Doing the Work vs. Letting Go

Confession: I work a lot. Probably too much. The first step up recognizing you have a problem is admitting you have a problem, right?

And while having too much on your plate is better than wondering if you’ll be able to pay the bills each month, it’s still very much a problem.

After a year of being an entrepreneur, I still have one big obstacle to overcome: Knowing when to let go. Accepting the fact that I can’t do it all, but more importantly, I don’t need to. It’s true what they say – one man’s passion is another man’s obsession, and there’s a thin line between working hard and over-working.

Some prefer to do all the labor themselves, while others would rather outsource everything. At the end of the day, it’s finding a balance, determining what works best for you so you CAN focus on doing meaningful work that you 1) are good at and 2) want to be doing.

Here are a few ways I’m working to become less overwhelmed and more focused as an entrepreneur:

Trust other people

My wife tells me I’m working too hard, my business partner tells me I’m working too much, my own body tells me I’m over-worked. For a long time I ignored all of the symptoms of being a workaholic, telling myself that you had to work a ton to get anywhere. And while starting a business is without a doubt hard work and long hours, I don’t (and you don’t) want to fall into the trap of working too much and neglecting the other things that matter most.

Listen to yourself, and listen to the other people you trust who have your best interest in mind. It’s not always easy, but you’ll be glad you did.

Helping others helps yourself

Outsourcing often is associated with being a “dirty” word – I’m not sure why, but as a solo-preneur turned entrepreneur who works with other people every day, it was and still is difficult for me to hand off work that I could do myself to someone else (often times to someone who can do it much better).

I think it’s like having a kid, being with them every day, and then sending them off to daycare for the first time (I’m not a parent so I’m not the expert here). You develop an attachment to your work and it’s difficult to let that go and trust someone, anyone else.

But in order to take on more work and grow as a business, you have to involve others and trust on the ability of other people. Aside from that, by outsourcing and involving other entrepreneurs and freelancers, you’re helping them pursue their passions and do work that they love. Focusing on what you’re best at and involving others to handle what their best at is a win-win for everyone. Focused work = good work.

Money matters: Manage your finances

I’ve said it here many times before, and whether you keep a spreadsheet or write things down on a whiteboard, money, and figuring out 1) how much you need and 2) how much you’d like to have, is critical to success. Any business-owner who tells you making money is a non-issue is full of shit. So, since money is important and necessary for survival, it’s obviously important to know, at the very least, how much you need.

The quickest way to start working less is by knowing you’re financially secure enough to do so. If you’ve made what you need to make for the month, the quarter, or however you decide to benchmark, any jobs that come in beyond that point can be handled by someone else, if you let them.

Try it out this month or next – once you’ve made what you need for the month, send the next project to someone else who’s capable and hungry to take on the project – transition yourself from labor-worker to manager. The transition doesn’t have to happen all at once, but little by little, you’ll reduce your workload and (ideally) learn that you’re still more than comfortable financially even when you’re not doing 100% of the labor.

Define your work day and set expectations

Whether it’s deciding when you are (and are not) going to respond to emails, or setting a limit to the number of clients you’ll take on each month – set some expectations for yourself, and stick to them.

I used to answer emails from 5am until 11pm, with no real “work hours”. This is fine for a while, but eventually your clients will come to expect that you’ll answer their emails all hours of the day, and when you don’t, they wonder what the hell happened to you. If you’re at this point, you’ve crossed the dangerous threshold of making yourself TOO available to your clients. Define your work day and set realistic expectations that you can live up to.

These are just a few things I’m doing as I continue to develop into doing more work “on the business” and less “in the business” – these are areas I believe are necessary to accept and embrace in order to succeed and thrive as an entrepreneur.

What are you doing to “let go” and focus on the work you want to be doing? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs out there?

(Photo c/o robinrowell)