For self-employed folks, noticing your mental state can make all the difference

One of my mentors often says, “Your state of being is the most important thing.”

Translation: Think about how you feel right now, this minute, as you read this post. If you had to equate your state with a traffic signal, would you be green (relaxed, content, confident, optimistic) or red (tense, worried, pessimistic, low energy, overworked, etc) or somewhere in between? (yellow)

As much as I’d love to always say I’m in a green state, that’s just not true. Sometimes I’m reaching for something that’s hard for me. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m not doing enough, or I’m doing too much. Sometimes I’m just not sleeping or eating or doing what’s right for my body, and it’s like trying to take a journey in a 1973 Ford Pinto that’s held together with duct tape, baling wire, and Bondo.

Part of my problem — and perhaps you share it — is that I sometimes get so wrapped up in a project or task or situation that I feel as though the only way to honor it, to successfully get through it to the other side, is to keep my face in it for as long as it takes. (Or until I physically can’t do it a minute longer.) The thought of taking a walk, sitting outdoors, or heaven forbid, lying down with my eyes closed for a few minutes, just feels like a dereliction of duty. “It’s just going to take longer to resolve this unless I stay right here and keep working on it until my eyeballs bleed.”

The best thing we can both do for ourselves, my friends, is to stop a few times a day to be aware of what our respective traffic lights are showing. Unless you’re a neurosurgeon, one minute is not going to kill anyone. We can stand up, stretch, go to another room, breathe, and conjure up something simple we can do to move to a better state.

To this day, I can look at the history of my business, look at the pieces of it that have never quite been what I wanted them to be, and I can tell beyond a shadow of a doubt which ones I forced myself to do in a red state. They just reek of it. I feel tense and dissatisfied when I look at them.

The converse is true too. The things I created in a green state, when I felt like I was in flow, channeling the very best parts of my nature, are the things to which people have reacted the most positively, and thus are the things that helped me build a business I love.

Your state matters. It’s not woo-woo. It’s just a fact.

A water break changes my state of beingMy go-to state-changer? Get up, walk to another room, and drink a tall glass of cool, clear, delicious water very slowly. Use your most beautiful glass. Take at least two full minutes to drink it. Close your eyes and feel it moving out into your cells, hydrating them and lubricating them, loosening everything up. Remember to be grateful that you have this magical silver handle in your house that you can turn, and — get this — pure, clean, life-giving water comes out. You didn’t have to spend hours out of your day to fetch it. You don’t have to worry about catching cholera. You didn’t have to pay much (or anything) for it, or stand in line. It just…happens. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

Other state-changers I employ include very short guided audio meditations like these, having a dog that needs to go outside periodically and bark at the enemies (aka neighbors), five minutes of loud and beautiful music in my headphones to drive out all other thoughts, and using an app or system like https://tomato-timer.com/ to remind me to stop and take note of my state.

(For my clients who just think I’m naturally chill and/or I’m genetically wired to walk around with a calm smile on my face all day, I’m sorry to disappoint.)

And if I don’t believe myself, I can turn to page 156 of Judith Morgan’s swell book, Your Biz Your Way, and hear her voice in my head, saying, “Breathe. And take care of you first, above all else. Relax! You’ve got this.”

There are tons and tons of ways to improve our state, something for literally everyone. For example, I’ve always loved this list from Charlie Gilkey. Maybe there’s something here that will help you get to green today, or at least move toward it: https://www.productiveflourishing.com/12-simple-ways-to-be-present/

Here’s an article by George Kao explaining his view of “green yellow red,” and how he handles his own state of being:

https://www.georgekao.com/blog/greenyellowred

So whaddya say? Let’s get green today. If you want to love your work and grow your business, it really does help.

If I had my way, everyone would have a coach. Here are mine.

If I had my way, I’d hire everybody their own coach. They can give such great perspective. But since I can’t, I’d like you to meet both of mine.

The power of online communities for owners of teeny-tiny businesses

I’ve just checked in with one of my online communities, which was discussing how to create Facebook Live videos. I’m glad I checked in…video is an area I hope to be braver about exploring this year.

We all know about the downsides of the online environment, right? The lack of boundaries or filters. The pervasiveness and addictiveness of bad news. The temptation to put the verbal beatdown on jerks who we know are simply trying to start a fight. And on and on.

But for all the downsides, there are some startlingly wonderful upsides to it as well. For example, in my post about Facebook, I describe how I’ve remodeled it into a key element of my mental health. For every self-centered bit of ugliness, there are many more beautiful jewels ranging from the thought-provoking to the day-maker to the life-changer.

For those of us who are self-employed in some fashion, one of the best things about the web and social media is the existence of online communities. These can be conversation spaces on websites, web-based communities, or social media groups full of people who share our interests.

Especially if you live in a smaller town, as I do, having a place where I can commune with others who are on the same professional learning curve is worth having to spend a few more minutes online each day, even worth having to dodge an internet troll or sales pitch now and then.

