11 minutes | Aug 30, 2021

How to Function When You've Said Yes to Too Many Projects

Even with the best boundaries and understanding the importance of not overdoing it, we sometimes find ourselves in that situation where we've taken on too much. Here's how I got to that place and what I do to get through it. Please leave a review and subscribe so you never miss an episode! Questions and comments can also be emailed to info@aardvarkgirl.com Connect with me on your favorite platform: https://pods.link/aardvarkgirl -- As I’m about to start recording, I’m reminded of this college English class where I had to write a paper that instructed readers how to do something, step by step. At the time, I worked a full-time job, a part-time job, and was going to school full-time, so finding time to keep up with silly things like schoolwork was a bit challenging. I’m not always great at coming up with topics to write about, and I had a hard time thinking of something I did often enough I could write instructions for it. And, of course, I was running out of time because it was due the next day, so I ended up writing instructions for how to drive yourself crazy by waiting until the last minute to write a paper for your class. My professor seemed to enjoy it because it was a humorous take on the topic. It was not unlike what I’m about to say now, many many years later. We all know I’m a big fan of setting and honoring boundaries. I acknowledge the importance of work-life balance and making sure self-care is a priority. I have no problem saying no or being transparent when I just don’t have the bandwidth to take on another project. But even when we’re armed with the best principles and the clearest understanding of how to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our businesses, sometimes we end up in a predicament where we’ve taken on too much. You’ve been there, right? You had it all under control, but then one deadline got moved up, and another project increased in scope, and one client really needs your help and suddenly you’re in too deep. What do you do? This is where I’ve found myself the last couple of months. It’s almost comical at this point, but it also kind of fits in with the norm. It seems like traditionally my work cycles are all at once or not at all. Feast or famine, so to speak. The… predicament, I’ll say, because it’s not exactly a problem… is that the last 2 years have pretty much been a nonstop feast. And while we know in reality I do like to eat, in this metaphor it wouldn’t exactly hurt for me to go on a diet for a little bit. I say this with my usual disclaimer that I am incredibly grateful to have had so much work during a time when my primary industry was mostly shut down, and when many others have not been so fortunate. But production has come back full force and I know so many people who are in a similar place right now, where the work is just flooding in and they’re trying to balance it all. I was talking to a friend recently about everything going on and she asked how I managed to get to this place when I’m usually so good about not taking on too much. It’s a valid question because it does seem like I’ve failed to take my own advice about saying no and putting myself first and all that fun stuff that I truly do believe. But, sometimes the best decision for yourself is actually the one that puts someone else first, and that’s kind of what happened. I’ve set my business up in a way that allows me to work on multiple things at any given time. It comes with a lot of perks. If one area is slow, I have other things bringing me income. This proved invaluable during that time when there was no production work. If that was all I did, I would’ve been in a bad place for a bit. It also keeps me engaged because I’m not doing the same things all the time. Every day is different depending on what projects I have going on. And it allows me to work with multiple clients at the same time, so I don’t lose momentum with them by being unavailable for long stretches of time. But, by doing that, it also means that there are times when a whole lot of people need me at the same time. That makes it even more important to do some of those things I talk about all the time, like prioritizing, communicating, and making sure not to lose sight of self-care. It also makes it difficult to take on those bigger jobs that require me to be on set for several days in a row. I can still do it, but what usually happens is that I have to sneak in time before call, during breaks and after wrap to do all the other work and that tends to seep into that important decompress & sleep time. I’ve been doing this long enough that I do consider all of these things before accepting any job. Sometimes I say no because I don’t have the brain space for one more thing at that time, or I need stay home for my own mental health, or a variety of reasons. I’m not one of those people who has a problem saying no, but there are times when I may not want to do something, I may not think I should do something, but ultimately I know I need to do it. And then all I can do is be as mindful as possible about what I need to do to get everything done without overdoing it. It’s a practice, kind of like yoga in a way, because you don’t really perfect it. Some days you feel like you’re great, some days you feel like a mess, and you just have to accept that you have different strengths and limitations every single day. Do the best you can and try again tomorrow. So how did I get myself into this predicament? First, I’ve been working on an A&E TV series since June of 2020. It’s all remote and they understand that I have other clients, too, but they are my top priority. They’ve locked me in full-time so they essentially have first dibs on my schedule. If they need me, I’m available. That’s the deal. It’s a good deal. I also have several retainer clients who pay me monthly for different services. Those don’t require set hours or a specific amount of time, so it’s all flexible, but that means it can also be a bit unpredictable. The main one is the Voice Actors Studio, where I manage a lot of the behind the scenes stuff with regards to scheduling, finances, and the daily operations. The studio’s customer base has grown considerably in the last couple of years, which has been really fun to watch, but that also means there are more people with questions and other needs that fall onto me. Because of that growth, we’re in the midst of completely overhauling the website and booking