks you need to do. It might look something like this:

1. Investigate blog software (WordPress, Blogspot, others?)
2. Chose a template
3. Begin writing content
4. Post

It looks simple enough. But in fact, each step can be broken down even further into many more steps. Investigating blog software, for example, can be broken down like this:

1. Investigate blog software
(a) Talk to a friend(s) or colleague(s) who has a blog to find out what they use
(b) Look at each program to see what you like
(c) Look at some blogs to see what people include
(d) Talk to your web person (if you have a website already) to find out about linking it to your site and getting suggestions

Keep asking yourself, every time you identify a step: “What are the steps for getting that done?” You get the idea. Identify the tasks, chunk them down as much as possible, then identify a 15-minute or half-hour window in your day when you will focus on that task. If you can afford more time, great. If not, move on to your next activity, knowing that you’ve accomplished a small step on the way to getting to your goal. A little each day will get you there.

You can do the same thing with tasks like expanding your network, devising a marketing strategy, planning a presentation, writing a proposal, or any of the other myriad tasks in running your business.

Now ask yourself, “what projects am I procrastinating?” Chances are, you haven’t chunked it down.

We are all familiar with the wise words of Lao Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Wise, indeed! Start chunking so you know what your first step should be.



Grumpy Bird

Children’s books are a wonderful place to read powerful truths about life, people and how the world works.  In fact, sometimes I think they are wasted on children, who probably already know these simple lessons – it’s the adults who need reminding.  My current favorite is called Grumpy Bird (Grumpy Bird, by Jeremy Tankard).  This story, with extraordinary illustrations, is about a bird who wakes up one morning in a terrible mood.  He’s in such a terrible mood that he doesn’t feel like flying.  So he decided that today he will just walk.  He sets out and soon meets a friend who asks what he’s doing.  When he announces grumpily that he’s walking, the friend happily says, “That’s great!  I’ll come too.”  And off they go.  Bird meets one friend after another, each of whom thinks walking is a terrific idea, despite Bird’s irritable responses to them, and soon he has a train of animals in his wake.  At some point, Bird notices that whatever he does, his friends will copy him and soon he is having a great time making them play follow the leader.  He’s having such a good time that he forgets to be grumpy.  The powerful truth?  It really is possible to change your mood – it’s a question of where you focus.

Yesterday, I was a Grumpy Bird.  Nothing felt right and none of the things on my to-do list cheered me up.  As I ran an errand at the Container Store, I noticed that the piped in music was an old Stevie Wonder song.  I stopped to pay attention and realized that my body felt lighter, my step quickened, and I suddenly felt like smiling.  Later in the day, almost without thinking, I put on some music I hadn’t listened to in a long time – a wonderful jazz album by guitar master Ronnie Earl.  This music, too, lifted me, and I found myself chopping vegetables in time to the music.  I was no longer a Grumpy Bird.  So I began thinking:  how do you change your mood?  Life sends us all kinds of reasons to be grumpy, from small irritations to serious setbacks.  But after the first few minutes, being grumpy is really not much fun.  What helps?

frownPay attention.  Look around.  Listen to the birds arguing in the tree.  Notice the silly music in the store – it’s usually designed to improve your mood and make you buy more, sure.  But you could just let it improve your mood and stop there, couldn’t you?  Notice how something you like tastes.  Smell something good.  Notice someone around you smiling.  Pet the dog.

frownFocus small.  It’s so often the huge issues that make us grumpy:  Where am I going to find a job?  How can I improve this relationship?  How can I be a better parent?  How can I afford to live the way I want to?  But if we focus on something small, something that we can control, some immediate accomplishment, it can make us feel better.  Grumpy Bird made his friends all hop on one foot and got a kick out of it.

frown Be present in the present.  Those huge issues that weigh on you began in the past and expand far into the future.  It’s a cliché to tell yourself to focus on the present, to be in the moment.  But it can be a mood changer.  Right this minute, what would you like to do?  What would you like to hear?  Smell?  Taste?  What do you notice right this minute?  What happens if you pay attention to that?

frown Let yourself smile – laughing is even better.  Even if you are completely alone, in fact, especially if you are completely alone, it’s hard to stay grumpy if you smile.  Really let yourself smile.  Even if you start with a grimace, if you let yourself play with it you really do start to feel a little differently.    You may not want to joyously embrace the whole world, but it does lighten the grumpiness a little.  And let’s face it.  It really isn’t much fun to be grumpy after the first few minutes, is it?



Your Power as a Leader

How do you show up as a leader – whether at work or in your own life?

How do you show up as a leaderI had always thought that leadership was something solitary. If you’re a leader, you stand head and shoulders above the crowd, alone, on your own. Your vision shows others the way forward. And as an independent professional or entrepreneur, it’s up to you to do it all:  develop the concept, create the marketing materials, go to all the marketing calls and networking events, in addition to doing all the work, whether you’re an attorney, accountant, physician, or coach.

In recent years, experience has taught me that it’s really quite different. And this is a lesson I have to keep learning and re-learning.

A perfect example is this blog.

