Is the way you're working truly sustainable?

Photo by  on  Unsplash

Photo by on Unsplash

Yesterday I met with the co-founder of an organization that is challenging old paradigms in the tech industry. She believes in the mission with a passion that resonated across the country and through the phone.

About thirty minutes into our first coaching session, we hit the real crux of her challenge. A self-proclaimed introvert, her organization is counting on her to be the primary face and fundraising engine for their work in the world. And it’s taking a toll.

We brainstormed and problem-solved and talked about hiring and delegating, as well as all the reasons it hasn’t worked in the past. And then I asked the inevitable question:

You realize that the way you are engaging with your business is not sustainable, don't you?

After a long pause, she sighed, “Yes, I know.”

she proceeded to tell me that’s the reason she’s been focused on the things she loves outside of work, why she’s working on her novel every day and looking to buy a road bike so that she can get away when she’s not working.

She’s willing to show up day after day to complete the tasks that she dreads because she loves the mission. She has a desire to change the world.

And she is creating an impact - at all costs.

I’ve worked with a lot of clients that come to me in similar situations. Many times, before they are willing to change the way they are working, they wait until they develop a stress-related illness or walk away abruptly from their main source of income when they just can’t take it one more day.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

You know the line you hear in the airplane before you take off “In case of emergency, first place your mask on yourself and then help those around you.”

What most of my clients don’t recognize is the risk that’s associated with their sense of invincibility. They truly believe that they are doing the “right thing” for the cause, the mission, and their teams by continuing to do the work that drains them day after day.

And, we begin to think we’re the only ones who can hold the organization up.

Yes, we. I was once in the same place as many of my clients. Just before I left my last full-time gig to start my own consultancy, I was traveling to the west coast several times a month while juggling the responsibilities of being a single mom to two young boys.

And I hit the wall. I left that job without a backup plan. I found myself driving home from Raleigh one day with four hours to figure out how I would support my family now that I’d finally drawn the line.

In the end, things worked out with the help of a strong network and a heavy dose of luck. But here’s what I wish I would have known back then.

If you find yourself less than fulfilled with the majority of the work you do in a day or the effects that work on the life you’re living, I urge you to do this:

  1. Make a list of five to seven priority tasks that you are responsible for at work or in your business.
  2. Rank them from most enjoyable and fulfilling to least.
  3. Circle the one at the top (most enjoyable or fulfilling).
  4. Draw a square around the one at the bottom (least enjoyable or fulfilling).
  5. Now ask yourself these two questions:
    • How can I do more of what I enjoy (what fulfills me)?
    • How can I quit doing or do less of what I have come to dread?

Here are three strategies that have worked for me and many of my clients.

Hire out the task that you least enjoy. Beware of the response that you’ll likely hear in your head when you read this, “But I’m the only one that can do that.” It’s not true. You’ve convinced yourself that it is to rationalize your choice to continue to do it for as long as you have. If you find yourself in this loop, break down the task into its smallest possible pieces and delegate as many of them as possible to someone else on your team.

Contain your misery. If you truly are not able to delegate or hire out the task at the bottom of your list, do your best to contain it. In my client’s situation, she agreed to limit sales calls to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday only. Monday and Friday will be meeting free. She’s hiring a gatekeeper to maintain this boundary.

Do what you most enjoy as often as you can. The task you enjoy most is probably the one you give the least amount of time and attention. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t “feel” like work because work is supposed to be hard. Or maybe it requires a level of focus and uninterrupted space that you can’t seem to get at the office. Perhaps you tell yourself that you’ll “get” to do that task when all the ones you’ve been procrastinating are over. These self-promises rarely work out and result in you not experiencing the aspects of your work that you most enjoy.

As you prep for this week at work, how can you put your favorite tasks front and center? How can you do less of what you dread?

Let me me know how you plan to create a more sustainable relationship with your work or business. You can leave a comment below, on Facebook, or reach out on Linkedin.