The Good Problem

There are basically two situations we get into as self-employed people. Either we are completely overwhelmed because we don’t have enough clients, and therefore, don’t have enough money coming in, or, we are completely overwhelmed because we have so many clients, so many projects to get done and what would seem like not enough time.

Been on both sides of that fence? Yeah, me too. While the latter is obviously the ideal situation, it can be equally as stressful as the former. Having too much to do, and too many clients, especially when you’re self employed, is what my friend and former boss, Andrew Moizer, would classify as a “good problem”. But a good problem is still a problem, and even the best of problems can quickly turn into bad problems if they aren’t dealt with.

The thing about both of these problems – the one of not enough business, and the one of too much business – is that they have the same solutions. You see, both the good problem and the not-so-good problem create the same feelings of being overwhelmed. Therefore, it stands to reason that the path to stop these overwhelming feelings would be similar, right? Let’s explore some ways we can fight this, and reclaim our sense of calm and serenity in the midst of the chaos.

Always Baby Steps. I often equate self employment to climbing a big mountain. You start the journey, and you feel great. You are moving fast, and seeing the infinite potential and opportunities that lie ahead of you. Then, after a while of this, you realize you’re still climbing. You’re getting a bit tired. You’re running out of resources, and you still haven’t reached the first plateau. You slip, and slide back down the mountain, and have to start climbing all over again. Eventually, you get your feet under you, but not for long. Yes, you’re stronger now, but obstacles become more complex the higher you climb. You climb up a bit, slide down a bit, until eventually, you can see the summit.

Sound familiar?

The only way to get to the top of a mountain is one foot in front of the other. If you think that the moment you open the doors of your business, the money and clients are just going to fly in, well, I’m here to tell you you’re mistaken. (Don’t worry, we all made the same mistake.) It takes work, and sacrifice, and more work, and hustle, and courage, and not much sleep to start and run a company and make it successful. It also takes near infinite amounts of patience. Everest wasn’t conquered in a day, and every day you are working on your business you are on Mount Everest. And to get to the top, you have to do it like everyone else – baby steps, one foot in front of the other. Don’t overwhelm yourself by focusing everything you have on reaching the summit. Focus on the task at hand, then the next one, then the next one. Eventually, the top of the mountain will come into view.

How are you DOing? At the present time, I have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 projects on the go. I wrote them all down on my white board the other day, just to see what it looked like. At first, I thought it was going to send me into a panic. But when I saw it all laid out in front of me, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I was kind of excited about it. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on!

A lot of people assume that when I say “projects” I mean “paid work”. I have a tendency to lump everything in together. That way, I can be sure that even the stuff I’m not being paid to do gets enough of my attention. I have some fun little creative side projects right now. They are a good break from my professional work, and that balance is critical.

So, do two things. First, make a list of all your projects…and I mean ALL of them. Yes, that scrapbooking project counts as a project. So does your podcast, your blog, and that going away party you’re planning for your cousin. Writing it all out helps you to see where your head is at and where your focus is. You can group them and categorize them any which way that makes sense.

Then, once you have your high level categories, start to make your task lists. Take each project, and write down all the associated tasks you need to get done. Put them in a To Do list. I use a combination of Evernote and Egretlist, because they are integrated and sync across systems. I tag each item with a priority and group it under a project. That way I always know what needs doing where and when. You can even keep your list in your calendar, or (GASP) a paper notebook or Daytimer.

What’s cool about having all your tasks laid out is, it becomes super easy to get started at something. Simply pick something from the list, and do it. I tend to have times where I’ll bang off a bunch of shorter items, like sending emails or small writing or research tasks in a group, then slot in some time to tackle the larger things. Crossing off 4 or 5 things in one go is a great way to feel like you’re accomplishing things, and it frees up space for the larger tasks too.

But whatever you do, don’t try to keep your To Do’s in your head. It never works, and you’ll forget stuff, and chaos can quickly become catastrophe. Writing it down gets it out of your head, so you don’t have to keep thinking about what needs doing – and you can just focus on doing.

Being busy, whether it’s hustling for new clients or managing the ones you have, is a good, good problem to have. As overwhelming as it can be, it’s important to not let it get to you. By focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, crossing off one task at a time, you’ll walk away from each day having climbed a bit higher up that mountain.

So, get yer hiking boots on. We got a hill to climb.

1 comments
Kneale Mann
Kneale Mann

Thanks for this, Sue. As usual, you remind us to keep going. It's curious that we remind our clients to keep going but we need that boot in the pants ourselves. Years ago, I had a mentor who would always say "there's still a lot of work to do". We then hit a significant milestone in the company's history and one of my colleagues asked the him "you always say there's work to be done when we don't hit our numbers, we hit them, when is the work done?" My boss calmly responded "I'll let you know."