The under-appreciated ritual of avoiding improvement

This post is especially for those who are always trying to improve their business: Improve sales, improve productivity/processes, or just improve the energy you have to do it. You know the advice, right?  “Work ON your business, not IN your business.” Always have an eye on building & adjusting & improving whenever possible and as much as possible. I absolutely do agree that’s a great plan—

Until it isn’t.

I think it was the morning I was listening to a guru podcast about tips and tricks to get more done, while walking on a treadmill, while thinking to myself, “Maybe if I put some sort of calming visual on the TV monitor it would be a little like meditation.”

Cue the sound of the needle screeching across a vinyl record.

I have a lot of respect for the Japanese concept of kaizen—continuous measurable improvement—for all businesses, all the way down to the solo practitioner, author, or coach.

It’s the small adjustments we make every day, rather than the huge ones, that can most help our businesses be peaceful, purposeful and profitable. Not being a person for whom order (mental or physical) comes baked right into the DNA, I’m constantly building in bite-sized improvements.

An hour to adjust colors and categories in my Google Calendar. Coercing myself to do an end-of-the-workday ritual. Scheduling a rest period into the middle of the day, with a reminder notification (which tells me, “Rest or Die. No Kidding.”)

Continuous measurable improvement. It’s a good thing.

It’s not the “measurable” or the “improvement” I’m addressing with this post; it’s the “continuous” part. Because all of us, at one time or another, will rebel against it.

We’ll wake up one morning and think, “My brain feels like overcooked linguine.”

We’ll look at our daily plan and feel irritation rising that we can’t see any white space behind the obligations.

Our shoulder muscles will be knotted already at 8:00am.

We’ll take that magazine article “10 Ways to Crush It with Your Business Marketing” and shred it into pieces the size of a thumbnail, because running it through the paper shredder is too gentle a fate for it.

We will have a powerful, almost impossible-to-ignore desire to go back to bed and read mindless fiction. Or go to the zoo.

I have a particular warning sign that always makes me laugh at myself: It’s when I find myself obsessed with going to work out instead of starting my work day.

As in, “I can’t possibly start working yet, I simply must be on the rowing machine for an hour first.” Now that’s a clear signal.

I, and many of my people, sometimes try to over-kaizen. Are you one of them?

Look at the number of articles you’ve saved to read.
The zillion bookmarks in your web browser’s bookmarks.
The business books waiting to be read, or stacked on the shelf with a sheaf of post-it notes marking the critical places.
The online workshops you’ve signed up for in the next few weeks. The unreviewed notes from the ones you’ve taken in the past few weeks.
The notes you’ve written yourself in your planner/calendar: Fix this. Learn that. Do more. Be more.

Late in 2018, I’d reached this point myself. Going to bed feeling vaguely like a failure, grinding my teeth at night, finding myself frowning at Tim Ferriss and David Allen in my newsfeed… It was too much.

So I took a week off self-improvement. In that week, I stopped consciously trying to get better at anything in my life. For a week, I stayed right in the present moment.

For a week,
my diet was perfectly fine,
my income was perfectly fine,
my productivity level was perfectly fine,
my business was perfectly fine,
my exercise habits were perfectly fine,
everything was fine. I made the choice, and so it was.

I set no new intentions.

I didn’t even check up on any previous ones.
I just stayed in my body, took good care of whoever I was scheduled to work with already, and existed right here, right now, not ranging out into the future or mourning the past.

No business books on the nightstand. No newsletter or blog post reading. No liking, sharing, replying to social media. No online groups or coaching or classes. No Facebook except for furry animals, pictures of sunsets, and Good News Network.

I’ll write more about what happened later. It takes a little explaining and I’ve kept you long enough today.

For now, I’ll just ask: Reading the above, did you resist? Did you get the feeling that the world might stop turning on its axis if you did it yourself? That everything in your life, work, and society might go to hell in a handbasket if you take your foot off the gas?

