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Trucking Through The Downswings

Trucking Through The Downswings

“I believe there’s a natural ebb and flow to our weeks and months. Sometimes we’re up, everything comes easy and we have an abundance of energy. And sometimes it’s a huge struggle to even work one hour per day.”

~ Niall Doherty

This piece is titled after a blog post I read and loved many years ago, written by the legendary Niall Doherty. I loved this piece because, at the time I first read it (circa 2011), it so well put into words a phenomena I was well-accustomed to but hadn’t realised that we all face.

What I’m referring to is the unavoidable fact that there are times in our life, during which we feel completely motivated and full of energy and there are times (sometimes for no apparent reason) that we’re simply not. In fact, even more so, we feel positively de-motived and seriously lacking in energy.

This state of affairs, if not managed appropriately, can be seriously damaging for the solopreneur. Rarely do we have someone available to pick up the slack when we’re off our game so our business inevitably suffers. Also, if we repeatedly fail to handle these periods properly, we can become disillusioned and depressed about our ability to run a successful business.

We all know how important consistency is to our success, right? So how do we maintain consistency of output when our energy and motivation levels fluctuate so regularly?

And let’s get real here, when we’re talking about the downswing, it’s not just the natural ebb and flow of our energy that we need to consider, it’s all the other things life throws at us along the way, such as illness, emotional upheaval, holidays, distractions and general life stuff. Given how much life throws at us in the course of our daily lives, it’s no wonder that our “flow” is, more often than not, reduced to a trickle rather than a steady gush.

So, what are we to do with this?

I wish there was a simple fix but unfortunately there isn’t. The reason for this is two-fold:

a) downswings (or rough patches) are a natural part of life and therefore cannot be eliminated entirely and
b) the way to better handle a downswing is extremely nuanced. There is, unfortunately, no one-size fits all approach.

By nuanced I mean that there are times when the response to your downswing is to get tough and display some serious discipline and at others it’s to give yourself a break and allow yourself to recover and regroup plus a plethora of responses somewhere in-between.

The problem I see most people face is that they are either consistently hard on themselves and are therefore on a fast track to burnout, or they consistently let themselves off the hook and as a result, never really make ground with their businesses.

I have a few suggestions to help you better manage this:

1. Raise your awareness

Raising your awareness of your emotional, mental and physical state is absolutely key for navigating the highs and lows of life. One way I love to do this is a practice called morning pages, where, first thing, before doing anything else, I free write 750 words, no editing, no purpose, just writing whatever is present in the moment, this can really help you to better understand what’s going on for you. When we know what’s going on and have an awareness of how we’re truly feeling, then we’re better equipped to choose an appropriate course of action.

2. Get honest with yourself

With your awareness raised, you’re far better placed to choose an appropriate response to whatever is going on for you. Feeling tired because you stayed up late and binge-watched Netflix episodes? Then suck it up and get back on track, because giving into the temptation to lie in is a slippery slope. Feeling run-down because you’ve been sick, whilst working too many hours on your business and caring for a family member? Then consider giving yourself a break and/or some nurturing self-care. If you have taken the time to truly understand what’s going on for you, and follow that with being really honest with yourself about what you need then the appropriate course of action will become clear.

3. Make the most of the upswings

Knowing that a downswing can strike at any moment, it’s crucial to make the most of those times when we’re on fire and feeling like we can accomplish anything. Feeling in the flow with your writing? Why not batch create a few blog posts so that you have something in reserve for the weeks you’re really not feeling it? Feeling lit up by creating graphics in Canva? don’t stop at the ones you need for this week, batch create enough to cover you in less productive times. Taking into account the fact that your upswing will inevitably transition into it’s well-known counterpart, allows you to make the most of your periods of increased creativity to put in place things that can cover you during the low.

And if all else fails, use your downswing as inspiration for your business. The idea for this post for example came during  the middle of one of my own personal downswings and rather than pull out my hair trying to figure out what to share, I looked at what I was experiencing and chose to share this: my best advice for dealing with this very situation.

This is important for several reasons. First of all because it gets my mind thinking about what I personally need to do (or not do) in order to feel better and secondly it’s important for my audience to know that I too struggle with periods of low energy and a lack of productivity. If all I did was present to you my best self, that would suck because it might have you believe that what you feel when your motivation levels are on the floor isn’t normal and is somehow a failing on your part.

Rest assured it’s not. We all struggle. We all have downswings and there is a way to succeed in spite of them.

