It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m sitting in my office at home. I’ve got a cup of scorching hot chai next to me, the candle is lit and I’m pretending that I’m not distracted by the next door neighbour’s raucous pool filter. Getting to my desk before the sun rose this morning was more challenging than holding pigeon pose in yesterday’s yoga class, and has less of an endorphin reward at the end of it.
Why am I up so early? Because I need to find some psychological bandwidth to complete the giant list of juicy tasks that have been plaguing my to do list for what feels like an eternity. I need to be up with the sparrows before my inbox gets ambushed, before my staff get up, before my clients get up, before the Nigerian princesses start knocking on my inbox door. Ahhh, who am I kidding, they’re always up!
Whenever I have tasks that require all 100% of my brain capacity, I have to do it before the sun is up. I almost always schedule my writing at this time. It’s perfect, there’s nothing to distract me, I have no excuses, and my brain is not yet crammed full of the banalities of the day. It’s perfect, and as long as the chai flows, so does the creativity.
Over the last 7 or so years, it’s become clear to me that as a business owner, you’ll never feel like you’re on top of things. And short of locking the office door for 12 months straight and getting jacked up on Modafinil to smash out 10 years worth of work, a little self love has to become second nature in order to survive.
My friends, family, and team will all loudly confirm that I live for efficiency, productivity, hustle, and grabbing life by the horns. Up until recent years, I’d work from sun-up to sundown burying myself in an array of tasks, because that’s what it took to get it done and build a biz from scratch. Working 70-hour weeks for two and a half years is what got Smack Bang going. Whilst I don’t condone those kind of work hours forever, I do acknowledge that business requires sheer dedication and a real hunger for action.
But working hard often came at the expense of some more valuable parts of my life, like my life itself. My sanity often felt like a wet, squirming fish sliding from the grasp of my fingers.
I slowly began to realise how much of my self-worth was attached to getting things done. If I wasn’t doing something useful or productive, my day had not amounted to much. Each night I’d fall into bed mentally counting through the list of things that I’d ticked off and those were still haunting my tasklist like ghosts of jerk’s past.
I’ve always put an immense amount of pressure on myself to succeed (and to do it quickly).
Inevitably, what you get done in a day is never going to be enough, and there is always room for improvement in how you do things. I’ve finally started to learn how to balance that ‘never doing enough’ feeling with slowing down. So, right now I’m trying to chill out, stop comparing myself to others, and remind myself that I’m in my 20s—there’s no need for a midlife crisis.
After years in the trenches, I’m starting to better recognise my symptoms of stress: There are the usual telltale signs of not sleeping properly, skipping my healthy meals for a diet of chocolate, wine and bad thai food, and I instantly start looking for instant-gratification tasks, rather than focusing on the important things that actually make a difference to my bottom line. These telltale signs, now exposed, are useful ways for me to track, and to shut down, those patterns of behaviour so that I can be as (healthily) productive as possible.
So, if I am finally cracking the code for working in the flow and getting the most out of my days, it’s only fair that I clue you in a little to how you can get some serious flow back into your world. Here goes:
- DO NOT USE YOUR INBOX AS A TO-DO LIST.
Why? Because it’s as depressing as waking up on Christmas morning to a barren house and a burnt tree. Every morning my inbox is full of emails asking me to do things I do not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now have to solve. Becoming a business owner means that you’ll most likely spend 20% of the time doing what you love and 80% of the time with your head buried inside your inbox replying to emails. I respond to most of my emails in a timely manner, but to be honest, I leave certain non-urgent emails sitting in my inbox for days, even weeks before I send a personal response. Why? Because my time is better spent creating and doing the things I love. Simple really
- FOCUS ON THE BRIGHT SPOTS.
Don’t fall into the trap of becoming Negative Nancy. Focus on the the wins. The hell yeahs. The this-is-worth-its. Because it’s not all bad right? Out of the bajillion things in the business world that you cannot control, you can control how you perceive things.
- MULTI-TASKING GIVES YOU WRINKLES.
That is not a scientifically proven fact, but you wouldn’t be reading my blog if you were looking for those. What is proven, however, is that multi-tasking actually reduces your productivity, increases your stress levels and makes you feel about ten years older at the end of the day. I believe that it is better to do a few things extraordinarily well rather than doing fifty things poorly. Overcommitting and spreading yourself too thin is the key recipe for disaster and exhaustion. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learned the hard way, it’s that trying to please everyone doesn’t please anyone. I’ll add that to my collection of ‘sad realisations of being an adult’.
- DON’T MAKE EXCUSES AND DON’T COMPLAIN.
There’s a great chapter in Ben Horowitz’s book called The Hard Thing About Hard Things called “Nobody Cares” and he talks about how he was running Netscape and one of his investors looks at him one day and tells him, “Ben, nobody cares—just do your job.” You can make a million excuses for why you can’t do something, but ultimately, it’s up to you to cast your excuses aside and just get on with it.
- CHOOSE YOUR TIMING.
If you have a range of different tasks to be completed throughout your day, plan it out so that you’re working on each task when you’re at your best. For me, I have to write blog posts first thing in the morning. If I write in the afternoon after the stress of the day has got me all fired up, I’ll write like Arnie Schwarzenegger speaks – erratically short, mechanically direct and lacking in melody or empathy. However, getting stuck into invoicing and accounts is something that I can do with only a half-filled engine as it doesn’t require so much creative output and therefore I can do it in the afternoon with the help of my arvo cuppa, shoes off and tunes very much on.
- WORKING IN 3 HOUR BLOCKS.
I’ve recently moved out of Sydney (just an hour and a half down the coast), and have found myself on an entirely new schedule that I’m really digging. I get up at 6am, make a chai and work for a solid 3 hours. Then, I take a break to walk my dog, have some brekkie and grab a coffee. Then I go back to my desk for another 3 hour chunk. Sometimes, in the evening, when I’m in crunch mode or feeling super inspired, I’ll sit back down and chow through some more tasks. But ultimately, working in these 3 hour chunks means that I am Superman-focused while giving my brain the rest it needs so that I don’t end the day in a frazzled mess.
- DRINKING TONNES OF WATER.
It took me 28 laps around the sun to realise that staying hydrated is the key to staying focused. Keeping a nice water jug and glass on my desk inspires me to use it. Also, a smelly candle, because why the hell not?
- SET SOME INTENTIONS.
Nice thoughts without intentions are sort of… useless, aren’t they? Setting intentions for your day is surprisingly brilliant, because when you set your mind to a few particular key tasks, you’d be amazed that, like magic, you tend to actually get them done. Before the hustle and bustle eats you alive, get super clear about what you want to achieve for the day ahead. It might be three things, or it might just be a word. Keep it simple, short and front of mind all damn day.