When we first start out in business, we think working harder and longer is the way to make more money and ensure we succeed. We overwork. It’s a habit that can be hard to break because, after all, it seems to work. Our business grows.
Then, once we hire people, we think the way to build the company’s reputation and prove we know what we’re doing is to make sure everyone else works the way we do. We overmanage. We don’t realize we’re creating a trap for ourselves (and everyone that works for us).
When we overwork and overmanage, we create collateral damage.
Not only do our employees and contractors feel stressed and underappreciated, but we end up frustrated, overwhelmed, and exhausted. We blame our business for making us feel this way. But it’s not our business that is to blame – it’s the way we think about our business and how we run it. And both our conscious and unconscious minds play vital roles in the way we think.
Why do we overwork?
At some basic level, our conscious mind thinks it’s a fact that the way to make more money is to work more and to work harder. Especially when we first start out in business, this makes sense: more work = more money. But it’s a myth. Adding value to the world is how money is made. We add value to the world by using our mind, not by working more hours.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain responsible for planning and decision making, and when you give it a job to do, it will work for you. Instead of defaulting to working more, we can instruct the prefrontal to find ways to add more value with our solutions to generate more money. So, if it’s that easy, why don’t we do it? It’s because of our subconscious.
At a subconscious level, we often feel exposed and vulnerable as business owners, and the amygdala (the most primitive part of our brain) pushes us to respond to the perception of threat by taking action. We believe that by working more, we are taking action to keep ourselves and others safe.
The problem is that most actions generated at the level of the primitive brain are really “reactions” instead of strategically considered plans. We must stop and think before we decide to work harder. This means we must engage our prefrontal cortex. Otherwise, it’s like pedaling your bike faster in the wrong direction. You arrive at the wrong destination sooner.
The price is high.
Overworking leads to diminishing returns because when we’re exhausted, we’re not only inefficient, but we make poor decisions. In addition, the need to escape the feelings of stress and pressure created by overworking create collateral damage in the form of strained relationships, poor health, and destructive habits. We fail to make time for ourselves or others.
It’s important to remember that the main reason we’re overworking is because of how we think we’ll feel once we achieve our business goals. We believe we’ll feel secure, important, and even loved. If we leave wreckage in our wake along the way, we may find ourselves unhealthy and alone in the end, like Citizen Kane. This is the exact opposite of what we really want.
Why do we overmanage?
Consciously, we overmanage because we believe the way we do things is the right way. After all, it got us here. We think, “why change if it’s working?” But as author Marshall Goldsmith famously explains in What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, the very thing that got you to where you are now (your own ability) is the thing that will limit your company’s growth. At first, you succeeded because of your own ability to make and execute decisions. However, if you want to scale, you can no longer make all the decisions and perform or review all the work. You must rely on the ability of others.
Subconsciously, we overmanage because we link our worth as a person to our success as a business owner. In other words, we think the business is a reflection of who we are – after all, we created it. When someone who works for us makes a mistake, we take it personally. It’s like we did something wrong – they are an extension of us. For many entrepreneurs, the response is to be hypervigilant. In our desire to prevent errors, we make all the decisions, review all the work, handle sales calls personally. That can never scale. When you think there is always something else you must do, it’s coming from a place inside that has thoughts like: “It’s not enough, we have to hurry, we have to make it perfect.” That’s the signal that your mind has linked up success with worthiness.
The collateral damage from overmanaging is that your team won’t like it. The good ones will quit, and the mediocre ones will stay and become complacent and dependent on you. By hovering, assessing, and judging everything they do (instead of focusing on the outcome), you “train” them to not make decisions. It’s safer for them to wait until they have your input so they don’t get criticized afterward. This means you become the bottleneck, and they don’t learn and grow because it’s not safe for them to make mistakes. Instead, make the conscious decision with your prefrontal that you will learn the skills needed to hire the right people, then choose to trust them. Delegate everything that you can to them and evaluate the results.
To grow your business (and to have a LIFE at the same time), you must overcome the urge to overwork and overmanage. The thought that you must be everywhere, do everything, and make all the decisions creates collateral damage, and it’s not a fact. It’s a story and one you can rewrite using your mind.