I choose my communities based on a few factors:

What would I want out of a community?

Would it be:

  • A good conversation when I need it
  • Communing with other professionals who do what I do, to learn or teach
  • (Gently) getting the word out about what I do, how I can help, in the places where my primary customer types hang out
  • Avoiding the isolation of self-employment; being around other smart people
  • Learning from one another’s mistakes and successes as I evolve my business
  • Moral support on those days when you just want to hang it up
  • Possible fun collaborations with people who have complementary skills

How big is the community I’m checking out?

You can see that, depending on what you chose above, the size of a community does matter. If you’re trying to get visibility for your work, for example, being in a community of 4000 souls would be a challenge. Many of them are also vying for visibility, and your words can get lost in the cascade of posts every day.

Conversely, if you’re looking for a broad spectrum of ideas, trying to avoid isolation, or seeking good one-to-one conversation, then a bigger community may increase your chances of finding someone out of the masses who’s a kindred spirit (if you pay attention, you’ll spot them).

A small, focused group is best if you’re hoping to find a sense of shared purpose, longer-term relationships, collaboration opportunities, and none of the overwhelm of “200 new posts in your group!”

What’s the vibe?

I can almost guarantee that, if a community has words like “diva,” “b*tch,” or “babe” in the name, it’s entirely the wrong vibe for me.

Similarly, industry power-success jargon like “crush it,” “kill it,” “own it,” or “making bank” just isn’t what I’m up for, so the prevailing atmosphere of the site isn’t likely to be MY cup of tea.

Not all of us have the same preferences there, so to each his/her own. Trust your gut. But make sure the energy and spirit of the group match yours. The last thing you need is one more energy drain—we all have enough of those to go around.

How focused is it?

There are some highly focused “niche” communities that serve the needs of people who work in something very, very specific and want to commune with others who use that same skill or technology.

There are others that are slightly broader. One of my groups is focused specifically on the needs of people building their own small businesses, specifically people who are “conscious entrepreneurs” with a bigger vision for their work than just paying the mortgage.

And then there are groups for people who just love pictures of cats.

So, if you want to get maximum benefit from being in these kinds of spaces, think about these two factors:

Very specific = good for targeted learning, connections, solutions, Q&A. Think of it as something like a club, where you all geek out on the same subject matter.

Very general = good for a sense of community/camaraderie, contented browsing, lots of input, feeling part of something larger. Think of THAT like a big block party, where you have at least one common interest to break the ice. (And, for introverts like me, minus the “party” part 🙂

Is it just one big icky sales pitch?

This is hard to describe but easy to recognize. Many groups, on Facebook in particular, are just elaborate marketing tactics to fill the owner’s sales funnel with prospects, without really providing useful, engaging community-building. You’ll know when you find one of these, and you can decide how comfortable you are with it, and whether to stay or to leave the group.

What form does it take?

The smallest sort of community: Your own blog or business page on social media.

This is the option over which you have the most control.

If you have a blog on your website, you can create a conversation space just by opening up your blog posts to comments (which you can approve before they appear). On social media, you can regularly post useful material and invite people’s feedback around it.

In either scenario, post something interesting and engaging, and when you share it with people, treat it as an invitation to start a conversation about your topic. Ask questions. Invite comments and experiences.

Web communities

There are many, many niche groups on the web that serve as a gathering place for people of specific professions, people who all use a certain software product, fans of creative arts, and tons more. There’s Kinaxis (supply chain experts), Radiolopolis (radiologists), Journalverse (journal writers and facilitators), and Barista Exchange (self-explanatory!).

Social media communities
Facebook has over a million public, private, and secret groups, both paid and unpaid. My own short list of groups includes communities who discuss different kinds of conscious business, healthy entrepreneurship, community gardening, WordPress, storytelling, and meditation.

LinkedIn groups “provide a place for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share content, find answers, post and view jobs, make business contacts, and establish themselves as industry experts.” They come in all shapes and sizes and degree-of-noisiness. You can join to see what the vibe is, and leave if it isn’t your thing. Find groups to research by using the search feature at the top of your LinkedIn.

Coaching or professional community private groups are usually started by a coach, consultant, or marketing expert to create a conversation space for their own clients. Some are free and open, but the majority are paid and private. Don’t let that necessarily be a dealbreaker; sometimes it’s the only way to keep a group sustainable. For example, the Awarepreneurs community costs $5/month for their online group, group networking calls, support and coaching, and more.

How to find a group to try

Search Facebook groups by logging into your account and looking in the left column for Explore >> Groups, then clicking the Discover tab and using the search box at the top to search for your area of interest. When you join a group, remember to see the Notifications button at the top, where you can dictate which notifications from the group, if any, show up on your page notifications (the globe in the upper right).

To search LinkedIn groups, n the search box at the top of your LinkedIn homepage, type keywords of interest, and click Search. On the search results page, click the Groups tab (it’s under “More” near the top left).