platform. That requires a lot of my involvement in weekly meetings to make sure it’s going to function how we need it to. This will eventually make my life much simpler, so I’m happy to be involved. Then there are the little jobs that come in that I can fit in between everything else, and maybe some medium-to-large-sized projects that I find a way to do also. But then there was the rocket launch. The big one where they sent people into space. My client said they needed me, and I never even officially said yes. I was on the fence because I was already busy, and I was dealing with those house repair issues I talked about a few weeks ago, and my cat is sick. There was just a lot happening at once and it did not feel like a good time for me to be out of town for a week and a half. I explained this to my client and said I would do all the prep work from home, but I couldn’t commit to the onsite days. As we got into it, it became clear that they really did need someone there. And it couldn’t just be anyone. It’s not to say no one else can do what I do. Everyone is replaceable. But this particular event had a lot of nuances that I knew about because I’d done it before. And I know how much of a learning curve was involved being the new person. Then there was the added pressure of this one because it was the first one where humans were getting sent to space on this rocket. The person in this role needed to be able to juggle a bunch of moving parts and go with the flow, while also staying calm under pressure, and trying to help the rest of the crew do the same. That happens to be one of my specialties. They knew it had to be me, and I did too. I talked to my client and explained my hesitation and why I didn’t feel like I could go, but at the same time I understood that they needed me. I thought about it for a while and had to really turn inward to listen to my instincts. And they told me I needed to do it. I did make some demands… in a friendly and reasonable way of course… about what I needed to make it work, and they were good about it. That’s what happens when you have good clients, and good relationships with your clients. That was the start of all of this. It was a lot. But I got through it. I always do. And I always focus on the positive. Was that week away exhausting? Sure. Frustrating at times? Of course. But will I think back on it and remember how hot it was or how the Holiday Inn never cleaned my room? No. I’ll remember the looks on everyone’s faces when it was almost time. I’ll remember the cheering of the employees when the rocket went into the air. And I’ll remember the tears in the clients’ eyes when those astronauts got out of the capsule, because it represented the success of something they’d worked so hard on for so long. Those moments make it all worthwhile every single time. I got back and I had a few things to do but planned on a peaceful week or so of recovery. I even planned a spa day with a friend, which was very much needed. That afternoon, though, I got the text that another episode of the series had been cast and pre-production would start the next day. Goodbye break. So I had the show. I had the retainers. I had the small projects. Usually that’s all manageable. But then the show cast another episode – a real doozy of a season finale that involves a much larger cast, which means twice the crew, and considerably more logistics planning than we’ve ever had to do for one episode. So now I’m working on two episodes at the same time. Meanwhile, the studio is getting close to completing that overhaul, which means there is about to be a whole lot of new stuff to learn because it will affect a lot of what I do every day. Then there was another small rocket launch that needed my support. And now there’s the Skechers marketing video that is starting now, along with the prep work for the next big launch. So maybe in another month I can have that break? I have turned down a handful of jobs during this time, so don’t think I’m just saying yes to everything with total disregard for my time. I’ve been able to refer that work to other friends in the industry, so that makes me happy. I love to see everyone working after such a crazy year. This has just been a weird time and somehow everything has landed at once. It’s definitely a much better problem to have than nothing landing at all. I love being the person people need. They rely on me because they trust me, and that’s really important. And it’s recognition that I’m good at what I do, and I think it’s important for us to acknowledge things like that sometimes. Not to be arrogant, but to be kind to ourselves. If I wasn’t good at what I do, these clients wouldn’t hire me, I wouldn’t get to work on these big projects, and I probably wouldn’t be able to sustain this business I love that allows me the freedom I’ve always wanted. And I don’t know, maybe it’s just part of who I am. Maybe it’s because I care about the quality of everything I do so I always give my full effort. Maybe it’s because I treat my clients and their projects and businesses with the same level of care I do my own. Whatever it is, it’s working, and I’m grateful. So when this happens, when you end up in a place where you have too much work at one time and you know you have to get it done, the best thing to do is break it down into manageable pieces. Use your to-do lists, or whatever system you have, and write everything down. Get it out of your head! Then prioritize it so you know what needs to be done first. And most importantly, take care of yourself while you’re doing it. Get up every hour and walk around. Those breaks are good for you and will help you stay productive. Eat the right food. Get enough sleep. Even if that means you don’t get to watch your shows or whatever you usually do with your free time. Sleep is important. Take the time to exercise, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day. Even if it’s 15 minutes. Do something. It helps relieves the stress and keeps you healthy. Find little pockets of time where you can and do something for yourself. And don’t forget to breathe. You will get through it and when you do, reward yourself with whatever it is that makes you happy. Eventually you’ll look back and laugh. Remember that time when you had to do all those things at once and weren’t sure how you would make it? Yeah, that was fun. You probably have some good stories about the craziness, too. And in the end, it was all worth it, right?
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