Category Archives: capacity

Real-Life Business: What to Do When You Misjudge Your Capacity

Image: Cup Overflowing

One of the key principles I teach in Project Prowess is that you have to have enough Capacity if you want to enjoy your creative process and complete your projects consistently.

(A quick refresher: Capacity is the time and energy you have available to do whatever it is you’re working on.)

Here’s a little story about what happens when you try to work beyond your capacity.

As you may know, I’m an Instigator for A Year With Myself. And I was completely honored when C. A. Kobu invited me to participate.

My module was due on February 16, and Project Prowess was (originally) set to start on February 23.

I thought I could submit excellent content to C. A., while still keeping up with spreading the word and preparing for Project Prowess.

Turns out I was completely wrong.

The pace I’d set myself was just not sustainable, and I let that manic energy of “I must do one more thing for my business…” take priority over rest and nourishment.

I had started to dread the fact that Project Prowess was about to start. And I was quietly cursing myself for agreeing to contribute to a different project at the same time.

When I found myself avoiding the things I love doing, I thought I was entering a season of Oh shit I have to tear down my entire business and start from scratch because oh my god I was wrong and what I thought was my passion isn’t my passion!

When you work beyond your capacity, you will pay the price sooner or later with fatigue, anxiety and even resentment.

It can change how you feel about your entire business and sap you of all motivation.

Here’s how I got myself out of the over-capacity mess:

1. Notice that something isn’t working

Your symptoms will be unique to you, but if you feel like you’re running from task to task (unsuccessfully) and you’re feeling tired, frustrated, resentful and needy (like you want someone else to fix everything for you – ahem!), chances are good that you are working from a state of depletion.

2. Ask yourself what can shift

Rarely is everything in your life unchangeable.

In my case, I couldn’t change my due date for A Year With Myself. That was a project with an external deadline, and lots of moving parts dependent on my contribution.

So I had to look for other places to open up some spaciousness.

The most obvious choice was to postpone Project Prowess, even though it felt like a really big deal to do that.

3. If you’re having trouble finding any wiggle-room, for each commitment you’ve made, ask what would happen if you postponed or cancelled it

As I said above, rarely is everything unchangeable.

If you’re sensitive and conscientious, chances are you tend to overestimate the impact a change will have on the other people involved. And that means you’ll be reluctant to back out of or shift a commitment you’ve already made.

Plus, if you were on the receiving end of messages about “quitting” being A Bad Thing, it’s easy for this kind of situation to trigger feelings of having failed.

Commitment is a necessary ingredient for creating what you want to create, but you have to look at your own commitment patterns to determine if keeping the commitment or changing it is the right choice for you.

What became clear to me is that if I didn’t postpone the start date, I would not be at my best for the lovely projectizers who had already signed up. And that was definitely not okay.

4. Whatever you decide to do, take responsibility for your choice

The resentment I was feeling toward my business a few weeks ago? Totally of my own doing.

I felt resentful because I perceived myself as powerless to change or fix things to work for me. I was defaulting to a victim mentality, when in reality, I am a business owner. I get to decide what’s best for me and my business.

Once I took control over my schedule again and decided to postpone my course, a lot of the anxiety dissolved.

That said, it was still pretty terrifying to tell people that I was changing the start date, especially since it was due to my own flub (i.e., not realizing sooner that I had a conflict). Would they get angry? Would they ask for a refund? Would they secretly think I was a flake but not say so?

All I could do at that point was to send honest emails to the projectizers and let them know what was happening and why.

5. Let go of the outcome

I didn’t know how the people who’d signed up would respond, but I’d made my decision. I knew I’d done my best to minimize inconvenience and disappointment, but I wasn’t in control of the outcome.

Part of how you keep that victim mentality from creeping in is by remembering that you made a specific choice, and why you made it.

I had to accept that maybe someone would get upset, but I was postponing the course to preserve my health and make sure I could offer a high-quality program for my people.

As it happened, nobody got upset. Not even slightly. In fact, several people said that the new start date worked better than the original.

6. Reflect on what needs to change for next time

This part is challenging because there are an infinite number of ways you can wind up working outside your capacity. That’s why part of what I teach in Project Prowess is to review every project for ways to improve and better understand your creative process.

