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3 Books That Have Influenced My Creativity

3 Books That Have Influenced My Creativity

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” 

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

I loved this book so much. I read it years ago and still talk about it with people often. It’s a book about creativity, which means some people might dismiss it, if they don’t consider themselves a creative but as Liz says in the book: “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.” And as far as I’m considered if you are an entrepreneur you’re highly creative or at least you need to be.

There are two main ways this book has influenced me. The first was a huge insight I had around fear. Realising that we don’t get to eradicate fear and more to the point, fear is always going to shout the loudest precisely when we are about to create something, anything. The question then becomes how can we continue to show up and create in the face of our fear?

Liz answers this question beautifully with her analogy of a road trip. She says this:

“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too. In fact, I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go. I even have a welcoming speech prepared for fear, which I deliver right before embarking upon any new project or big adventure.” 

You can watch a video of me below reading the welcoming speech she mentions. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it as it just might change the way you see fear forever. It has me. 

There are many other big ideas and aha moments I got from this book. One other that stands out is the idea that women, more than men, are prone to perfectionism. She says this: 

“Perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women, who, I believe, hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than do men…too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism”

I’ve definitely witnessed this in my work with many female entrepreneurs but reading Gilberts’ words on the subject were powerful and affirming. When we are more aware of this propensity, we can take measures against it. I definitely have benefited from taking the “wild leaps” Gilbert says she wishes more women would risk taking.

The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

What I loved most about this book is how adeptly Pressfield puts into words what most of us experience when we try to access our creativity. He calls it Resistance with a capital R and in his straight-from-the-hip style he shares with us how we can win battle against our own resistance.

It’s in this book that he first introduces the concept of turning pro and in the context of our creativity, simply put, means getting to work. As he states in the book: 

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

Why is this so important? 

Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious begins to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose…

When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favour in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

He covers meaty topic like procrastination and fear and has something smart to say about it all. This book isn’t so much thought-provoking as it is action-provoking. What it helps us to do is have a heightened awareness of the existence of Resistance and the lengths it will go to to keep us small. If you know that your inner game is keeping you from truly contributing to the world, then consider this book because as Pressfield says: “Creative work is….a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

 

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

This is the book that I read most recently and it’s been a total game-changer for me. In it, Newport argues that ‘deep work’, one of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare. In a mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice he convinces us not only of the merits of deep work, in terms of both professional output and personal fulfilment, but of the dangers of the increasingly dIstracting and informationally overwhelming world we live in. 

“Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction…[it] will make you better at what you do, let you achieve more in less time and provide the sense of true fulfilment that comes from the mastery of a skill.” 

There are so many big ideas in this book that I will have to dedicate a whole blog post just to the concept of deep work, but I want to at least give you a flavour of how great this book is.

After doing a really great job, in part 1 of the book, of convincing us how important a skill deep work is, in part 2, Newport shares with us 4 rules to follow to get better at this important skill. #1 Work Deeply, #2 Embrace Boredom #3 Quit Social Media and #4 Drain the Shallows.

I know, I know! Quit social media!? I feel you but don’t worry, in this chapter Cal teaches us several ways to take healthy breaks from social media and to be more selective in our use of it. He argues that most of us have adopted an “any benefit” approach to choosing which social media tools to use, meaning that we rarely consider if the benefits of using the tool are worth the costs of doing so. So for example, if we join Instagram just because it’s fun to be on social media but then scrolling through countless images becomes our main form of procrastination, was the benefit really worth it? Food for thought indeed. 

In rule #1 Work Deeply Newport teaches us about the importance of downtime and says: “downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply.” and he gives us plenty of ways to ensure we take effect effective breaks. One of my favourite ideas from the book is that of a strict work shutdown ritual to conduct at the end of your working day and you can see the one I wrote and printed out for my office below.

I don’t manage to do this everyday. Sometimes my 2 year old gets home from nursery before I get a chance to do it and his cries of “Mama!” pull me away from my computer quicker than a hand touching hot coals. But when I do get the chance to do my shutdown ritual, it feels so great to leave behind my work, knowing that everything is taken care of and ready for me to start the following day knowing exactly what needs to be done.

Essentially that’s the beauty of this book for me, this idea that when we work, we really work, we go deep and refrain from the shallow and when we stop working we really switch off and think about anything but work. 

I love these 3 books, each has shaped my approach to my work and my creativity as an entrepreneur. Gilbert has influenced how I handle my fear, Pressfield my Resistance and Newport my distractions. Have you read any of these books? If not, has reading this post inspired you to pick any of them up? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. 

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Daily Rituals for Greater Clarity + Meaningful Productivity

Daily Rituals for Greater Clarity + Meaningful Productivity

This is a pin that contains the title of the post plus a flat lay image of a women's arms holding a cup of tea next to some flowers.

