Your ideal week: What does it look like?

What does your ideal week look like?  What are its elements, and how much of each?

It seems like a pie-in-the-sky thing, I know. But I began taking it seriously a few years ago when I found myself getting to the end of every week feeling vaguely disappointed with myself and what I’d been able to accomplish with my waking minutes. The lookback at the end of the week was pretty dismal.

I might have been able to push through dozens of hours of work, but my garden had weeds and my eating habits had gone to hell sans handbasket. Or I might have been able to brave networking events, but had to work into the weekend to catch up on paperwork or writing. Or maybe I’d been able to publish something I was proud of, but my clients felt ignored and neglected by my absence into my writing cave.

The end result of several consecutive weeks of that was a mental inertia, a low mood, a self-judgment that made everything feel heavy and pointless.

In desperation, I revisited author Barbara Sher’s “ideal day” exercise one night, staying up late with my journal to envision what I wanted a typical week of work/life to look like. With nothing to lose, I scratched out a map of an ideal week, from eyes open Monday to eyes closed Sunday, trying on different ways of allocating time for things like writing/creativity, service, running my business, self-care, and having a household. It felt great. I could do this!

And then I put it away until the next time I was in the same crisis.

Repeat.  Repeat.

Finally, I learned (from several teachers, in fact) that it wasn’t enough to daydream about it. I needed to bring it to life by calendaring it and protecting it, with the same fierceness with which I defend other peoples’ needs and desires.

These are the kinds of things that landed in my calendar, and which are still there to this day:

  • Staying in contact with the people who matter to me, usually via email or phone
  • Good daily habits like food, rest, hydration, and movement (I’m not kidding – I have an imposing gray block mid-day that says REST. NOW.)
  • Dedicated time for writing & joyful creation around my work
  • Meetings and trainings and working with my clients
  • Time out in the light, usually working out in the food garden in the summer or walking in the woods in the winter (helps with sleep as well)
  • Evening hours to eat well, prep food for the next day, and give a little TLC to my home
  • Weekend time over coffee to map out the coming week in a relaxed and positive frame of mind

…You get the idea, right? My weekly calendar has these things slotted in—as non-negotiables. For example, if a friend calls and asks me to go for lunch, I don’t just see “no meetings” on my calendar and whiz off for a reuben. I have to look at my calendar and honor not only prior commitments to clients, but also honor any commitments to my current self and my future self.

Recently, Laurence McCahill of the The Happy Startup School in the UK posted this regarding his own:

Myself and my co-founder Carlos have a high-level catch up every Monday morning face-to-face to help us get in sync and plan ahead (inspired by the Rocket Fuel book)

I have calls and meetings on set days and only in the afternoons (Calendly is a lifesaver for this)

I typically coach people on Fridays, where possible outdoors (if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s not to struggle alone)

I work at home on Thursdays and use this as thinking and writing time (my goal is to write a book this year)

I make time for walking my dog, pilates and swimming as these things makes me feel good and help to prevent recurring back pain (long story)

Family always comes first so I prioritise time and activities with my kids (as Steve Blank says in this timeless post “your kids are only passing through. It will seem like forever but it will be gone in a blink of an eye”)

I deliberately make room for serendipity, particularly activities that include greenery, campfires and coffee 🙂

For many, this can seem indulgent or even selfish, but from my experience you’ll be of no use to anyone if you aren’t showing up as your best self.

What’s your ideal week?

And how can you shape it and protect it…with the same tenderness and fierceness you would use to protect other people you care about?

 

 

To gain traction with your business, develop a listening rhythm

I’m often contacted by lovely people who are worried. Their small business isn’t taking off the way they’d hoped. They’ve listened to all the business gurus’ podcasts, they’ve “followed their bliss” in creating their business, they’ve taken all the right 30 day challenges and ‘free’ webinars, and still, they can’t seem to get enough clients. (Or, sometimes, any.)

My very first client came to me as a bit of good luck: She knew of me through my former employer, and at that time there were very few people who knew how to make websites.

My second, third, and fourth clients found me in sequence solely on word of mouth: “You’ve got to meet this woman.” I had what was—at the time—an unusual way of working with people. My process was to sit down with them, either in person or by phone, and let them talk about their dreams for their work, and scribble notes furiously.

Here’s what I generally observed as common to them all:

They really believed in what they were doing, and wanted good people everywhere to know about it.

They often were besieged with self-doubts but were pulling together all their courage to get through it.

They were afraid of the technology but willing to walk its path with the right someone…someone who “got” them and wouldn’t steer them wrong.

There was no magic there. I just listened. I didn’t “listen to respond,” no matter how sure I was about what they needed. I did ask some encouraging questions about what they were hoping to create, but then I let them do most of the talking. I sat on my end of the phone with a pencil and listened, putting people at ease, just by being usual my kind, funny self.

So many folks are moving into self-employment without that vital piece of the puzzle. They speak, they offer, they assume, they try to ‘solve,’ but they often don’t make opportunities to truly listen to their people. After all, if some superguru says this is what people need, then it’s GOT to be safe for us to build an entire business around it, right? The perfect offerings, “charging what we’re worth,” and clients will simply load up our schedulers to bursting. Then we’ll be successful, build that McMansion, and all will live happily ever after.