You can also search Google with terms like “online community for veterinarians” or “Facebook groups for women entrepreneurs” or “online discussion group for WordPress beginners.”

. . . . .

Online communities are no substitute for real human contact. But they do come with the crazymagical modern ability to connect with a concentrated group of faraway people who share our specific challenges, who may have answers to the questions keeping us up at night, and who we can help with our own knowledge and experience. That’s something that’s hard to find in all but the biggest cities, IF it can be found at all, and so it’s been well worth it to me. Try it out.

 


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a heart-based business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me  (completely non-icky, with zero sales pitch at the end) to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

What can you do when you’re under the weather but feel under the gun?

I know a lot of superhero self-employed folks. To paraphrase the US postal service motto, neither circumstance nor snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. They keep on chugging along, no matter what life throws at them. I imagine there are some in my community who think I fit that category.

If that’s you, I’m apologizing in advance. I hope you still love me.

I take pride in perseverance and in dedication to my work in the world. But on some days, like today, exhaustion and insomnia has rendered my brain a soft, spongy gray mass of tofu. No amount of caffeine has been able to coax even a tiny green tendril of creative thought from my head this morning—the morning that I have promised myself to publish a blog post.

Have you had days like that? I am guessing most of us do. We’ve made a promise—to ourselves or to others—to “show up,” but while the spirit is willing, the physiology is most assuredly not. So what do entrepreneurs, small business owners, and self-employed types do in these situations? That’s what I’m asking myself this morning.

Here’s what I’m doing to sort it out. First, a self-examination to assess what is and isn’t working for me today:

  • Physical body: Good. Tired, but perfectly capable of most motor functions. Can hold pen and hold coffee cup. And refill coffee cup. And refill again.
  • Level of safety. Good.
  • Overall mental acuity: Compromised. Have put full carton of milk into the cupboard with the glassware. Am wearing inside-out T-shirt.
  • Left brain (logical thought) is at about a 7 out of 10, but most days I’m required to operate at at least a 9 in order to do website-related work. I can re-read emails 2 to 3 times and get the gist. I can form simple sentences. I’m making judicious use of spell-check.
  • Right brain (creative/intuitive thought, which I most need today) sits at about a 3 out of 10. Not good for writing a book chapter, also on my agenda this morning and something I am very committed to.

What can you do with those tools?  I’ve found a yellow writing pad (took 7 minutes) and am scratching out a list of what I can accomplish today, where I am, with what I have:

  1. First, follow George Kao’s advice and take some creative rest. It’s the kind thing to do, and may help get a few more neurons to fire.
  2. Check in with my support network, my touchstone, to reassure myself that I’m still me and still in here, and to gain clarity: The world is not going to come crumbling down around me, and in fact will be fine without me until tomorrow.
  3. Shape my day slowly and carefully, doing what I can and must. I can cautiously respond to emails and calls, reschedule the tasks that can be shifted, and be measured and deliberate about all of the left-brain actions that can’t wait. I can also employ that brain hemisphere (the more ‘together’ of the two) in creating rational actions to help give a hand up to the other hemisphere.
  4. Be gentle with my right brain, which doesn’t respond to threats and whip-cracking. I can’t force it, but I can try to lure it from its slumber. For example, I found a series of talks early this morning on the website DO: The Encouragement Network, a space for makers, thinkers, and creators of all kinds. I can set their podcast on autoplay, and listen to enlightening, encouraging stories from people like us. I’ll have a notebook and pen at hand. Just in case. At some point, I’m hoping that part of my mind will start getting itchy to rejoin the world and start creating something juicy of its own.
  5. Properly feed and hydrate my body and brain, so tomorrow will be better. Simple, healthy food. Lots of pure water. Vitamins, sunshine, and gentle, frequent movement. My work is important, but not life-or-death. There is time to get back into the best possible mindset before undertaking new tasks.

Your tactics may look different when you find yourself under the weather, but the basic framework can be the same: Assess what your resources and abilities are. Trust that the world will be okay. Do what you can, using the tools that still work. And know that, as my friend and coach Judith Morgan reminds her self-employed flock, sometimes when we allow a little space for healing, we can come back with new realizations and perhaps even genius ideas that we couldn’t have accessed the day before.

So, now that I’ve rambled, consumed 1.5 cups of coffee, and bent your ear for a few minutes, I’m going to put in my earbuds and make some progress on my day. Even if it’s not the day I thought I’d be having, it’s still going to be a good day. I hope yours is too.

Love to everybody. Take care of yourselves, and to my friends in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

 

The Story Hour: The surprising joys of creating an oasis of time for your ‘why’

Some of you know that I’ve been working on a book this Fall about storytelling for small, conscious businesses like ours (tentative title: Storytelling for Small Business: Growing Your Business Authentically Through the Power of Story). Having put so much emphasis on story for years with my clients, the act of gathering and sharing a useful body of information about it seemed a natural and pleasing next step. It’s also been an eye-opening experience, in more ways than one.

