When I was younger, a long time ago, there used to be a product called Calgon that was advertised on television. It targeted women who led stressful lives. The commercials showed how they wanted to escape from the pressures of daily life by exclaiming "Calgon, take me away!" At the time, I had no idea what they were talking about. Fast forward 20 years, two companies and three children later, and I find myself invoking Calgon at least twice a day. Life today is extremely stressful for business owners, especially for those who are trying to balance family life with work life.
A large portion of this stress comes from feeling overwhelmed by the volume of work and the superhuman levels of responsibilities that we take on. Some of this is due to factors outside of our control. But much of it is our own fault. We lose sense of our own limitations, which leads to over commitment and—eventually—a loss of control over our schedules and—in some cases—our lives. It’s time to take back control. Here's how to be productive.
Stop making to-do lists
They just don't work. The idea behind a to-do list is great, in theory. Write things down. Do them. Enjoy the bliss of crossing out completed items and watching the list get done. That’s fine if your life consists entirely of discreet tasks with limited ambiguity. If your job as CEO requires you to "hammer ten nails" then a to-do list works. But your job doesn't require that. Your job is about managing and growing a business. This means your to-do items tend to be complex, require critical thinking and depend on others.
If you use a to do list then all you will feel is frustration instead of accomplishment as partially completed items stay there for days or weeks. As the list grows you’ll just create more stress for yourself. Yes it’s true that there are systems out there that recommend lists with tasks broken down to their most basic elements with special colors, filing systems and codes to use. But I don't have time for that. Do you?
Pseudo-work is the junk food of busy minds. These are the tasks that let you say to yourself that you are being productive when, in reality, you are doing something that doesn't contribute to business growth. Cleaning out your inbox is a great example of pseudo-work. If that email from two weeks ago would lead to a sale, then wouldn't you have answered it already? It's OK to engage in pseudo-work to enjoy the empty mental calories it provides, but only after the real work is done.
Say "no" more often
This is a big one. The reason why you are drowning in work might be simply because you don’t like to say "no." To get real work done you have to say "no" more than you say "yes." This means at times turning down opportunities that will make money, help friends, help colleagues and more. The reason it’s hard to say "no" is because, as business owners, we are wired to say yes. It almost goes against our nature to decline an opportunity, but this over commitment is what leads to stress and disappointment.
Build walls where needed
Most people love the idea of a home office. It’s the best of both worlds. But in reality working at home is extremely difficult. When you are with family you'll think about work. When you're working you'll think about family. Separate the two, and you'll enjoy both more.
Own your schedule
Don’t let anyone break your schedule. End meetings and calls on time. Leave sufficient travel-time buffers in between meetings so you don't run late. Focus on completing tasks in a way that requires the least amount of time and effort, but still achieves the goal.
By following these tips, you can put yourself back on the path to having a healthy work-life balance. Your performance will improve, you'll feel better and you won't need to invoke Calgon to take you away.