When that doesn’t happen right away, they will turn to more webinars, podcasts, incubators, worksheets, accelerators, trying to figure out what they did wrong, seeking the magic potion everyone seems to have.

One elusive magic potion to try is asking, listening, scribing the desires of the people you most want to work with. What’s missing in their world? What might help them create a new story for themselves? What are they comfortable paying for this help, and in what forms are they most comfortable accepting it? (such as a book, class, 1-to-1 session, retreat)

Building “listening structures” into every aspect of your business is critical to growth, no matter what size business we are, but especially solo practitioners like us.

So here are some opportunities—useful whether you’re just starting or have been at this for a while—to invite a conversation, listen deeply, and craft your business offerings accordingly:

1) Don’t assume you know what people need. Ask questions.

This seems so simple, right? But I’ve been shocked at how often it’s overlooked. It seems to be part of the bravado of mainstream marketing that we aren’t encouraged to simply ask, “I would love to help more people just like you…I want to create (less of/more of) (something) in the world. What kinds of things would help you the most?” Find your ideal people and ask it on Facebook, ask it in groups, ask it in local gatherings, ask it in your website’s contact page, ask it in your newsletter.

2) Stop talking until you listen.

The business heads are all about talking: Be bold! Tell people what you offer, over and over. Tell THEM what they need (if it’s you). Create offerings at one high price point, and tell them why you’re worth it. Set up a sales funnel so you can keep talking into their email until they buy. We’ve all seen it. If these are the marketing strategies you want to use, it’s not for me to criticize. But if you inform this process by asking, listening, and personally connecting with your ideal people first, you’ll be far more likely to attract people who will be loyal to you for a long time, rather than the ones who simply have a kneejerk reaction to your razor-sharp sales pitch.

3) Ask for thoughtful feedback every time you work with someone.

The key here is to create a safe space and extract a promise they’ll be 100% candid. (Hint: Email will get more response from introverts and sensitive people) What worked well? What would’ve been more helpful? Are they closer to where they wanted to be? Were they comfortable with the investment? If I were to offer X, Y, or Z as well, would that be interesting? Ask, without pressure, in a way that’s comfortable for them.

4) Be the one who cares more.

One of the very first things I do when I sit down at my desk in the morning is write a note to someone I’ve worked with (or done a free consult with), checking in on their progress, life, happiness. Note that this comes WITHOUT a sales pitch in my heart…I find that if people are interested, they will ask or go peek at my website to see for themselves. It’s part of the cycle of my business:

I care a lot about the people who choose to work with me…they matter to me, as flesh-and-blood individual humans, not as conversions.
I tell them that, and show them that.
They know there’s someone in the world who’s beaming personal, positive thoughts at them.
As a result, they’re more likely to think of me the next time they want guidance or help.

Data and products and marketing messages are plentiful these days; genuine, non-automated caring is still quite rare.

Be the one who cares.

5) Do everything–everything–from a place of love.

Yes, I do use “the ‘L’ Word” in business, and I am unafraid. When I connect with people, I do so because I love the possibility that I’m making something better, for a person or for the world. I love people who want to grow themselves. I love people who are self-aware. I love people who work for themselves and create something new and needed.

Your ‘loves’ might be different: You might love people who want to surround themselves with beauty. Or those who are struggling to make themselves better people. Or those who are trying to make relationships joyful again.

Whatever you love, place that at the center of everything you do, from accounting to promotion to service/product creation. Put a photo of them up in your office if you need a reminder of WHY you’re learning about Facebook ads, or doing your taxes, or writing an email newsletter.

6) Put daily listening activities on your calendar or reminder system

Nothing happens if you don’t make it a priority. Schedule a block of time in each day for listening, even if it’s just 15-30 minutes. Use it to write to an individual, ask for an honest review or testimonial, or survey your mailing list and ask what they’d just love to be offered.

 


 

If you are not open to breaking out of the popular sales-funnel wisdom of talk, sell, pursue, you may still succeed in business, just by virtue of the numbers game. People do all the time, and it’s just fine.

But if you want to grow a strong following of people who are loyal to you, who keep tabs on what you offer, and who want you to succeed, it’s a worthwhile experiment to build ways to listen into your day-to-day worklife.

Try it today. Pick one person—someone in your daily life, someone who’s shown interest in what you offer, someone who’s commented on a Facebook posting—and make a space to ask them what they think, what they’re going through, what their dreams are.

Then listen, and see whether you’re actually offering what they need…or what YOU need.

It’ll transform you, and transform your work.

Love,
Margaret

 

Image courtesy of congerdesign via Pixabay

The life-changing magic of working for ourselves

Most of us self-employed types are on a continuous learning path, gathering knowledge and skills and using them to create a better business. It’s a great way to live, but lately, I’ve been seeing that the path isn’t a line, but a loop: My business doesn’t just earn income and/or help people: It helps me to do a better job of living in this strange world.