How to Practice Generosity in Business Without Burning Out

How to Practice Generosity in Business Without Burning Out

Learn From My Mistake

Learn From My Mistake

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions are searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

                                       ~ Maya Angelou

As I write this blog post, I’m feeling grateful for my new morning routine that means I’ve just spent the last 30 minutes sat in my office enjoying a cup of coffee, meditation music playing, incense burning, having just read another chapter of the non-business book I’m reading (A Course in Miracles Made Easy). My office is clean, tidy and organised and my schedule and tasks for the day and week ahead are set. My only task for this morning is to write this article. Once finished, I’ll be heading out for a long walk.

This is not how mornings have started lately, which brings me on to the topic of this post. 

Back when I first started out in business I was fortunate to have the guidance and support of a coach who taught me, amongst many things, the importance of building a business that supports our preferred lifestyle from the get go versus trying to fit our desired lifestyle around our business retrospectively.

Two things he had me build into my schedule, back when my schedule was wide open, were time to work on my business as well as in it (more on that below) and time off from my business to include breaks from work on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. 

Seeing the absolute wisdom of this, I put several things in place in service of that idea:

  • I scheduled Wednesday and Fridays as call free days so that I had time on a Wednesday for working on my business and Fridays were kept free of calls for creativity which meant I could use them to do creative work for my business (such as web and graphic design and designing new products or services) or to spend the day painting (just for the fun of it) if my heart desired it.
  • I only scheduled coaching sessions for 3 weeks out of every month so that I could hibernate during those days in my menstrual cycle when I was feeling low in energy and mood or to do business activities that suited my more internal mood.
  • I purposely made my coaching programs shorter because I wanted the flexibility to take long trips between clients should I want to.
  • I planned in two whole months off work a year, to use that time to travel.

In short, I set my business up so that I could enjoy plenty of free time, flexibility and space to enjoy my life as I wanted to enjoy it.

Fast forward a few years and those boundaries had started to slip. When you’re not fully booked up, it’s easy to think that you’ll always have all the space you’ll need for rest, relaxation and creative time. The truth is much like the fable of the frog, who if placed in boiling water will jump straight out, but if put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. 

When you’re in the midst of growing a business, you don’t always see the time slowly getting taken up until one day you realise that you’ve become so busy working in your business that you barely have time to look up from the computer. In danger, not so much of being cooked but rather, of being worked to death! 

Towards the end of 2020, I started to realise that I was getting so booked up with coaching calls that I was in danger of losing the ability to have even one call free day a week. I quickly blocked Fridays off for the whole of 2021 and now have every Friday dedicated to what I call my CEO Day (more on that below).

Also, for the first time (perhaps ever!) I’ve gone through my calendar and booked off a whole host of special days, family birthdays, school holidays, anniversaries (me and my love celebrate 7 years together in June! :)), national holidays, regional holidays (I’ve always just worked these in the past) and time for us to have our annual family holiday and other trips (Covid permitting!). These dates are booked into mine and the family calendar and I’m excited to have this time off. 

On a day to day basis I’ve also started to schedule in daily walks. Not short walks — a long, one hour plus, walk right in the middle of my working day because a) it’s the only time I can do it because when I’m not working I have my two boys with me and b) taking that hour out to walk, even when it feels impossible, given how much work I have on, helps me to be more effective when I am at my desk.

I’ve also been doing the important work of setting firmer boundaries around what I can and can’t do for my clients and even started changing some of my offerings on my website so that they are more manageable to deliver, now that I am serving people in greater numbers. I’ll share more on these changes/boundaries in a future article. 

Having done this work, I can now honestly say that my annual business plan is complete, not just with the things I will do over the course of the next 12 months but also the times when I won’t be doing anything business related at all. 

Working on the business versus working in the business

I also now have space within my working week (which is Monday to Friday in case you were wondering). to work on my business so that I don’t get lost in the weeds of running it. Making the distinction between working in and on your business is important. See below for some ideas of what this could look like.

Working in your business

  • Delivering your service (i.e. having coaching sessions).
  • Day to day admin like answering emails, scheduling calls and filing.
  • Marketing activities like content creating and social media
  • Networking and outreach.

Working on your business

  • Strategy.
  • Planning and visioning.
  • Big picture thinking.
  • Course correcting and problem shooting.
  • New creations.
  • Professional development.

What my CEO Day involves

Since the start of the year, every Friday in my schedule has been blocked off for my CEO Day and having now had 3 of these since the new year began, I can share a little bit of what they entail. 

