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

5 thoughts on “Real-Life Business: What to Do When You Misjudge Your Capacity

  1. Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady

    What a great article – and so timely! I’m right now in the process of decluttering my life and getting rid of some things that I can no longer sustain. By creating space, I am allowing better stuff to enter my life!

  2. Sarah O

    Hmm, this really makes me think. Although I have understood this idea of over capacity for quite some time – and of course would advise others to take care of themselves first, I’ve realized I don’t do the same for myself. I continually pile up way too much for myself taskwise – and then still take on more and more.

    Now I’m beginning to wonder if the slump I’ve been in for a while now, that has caused me to question the path I am on and the direction I’m going, might just simply be exhaustion. Maybe I really am onto my passion, I just need to back off a little with the piling up of tasks. It’s hard in this modern age when our email box constantly overflows with new ideas on how to improve our blog, our business, our life – and they usually involve learning one more tool, clicking another link, adding something else.

    Thanks Victoria for giving me a new take on my current work/business dilemma.

  3. C. A. Kobu

    I’m glad you postponed the start of the course. Not just because you gave yourself the time and space, but also because you participated in the “A Year With Myself” program :)

    When I catch myself feeling cranky and secretly dreading the work in front of me, it’s often because of one or both of the following:

    1. Overwhelm.
    2. Lack of clarity.

    Overwhelm definitely results from taking on more work than our time and/or energy allows. And if don’t take it seriously and not do something about it, it quickly triggers other stuff such as guilt, bitching inner-critic and loss of joy.

    You have great tips, there! And they definitely form a great roadmap for dealing with overwhelm poisoning.

  4. JoVE

    Excellent perspective. I particularly like the tips you give for spotting the overcapacity problem and for deciding what can be shifted or dropped. Going through a list one thing at a time and collecting information about what exactly would result is a great idea.

  5. Jess Morrow

    Oh, Victoria, I SO needed to read this today. I’ve been over-capacity all week, and I ended up taking a 4 hour nap this afternoon when I was supposed to be getting more work done. Yeeeeesh. This post really helped! Thank you!

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