There’s a great bit of Buddhist advice I see often in my circles: “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”

In my case, “whatever-you-already-are” is a person whose vocation is to help small businesses, while trying to keep my sanity and kindness in a world that seems to be getting darker by the day.

I’ve realized that, inadvertently, I’ve been using the art, science, and practice of having a business to become a better human. With each passing day, it’s teaching me to be:

Patient:

Very few of us can snap their fingers and make things happen in terms of building a business. It takes time, strategy, experimentation…and patience. Over and over again. For example, one of the best ways to get ideal-for-you clients that stick around is through word-of-mouth, one kindred spirit to another…and growing relationships that way doesn’t happen overnight.

Resilient:

Working for ourselves is the embodiment of getting back up when we fall down. When a product doesn’t sell, a promotion doesn’t interest people, a client doesn’t turn out to be the best one for us, we can find ourselves in the dumps, drinking warm gin straight out of the cat dish (thank you Anne Lamott). But we have to keep going. We “fail” at something, we regroup/rest, we try again. It’s the nature of self-employment.

Courageous:

If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be in such close contact with so many strangers every week, or that I’d be writing in public spaces completely exposed to criticism, I would’ve hidden under the bed. For, like, a year. But one tiny daring step at a time, it ceased to be so paralyzing. I’m still an introvert, but I’m capable of reaching out in ways I never thought I could.

Optimistic:

Every day, I sit down at my desk. And every day, there is a mix of good and bad. I’m exposed to the same horrific news, questionable personalities, intractable world problems as everyone else. But as a self-bosser, I had to train myself to see good news, good people, good possibilities in order to stay in a strong and possible state of mind for my clients. And anyway, who wants to work with a pessimist?

Kind:

“Kindness will prevail,” a friend likes to say. Being in the business of helping people be/do/have something better & brighter for themselves requires the ability to be compassionate, curious, and a darn good listener.

Funny:

If we’re paying attention, some pretty hilarious things happen in the process of trying to survive this self-employment thing. I was once approached to do some work for a celebrity impersonator who, in the process of proving to me what a great artist he was, went through at least a dozen impressions from Kirk Douglas to Michael Jackson. From my corner, I’m never averse to using my sense of humor as a business tool…nothing de-stresses a situation like lightening up.

I don’t set out to help my clients master Small Business 101, although there was a time early in my career when my ambition was to help people become better businesspeople. That’s changed, sinking down a few layers. I now help people become better at whatever-they-already-are.

If they’re coaches, I help them be better, wiser, saner coaches by helping them find the right-for-them mix of compassion, visibility, and a joyful kind of productivity.

If they’re authors, I help them be more successful and self-confident by helping them find readers for their work, find the right support systems, and structure their day/time to have breathing room to write.

If they’re therapists, I help them find ways to use their ample intuition and empathy to promote their business in authentic, efficient ways, so they can repurpose that brain space to help more people be healthy.

Let’s Try This:

Take a quiet moment (stop laughing, you can find one). Grab a piece of paper–electronic or paper–and let’s think about your business or practice as it exists right now.

How is it helping you be a better whatever-you-already-are, or a better what-you-would-like-to-be?

Conversely, does it feel like there are ways it’s standing in the way of that? What can you do to smooth those things out?  The key to loving your work and being peacefully productive is to not be at odds with yourself, with the “you you” and the “working you” being in a perpetual cage match.

What needs to happen to connect the learning loop of your work with the learning loop of your life?

Love,

Margaret

 

Here when you need me

I help people who choose self-employment to become more peaceful, purposeful, and profitable through my writing, teaching, tools, and individual mentoring, so they can completely love the work and life they’ve chosen. There’s something for everyone, no matter their budget, so if you could use a little boost from someone who cares, have a peek at what I offer.


Image by congerdesign via Pixabay

The myth of competition: What’s your “Only”?

Do we, as super-small businesses, actually have “competitors”? Debate still simmers over this in some circles. Let’s chat.

Traditional business-guru advice warned us for decades that we needed to strive for a clear advantage over our competitors. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, they warned (and where EVER did that expression come from btw???) and we needed to invest a lot of time, energy and brainpower into ‘beating out the competition.’

Things have changed, and we’re now seeing that competition — while still a reality if you’re mass-marketing a laundry soap with exactly the same formula, branding, and target market as another — really isn’t as much of a “thing” for thoughtful businesses like ours.

For example, say we’re offering life coaching. Sure, there are a lot of people who’ve hung out a shingle for that. That makes for a great big haystack for people to search, in which you hope they’ll find your shiny needle, right? How do you stand out in that massive crowd, and find the people who need you?

Here’s the thing: The reach of social media and online tools have given us the gift of almost limitless ability to find Our People. We don’t need to appeal to everyone. We only need to reach the people who need what we offer and—even more important—resonate with the way we work.

Unless you’re trying to become a thought leader with a million people on your mailing list, you already have the power to attract more than enough people who “click” with your style, your heart, and your combination of offerings to make your business successful. One Facebook ad can reach thousands of perfect people for $10.00.

