Entrepreneurs who love too much: Tackling the dilemma of wanting to do it all

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lotsoloveThis month’s ezine is related to last month’s issue with a slightly different twist:  while it can seem easier to shed projects and tasks that you are “just not into” anymore, how about if you love everything you are doing?   Read on for some thoughts on how to maintain your creative spirit while getting things done.
The other day, I was talking to a very well-known and accomplished author who by her fame and prestige you imagine would be living on Easy Street.
But she was exhausted and overwhelmed with her workload, and said in an exasperated tone: “I am just so tired!  I have so much to do that I can’t seem to run fast enough.  The worst thing is that I absolutely love everything I am doing. It is so hard to give anything up!”
It struck me that this is the exact same response that I get from newbie entrepreneurs who are faced with the following challenges:
  • Trying to decide which business to start when they have equal enthusiasm for things like starting a coffee shop, launching an internet business, becoming a professional speaker or  working with a tribe in the Amazon to export native fruit as a way to save the rain forest.  (You think I am making this up — I run across interests this diverse in the same person all the time!)
  • Trying to narrow down their market into particular segments, or “niches.” Some people struggle choosing who to work with, and feel like they are specific enough when they state their target audience as “men and women who live in the U.S.”
  • Deciding which projects to tackle or which clients to keep.  Like having to choose between pairs of favorite shoes, some people struggle with “letting go” certain non-ideal clients.  They second guess their decisions, thinking “But what will they do without me?”  “What if all my other clients go away and I need them back?”
  • Prioritizing marketing activities like writing an ezine, starting a blog, speaking, podcasting or promoting special events.  If all are important and you enjoy them all, how do you decide which to focus on?

When I talk with clients about narrowing down any one of their options, I notice a few interesting patterns:

  • Resentment and anxiety about “giving up” something that is important and interesting to them. The old song “Don’t fence me in” comes to mind, as people feel they are being limited, oppressed or controlled if they have to choose one thing to focus on.  It often is a very visceral reaction, and people get mighty tense and uncomfortable when asked to choose between things they love.
  • Incredulousness that it is not possible to do everything at once, or be all things to all people.  “I know that all current, tested marketing theory says that you have to define a niche, but my business is different!  My product would work as well for a 3 year old toddler in Argentina as it would for an 83-year grandpa in Iowa.  You obviously don’t understand the power of my idea.”
  • Fear of poverty, or “scarcity mentality.”  It does seem counterintuitive that you are more likely to get more clients, make more money and garner more fame if you give up significant chunks of a market. Likewise, if you pass on interesting or exciting projects, you may feel like they will never come your way again.

I really understand these concerns and reactions, as I have some myself.  But unfortunately, if you are not able to make some choices about priorities in your business, a number of things happen:

  • You become physically exhausted, stressed or sick
  • You have so many priorities that none ever gets enough attention, so nothing gets done
  • The quality of what you offer becomes compromised, diluting your brand and straining the relationship with your customers
  • Your family laments that they don’t see you enough and you feel guilty for spending so much time working
  • Your brain is constantly on overload with so many ideas, and it becomes uncomfortable and overwhelming

So here are some ideas for tackling the “want it all” mentality without changing your true, creative nature:

