07/08/2014 10:43 am ET Updated Sep 07, 2014

Overwhelmed, Overworked and Wearing Too Many Hats: Use This 5-Step Plan to Avert Total Burnout

We've all been there. Running your own company or working as part of a team, it is the result of taking on too much. You were hesitant to say no and failed to delegate. Now you're on the verge of burnout even if you once loved your work. Own the moment, take a deep breath and grab the reins on your situation by following this five step plan. There's more to it than just making sure you can mark the check boxes off your list. It's about balance and well-being and having a life. A real one.

Step 1 -- Look at the Whole Board
Take out a piece of paper and make two columns. On the left, list out your areas of responsibility. Not the tasks you manage -- like create invitations, send invitations, tally RSVPs. Instead, lump those together and write "Manage Events." Now, down the right side, write the amount of time you spend each week doing the things listed on the left. Add up the hours you spend at the bottom.

When I did this, my list of responsibilities was long and the amount of time each would take forced me to realize that I would have to work 80 - 90 hours a week to get everything done. That's too much.

Step 2 -- Evaluate Your Priorities
Take your list and rank each item by importance to your overall goals and objectives. Here's a sad truth: most of us will find that after ranking everything from most important to least, the ones that take the most time are often the least important when compared to other items on the list. Doing this exercise woke me up. I had to find a solution.

Step 3 -- Automate What You Can
With your list in hand, are there some items that could be automated? Don't skip this step. I can predict some items on your list. Marketing or communications is likely there in some form. Whether you're doing some email marketing, running social media campaigns or just want to monitor the web to make sure you're up on the latest in your industry, there are free and almost free tools out there to help.

Look at the tools you already use. Many email marketing services have what are called autoresponders, which is a fancy word for a series of emails that send out automatically in a timed sequence. What could you do with that? You could replace some of your sales cycle or service model with an autoresponder, allowing you to build the series of emails once, set it up to send when someone is added to the list of new clients, or "just joined our email list." The messages are delivered automatically.

Another way to automate is around social media. I create most of my posts a week in advance. I can post updates on my own any time. But I don't have to worry that I'm not active on social media today. I'm active every day. I'm also "listening" for trends around my industry with auto-searches. And I "listen" for leads by setting up keyword searches in specific geographical areas too. I use to do all of this and it tracks how many clicks my social media posts get. It integrates with my email marketing software and with Google news, so when I'm short on content I can grab from other sources to re-purpose. Hootsuite is another great tool that is similar. Once I started automating my social media, I was able to free up several hours that I would have spent logging in, posting, reading, lingering, going down rabbit holes online -- what, that's just me? Nah. You do it too. Automate your social media.

Step 4 -- Delegate Administrative Tasks
Finding the person is not the hard part. If you don't have someone to delegate to and cannot afford to pay, there are interns that need the work hours to graduate. Seek out local colleges or use a service like Search for students nearby with an interest in your industry and a willingness to get real-life experience. Or hire a virtual assistant. They work hourly in most cases, take direction extremely well and many are professionals with a work history in your field.

The bigger challenge is learning to let someone else manage the store, correspondence, reports, marketing or whatever parts you are willing to take off of your own plate. This is where it all becomes an exercise of will. Yours. Are you willing to take an hour or two to prepare instructions or examples of what you do, so that someone else can do it for you? This is the big hurdle. "I can't have someone else do it, I'm the only one that knows how." Immediately followed by, "I don't have time to teach someone else how to do it, I have too much on my plate." It's a catch 22 and it's yours to clean up. You can make time to explain one task or two and add that time back in multiples of weeks to come. You may even find alternative solutions.

An example from my own experience: Speaker requests come in and managing them was taking 10 hours a week. While writing the instructions to delegate, I found a better way. I created an online form, using a survey builder, to ask the questions that I always ask. Then I gave my VA a sample email of how to send people to the form. Requests come in, she responds, I don't touch it. With or without an assistant, I saved ten hours a week.

Step 5 -- Be Your Own Life Guard
Using your updated list of responsibilities, make a schedule for next week adding in time for yourself. Whether that means getting a haircut, going fishing or working on a graduate degree, put real time into the schedule that is for you. You may not always use it, but putting it down gives credence to your commitment to balance. Repeat this process every six months. You didn't come by an over-full schedule without some bad habits in place. You're probably good-natured, a hard worker and a strong contributor. Take this exercise to heart and repeat as needed.

My greatest hope is that you'll find joy in your work again because you will have escaped the ever-expanding impossible-to-manage list of tasks and instead find yourself looking at your business from the life guard's perch. Able to see what coming, respond to challenges before they are real problems; anticipate storms on the way and blow the whistle on poor time management. Let's all work smarter and find balance.