Working Hard? Or Hardly Working?

I hear from a lot of business owners—and also screenwriters, actors, authors, and other creative types—who feel like they are WORKING SO FREAKING HARD to become successful and yet the rewards are not rolling in. The sales, the gigs, the bookings, that big break… it ain’t happening. Whyyyy?

Whenever I have these private conversations I always dig in a little further.

Me: “Did you reach out to three potential clients today to invite them out for lunch sometime this week—not to pitch your services, necessarily, but just to chat about their lives, their needs, and what they’re struggling with these days? To make a connection?”

Despondent Entrepreneur: “No.”

Me: “Did you put together a proposal about those seminars you want to do? Have you emailed your proposal out to five local companies where you’d love to speak?”

DE: “No. Oh wait, yes.”

Me: “Great! After emailing those proposals, did you follow up? Did you call? Stop by in person? Did you work your connections to try to arrange a personal introduction or referral?”

DE: “No.”

Me: “Have you sent personal ‘thank you’ notes to your last couple of paying customers? Did you follow up to see if they were completely satisfied? Or to collect feedback or a testimonial?”

DE: “No.”

And so on… and so on.

Here’s what I’ve realized…

When you feel desperate, invisible, panicked about money, and Stressed with a capital S, it can often “feel” like you’re working really hard. It can “feel” like you are slaving away. It can “feel” like you’re giving your business “everything you’ve got.”

But then when you analyze your daily activities—when you study what you’re actually doing every day, not what you “think” you’re doing or what you “intend” to be doing—the facts often tell a different story.

Upon reflection, turns out, you’re not really working that hard… you’re hardly working.

Stress is a trickster like that. Stress can create illusions. Stress can exhaust you when you’re not actually doing that much to warrant such exhaustion. Stress can make you feel like you’re making a huge effort, busting your ass, day after day, when in fact? You’re really not working THAT hard. You’re just… scared, stressed, spinning in a whirlwind of negativity, and tired as f*ck.

Here’s a surefire way to determine if you’re working hard… or hardly working:

Record all of your activities for one week, as if you’re a news reporter, journalist or biographer following YOU around, recording every detail. Write down the facts.

How are you actually spending your day?

What do you actually do every week?

Where is your time actually going?

(If you’re already thinking, “Uh oh. I sooo DO NOT want to do this exercise…” then unfortunately, you probably need to.)

Get specific. How much time are you spending… scrolling through social media feeds? Reading other people’s work but not actually writing anything of your own? Plucking around in your inbox as a form of unending procrastination? Dealing with icky clients who haggle about your pricing and suck away your energy? Flitting from website to website to website and never really hunkering down to focus on your own projects? Or getting lost in some other form of drama that you’ve concocted in your own mind, like obsessively comparing your work to other people’s stuff, complaining about how twisted and unfair your industry is or how bad the economy is, yada yada?

Take honest, factual notes about what you are actually doing and where your time is actually going.

Then after one week, assess your notes.

Do your notes look like the Diary of a Kick Ass, Confident, Focused CEO?

Or the Diary of an Easily Distracted, Slightly-Self-Loathing Time Waster?

Would you be proud to have your “daily recap” published online?

Or not so much?

This self-assessment exercise might be a rude awakening. It might be tough to read your own time-tracking notes on yourself. But seeing the stone-cold truth could motivate you to make some important changes. Starting, quite possibly, with an attitude change.

Remind yourself that feeling like you’re working hard—and actually working hard—are two very different things and when you’re panicked and stressed, it can be tough to tell the difference.

So take a big breath. Record the facts. Assess. Then march forward with a new plan—starting with a more intentional, focused agenda for your day.

Trust that if you put in the work, for real this time, and have a little patience…

The results that you crave will show up.