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July 30, 2008

Are You Suffering From Brain Drain?

Another terrific post from Men with Pens addresses a very big issue solo practitioners face; too many things to do, not enough time.  The end result, lost time, brain drain and at a significant cost to your business and personal life:

Seven Ways to Battle Productivity Brain Drain

http://stuff.mit.edu/afs/athena/activity/i/isg/IMG/BrainDrain.gifToo many ideas at once dig into your mental and physical energy resources just as credit cards dig into your money. Too much mental spending creates debt, leaving you with a mess and feeling overwhelmed trying to stay afloat.

Financial advisors have the perfect solution. These number-crunching pros have strategies that reduce conventional debt, and these can also help reduce and eliminate idea debt and brain drain. You’ll restore some balance in your life and actually get things done with these seven adapted strategies.

1. Cut up your mental credit cards. People who want to reduce debt cut up the tools that let them accumulate more debt. The same applies to entrepreneurs – cut off new, incoming ideas. Write those ideas on a list you can set aside (you don’t want to forget them, after all.) Come back to the list when life is back in order.

2. Uncover the real expense. You probably have a ton of great ideas. When you put those ideas into words on a list, it can be surprising to realize just how much work might be involved. Make a list of each project, all related tasks and subtasks, and get the big picture of just how much your ideas cost you.

3. Budget your mental spending. With the big picture and the (long) list of everything each project requires, it’s easier to see where you need to cut back the unnecessary expenses that cost you time. Cut the spending, and apply the savings to your mental debts.

4. Pay more than the minimum. If the bill comes in and you only pay what’s necessary to stay in good credit, it takes a long, long time to eliminate the debts – and you also rack up interest, making the debt harder to pay off. When you work a little on multiple projects, their progress is slow and you become more tired plugging away.

5. Reduce one debt at a time. Financial experts suggest tackling one debt fiercely (usually the one with the highest interest) to eliminate it before working on eliminating the next debt. Do the same with your focus and time – pick one project and work on eliminating all the tasks to reach the goal. Then move on.

6. Don’t spend what you don’t have. People wake up when families are a mess, partners are complaining and kids are neglected. These people suddenly realize they didn’t have the available time to commit to their ideas in the first place. Know how much time you have, and don’t commit more than you can invest safely.

7. Pay yourself first. If all your time goes to your business, you never have a moment to just relax and do something else. Rest your brain and set aside a chunk of time for something besides business.

Solo practitioners, entrepreneurs in general, do not 'pay' themselves first.  I'm not talking about money, I'm talking about time, attention to health, family and more.

And the most recent phenomenon with progressive solo practitioners:  they are into TOO much, excited by so many potential opportunities the internet has provided, they are like octopi, their hands into so many things they end up with a lot of nothing, at least nothing of real or lasting value.  Great ideas wither and die on the vine from lack of consistent attention because other fanciful ideas distract them from the money-making ones.  Whether it is marketing or a new source of revenue, it doesn't matter.  We are distracted and wasting time with too many 'opportunities.'  And worse yet, we defend our actions by categorizing them as necessary.

Step back, assess what is working for you today and what isn't.  Prioritize your revenue generating (or pleasure generating) activities, shelving those which simply cannot be accommodated today, and then focus on what is most important.  This can't be overstated. Or done too soon. Look at which activities promise the greatest return or greatest opportunity to leverage to help you achieve your goals and stay focused.

I know I am sometimes a victim of overwhelm and certainly of brain drain.  I have to believe you have been, too.

I know this post is resonating with many of you. What have you done when you feel overwhelmed by too many great ideas and not enough time to fully explore them?  What has it cost you?  How did you fix it?


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James Chartrand - Men with Pens

Thanks for this, Susan.

This one came directly from my need as a business entrepreneur to find a way to balance life, ideas, visions, work and my available time.

If I didn't practice this, I'd go insane trying to stay on top of everything while attempting to move forward, too.

It works. And I'm sure that many people who read this post can benefit from the value of practicing it for two weeks.

Sandy Slaga

Today is Day 1 of acting on the "Seven Ways." This post couldn't have been more timely.


Great advice! I have a box of index cards on my desk, and whenever something comes to my mind that's very tempting to explore, I write it down and put it in the box. I actually use index cards of different colors for different themes/categories of ideas around my work, such as product ideas, marketing ideas, learning agendas, etc. I periodically schedule time to go over the cards to decide if I want to turn something into a project. I like index card because I can brainstorm and add information on the same card. This is my brain-drain antidote.

Grant D Griffiths

This a WONDERFUL post about something all of us need to think about. Great job and thanks for discussing a topic that needs to be discussed more and more...

Susan Cartier Liebel

@James - I definitely have already benefited from this!

@Sandy - I'm always happy to help you improve things w/my timeliness..but thank, James, too!

@Anastasia - Your system sounds very therapeutic and easy to do.

@Grant - you octopus, you...:-)

Solomon Neuhardt

I would add that some form of exercise is necessary to keep your sanity, even if it is only stretching at home for a short time. An intense physical workout of course has the most benefits.

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