“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
~ Anne Lamott
One of my words of the year for 2021 is E A S E. (The other in case you are wondering is Health). The more we get into this year, the more I’m realising that in order to feel truly healthy (rested and nourished in mind, body and soul), the easier my life needs to feel, so leaning into ease is taking top priority for now.
Why is ease so important for me (and potentially you)? Well personally I have a habit of making things harder than they need to be. What I’m realising is that somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that in order for the things I do to be valuable or to have meaning they must require hard work.
It’s no surprise that these are linked in my mind. We live in a world that highly values productivity (output) and hard work so it makes sense that the idea I could do work I love, have a positive impact on others, make a decent living AND for it to be easy can at times feel like a pipe dream. Perhaps you can relate?
Here’s the thing though. I absolutely know that it’s possible to have money, impact and ease because I’ve seen evidence of it in my own life and work. I can also see quite clearly how I get in the way of said ease. For me, it’s over-working – pure and simple. It’s staying at my desk, looking at the screen when instead I should be taking a break. It’s buying into the idea that working harder (instead of smarter) will help me to achieve more, which leads to nothing more than a treadmill type of existence.
When I examine where this comes from, I think of my old 9-5 life, where presenteeism was a real thing, where it sometimes felt like the best way to demonstrate one’s value was to be “at your desk” – coming in early, staying late, working through lunch – all of which I did and more! Now as my own boss, I’ve come to see how I’ve continued this unhelpful pattern and the negative impact it has on real and sustainable productivity (and life!).
With all of this in mind, I’ve been looking at a combination of practical and mindset changes I can make to get back to a feeling of ease and calm with my work and as a result I’ve been making some changes around here.
Commiting to ease
As simple as it sounds committing to having life be easier has been a game changer for me lately. In making the commitment, I’m not only taking practical and strategic steps (more on those below) to make this happen but I’m also signalling to my brain that I believe ease is possible even within my demanding schedule (busy full-time business + two small children + yearlong new home refurbishment project!).
What that has looked like in practice is asking myself on a moment by moment basis, how can this be easier? This question can bring about the simplest changes to bring in more ease, which add up pretty quickly to a calmer and easier way of being.
Carving out Focus time
My working days are very full, I have a full 1:1 coaching roster and group mastermind, which means I do lots of video calls on a daily basis. Because of this all of the non client facing work (content creation. marketing, product + service creation, business admin etc) I need to do has to get done between calls. Until recently I simply blocked these times out as “work” slots and they could be anything from 1 hour to 3 hours long.
I’ve long known about the power of time blocking but because of how scheduled my days already are, I had been resisting scheduling even more in my calendar. The negative effect of this is that oftentimes I have long periods of time at my desk without clear boundaries around what I am working on and when I can take breaks. Cue reduced focus and increased fatigue.
Lately, I’ve rejoined Focusmate – a tool that allows you to schedule 50 minute accountability sessions with another person to work on a specific task. These really help me to stay on task for a full 50 minutes after which I allow myself a break. Deeply focusing on one task for 50 minutes is far more effective for me than allowing myself 3 unstructured hours in which I aim to “get stuff done”.
Making breaks sacred
The flip side to scheduling structured focus time is to also schedule clear opportunities for breaks. But if you’re anything like me, breaks often feel like the hardest thing on the schedule to stick to. As Cal Newport says in Deep Work (one of my all-time favourite books):
“Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.”
Something that has really helped me with this lately is reading. I’ve always been an avid reader but over the last few years since children came into play, reading has become somewhat of a luxury.
In honour of ease and to support my commitment to taking breaks, I’ve started reading novels again and use my breaks to read for 15 minutes in between sessions or focused work slots. This is working for me on several levels, I now have an incentive to stop working and step away from my desk, I get to do something I love that I had previously struggled to find the time for and because I am reading books that I really enjoy, I get so engrossed that I am able to completely disconnect from my work during my break.
This is very much a win-win as it allows me to take a meaningful break and return to my work feeling rested and re-energised.
Taking time off
Similar to taking breaks but different. My default for years has been to take time off from my work on an adhoc basis as and only when it feels absolutely necessary. This year, right at the off-set, I booked off all of the school, national and regional holidays. More importantly, I’m committed to being completely OFF work during those times. Recently was a great example.
Here in Spain, Thursday and Friday were holidays and school was closed, rather than do what I would usually do – i.e. juggle work and childcare with my partner and members of his family – instead I took both days off completely. Aside from liking a few posts on Facebook, I did no work whatsoever and it was blissful. Nearly all four days were spent either reading, relaxing in the sun on our piece of land or playing with my boys.
Have I come back to an overflowing inbox? Sure! Has it taken me awhile to get back into the swing of things this week? Sure! Do I feel 10 times more rested than I did last week? Absolutely 🙂
Repeating what works
Or put another way, don’t reinvent the wheel. Something I have been putting into place over the last few years is repurposing things I have already created. The temptation for me (and other business owners I’ve talked to) is to always feel like you need to create something new. I see this a lot and I recognise it from my earlier days in business.
What often happens is that we plough a ton of energy into creating something pretty darn good and we publish it, run it, roll it out once and then, without so much as a backward glance, move on to the next thing. What a way to make things harder for ourselves.
As a fairly prolific creator, repurposing has become my new business besty. I’ll share a very recent and live example. I love creating and running free challenges and over the years I’ve created many. This year in honour of ease, I’m repurposing all of the challenges I’ve previously created. We recently completed my free 14-day content challenge and whereas last year it was an all-consuming event as I created all of the graphics, prompts and emails from scratch and to a deadline, this year all I’ve needed to do was make a few tweaks, schedule the emails and prompts and I was good to go. It’s amazing how good it feels to repeat something versus creating it from scratch.
As I lean into ease I aim to do this whenever possible.
Asking for help
As a recovering perfectionist/control freak, asking for help doesn’t come easily for me. Truth be told, I’m much more inclined to tell myself that I know best than to admit that I might not in fact know it all! This year I’m all about asking for help where needed. I’ve hired an assistant who is helping me execute my content plan (he does all of the repurposing for me!), I’ve joined a business mastermind so that I can get the business support I need (yes even business coaches can benefit from business coaching!) and have in the past responded to offers for complimentary coaching sessions on topics such as conscious parenting, mindset coaching on letting things be easier and practical self care.
It feels like such a gift to be on the receiving end of coaching rather than the one delivering it. I’ve had several coaches over the years but it’s been the longest while since I’ve had anyone supporting me. The insights and shifts I’ve already seen as a result of some of these sessions has been life-changing.
Keep coming back
Like all new habits, coming back to ease is a practice and to stay consistent with it, I need to remind myself regularly to do so. Of course, as is usually the way, the Universe has pointed me towards some resources to help with this. Annoyingly, I don’t recall who I got these questions from – I’m fairly certain I found them as I was scrolling through Instagram and now have them typed up, printed out and pinned to the wall above my computer screen:
1. How can I let this be easy?
2. Is there someone else who can help me with this?
3. What’s the simplest way to get this done?
Seeing and asking myself these questions on a daily basis really helps to make leaning into ease a daily practice.
And there you have it, 7 things I’ve been doing in my life and business lately to honour my word of the year.
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