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Opportunity Overwhelm

overwhelm to doI recently had a very interesting conversation with a client who called for some in-between-session support.

He called because he was feeling completely stuck.  He was swamped with having so much to do, so many opportunities he could be taking advantage of, and he felt completely overwhelmed. He had no idea how to prioritize all the multiple options of actions he could take.

As a result he was paralyzed and unable to pick any of the multiple possible actions to take or any of the many opportunities to pursue.  And he also felt panicky because he believed he was in danger of missing out on opportunities because of being so totally stuck.

StuckDoes this sound familiar to you?

I know it did to me.  In the past, I’ve gone for weeks feeling completely powerless to take action because I couldn’t figure out which action to take first.

I suggested two solutions to this problem, a short-term right-now band-aid and a long-term more permanent fix.  Hopefully you’ll find them helpful as well.

Short-Term Band-aid

One of my teachers, Johnnie Cass, gave a brilliant bit of advice, which he shared in an off-the-cuff remark during my NLP training.  It’s stayed with me all these years, “When you’re feeling overwhelmed, narrow your focus.” I love that and have used it often — just pay attention to the thing right in front of you.

And that’s usually really helpful, but when you’re overwhelmed by opportunities, how do you pick which opportunity is the right opportunity to focus on right now?

Here are a few re-frames that might help:

Happy Problem

First, when confronted by too many opportunities, take a moment to be grateful.  Too many opportunities is a happy problem!

So much better than too few, no?  So, take a moment, to just breathe in gratitude for the abundance of the Universe!

Clarifying Questions

Great, now that you’re in an appreciative state of mind ask yourself these clarifying questions:

  1.  Which of these opportunities brings me closer to the “right-now” money?
  2. How much time do I have available, today, to take action?

The first question has to do with the low-hanging fruit, the short-term funds that will help you pay the rent immediately.  There’s no shame in pursuing the low hanging fruit, in fact it can be vital to your business’ survival.

My client, though, had a valid concern – what if I’m pursuing “good” and sacrificing “great,”  which is where the second question comes in.  If you only have time today to take one action or pursue one opportunity, because you have other obligations, appointments, etc., then pursue the “right-now” money.

Keeping yourself solvent will empower you to pursue the “great”, visionary and long term opportunities when you have a bit more time.  But in the meantime, you have to eat, right?

If you have more time today – see if you can split it in half – spend half of the time on the low hanging fruit/right-now money opportunities; and half on the longer term opportunities that are more long-term goal oriented. I’d recommend a minimum of 1 hour for each – so if you have less than 2 hours, pick the low-hanging fruit.  (If you find you never have more than an hour, try taking turns alternating between low-hanging fruit and long-term goal oriented opportunities.)

If you have 2 hours or more, pick ONE for each category to pursue within that time frame.  Just pick, flip a coin!  Whatever you choose is going to move you forward and you will learn as long as you take action with an experimental mindset.

But if you can choose with your long-term goals in mind, your choices will be so much easier to make!  And you will be much more likely to choose opportunities that will advance you toward your vision! This leads me to the more permanent fix (which you may want to choose as the long-term goal oriented action…)

The Permanent Fix: A Clear, Specific Vision and Plan to Guide You

Vision Goals Action PyramidPart of what caused the overwhelm for my client was the lack of a clear, specific long-term vision and a plan composed of milepost goals to guide his journey.

Without these strong roots in place, you are very much at the mercy of the winds.

And two things can happen.  First of all, from a Law of Attraction standpoint – you have not placed a clear specific order with the Universe and while it’s doing its level best to send you great opportunities, without clear goals, the opportunities you’re attracting can tend to be pellmell and haphazard.

It’s like going into a restaurant and ordering cow – you just don’t know what you’ll get!

But secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, without a clear vision of where you want to get to, it’s so much harder to evaluate and prioritize the opportunities coming your way.

If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you gauge the effectiveness of one path over another?  How can you decide which are the good opportunities and which is the one great opportunity that will thrust open the doors of success for you?  Even enough to take a guess?