I basically have a checklist of activities that I run through and aim to do throughout the course of the day. This checklist lives on my CEO dashboard inside of Notion (a new tool I am using for my business hub). You can see that checklist below and you’ll notice it mainly contains tasks that will allow me to start my following week with everything organised and planned so that I can simply show up and do what needs to be done rather than waste time trying to organise and prioritise on the fly. Of course it could be argued that some of these tasks might not be considered CEO tasks but it’s more that doing these tasks and the space that they create allows me to show up as a CEO for my business. 

My CEO day is fast becoming my favourite day of the week! What I love about these days is that I can lie in a little if I need to (and with my one year old who rarely sleeps for more than one hour in a row — you can bet I need those lie ins). I don’t have to shower first thing or do my hair and make-up because I’m not doing any video calls. Instead, I can simply potter around my office in my PJs and take things at my own pace. Doing the tasks in whichever order I feel called to do them. Given that the rest of my working week is scheduled up to the hilt, this is oh so necessary for my health and happiness.

Now this all might sound super organised and jolly responsible of me but I let my schedule get far too gruelling before I put these measures in place. In reality I took my eye of the work/life balance ball and let things get out of hand before I pulled things back. I share this because I want you to avoid making the same mistake. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to carve out some time to plan in these same two things:

1. Time to work on your business (instead of in it) 
2. Time off from your business. 

Your future self will thank you for it, I promise.

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How To Prioritise Your Day-To-Day Business Activities

How To Prioritise Your Day-To-Day Business Activities

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

When we have, what feels like, a million things to do and not enough time to get them all done, we often find it hard to see the wood for the trees. Add to this a lack of understanding of what our priorities are and we’re on a sure path to procrastination. Nothing is more frustrating than having SO much to do that you don’t know where to start and so you don’t really do anything. Precisely when we need to take action the most, we become paralysed by indecision.

To avoid this, I have a super simple system that helps me to prioritize in situations like these:

1. Coaching Clients

First and foremost I deal with all client communication and work. My 1:1 clients are the people who have invested the greatest amount of money in my business and as such get the lion’s share of my time. So, before I consider doing anything else, I check what emails and work I have outstanding for my 1:1 clients and I go do that.

2. Other paying customers

Once I’ve handled all the requests from my 1:1 coaching clients, I move on to any messages or work that I need to do for any of my other paying customers, such as members of my Female Business Academy, OBM Clients and people who have bought other online courses and digital products.

3. Subscribers 

With those handled, I turn next to my subscribers. Which essentially means either getting my newsletter out if I haven’t already or dealing with any emails I’ve had from subscribers that I haven’t yet answered.

4. Wider audience 

With those dealt with, I then turn my attention to my wider audience, which means answering any questions or comments on my social media channels or blog and making sure my content is up to date.

5. All other tasks 

Only once I’ve done everything I need to for my people; my clients, my customers, my subscribers and my audience, do I turn my attention to any other outstanding tasks.

This simple system stops me from feeling overwhelmed and keeps me focused on what really matters in my business. PEOPLE. Because without the people who engage with my business, I wouldn’t have a business, I would just have an expensive hobby.

But this is not what I see most people do. In fact, I often see quite the opposite. Many people, when suffering from a mounting pile of to-dos, are more likely to waste time on the little things rather than the important things because they feel easier to handle.

Ticking 10 little things off your list (like dealing with emails, posting on social media, making changes to your website etc), for example, can in the moment feel more productive but it’s actually far less important than spending an hour or two directly serving your clients and customers. 

Another mistake I see a lot of people making is prioritising the attraction of new clients over the serving of existing clients. Something I’m grateful my business coach taught me over 5 years ago, is the idea that my next client is right in front of me. Meaning it’s usually somebody I’m already serving, not some unknown person I might reach with a well crafted social media post.

So what does that look like exactly? Well it’s the person, I’ve already served powerfully through a complimentary coaching session or a well-delivered product or service, it’s the person who I already have a relationship with rather than the masses out there who I’m trying to reach.

It’s for this reason, and because I value most the people who have already invested in my business, that I always focus on my current clients and customers before anything else. It’s those businesses that do this that become well known for their high level of service and client care.

If you don’t yet have any clients or customers, you might need to tweak the system. In this case, I would wholly recommend that your number one priority becomes connection. Maybe you don’t have clients but you do have some subscribers and/or people who have liked or commented on your content. If so what could you do to deepen the relationship? Take a look at these posts for some inspiration on how to prioritise connection:

10 Practical Ways to Activate Your Business Network
An Interview on The Art of Connection With Eli Trier
Authentic Outreach: What It Is and Why It’s Important 

Whether you have existing clients or not the priority remains the same: people. When you prioritise people in your business, magic happens. A simple way to remember this is next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and tempted to tinker with your website or make pretty images for social media, stop and ask yourself this:

Who are the people I most need to serve or connect with right now?

