There are a zillion vampires that will rob your business of energy, time, and optimism if you let them. Here are 25 things I do to keep them at bay.
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.
My 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.)
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:
So whaddya say? Let’s get green today. If you want to love your work and grow your business, it really does help.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I’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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!