As an entrepreneur who tries to handle a hundred things at once, you may not realize when you’ve said “yes” to one too many projects or clients. But making too many commitments can do serious damage to your small business: It can cause you to miss deadlines, fail to deliver on promises, and hurt your reputation. Overcommitting also leaves you no time to generate or follow up on new leads.
Here are six ways to determine whether you have stretched yourself too thin — and what to do about it.
1. Your to-do list has exploded. You find yourself overbooked for meetings, and your daily agenda keeps expanding because you hardly ever finish anything. Instead, come up with a “not to do” list, suggests Daniel Murphy, CEO and co-founder of the Growth Coach Franchise System. Include tasks that distract you from your core responsibilities as a small-business owner and that have little effect on your bottom line.
2. You’re distracted. You keep having to ask people to repeat themselves because you can barely focus. If you have too much on your mind, you won’t be able to give your full attention to any one task. Your brain is telling you to take a breather.
3. You can’t remember the last time you said “no.” You don’t want to turn away new business, but sometimes a project is beyond your capabilities or resources. One overbearing and unpredictable new customer could easily steal time and energy away from your existing clientele. Before taking on any new project, run it by someone else, Murphy suggests. This person — who could be an employee, a mentor, or your significant other — “will help stop a knee-jerk acceptance of any new project or sale,” he says. The ideal person will have a financial background, such as an accountant or CFO who can run some analysis for you.
4. You undervalue yourself. At some point, you need to give yourself a promotion and get away from doing menial tasks. Assign yourself an hourly rate and never go below it, Murphy recommends. For instance, think of the activities you do as being worth $150 an hour, but those of your bookkeeper as $20 per hour. Then every time you find yourself doing a job that skews toward the administrative side of the business rather than its strategy and long-term goals, ask yourself, Is this worth $150 per hour to my company?
5. Your level of service has declined. Is your business seeing a rise in complaints about your latest product? Are you having to apologize for late shipments because some of your employees are missing key deadlines? “When we sense our quality of service to clients is slipping, we have to ask why,” warns Jones Loflin, co-author of the time-management book Juggling Elephants: An Easier Way to Get Most of Your Important Things Done—Now. If the answer is that your employees are feeling overworked, you’ll need to evaluate whether you should hire a new staff member or find ways your current workforce can do their jobs more efficiently.
6. You have no time to think about your time. It’s hard to be efficient when you have no idea where all the hours in your day go. Loflin suggests that business owners take a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to evaluate their workload, as well as to think further out, with weekly and monthly reviews. These moments should give you an opportunity to consider how efficiently you’re working and to question whether you should, say, hire a new staffer or delegate more effectively. Hopefully, these evaluations will help you avoid overcommitting yourself the next time.