Recently one of the women inside my Female Business Academy asked me to share my daily routine, as she had been struggling to find structure in her own daily business routine. As is often the way, I wanted to take some time to contemplate my answer so as to give her the most thoughtful response possible. I know first hand what a huge difference having a meaningful structure or routine can make on your working day and because of this, I decided to write my response up as this post. In it I share how I structure my day for greater clarity, focus and meaningful productivity.

 

Be intentional about your day.

I’m a big fan of living and working intentionally, what that looks like for me is taking time to consider what best supports me to fulfil my personal and professional potential on a day-to-day basis and then making sure I do more of that while also considering what gets in the way of me showing up as my best self and making sure I do work to eliminate that.

One of the biggest things that has thwarted me in my personal and professional pursuits over the years, is what Jamie Smart refers to as contaminated thinking, those niggling and repetitive worries, doubts and internal criticisms that stop us from fully showing up as our authentic and uncensored selves.

You know how it goes. “I can’t publish a blog because people might think it’s rubbish.” Or “who am I to call myself a business coach when I’m still figuring things out myself.” Or “I’ll never be successful at this, I should go and get a 9-5 job with a regular income.”

We all have thoughts like these a hundred times a day, including me, and when left unchecked, they reek havoc on our ability to show up in our businesses to do what we feel we’ve been put on this earth to do and to fully serve our people, using the full potency of our personal gifts.

To combat this I realised many years ago that if I didn’t get intentional about my day, then I was leaving myself at the mercy of, not only, my doubts and fears, but also my circumstances and a multitude of possible interruptions and distractions.

What has served me in my business, therefore, has been to intentionally create a daily routine that supports me to quieten the noise in my mind and to put in place structures that most support my focus and productivity.

 

Spending the first moments of my day mindfully 

Each morning before I do anything else (sometimes after or as I eat breakfast and drink coffee) I write 750 words for my Morning Pages. Morning pages is what Julia Cameron (Author of the Artist’s Way) describes as a clearing exercise. Watch this video to hear her describe how they work.

And she has this to say about them:

“The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning Pages. Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

I don’t do 3 pages of long hand as she advocates, instead I type into a document (on Scrivener) 750 words, which is the accepted online equivalent of Cameron’s three pages.

In my morning pages I write everything and anything that comes to mind and I use it as a way to get all of my thinking, worries and overwhelm out of my head and onto the page. I sometimes use it to explore my priorities for the day or a topic for a blog post or an outline for a class I’m teaching. But it’s not all business, I’ll also write about my family life, my relationship, my little boy (and usually how little sleep we got the night before with him!)

After that, I check in with myself about what I feel grateful for and what I would like to call more of into my life and I write it on a piece of paper which I place on my altar, I then burn some incense and light a candle before meditating for around 15 minutes. To meditate I use an app called Calm, which I love, and listen to one of the guided meditations I find there. Currently I’m working my way through “21 days of Calm.”

 

I prioritise my tasks for the day

After that, if I haven’t already, I’ll eat breakfast and make coffee and once I’m at my desk I’ll open my notebook, write out the date at the top of a new page and write out the three most important things I need to get done that day. (Or use the Daily Planner below for a prettier way to record these).

I resist the urge to write out a long to do list, because this only ever serves to overwhelm me. Instead, I choose an achievable number of tasks. Even on our busiest days we can usually get through three things. 

Getting through those 3 things easily and swiftly has the added benefit of giving me a psychological boost which in turn does wonders for my productivity. Conversely having a never ending to do list has the opposite effect and can leave you feeling like you are always playing catch up.  

Blog post image that contains the blog post title laid over the image of the women's arms holding a cup of tea next to flowers.

I schedule my tasks (and breaks) into my calendar

Once I’ve got my list of three things, I’ll either schedule them into my calendar or write down timings next to each task so that I know, not only how long I have to work on each task, but when exactly I’ll do the task that day.

Normally I don’t need to do this, but if I’m really struggling to focus, I might set a timer for 90 minutes and set myself the challenge to complete a task in that time. Forbidding myself to open the Internet until I do. If I’m using this time-chunking method, I always make sure I schedule breaks of at least 15 minutes between tasks, enough time to go to the toilet, grab a hot drink and take a break from the screen by relaxing on our balcony with whichever book I’m currently reading. (To see what book that is as I write this post, click here).

If I get through all three tasks and there is still time in my day, then I’ll simply go on to the next most important thing I need to do.

A productivity tool that I’ve recently discovered that I’m enjoying a lot is Focusmate. Focusmate is a virtual co-working tool that allows you to have quiet co-working sessions with people from around the world. You start a 50 minute session by sharing briefly what your goal for the session is and then you get down to work with your camera on so that you can see each other. When the 50 minutes is up you briefly share how you got on and then go on your way. Having someone there on screen really helps with productivity as it stops you from getting distracted and wandering off to do something else and sharing your goal at the start of the session really fires me up to try and get it done. It might sound a bit weird but it’s actually quite cool.