The sooner you design your long-term vision and plan, the easier it will be to switch from overwhelm into overdrive!

The Fundamental Shift in Perspective

Both of these strategies have one thing in common – they shift you from:

Opportunity Focused Reaction —> Goal Centered Response

And you always want to choose being Response-able over being Reaction-ary.  When you can make choices from a grounded, centered and focused place, when you have cleared the noise so you can hear your inner, intuitive voice, you will be able to make powerful choices with ease.

And nothing clears the noise better than a strong vision, specific and measurable goals and a clear plan to achieve both.

Will this guarantee that the opportunity you choose to pursue will be great?  Or even good?  Will it guarantee success?

There are no guarantees – all you can do is make the best decision with the information you have – and having the courage to create your vision and goals will create a lot of clarity to inform your decisions.

Please share with me – what opportunity you will choose to pursue today?  And let me know how it works out – OK? Just leave a comment below.

Oh, and if you’ve been thinking, “Yeah, but…”  Please share your “yeah, buts” with me too!

 

 

 

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Time Management Bookends – A Framework for Success

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramTime Management is the Number One System that will enable you to achieve sustainable success in your business and your life.

If your Time Management isn’t working – nothing else will.

I have worked with literally hundreds of clients on the issues that a poor time management system creates

They include:

  • Procrastination
  • Difficulties with prioritization
  • Boundary issues with family and friends
  • Feelings of overwhelm and fear
  • Burnout

And what I’ve found is that when you start the day well and end the day well, very often the middle works so much better!

In this class you’ll learn:

  • What are Time Management Bookends and why do we use them
  • How to design your unique morning and evening Bookends?
  • The three most important components of successful Bookends
  • How to install your bookends into your daily life

Additional Resources for this Class:

Prerequisite Class:

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Next Class:

Ask for Help – the 3rd Key to Maintaining Focus

In the 1st Key, we looked at the big list, and in the 2nd Key, took everything off the plate that we could using the first 3 of the 4 D’s from Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out:

  1. Delete
  2. Delay
  3. Diminish
  4. Delegate

The 3rd Key is all about delegating.  It’s about taking the things that you’ve got left on the plate and asking the question – for which of these things is it critical that I do them personally and what can I give away?

In this society, we’re taught that it’s wrong to ask for help.  You should be able to do it yourself, right?  Just pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work.  But the truth is that the really successful people understand that no one gets there by themselves.  You have to be willing to ask for help.

“But Debra,” you say:

  • If I ask for help, don’t I look weak?
  • If I ask for help, aren’t I vulnerable to being taken advantage of (could also sound like, what if they steal my material?)
  • I can’t ask for help, everyone else is just as stressed and overwhelmed as I am!
  • What if they say “No?”

Regarding the first point – ask yourself this, if you don’t ask for help, and aren’t able to come through on your promises as a result – how will you look then?

Regarding the second point – I’m recommending delegation, NOT abdication.  Be smart in how you work with people -and set up accountability procedures.

Regarding the third and fourth point – whenever you ask, you must be OK with them saying, “No.”  If you don’t allow the “No”, then you’re not asking, you’re manipulating.

But let me ask you this – when someone you love and care about asks you for help, how do you feel?  I’m not talking about the person who always asks and never offers, always takes and never gives. I’m talking about the person who mostly does for themselves – when they ask for help, how do you feel?  If it’s someone you really care about – I bet you feel honored and grateful to be able to give to the people you love.  By not ever asking for help – you are holding out on the people you care about.  You’re cheating them of the opportunity to contribute to you and to express their love and caring for you.  So asking for help is being generous – isn’t it?

And if it’s OK for them to say “No.” because they just can’t this time, then they will also have the space to say, “Yes.” if and when they can.  And you need to trust people to take good care of themselves.  Support them in being honest with you – let them know that it’s OK if they say no.  And then accept their generosity graciously and with gratitude.  You could also look for ways to give back and help them out when they need it.

