How To Take Back Control Of Your Business (When It Feels Like It’s Controlling You)
It was one of those overcast nights where it seems like you are sitting in a cloud. I was alone, immersed in the hot tub on my patio. Soaking in the water, it occurred to me this was the first time I’d used the hot tub since I purchased the house almost a year prior. The house was carved into the hillside of San Diego and had stunning vistas overlooking Mexico to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. I was 28, still single and running a successful business coaching company. I was earning more money than I’d ever expected to earn. I should have felt happy, as if I’d “made it.” But I didn’t.
Instead, I was bone-tired, burnt out and anxious. My life consisted of being on the road two and a half weeks out of every month, teaching workshops and keynoting at industry conferences. Then it was back to the office, catching up on all the management challenges of my rapidly scaling company that I had a tendency to micromanage. I had no life, because when I wasn’t working, I was exhausted.
As I slipped into the steamy water at the end of another 80-hour week of meetings, conference calls, troubleshooting, coaching and writing a syndicated column, I thought the stress might melt away. Instead, I felt panicked and alone – a sense of isolation that was reinforced by muffling fog and the remote geography of the house, not a neighbor in sight. I was short of breath, and my heart started pounding.
“Is this it?” I wondered, feeling suddenly nauseous in the middle of all that bubbling, swirling liquid.
“Is this all my life is going to be?”
The constant onslaught of demands with all those people counting on me — from members of our team who depended on my performance for their livelihoods to the thousands of clients I didn’t want to disappoint — gave me the sense that my life was spinning out of control. It felt like I was on this treadmill and someone (me) had turned up the speed higher and higher. If I didn’t keep running to stay on, I’d go flying off the back. “Is this all there is?”
As I sat in that hot tub, riddled with anxiety and fear, I realized the one thing that my life was missing: freedom.
This one word started me on a 20-year journey to find, experiment with and synthesize better ways to grow companies and professional achievements.
If you find yourself hitting bottom while the world thinks you are on top, here are three pieces of advice.
1. Focus on value created, not time served.
Instead of just working more hours answering emails, responding to texts or taking care of low-value, third-party requests that seem to clutter up your days, learn to invest your best hours for creating maximal impact. Each hour worked should generate a magnified return. This could be talking with your best customers, grooming your best team members or making those high-value strategic decisions that greatly impact your company.
Prior to that fateful day in the hot tub, I had a tendency to micromanage and put out fires. The majority of my day was spent tending to emails and employee issues, which left me little time to work on scaling my business and caused me a great deal of anxiety about the things that I “should be doing.”
When you notice you’ve reached a part of the day when you’re just not creating value, leave! Go off and have fun. You’ll get back to work tomorrow.
2. Create universal systems.
Many business owners often feel trapped by their businesses. One of the first things I advise as a coach to ease your anxiety is to develop universal business systems and controls to give you the freedom to step back and breathe. By doing so, you create a company that works without constant micromanaging and oversight. I have systems for accounts payable, social media management, employee onboarding, etc.
3. Learn to let go.
Now that you have systems in place, it’s time to let go. Trying to control everything in your business will only ensure its dependency on you (cue panic attack). Instead, build your business with a series of systems, controls and scalable solutions that allow you to step away from your business and gain freedom.
I have come a long way from that anxiety attack in the hot tub. I’ve learned to keep my business in proper perspective. I am not my business, and neither are you. When you are clear on this, it makes it easier for you to put a hard stop each day.