Or did you feel relief that you might safely be able to take a little time and just be who you are today for a while?

I’ll leave you with this, if you’ve been feeling over-intentioned, over-improved, over-booked, overwhelmed:

Taking some time away from that, even a day or a week, will be a calming, surprising, and—yes—productive time indeed.

No handbasket required.

The end of 30 blogs in 30 days

To fully immerse myself in the new world/work that is, since mid-July 2018 I’ve been writing 30 blog posts in 30 days. (You can read the whole sequence at

The 30-in-30 is one of the most useful exercises I can suggest for someone starting a new business, changing up their existing business, or just needing refocusing. It’s also a powerful way to fire up any new offering or habit you want to truly internalize.

There are several reasons why it works. Switching our brains into regular content-creation mode—and having the commitment and responsibility to regularly share your thoughts with the people in your community—these have almost magical powers.

We are reminded, most basically, that we are capable of developing new habits or returning to old ones; we haven’t forgotten how.

We know that tomorrow morning (or evening, or whatever daypart) we have to have something to write about, so our minds can be taught to switch over to a much more observant mode.

We notice more of the details of life that may be in some way relevant to our work.

We hear things that resonate with the topic area we’re writing about, and they stick. At least 5 times a day, I’m reaching for a scratch pad and pencil, or for Evernote, to capture something I’ve heard that might turn into good fodder for the next writes.

Since every day we’re touching in with our core values and core topics, we more easily stay in tune with the heartbeat of what we do and why we do it, and less likely to be led into mindless minutia.

And at the end, it creates a body of work we can invite people to come into and to share.

I’ve enjoyed doing this, and if I weren’t going on a voyage that’ll take me out of wireless range, I would probably keep going.

Interested in doing your own 30/30? Drop me a line. I’ll share how I do it and will happily volunteer to be one of your accountability buddies and your cheerleaders.

And if you worry you’ll run out of ideas, I’d love to share my idea-generation tactics with you, so you’ll literally never run out of things to write about. I offer a zippy little coaching hour just for that:

Don’t make your people start at the mountaintop: Diverse offerings as an act of compassion

I know many, many solo businesspeople who start out with only one product (or possibly two). It’s a workshop for $500, or consulting packages for $2000, or a multi-month coaching program for $5000, or a massive piece of art that’s even more.

It pains me sometimes to watch them waiting for people to show up to work with them. It hurts to hear about cashflow problems and hear them speculate whether they are going to have to go back and “work for the Man” again.

Yes, they may be worth every penny, and probably are. No, you should not under-charge for your offerings. But there’s another way.

You want people to meet you, learn about you, trust you, right?

If you’re on the mountaintop, people have to convince themselves to make that climb all the way up, just to find out whether they even “click” with you and the way you work.

What if you first met them down in the river valley where they live, and you had a picnic together to have a basic conversation, learn about each other?

What if your next encounter was a little higher, on a hilltop where you could look out and point out the possibilities all around, and they could see more of your strengths and vision up there, see how much you can carry with grace.

And what if you THEN offered the opportunity to go all the way to the top…now that they know and trust and admire you? After having the opportunity to get to know you, isn’t it much more likely they’ll willingly make the climb to meet you there?

That metaphor is what’s playing in my mind when I advise people to have several levels of offerings:

A free offering, such as a brief get-to-know-you session, to chat a bit and see if you have common ground, if you’re right for each other

A lower-cost product, service, or resource, like an ebook, real book or a session or webinar for under $50, which allows people a low-risk way to observe how you do things and what you know

A mid-priced offering that both requires AND instills more trust, where they can really see how amazing you are at what you do, and how life-changing working with you could be

AND a deep-dive, fully-featured full-priced offering (the beautiful mountaintop) which will more readily be purchased by these folks who’ve developed trust and respect for you

This is a compassionate, respectful way of structuring what you offer so that more people can follow a natural path to you that doesn’t feel risky.

Not only is this good for them, it’s good for you too.