When it comes to asking for help from your fans and followers, as an artist, you are offering them an opportunity to play with you at a deeper level.  When fans volunteer for an artist they love, they become more committed and invested in your success.  And as a result, they are more likely to share you with others, buy from you, and commit to being your fan for the long term.

And isn’t that really what you want?  Committed, passionate lifetime fans?  The best way to create that relationship with your fans is to ASK FOR THEIR HELP!

So who are you going to ask for help?  Let me know how it goes!

Clear the Plate – the 2nd Key to Maintaining Focus

In the first installment of this series we created a big brainstorm list of all the stuff that makes up the chaos.  Just to remind you of the overview:

5 Keys to Manage Chaos

  1. Acknowledge the reality of your current circumstances
  2. Take everything off the plate that you can
  3. Ask for help
  4. Manage your emotions and thoughts through the experience
  5. Get the learning

And now for the second key:

Take it off the Plate!

Read more

How to Manage Conflicting Priorities

In our complex, day-to-day lives, we have a multitude of priorities calling for our attention.  Some call in a whisper.  Others scream from the rooftops.  And the soft voice of the things that we most long to accomplish is often drowned out by the fires and clamoring of these conflicting priorities.

No matter how good your time management structures and systems are, if you don’t figure out how to manage these conflicts, you will be hard-pressed to maintain those systems.   So how do you decide where to spend your resources for the best outcome?

Have Clear Goals

It’s a funny thing – when I know exactly what my goals are, then evaluating and deciding which priorities to invest my time, energy and resources into becomes easier.  When my goals are clear and specific with hard and fast deadlines – then I can decide which opportunities are in line with my goals and which are distractions.

It sounds simplistic, but it’s true.

When your goals are clear it becomes simpler to make decisions and it becomes easier to say “No”, because you know what you are saying “Yes” to.

Create Time Blocks

When you’ve got clear goals and you know what you’re saying “Yes” to, but you still are managing multiple projects and claims on your time, the best way I’ve found to organize my thinking as well as my time is by creating clear time blocks, even days, for each priority or project.

For example, if one of my priorities is working with another person on their priorities, I can say – “I’ve set aside Friday morning for you.”   And I can clear my plate (and my email and phone) from those interruptions until it’s time.

Bottom line – multitasking doesn’t work.  Study after study has shown that the more you are flitting from thing to thing, or doing two things at once, the less effective you are.  By creating a specific block of time to work on a project, you can focus all of your mind, energy and resources to create a better result in less overall time.

And when the idea floats into your mind, “Oh, don’t forget to do X for that other project.”  Just make a note and come back to it when it’s that project’s time.

Ask the Right Questions

Once you’re clear on your goals and you’ve created a schedule to accomplish those goals, that doesn’t mean new opportunities, other people’s needs or even ideas for new projects won’t come up for you.  In fact, I’ve found the more effective I’m being; the more those things seem to happen.  But you can evaluate and make choices about these new possible priorities by asking powerful questions:

Is this my urgency or someone else’s?

Very often, we will prioritize other people’s needs over our own.  And when we try to resist that call, our inner critic starts in with the “Aren’t you being selfish?” message.

Look, your family and your loved ones are important.  If you’re managing a day job in order to pay the bills – your boss and your job are important, too.  But by always prioritizing other people’s needs or priorities over your own, you are actively destroying your own self-worth. You are saying, “I’m NOT worth it.  I don’t matter.”  And if you have children – you are teaching them to do the same.

So, get clear:

  • Get clear on whose agenda you’re serving.
  • Get clear on the consequences of saying “No.”
  • Get clear on what the payoff for you is for saying, “Yes.”

Make sure that what you imagine is the consequence is actually real.  (If I don’t take my sister to the airport, she’ll stop loving me…  Really?) And be careful of the flattery payoff.  Often when someone picks US to help them, we are flattered that they value our talents.  But remember to value your own goals over their flattery.  When all is said and done, you’ll have helped them achieve their goals while sacrificing your own.

