5 ways you’re choking the life out of your business


You've gotta be optimistic AND realistic.


A few weeks ago I was the lay leader of the service at my Unitarian Universalist church. This meant I was responsible for choosing the theme, finding readings and stories to illustrate the theme, selecting congregational hymns, and preparing and delivering the lesson (AKA the sermon).

Also, the church choir was singing that day, so I also had to ensure that the songs tied in well with the day’s topic and were performed well. (Did I mention I’m also the choir director?)

Although the service and music turned out well and congregants told me it was great work, I was still wild-eyed and exhausted at the end of the morning. That’s because I made a number of mistakes that resulted in my biting off more than I could comfortably chew. Here are 5 indicators that you may be at risk for doing the same thing.

The issue: You ignore or forget preexisting commitments.

The main reason that Sunday morning was so stressful for me was that, when I signed up to lead the service, I’d forgotten that the choir was scheduled to sing the same day: I basically double-booked myself.

How often does that happen to you? For example, you really want to get in that meeting with the new prospect, but you already have a meeting close to the time she wants to meet, so you schedule back to back meetings and hope for the best – totally ignoring the fact that traffic at that time of day will be a bear.

The fix: Schedule, review, evaluate, then commit.

Had I bothered to consult my planner before using SignUp Genius to volunteer for that particular service, I would have known I’d be running around like the proverbial headless chicken by leading the service and the choir.

Over-committing: a faster way to fail.

For the sake of your effectiveness (not to mention your sanity), it’s better to err on the side of caution when filling up your calendar. Better to stretch out commitments and do each one very well, rather than pack them so tightly together you’re frenzied and apt to turn out a lower-quality product for any or all of the activities.

This is tricky to do if you frequently fall prey to the next productivity saboteur.

The issue: You’re addicted to being busy.

Did I get a little adrenaline rush from bopping back and forth between the lectern and the choir during the service? Absolutely. Was I calm and peaceful throughout? No way. The stress was a high price to pay for being busy.

Busy-ness can take many forms. You can volunteer in your professional association, be an active member of one or more networking groups, start and run a MeetUp group geared toward your ideal prospects….There’s never a lack of activities vying for your attention.

The fix: You work to shift your focus from busy-ness to effectiveness.

The questions you always get to ask yourself are, “How does this particular activity move me forward? How will doing this help me reach my goals more quickly and easily?” No clear answer = no good reason to waste time on it.

The issue: You try to do it all and be everything to everybody in both your personal and professional lives.

Am I the best choice to lead my church choir? At this point in time, yes. Do I love leading services and sharing good messages with the congregation? Definitely. Am I willing to give up either one? No.

But trying to do it all is a great way to trash the most important resource available to you: yourself.

If you don’t take care of yourself – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually – you’ll be of zero value to those people you most want to serve. You’ll burn out, be present physically but checked out mentally at important events, compromise the quality of your work due to fatigue and lack of time…NOT a recipe for success.

The fix: You compassionately and firmly set and enforce clear boundaries on both personal and professional commitments.

I realized after my over-busy Sunday that there was a simple remedy for the craziness, one which would allow me to participate in the choir and lead the occasional service: Since UU choirs typically sing just once a month, I simply avoid signing up for the service on the third of the month (the choir’s usual performance date). This allows me to still be active in my church – without the frenzy. Easy.

Setting boundaries with other people can be a bit tricker, however. Family and friends, particularly those who are not themselves entrepreneurs, are unfortunately likely to view you as readily available – particularly if you work from a home office.

One of the best ways to deal with unwitting interrupters is to prepare, in advance, ways of letting them know you’re busy and definitely not available. My personal favorite: “I’m on task right now. I’d love to connect later; can I call you tonight after work?” Then, of course, you follow through, so they know you mean what you say and are not just brushing them off.

Boundaries are also important in dealing with clients and prospects. While you obviously want to be accommodating of these important people, it’s totally appropriate to also take care of yourself and your mental health.

Be flexible, but don’t feel you have to drop everything. Besides, not being instantly and immediately available all the time lets others know that you’re in demand and reminds them they’re lucky to have access to you.

The issue: You fail to manage expectations.

