How I decided how much work I could take on as a creative business owner (and human being)
The beginning of this month (June 2019) marks three months of my work as a coach-in-training. And while there are many things I could say about this (not least how awesome an experience it has been and what a privilege it is to work with amazing creative women), today I want to share something small but important: I am so glad I started.
Starting hasn’t always been that easy for me. Because it’s scary. It’s scary starting something and not knowing if you’re going to fail or not. It’s scary starting something new and not knowing if you’ll be able to manage all the things you don’t even know about yet. When I first started coaching, one of my absolute biggest fears was the thought of taking on more clients than I could handle, getting stressed out, and disappointing everyone and myself. Can I handle all of this? Can I manage? Can I come out the other side relatively unscathed?
And while that might sound like I’m being dramatic, as someone who has struggled with severe anxiety and depression in the past, I’m keenly aware of the dangers of taking too much on. Overwhelm scares me.
Talking to my clients, I know I’m not the only one who comes up against this challenge. It can feel pretty tricky to determine how much time and space we can give to our creative work or our business. We don’t want to limit ourselves, but we don’t want to burn out either. How do we navigate our own needs and all the other variables in the mix? How do we find and maintain our balance?
Today I’m sharing a few of the things I’ve learned over the past three months, and am still learning and putting into practice. Your balance will look different to mine, but we can all practise showing ourselves the kindness and patience we’ll need as we figure it out along the way.
Begin with what you know
A matter of mindset and practicalities. Consider your current workload and life routine. How do you manage it at the moment? What is going to have to shift or be rearranged? What are you going to have to potentially give up or put to one side for now?
You might not be exactly sure how much time and space you need for your new enterprise, but you probably have a better idea than you think. What experience do you have, from work or elsewhere, that might be similar or relevant?
Even if you’re starting something completely new to you, it’s unlikely there’s no one else out there who hasn’t done something similar before. Who do you know who’s been in a similar situation? What resources can you access that will help you be more informed to make a better decision? Find out, estimate, make a guess as good as you can make it. Because the truth is, you’re going to have to adjust as you go. The trick is to get going.
Acknowledge the tradeoffs
Sometimes that looks like accepting we might grow our audience a little slower than we’d originally intended. Sometimes it might be other projects that we put on the back burner. Sometimes it looks like acknowledging your relationships might not get the level of attention you’d like them to have. Whatever that looks like for you, be honest and mindful of what you are trading*.
*For too many of us, that looks like letting our health and wellbeing slip to the bottom. I will definitely have more to say about this in a future blog post!
Remember you cannot plan for everything
Prepare for other life to get in the way. Allow a margin for error. Build in contingencies. Remember that everything takes longer in the beginning. This may be the project manager in me speaking, but time and time again, I see how many of us consistently underestimate how long things will take, and overestimate our capacity to get everything done. My very crude solution is to usually take my original estimate and double it.
If you are a time-optimist, ask yourself where this might be coming from. Are you giving people unrealistic deadlines because you don’t want to disappoint people? Are you conveniently forgetting the boring parts of the task you’re envisaging? Are you spending longer than you need to on a project because you simply don’t know of a more efficient way to complete it? That’s absolutely to be expected by the way, and something you should take into account when you’re a relative beginner.
On a related note, it’s also worth remembering that there isn’t always a clean, linear correlation between putting more time in and getting more results out. If you want to write more, simply doubling your current writing session from 2 hours to 4 hours is not necessarily going to result in double the amount of good writing that gets done.
But really, it’s a matter of starting
And so to the scary part that we know in our hearts already. How do we know how much work we can take on? We don’t get to know until we get started. We only get to know the answer once we accept that must live it. That means allowing ourselves to begin, knowing we won’t always get it right. It means accepting that finding balance, as with all forms of movement, is a constant and evolving practice.
… and then checking in with yourself, regularly
We are not static beings. Check in with how you’re feeling.
Only you will know what feels manageable. Only you will know if it feels sustainable. If you’re feeling stretched right now, ask yourself: is this situation temporary, or does it look like it might be this way for the long term unless you do something about it?
Ask yourself what you can do to readjust. Do you need to reassess your priorities? What can be dropped from your task list? What do you need to keep to still be impactful in the work that you want to do? If you find yourself constantly stretched, ask what needs to change. What’s the one thing you could do to make it easier?
Sometimes that answer looks like taking on less work, fewer clients, or spending less time writing blog posts. But sometimes it looks like asking for help or support.
Always keep in mind
Finding balance requires faithful, constant practice. It requires having the courage of your convictions to stick to what you know works best for you… but also being flexible enough to change your plans when you know it’s the right thing to do. It requires continual checking in and reflection, being intentional in your decision making, and being kind to yourself as you go. The truth is, we don’t know until we try. We don’t know how much we’re capable of, until we’re doing it.