And once you have your answer, let that become your top priority.

If you want to connect with other conscious business owners, feel free to join my free Facebook group by hitting the button below.  

How to Stay Accountable as a Solopreneur

How to Stay Accountable as a Solopreneur

At the end of the day we are accountable to ourselves – our success is a result of what we do.”

~ Catherine Pulsifer

Whenever I get on a call with someone I’ve never coached before, I always ask them what they think coaching is and what they are hoping to get from it? Pretty often the answer that comes back, includes within it something about accountability. Most people seeking out my services are doing so because they know that on some level they need someone to help them stay accountable. Whilst a pretty common reason for hiring a business coach, when someone says this to me, it does ring an alarm bell. Why?

Because if I become the source of someone else’s accountability, what happens when the coaching program ends?

Don’t get me wrong, I can totally see why accountability is something that many solopreneurs feel that they are lacking and why wouldn’t they when throughout life, we pretty much always have something or someone external to ourselves to be accountable to. Be that our parents or caregivers when we’re young, our teaches and the education system as we grow and our employers and the jobs we take on as adolescents and adults. With all of these, there are built-in consequences should we fail to do what we say we will. If we stay out later than our curfew, we’ll likely be punished by our parents, if we fail to study, we’ll likely fail our exams and in some cases get kicked out of school and if we fail to show up for our jobs, our employers will ultimately have no option but to fire us.

But where is this accountability when you’re running your own business? Suddenly as solopreneurs it’s all on us and many of us find this tough.

I’m fortunate enough to be pretty self-motivated and have a history of setting myself crazy goals and stubbornly realising them. I’ve been described by many who know me as a determined person so you might assume that self accountability comes naturally to me but when it came to building my own business, I too struggled. Having had a successful career in project and program management for many years, I was used to having strict deadlines imposed on my work by the needs of my employer.

Suddenly I found myself as both the employer and the employee, I was the person who created and set the deadlines as well as the one who had to meet them. It’s easy in this scenario to become the kind of boss who lets things slide and as a result become the kind of employee who doesn’t worry too much about sticking to the plan. Of course when there are no obvious, immediate consequences this makes perfect sense, but what I soon came to realise is that there are huge consequences. Money has to come from somewhere so if my business fails, I have to go get a job. This looming consequence, no matter how far in the future was enough for me to get my act together. That and the kick I got from my then Business Coach (of course!).

It was 2014 and I had just started working with my Coach when I made the mistake of telling him that I really wanted to write a guest post for a high profile, high traffic blog. “No matter how much I want it, I just can’t find the motivation to sit down and write it!” I complained. “That’s pretty easy to fix”, he said and then challenged me to write to the editor with the title and topic of the blog post I wanted to write and the date by which I would send it over to him. I could see exactly what he was doing. By having me make a promise to the editor of the website, I’d finally have the accountability I had thus far been lacking. It was genius and I did exactly what he told me to do and the editor replied saying it sounded like a great piece and that he was looking forward to receiving it. There was no way I was going to fail on my promise and just like that I wrote and submitted the guest post I’d been trying to write for months (he loved it and published it in case you were wondering!)

That was when I realised how to stay accountable as a solopreneur. Here are just some of the ways I’ve implemented that lesson in my business over the years.

  • Launching several courses and programs before I completed the content, meaning I then had paid up customers who I simply couldn’t let down.
  • Making the announcement of forthcoming creations (products, programs, events etc) one of the first things I do – it’s so easy to hold off on making the announcement until you feel you have everything ready but then the date just keeps getting pushed back and back.
  • Sharing my ambitious goals with the world, much like I did with my #contentcreationapril challenge, when I shared publicly that I was going to write 30 blog posts in 30 days. No backing out now!

I often call this strategy of announcing what I’m going to do before I’ve done it front-loading the fear. Meaning that we get the scary part out of the way, right up front. We’re often so terrified of making the announcement because then we know it’s really happening that we put off the announcement and get lost in procrastination and perfectionism telling ourselves I’ll announce it when everything is ready. This is a classic mistake because we never feel like our work is ready, there is always more we want to do, so without the accountability of a publicly promised deadline, we start a gazillion new things that end up never finished. Sound familiar?

