This month, however, I'm touching on an entirely different topic altogether. But this topic is even more important than all of the others put together. I call it: Know your limits, and I consider it more important than my typical technically oriented articles because if you continually try to exceed your limits, no amount of industry tricks or knowledge will help you.
The Whole Picture
On December 10, a professional workroom owned by a friend of mine received a call from a customer wanting treatments by Christmas! After rolling on the floor laughing hysterically, she composed herself enough to explain to the customer that it would be impossible. The customer then said, "Well, OK, but have it ready by News Year's Day." (As if that helped!)
A designer friend of mine was asked to design the complete interior of several model homes and have all of them done in just a couple of weeks.
You probably have experienced both of these situations yourself. It happens all of the time, especially in our industry. In today's busy world, customers constantly request not only the unreasonable, but the impossible. Where we must take the blame is when we say, "Yes." We push ourselves beyond our limits diminishing the quality of our health and our service.
How do you know when you're exceeding your limits before getting into trouble? By knowing your limitations. Many of us are so over-busy we see our business as if looking through a camera with a telephoto lens. We're focused on the particulars of each job (especially as deadlines quickly approach) that we can't see the true overall picture.
How do you establish your limits? This task will take considerable analysis, effort and time. But it's so critical to our being efficient and not becoming overworked that it's undoubtedly worth the investment. I find that limitations fall into four categories. Let's take a look at how to determine each one.
Physical. Analyze your individual level of physical energy. Take notice of how many hours you can work comfortably before becoming exhausted.
Do you have any physical impairments that limit the hours you can work without overdoing it? For example, does your back hurt after lugging samples to two sales calls or five sales calls? Do you get headaches after sewing two hours or 12 hours? Really pay attention to your body and it will teach you what you need to know.
Then, write it down. Doing this helps you recognize that you do indeed have limitations, and you are methodically and objectively analyzing them.
Mental and emotional. Determine your personality type. Do you thrive on stress, or do you shrivel? How many challenges can you handle without it adversely affecting you? When you've reached your limit, write it down.
Time. Decide how much time you have to dedicate to your business without harming your health or your relationships. Keep track of when you spent too much time on business and set your limit below that.
It is critical that you perform a time study on all tasks within your business (even if you do all of those tasks) to become aware of what can be accomplished. If you don't know what the limits are, how can you know if you are exceeding them? For example, determine how many treatments your workroom can make in a given time or how many sales calls each person can make in a day.
Resources (both internal and external). What equipment do you have? Will it handle a big job in a timely manner? How much space do you have to actually make treatments and then store them until they are picked up? Do you have adequate capital for any up-front costs, such as sample books, sales tools or workroom supplies? What are your personal skills? Can you actually handle the job?
Determining that you don't have the proper resources for a particularly large job doesn't necessarily mean you have to turn it down. If you have properly analyzed what outside resources are available to you and have made arrangements for them to work with you, subcontract out part of the job.
Analyze the Cost
Now that you know what your limits are, what do you do with them? You use the information to make critical business and personal decisions. It's all a matter of asking yourself if any job (or anything else) is worth the cost. And, I'm not talking about money.
Everything has a cost. Anything you want to acquire demands that you give up something. It may cost you only time you've already set aside for work. But it may cost you time away from our grandchildren or other loved ones. It may cost you light physical exertion and sweat. It may cost you sore feet, a backache or sleepless nights of worry. The cost may be small, or it may be astronomical, but everything always has a cost.
Once you've analyzed the cost, determine the benefits such as bringing you joy, generating money, promoting sales or building public relations for your business. Now ask yourself three questions: Is it within my limits? What will it cost me? Are the benefits worth the costs? Using this successful formula will ensure that all your decisions will be well thought out.
So now, when you realize the answer to business demands sometimes needs to be "No," you have very analytical reasons behind your decision. Getting up the courage to say no relieves us from all of the guilt and stress we put upon ourselves.
You are the most important person in your life. After all, you can't live without you. I want you to repeat three times: "I'm the most important person in my life." This statement is not meant to be egotistical, prideful or in any way demean the importance of personal religious beliefs. It is intended to remind yourself that you must take care of yourself and not constantly overdo things. This type of reaffirmation will help build your self-confidence to handle what you realistically can with ease.
A Healthy Balance
For some people, these words still aren't enough to bring themselves to say "No." They have to have permission. A dear friend of mine who does my accounting books every week is one of them. She does nothing but work because she just can't say "No." So, for Christmas I gave her a gift of a weekend away. She was so ecstatic I thought she would burst. She very easily could have given herself a weekend away from work, but she needed someone else to "give her permission."
If you are like my dear friend, then I want to help you, too. I hereby officially give you permission to be kind to yourself. From now on, if a task is going to be beyond your limits and you just can't bring yourself to say no, say to yourself, "It's OK, because Cheryl said I could!"
To keep a healthy balance between yes and no, remember to follow these simple steps:
Value yourself and constantly reaffirm your worth to yourself. Establish your specific limits. Learn how to say, 'No." (This takes practice, but it feels so good. And when you've mastered it, the world really doesn't end.) Respect your body. (Follow the same three things you've heard all of your life from your mother: Eat well, rest well and exercise.)
Take that telephoto lens off your camera, put on the widest lens you can and refocus. Start the new year with the most important resolution you will ever make: Take care of yourself before you take care of your customers. After all, if you don't who will? Because if you don't, you won't be around to take care of our customers or your family.
Finally, I'd like to add a personal footnote: I appreciate all the helpful ideas and input I receive from so many readers. Please continue to send in your suggestions in 1997, and I will continue to do my best to serve your needs. Have a joyous, successful, healthy and a within-your-limits new year!
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars. She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with more than 20 years experience in the window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor of Sew WHAT?, an international monthly newsletter for professional drapery workrooms. Strickland also is the author of A Practical Guide to Soft Window Coverings and the Designer's Sketch Pad, which are available through Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.