Overwhelm isn’t created by what you think it is.

It’s not because of having too much on your plate.

It’s not because you have a burgeoning to-do list that keeps growing.

And it’s not because you’re trying to balance kids, family, laundry, writing, clients and more.

These are all the manifestations of overwhelm — but not the root cause. And as long as you focus on the to-do list or the laundry pile, you’re going to stay stuck in the overwhelm indefinitely.

The root cause is that you’re not choosey* enough.

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Full Transcript:

Overwhelm isn’t created by what you think it is.

It’s not because of having too much on your plate.

It’s not because you have a burgeoning to-do list that keeps growing.

And it’s not because you’re trying to balance kids, family, laundry, writing, clients and more.

These are all the manifestations of overwhelm — but not the root cause. And as long as you focus on the to-do list or the laundry pile, you’re going to stay stuck in the overwhelm indefinitely.

The root cause is that you’re not choosey enough.

Every day we make choices about where we decide to allocate our time and effort.

Sometimes we make these choices deliberately, and even with enthusiasm. But more often than not, we make these choices by default (meaning, the choice gets made for us because we don’t actually make it ourselves), in support of someone else’s agenda or begrudgingly because we think we ‘have’ to.

It’s time to be choosey. Really damn choosey.

At a live, in-person workshop I held for a group of ambitious women, we took the day to map out the next six months of their business.

We strategized, calendarized, and created solid action plans. It was truly awesome. AND…many still were wrestling with the fear that by committing to a more focused, clear plan, they were setting themselves up for overwhelm. “I’m scared to commit to this and put it down on paper. If I add this in too, I’ll have no time left.”

But that belief is what’s inherently the problem. By keeping things open and loose, we have no parameters from which to decide what comes into our world, and what stays out, and so anything and everything comes in…and that’s what creates the overwhelm, resentment and burnout.

And then the idea of adding in one more thing (even if it’s something we really care about), feels nothing short of daunting.

If you’re, as one participant said, “trying to keep 87 ducks in a row”, then adding an 88th is going to max you out. So instead, you keep putting off what’s most important because your time has been eaten by 87 ducks that don’t really matter.

Ultimately, this comes down to making some hard choices about what matters most and where you’re willing to put your precious time and energy. I know you’ve heard this from me a million times, but it bears repeating because it’s the area where I see the most continued struggle for my clients.

If you buy into the notion that doing what matters to you is just going to add more work to your plate, then you’ve got to change your thinking around it. Instead, start first from the lens of creating space for the important work, and pushing out the stuff that just takes up time.

We don’t make meaningful progress on what matters by hoping to fit it into the margins of our lives (because for most of us, that margin is pretty slim).

If you need more help figuring this out, go grab my CEO Fast Track Guide over here and use it as a template and model for creating space for your deep work.

And listen, if you’re committed to moving beyond overwhelm, you’re going to need to start saying no to things that you’d normally say yes to in the past.

It’s easy to say yes. It feels good in the moment, it often pleases others and it makes us feel like we’re not missing out on opportunities. But then a few days later the reality of that yes sinks in and we’re faced with the truth that we’ve just contributed to our overwhelm.

As fellow coach and creator of Healthy Boundaries for Kind People, Randi Buckley says,

“If you hope someone will decline, don’t offer it in the first place.”

Deep down we know what we need to say no to. We just need to give ourselves permission to do that. Last week in my Leadership Letter, I spoke of a friend who was wrestling with opportunities coming her way that didn’t directly align with the path she was headed in.

But money! But obligation! But possibility!

Ultimately after we talked it through, we got to a place where she could just say one big executive no to ALL new opportunities while she focused on her big, important project.

She gave herself permission to be choosey.

And at the risk of making this just too easy, here are a couple of simple scripts you can use to say no to opportunities that come your way. The first gives you language to use if you know it’s a no but you want to decline with grace. The second gives you language to use if the opportunity is a potential, but you can’t manage it now.

Script #1: It’s a no!

“Thank you so much for considering me for this opportunity. Given the direction I’m taking my business, this doesn’t feel like a fit. (Optional add-on) I’ll put on my thinking cap to see if I can identify anyone who might be a better match.”