You’ll have a chance to observe whether they’re the client best suited for the work you love doing. Are they open to your message? Do they respect your way of working? Are they willing to do their end of the work?

Consider it?


If you’d like to talk this through, get a whole bunch of new ideas, and get some solid guidance on where to start, get in touch with me and let’s chat. For example, I have a fun one-time WTHAID (what the hell am I doing?) session you’ll love, and it will likely pay for itself many times over.

Ten questions for businesses that matter (or businesses that want to)

I ask myself these questions all the time. In fact, I once made a desktop screensaver for my laptop, so I’d be guaranteed to see them at least 50 times each day…how’s that for crazy? I just wanted to be sure I internalized them thoroughly, and that they’re not lost in the crush of day-to-day obligations.

Why did you choose the area of work you currently do, rather than something else?

What are you finding is the hardest thing about doing it?

What’s the one thing you’re good at that few people truly ARE good at?

What’s in short supply in our human lives, and you’d like to see more of it?

What do we have too much of all around us, and you’d like to see less of it?

Who are the human beacons you pay attention to, and who are the human beacons you want to help create?

What do you fear the most, in terms of working for yourself?

What thing do you wish you had more of?

What do you want people to say when they talk about you to their best friend or coolest colleague?

How do you answer this question? The work I do is creating (will create) more _________ in the world.

There are no rights or wrongs here. But there are sneaky clues. If you find a question hard to answer, try freewriting about it. If there’s one that makes you feel the tug of resistance inside, think about why. If there’s one you can’t answer in 1-2 sentences, there may be an opportunity there to tighten up your mission or your messaging.

In a business that matters, your “why” is just as important as your “how much.”

Feel free to take any of these and riff on it in a blog post of your own. You might be surprised where it takes you.

Happy day to all.

Two quotes, both wise, source not important

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
—A quote often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt

Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.
—An actual quote by Theodore Roosevelt

I was in a “pithy sayings” mood today, and bumped into both of these, all memed up and posted all over the internet.

They are both wise, but Mr. Roosevelt only said one of them. 

That part doesn’t really matter to me. In fact, whenever I see some wise saying plastered on an atmospheric photo and attributed to someone, the last part is what matters least, because it’s probably wrong. There’s even a site called Fake Buddha Quotes (“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha!”)  to log all the famous sayings falsely attributed to the Buddha — kinda funny. 

If people want to slap them on a colored background and share them, the more the merrier. Hopefully, they will strike a chord in those they’re meant to strike a chord in, and some good will be done courtesy of the misquote.

Because the fact is, we need all the wisdom we can get.

In the above examples there are two unshakeable truths for people like us. One quote is about operating from the heart, and the other is about the need to be present, resourceful and resilient, and they are both absolutely essential to working for ourselves.

Stick ’em on a post-it. Write ’em on your whiteboard. Go to and make your own meme, print it out and put it on your vision board.

I’m sure Mr. Roosevelt would approve.

You can wait for a sign until it falls on you

The title of this post comes from a catchy chapter heading from a book I read more than a decade ago. It was one of those “how to attract abundance” books that intrigued me back then, as I explored my relationship with money.

Confession? I didn’t make all the way through the book. I’m not cut out for those chatty books written by entrepreneurs who fall into the category I think of as “extraverts-with-a-capital-E who treat every life event as an opportunity to network and sell something, and love it.”

But I found that book as I was decluttering recently, and as I packed it into the library donation box the booked fell open to that page again, and I saw that line again: “You can wait for a sign until it falls on you.”

The funny thing is that I actually DID have a sign fall on me once, giving me a bloody head, a concussion, and a headache that lasted about a year. As I was leaving a small-town grocery store in Australia, a macho-looking dude was trying to show off his muscles for some passing girls, and stretched his arms up to rest his hands on the sign above the door. It was a sign painted on a piece of lumber that was 4″ by 12″ by about 8 feet long, and the sign promptly fell and cracked me in the back of the head.

