THINK BUSINESS — Overwhelm By Mark Richardson

These are very interesting and challenging times. Interesting in that the rules of the game in business have changed. Interesting in that growers are being forced to look at new opportunities and learn new skills to both survive and thrive.

While this new world order has created some interesting times, it also has been quite challenging as well. One of the basic challenges that have an effect on both our professional and personal lives is "overwhelm." Are you feeling overwhelmed? If you aren't, you are in the minority.

Fear and Anxiety

Many years ago I hosted a home remodeling radio show. Each week I would invite a guest to discuss a variety of topics wrapped around the home remodeling process.

I had an interesting conversation with a client who was a psychologist. We talked about fear and anxiety as it relates to home remodeling, so I decided to bring him on as a guest. In this interview we discussed many subjects including the fear of disruption and the unknown and the effect on good remodeling decisions. We also dove into a subject that was especially interesting to not only my psychologist client but also everyone — the subject of "overwhelm."

Overwhelm creates anxiety and also can consume and paralyze us. Over the last few years, the level of overwhelm has dramatically increased resulting in diminished effectiveness and more stress. A friend of mine who is a time-management nut said he (and we) spend one to two hours a day addressing unnecessary emails. With the advent of the Internet, we now somehow feel the need to share everything with others and as a result, are inundated with information. Our brains, (at least mine) can't handle it all. Even more frightening is the reality that important nuggets often slip through the cracks as a result of all this noise.

The Internet has given everyone access, which while positive, has created more questions than answers for the best solutions.

Another element of overwhelm is pace. Time is not on your side. The pace of everything is so fast, it forces you to drop what you are doing to react, or fall short and miss an opportunity. Customer expectations, when it comes to response time has shrunk from 24 hours in years past, down today to a maximum of one to two hours. We are mobile creatures, who are now connected (tethered) 24 hours a day, seven days a week to necessary mobile devices and to others.

Finding a Solution for You

One solution is to do what the star of the movie "Network" did. He opened his window and screamed to the world: "I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more," which led to others following suit. While such venting may give you temporary relief and reduce a little stress, it may not make much of difference. Over the years, I've developed some tips or thoughts that I've found to be therapeutic and actionable.

Write down five to 10 reasons why addressing overwhelm is important. These might include : reduced stress, keeping promises more often; accomplishing more; increased sleep, etc. This exercise is effective because if you have strong and clear reasons "why," you will be more likely to muster the conviction to fix it. Again, write them down.

Plan. Norman Vincent Peale said, "Plan your work today, EVERYDAY, then work your plan." As a time-management coach, I have found that 95 percent of business people compile to-do lists but not plans for the day. A typical to-do item is often too broad, like, "build new greenhouse benches," which is not the same as design benches / make material list / purchase materials, etc. If you can apply the same knowledge to your day, as you do to a greenhouse project, you will be much less overwhelmed.

Reduce "reactive" time. Here's a question: what percentage of your day is reactive (where others exert control) versus proactive (where you exert control). The answers vary dramatically. Those with less reactive time each day are less overwhelmed. The two primary sources of reactive time at work are your customers and your team. So on Monday make a list of your five to 10 active customers that might want to interact with you that week, then proactively communicate to set a time to meet and talk. More times than not, they are appreciative of your professionalism and will accommodate your taking the reins. Similarly, when a team member interrupts you, ask if you can set a time to meet to address their issue. You will be less distracted and they will appreciate your undivided attention. Neither of these will work 100 percent of the time, however you will see your proactive time increase and your level of overwhelm subside. The ideal place to be is 85 percent proactive.)

In closing, you need to make addressing this issue a priority. It is like a rubber band. At some point it will snap. And when it does, the resulting blow can have professional and personal consequences.

Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson is is the author of the best-selling book, How Fit is Your Business, and a forthcoming book, Business Themes to Live By, to be published later this year this year. He also is the co-chairman of Case Design Remodeling and the Case Institute of Remodeling in the Washington, D.C. area.

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