 

I have set working hours

I usually start my morning routine (Morning Pages + meditation) around 8am after my husband has left to go to work, dropping our little one of at nursery on the way. My goal is always to be at my desk by 9am. I then work until 12.30pm when I break for lunch until 3pm when my husband and son head off to nursery and work again and I have a second chunk of work time until around 6.30pm. That’s a solid 7 hours a day on my business.

I’ve been doing this routine (or something very like it) for a few years now and it really works for me. Whilst I am fairly consistent with this schedule, there are days when I skip one or more parts of it and there are days when I add exercise to my morning routine. This is something I used to be very consistent with (you can read my old routine here) and then I had a baby. Now that he’s a bit older and in nursery, I’m working to bring that back into my day.

For some people this level of structure might feel restrictive but for me it’s liberating. One concept I’ve embraced that stops my routine feeling constrictive is the idea of being strict about showing up but being lenient about the results. George Kao has a great post on this idea which you can read here.

Showing up consistently has worked wonders for me in my business but I’m also always mindful not to be hard on myself if I skip a day here or there. The more able I am to forgive myself for skipping a part of my routine, the more able I am to do better the next day.

I’d love to know what’s in your daily routine or if there is anything I’ve written about here that you feel inspired to try for yourself. Please do share in the comments below and if you know anyone who would benefit from reading this post, then feel free to share it. Finally don’t forget to download your free daily planner by clicking the link below.  

GET YOUR FREE DAILY PLANNER HERE

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Free Download

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A simple tool to get more done in less time

A simple tool to get more done in less time

As entrepreneurs, many of us are running our businesses solo and as such, the one thing we all wish we had more of is time. But here’s the thing, we only ever get 24 hours in the day and whilst you might be tempted to spend more hours in front of the computer to achieve the success you dream of in your business, personally, as a mother of a little one, I’m all for working smarter instead of harder.

 

Introducing Batching

One tool that I’ve started to play around with recently in my business and seen great results from is batching.

Batching is a known productivity tool that sees you creating space in your schedule to work on a number of related tasks at one time. So for example you might have heard of batching your social media posts or batching your blog post writing and doing a whole chunk of them in one go rather than sitting down to create a social media post every day or write a new blog post every week.

You might be wondering how this saves you time because surely whether you do them together or do them individually, you need the same amount of time. Wrong. What many people overlook is the time and energy we spend starting and switching tasks. When we do things on an ad hoc or individual basis we actually waste valuable time and energy getting into and out of the task. 

So if we were to take website updates as an example, when we don’t batch those, we might instead tinker with our website on a random basis whenever the urge arises, this might then take us longer than if we set aside time to do all of our web updates in one go.

 

Getting in the zone (or feeling in flow)

We actually expend valuable energy and focus switching between tasks that could be used to get into the zone or feeling in flow with our work. We all know what it feels like to be in a flow state with a task, we forget about time, we barely look up from our desk, we might even forget to eat, so absorbed are we by the task at hand. It takes times to reach that state. We have to work on a task for a while before we can reach it. So, it follows that if we are constantly switching tasks, we may find that we rarely get in the zone with our work.

 

Monthly Batch Days

With this in mind, I’ve started to use batching in my business and dedicate at least one day a month to doing a set of similar tasks. My idea (which I can’t take full credit for – I saw it first on Paper & Oats) is to host monthly batch days with specific themes, so that you can join me in my batching efforts. I’ll pick a theme for the day (and share how I am tackling that particular theme) and we would then work on that together over the course of the day. If the theme isn’t relevant to you, then you’re free to work on something that is. We’ll share our progress with each other over the course of the day on social media and on my business Facebook Page using the hashtag #businessbatchday so that we can easily see who else is taking part and give each other support, encourage and, if requested, feedback.

I’ll also hop on Facebook Live to share my strategies for making the most of Batch Day.

 

Batching Themes

Themes that I currently have in mind include: batching content (blog posts and newsletters), batching website updates to copy and design, batching the creation of social media posts and batching product updates. I would love to hear from you in the comments below any other areas in your business that you think could work for a batch day.

The next Batch Day I’ll be hosting is on Wednesday 12th September, to be kept informed and to also get a free batching log template to get prepared simply click the link below. Don’t worry if you can’t be with us for the whole day, you can join for any or all of it!

GET YOUR FREE BATCHING LOG TEMPLATE HERE

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Instead of offering you a freebie and then making you pay for it with your email address, to get immediate, no email required, access to this lovely Batching Template, simply click here.

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