But that aside, I understand the wisdom of that pithy little statement. How many of us are waiting for
…just the right moment to launch this or that
…an opportune time to sever ties with a client that drains us
…bolt-from-the-blue inspiration to create a new offering for our business
…the elusive “free time” to really think through where we’re going
…that “busy spell” to end before we can start taking care of ourselves?

We’re waiting for a sign. Not just a little sign, like the tent card that sits on the table where you eat lunch. No, a big fat sign, the kind we can’t say no to, the kind that whacks us on the back of the head and says, “Hey! Knucklehead! Are you paying attention? The right way’s over HERE.” And then we will 100% certainty about the wisdom and possibility of it all, and we all live happily ever after.

You will wait a long time, in my experience.

The best ideas don’t always hit you in the head, clamoring for your attention. Oftentimes, the best ones show up to the party unannounced, wearing earth tones, speaking quietly, giving you a side-hug goodbye as they leave. There’s something about them you like, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

And you wake up at 2:00 am thinking about those ideas. That book that would be SO much fun to write. Or that group you could start which would be good for you AND other people. Or that new class that answers the questions a lot of your clients have these days.

Or that thing you’d rather be doing with your life.

Get up at 2:05 am and write that one down, wouldja? And the next day, future-cast yourself into having done it already. How do you feel? What has it solved for you? Are you smiling?

Consider not waiting for the sign to fall on you. It might not even be the right sign.

Those first small business steps–they’re not carved in stone

Oh, I know, there’s supposed to be a rigid formula you follow when you start any sort of business:

  • A concept, tested by research and proven viable
  • A set of offerings – product, services, knowledge, etc.
  • Knowing your ideal client – the person your offerings are best suited for
  • Setting up your business “stuff” and hanging out your shingle
  • Doing marketing according to all the formulas available online
  • Networking like a maniac, even if you hate networking
  • Getting your first client(s)
  • Learning from the experience and then
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

And yet I know so many great people who did it all “wrong”:

My friend Sharla dreamed up a set of services that made life easier for local business owners – things she loved doing and was good at, and it seemed like lots of people needed them. She gave away some free sessions first, and completely blew people away. Soon she had her first word-of-mouth client, learned from the experience, went back and re-tooled what she wanted to offer, did a little research, then started marketing.

A pal in California has been coaching clients for years and still doesn’t have a business. He’s making enough money, healing the world, loving life, and thinks maybe next year he’ll print some business cards. Just to see.

Matthias, a designer I met in Mexico City, has had a steady stream of design clients since 2002, when someone in a cafe saw the doodles in his journal and asked if he could please help their nonprofit make a brochure. That client told the next, who referred the next, who referred the next. He’s far too introverted to turn people down, so this steady-supply kind of business works perfectly for him . . . he doesn’t want to be swamped with requests and doesn’t want employees.

As for me, well, I got my first client before I even knew I wanted to start a business. It was a friend of a friend who needed web design help. She became the blueprint for my ideal client. Some time around my third or fourth client (many months later), I made my own logo and website. I officially developed service offerings a year later and started marketing . . . somewhere around my tenth year.

For all of these people, the keys to beginning were very different from all of the ones recommended by the big gurus. They were firmly rooted in three basic actions:

  1. Visualize a person/population who you might want to help, someone for whom you have genuine empathy and respect.
  2. Brainstorm some ways to help that someone’s life be easier, happier, healthier, more connected, or more fulfilling.
  3. Find one person who fits your focus and your product/service, and approach them with an open heart and an authentic desire to help.



Have you been waiting to really move forward with your work, or struggling to keep going? Do you keep following all the popular advice and it really doesn’t feel right? If you’re afraid you’re not following the right dance steps, not stepping in the right footprints, maybe it’s time to ditch the one-size-fits-all programs and let your heart lead you to something more authentic, more solid.

Shake it up. Do it another way—a more personal way.

You might really be surprised. And you might have fun.


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