What Breast Cancer Has Taught Me About Productivity
There are myriad lessons I’ve learned as a breast cancer survivor (thriver). The main life lesson is, “you are not guaranteed a tomorrow.” I was diagnosed less than a month before my 50th birthday and while I didn’t have the invincibility of a teenager, I certainly never imagined I’d be fighting for my life against breast cancer. Fight, I did. Survive I will. Sounds a little Dr. Seuss-y, but it’s true.
When you’re staring physically altering surgery you imagine you can handle it. After all, getting rid of the cells that are trying to kill you is the most important thing, right? Well, yes. But, the emotional scars that come from fear and that manifest every time you are feeling low energy and get a glimpse of your scars are a different animal. There are days when I just want to crawl into bed. It’s rare that I wallow, but then I do work from home alone with my pets so there are days when instead of eating lunch, I have a crying jag. I wallow, wipe away my tears and get back to work. I remind myself I was given a second chance and need to be grateful for all of the moments I’ve been given.
I heard on the radio the other day, “the best moment of your life is the moment you’re in right now.” How true is that?
What Breast Cancer Has Taught Me About Productivity
Don’t work with clients who drain you. It’s not always easy to jettison a client. I still have those days when I wonder if I should have kept working with Client X even though she was impossible to please and drained my energy. Those moments are rare when I look at my current client roster and realize I am working with clients who value me and whose work I believe in. There is enough in life to drain your energy, but if you face every day knowing you have to interact with a client who does that, your outlook will suffer.
Build in time off. Prior to my breast cancer diagnosis I worked seven days a week, sometimes up to eighteen hours a day. Was I productive all of that time? I doubt it. Was I sitting in front of the computer all of that time? Yes. My health suffered. My family relationships suffered. Did my clients truly need access to me 24/7? No. Sure, if their websites crashed, then I should be on it, but if they simply wanted to discuss strategy or a new blog post idea, that could wait until my business hours. Being always available and answering emails at 2 o’clock in the morning if I woke up, was setting up unrealistic expectations. Now I schedule phone calls during my set office hours. I don’t answer emails after 7 o’clock at night.
I also do not schedule back to back meetings and phone calls and time-blocked tasks. I schedule in time to take the dogs for a walk. I schedule in a lunch break that will get me away from the computer. I also schedule weekends off. It’s rare that you will find me working on a Saturday. I will put in a couple hours on a Sunday morning if necessary, but for the most part, my weekends are my own.
Your health matters. As a work-from-home writer my life consists of sitting at my desk creating copy. I’m sure it’s no secret that sitting leads to obesity and death. That’s an eye opener for sure. After having been diagnosed with pre-diabetes I knew I needed to do something and getting out for long walks to get in 10,000 steps a day just wasn’t going to happen. I invested in a treadmill and, if nothing else, I walk one mile after every meal. Exercise is not something I enjoy. I dread the five minutes it takes me to do that mile. I have never experienced the “high” that others who exercise say they get. It is a slog through quicksand and I have to force myself to do it. I keep telling myself that my health will improve and I’ll feel better. Well, hasn’t worked yet. I imagine I will always despise the treadmill, but it’s something I have to do so I do it.
Know your most productive times. We all have a unique, internal rhythm. Knowing your rhythm helps you determine when you’re operating at your highest efficiency. My best time of the day is early in the morning, sometimes before the sun comes up. I am an early to bed, early to rise person. Working when the house is quiet and dark is optimal for me. I tackle my most creative tasks or the task I have been dreading the most during my peak hours. By afternoon, usually around 3 o’clock, I get in a slump. I don’t fight it by drinking coffee. I know that is the time of day when I can focus on cleaning up my desk, or filing paperwork or planning out my bigger projects. If I had to be creative at 3 o’clock, I’d be in trouble. Afternoons are also when I prefer to do my client calls and meetings. Why? Because my day is almost over, I have made the best use of my creative early morning time and doing early morning phone calls takes me out of my creative flow. Determine when you are operating at your best. Your “morning” might be the afternoon. If you’re a night owl, don’t fight it; embrace your unique rhythm and plan your day around that time.