  1. Set the appropriate mindset.  Choosing one thing to work on at a time does not mean that you will never get to work on different things ever again.   It is all about sequencing projects and ideas so that you get things done while maintaining health and balance.
  2. Measure your ideas against a real, live calendar.  A dose of reality is wonderful medicine.  For fun, take each idea you have and brainstorm the steps to create and implement it.  Estimate the amount of time that each step will take.  Then break down the tasks to be completed for all of your projects in one month’s time and see how many hours it will take.  Chances are, you will quickly realize that doing everything at once will require far too many hours in a day and week, which you know will lead to stress and burnout.
  3. Define selection criteria.  Depending on the nature of your “too much” dilemma, you could use some of the following metrics:
    1. For narrowing down business ideas:  Ease of implementation, fastest buck in your pocket, greatest market opportunity, juiciest joint venture opportunity, shortest time to get up in running, smallest up-front investment, ability to execute effectively given your experience and skills, greatest learning opportunity.
    2. For deciding which niche to work with:  People that would be the most fun to hang out with, most under-served by competitors, greatest opportunity for free PR opportunities, most interesting market, greatest learning opportunity, most lucrative.
    3. For selecting marketing activities:  Quickest way to get started, best way to reach your audience, quickest way to grow your mailing list, most likely to “re-purpose” in other ways (such as writing an ezine article that you turn into a podcast)
    4. For weeding out non-ideal clients or projects:  Least likely to benefit from your personal attention, (for client) most easily transitioned to external resource (such as a fellow colleague), (for project) easiest to outsource to trusted provider
  4. Define in specific terms the cost to your financial, emotional or physical health if you continue to light all fires at once.  While the concept of doing everything at one time may be glamorous and send visions of big checks dancing in your head, the reality can feel downright exhausting.  When you take into account the “total cost” of being everything to everyone, you may find the willpower to make tough decisions.
  5. Create a long-term calendar where you plan for multiple projects.  Here you have a place to write down your future plans for new and different projects, which you will get to once you finish your current priority.  Just knowing when you will get to the next “great thing” will make it easier to let go of thinking about it all the time.
  6. Create a good transition plan for things you are shedding.  If you are “letting go” a few clients, find a great trusted colleague that can take care of their needs.  If you are backing out of a joint venture, find someone who can replace you.  If you are outsourcing a project, find a provider that you feel really good about.
  7. Write your “Dear John” script to make the process of saying goodbye easier.  Some people know they need to get rid of some priorities and projects, but fear having the conversations with clients or partners that they like and trust.  So make it easier on yourself by writing down your “script,” which clarifies your thoughts and clears some emotion.  You don’t necessarily have to read the script word for word when you talk to the person, but it will help you through the awkward, stuttering phase of a difficult “break up” conversation.  And, even more importantly, it will keep you clear about the reasons for your decision if the person begs you to continue working with them (which often happens).
Paring down multiple loves and projects into a reasonable workload may be  challenging at first, but will be well-worth it in the end.  Once they are gone, I guarantee you will say to yourself  “I feel so much better now!  What was I so worried about?”
What are your thoughts about being an entrepreneur who loves too much?

Tomorrow (Wednesday, August 1) is my monthly free group coaching call where you can ask any and all questions about leaving your job and starting a business (including advice for those who love too much!).  Sign up for this or any of the monthly sessions on this page.  Even if you can’t attend, if you sign up, I will make sure to send you a link to the recording.

16 Responses to “Entrepreneurs who love too much: Tackling the dilemma of wanting to do it all”

  1. Megan Tough says:

    The day I gave up being a business coach and a team specialist was one of the happer days in my wokring life. Two different sets of clients with very different needs meant I was spreading myself too thin. My business has taken off since that day

  2. Brian Brady says:

    I honestly felt like you were talking to me. I am having a dickens of a time managing all the “tasks” from successful marketing.

    My biggest challenge is to either (a)- add team members OR (b) pare down my efforts to serve one niche.

  3. Jean Browman says:

    I enjoyed your criteria for making decisions. I also thought Janet and Byron made good points…if you can’t do it all yourself, how about delegating some of it? It sounds as if Byron is talking about hiring people he can trust, while Janet is talking about outsourcing. Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) is making it big right now by suggesting we take advantage of globalization for the outsourcing. Do you think that’s a feasible plan?

  4. Bryon says:

    Enjoyed reading your post. We all struggle with this one from time to time…..some more than others, I would venture to guess. I try to delegate more and more to people I trust…that is the key…surrounding yourself with people you can trust.



  5. Sandy Naidu says:

    Great Post…Sometimes I fall into the trap of wanting it all…Luckily after a couple of sleepless nights, I come to my senses.

  6. Janet says:

    Excellent topic! This is exactly why I started my business JMI Administrative Consulting Services LLC. Running a successful business is much more difficult than people think. At JMI we handle all of the administrative tasks including but not limited to correspondences, Quickbooks and calendar maintenance, serving as liaison, creating basic marketing material and much much more. All at a very reasonable cost.

