How I Increased My Productivity By Doing Less
Please forgive any typos. This post wasn’t planned. It was sudden inspiration and it kept me up last night with all the thoughts I wanted to get down “on paper” to share with you. I hope you can learn from my mistakes or correct your path if you’re feeling how I was ending 2015.
How I Increased My Productivity By Doing Less
Last year was an amazing year for me professionally. My blog turned into a full-time business. I published two eBooks. I completed two physical books for publishers that release in January and April. I had my first licensed artwork appear in Hobby Lobby. I had my first major international design job (Which you’ll get to finally see in February!). I made more money than I ever made working for “the man”. I made awesome bloggy friends and attended my first blogging conference. I co-founded an unexpectedly successful “side business” with my sweet friend Kimber.
I’m not telling you all this to toot my own horn. I’m telling you this because great as the success of 2015 was, it came with a price. The hustle led to serious burnout and the quality of my work suffered. I felt in a constant state of rush. There was never enough time. The to-do list was never-ending. I only half-listened to my husband and my kids because I was always on my laptop and/or phone.
I worked hard to get ahead before Christmas break and thought two weeks off would certainly cure the burnout.
But it didn’t.
So I’ve been doing some reading and thinking a lot about why.
Because, speaking candidly, a big part of me wanted to quit everything and do nothing.
But I knew that wasn’t what I really wanted. I’d be bored to tears not doing it.
And then I figured out the problem: I love what I’m doing but I’m not happy doing it the way I’m currently doing it.
So I created a plan of actionable steps to meet my new goal: LESS BUT BETTER.
And so far it’s working. I feel calmer and I’m getting more done in less working hours.
So what exactly is my new plan?
I PICKED A WORD FOR THE YEAR
Did you pick a Word for the Year? I haven’t ever done it before but I thought long and hard about one for this year. I had a really hard time deciding but I decided on the word EMBRACE.
Embrace change (we move yet again this year). Embrace the chaos (because…life). Embrace the lack of balance (it doesn’t exist). Embrace the work (even when it’s the not-so-fun parts). Embrace the help (because no one can do it all). Embrace rest (take a break from the to-do’s and the tech!).
I MADE THE CHOICE TO CHOOSE
Busyness is glorified in our society. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re more stressed out and unhealthy than ever. Making a choice is an action. Buy deciding not to choose, you’re still making a choice. But the problem when you’re not in control of your choices, is that you lose control of your life and your schedule.
is was a big issue for me.
I decided to make a choice inspired by the book I’m currently reading, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
My choice (and also my new mantra): Less but Better.
Every important decision I make for my day now is based on that mantra.
“If you don’t prioritize your life, some else will.”
-Greg McKeown, Essentialism
I START THE DAY THE RIGHT WAY
Last year, my day often started by immediately checking my phone, followed by working on my laptop at 6 am while my kids ate breakfast. I’d have coffee for breakfast and not realize I was starving until around 10 am. I’m not proud of this and I can’t tell you how many times I had “bad mom” moments, like forgetting their book bags or lunch boxes, because I was trying to do too many things at once. It was chaos at best. Bad parenting at worst. Thankfully, as Glennon Doyle Melton put it in her book, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Beautiful, Messy Life:
“Parenting and God are forever tries.”
-Glennon Doyle Melton
Preach it, sister.
Now my morning looks like this:
- My alarm goes off at 6:00 am.
- I make my kids milk and breakfast (or hubby does if he’s up first). Then I sit with them with my beloved first cup of coffee and drink it. While it’s hot.
- I don’t touch my phone or my laptop while we get dressed and lunches/backpacks ready (as a general rule, there are rare exceptions of course, like checking the weather so I can dress them appropriately!).
- After they go to school, I have a second cup of coffee, a real breakfast, and read one chapter of a book.
- I make my list for the day (see next Action Point).
- I happily get to work.
My mornings are so much less stressful this way. And now when I start work, I’m starting calmly with a clear head instead of being full of anxiety from the chaos…all because I am starting my mornings off NOT working right away.
I MAKE A LIST
Or I make lists really. #mombrain
I’ve learned that I’m (mostly) Type-A. I hate to be late. I love to be early. I attack too many things at once. I’m driven. I tend to take on more than I should or can handle.
I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. But I do know that it means I’m prone to burnout and rushing through my work.
So I take a deep breath and I repeat my new mantra: Less but Better.
And then I make a list.
I pick my top three work priorities for the day and write them down. Those are my goals for the workday. And that’s it.
Once those three are done, I’m done for the day. (As a general rule.)
No more 10 hour work days.
After those things are done I do non-work related/life things: Workout. Household Chores. Take my dogs for a walk. Run Errands. Chat with my hubby. Create something just for fun. Read with my kids.
Anything but work. Until tomorrow.
Oh, social media, how I love-hate you.
I love to connect with people over social media, but it’s constantly “on”. And I found myself addicted to checking the notifications and comments and “likes” on Instagram. One nasty comment from someone would ruin my day.
And then I made a choice to take back control.
While I couldn’t bring myself to delete all social media apps from my phone, I did turn off notifications for all of them. Every. Single. One.
Fewer distractions, mean I can focus more when I’m working. And then I’m infinitely more productive.
I’m even starting to do crazy things like leaving my phone at home when I take my kids to the park. It wasn’t easy at first, but removing the temptation to check social media is freeing and good for my health and my relationships.
I GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
Working from home means distractions are everywhere. So if I have a big deadline to meet, I go work from the local coffee shop during the hours my kids are at school. I have 12 precious kid-free work hours each week. If I work from home, I inevitably get distracted by dishes, laundry, picking up toys, a TV show on DVR (shhh!), etc. If instead, I plan to do something so simple as work from the coffee shop, there’s nothing to distract me while I’m working.
I MAKE MYSELF A PRIORITY
When things got busy last year, the first thing to go was always my workout. The top goal on my list of business goals this year? Workout 30 minutes a day. Having this as a business goal was inspired by this article on Entrepreneur.com called Why Exercising is a Higher Priority Than My Business. Good stuff.
So I decided to get a Fitbit Zip and to my surprise, it really motivates me to take breaks and get up a walk/run/do something active. Some of my best ideas come to me during this time. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I listen to a business podcast.
The other major component of making myself a priority is getting enough sleep. With the exception of the years my kids were babies, I’ve always been pretty good about this because I’m largely non-functional without sufficient sleep. And I’m no good to anyone that way!
McKeown’s book calls it “Protecting the Asset”. Sleep is vital to being able to have a clear mind and make good decisions. Skimping on sleep not only leads to burnout, it has often led to serious health issues for entrepreneurs…to the point they’re forced to take time off. McKeown says sleep breeds creativity and without sleep, we lack discernment and productivity.
“Our highest priority is to protect the ability to prioritize.”
-Greg McKeown, Essentialism
I AM LEARNING TO DELEGATE.
No one can do it all well. “Jack of all trades, master of none” is a saying for a reason: It’s true. To be able to have time to do what needs to be done, I have had to take on help. I like to do things myself (read: Control-Freak) but one common trait of successful entrepreneurs is that they know how to delegate. So I’m working on letting go and putting a great team in place.
My design work is something only I can do, so my first two steps toward delegating:
- I took on a (very talented) paid Creative Team to help me with the blog.
- I hired a housekeeper to come bi-weekly, so I can spend those hours I’d be cleaning working instead. Plus, truth be told, I’m not awesome at cleaning. Win-win.
I TAKE A REAL DAY OFF
Last year, I’m not sure there was a single day I took 100% off. This year, I’m making it a priority to take a real day off work and even working out once a month. I often do it on one of the three days a week all my kids are in school (my youngest won’t start Kindergarten for another year and a half). It’s a day just to enjoy life. I go shopping for clothes, get a pedicure, read a book. It’s life-changing and life-giving time. I’m a better mom, friend, wife, and business owner when I take this time to decompress and do things I enjoy!
Less but better.
I ASK WHAT I’M WORTH
Last year I did one too many favors for free. I never negotiated offers. We women especially tend to underestimate our worth.
But I read something that struck a chord with me. “You’re not running a charity. You’re running a business.” Lightbulb. To do less but better, I have to charge accordingly.
To my surprise, when I negotiate and charge a bit more than I think I’m worth, my clients are saying “Yes, ok let’s do it!”.
(On a side note, I do free work for a few select charities near and dear to my heart!)
I PUSH OUT THE NEGATIVE
The online nature of blogging means I’m subject to people who leave unkind and sometimes downright rude comments. Thankfully those are far and few between for me personally. I mostly just have to deal with people who leave comments that are generally unnecessary (slightly snarky or not-so-nice “advice”). I’ve learned to delete them or, when appropriate, call people out because I want the sense of community here to be positive and helpful. I first learned of this concept this from an online free seminar held by Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society. I realized something. It’s my site and my social media and I do get a say in the kinds of comments people leave.
This was my favorite quote from her talk:
People are not entitled to your time, free gifts, free advice, free inspiration, instant replies, anything they want, for you to do everything the way they think you should.
If you’re a reader, please don’t take offense to this but consider that, as a general rule, everything bloggers do for you is free. Unless you’re paying them for their time, this quote holds true. Many of us who are full-time bloggers are largely a one-person show trying to keep up with tens of thousands of followers. Please show us some grace. We promise to do the same for you when we kindly answer a question we’ve already answered ten thousand times.
Kindness changes everything.
I’M LEARNING THE POWER OF THE WORD “NO”
I’m a people pleaser and a yes person. But that inevitably means I take on too much. And then my quality of work suffers and I’m burnout. That’s no good for anyone.
At this point, I get a ton of opportunities daily, but I’m only one person. There is great power in learning to politely decline.
While many opportunities are good, I’m learning to discern which ones are not just good, but great. Those are the things I want to spend my precious time one.
Less but better.
I FIGURED OUT WHAT “MY ALL” LOOKS LIKE
Another awesome book I read recently is Bogus Balance: Your Journey to Real Work/Life Bliss by Deirdre Maloney. I can’t tell you how much I loved this read. She asserts that there’s no such thing as balance. Work, life, family, it all overlaps and that’s actually a good thing! The trouble (again) is that we’re not choosy with our choices. When we fill our lives with things we enjoy and cut out the noise, it’s much easier to be blissful.
“It’s time to figure out your all. It’s time to make choices, which means being choosy. It means being discerning, choosing certain things to focus on in your life instead of other things.”
-Deirdre Maloney, Bogus Balance
Do you see a theme in all three books?!
My all is different from your all.
Things my all includes:
- Being able to spend quality time with my husband and kids.
- Time to be creative that’s not work-related.
- Introvert Time. (Time to be alone and thus re-charge.)
- Quality over Quantity. Less money is fine by me if it means my schedule is more manageable and I have time to enjoy my life.
It’s a journey.
It’s not perfect.
Each day doesn’t always go as planned.
I’m embracing it.
And I’m choosing to take control of how it all goes down.
And that, my friends, feels pretty amazing!
Cheers to a successful and happy 2016!