If we take tender care of the relationships we establish with readers/clients, we can build our followers & fans one by one, each beautiful experience bearing fruit in the form of glowing reviews, repeat visits, and top-of-mind referrals in their social circles. This, in my opinion, is the best way to grow a business: One fan at a time, nurtured by your genuine caring and thoughtfulness.

So in terms of competition…even if there are 20 website designers or acupuncturists or spiritual mediums or soapmakers on your block, you can easily find ways to keep your business thriving, just by a) being kind & trustworthy, and b) being clear about what makes you different from the other 19.

Being kind and trustworthy? Yeah, sorry, that’s part of the deal. We’re afloat in the noisy, indifferent ovewhelm all around us. The things that stand out in sharp relief are when people give a damn about us, and when they keep their word to us (hello Facebook?).

As for that second part: Remember all those branding exercises we’ve been subjected to as we listened to endless podcasts and attended all those ‘free’ webinars? For those who’ve escaped that fate, it’s some variation on these pieces:

With my business/work, I help ____________________ (your ideal person)

to do/be/have _______________________ (the improvement or benefit to them)

through my ______________________ (the products & services you’ve created to help)

Is that ringing a bell?

I always have to remind my coaching clients to also add this part, though:

I’m one of the only ________________ (however you describe yourself)

who _______________________ (what makes you unique).

Examples:

“With my work, I teach Reiki practitioners to bring balance and mental/physical health to a hectic world, through my 1-to-1 coaching and workshops. I’m one of the few teachers who provides a free private Facebook group so members of my community can help and support one another.”

And more “onlys”:

“I’m the rare business coach who doesn’t resort to spammy, automated marketing to reach out and keep in touch with people.”

“I’m the only personal trainer in (your town) that also makes house calls, even offering weekend and evening sessions.”

“I’m the only executive consultant who offers ‘Coaching Walks’ to explore ideas that thrive in the fresh air of nature.”

“We’re the only bookstore around that has both new and used books AND a cozy espresso bar, serving coffee drinks made with our own freshly-ground beans.”

“I’m the only holistic health practitioner with an in-house laboratory for quicker results and faster diagnoses.”

What’s your “only”? If you don’t know what it is or don’t feel you have one of your own yet, then it’s time to create it. I’m always happy to help you discover that of course, but here are some thought-starters:

What bugs you about other practitioners and businesses who are similar to you? If it bugs customers too, think about how you can fix it and use that as your ‘only.’

Is there a specialty you have, or can envision developing, as a part (or all) of what you do? Can you specialize in helping the apprehensive, the non-technical, the ridiculously busy, the do-it-yourselfer? Grocery stores, for example, are doing a booming business with pickup orders to serve the too-busy-to-shop people.

If you can, ask people who’ll give you an honest answer why they didn’t work with you, or ask honest acquaintances to look at your services/prices and come up with at least one apprehension they might have (cost, length of a program, wait times for delivery, not enough options, other worries). Can you solve it, or can you offer other things in other price ranges/options that would allow more people to see what it’s like working with you?

Look at reviews online of similar businesses, and see where customers are wishing they’d offered more. Online reviews can be a challenge, but they can give clues to peoples’ sensitivities and wishes. Offer what others seem to be missing and tell people about it.

Can you create a narrower audience for a specific service or offering? For example, a designer might create a special package just for nonprofits that work with kids, a yoga studio might offer a class just for guys who aren’t very bendy, or a consultant might offer graduates of the local small business association’s classes a special package for new startups and become the go-to person in the community.

Is there something daring and value-added you can add to your products/services that helps people? Chocolate, a free Q&A session, a group to help them implement what they received from you?

If you have some ideas already, go to Facebook and explore whether they have a way to target the audience your offering is meant for. Those ubiquitous blue buttons encouraging you to “Boost” any post? Click one to play — be sure Cancel Ad when you’re done! — and just type a few things into the “Detailed Targeting” portion of the boost specifications (at the bottom). Start typing a few things to see if you’re able to target a specialized audience perfect for a particular offer or article or video of yours:

Give these things a try, and see if you can find an a-ha about your “Only.”

Because once you do, you most definitely have no competition, and can simply focus on doing the work you love, promoting it to the right-for-you audiences, and finding your unique and heartfelt niche from which to serve.

And the debate is over.

Love,
Margaret

Come spend an hour with me

See what it feels like to be with someone who genuinely cares about your work, and who will help you get peaceful, purposeful and profitable. I do private sessions at alarmingly reasonable rates so that I can see lots and lots of amazing people doing amazing things…it does my heart so much good in these times. See some options here.

Who gets to decide what your ‘potential’ is?

The word “potential” keeps finding its way into my email inbox and social media feeds these days. For me, it generally shows up in the sales pitches from thought leaders and mentors and counselors of various kinds. You’ll often see some variant of this: “If you’re not fully living up to your potential in your (business, work, life, knitting, etc.) I can get you there.”

