When I started my business at 19 years old, I was so hungry to grow it that I said yes to just about any conference, any opportunity and anyone who would meet with me. Any idea I had was worth pursuing.
It worked out. I grew my business to be my full-time job out of college, and we’re now six years strong. I credit a lot of the growth to just showing up and saying yes. Opportunities couldn’t happen to me if I wasn’t there for them. For years, I’ve been armed and ready to seize every glimmer of opportunity and give it my all.
But in 2017, I found myself still saying yes — without the same energy as I did before. I would agree to meet for coffee so someone could pick my brain about their business idea when I was slammed with work. By the time I was done, my energy for my goals and dreams was depleted.
Around Thanksgiving of last year, I started to realize that saying yes to everything was putting me on a path to burnout. With still so much I wanted to do with my business, burnout was not an option. At the age of 26, I felt I should be speeding up, not slowing down. But, ironically, I realized the key to speeding up in the areas that I wanted to grow was actually taking time to slow down.
I began to think of myself every morning as a full cup of water (or cup of coffee, usually). Each effort I made that day was a drip out of that glass. When the glass was empty, I had nothing left to give for that day. With each action I took, I could mentally see the glass getting lower.
I became more selective about where I put my time and energy. Just as I might work with an accountant on allocating my funds for different projects I want to pursue, I wanted to direct my energy where it was needed. I wanted my glass each day to go toward things that meant something to me, not just because I felt like I had to say yes.
The first step to doing less is being selective about what you choose to take on. With that, I ask myself …
1. What purpose does this serve?
In years past, I was committing to things because I felt like I was supposed to or I didn’t want to say no. But, now, I ask myself what purpose does this serve? Will this help any of my goals? Will I learn? Will this help something that’s meaningful to me? Or, perhaps one of the most important questions I’ve started to ask myself, will this be fun?
If you ask yourself these questions and don’t feel compelled by your answers, it’s okay to pass. But, I also try to stay away from just transactional opportunities that serve my business or professional career. If the only reason I say yes is because I think it will be really fun, that’s a good enough reason for me!
2. Why am I afraid to say no?
One of the biggest reasons I would say yes to things I didn’t want to do was because I didn’t know how to say no. I felt like it was a slap in the face to the person who was asking and I never wanted to offend anyone. But, I’ve learned that I don’t get offended when people say no to me. In fact, I’d rather someone be honest with me than say they’ll do something and flake out later. So what was I so afraid of?
I got more comfortable with my response of thanking someone for thinking of me, passing at this time, wishing them the best of luck. Everyone might have a different way they like to let people down gently. Find what works for you and stick with that.
3. What else could I be doing with this time?
I started public speaking professionally when I was 20 years old. It’s one of my favorite things to do, but I realized it drains a lot of my cup between traveling, prepping for the opportunity, and then giving my all on stage for an hour and meet-and-greets afterwards. I typically speak professionally around 30-40 times a year, but I get dozens of emails every week asking me to speak for free at an event. While I really do love that someone wants to hear my message, I’ve learned how much effort goes into every time I get on stage and the true value that I bring.
Speaking for free initially was a great way for me to learn and build my credibility, but I’ve come to a point where I’m confident enough in what I deliver to hold strong to that value and I also understand the toll it takes on my energy, because I’m giving it my all.
Give yourself permission to value your time, even if that means turning down unpaid work.
4. Can I delegate this?
As a college solo-entrepreneur, I didn’t have money to hire anyone two years into my business. I did everything, and that was actually a really good thing because I learned about all sides of the business, even the parts (like numbers) that I was uncomfortable with. But, once the business started gaining momentum, I could afford to hire some helping hands.
But, I was stuck with the thought why would I pay someone to do this when I could do it myself? I was wrong for two reasons:
- A lot of people out there are better than me at a lot of things.
- Even if I could do it myself, it’s not the best use of my time.
Now, my team is 10 times more productive than I ever was as a solo-entrepreneur. My assistant also helps as a gatekeeper to my schedule to make sure I’m not overcommitting myself, which is super helpful.
5. What is stealing my energy?
The quickest way to drain your energy is by worrying about what other people are doing and going crazy over things you can’t control. Beyond my physical time, I’ve allowed comparison and anxiety to completely drain my energy and leave no room for anything creative or meaningful.
At the end of the day, I challenge myself to remember that someone else’s success does not mean there’s no room for mine.
Related: When Your Home Life Is Stressful, Your Business Suffers
6. How do I refuel?
This might sound crazy, but this whole revelation I had about the benefits of doing less began in July when I found a dog on Craigslist and less than 24 hours later, he was mine. Suddenly, my life took a shift. I was taking Ollie (my dog) on multiple walks in the park every day. I was waking up and playing with him instead of checking my email. I was snuggling with him on the couch at night instead of scrolling through social media. Then when it was time to work, I was totally refueled and present. Ollie gave me an excuse to slow down, be playful, and break up the day with fresh air.
Removing yourself doesn’t mean you’re falling behind, it’s actually refueling you to make better use of your time when you’re ready to work. I now realize I’d rather have four hours of high quality work where I’m refreshed and creative than 10 hours of work where I’m going through the motions and can’t think straight.
My team always laughs at me because whenever I have a long car ride, I always call them with tons of new ideas. When the juices are flowing, they always say Jess must be driving right now. And the reason I have ideas while I’m driving is because I’m removed. I’m not on my phone or on the internet or talking, I’m just quiet with my own thoughts. When that happens, it opens a space in my head that grows great ideas. But, most of the time, that space is too cluttered from being overly connected.
Being so hyper-connected all the time, it’s so easy to see snapshots into everyone’s lives and feel like you’re falling behind or you should be doing more. Our social norm is that being busy is a badge of honor. But, this year, I’d like to debunk that myth because being busy all the time is an inefficient (and not very fun) way to accomplish your dreams.
I’m still a work in progress, but visualizing my energy as a tangible element has helped me understand how I work and has given me permission to do less, so I can do more in the areas that matter.
So where do you go from here?
Identify areas that are draining to your energy (either change your approach, delegate or remove). Target the goals that matter to you. Leave room for what lifts your spirits (like a dog!). Take a deep breath and start there.
Source: Jess Ekstrom