How many times have you aimed to under-promise and over-deliver, only to realize you’re so over-extended that you ended up over-promising and under-delivering?


This is what can happen when you fail to manage expectations: yours and others’. And since it’s not fair to expect anyone else to read your mind, it’s up to you to be ruthlessly honest with yourself and others about what is do-able and what is not.

The fix: You make sure you, your family, clients, associates, et. al., know what can realistically happen and what’s just a fantasy.

This situation is another one in which preparing in advance hugely boosts the likelihood of success. You’ll want to be clear on your existing obligations (remember indicator #1) so you don’t over-schedule yourself. And it will be a huge help to have a variety of phrases or approaches in your back pocket, ready to be hauled out whenever you set expectations.

The issue: You go a little crazy purchasing products or enrolling in programs, then realize you don’t have the bandwidth to actually implement what they teach.

One of my personal big bites.

There’s just so much interesting stuff out there! I’m pretty good at being strategic about what products/services I purchase, but I’m less good at methodically working through the lessons. I’m too apt to want to hurry up and check them off my To Do list. When I realize a single lesson requires hours of work to effectively implement, I get frustrated and overwhelmed and have to work hard not to just grind to a halt. (Maybe I need to hire myself to work through this more effectively…)

How much money do you have tied up in products you’ve done nothing with? How many great-looking products are gathering dust on your shelves or clogging your hard drive? How many have never been opened or, if opened, implemented in some half-assed fashion? Just how many magic bullets have you been seduced by?

The fix: You take a deep breath, gather your resolve, and empty your plate of stuff you know in your gut you’re never going to act on.

Speaking from personal experience, this is a really tough fix.

When Joseph and I were getting ready to move from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids several years ago, we were both pretty ruthless about purging stuff we didn’t use on a regular basis. Since this included binders with reams of hard copy of interesting articles, the exercise was more than a little painful for me.

However, I had to admit that I hadn’t gone back to these references very often, which meant that they had lower value than I’d anticipated. So I took that deep breath and recycled the papers without even looking at them. (Major ouch.)

The excellent news was that (a) we had less stuff to transport, and (b) I felt an emotional weight off my shoulders, because I was able to let go of what I wasn’t using.

The bonus issue: You try to work on everything simultaneously.

Lack of focus = lack of success.This is a variation on the ever-popular and highly counterproductive multitasking.

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you have multiple goals for your business and (one hopes) for your personal life.

The great thing about this is that a variety of goals can keep you energized and engaged. The not-so-great thing is that you can make yourself crazy by thinking you should work on every goal every day.

Now, I’m a very firm believer in maintaining momentum by taking action steps toward a goal pretty much every day. But the trick is to give yourself permission to realize that the number of hours in a day truly is limited, and that it’s okay not to do every possible thing every single day.

The fix: You give yourself permission to have multiple, strategically chosen priorities AND to choose which priorities to address on any given day.

For example, one of my personal goals for this year is to get out to the archery range and shoot two or more times a month. I realized that, even though it doesn’t sound like much, it’s a good stretch for me at this time. I usually aim (so to speak ☺) to go on a Friday after noon.

Now, one of my business goals to increase the number of conferences I speak at, and I have a plan for doing this. While implementing my plan is important, I can choose to do so some time other than two Friday afternoons a month.

In other words, I can choose to work on two very different goals and be okay with devoting some time to one and some time to the other. I can still make substantial progress on them even if I don’t address each one each day.


Are you realizing that you often choke yourself by biting off more than you can chew? If so, you’re lucky your business – and your health – haven’t kicked the bucket yet.

What would happen if you stopped trying to do it all and started doing only what’s significant? How much calmer and more productive are you willing to become?

I can help you with that, since one of my best things is showing stuck entrepreneurs how to do more of those important-but-not urgent tasks and quit wasting time on unimportant activities.

But would we work well together? I don’t know that, but I do know we can find out through a no-cost, no-risk get-acquainted call.

So give yourself and your business the care and respect each deserves: Grab a spot for your call now. Let’s Heimlich you before things get any worse.

(By the way, thanks to Gracie and Liv for the watermelon image and to Ally Mauro for the multitasking one; I found both in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.)

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