Can you relate to what I’ve shared in this post? Can you see how hard it is for us to stay accountable when we can’t see the consequences of not following through? I’d love to know if you like the approach I outline in this post and if you think you might use it in your business. If you’d like an extra bit of accountability why not share with us in the comments below what you plan to do differently as a result of reading this post. 

This post is part of my personal challenge to create 30 blog posts in 30 days during #contentcreationapril to be sure to get all 30 posts, you can either sign up for my weekly e-letter or join my free Facebook Group, The Conscious Business Collective. If you want to join in and set a content creation goal for yourself, simply hit the button below to join the community.

The Secret to Easeful Productivity

The Secret to Easeful Productivity

“In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest.⁣⁣

~ Wayne Muller

I don’t know about you but I’ve never felt comfortable with the term productivity. It all too often felt like a standard I could never quite reach and to do so would require me to be almost robotic like in my work habits. Inherent in the term, for me, was this idea of doing more which for someone who already does a lot felt punishing.

Over the last year, my views on productivity have shifted. After a tricky year beset with illness and, dare I say it, a certain level of burnout in 2018, I realised that my habit of putting my head down and soldiering on wasn’t really working for me. Working harder wasn’t bringing me greater results, if anything it felt like they were declining.

In my search for a more easeful way to balance being a full-time business owner and Mama to an energetic toddler, I came across a number of books that turned my ideas about productivity on their head.These books include:

  1. Joyful Productivity by George Kao
  2. Deep Work by Cal Newport
  3. Sabbath by Wayne Muller

As I read these books, I realised that they all kept pointing to the same thing. They all argue the case for rest. Rest you might think is the enemy of productivity but here’s where I had a real epiphany. It absolutely isn’t.

Because guess what? (you might already know this) we cannot do our best work if we don’t get sufficient rest. Not just that, but being productive – because as creative business owners, we absolutely do want to produce things of value for our audience – is not about working harder and working more. It’s about having the time that we do work be truly focused and deep. Which we are only capable of when we’ve taken sufficient time to rest and renew.

“Position yourself to succeed by doing the other things in your life that rejuvenate you. Exhaustion affects your quality and productivity.”

~ Jeff VanderMeer

When we’re busy, which as entrepreneurs is much of the time, it can feel so counter-intuitive to take a break, to put down what we’re working on and walk away but in doing so, when we return to the task at hand we have renewed energy and focus. This in turn makes us more productive than we would have been without the break.

Before my epiphany about productivity, I never really took breaks. I sat hunched over my keyboard for hours at a time and basically wore myself out. These days I work very differently but it’s not always easy to do.

If you are anything like me, even knowing that taking time to rest is good for you, doesn’t mean it’s easy for you to. These days to help with that, I have a solid schedule for my week. I’m a big believer in scheduling all of my business activities. I have no doubt, however, that some people would take one look at my colour co-ordinated calendar and feel intimated by the fact that every space between 7.30am and 6.30pm is filled with an activity.

However, a big chunk of my time is scheduled for rest.

Between 7.30-9.00am I have my morning routine (shower, breakfast etc), at 10.30am and 4.30pm each day I have a 30 minute break, between 12.30-3.00pm I have a very long lunch (which is the Spanish way) and between 3.00-3.30pm I go on a walk in nature. I’ve also recently (thanks to this article) started using an app that beeps every 30 minutes to remind me to get up and walk away from my desk for one minute – I usually use the time to stretch or look out the window at the mountains.

What this means is that of the 11 hours I schedule in my calendar each day, that’s a whopping 5.5 hours (50%) that I’m not working and am in fact mostly resting. On top of that I keep Wednesday (as much as possible) totally free from client calls or client work. I dedicate the morning to free time, meaning I can work on anything I feel like and I take the afternoon off, which means even more time off work (although in full disclosure, I don’t always manage to take this).

Having a schedule for your day is just as important for protecting your work time as it is for protecting your down time. The more years I spend running my own business, the more crucial I believe this to be. Do I stick to my schedule like glue? Hell no! But having it there helps me to easily re-organize and re-prioritize as necessary.

So if you’ve been wondering how to be more productive without burning yourself out in the process, could it be that you need to take more breaks? I’d love to know what you think so please do share your thoughts on what I’ve shared here in the comments below and if you know someone who needs to take more breaks, do feel free to share this with them.  

This post is part of my personal challenge to create 30 blog posts in 30 days during #contentcreationapril to be sure to get all 30 posts, you can either sign up for my weekly e-letter or join my free Facebook Group, The Conscious Business Collective. If you want to join in and set a content creation goal for yourself, simply hit the button below to join the community.