The problem with spreading too thin


Zachary Aldwin :  Milkshake in the  Boardroom

Near the start of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy the character Bilbo, who is about to celebrate his 111th birthday poignantly describes himself; “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”I do not think that description is unique to a century old hobbit. There have been several points where I have been spread too thin, and I am pretty sure that I am not alone.The pressure of a start-up where you are doing all the work can leave you thin. Balancing the challenges of a larger business (or several businesses) can leave you feeling like a one handed juggler who has just had another ball thrown into his routine.

Add to that managing a house, a family, attending children’s sports days, keeping in contact with friends, finding time for coffee and no wonder like Bilbo we often want a long holiday from which we would rather not return.

Step one to recovery is to realise that you have a problem. In an ideal world this would be before exploding in an incandescent rage because your wife has phoned you at the wrong time to ask you to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home.

Ignoring reality means that we never change for the better, instead we plod along in denial. There are many strategies one can use to take the pressure off.

The ultimate result you are looking for is growth; growth in yourself to take on more, to realise where you are inefficient, to improve your capacity and get to the next level in your life.

In a ‘yes’ culture there is a tendency to take on too much. This can result in overburdening, double booking of appointments, and missed deadlines.

A refocus with appropriate cutting out of the unnecessary can bring significant relief. It sounds counterproductive to talk about growth in one paragraph and then cutting things out in the next but a rose bush when appropriately pruned performs better the next season.

It’s the same with humans. Part of the refocus is to spend time identifying what you do best. For some that translates as their purpose or call or mission; a brief statement that describes you and that is used as a filter for taking on new material.

A few years ago I found myself working two part-time jobs as well as trying to keep a small business afloat.

One of those jobs just did not fit, I hated it. I persevered for 18 months getting more and more frustrated.

Eventually I broke a door when I slammed it shut after a particular altercation. Not long after I resigned.

With hindsight I should never have taken it on-not because it was a bad company or because I was unable to do the work-but because it was just not “me”.

Part of the cut may include setting limits to or ditching the time wasters. How long do you really spend on Facebook and other social media?

How long do you really spend gaming? Not only that, how long does it take you to be able to focus on work again after an interruption on Skype or Messenger?

Be honest with yourself on this. Many of us underestimate the wastage that occurs in our lives. Schedule email checks and calls. Give yourself a limit on screen time during the week.

Delegate, outsource, and hire. Sometimes you just need to let go to someone who is better than you.

I hate paperwork (ironic for someone who writes). Specifically, I hate accounts and I hate dealing with bureaucratic statutory obligations like tax and social security.

For years the obsessive control freak in me had me doing it myself-it drove me crazy. Now I use an accountant which is so much better for my soul and sanity and the accuracy of my Zimra returns.

When you give work over to someone else make sure that you hire for attitude. Take time to investigate the person, spend time with them, test them through probationary periods, check for their attitude towards what you do and what you are asking them to take over. The right person in the right job with the correct attitude is an incredible fit. The wrong person is just hell, and then you will struggle to get rid of them.

Is there an easier way to do what you do? Is there an app for that that is worth investing in?

You may as well make tech work for you. Often there is an inexpensive app available to help with something that takes time or you dislike.

For example, expensify for scanning and categorising receipts to help you keep track of expenses.

There are apps for organisation of both your personal life and the company and to manage projects.

Even better, you don’t need to spend hours trawling through the app store to find one just check out someone else’s list (I found Expensify on a Forbes list done at the beginning of the year).

Do not be surprised when after taking the time to “get things right” that you look back and realise that you are doing far more than you did during the period you “felt thin”.

You can be more productive, you can be more efficient, and you can still find time for coffee.


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