This article was originally published here on Forbes.com.
Clarifying Your Span of Control
We live in an age of overwhelming chaos, and it’s taking a toll on all of us.
You might already be familiar with the term Span of Control in the corporate world, where it’s used to designate the number of direct reports you can effectively manage at one time. Over the years, I’ve expanded that term to include everything you can, and should, control at any given time. Clarifying your Span of Control can help you stay focused on what matters most while taming distractions and pressures. It can also keep your mission and purpose clear and even keep you loving your work.
That’s because it’s a specific, intentional, and actionable framework.
Maybe you think you’re handling it all. I’m of Dutch and Hungarian lineage, so I’ve certainly spent a lot of time “handling it,” relying on my Midwestern stoicism to keep my sh*t together under challenging circumstances. Like me, you’ve probably learned some techniques and tricks to help you cut through the chaos. You’ve undoubtedly moved well beyond rookie issues like having a “time-management” problem or needing a life coach to remind you to take some “me time.”
Also like me, I’m guessing you’ve had moments when you felt strongly that something needs to change.
When that feeling overcame me a few years back, I struggled to make sense of it. I was a successful businesswoman, board member, and mother, and I was the same person who could fly a sophisticated piece of military equipment in all kinds of intense, high-risk situations! In the Navy, I had years of training and practice overcoming profound levels of stress and navigating task overload in life-or-death situations. How could I fall prey to feeling overloaded and exhausted, just trying to get everything done on my to-do list?
Most everything that had allowed me to be successful in the past was something I was still doing. But what I hadn’t done was say “no” to the things that mattered less. Instead, I believed I was effectively multitasking, and that I could do all the things, continuously, on very little sleep.
To get back on track, I needed to re-define my Span of Control and remember that focusing on what mattered most required saying “no” to those things that were less important in the moment. On top of that, I needed to do more communicating, delegating, and asking for help.
My situation was the perfect storm—for me. And yours may be too, for you. Every one of us struggles, but the path forward for each of us is ours alone.
To get back on track, we need to turn our awareness of a problem into action on behalf of its solution. Action requires us to shed tasks that aren’t critical, to say “no” to whatever doesn’t help us accomplish the most important things.
If, right now, you are driving yourself into the ground, remember what you need to focus on—and don’t let secondary concerns take up precious mental space. It’s sounds so simple, but it’s a business-and-life-saving insight that can lift you out of feeling overwhelmed, overworked, stressed out, and desperately needing something definitive to hold on to. Remind yourself that you can only control so much and that the best way to conquer the chaos is to stay focused on those things you truly can control, right now.
Your Span of Control will change as your situation changes and as your abilities grow and transform. That why, at any given time, you need to make an honest assessment of what you can—and should—effectively manage.