Don’t wait for a health issue to arise before you take control of your day. What are your stumbling blocks to productivity? Do you struggle to find time to “do it all?” Do you need to create content for your business, but don’t have the time? If you answered “yes” send me an email and let’s set up a Make It Happen session! Robbi AT AllWordsMatter DOT com
Productivity Be Damned: Be More Effective
I’ve begun changing my phrasing and my way of thinking about getting things done in my entrepreneurial endeavors. Why? Because, sure I want to be productive. But what does that mean? I could productively bake cookies or write ten blog posts or spend time on social media for my clients, BUT am I being effective? Am I writing blog posts that will garner me and my clients new business? Does anyone need or want the cookies I baked? When I am on social media am I finding, connecting and sharing information for my business and my client’s business that will help them grow? Maybe. Maybe not.
How can you be more effective?
Know what the final goal is.
You might be thinking, or saying, “duh!” But I work with clients who sometimes don’t know what the final goal is other than, “I want more clients” or “I need to get more done.” Those are vague phrases and without having a definite, “I want to get five more clients in August” or “I need to write five more blog posts per month” you will be skating along but not reaching the finish line.
Develop a timeline.
If you are vague, “I want to write a book” you will never write that book. Why? Because you didn’t say, “I want to write a book by the end of 2016.” Viola — you’ve set a timeline and now have an accountability to yourself.
We get too many emails, am I right? I’ve heard of people taking the drastic measure of completely wiping out their inboxes and starting with a clean slate. I have to say, that tactic strikes fear into my heart, even though I completely understand the reason for wanting to do just that. If you’re not into taking such drastic measures, there are some ideas I have for conquering email overload. They may not be easy. The might not be reasonable (in your mind, at first!). You may think, “I don’t have time to do this!”
Take a deep breath and answer me this, “Do you have time to keep looking at an overflowing inbox and the energy it is draining from you?” Probably not.
My email overload story.
At one time, I was “managing” (I use that term loosely) three active inboxes. At one time, I was looking at more than 30,000 unread messages when I counted them all up from all inboxes. Let’s just say I wanted to cry. Who knows, I probably DID cry.
Murray is a chicken-baby. I say that with all of the love in my heart for this puppy, but he is truly afraid of his own shadow. His fearfulness makes me fearful that he will grow up to be a “reactive dog” and that could be problematic. He is the kind of dog you can’t just walk up to and pet when he’s sleeping because he startles easily and gets a bit snappy. He is not fond of people coming up behind him when we are walking. He cringes away from loud noises. If he gets scared, he will run over and hide between our legs. It’s good that he knows we will protect him and it’s probably good that he doesn’t feel the need to beat every other dog up the way Henrietta does, but his fear is a bit disconcerting.
July 4th, Lost Dogs & Safety Tips
July 4th is a time of fun and excitement… for humans. If you have a dog with an anxiety disorder, however, the Fourth of July and its crowds, hubbub and fireworks and you have a recipe for disaster. Henrietta, my diva poodle, is fine with the fireworks and crowds as long as I am carrying her. Being surrounded by feet and not being able to see above the legs makes her anxious.
July is also an important time for all pet owners — it’s Lost Pet Prevention Month. While pet owners know it’s important to keep track of their animals year-round, it’s crucial to spend additional time sharing with pet owners, and especially new pet owners, how to keep their beloved pets safe and prevent them from getting lost.
Ditch the to-do list!? I hear the gasps across the Internet now. I have touted the benefits of the to-do list for longer than I can remember. I have notebooks full of my to-do lists from many years ago — why I keep them will be the subject for a different blog post.
In preparation for my speaking engagement at the BlogPaws 2016 Conference in Arizona, I have “to-do” list as one of the items I will be talking about. What I have discovered in recent months, though is that my to-do list is a lie. What?! I know!
How will I know what to do if I don’t write it down, you may be asking. Take a deep breath. Relax. I’m not going to toss you out into the world unarmed for success!
What I am now doing and finding more beneficial to my writing productivity is to follow a time-blocking method of a daily to-do.
What is time-blocking?
At its core, time-blocking is “devoting a particular amount of time to a specific task.” For example, my time-blocking for today looks like:
- My own writing 6 am to 745 am
- Client X social media 8 am to 9 am.