Then make a choice and stand by it.  You’re allowed to say, “No.”  Remember, there are no right choices or wrong choices.  There are only choices with varying consequences.   Also remember, that we train people how to treat us.  If you feel like your family doesn’t respect your goals, that’s because you’ve taught them not to.  If you start respecting and prioritizing your goals, they will, too.

Does this project serve my goals?  Which goal, specifically?

The clearer you are on which goal you’re serving, the easier it becomes to make a choice.  And also where in your schedule to place it.

By spending time on this priority am I moving towards something?  Or away from something else – perhaps a goal that brings up fear, considerations or obstacles?

Notice if you’re using another priority to avoid facing something.  (I’m too busy to work on my music, because of yah de, yah de, yah de…)

Remember, there is no right or wrong choice.  Each choice has consequences – some predictable and some not.  The question, then, is:

Does this choice bring me closer to my goals and dreams?

Is this choice in line with my values and principles?

And finally – be realistic about how much time you actually have.  Often when looking at projects or priorities, it’s better to think in terms of serial monogamy than polyamory.  Doing one project at a time and doing it well will bring you closer to the life of your dreams than will working on multiple projects and not doing them as well, or never finishing them.

When looking at opportunities – remember that all opportunities aren’t your opportunity.  And that we live in an abundant universe filled with opportunities.  Don’t just say, “Yes” to this opportunity because it kinda sorta looks like what you want.  You can say, “No.”  It won’t mean that you will never have another opportunity.  In fact, often you have to say, “No” to the mediocre opportunities before the Universe will start sending you the great ones.

Ask the Organizer

Some of the biggest energy and time wasters in our lives results from an ineffective system of organization. This can show up in many ways.

It can look like a lack of time management – but really you’re spending too much time looking for things you’ve lost. It can look like getting distracted because of things you’ve forgotten or feeling confused and overwhelmed because you’re surrounded by clutter in your space.

It can look like avoiding or procrastinating – but really, you haven’t organized your goals and To Do list in a way that helps you to prioritize what needs to get done – so you can’t get started.

So, for this month’s Words to the Wise edition, I’m going to hand the reins off to an Organization expert – Joshua Zerkel – for some tips on how to organize your time to avoid communications distractions. (While writing this introduction, my phone rang 3 times!)

Warm regards,
Debra Russell
Certified Business Coach

Boost Focus and Productivity by Reducing Communication Distractions

By Joshua Zerkel
During the course of a given day, think about how many different ways you might be distracted from the tasks you have in front of you – a notification pops up in the corner of your screen letting you know you have a new email, your phone vibrates to let you know you received a new message on Twitter, the phone rings… and the list goes on and on. Let’s face facts – we live in distraction oriented culture, where we’re encouraged to be in near-constant contact with the outside world.

While staying in touch is great in theory, being constantly available to the outside world can be an ongoing source of distractions and interruptions. In my work with clients, many of them say that dealing with these distractions has become a major part of daily life, and is taking a toll on their productivity. Here are some strategies for stemming the tide of interruptions and getting back on track towards being more efficient:

Prioritize your key tasks

Before you start your work each day, take a few moments to write down what your priority tasks are going to be that day. Set aside time on your calendar to work on those tasks, and make those times “communication free zones” – meaning that you won’t check email, answer calls, or instant-message during those times, unless doing so relates specifically to the project you’re working on. Setting aside this space to work on your projects will help you stay focused and get closer to your goal of finishing a given task.

Beware of “helpful” notifications

Pretty much every system we use to communicate, whether it’s instant message, email, social media, voice mail, text messaging, etc., has a way to notify us when we’ve received a new message or communication request. Ask yourself, are these notifications serving you, or are they an interruption? For most of us, the latter is the case. Instead of allowing these tech tools distract you, set specific times during the day when you will check for new messages, email, etc., and turn off the notifications. You could check your various inboxes twice a day, every few hours, or every hour, depending on the volume of communication you receive. Very, very few messages are so urgent that they can’t wait an hour or two for you to return the communication.

