Mmm Christmas morning: Time to watch our kids open the presents we have purchased for them, and basking in the glow of praise when they eat the special Christmas morning breakfast we have lovingly prepared. For so many of us, Christmas brings feelings of warmth, happiness and love – but what happens when you are an entrepreneur, and all of a sudden Christmas now includes a business struggling in a downturned economy, or client deadlines that have crept up on you and loom now dangling timelines right in front of the sugarplums that should be dancing in your head? What happens when the feeling of being overwhelmed turns the Christmas season from a glorious meal – into dry burnt cookies?

What do I do when I am stressed and feel like I am over my head? I make lists – and then I ask for help.

Making lists

The first step in tackling any problem is first understanding what it is, and then breaking it down into manageable pieces. There is an old saying – never try to eat a whole elephant in one sitting – and it is true. My client status report is my best friend. I use an excel sheet broken down into clients, and then also broken into projects, tasks within the projects and due dates for each task. I can sort this sheet by task, or by deadline – and therein lays the beauty. I can see in black and white when there will be too little, just enough, or more work than I can possibly tackle in a day or a week. I can plan for when I might need to subcontract out a task, or not. I can proactively manage my client’s requests and their deadline desires based on my realistic time estimations. I can also decide when it is time to go prospecting for new clients – be they retainer or short term projects for a quick infusion of cash into my business.

I love my spreadsheet. Do I always use it – admittedly not. (Hangs head in shame) When things are either very slow, or very busy, I tend to drift away from my daily updates of my spreadsheet. Perhaps if I found a way to track my time on the spreadsheet I’d use it more.

Is a light going on for any of you? Does this magical spreadsheet sound like a project management tool you use? I recently replaced my spreadsheet with an online project management tool – and I am learning to love it as much as my spreadsheet. There was just something so comforting in doing things the way I always did them.

Asking for Help

I mentioned subcontracting earlier, and I do use subcontractors in my business. (I prefer the term team members) I offer some services that honestly, I am either slower at completing then they are, or I do not have the time or the expertise to complete to my client’s satisfaction. I have chosen the members on my team with great care. But it is not always a team member from within my company that I turn to for help. I have professional partnerships with other businesses, so I can refer tasks that are not within my service offerings. I am a Virtual Business Manager, not a videographer or a speaker’s coach – but sometimes those are the services my clients need. So, rather than say “sorry, can’t help – go away”, I have formed relationships with other businesses that I trust. I do not subcontract these businesses – oftentimes their rates are much greater than my own – but I do take an active part in managing the process.

But, what if even that won’t help? What if you don’t have an army of subcontractors waiting to do your every command? Do you have local friends or family? Think about how distracted away from our business we can get this time of year. What if you had a full day to yourself that you could focus 100% on the tasks for the week? What if your sister took the kids for the day or your husband did the housecleaning this week? Don’t overlook the value of help that seems indirect. If the household distractions are shared or removed – the ability to focus and do what needs to be done is greatly increased.

So this Christmas, make your lists, check them twice and ask for the help you need. Those two simple tasks will help you avoid the stress that burns your  cookies on Christmas morning.

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