It’s amazing how much your outlook, inspiration, and productivity can change by a single conversation or by reading a book. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that have the greatest impact. This has happened to me over the past couple of weeks, and I’d like to share with you my recent epiphany.
About a month ago, I started to believe that I “needed” to hire someone to help with my Etsy store, because I was just too “busy” to get it all done myself. “Busy”. Such a common term, and I cringe at the term now. We’re all guilty of using it. It’s so easy to fall back on the reason, “I’d like to do that, but I’m just so busy.” It’s just an excuse in the form of a word, but here I was, guilty as charged. So, I convinced myself that my solution was to hire someone. That would solve all of my “busy-ness” problems. But when I started thinking about what actions I needed to take in order to actually move towards the direction of hiring an employee, I put it off. I was drowning under a pile of other ‘priorities’ that were competing for my attention. Yes, I was spending 8-10 hours a day in my office, but when I actually made a conscious effort to start logging how I was spending my time, I realized that half of it was checking facebook notifications, emails, responding to text messages and phone calls, reading other successful businesses’ blogs, brainstorming of all of the tasks I wanted to get done, scheduling lunch dates with friends, watching Netflix, cooking, working out. Since I had a flexible schedule, I would overbook my days with commitments under the assumption that I could fit it in and ‘work late’. My automatic response to everything was yes. I had a million ideas and self-diagnosed myself as having “too many interests”, since I wanted to do it all, really well. My phone would ring, and I would answer. My email would ping, and I would check it. A thought would come to mind, and I would act on it. I was constantly in a state of reaction, which meant that anything that I was trying to get done for work would be interrupted and not completed beginning to end as intended. And then when the last 2 hours of the day rolled around from 10pm-midnight, I would get into crunch mode and bust out all of the orders that HAD to be done to ship out the next day. You know those people who have weeks to finish a task, and procrastinate to the night before, and BAM! They get it done? Yup, that was me.
On one of those ‘busy’ days, I went into my gym and ended up sitting down with the owner, Luka, for a chat. It started off as a conversation about a workout, but it led into talking about business, and I started to tell him about my Etsy store. I told him about how I needed to hire someone, but I just didn’t know how. Then he asked me the pivotal question, “How are you spending your time?” What do you mean? I thought. I responded, “Well, I’m just so busy! I always have outstanding orders, and I barely even have time to think about HOW to hire someone. It feels like my mind is going a million miles a minute, all the time.” I proceeded to tell him my vision for my business, my financial goals, and that I wanted to have it all accomplished by the time I was 30. He looked at me and said, “You could accomplish all of that by next year.” I looked at him blankly. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think he was crazy. ‘Yeah,’ I thought… ‘Okay…’ But I looked at him, and I thought about his business, his story, and all that he had accomplished at such a young age. Here is someone who is constantly walking around with books in his hand, who is available to others while still remaining productive and scheduled throughout his day, who has created his own “success” (which could be defined by most people’s standards), and seemed to have it all figured out. So I thought, ‘Well, obviously this is someone who has proven to know what he’s talking about. Not just by words, but by actions.’
I went home with our conversation playing over in my mind, and decided to download one of the books that I saw lying around in his office, The Productivity Ninja by Graham Alcott. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, now with the added task of figuring out how to get my life in order, on top of everything else that I had going on. Mind you, I haven’t actually taken the time to sit down and read a book in over a year. I USED to love reading. Remember those times before we were adults and life happened? Where you actually had time to do what you loved and the world wasn’t spinning around you at a rapid pace? Yeah, that Monica loved to read. I couldn’t put the damn book down. Here it was, on a page in a book, my life described to a T. The book describes today’s life: A world where we are constantly reacting to inputs at a rapid pace, where our attention is bouncing around from one task to the next, casually committing to plans in the future because we don’t have a reason to say no, trying to accomplish as much as possible while pleasing as many people as possible, not being able to relax because you’re worrying that there is something else you should be doing, but most of all, living a life of mediocrity because we don’t take the time we need to tap into our true potential and cultivate greatness. If you never take the time to practice a skill, you never become great. You may have learned to play an instrument you were younger, so you know how to play – but if you do not practice on a consistent basis, there is no way you will become a concert pianist. Same goes with creating a great life – if you do not practice productive habits that allow time for you to work on your goals, you will never reach them! You may tinker along and get by ‘keeping busy’ and accomplish a goal that society deems ‘a success’, but is that really the goal that you dreamed for yourself? Is that what you imagined for your life as a kid, young adult, or even now? On your death bed, when people are reminiscing about your life, how do you want people to remember you? Whatever that dream or goal is, it is not impossible. Life is not ‘too busy’, there are just many opportunities to distract you. Your choice in how to respond to those distractions is the key, not that the actual presence of the distraction. Successful people are not touched by good luck. It’s all about rearranging your mindset, making trade-offs, choosing to make decisions so others won’t make them for you, taking control of your actions and attention, all things that may be against society’s norm. In order to be extraordinary, you cannot be normal. The book had an action plan laid out clear as day – everything that I needed to implement right away in order to start living a more productive, less ‘busy’ life.
In a matter of 24 hours, I felt an overwhelming sense of clarity. The constant worries and reminders that buzzed around in my head were silenced, rooted by the simple task of writing them down. Today, my inbox at zero (from 10,000 previously) with all of the important ones filed appropriately in their folders. I no longer use the excuse of ‘needing’ to hire someone, but instead have organized my days with structure. I have time to read, take on new work projects (like getting this website up and running), and write (Exhibit A: this blog post!). My scribbles on note-pads and random thoughts are now functionally organized in one place with structure and priority. I know what I need and what to get accomplished each day, and when I finish those tasks, I can relax with clarity instead of worrying that there’s something else I should be doing. I have daily, weekly, and yearly goals set in place and projects with actions to accomplish them. I no longer react, but plan. If a distraction presents itself, I jot down the thought to come back to it later. I choose which plans I commit to, instead of casually agreeing and setting my work back as a result. My days have been transformed from being ‘busy’ to productive. The choice to evaluate and question the decisions I was making was the best thing I could have done.
I highly recommend you read the book, but if you simply can’t wait to know what’s in store, here are some of my key take-aways:
1. Start writing stuff down. If you’re going to start doing one thing today, start writing down every single thought that pops into your head. If you’re working on something, and you remember you have to call someone back, re-order your contacts, or pick up a prescription – write it down and come back to it later. Nothing is more productive than completing something start to finish without interruption. This will also eliminate those nags once your pen hits the paper, bringing a quiet peace to your mind.
2. Don’t say yes for the sake of saying yes. This is one of the most common challenges we are faced with every day. We are constantly invited to social events, dinners, meetings, and various other outings. Before saying yes, ask yourself if this is the best use of your time in relationship to your goals. Perhaps you are ‘free’ on Friday night, but you could also spend that time checking off a big to-do on your list. Of course, we all need time to kindle friendships and unwind. But you don’t have to say yes every single time.
3. Make a daily checklist and stick to a schedule. Know what you want to accomplish ahead of time, whether it’s preparing a to-do list the night before or in the morning over a cup of coffee. Note when your attention is at it’s peak and work on the most complicated tasks then. It will feel so good at the end of the day when you have everything checked off your list. You will have given yourself permission to relax, instead of worrying what else needs to be done.
Now go out and go free those thoughts in a journal so you can stop being busy and start being productive!