Don’t get sucked into the social media vortex

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace… these are all great tools, and can be a lot of fun. They can also generate a voluminous amount of messages that require your attention and time. If you’re using these tools for purely personal use, limit your use of them to outside business hours, and set some parameters about how much time you’d like to spend on them. If social media is a part of your business, make sure to set aside time on your calendar during your work day to process your new messages and friend requests. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that managing these sites is something that can be done in the ever-elusive “spare time” – keeping current with your profiles has to become part of your scheduled tasks.

These are some of my favorite ways to reduce communication-related distractions – what are some of yours?

Joshua Zerkel, CPO® is a the founder of Custom Living Solutions, a San Francisco-based productivity and organizing consulting firm, specializing in helping busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit www.customlivingsolutions.com or call 415-830-6345.

Creator’s Block

Here it is a rainy March morning and as I sit down to write to you, I realize that I’ve been avoiding doing this writing for some time.  Would you call this writer’s block?  Perhaps.  And it occurs to me, that writer’s block – or creator’s block for the purpose of this conversation, can look different for different people.

But if you endeavor to live a creative life, and even more so, make a prosperous living from your creative endeavors, feeling blocked around creating can be an unpleasant, even painful place to be.  And of course, it just may get in the way of pursuing your dreams.

What Causes Writer’s Block or Creator’s Block?

Whether you are writing words, writing songs, painting, taking photographs, sculpting, designing jewelry or in any way creating on a regular basis, creator’s block can happen.  Perhaps it shows up by being “too busy” with other things.  Perhaps, you sit down and nothing comes – just blank.  Or you get “distracted” by email, the phone, the dishes….

In my experience, most creative blocks are caused by one of three obstacles:

  • Your inner critic,
  • Your outer critics,
  • And/or a lack of creative space – physically, temporally or emotionally (which leads back to the first two).

I’ve often heard from clients that they got blocked because they got a bad review or what they perceived as negative feedback and found they couldn’t create for months after.  Has this ever happened to you?  I’ve found that the artists most vulnerable to this are already fighting an inner critic and that external voice, especially from a mentor or someone you really respect, can just amplify the inner critic to the point where all creative juices stop flowing.  For artist’s who have a strong internal supportive voice, external feedback becomes just that – feedback.  Take what you can use, leave the rest.

When it comes to your environment blocking your creative endeavors, this can be tricky.  There are so many ways in which your environment can act as a block –  whether it’s your physical space (like the gardener who is right now outside with his leaf blower!), your temporal or time management, or your tendency to give other people’s requests for your time and energy more importance than your own creative priorities.

Learning to set up your environment to support your creativity is a key skill for any creative entrepreneur.

All of these issues can be summed up into one: the inability or unwillingness to prioritize yourself – prioritize your needs, your values, your beliefs, your own inner voices and muses.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be open to other people’s needs or constructive criticism, but if their needs and voices are drowning out your own, then you have a problem.  And I’m betting a creative block isn’t the only way that issue is turning up in your life.

In the Artists Marketing & Business Academy, I have several classes designed to address these issues.  I also will be writing more about them in my blog.

How Can I Move Past My Block?

For this issue of the Newsletter, I’m going to focus on a method that has helped me tremendously and that my clients have used with great results.  When you are creating, whatever you are creating, use the following steps:

Step 1 – ideas, brainstorming, brain dump – no editing
Step 2 – sort through the ideas and brainstorming and develop an idea into a first draft
Step 3 – edit that idea into a first public draft and send it out for feedback
Step 4 – take the feedback and polish and hone the work
Step 5 – repeat step 3 and 4 until you are truly happy with the result!