It’s benevolent shorthand for any of the following:

  • You’re spending too many of your days unhappy or unhealthy.
  • You have specific goals and aspirations for your life, and you’re not there yet.
  • You’re not growing in the ways you’d like to.
  • Your business isn’t successful enough yet.
  • You’re not earning what a certain thought leader assures you are capable of.
  • The clock of your life is ticking and you have a vague sense you should have accomplished more by now.
  • …and so forth.

Googling “achieving your potential” will net you enough reading material for the rest of your natural life. The result that most amused me was titled something like this: “Ten steps to help you become who you really are.”

And by “amused,” of course, I mean “irritated.”

Who you really are

Here’s the thing: We already are who we really are. We ARE people in a constant state of growth and change and questioning and deciding. We ARE sentient beings who can choose from an infinite number of ways-to-be. We ARE humans with a long lifespan (I hope) who will steadily be acquiring information and skills throughout the decades we spend here on Earth, from birth to whenever, so we can decide. The goals of that lifelong exercise, to me, seem to be:

  • To have lots of interesting, even fascinating experiences
  • To make our time happy rather than unhappy
  • To interact with other humans in ways that create more good and less bad in the world
  • To give us a sense of purpose – a reason for having been here at all

So… What do you think about when someone wants to discuss your “potential,” and how to “live up to it?” How does it make you feel?

There’s certainly no shortage of helping professionals out there willing to point out the areas in which we are not “reaching our potential,” often using comparison to others or a special formula they’ve developed. Then, of course, they are happy to sell us the equivalent of a roadmap or guide to remedy the situation.

Please know that I hold no ill will toward most of them—I tend to love anyone who’s in the business of helping members of my self-employed tribe feel happier and more fulfilled.

But potential as a yardstick . . . as a destination . . . if it has any meaning at all, it becomes yet another thing we need to worry about achieving. Do any of us need yet another target, another binary judgment call for our life and its accomplishments?

I’m not anti-target. For example, paying attention is a target I love. Personal growth? Love it. Building compassionate relationships with as many people as possible? Perfect.

But “failing to achieve your potential” as something you can be graded on by someone else, as though your life were open for review on Yelp.com?  (“Margaret had so much going for her, especially the spring rolls, but she failed to meet her potential when I showed up with a party of 150 unannounced…”) Not my thing.

Who gets to decide?

So who gets to decide what your “potential” for a well-run life or a well-lived time on Earth should be?

You do. ONLY you.
And you do it by feel.

As self-employed folks, we all start out knowing little. But we keep pouring in new knowledge and experiences and ideas and possibilities. In between the stuck spots or the flubs, something starts to take shape. It has nothing to do with potential, and everything to do with learning to articulate for yourself what you want your ideal work to look like, and developing an ‘ear’ for things that move you closer to it on the map, or farther from it.

In particular, the best roadmaps are feelings-based.

We can pay attention to things that give us a little frisson of pleasure in our work, like finding a client so beautiful you would move mountains for, or coming up with a product/service that turns out to delight a lot of people.

We can become hyper-aware of the things that make our eyes suddenly open a little wider and give us a little jolt of joy.

We can use the tools of joyful productivity to stay happy and energized in our work, and notice all the feelings that pass through us.

All of these things can combine to form a living compass to build a business (and a life) that pleases us, connects us, and gives us a great sense of how to build a well-lived life.

Your “potential” isn’t something you sweat bullets to discover then achieve. You don’t need a famous guru or a $5000 retreat weekend to point it out to you. You just need to decide how you want to FEEL as you move through your life, and then deliberately, thoughtfully gather the tools and skills that are most likely to help you feel that way.

If that doesn’t feel like it would come naturally to you at first, find a coach or mentor that is willing to help you with exactly that kind of visioning, one-to-one, customizing it to your life and your needs, not trying to squeeze you into their one-size-fits-all formula. I know quite a few wonderful, soulful coaches—drop me a note and I may be able to refer you to someone who can help.

Once you have your own roadmap, the rest is just the joyful journey.

It’s just March…is your mental clutter already building?

Image courtesy of OpenRoadPR via Pixabay

Going into Spring from a weary mental space isn’t my idea of a good time. I want to be excited by that first warm breeze of the year, that first time I notice that there’s light coming through the windows when I wake in the morning.

But because of, well, Life, I find I’ve been guilty lately of something I also notice in my coaching clients: A crush of thought-clutter.

Like me, they fill their mental ‘house’ with as much furniture as possible, and invite over all kinds of guests at all hours of the day and night. There are the kids (or spouse, or parents) who need them, the myriad things it takes to make a life “go,” and all of the must-do and nice-to-do activities that surround their livelihood and income.

And that’s just the Present. We’re also constantly dealing with the bad actors from the Past, which reminds us all about our failings and misfires. And don’t get me started on trouble from the Future, which reminds us we might fail, and assures us we have to say “yes” to so much because, gosh, who KNOWS if this is the Big Break that will make great things happen for us (or avert bad things.)

It can get so crowded in there that we operate in a state of perpetual reorganizing and reprioritizing, burning mental calories trying to shift obligations, desires, demands, and possibilities into teetering Jenga tower that won’t come crashing down on us.