Two important new habits have emerged from the process of writing this book (and I DO so love a new good habit, almost as much as I love shedding an old bad one).

  1. Gently coercing myself into making time for creativity. I’ve been rousing myself early in order to create more time for creative work. Creating—whether it’s pondering my mission, writing for my own online outreach, brainstorming new ideas—has always been the redheaded stepchild of my work day. You know, the things that you’ll do, but “maybe later when I have time.”I’ve never been very good at early rising, especially as the sun rises later and later, so I had to train myself gradually. I haven’t used an alarm of any sort for many years, but I set my mobile phone to gently ping me at earlier and earlier increments: 6:45, then 6:40, then 6:35…and so on.It was very hard at first, so I reward the soft animal of my body for getting out of bed at my new set point, 5:30am (gosh, even writing that is hard).

    I lavish gifts on it like a good curl-up in my most comfortable chair with nice light, a silky soft blanket, a hot and delicious caffeinated beverage next to me, and time and space for something I loved doing: Writing, reading, sketching, or just listening to guided meditations or creativity podcasts.

  2. Reconnecting with my own story, and the stories of the people in my world (like you). Because I’m always immersed in different stories during this time, I’ve come to call that time of day my Story Hour.I re-tether myself to my own story, the “how” and the “why” I came to this work.I gather all of you around me (in the form of reading your current writing on your websites, newsletters, social media, etc.) and reconnect with YOUR stories. I see who you’re trying to help, what you’re offering, what’s happening in your world.I write something new every day to share with you all, be it a blog post, the beginnings of an article, something on social media, etc. That reconnects my story with yours, and plugs me into the larger world of what I’m here to do. It’s the energetic equivalent of plugging myself into a soul charger and refilling my batteries ’til they blink green again.

It’s no wonder I don’t need the alarm any more—our bodies do work on the reward system, after all. So, to recap: Comfy chair and lighting, steamy hot cafe au lait, warm wooby, quiet time to create something new, and the joyfully energizing act of spending time on my bigger vision as I stay connected with people and causes that matter.

Can’t think your way out of a paper bag early in the morning? Not a problem. The time of day isn’t as important as creating a habit that’s compelling to you.  If you’re more of a night person and find yourself shuddering at the thought of all this, know that the same routine can apply for your preferred daypart, though I’d skip the caffeine part at midnight if you have trouble sleeping. If you do your best creative thinking at mid-day, find a way to set aside a piece of that time for this ritual, no matter what it takes.

The idea is to carve out a new niche of time and make it non-negotiable, sacrosanct, and intensely habit-forming. The rewards are immense.

Do you have a ritual or habit that keeps you connected with your big Why? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

 


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a heart-based business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

How I use Facebook to stay happy, calm, and productive in my small business

I still have many clients who avoid Facebook, even though they know it may have many benefits for their work and their business. They have an impression of it as a squawking coop full of unfettered narcissists, over-sharers, and attention seekers. The land of the angry, the bigoted, and That Guy Who Loves the Sound of His Own Voice.

I’m not here to argue any of that. But since there are some very strong business reasons to use Facebook, and because I’ve managed to make it into a place that actually helps me to stay happy, productive, and connected, I wanted to share how I do it.

In order to have a Facebook business page, you need to have a primary/personal page first. That, more than anything, is the place where things can go off the rails and get very problematic. Consider this post to be a guide to managing that part of things so you can enjoy and benefit from your business presence.

Set it up right to begin with, for maximum security and quiet

So many people jump into the potential bedlam of Facebook and don’t bother changing its default settings. So their world is a pandemonium of “friend” requests, private messages pinging day and night, and other people posting on their own personal space. There are also privacy issues, with all the annoyance and even danger of people sharing what you’ve put up there.

Facebook itself has tools to help you through all the settings you can tweak to control who shows up, who can see your stuff, who can contact you etc. Time magazine also published a useful guide to this last year: http://time.com/4166749/facebook-privacy-settings-guide/

One of the most critical ones for me is not permitting anyone but my closest friends/family to private message me, by the way.

Filter out what makes you crazy with FB Purity

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without FB Purity. It’s a little extension (software thing) that you can install, which then automatically filters out a huge percentage of what makes me insane about Facebook. You get it going, and it does the rest.

Don’t want to see the word “Trump” (pro or con) in your news feed any more? Set it up in a filter and all the rants are gone.

Hate that “Trending” thing in the right column that tempts you down the rabbit hole of mindless clicking? Gone.

Bothered by those oh-so-helpful interjections by Facebook guessing at things I’ll like, memories from ten years ago, games, even some ads? Gone.

A list of all that FB Purity does is here: http://fbpurity.com

I encourage you in no uncertain terms to use this, starting now.

Be ruthless about decluttering your so-called “friends”

I know some people who are collectors of “friends” on Facebook. As a result, they are bombarded day and night with the collective sharing by near-strangers of hundreds of baby pictures, funny dog stories, pithy quotes, gripes about jobs or life in general, off-color jokes, stream-of-consciousness questions, sports teams, and worse.

