When I speak with business owners, a common theme is feeling overwhelmed with work. I can’t think of anyone who wants to be working all the hours that God sends. Experts say that working excessive hours impacts our mental health and our relationships with the people we love most. It’s not much fun either, so what can be done about feeling overwhelmed with work?
Feeling Overwhelmed with Work
Let’s begin with exploring the feeling of being overwhelmed with work: There’s the anxiety of not being able to cope with the work load; not being able to think straight and lack of focus; being out of control; feeling irritable; lack of motivation; lacking the big picture; lack of achievement; being sucked dry; and feeling guilty. Naturally feelings will vary from person to person.
Contrast that with an ideal situation: purpose and focus; the big picture; clarity about what needs to be done; seeing progress and improvement; a sense of achievement and pride in your work; knowing what needs to be done; working productively at your best and having time to rest and enjoy life.
Of course, there are strategies for overcoming feeling overwhelmed with work such as: picking a task and completing it; make a start to work on the hardest task; time box the completion of a task; and take time out to recharge. These are all good strategies, however the challenges for owners that feel overwhelmed with work require additional strategies for managing their business.
Owners are human, not superhuman (and feel overwhelmed with work). See Can SME Owners turn Key Man Risk to an Advantage?. I found that I was more productive working less than ten hours a day. When I worked over ten hours a day, tasks took longer, and I made mistakes that needed re-work. Of course, there will always be times when extra effort is required, best in short bursts. This is backed by research that shows that productivity falls sharply after a 50-hour week according to John Pencavel of Stanford University. This is consistent with other studies that show a 7% reduction in productivity for a 50-hour week compared to a standard 40-hour week. Creating and re-establishing boundaries will result in a healthier relationship with the business and, in all likelihood, increased productivity.
Overcoming the Odds
Small businesses, with limited resources, must overcome the odds. Owners that play the same game as bigger players struggle to compete, and no doubt will feel overwhelmed with work. Disruptors might use technology to change the game. Niche players provide specialism that’s not competitive for bigger players. Small business owners must aim for an economic use of resources to succeed. B.H. Liddell Hart’s book “Strategy” states the need for “a sound calculation and co-ordination of the end and the means”. Owners might re-think an approach or the stepping stones to reduce workload.
Once the owner has set the direction, streamlining or automation can help the business reach its destination faster. Many owners have introduced systems that solve a specific problem only to find that it hasn’t worked out or had an unintended knock on effect. Businesses of any size have many moving parts that must work together toward a common vision. Coordination is difficult without a picture that helps an owner calculate all the moves. Seeing all the parts of the business on one page provides context, and helps an owner plan a better way forward.
Following on from the big picture, business systems are how things get done. Systems are how things are planned, supported, done, monitored and improved. Systems are the engine room of a business and supply all the data to monitor quality and performance. In a business, working smarter is through better systems. Each system should be taking the business forward to its goals. Systems that are not moving the business forward should be retired. Efficient systems are economical and drive down cost. Retiring systems that are not working and creating more economical systems can help owners avoid feeling overwhelmed with work.
Through working smarter you may discover similar tasks performed across different systems such as reports and monitoring. You may also find that processes may have common components, such as across different channels. Creating a shared service may create a win-win that improves performance and reduces cost at the same time.
Standardisation saves time and enables us to think straight. When there are multiple ways of doing the same thing, time is wasted figuring out what’s going on. Standards also apply to business data, reducing time to extract information to make decisions. This equally applies to technology and infrastructure. If there are different technologies, more time is spent in managing and support.
Occasionally feeling overwhelmed with work is normal and there are some simple personal strategies that can be applied. When owners feel overwhelmed with work on a regular basis then they should listen and respond to the warning signs. Use the strategies above to review what’s going on, and where needed, seek help.
Scaling a business so that it is efficient and profitable is important for success. Ensuring that systems are in sync with your unique value proposition and direction are important for competitive advantage. Designing your systems to scale to achieve profitability and be competitive is easier with expert help and a fresh pair of eyes. If this has resonated with you, then why not contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a call.
The Productivity of Working Hours, Pencavel J., Stanford University, 2014
Applied Cost Engineering, Clark and Lorenzoni, Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1985.
Strategy, Liddell Hart B.H., Meridan, 1991