For spring, let’s do a little mental decluttering together. Here are some things I’m doing right now to get a fresh start by March 20:

1. Revisiting my 2019 priorities:

Early this year, I made some decisions about specific places I want to put my energy this year (they will be different for everyone, but I narrowed mine to a Big Six — areas I really want to move the needle on this year). I’m restructuring my computer desktop, browser bookmarks, Google calendar, and email folders around those six things, so I literally have to see my goals every day, multiple times. If I am using my brain space for things that don’t somehow fit into those six areas, I have to answer for it.

2. Re-acquainting myself with my morning routines, which I’ve become lax about.

They are critical in helping me stay on track mentally, physically, and emotionally. For me, these include simple-sounding things like water, moving my body, looking at my Big Six every morning to touch base, connecting with at least one of my beloved clients every day, etc. When those routines go out the door, a whole lot of mental clutter crowds in.

3. Breathing. No kidding.

When I feel stress starting to put me in a headlock, I almost always notice that I’m breathing shallowly and not giving my brain enough oxygen. It’s hard to believe that this matters, but you’d be amazed at how forgetting something as simple as breathing right can affect your mental state. Breathe. Set a meditation gong on your mobile phone or desktop that reminds you hourly to get up, walk around, breathe deeply, hydrate. I cannot overstate the importance of this — and this is from some who spent many years convinced this was just all new-age BS.

4. Swearing off multitasking, single-tasking as often as humanly possible.

Self-explanatory, right? It’s like an endless game of musical chairs, only with far fewer chairs to fight for. (And by the way, what cruel jerk ever thought that ‘game’ was a fun idea?)

5. Clearing my spaces.

I was a late adopter of this, as a world-class clutterer in my younger years. Getting rid of all the non-essential items, while assigning a fixed & functional place to everything that matters, is a vaccination helping prevent mental overwhelm and exhaustion. If you look up from this article and look around, and see piles and heaps and files and dusty clutter, you are not doing your mind a favor.

6. Purging my daily behavior of “I might need this someday.”

I see this with both paper and digital resources…we try to save everything that we might, someday, find useful in a future product, service, book, writing project, etc…even if we don’t know what that thing IS yet. I have a single document in the folders for each of my Big Six areas of importance, into which I jot down the links, quotes, book titles, peoples’ names, etc. that I am certain I will be using within a couple of months. Short entries, all in one (searchable!) MS Word document, one per each of the six folders. If it’s a resource that lives at the intersection of “maybe” and “someday,” let it go.

7. Limiting my media intake and eliminating negative media inputs:

I am cutting my “screen time” down to the bone, just to what I need to do my best for my clients and my business. I give myself an (optional) hour in the evening for some sort of entertaining television, usually something that helps me to either a) laugh or b) learn something fascinating. I do not watch or read the news except for a pre-determined and small piece of time several times each week. Following political arguments, bad news, reality TV, etc. is like pouring acid on all the clutter that’s already crowding my head.

How about you? Already cluttered in your brain pan, even though the first quarter of the year isn’t yet over? What are you doing to help your mental spaces stay clean, clear, and strong? Please help me – and others reading this – by sharing what you do to clear your mind and avoid overcrowding it in the first place. Thanks!


An invitation (not a sales pitch 🙂 )

If, when you were reading the above, you happened to think to yourself “I wish I could have a little help figuring out how to do this for myself,” you might be interested in reading about my bite-sized hands-on sessions on achieving joyful productivity. I’m having a lot of fun helping people with these, and lowering a lot of blood pressure numbers in the process. Bonus!

On being a ‘mission with a company’

“Be a mission with a company, not a company with a mission.”

Early this year, I stumbled over this quote and it gave me pause. As in, a loooong pause, not just a blink’s worth. What exactly did this mean?

First, it’s easy to see how, for some, the word “mission” can be touchy. I rarely use the word “mission,” as it can sometimes seem like something lofty and out of reach. I prefer the word purpose instead; it more accurately describes the hopes & dreams I have for creating positive change through my work. And I doubt I’ll ever think of myself as a “company.”

But that nitpicking aside, I feel as though my mind has been ratcheted open a little bit more by this new idea.

Here’s the thing: For many years I’ve thought of my livelihood like this: My business does more than just pay the bills. It has a purpose.

What I now see, though, is that I’ve had that backward. I carry around a strong sense of purpose all the time. There’s an outcome I want for my life. This feeling is a permanent fixture, a big part of what makes me the person I am. And my business is just one of many actions I take to help me serve that purpose.

Does that make sense?

There’s a reason why we do what we do. There’s something good we want to bring to the world with our life and work. That’s our purpose…it resides within us. Our business—the income-earning part of life—is just one of many possible tools & activities that help us fulfill that purpose, that mission.

In my case, one of my life’s purposes is to help as many people as possible become self-sufficient and free to do the work they’re called to do WHILE earning a living. It just lights me up to be able to show that we can build a livelihood that draws upon our own gifts and inspiration, not just serving someone else’s aspirations of success and profit from a gray cubicle.