Note: Notice how short and sweet this is? No need to over explain or apologize. You never have to justify your priorities to someone who isn’t directly impacted by them.

Script #2: It’s a no now, but you want to keep the door open.

“Thanks for the opportunity, it sounds really interesting (insert adjective). At this point, I’ll respectfully decline as my plate is full with some really exciting projects, and I’m committed to putting my focus and attention here for the next X months (whatever timeframe). That said, I’d love to keep the conversation open should another opportunity arise down the road. Thanks again for thinking of me.”

I just used this one a few weeks ago when I was invited to speak last minute. While the topic (podcasting) appealed to me, the timeframe would have compromised my work on other more important business activities. And while I love all things podcasting, I’m not trying to build a brand around being a podcast expert. I said no thank you, but keep me in mind down the road.

It’s time for you to be choosey. Really damn choosey.

What needs to go in service of what matters? What can you put on the back-burner for the next 90 days to make room for that thing that keeps getting delayed?

  • Is it time to ditch the volunteer gig that you’ve been doing because you’ve been on it for five years and believe they can’t live without you? News flash – they can.
  • Is it time to ask your kids or partner to cook two nights a week so that you can keep writing?
  • Is it time to scale back the work that’s been your bread and butter (yet no longer really inspires) so you can make time for a new revenue stream that lights you up?
  • Is it time to say no to most social invites for a window of time?
  • Is the networking event that creates an extra two hours of drive and prep time worth the return it’s bringing you?
  • Is it time to grab your calendar and make non-negotiable time blocks to move a project, idea, passion forward — one that’s been in your heart, yet hasn’t moved an inch?

This can be a challenging notion, especially if you thrive in the place of possibility and potential. You want to leave room for the new and shiny. You don’t want to close any doors. And you really, really don’t want to piss anyone off.

But how will you feel if another quarter goes by and your heart work (the work that matters most) is still taking up the same “one day, someday” space in your consciousness?

In his amazing book, Essentialism, author Greg McKeown, reminds us that life is a series of tradeoffs. When I first read that, my inner optimist resisted his notion. Yet, the truth is, he’s right. We cannot possibly do all, be all and have all – all at the same time.

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done, it’s about how to the get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

So please be choosey. Really damn choosey about where you put your time, attention and focus.

What is most important, right now? Take a breath and really consider your answer to that instead of just acting on what happens to be in front of you at the moment.

Your time is your most valuable asset and one that’s non-renewable. And you have more of it than you think you do, it just needs to be allocated intentionally instead of randomly.

And when you claim what’s important and make that your priority, you start to open up more time for it and start to find the no’s easier to say if they don’t support that priority.

This is when you become a leader.

This is where you create the conditions to make the deepest impact possible.

And this is where you reduce overwhelm and tension, and to have a happier and healthier you.


Work with Me!

Beginning in April, I’m opening spots in my 90-day Make it Happen coaching intensive. This is the perfect fit for you if you’d like to stop the spray-and-pray approach to your business activities, and get really focused on making significant progress on a few key projects or business activities.

I’ll be there with you every week keeping you on track, helping you make smart, quick decisions and ensuring you actually get to the other side of the work that will drive your business forward. I will help you be really damn choosey so you can get the work done.

If you’d like to learn more about this program, I invite you to check out stephaniepollock.com/make-it-happen or visit today’s show notes at stephaniepollock.com/bpp038. We can also jump on the phone to ensure it’s the right fit for you. This program starts the beginning of April to ensure we’re wrapped up before summer — so if this feels like a yes for you, I invite you to reach out soon.

*For all you language sticklers, I looked it up and both ‘choosey’ and ‘choosy’ are correct. I opted for the former.

Recommended Resources:

Make it Happen – 90-day Coaching Intensive running April, May & June 2017

Leadership Letters

CEO Fast Track Guide

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

3 Ways to Turn Down the Tension

I give you permission

Healthy Boundaries for Kind People

Original 2014 blog post: Be Choosey. Really damn choosey.

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Be choosey. Really damn choosey.

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