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To Avoid Overwhelm Work on the Right Stuff

overwhelm Feb 02, 2022

What you are doing matters. Deciding what to pursue to make a difference can be challenging because the options are endless. You may have reached a tipping point where you realize that you can’t keep doing it all. You might have tried hiring more people, working more hours, getting outside support from contractors or freelancers and you’re finding that you are still hitting the proverbial wall.

If that’s your story or if you’ve been there before and might be there again, then let’s work together on zeroing in on how you can focus on the right stuff. The critical activities that will really advance your mission. 

What is critical to your success?

The answer to this question does imply that you are clear on what you define success to be. If you’re clear on the “bullseye” then that can help to evaluate what is truly critical. It can be easy to fall into the trap of only defining success as quantity – the number of people, amount of dollars, the frequency of something, etc. Don’t get me wrong, measuring key target goals is great! You can, however, imagine how chasing numbers could contribute to your current state of overwhelm.

So, add to that criteria “quality” measures. That might mean that your work impacts 10 people well versus 100 people haphazardly. The challenge is setting some way of qualifying what it means to do that well. You can, for example, look at measures such as longevity or testimonies of impact related to mission to gauge progress. Get creative on ways to talk about the tangible difference your activities make. 

What activities do you need to prune?

Now that you’ve started evaluating your activities in terms of both quantitative and “quality” impact you can start thinking about how you can focus on the right stuff - the things that matter most. Think of it like an overgrown bush with all kinds of branches and twigs. Some of them are producing the kind of fruit you are looking for – healthy, ripe, growing – some are not. 

It’s less painful and feels less risky to just pruning away the twigs at the end of the bush or cutting off some of the small branches. You might have to look at some of those bigger branches if you want a healthy organization, so you can focus on doing activities in a healthy way to maintain a healthy team. Some of the big branches you might need to examine: Things that you’ve always done. Things that take too much time and energy. Things that bring on the guilt if you think about pruning them. These are the things to pay attention to and evaluate honestly.

Getting to the Right Stuff

It’s not easy to do some pruning. Especially when you can’t yet see what “better” might really look like. If you've been overwhelmed for a while and you're not getting expected results, then it's necessary to get more focused on the right stuff. Instead of thinking of it like trade offs, think of it like “trading up” to get to the right stuff that most closely aligns with your mission.


Your Assignment

  1. List out all the programs or core activities of your organization.
  2. Evaluate each against your criteria for success:
    1. What is the impact of each? (qualitative or quantitative)
    2. How would you quantify the energy, effort and resources required for each?
    3. Which are critical to the mission of the organization? 
  3. Give each core activity or program a priority based on your evaluation (i.e. high, medium, low).

Now that you’ve set some priorities, you can take the next step to get focused on the right stuff. Brainstorm (with your team, board, colleagues) ways you can “trade up” some of the low priorities by eliminating them to make room for more energy and effort for the high priorities and evaluate ways to improve the medium priorities by either doing them differently for greater impact or by expending less energy/effort to accomplish them.

This isn’t an easy process and may require some involvement from your team, advisers, and other stakeholders. Utilize reflection and prayer to further help discern your way through this process. If a quick strategy session will get you thinking about what doing less better is for you, then sign up for a free 27 minute strategy session today.

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