Women are supposed to . . .
A large measure of what underlies women solopreneurs’ actions in their businesses stems from what we believe we are supposed to do . . . we’re supposed to be available to everyone 24/7 . . . we’re supposed to finish what we start . . . we’re supposed to make our families our top priority…
We come by these ideas naturally – after all, most of us were raised this way. Directly or indirectly, we learn that women are supposed to serve, and serve selflessly. But these attitudes feed directly into a common problem (yes, problem – not challenge or issue) among women in business in general and women solopreneurs in particular. We are so busy putting others before ourselves that we risk losing ourselves in the process. When a woman solopreneur loses herself, she will eventually lose her business as well.
Most women solopreneurs experience some form of overwhelm in their businesses. I recently conducted a survey to find out what some of the sources are, and have created a free, three-part video training series (http://gettingoveroverwhelm.com) that addresses the most important ones and provides tips on how to deal with them.
One of the three most important causes of overwhelm identified in the survey is overcommitment of time. A symptom of this is what I call “The Wonder Woman Syndrome” – trying to be all and do all for everyone and expecting to get everything right the first time! I suffered from this form of overwhelm for years as a solopreneur. But I learned how to overcome it, and my businesses and my life have improved remarkably as a result.
Let’s look at how what women are “supposed to do” creates an environment that is perfect for falling into the trap of overwhelm due to overcommitment.
1) Women are supposed to be available to everyone 24/7
In the work environment, this primarily means that we are supposed to be available to our clients whenever they “need” us. Our clients have no idea of what we need to do each day to keep our businesses running smoothly, let alone thrive. All they know is that they have a question or a problem and they want an answer – now, or as soon as possible. We often perceive what they want as a “need,” and act accordingly.
When we drop everything that we are doing to answer client questions or deal with their problems, we are committing to doing something that is often not among the most important tasks and activities that we should be attending to that day. We either add this activity to our schedule while maintaining everything that is already there, or we push something aside. If this happens once in a while, it may not be a problem. But if it happens regularly, we rapidly become “slaves” to the desires of our clients and lose control of our time and our productivity.
Unless the client’s request is time sensitive, we should resist the urge to respond immediately and program the request into our schedules, communicating clearly with the client as to when he or she can expect a reply.
2) Women are supposed to finish what they start
This may actually be a value that parents instill in their sons as well as their daughters, but I sense that women are more earnest and serious about this than men. Somehow, we feel that we are failing ourselves or others if we take on a project and then fail to complete it. What this attitude does not take into account is that we may have made a mistake by taking the project on in the first place, or that over time, the project may no longer advance us toward our goals.
Under these circumstances, there is no harm and no shame in abandoning a project. But many of us labor on, postponing the project at best, or spending time on it that would be better spent on other activities at worst. This, in addition to working on the new projects that we accept and the on-going projects that may be better suited to our business goals, causes overload of our schedules. This leads to unnecessary stress, and eventually, to overwhelm.
3) Women are supposed to make “family” their top priority
How could any self-respecting woman place anything in front of family as a priority? This question is laden with preconceived notions about the role of women in the home and in society. We are the primary caregivers – many times the only caregivers – for our children, and this has to come first, right?
I submit that women need to place their own health and well-being – mental and emotional as well as physical – before anything else in life. How can we be the best that we can be for our partners and our children if we are chronically fatigued and guilt-ridden because we are trying to simultaneously juggle responsibilities for our families and our businesses?
I believe that second and third in order of priority should be family and work. But this does not mean that family always trumps work. As with anything in life, there are times when the preferred order of things is simply not possible to achieve. Especially for women working alone, career may need to take priority in the short or medium term. What is important in these cases is that we assess what the impact of these situations is on the family, communicate effectively about it within the family, and work through things together. If we consistently let guilt or outside opinions lead us to attempt to give equal time to family and career during such difficult times, we simply add physical stress and emotional tension to our lives and adversely affect our performance at home and on the job. This does not work out well for anyone concerned.
What’s the bottom line? We women should recognize the tendencies that we have to react to situations as I have outlined above, and be vigorous about curbing these tendencies to avoid overwhelm due to overcommitment. It is difficult to reprogram long-ingrained behaviors, but we have a vested interest in doing so – for ourselves, our families, and our businesses!
Dr. Monique Y. Wells is the Paris Muse of Time Management™. Her mission is to help women solopreneurs “get over the overwhelm” that they feel in the workplace so that they can experience less stress, earn more income, increase their job satisfaction, and find more time to spend with family and friends outside of work. A 19-year resident of Paris, France, Monique owns two small businesses herself and has over ten years of experience in maximizing productivity within the constraints of the number of hours available for work in her home office each day.