Escaping The Hamster Wheel At Work

As my training programs grew, so did my busy-ness. New training programs meant more systems to create and manage. More participants meant more emails to answer, registrations to process, orders to fulfill, and events to run. I became so busy running the organization that I no longer had time to develop new things.

I felt like I was running on a hamster wheel – going no where fast.

I tried to get off the wheel by reading management books, consulting with other leaders, and experimenting with different organizational structures. As a result, we saw small up-ticks in our ability to manage more with the same resources. But I still couldn’t get free of the day-to-day urgency.

If nothing changed, I would remain about at the same level of impact. Yet, my vision was for 10 times the impact. That seemed impossible.

Get Clear on Your Purpose and Your Best Contribution

The first step in getting off the hamster wheel of work was to get clear on my purpose. You have to know what you are trying to do, who you are trying to help, and your best contribution to do that.

For a number of years, I was unfocused. Any new activity that made an impact was fine with me. The trouble was, these things were not pointing in the same direction. I wasn’t specializing enough to build momentum within my field. I was dabbling in too many things.

I finally got clear on where I was going and what was my best contribution. We helped leaders multiply their impact by providing practical leadership development training.

My best contribution, the thing I’m most gifted and motivated to do wasn’t running an organization. It wasn’t managing people. My personal best contribution is to develop things that help leaders multiply their impact and write and speak about them.

D.A.D. Will Help You

With a clear purpose and understanding of my best contribution, I went to D.A.D. for help.

1. Delete
Eliminate activities that do not closely relate to your core purpose and best contribution. Cut events, products, roles, responsibilities – whatever you’ve got on your plate that does not directly forward your purpose through your best contribution.

When I got focused, I had a part-time role supervising 3 people within a non-profit organization that I work with. I loved visiting those guys and watching them progress. I made a contribution to the organization along with the other International Directors. But the role meant 4 international trips a year, which were only marginally connected to my main purpose and best contribution. It hurt, but I resigned from that role. And gained time and focus as a result.

Deleting is about focusing where you can make your biggest impact, so you can make that impact. Every “no” is a “yes” to your purpose.

2. Automate
Look at your work and find ways to automate what you have to do. Start by listing up all your tasks and find ways to automate. There are many online tools to help you.

Our professional coaching training program required 16 different set of processes to run it. From recruiting to enrollment, to registration, to payment, to scheduling the venue, to ordering materials, to emailing participants, to running the event, to running the follow-up teleclasses, etc. We found ways to automate many of these processes. By doing so, our workload decreased while the number of people we served increased.

For our training events we use a website that automates registrations, payments, and participant records. Two to look at are: Wild Apricot for a larger system, or EventBrite for specific events.

We use Google Docs for online document sharing. Google Spreadsheets have a form function that we use for our after events surveys. Google Calendar keeps us all coordinated. All this is free. Thanks Google!

3. Delegate
Once you’ve deleted and automated, now look at what you can delegate. The world has changed considerably the past few years making services affordable and accessible. But don’t hire anyone yet!

Start with outsourcing all the work you can. This way you are not taking on a monthly expense and all the admin that comes with employees until you have the regular work and income to justify it.

I have worked with Virtual Assistants for years. A VA will do your administrative tasks for you from wherever in the world he or she lives. Just like you don’t need a bookkeeper onsite or even in the same town, any task that can be done on a computer can be done by someone halfway around the world. My VAs take a lot of administrative tasks off my plate, freeing me up to do things that only I can do. You can find someone to do about any task you need at elance.com or odesk.com.

Graphic design is another area I’ve outsourced. I’ve worked with designers at a distance for years, but recent changes make it even more affordable. 99 Designs offers $19 small task services as well as logos, brochures, e-book covers, and website page designs from $299. See my post, From Napkin Drawing to Corlor Graphic in 38 Minutes and $19.

It takes thought, effort and intentionality to get off the hamster wheel. It can be done. I’ve seen the results in my work. In fact, this blog is one of the results of applying these steps in my work. You can do it too!

Question: What’s your advice for getting off the hamster wheel of work? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. You own your comments but give me permission to use them. See My Comments Policy.

    Read my Permissions Policy to know how you can use my posts.