think like a freelancer to kick magical thinking to the curb

I have a friend--a freelancer--who was consistently undercharging her clients.  

She'd carefully put together proposals that took into account all the hours she planned to spend on each project.  After a couple of months of spending way more hours on projects than she was getting paid for (and getting less sleep than she needed), she figured it out.  

She was magically "forgetting" time for three key things:  nudging (and re-nudging) clients when they disappeared for a week for some other top priority, the thank-you/clean-up/close-down process at the end, and time she spent thinking about best strategies for the project.

When you're a freelancer, it's much easier to get clear about your magical fantasies of how much you can get done in a certain amount of time.  You have to track your time for billing purposes, and the time you spend directly correlates to the check you get.

But that's not true when you're a salaried leader or a business owner whose income doesn't resemble a regular paycheck.  We tend to say yes to pretty much anything that feels like the right thing for our organization and commit to timelines that seem reasonable--all with only scant consideration of what's already on our plates.

Yes, that's partly because of our passion for the work, but really, honestly, actually:  I think a lot of it is because we only have scant knowledge of what's already on our plates.

Try this:

  1. When you schedule a meeting in your calendar, actually schedule in time for (1) travel, (2) prep and research, and (3) follow up and action items that result from the meeting.  Really put those blocks of time in there.
  2. If you have admin tasks you have to do every day or every week--you know, like how your magical brain convinces you that you can squeeze the bank and the post office run into your drive home with no extra minutes allotted for them?--actually put those blocks of time into your calendar, too.
  3. Schedule time on your calendar for working on the big projects.  The new campaigns, the marketing material, the creative work.  Otherwise, you're just leaving the most important stuff to chance.  To fit in between everything else.  I know you don't want that.

Warning:  If magical thinking has been having its way with you for a long time, this may freak you out.  Because it's a shock to see how much time things really take.

You might feel distressed because you see "how little you can actually get done."

I know.  That happened to me at first, too.

But y'all.  As a society, we've been ramping up our productivity for so long, our perspective about what is reasonable to get done in one 24-hour period is way out of whack.

And soon you'll be able to respond to your Board or your client or your own want-to-get-it-done-right-now brain, and say, "Yes, I can do that.   But not until December.  Unless we decide to move this-specific-other-thing-we-decided-was-really-important-last-week to December instead."

I've done that recently with my Board and with myself and with donors.  It felt awesome to me.  And, even though we had to make hard decisions, it felt right to them, too.

It has made me a better leader.

Go ahead, lovely person who always gives 150%:  see how little you can actually get done.

This week, I'm exploring what magical thinking does in our lives.  This post is part of an ongoing series on leading.