Sandy Lewis was overwhelmed trying to launch her new business — until our expert helped. Photo by Sandy Lewis

Having trouble finding time for your most important life goals? In our new feature, Timehacker, we match readers with the right coach or consultant to help them find that time, develop new habits and get started. Then we check in on Day 21 to see how it’s working out.

THE READER: After a long career in corporate America, Sandy Lewis, 55, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, decided to follow her dream and create her own executive coaching business. Yet she was feeling so overloaded and miserable, that she was considering giving up, calling a recruiter and working for someone else again.

THE GOAL: Sandy wants to know: Can she make a go of her new business? “My office is a mess. I don’t have stuff filed. I have marketing to do. I’ve stopped exercising. I’m working all the time, feeling like I’m at a start-up, that you have to work a million hours, you’ve got to sweat, you’ve got to bleed. I’m crabby with my husband all the time. This is about as close to mayhem as it could get.”

THE TIMEHACK: We matched Sandy with Alex Durand, an executive coach with Frable Consulting.

He suggested three time hacks:

  1. Complete a Time Inventory worksheet to get an idea of how she was using her time.
  2. Focus on the positive instead of being overwhelmed by the negative. Think of three things she’s grateful for every night.
  3. Use a “funnel test” to decide what to keep on the calendar. The things she was excited about doing, that matched her vision for her new life, passed through the “funnel.” The stuff she dreaded doing didn’t, she could find a way to delegate or delete the item from the calendar.

THE PROGNOSIS: Is this a hopeless case? Not hopeless, Durand said. But Sandy’s biggest challenge isn’t so much time, but guilt. After a lifetime of meeting other people’s expectations and deadlines at work, and putting herself and her opinions aside, Sandy was having trouble managing all the unstructured time that comes with being your own boss. In other words, she is now the one deciding how her time will be used and the work is potentially endless and always beckoning.  “Sandy is dealing with clashing identity frames,” Durand said. “Who she used to be will serve her to get her business on a sustainable footing. But certain mental models of who she used to be may hinder her ability to enjoy and thrive in this new more, unstructured environment.”

DAY 21:

Sandy had a couple “A-Ha” moments. She hadn’t realized how much guilt had been weighing her down. “I felt guilty for doing what I love. How crazy is that?” And she hadn’t realized how afraid she was. “I was afraid of the finances, and just not believing that I could really do this.”

What helped her most, as she wrestled with how to structure all that unstructured time, was using the funnel test to set up both her calendar and her To Do list for the day. “Honestly, it was taking my To Do list and getting my priorities straight by asking myself, ‘What do I love?’ I literally did that,” she said. “Then when I looked at my ‘To Do’ list, it didn’t make me feel sick to my stomach every time. It didn’t have the weight from so much pressure to be doing all the things I thought I should be doing. And at night, I’d really sit down at the end of the day and stop and think, ‘What three things did I do today that I’m proud of?’ Before, work just felt never-ending.”

Now that she’s less stressed out all the time – “I was stressed about my performance because it was all about fear and survival” – she’s actually more playful with her clients and getting better results. And more clients. She’s feels less guilty now that she’s more in control. If she works early in the morning with an overseas client, she’ll take time to walk in the middle of the day. She’s exercising again.

“I’m getting up earlier. I’m actually having an end of the day. I have more energy,” she said. “I’m feeling more peace now.” And she has put quitting out of her mind.

What has worked for you when you feel time starved and out of control? Share your comments and strategies in the comments section.

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