For nearly a year, I have wanted to start a blog. But I was overwhelmed at the prospect of figuring out, alone, how to go about it. What should I write about? What should I name the blog? How could I set it up so it looked professional? It was overwhelming to deal with, so it never happened. Then one day, a friend offered me some help and an opportunity to get started.  This was one of those “Aha!” moments, as I realized once again that I didn’t have to do it myself.  Finally, the blog is under way — and I’m no longer overwhelmed.

Being a leader doesn’t mean having all the answers. It doesn’t mean standing alone with no support or partners. That way lies burnout. It does mean having the wisdom to partner when you need to.  It means leveraging your unique skills and perspectives to help others find their way and inviting others to do the same for you. It means continuing to move forward, no matter how small the steps. So much time is wasted feeling that you must do everything yourself, when there are so many resources available to help. Even the Lone Ranger couldn’t have been successful without the help of Tonto.

Your true power as a leader lies in the example you set for others about how to partner and how best to leverage the skills of those around you.  As a leader, you enlist their energy in helping strengthen your endeavor.

So the next time you face a challenge, think first:

  • Who can help me with this?
  • Who has done this before?
  • Whose ideas do I like?

That really is taking the leadership role – both in your life and in your business. That’s where your true power lies.



The Courage to Look

The courage to look at your negative and postivie traitsAdam was struggling:  his boss was telling him he was too defensive, not open to hearing people he worked with, going it too alone.  As part of our coaching work, we decided to ask for feedback from everyone with whom he worked – the people who reported to him, his colleagues, his supervisor and, yes, even some of his clients.  Of course, he was nervous.  What would they say?  Did he really want to know what they thought of him?  And when the results came in, not all the news was good.

While there was much that Adam was doing well, many people noted how defensive he was and how hard it was to feel part of a team working with him.  Adam took a big gulp and then showed what he was made of!  As his coach, I found myself filled with admiration.  He wrote a thank-you note to each person who had provided feedback and in the note he told people that he would be working hard to be less defensive and to be more open.  He noted other areas he wanted to work on and invited everyone to continue to give him feedback about how he was doing.  His tone was open and welcoming.  How courageous, I thought. 

It’s easy to look in the mirror yourself and decide how you’re doing, but to ask others and risk hearing about ways you’re falling short – now that’s more of a challenge.  And yet, what could be more powerful?  And what has greater potential to grow your business?  Inspired by Adam, I now ask several questions of all my clients. 

  1. How is our relationship working for you?
  2. What am I doing well?
  3. What would you like to have more of?  Less of?
  4. What could I be doing better?

I don’t wait until the end of an engagement to ask, either.  I ask periodically and let people know that I really want to hear the truth.  And notice that none of these questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.  They have to really give me some information.  That’s one way people get the message that you really want to know, rather than just hearing a feel-good “Great!  Everything’s fine!”

It takes courage to look at yourself honestly; it’s even harder to ask others and risk hearing that you’re not perfect.  There’s probably not much that’s harder in business or in life.  But the payoff is enormous.  With the courage to look and the information you gather, you’re on your way to more satisfied clients and employees.  You can’t lose!



It’s Not Always Straight

Following your life pathWhen I was young, I always thought it was important to choose a path and follow it. It would be a direct path and lead in a straight line. You were supposed to know where it would lead, know that when you reached the destination you imagined, that you would be happy, fulfilled and have a sense of completion.

But life isn’t like that. The path isn’t always straight. I was supposed to go to college, graduate, choose a career, perhaps go to graduate school, work in some company, get married, have children and live happily ever after. Instead, I discovered I wasn’t ready for college, so I managed to be “invited to leave” at the end of my freshman year and the trauma of that situation kept me away from school for 10 years. It was as though a huge tree had fallen across my path. It was a major setback and my self-esteem was in the gutter. Looking back, however, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. What I wanted more than anything at the time was to find my way as an adult – to live on my own and create a life for myself. I managed to create a situation that forced me to do just that. Painful as it was – and it was devastating – I learned some invaluable lessons.

I learned first and foremost that I could not be done in, that I would survive and make a life that I could be proud of. I was lonely. I survived it. I had no idea how to manage money. I learned. I didn’t know how to cook. I taught myself little by little. I didn’t know how I had gotten myself into such a mess. I got myself into therapy (paying for it myself!) and with help, I figured it out. In other words, I learned about my resilience, my resourcefulness and my determination. What could be more important?

My path continued to be pretty crooked. I got married, began having a family, became a family therapist (“through the back door,” as my mother never failed to remind me), divorced, eventually got not one but two master’s degrees (and still no B.A.), got remarried, started a company with my husband, and years later, became a coach. I love my life! I love where I’ve gotten to, and I love supporting others on their crooked paths. I know now how important those roadblocks, downed trees, detours and unexpected potholes are. That’s how you find out who you are. It’s where you get to test yourself, to learn from your setbacks as well as your successes, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other with the knowledge that you’re going to be fine.

Do I wish I could have avoided the pain and humiliation of getting thrown out of college? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it was painful and enraging, but on the other hand, look what I gained! Could I have learned those things another way? Maybe. But I keep being reminded of the wise words of Kahlil Gibran: “…is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”*

*Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1961.




This blog is about the many things that are important to me. I hope they will resonate with you as well. My dream is for it to be a conversation, with comments and additions by all of you who read what I – and my guests – write. I hope you will feel free to share your wisdom. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

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