If you are, for example, a life coach of some kind, you may have chosen that work because you want to be able to look back at your life and know that you helped infuse the world with a little more peace of mind, fulfillment, health, or joy.

Your business is one way you can activate that purpose. Other ways might be how you treat the grocery store cashier, the way you raise your kids, the nature of the gifts you give, and volunteerism/charitable contributions. Bundled all together, they are what make your life whole and rich.

When you put on these lenses and take a long look at the work you do—and how you tell the world about it—what do you see?

If your business is a tool to help serve your bigger purpose, is it doing the best job it can? For example, are there other offerings you could create that would help even more people, solve even more problems? Is there more you can say, write, share, teach?

Is it clear from your marketing/promotional materials that you run your business from the heart, that there’s something you’re trying to bring more of or less of to the world? Is this part of the story of your business that you’re sharing? Could it be?  (And doesn’t it make it a teensy bit easier to face the task of marketing when you look at it through this lens, even if you’re an introvert?)

Can people tell that you’re more than just the (talented) provider of a service or maker of a product? In a world becoming more impersonal and disconnected by the day, you must believe me: People love to see your depth of character, your bigger “why.”

I would love for you to show them.

Take care.

The gift of envy for the self-employed (and everyone else)

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others.
He who envies others does not achieve peace.
—Buddha*

 

It’s not every day I find myself in disagreement with the Buddha. Today’s one of those days. I’m okay with it.

We’ve all felt those twinges of envy at one time or another, right?

…Envy of those who are doing better financially than we are with their businesses, despite how hard we’re working.

…Envy of those who have huge, loyal audiences but who don’t seem as genuinely kind or honest as we are.

…Envy of people for whom writing seems to come so much more easily than it does for us, or who have more time to do it.

…Envy of those who seem to have it all together with their lives, while we’re still facing a struggle.

I use the word twinge, but I know that it can range from a nagging little gnat in our ear to a full-blown can’t-get-it-out-of-my-mind obsession that follows us around all day.

Author Anne Lamott has a hilariously thoughtful examination of how she felt about—and dealt with—an experience of envy in her book Bird by Bird. It’s one of those rare passages so life-altering for me that I can almost recite it from memory. In it, she’s dealing with her feelings about a writer friend who is constantly telling Anne about her great successes, at a time when she and her young son are struggling mightily.

Sometimes I would get off the phone and cry.

After a while I started asking people for help.

One person reminded me of what Jean Rhys once wrote, that all of us writers are little rivers running into one lake, that what is good for one is good for all, that we all collectively share in one another’s success and acclaim. I said, “You are a very, very angry person.”

My therapist said that jealousy is a secondary emotion, that it is born out of feeling excluded and deprived, and that if I worked on those age-old feelings, I would probably break through the jealousy. I tried to get her to give me a prescription for Prozac, but she said that this other writer was in my life to help me heal my past.  […] She said to go ahead and feel the feelings. I did. They felt like shit.

It took many, many years for me to “feel the feelings” and even longer to find the startling gift that envy comes with.

Frankly, envy/jealousy has always felt terrible to me on every level, but I couldn’t seem to dodge it, especially when I was first building my business and deciding what to do with my life. I created services that people needed, did the networking, wrote like a madwoman, but still, I wasn’t getting any traction.

In particular, the exhaustion of trying to survive the move from a stable, auto-deposit paycheck to the uncertainty of self-employment was far harder than I’d thought it would be. There were many times I went to sleep knowing that the next morning I’d give up and get a job again. And the next morning I didn’t.

Envy was dreadful then (though I’d never call it a ‘deadly sin’…whose idea was that?) When I’d meet someone who’d enjoyed immediate success because a family member had bankrolled a huge marketing budget, or who’d enjoyed a burst of media exposure before they’d had to even work very hard, envy would sometimes sit in my belly like a stone.

The solution for me came from a place where lots of great solutions originate: My journal.

I don’t journal daily, but I do it regularly. I capture where I am with life, what I’m seeing and feeling and working on, and what I want to do next. Flipping back through my journals one winter’s evening, I started to notice how envy would creep into my writing. It was like one of those optical illusion posters—one minute it’s a blob, the next minute it’s Abraham Lincoln, clear as day.

I started counting the number of times I grumpily used certain words and phrases: “I wish…”Some day…” Fortunate and rich and lucky break popped up too.

Maybe it was the wine I was drinking. Or maybe my too-tired-to-argue creative brain just decided to flip on that light switch for me: I was looking at a road map to what I wanted out of my livelihood, right there in my own handwritten self-pity and jealousy.

I wanted to have more financial peace of mind.
I wanted to feel really, really good at what I did.
I wanted to be valued by more people for what I brought to their lives.

I wanted the superpower of being able to tell at a glance which actions would bring me closer to my best life, and which were taking me further away.

I didn’t want what others had. I actually didn’t give a damn what they did.

But I wanted to feel a certainty: That if I cultivated the right attention, resources, and skills, I could find my OWN way to my OWN brand of happiness. That it was in my control.