    All work is done virtually or in-house depending on need and

    This service is expecially beneficial for entrepreneurs with a second job and family responsibilities as well as homebased businesses.

    Janet Peters
    JMI Administrative Consulting Services, LLC
    Box 668
    Bay shore, NY 11706
    Tel: 631-559-1131
    Fax: 631-647-9261

  7. I think there is huge value in making one simple choice, and saying to yourself:
    “I am an entrepreneur because I love what I do. I will do those things I love doing.”

    Make that your compass – if you like doing something – writing, speaking, consulting, selling, whatever – then do it.

    If you start doing it so much that it stops being fun, do it less.

    If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

    This means constantly being aware not only of what you’re doing – but also of how you feel about it.

  8. Tiffany says:

    Let me start with a huge “Thank You!” for this. Lately, I’ve been finding myself resembling my dad, who’s the classic doesn’t know the word “no” guy, so this was refreshing and empowering as a reminder that life comes first and you can’t do it all at one time!

    I have battled that resentment on giving things up a lot lately, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement and saying “exactly!” out loud as I read this post. It’s pretty easy for me to prioritize things at work, but extra-work activities tend to just pile on in complete disorganized chaos, so this message will help me find that balance in my personal-professional interests too.

  9. Valuable insight Pam, thanks for sharing. I’ve found myself in the seat of “wanting to do it all” too many times.

  10. Yup. It’s a problem.

    (Currently trying to decide which of the 5 or so film ideas to work on next…)

    I really envy my author friends, actually. They can wrap up a project (if they’re working full time) in 6-9 months. For a filmmaker, realistically you’re talking two years per project. It’s tough deciding which thing you want to devote the next two years to.

    Whine, whine…

  11. Jason Pedley says:

    You mean this article wasn’t written only to me? Kidding.

    As a freelance copywriter, I re-invent myself often. And with a new ‘me’ comes new ideas that keep me busy…ok, overwhelmed is a better word.

    I’ve been a non-profit copywriter, gaming copywriter, real estate copywriter…you get the idea. And with each each new client, I get new ideas for ME that I add to the dreaded ‘list.’ If I truly love the idea, it stays on the list and I get around to it..maybe…but if the love isn’t there…the idea/project falls off the list. But sometimes, the truly good and worthwhile ideas fall off the list, making me not just overwhelmed, but sad that I’ve let ideas linger and die on the ‘limbo list’. I’m sure I’m not the only one to go through this.

  12. Red Zinnia says:

    Oh my gosh, this is me to a tee. . . especially lately. I’ve got to stop trying to juggle ten ideas at once and pick ONE to get moving on. Pete’s sake it shouldn’t be so hard!

    Thanks for some great advice!


  13. Susan says:

    Nice article Pam – you know me so well! Ah but seriously, having once had B.O. (burnout), I can attest to the negative effects of driving oneself into the ground. The selection criteria metrics are great and a nice foundation on which to rebuild.

  14. My old book keeper had a great tip for doing this: keep putting up your prices until you get the revenue / workload balance you want. It weeds people out but makes sure that the ones who stay make up the shortfall in revenue.

    I did a similar thing a couple of years ago when I stopped pitching for new magazine assignments. Corporate copywriting pays much more so doing more of that pays better for the same time input.

    It reminds me of two nice quotes:

    1. If anything’s possible, what’s important.
    2. If you’re an entrepreneur you have to work 24 hours a day, but at least you get to choose which 24.

    Keep up the great posts and thanks for blogrolling me. EFCN is definitely one of my fave blogs. It’s on my top blogs list: http://www.badlanguage.net/?page_id=368.


  15. Carla Golden says:

    Great topic, Pam! When we spread ourselves too thin, trying to do everything perfectly, we end up doing nothing well. I know because I struggle with this. I am a “recovering perfectionist” and am really trying to focus on my priorities now. Discerning what is mine to do and then being able to let go of what isn’t mine to do is crucial. Scattered energy is wasted energy.