In what way is this a useful way to spend our life’s minutes?

For those who are considering joining Facebook, and those who are already in the soup, I want to ask you to be ruthless in paring down that number to 150 or (preferably) less. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who studies social networks, said that any grouping of people larger than 150 starts to strain the capacity of the human brain. We can’t effectively manage relationships with many hundreds of people—real or digital—and it creates cognitive stress that we may not even be aware of. Hands up: Who out there needs more cognitive stress in this era? Anybody? I didn’t think so.

The idea of being able to keep tabs on endless schoolmates, childhood friends, real-life acquaintances, old next-door neighbors may have sounded nice to begin with. Facebook “sold” the product to us and gave us the tools to build, build, build, convincing us that the more people we “friend,” the better.  But it’s just not helping, and in fact it’s hurting.

Go to your “Friends” list. Scroll down the list. Hide or (preferably) unfriend: The negative, the loudmouths, the insulting, the ones you have to tiptoe around, the ones you haven’t spoken to in years and don’t miss them. Get rid of the ones who frequently have meltdowns, the people you didn’t care to hang out with in school anyway, the ones that – if they showed up in your neighborhood – you WOULDN’T want to go have a cup of coffee with. Be cold. This is your peace of mind and your focus at stake.

Get down to a list of no more than 150 people that:

  • you’ve actually met and love, or with whom you’ve consistently had meaningful and mutually beneficial one-to-one exchanges; AND
  • you know are often positive or optimistic or otherwise good for your peace of mind; AND
  • are good human beings who it makes you happy to have conversations with (those colleagues, clients, and community members who add to your life)

Root out any trace of FOMO (your fear of missing out on news of something happening to someone somewhere) and be merciless in your decluttering. Your real friends will know where to find you.

If you’re already on Facebook and receive lots of postings from news outlets, public figures, and celebrities, purge them accordingly as. You’re making space for what matters. (Get your news somewhere else, by the way…DON’T have it shoved in your face automatically every day/hour/minute. That’s a recipe for extreme agitation and stress, and the world needs you calm and clear-headed.) 

Start building or rebuilding your Facebook page as a positive space

Now that your feed is no longer cluttered with ads, games, rants, selfies, red carpet photos, etc., you can start filling your account with ONLY the positive, the beautiful, the hopeful, the educational. This will vary wildly from individual to individual, but below are some of the things I’ve loaded mine up with, giving me a solid stream of encouragement, love, and good news all day every day (search for them in the search box at the top of your page, or search for “good news”):

Good News Network
Good Good Good/Goodnewspaper
Tiny Buddha
Center for a New American Dream
Greater Good Science Center
Sweatpants and Coffee
DailyOM
Preemptive Love Coalition
The Daily Flame (Inner Pilot Light)
BBC World Hacks
Elephant Journal
The funny local sign whose puns make me groan (right)

There is literally not much room left for the negative news and inflammatory rhetoric to squeeze in, and if it does, I filter it out systematically so it can’t come back. And that’s the whole point: Craft the space to be the world you’d rather be living in: Good, generous, helpful, intelligent people all around us. Many of us actually ARE living in that world.

Become part of communities that help you, and that you can help

The best parts of Facebook are the opportunities that present themselves to be part of a community. There are thousands of groups on Facebook covering every topic from community gardening to graphic design to meditation to … surviving owning your own business!

If a group is active and has more than just a couple of people in it, it’s an absolutely fantastic way to make some new connections in the world with people who “get” you. You’ll meet kindred spirits, learn a ton of new things, have a place to share your knowledge with others, and grow as a person and as a professional.

Look in Facebook’s left column for the word Explore, then Groups. At that page, you can click the word “Discover” at the top to search for something in your areas of interest. I get an enormous amount of benefit from the groups I’m part of. If you aren’t yet part of any groups, I’d encourage you to give one a try…or start your own!

Tend a business page that helps people

There are lots of resources on the web to help set up and properly use a Facebook business page. I can only say that my page has been, for me:

  • A place to write and share things that help the people I care about most
  • A way to reach a wider audience with the things I offer the world
  • A learning experience, as people share what they want and need from me

Once the personal side of Facebook has been tamed and isn’t obtrusive any more, your business page can be a place to really dip into your zone of genius and connect with those you’re most trying to help.

Oh, and turn off all intrusive push notifications. Right now.

Make sure your mobile devices aren’t receiving notifications of every damn thing that happens on your Facebook feed. The only things I get on my mobile are the occasional private messages from friends (who are almost always real-life friends and colleagues) I’ve set to be allowed to do that. If you are addicted to the invitation to distraction, the binging and bonging of constant notifications—”They like me! They really like me!”—call that out and take steps to get it out of your life. There are far too many people who permit themselves to completely shred their limited waking hours in this way, and then wail that “there’s never enough time!” (I was one of those.) Life really is too short for that.


