I have a checklist that never ends.
Each time I remove one task at least 2-3 others get added.
Occasionally, I’ll find myself checking them all of entirely, without any new task being added, and I feel a “yay” moment.
And then a new day comes, a semi-empty inbox becomes full, and the checklist is refilled. The cycle starts all over again.
This has been my everyday for over a decade and I’ve learned to thrive in it – heck, I love it! I don’t know how to operate in any other environment anymore.
Being an agency owner these days is all about thriving in the chaos. I’ve learned to embrace it.
At least that was the case until recently.
The Most Stressful Time of My Life
It was three months and three days until our wedding day when my now-husband’s mother passed away unexpectedly.
Our whole world was turned upside down. Everything went dark.
All checklists were put on pause. Yet, the tasks kept growing regardless of the darkness.
Neither of us had ever dealt with the loss of a parent before, let alone so unexpectedly.
We were trying to figure out how to grieve while simultaneously figure out the post-life to-dos that get immediately thrown on a family.
The tasks piled on.
To add to the pressure, two weeks later we impulsively decided to leave our house and move into a motorhome, that we were still renovating, while we “figure everything out.”
Neither of us had ever lived in a motorhome before, let alone remodeled one.
And, of course, everything that could go wrong during a remodel went wrong.
Another checklist was created. The tasks piled on.
Two months until wedding day and our lives were still completely upside down. What was supposed to be one of the happiest periods of our lives was becoming filled with grief, stress, and more checklists.
The dream wedding that we were planning, ourselves, was becoming more and more time-consuming.
Another checklist added.
All of this happened behind the scenes, in my “personal life”, while the ongoing checklist of owning and operating a digital marketing agency was multiplying as fast as gremlins do when you spill water on them.
Stressed out was the understatement of the century.
I barely had a moment to process everything happening, let alone focus on what needed to be done for my agency, clients, and team.
But each day came and went. Slowly but surely I would check a task off, from each checklist, until I got to where I am today. Back into the chaos that is comfortable, familiar, and no longer drowning.
I don’t think there has ever been a more chaotic, emotion-filled time of my life as there was at the beginning of 2019. Times when I didn’t think we could get through it all, and somehow here we are and it’s June.
We got through it. And both myself and my agency survived.
Here’s how and a few big life lessons I learned as an agency owner along the way.
I Can’t Accomplish it All… At the Same Time
One of the biggest lessons I learned from The Battle of Q1 was that I simply couldn’t get it all done yesterday. And if anyone could have accomplished it all and ahead of schedule, it darn well would have been me.
But, the odds were just too heavily against me and I had to learn to accept that.
Dealing with the happiest and saddest moments life can throw at the same time meant everything had to be put on pause. Even my agency. That was a hard pill to swallow.
When we see a list of tasks that just keeps growing and growing, it’s near impossible to not feel overwhelmed and want to get everything done right away. But, it’s not always possible.
The moment I accepted that I am only human and can only handle so many things in one day was the moment I was able to re-focus on my agency, check off more than just a few things a day, and get back to working at a steady pace.
That meant I had to learn how to truly prioritize what was important and what should be moved to the next day.
Prioritization Is More Than Just Labeling Items Urgent
The more time you spend overwhelming yourself with an unrealistic deadline and overpiled to-do list the more time you’re literally wasting. It’s best to prioritize tasks based on what you can accomplish right now.
For me, that meant taking out a notepad every morning and writing out everything that I needed to get done that day. Not typing, but writing with pen and paper, and by category.
I would categorize the tasks by:
Inside each category, I would add a to-do list of 3-5 core things that must be accomplished and then a separate list of “If I Have Time”.
I use several project management tools for my team, like Teamwork and Google Calendar, but found the above to be the most effective method and least overwhelming for managing so many different tasks.
Theme Your Tasks for More Efficient Productivity
One of my favorite things I learned during The Battle of Q1 was how to organize my day by themes, when possible. This isn’t always possible, but the days it was were my favorite days.
One day could be focused on all content creation tasks, the other editing-specific tasks, another social media calendar creation, and a separate day for data and strategy analysis.
When I was able to open up my calendar to push all related category tasks into one-day I found myself flying through the to-do list and really “getting in the zone”.
Of course, each day had plenty of time for emails and random urgent tasks, but organizing days by themes allowed me to really focus and dive deep into those tasks without feeling like I’m jumping from one cliff to the next.
You Can Ask For Help
This was a big one for me. I much rather try and figure it out for myself than be vulnerable and reach out for help.
Asking for help shows weakness, right?
Wrong. So, wrong.
During The Battle of Q1, I had no choice but to recruit more soldiers. I simply couldn’t do it all myself anymore and needed to add to my team.
That meant not getting as big of a paycheck and putting those funds towards other talented digital marketers. It was the best decision I’ve made.
Adding to my team allowed me to refocus on the structure of the agency and add on clientele like never before. I approached this decision with desperation from being spread too thin and came out of it with more resources than ever.
Slow the Heck Down
All of my life, I’ve been told to slow down.
I go too fast on everything (except running).
I’m a fixer who wants to fix things fast, learn fast, succeed fast, and fail fast.
Do you realize how difficult it was to go through an entire quarter feeling constantly behind on everything and not being able to rush and get it all done?
I literally had to reprogram my mind to slow the heck down so I could process (and prioritize) what to do from day-to-day.
This is something I’m still working on, and honestly will probably be an ongoing task for my entire life, but the moment I began to slow down I found myself accomplishing again and not running on overdrive.
We can’t always speed up life to satisfy our to-do lists. We can slow down and properly analyze what’s important and what can wait.
How to Handle Future Situations
I’m thankful for all of those lessons I learned during The Battle of Q1.
They each have shaped me and prepared me for even bigger things to come.
We all know, this certainly won’t be The Last Battle.
Next time, I’ll be able to:
See the Bigger Picture
The close-up view looks like pure chaos, and not the chaos I usually love, but chaos that makes my thoughts spin out of control like a spindle thrown down a staircase.
We have to step back and see the bigger picture to be able to evaluate the best path to take, whether that’s hiring, asking for help, updating deadlines, or shifting priorities.
Know What to Drop
Tasks I used to have on repeat and thought were so incredibly important turned out to not have an impact when I was too busy and couldn’t get to them.
It’s funny how we can go through months, even years, on repeat and forget to measure if what we’re spending so much time doing is still as effective as it once was.
Every task should be measured based on its effectiveness. Do you know what came from crossing off your last to-do?
Whether it’s to my team or my clients, it’s so important to be honest and transparent of current situations.
If a deadline needs to move, there better be a reason to move it and the reason and new expectation should be clear to all parties.
As an owner of a digital marketing agency, over communication can be harmful in certain circumstances.
But when it comes to getting it all done and dealing with life’s stresses, communicate what can and can’t be completed.
Know My Limits
In a digital world where pressure is stacked on our shoulders like sardines, it’s so important to understand what our limitations are and that those limitations will change based on circumstances.
Sure, we have our super-human days, but at the end of the week, we’re still just humans all running the same race.
Before I start to drown under the checklists I’ll take a moment, heck lots of moments, and collect myself before delegating items.
Deep breaths are made for more than just namaste moments. They give our minds a second to gather themselves before addressing a situation, especially removing emotion out of a situation.
As an agency owner, a speaker, a wife, a daughter, a friend, and all of the other titles, I know there will be moments again when I’m spread too thin. Life crisis will happen again, and dark moments will be there.
But, it’s how and when I chose to let the checklists take over that makes a difference.
It’s remembering to slow down, breathe deep, and tackle each task one-by-one.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita