The years 2011 - 2014 are a bit of a blur. I don't remember everything, but I remember the way I felt after coming home from work each day. I remember crawling in bed night after night thinking to myself, "I just worked my tail off, but did I actually accomplish anything? I worked hard, really hard for 12 hours today, but did I even make any money? Why am I working so hard and have nothing to show for it?"
During those years, I could have won an academy award for my act.
"How's business?" they would ask.
"Never been better!" I'd reply with a great big fake smile.
Oh I was good at that little charade. I was so good - I could even convince myself before I fell asleep each night that I was on the path to success.
Except I wasn't. I was no where near it. In 2014, out of complete desperation I put $10k on a credit card and I hired my business consultant, Shanna Skidmore.
Fast forward to today - 2017 - When people ask me, "How's business?"
I say, "It's never been better!" - but this time I'm not acting and the smile is genuine (and that credit card now has a zero balance!).
If you were to ask me what is the ONE thing I do today in order to achieve success - this would be my answer:
I make my work hours count. I'm not going to tell you what I think you should do for your work day because I have no idea what your work day looks like. I'm just going to share with you what I do in hopes that you'll find something to take with you to make your work hours count too.
1) I INTENTIONALLY BEGIN MY DAY
This is something I just started doing in January of this year - 2017 - and I cannot describe to you in words the tremendous change it has made. Have you heard of Jesus Calling?
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Friends, let me say this to you. When I talk about Jesus and my faith I hope you know how NOT perfect I am with this. I hope you know that I crave a life of wanting to encourage NOT judge. I want you to know that I enjoy a glass of wine at night (for any southern baptists who might be reading this - enter winking emoji here!), and I NEED to own the t-shirt that says, "I love Jesus but I cuss a little."
So have you heard of the book Jesus Calling? It's a wonderful daily devotional. I love it because it's short (remember: a three-year-old and twin 19-month-olds - momma needs something ACHIEVABLE!), it's to the point, and it's always relatable. I read the simple three or four sentence devotional before I get the kids out of bed in the morning (some mornings it doesn't happen!) but then I tuck it into my work bag. When I get to the studio at 8am, before anyone else arrives,, before I open my computer, before I open my planner and look at my to do list, before I open the blinds, before anything - I pull out the book and I read those same three to four sentences again, this time from the perspective of my business.
My pastor recently said these words and they hit me like a ton of bricks:
Putting Him FIRST in my work day has improved they way I work tremendously.
Next, I pour myself a glass of water, I take out my computer, my planner, my simple office depot yellow legal pad and a pen. I take a look at the to do list located inside my planner (more on this and how I plan my days later!). I DO NOT, however, open my email until later in the day (more on this next time!).
2) I THOUGHTFULLY SCHEDULE MY DAY
My goal is to be at the studio at 8am. I don't put anything on my calendar until 9am because I know I need a full hour to get settled in and prep for my day. KNOW THY SELF. If I schedule a meeting at 8:30am, I’ll feel rushed and frantic and it won’t go well. KNOW THY SELF!
My 9am meeting time slots are for people on my team: Kellie (admin!), Casey (book keeping), Shanna (business consultant), Danae (second designer), etc. These people know me. They know my heart and my intentions. They also understand if I text them and say something like, "I'm running 15 minutes behind! Zeke figured out how to open his sippy cup and poured milk all over the car."
A client, however, probably would not be as understanding nor would I ever want to send them such a text. So as a guiding rule I do not schedule any important meetings (client, mentoring, etc.) until 10am. I do this for two reasons:
- I like to be fully prepared. If I'm meeting a client at 10am - I have a full hour before to review their contact form, their wedding inspiration, etc before actually meeting with them. I don't just seem prepared - I AM PREPARED. Want to know what I've learned over the past few years? When I'm prepared, I book the job. The client feels confident in me because I've shown in the meeting my preparation and professionalism.
- There is one reason and one reason only that I will ever cancel a client meeting - if my family needs me. If Stella wakes up at 7am and has a high fever - guess who is taking her to the doctor? Me! Not because I feel obligated but because that is my baby girl and I want to take her myself. In this case, I feel like 8am is an appropriate enough time to contact the client and let them know I won't be able to make the meeting - this gives them a full two hour notice which I think is just good business.
3) I END MY DAY BY PREPPING FOR THE FOLLOWING DAY
I reserve the last 30 minutes of each work day to set up for the following one. My work day ends at 3pm (read here why I quit each day) so at 2:30pm here’s what I do:
- Turn off my email. Turn it off on my computer (I don’t have it on my phone - more on this next time!) - turn it off. I don’t want email to be the first thing I look at when I open my computer the next day (more on this next time! Can you tell I'm desperately trying to get you excited about an entire newsletter dedicated to email?)
- I get my planner and make my to do list for the following day. I make that list achievable! I put the thing I need to accomplish the most at the top of the list.
- I clean up my work space. I throw away my sonic drink cup (because 9 times out of 10 I have one). I put my water glass in the dishwasher. I wipe off my desk and throw away anything that needs to be thrown away. I want to arrive tomorrow to a clean space.
- I close out all programs on my laptop. I physically close my laptop. There is something about physically shutting down those things - it's as if it sends a message to my brain much like when the final school bell would ring at 3:30pm growing up saying, "It's over! Go home!"
- I turn my legal pad to the next blank page -ready to jot down any notes I need. I pack up my planner (that thing is my life and goes everywhere with me).
- If I’m meeting a client the following day, I make sure I have their proposal printed and ready to go. I make sure I have bottled water in the fridge for them. I make sure there is soap, toilet paper and paper towels in the bathroom. I empty the trash cans in the meeting room and bathroom because those are the two rooms they will be in.
- The next day when I come in, everything is clean. It’s ready to go. It feels like a new day.
4) I DO NOT MULTITASK
I used to think multitasking was a good thing. What I now know is that trying to do several things at once not only exhausted me, but it took me longer to accomplish than if I had focused on each of those tasks individually. It took me a long time to break my multitasking habit, but now I DO ONE THING AT A TIME.
5) I CUT OUT THE DISTRACTIONS
Right now, as I type these very words on my computer, my phone is on silent and it is sitting behind my laptop so I can't physically see it. Even if it's on silent, that screen still lights up from time to time and we all know that's distracting.
Before I began typing these words, I turned off my email on my computer because if that little ding goes off, here is what will happen: I will innocently look to see who it is from, then I will see it is from a client, then I will open it to see what they need, then I will start responding to them, then another email will pop up distracting me from the first one and then I'll forget all together that I was even writing this tip on eliminating distractions!
This newsletter - start to finish - will take me around 45 minutes to write, upload, and complete because it is my sole focus. I'll check it off my to-do list (more on that later!) and feel good that I've accomplished this task, rather than being distracted from it, not completing it, and feeling bad about my unproductive day...again.
I schedule one specific time during my work hours - just one - to check social media. I usually allot anywhere from 15 - 30 minutes, depending if I'm posting and engaging (replying to comments) or simply engaging. I only look at MY business page and comment on what I need to comment on. If someone tagged me in something, I'll click on it and comment back. I DO NOT use this time to look at other pages or profiles. It's too distracting and I won't get my list done. KNOW THY SELF! This didn't happen overnight. It took me a while to get control of this one, but the best thing is because I have a scheduled time slot for this each day - I don't feel guilty about when I am on it. I know I'm being productive with it.
WORK AT HOME MOMS! You already know the answer to this, but I have to ask you: What's your #1 distraction? Yep. You guessed it. KIDS. Our sweet, adorable, want to hug one minute, want to strangle one minute kids. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read my last newsletter: TOUGH LOVE FOR THE WORK AT HOME MOM. There are some good tips in there for you!
6) I GIVE MYSELF HARD DEADLINES
I work so much better and more efficiently when I give myself hard deadlines. For example, this newsletter series pre-2014 me would have wondered and thought about and worried about the order in which I was going to release these and on what dates I'd release them, but not post 2014 me. Now I know the beauty of hard deadlines. When I opened my planner this morning - from 11am to noon was blocked off and it read:
HARD DEADLINE! FINALIZE NEWSLETTER ORDER AND RELEASE DATES
This gave me one hour - only one hour to sit down, get focused, and figure these two things out. Without any distractions, I went to work and by noon I had the order and I had all 25 release dates scheduled in my calendar. Now it's done. Now I can focus on the next thing.
I hope this has been helpful and encouraging to you. Now do me a favor - I'm pouring my story out and I'm needing to be filled a little with your words too! Will you take a moment and comment in the comment section below? I'm not looking for praise - I want to know if this is helping you. If so, how? What changes are you excited to make? Your comments fill me up in a way words can't describe. Your feedback encourages me. It helps me to open up more and ultimately to share more.