Do you have questions, concerns or fears around using Facebook for your business without going mad or being overwhelmed? Drop me a line and let do this sanely together. I’m far from an expert, but I have experimented with many different ways of using that particular tool, and can share what I know and what has worked.

You might also enjoy my blog post, Social Media for the Sensitive Entrepreneur, which has other helpful tips for using these tools well and wisely.


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a heart-based business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

Tools for tiny businesses: I heart you, Boomerang

The email tool for “inbox Zero” at the end of my day. No, really, it works.

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,  Cal Newport talks about his end-of-day “shutdown ritual,” and the importance he puts on clearing his mind of lingering distractions from projects-in-progress and from unanswered or unread email.  His advice is that we do everything we can to “…ensure . . . every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.”  For me, part of that is the holy grail of “inbox Zero.”

Are you overwhelmed with email sometimes?  I know I am, regardless of my attempts to stay off junkmail lists and direct my subscriptions to a separate email address just for them. That just means I’m inundated with email that I actually WANT to read, which is arguably even harder to cope with.  I honestly don’t know what I’d do without Boomerang.

Boomerang lets you schedule the redelivery of emails back to you, schedule outbound emails, set reminders for yourself to respond to an email or look for a reply, attach notes to yourself to an email, pause your inbox for a while, and a lot more.

This is what is looks like in action:  I open my inbox in the morning to my bazillion emails, am immediately overwhelmed, and go back to bed.  No, not really. I just check the checkbox next to the ones that don’t need an immediate response (notifications, for example) then click “Boomerang” and choose whether I want them to be redelivered to me in an hour, or four hours, or four weeks.


That brings up a pane of possibilities for times (and conditions) to return the email to your inbox…

 

…and they are out of my hard-working brain until I need to address them. You can even write yourself a note or a reminder about some aspect of the email:

 


On the sending side of things, Boomerang lets you schedule outbound emails, so if you need to write someone first thing tomorrow morning and are worried you’ll forget, you can simply schedule it. Note the groovy new red SEND LATER button for setting a time and date you want the email to go out:



….as well as the ability to ‘boomerang’ the email back to the top of your inbox if a particularly important email doesn’t receive a reply:

 

There is also a “Pause Inbox” feature that lets you stop emails from arriving in your inbox for a set period of time so you can focus better, and a new feature called Respondable that helps you write better emails—emails that are more likely to get a good response—by scoring the language you use on factors like positivity, politeness,  and more.

For years I thought that whole “inbox Zero” aspiration would always be out of my reach.  But by managing the function of my poor tormented email inbox, I’m looking at a clean slate almost every night, and am able to enjoy the brain-mending rest of turning off my computer/mobile and taking some joyful downtime. This is the most indispensable $5 I spend all month.

Anyway, I’ve gushed enough. If you think might help you focus and get more mental rest too, you can learn more and get your own Boomerang here: http://www.boomerangapp.com/

 

It’s about you: On being fiercely yourself on your website

According to the oracle that is Google Analytics, one of the most popular places on my professional website is my About page. GA tells me how many people visit that page in a given month, and how many minutes they spend there, and whether they then leave the site, or move on to somewhere else.

I recently wrote about the importance of this page, and how its job is to give people the information they need to decide, “Yesss. That’s the right person for me.”

What Analytics reminded me, and what I neglected to mention in that post, was the importance of the opposite side of the equation, as in, “Nope. That’s not the person for me.” In many ways, “No” is even more important than “Yes.” Confused?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Yes. But the flip side of the coin is this: No saves me time, energy, and other scarce resources. I don’t have minutes or passion to spare to start a conversation with people who—for a variety of reasons—are intrinsically a bad fit for me, and I for them. In other words, it doesn’t bother me that some people get to my About page, spend a couple of minutes, then leave the site.  I trust that they know what’s best for them, and that they’ll move on and find their perfect partner.

Very early in my work with Websites for Good, I took on projects that my intuition told me were going to make me deeply unhappy. In an effort to keep my newborn business afloat, I turned a blind eye to the fact that they were doing work that I didn’t respect (like a business coach whose tactics included verbal abuse), or had values that curled my toenails (like the agent for nightclub entertainers who boasted about paying them as little as possible), or, most common of all, who had no respect whatsoever for my time or the need to be compensated for my work.

I wish I could say that one day the sun rose particularly bright, leading me to march into the office and kick all such comers to the curb. But truthfully, I was a slow learner, a chronic people-pleaser, and more than a little afraid of having to say, “Ummm, I don’t want to work with you.”

Almost by accident, I stumbled over a tool that, over time, has largely eliminated the need to say that: My About page.

In that space, I am (as my lovely coach teaches all in her flock) unashamedly myself, and no one else.
I give my background.
I state how I came to this work and who I love working with, and why.
I show people beyond a shadow of a doubt what sort of person I am.
I speak exactly the way I speak in real life.
I don’t hide the fact that I have feelings and opinions. They need to know me in order to make their best decision.

