March 2016 was madness, and not because I follow sports. I officially tallied up more hours than I have on any other month in seven years of business. What’s more, I knew it would be intense. But I’m pretty sure that no amount of preparation would have prevented the valuable lessons I learned along the way.
At the end of February I turned on my out of office to let people know I would be extremely busy in March, but I would get back to them as quickly as possible. I’m glad I did, too. Not only was it wise for my clients, team and associates to know what to expect, it reminded me of a very valuable lesson…
I am allowed to create and set boundaries.
“Hello, I’m Jamie, and I’m a responsibilitarian.” Responsibility is my top strength according to StrengthsFinder 2.0 and the only cure for my ‘at once’ nature, is to remember that I am human, not a robot. This means I have basic survival needs like drinking water, feeding my body, and getting rest (not to mention vats of dark and delicious coffee – but I digress). As a business owner who wears every hat a business has to wear, this quality comes in handy. I am dedicated to the task at hand, to my job and to others. But sometimes it’s a weakness, and I have to learn again that I need to continue sharpening my healthy boundaries and realistic expectation setting skills.
Here are a few ways I did that this last month:
1. The easiest expectation I could set while going into March was giving my schedule flexibility and dedicated blocks of time to accomplish work. I didn’t make any appointments or take any meetings that couldn’t wait until April. I also let other clients know that I had a massive project coming to a boil and would be more able to focus on their work on certain days, or at certain times of the week or month. When we give proper expectations and then follow through, the level of trust those around you have will increase significantly. Believe it. My clients were gracious because they were able to trust my word.
2. The second was turning on my out of office (vacation email responder) to let people know I was committed to responding, that I received their message and would do my best to get back to them within 72 hours. It’s amazing to me what happens when people have that head’s up. The urgency of smaller issues subsides and they give you grace in that moment. It also frees up the looming wonder of what is happening in your inbox every moment of the day and provides a cushion for you to get back to them in what is still a reasonable amount of time.
3. The third strategy I empowered was to get additional help. Not only did we need extra hands on deck to finish this project, I needed to reign in a couple of extra team members to help organize and accomplish the work we already have from current clients. Because I would be less available, I delegated to those I trusted and have worked with before and it saved me in the end. When we trust our ability to hire well (find and pay for good help), the burden of managing a lot of spinning plates becomes less stressful. I was able to put those on a kind of auto-pilot while I dove into the coordination of launching the website at hand.
As a planner (that’s my Futuristic strength), I tend to have the vision to see what is ahead and pull forward a plan of action for how we will survive and be most efficient (my Maximizer strength) in getting there. So, what if you don’t have these strengths? Here are a few helpful lessons I also learned this month:
- It’s ok to say no. Not everything that passes through my door is the right fit, project, client or endeavor for me. While some may press and push, knowing what you do and being committed to doing it well will help you know when to hand over work to someone else. I referred business to a few trusted associates last month due to my workload and the potential client’s needs – and it was liberating. I feel like in doing so, I solidified who I am and what I want, while also reinforcing my work/life balance priority.
- Set a schedule and stick with it. I am the first to tell you that I work a LOT. Granted, I love what I do and it fulfills my passion, but I have to put exercise and ‘downtime’ on my calendar. I even put date night on the schedule so I remember what I’ve committed to. However, it does me absolutely no good to add it to my calendar if I don’t follow-through and I feel guilty and exhausted at the end of the day if I don’t stick to my calendar. This also serves as a sort of checklist of what I accomplished, and a tracking system for how much time I spent where. You may need to block off time to respond to emails, or check voicemails, or even make lunch or dinner. But having something on your calendar means it is important to you that it be there, so give it the time you have allocated and you’ll feel refreshed, fed and ready to carry on.
- Don’t neglect your personal life. While my husband, family and friends knew I was working hard in March toward a pretty strict goal, and were super supportive in the process, I also had to be sure to take time to focus on my home and my relationships. Taking calls, responding to texts, and just taking time to be in relationship (#4 strength = Relator) fuels all of us. When we suck the love tank dry and don’t refill it, relationships wear thin and begin to break down. Remain committed to the long-lasting priorities and remember, business is temporary.
- Give yourself grace. While I am ecstatic that I hit the mark and I did what I said I would do, somewhere along the way there was a twinge of guilt for working too much and too hard. Even though I had prepared my home and husband and family and clients, and even though I knew it was temporary, somehow it also felt like I had abandoned my higher priorities to become a workaholic. But sometimes we have to do what we have to do and it strengthens us in the process and my priorities have become even more clear to me through this journey. I choose to give myself grace for doing the best I could do with what I have been given and being strong through the process and then celebrating the accomplishments!
Overall, the project I was gifted to be a part of was a labor of love that took us just shy of a year to produce. It was a delight for me to join forces with people all around the globe (and right here in my backyard) to birth the dream of client I have come to respect and admire. It was energizing working with her and while I didn’t really know who she was or even to what level she did what she does before I came on board, I know now just why we got along so well. She is Kelly Rae Roberts and she is a Possibilitarian, full of beauty, gratitude, joy and kindness. She finds light and love in her life and pulls that out in others too. What a gift.
I don’t think any amount of research would have given me the insight to know what I would come away with from this project. And there way no way of understanding what kind of a role I would play or how this project would change my life through the lessons I learned and I’m so grateful for all of the amazing ways it has been a blessing.
Do you have a project like this? Have you been a part of something significant that has taught you lessons about life and priorities and boundaries? I’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comments below or send me an email. I hope I have inspired you to take stock of what is most important to you and how to organize your goals so you accomplish exactly what you need to.