Step 1 – The brain dump

The first step is to put all your ideas down on paper.  Good ideas, bad ideas, bits and pieces of ideas, unformed ideas – everything.  You want to have absolutely no filters here.  You may work this step in a structured way – you sit down to the page for 1 hour every day.  Or you may just carry around a notepad or tape recorder with you, every where you go.  The key here is to capture the ideas – good, bad and ugly – all the ideas down on paper.

This step can show up in many forms, depending on the medium in which you’re creating.  For a visual artist, it may be doodling in your sketchbook, jotting down ideas of themes or concepts.  For the songwriter, it may be bits of melody, lyric phrases, or even just a book of song titles.  For the novelist or screen writer, it could be bits of dialogue, scene ideas.

I was working with a novelist awhile back, and she was blocked.  My assignment to her was to write 1000 words a day – badly.  She was to write as badly as she could.  We were going for her writing to really suck!

The point is to just put the perfectionist on hold here.  This isn’t about creating a final product or even a good first draft.  It’s just to allow the creative juices to flow.

Step 2 – Creating the first draft

This step should be scheduled and given a decent chunk of time several days a week.  What you want to do with this time is to sit down and look through your ideas, your bits and pieces and starting with the pieces you feel most drawn to, flesh them out into a first draft.

You may work on more than one project at a time during this stage.  But what’s most important is that you set up this time as completely separate from either Step 1 or Steps 3, 4, or 5.  Again, we aren’t going for a final product here and you want to continue having the perfectionist on hold.

During this stage work on your projects enough to find out if there’s a solid idea.  Flesh it out enough to be ready to show to some people for feedback.  Get to a first draft.  And then put it aside for at least 3 days.

Step 3 – First round of edits on your first draft

After you’ve left this project alone for several days, come back to it and give it a read through.  Edit it, play with the language, the order.  Try different things with it, perhaps change the rhythm or the key it’s in.  Try using a different size brush or color scheme.

Again, do not mix this step with either Step 1 or 2.  The part of your brain that you use during editing and adjusting is not appropriate during the initial stages of creation – it only tends to block things.  Because this is when you begin to use your critical facilities.  This is when the voice that tells you that you can do better becomes useful.

But beware of spending too much time here.  Again, we’re not going for the finished product yet.  We’re looking to create a version that’s good enough to get feedback on, which leads me to Steps 4 and 5.

Step 4 – Get constructive critique and create a second draft

There are two critical factors for this step.  You must choose your people very carefully.  You want someone who is going to be ruthlessly honest with you.  You want someone who really knows your medium and your genre (and if they know your niche, it’s even better).  And you want someone who can communicate feedback in a voice you are willing to hear.

Some successful artists use family – although this can be tricky.  Most successful artists use experts in their field (which includes editors for the written word).  Some even use their loyal fan base.  Many songwriters use the TAXI submissions to get feedback to improve their music or the TAXI forums to get feedback from fellow songwriters.  Some writers will go to a writer’s group or their editor and agent for feedback.

Whoever you choose, remember to stay open to the pieces of the feedback that you can use.  Not all of their suggestions will be immediately useful – that’s ok.  Sometimes they may make a suggestion which you don’t want to use – but if you stay open, it may trigger you to discover the exact right change you need to make.

Sit with the feedback and go back to your project and edit it.

Step 5 – Rinse and Repeat until finished

You may go through Steps 3 and 4 several times.  Probably the hardest part is to know when you’re done, to know when more editing ends up doing more harm than good.  Be wary of ironing out all the ripples in the fabric of your creation.  There’s no such thing as perfection.  And if there were – it would bore us to tears.

If you listen to your inner quiet voice – you will know when you’re done.  And use your discipline to stop, declare the project done, and start marketing it!

One last note:  Your voice is the voice that matters.  When being open to feedback, trust yourself.  Stay open to their opinions, reactions, and suggestions.  But don’t sell out on yourself.  It’s a fine line and one that takes practice.  This isn’t about creating by committee.  It’s about always growing, developing and honing your craft.  No matter how talented you are, truly powerful art is always a marriage between talent and craft.  This method allows you to use the best of both.