Alongside each of those risky areas, there may as well be big glowing Exit signs that allow people to “opt-out” before ever contacting me.  They might think,

Jeez, she sounds like some kind of idealistic hippie.
She’s a dreamer. She’ll never make money just working with those kinds of snowflakes.
She seems like one of those granola-crunching outdoorsy types. Ick.
She seems irritatingly happy. That would drive me batty.

A person like this wouldn’t like working with me. They know it, and I know it. If I chose to be more timid about showing the world just who & what I am, such people would be forced to waste time (theirs and mine) figuring that out the long way round, after a half-dozen emails, a marathon phone consultation, or even a face-to-face meeting.

But of course there are also people who read my About page and resonate with me—with my mission/vision, my energy, the fact that I have a garden and a dog, or that I’m frugal or have a slightly quirky sense of humor.  Whatever makes a connection.  More than enough of them finish reading and then contact me, a pre-filtered population of folks with whom I “click,” and thus feel like I can do my best work and stay mentally focused and healthy.  (For a great explanation of this, see Sarah Swanton’s swell blog post ‘Why Having A Niche Is Good For Your Mental Health‘)

Are you being You on your website? Or are you being the persona you think will cast the biggest net and catch the most prospects? Do you find yourself having the throw a lot of them back in the water?  Or maybe you don’t say “no” to them, and some have turned out to really not be good for your business or your peace of mind.

I’m happy to help you craft your About page and other aspects of your website so it feels like you AND attracts the people you really want in your working life…that allow you to be your best, grow your work, and love waking up in the morning.

Drop me a line through my Contact page and let me know if I can be of help.

 

 

The Morning Routine: Ten Minutes That Change Everything

It seems like I was a latecomer to the “early morning routine” trend.  I didn’t really trip over that concept until 2014, when suddenly (to me) it seemed to be everywhere I looked.  Leo Babauta had written about it long before on his great blog ZenHabits.net.  Tony Robbins has been talking about it for ages.  Hal Elrod wrote a whole book about the “miracle morning” in 2012. But somehow I’d missed all of that until two years ago, and then it took until the second half of 2015 to finally find a way of doing it that changed my life.

The morning ritual is something that’s been written about in Fast Company, Inc., the Wall Street Journal, and about a trillion other publications.  It’s been popular among high achievers for centuries. Marcus Aurelius had a morning ritual. Benjamin Franklin had one.  Mark Twain contributed the often-quoted advice more than a hundred years ago, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” (translation: get the hard things out of the way first).  The theory is that, by starting your day with a routine that combines contemplation, goal-setting, and various kinds of activities, you can set yourself up to have a productive, focused, and happy day—by intent, not by luck.

Leo Babauta (one of my heroes) first wrote about his morning routine in 2007 here.  His routine starts at 4:30am and takes about two hours.  Tony Robbins often talks about his “Hour of Power” and even had a podcast you could tune into if you couldn’t motivate yourself to do it alone.  Hal Elrod has a handy acronym for his version of it, S.A.V.E.R.S. – short for Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribe — which I tried for a while. It took about 30 minutes, and covered a lot of bases.

Each would last about two weeks. Then I’d find all the excuses in the world not to do it.

No matter what it says about me, I found that ALL of these were just too much of a time commitment to be sustainable.  I’m a person who does her most inspired work in the early morning within an hour of waking up, and I couldn’t seem to get myself to consistently postpone that creative window with a big block of time for a ritual.

In August of 2015, though, I attended a workshop offered by local entrepreneur Katy Moses Huggins called Kick Start Your Business.  Lots of super-useful stuff came out of that workshop, much of which still inhabit my work systems.  But the part I implemented immediately, and which has made a monumental difference in my work in the world, was her morning ritual, which takes about 10 minutes. It looks something like this for me:

3 minutes of movement.  Whatever gets breath, body, blood moving.  I usually click on the coffee pot, set a timer, and do 3 minutes of whatever movement seems to fit that morning.  Stepping up and down the carpeted step down into my family room, walking around lifting hand weights, easy yoga positions or stretching, standing crunches, whatever feels right.

1 minute of deep, rhythmic breathing.  I am a person who routinely robs her brain of oxygen when stressed, by shifting my breathing to shallow, short breaths.  Conscious deep breathing oxygenates my brain and gets me thinking more clearly almost immediately.

3 minutes of gratitude.  Even on the most stressful of mornings, I force myself to be quiet and think of all of the people, places, things, fateful life events, everything and anything good that has graced my life and made me what I am. Instead of diving right into everything that’s wrong and needs to be fixed, I start with what’s right.

3 minutes of powerful actions I can take that day to make progress toward the life I want.  I keep a special, inviting multicolored journal and pen on the coffee table to sit and do this part.  It guides my entire day.  Taking a hint from Leo Babauta, I write down my three “MITs” (most important things) that I want to be sure I complete before the end of the day.  And then anything else that my gut says would bring me to day’s end feeling complete, powerful and happy.