That was the year I started paying attention to the tool—the gift—of envy.

I got some help identifying what life I wanted to move toward, and then broke it down into a hundred bite-sized actions and changes. Getting smart about the financial side of my business. Becoming a better communicator. Seeing where I was wasting time, love, and tenderness. Finally embracing the “D word” (discipline).

And things started to happen. Things that made me a different person. . . a person I actually loved, trusted, and respected without reservation.

Envy—watching it unfold, feeling it in my body, understanding what it was trying to teach me—changed everything for me.

Everything.

If I’d stuck with all the psychobabble tricks to ignore it, fight it, accept it, or chase it out of my mind, I never would have received that gift. And it’s a gift that I can never put a price on. There simply wasn’t any other way I could’ve flown under the radar of my own resistance.

Do I still find myself feeling envy? You bet. I have a long way to go before I’m immune to it, but nowadays I pour a cup of tea and sit with it to learn what it’s trying to tell me.

I’ll leave you with this: Are there people, things, situations that you feel a twinge of envy toward? Don’t vilify it or belittle it or try to rise above it—just be completely open and honest with yourself for a second.

What’s at the core of it? What is someone else doing/enjoying that you’re not (yet)?
Freedom to live/work anywhere?
Not being up all night worrying about money & retirement?
The respect they see reflecting in the eyes of others?
The ability make a good living by doing what they love?
Time to be with family? Time to think?

Of your list, what’s one thing that—if you already had it in your life—would have inoculated you against that twinge of envy toward someone else?

And, if you are willing to play: What are 10 or 20 (or even 100) bite-sized steps that would help you realize that in your life? Suspend your disbelief and write them down.

And schedule the very first one on your calendar. Even if it’s just a half-hour alone over a perfect cup of coffee as you write down a conversation with your own envy.

There’s power in envy. Grab it for yourself.


What do you find yourself envying?
What have you convinced yourself you can never have, because you’re not enough X or there’s just too much Y in your life? Drop me a line and let’s talk about it. I think you’d be surprised what’s possible if a) you get clear about what you want, and b) you break down the path to “there” into bite-sized, teeny-tiny steps.


 

*This is one of several questionable translations of a quote ascribed to the Buddha. The meaning changes slightly with each version, but in my context it doesn’t matter, because I’m not entirely there with the round man on this anyway. Envy is in no way attractive, but it’s a valuable thing to observe.

 

 

Show me your process, not just your perfection

“Show us your process, not just your perfection.”
—CJ Casciotta

This mandate hitting my ears was just one of dozens of eyes-wide moments at last week’s STORY 2018 conference in Nashville—an annual conference that’s been called “TED for Creatives.”

It will take me a while to type up the pages and pages of notes I brought home from this immersive, two-day gathering for artists, creators, and storytellers. I brought colored pencils and markers with me and used them to circle, star, underline, and annotate, in a feeble attempt to somehow capture the wild energy of the event. (It was that kind of conference…the kind where the colors just fly.)

The title quote, in particular, stuck with me (it’s bright green in my journal). What does it mean?

Every day we’re assailed by images and videos and books and articles and ads that are evidence of something that’s reached perfection—or at least as close to it as is possible for the creator. Completed, polished, effective.

We’re not interested, or so they say, in seeing the path the creator had to take to get there. We’re taught in myriad ways that the only thing of real value is the finished product. I take issue with that more than I can explain.

What happens if the ONLY images we ever see in life are of things in a state of perfect completion, or perfect beauty, or perfect symmetry and balance? Is that natural? How does it make us feel?

By “us,” I’m especially referring to those of us who are neck-deep struggling with our own creations.

We’re writing our book, seeking out our ideal clients, building our business/practice, developing offerings that people may support us by buying. And all with that inner clock ticking expectantly: Perfection. Now. Perfection. Now. Perfection. Now. Faster.

On the days when the words just won’t fall on the paper, when new clients just seem to be deaf to what we offer, when things just won’t take shape, I sometimes feel as though if I see one more perfectly-coiffed mega-guru telling me about her latest wildly successful $5000 coaching package – that has, by the way, only 3 spots left, so hurry hurry hurry – I am going to scream.

On those days, more than anything, I want to talk to others who are still in their process too. I want to know where people are stuck, because I too might be stuck, and perhaps (like freeing each other from a mire) we can help each other get un-stuck.

I want to know that someone ELSE is frustrated that their promotional efforts aren’t hitting the mark yet, and they’re not sure what to adjust.

I want to see the rough drafts of a new article, the flawed prototype of a new product offering or even just the first notes scribbled in a frenzy on the back of a flattened-out Starbucks coffee sleeve. I want to smash the illusion that successful ideas are supposed to burst forth from our heads, fully-formed and perfect and with no effort whatsoever.

I want to see the process and the perfection, not just the airbrushed final product.

Do you?

The end of 30 blogs in 30 days

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

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: https://websitesforgood.com/portfolio/brainstorming-blog-posts-social-media-content-ideas/