In this particular case, here’s what I learned:

Promoting a course takes a lot of time and energy (at least for me, for now), so if I get an additional opportunity that’s too good to pass up, I’ll do a better job of negotiating my deadlines and changing them when necessary.

Mistakes will happen, and they are almost never the catastrophe my inner perfectionist believes them to be.

Ignoring the signs and symptoms of depletion does nothing to address the problem.

I’ve gathered more evidence that doing what’s best for myself is very often what’s best for others, so it doesn’t make sense to punish my health for a deadline that can be changed.

How about you?

What has you over-capacity right now?
What gets in the way of creating more spaciousness for yourself?


Psst! If you missed this session of Project Prowess, sign up here to be notified when the program is starting again!

Image credit: karpacious

Beware the Double-Whammy

(Or: The Hidden Costs of Powering Through)

A friend of mine was bemoaning a difficult client.

And the idea of not working with them anymore came up, but as a non-option. Mentioned as wishful thinking but dismissed as something that would ruin her reputation. And would put her squarely in the “unprofessional” category.

I don’t agree.

If the project is draining you, sticking with it because you feel like you have to for whatever reason is a double-whammy.

Whammy #1

Time spent on the project from hell is, well, hellish.

We all have a limited capacity for any given project. That’s just the way life is. We need to take time to sleep and eat and bathe and keep the health inspectors from condemning our kitchens and bathrooms. Ahem.

And we have family obligations and other clients and other projects on our plates.

Oh, and *gasp* we might even have a hobby.

If you’re self-employed, chances are you made that choice so you’d have more control over your work. With the goal of, you know, enjoying more of it.

The upshot: The time you give to a miserable project is time you can’t give to a project you enjoy.

Whammy #2

Work that makes us miserable comes with an additional bit of fun: Recovery Time.

If you’re dealing with a difficult client, or fighting with technology, or there’s generally no flow in your work, it’s draining. You might even spend the time working on that project in acute stress.

When I was at the day job, every email in my inbox got my adrenaline pumping because it meant fixing a problem I didn’t want to fix. And then I’d go home and be a zombie all evening because I’d spent 8+ hours in fight-or-flight mode.

Those evenings I spent zoned out in front of the TV? I certainly wasn’t working on my business. Unless my business was couch-based ass-print development.

The upshot: Time spent recovering from a miserable project is also time you can’t spend on work you enjoy.

So what’s the solution?

I know it’s not as simple as telling you, “If you’re miserable, then bail.”

However, if the only thing stopping you from getting a miserable project off your plate is an uncomfortable conversation and possibly refunding some money?

I say, do it. Get it off your plate so you have the energy to replace it with a project that thrills you.

But, but, but!

Yes, it’s hard. It’s especially hard if it puts you in a cash-flow bind, or involves ending a client relationship.

But here’s another but: When we’re doing work that makes us miserable, we’re not doing our best work.

If you feel like you can’t quit because you’d be leaving someone hanging, I would argue you’d be doing them a favor. Sure, there might be an inconvenience factor for them, but you’re giving them the chance to work with someone who’s a better fit.

At the very least, you owe it to yourself to have a good think about why you feel like you can’t stop working on the thing that is draining your best creative energy.

Here’s what I would ask myself (and you, if we were working together):

Why can’t I stop working on the project (or with the client)? What would happen?

Who says my reputation will be ruined? Is that really true?

What will continuing with this project cost me (not just in terms of money)?

Looking back, what can I learn about this type of project or client? Were there any signs that told me to say no? Why did I say yes?

What did I think I would get out of saying yes, and what did I actually get?

What can I do so that, going forward, it’s easier to recognize and say no to the projects that aren’t right for me before I start working on them?

It’s all learning

Maybe you’re in a sticky project situation and you’d like to get out of it. And at the same time, maybe you feel like you just can’t take the necessary steps to make that happen. It’s too scary. Or the stakes feel too high.

It’s okay. Really.

This isn’t about increasing your stress by turning your work upside down. It’s about noticing and learning what works for you and what doesn’t. And using what you notice to create an amazing work-life (and life-life, for that matter).

Because now you’ll look at your not-so-enjoyable project differently. You’ll begin to see where and why it went wrong, and you’ll apply that information to choosing your next project.

That’s the cycle of learning: Make a choice. Notice how it plays out. Take notes on what you learned. Apply said learning to future choices.

How would it feel to be rid of That Project? What could you do with the extra time and energy you’d have?