That’s 10 minutes.  This short amount of time works for me.  I have a very slow-dripping coffee machine, and I find that I can usually complete the whole ritual while it’s doing its thing.  Then I can move into my day, which usually involves doing some writing first (daily writing being one of my goals for the last few years), then working on my MITs.

I’ve never been one who could easily stick to a routine.  I’m just not wired that way.  I follow sparks of inspiration hither, thither and yon, and sometimes I get to the end of my work day and feel as though I had fun, but didn’t get anywhere near the work output I’d hoped for.

This morning ritual has been part of my life since last summer, and I can honestly say that when I DON’T make time for it, for whatever reason (insomnia, early morning crises, etc)  I feel it just as acutely as I would feel forgetting to eat, or having a bad cold.  I’m “off” in every way, and at the end of the day, it feels like I’ve been wandering around like a Roomba, running into limitations and turning around and around, covering the territory of my life but sooo inefficiently.

And frankly, there are too many things I want to do with my remaining days here on Earth to waste time that way.

Do you have a morning ritual?  What does it look like?  I’d love it if you’d share it with us below.

 

What is Your End-of-the-Year Ritual?

You can tell what season it is just by looking around my office.  There is a crispy new box of manila folders, new Sharpies, a new blank journal, and a new whiteboard and markers.  There is a mini-mountain of books on topics like mastering habits, gratitude practices, and ninja scheduling techniques, as well as all the books my client have written that I’ve yet to find time to read.  On my topmost legal pad are scribbled the names of several podcasts I’ll be downloading.  And a new pillow on the daybed.

yearendbooks

Book stack. Ahem, ONE of the book stacks.

Yep. It’s getting on time for my year-end retreat, and it’s my favey fave time of the year.

Taking a cue from many of our clients’ businesses, I decided a few years ago to take the last few days of the year for rest and reflection. (Overcoming my abject terror at taking ANY time off.)  This year the business will be closed from December 21st through January 1st so that I can use the time exclusively for reflecting, journaling, organizing, dreaming, planning, and a deep rest. Business email will be held until I return.  The phones go to voicemail.  And a quiet settles over the office, so that I can hear the small, still voice of inspiration that is usually buried in beeps, clicks, doorbells, ringtones, and all the rest.

It’s been a delightfully busy, sometimes hectic 2015. I’ve had the chance to work with many folks I’ve known for years, feeling the pleasure of seeing the evolution of their work in the world. I’ve also enjoyed the company of a new collection of people and organizations that are nothing short of amazing. Altogether, it keeps me in the flow of all the good that’s happening in the world, all the hard work done for people and for the planet — an antidote to the steady IV drip of anger, pain, and superficiality we’re fed by mass media. I get to see the other side every day, all day.  I wake up grateful, spend the day grateful, and go to sleep grateful.

Can’t ask for much more than that.

As much as I enjoy the busy-ness, I look forward to this quieter time to regather the frayed threads of my vision for my life, and get back in touch with why I do what I do, and what I’d like to do better in the coming year.

Ike

Ike and his bestie. Photo by http://katymosesphotography.com.

I have to admit that I miss the contact with my clients during this time.  And that’s as it should be, I imagine. But in the space held by that missing, I will be:

  • Finishing up projects to start the new year afresh
  • Tidying up my year-end accounting (my weak spot)
  • Making massive pots of soups and loaves of hot bread
  • Writing (blog posts, articles, and social media bits)
  • Brainstorming new things I’d like to offer people next year…I have a couple of doozies
  • Hanging out with my geriatric puppy Ike (above)
  • Journaling in the village coffee shop, which serves a fantastic latte in a giant mug
  • Sending notes to friends, colleagues and clients to reconnect
  • Going over another year’s notes of conversations with my fabulous coach, Judith Morgan
  • And all of those self-care things that get nudged aside by long, busy work weeks – like a haircut, exercise, good books and catching up on sleep

What About You?

Some of our clients take the time and completely remove themselves from their familiar environment, choosing to spend it holed up in a cozy cabin or cabana.  Others take long walks, play board games with family, and write gratitude notes by the fireside.  Still others work right through it, enjoying the relatively quiet work hours.

What do YOU do at the end of your year?  Do you take some blocks of time away from your regular daily routine, or just the actual holiday days?  How do you reflect on the past year, and get ready for the new?   Do you read more?  Less?   Turn off the computer and phone for a week?  Draw/paint?  Fill up your new year’s Daytimer?  Go to a place with palm trees and drinks with paper umbrellas?

ashleighbrilliantI’m always looking for new ideas to deepen and enjoy this ritual.  If you’re willing share your year-end with me, drop me a note at retreat@websitesforgood.com and tell me what you do; I’d love to know.

Thanks for being out there, and enjoy this time however you spend it.

See you in the new year!