- Client Y blog post writing 9:15 am to 10:30 am
- Client Z newsletter prep 10:45 am to 11:45 am
- Misc tasks and email noon to 1 pm
Rather than writing a to-do list that states:
- One blog post for Robbi
- Client X social media
- Client Y blog posts
- Client Z newsletter
- Misc tasks and email …
I am blocking out that time and getting done what I get done in that block. Sure, if I am in the midst of a blog post or finishing up a newsletter and a timer goes off, it doesn’t mean I will drop what I am doing and get to the next task. One caveat to that is if I am involved in responding to emails, I will sometimes stop in the middle of that task because I will be blocking off time for that in the afternoon.
Why is time-blocking beneficial to productivity?
I doubt I am the only one who has written: Write two blog posts for client X” and that task could take me eight hours! Why? Because it’s not a time sensitive task. It’s “two blog posts.” Sure I can usually write two blog posts in an hour or two, depending on the topic, but with a vague “write two blog posts” on the to-do list I have essentially given myself the freedom to make that task last all day. There are days that has happened, too.
Time-blocking helps hold you accountable to performing tasks for Client X because you know you are under deadline. A self-imposed deadline, but a deadline nonetheless. Of course, you could fritter away that time-blocked area of your calendar, but then again you may realize, “Yipes, I only have an hour to get Client X’s work done. I’d better get to it!”
Holding myself accountable keeps me on track.
Have you tried time-blocking? Did it work? Do you write a to-list? Does it work? I’d love to know in the comments.
NOTE: When it comes to email, in many cases, that task will put you into a reactive mode. When you’re responding to email you are putting out other people’s fires. If you’re worried that a client or friend will wonder, “Why isn’t she answering my emails?” You can set an out-of-office message that reads, “I check email at 10 am, 2 pm and 530 pm. I will get back to you in one of those time frames.” That way the person who is writing to you will know that — depending on when they emailed — they may get an immediate response or they may have to wait a few hours.
Depending on the type of business you operate, you may need to add a line that reads, “If this is an emergency, please text me at 123.456.7890.” Only give your phone number to people who may actually have a business emergency between your time-blocked email hours.
Is your writing world crashing down around you in a pile of loose papers and unfinished projects? Are you a solopreneur spinning his or her wheels in an effort to take care of clients, launch new goods and services and bring in new clients? Are you feeling overwhelmed? If so, take a deep breath. Relax and check out these goal management tips from #TheOrganizedWriter.
Time is ever flowing and we all get 168 hours a week; the way in which we spend those 168 hours determines our level of satisfaction at the end of the day. Ready? Set. Go!
Focus on the important
Don’t stress the minor details when it’s the finished project that is the important aspect. Remember, too that many of us focus on the small details and lose the big picture. You need to keep the big picture in mind, chipping away at it until the big picture project is complete. HINT: Sometimes we focus on non-productive but busy work tasks to avoid the big projects. Procrastination at its best.
Know your vision
Why do you do what you do? If you aren’t certain why you’re a business owner or a writer or a blogger (yes I know bloggers and writers are both in the writing category, but are typically for different audiences) then your writing will be all over the map. Write down your vision. Keep it posted in your workspace. Focus on moving toward it.
Let me say first off, there is no such thing as writer’s block! Yes, I hear you all gasping… well, not all of you, but some of you. Saying you have writer’s block is like your plumber saying, “Sorry, can’t fix your toilet, I have plumber’s block today,” or your hairdresser declaring, “No haircuts today, I’m blocked.” If you’re a writer, if you want to be a writer, then guess what folks, you need to write!
When I was teaching classes at Writer’s and Books in Rochester there were many of the adult students who would announce that they’d finish that novel, that piece of flash fiction, their memoir or poem… wait for it… when they got over writer’s block. Well, because I was being paid I didn’t scream, “Get over yourself, it’s not writer’s block.” People who claim writer’s block as the reason they aren’t putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard are either typically suffering from:
- Having too many ideas — yes, that happens
- Being stuck at a plot point — they’ve written themselves into a corner
- Fear of the blank screen
- Procrastination, plain and simple
- Wanting to talk about being a writer rather than just being a writer. It’s easier to say, “I’m in the middle of, or beginning a novel, but am so blocked right now…” To that I say… get writing!
This is post 8 in a 12 post blogging challenge I’m doing through The Blogging Badass.
Whew! Puppies are tiring. I’d forgotten that having a puppy in the house is like having a human baby in the house. They are demanding. They need constant supervision. They poo and pee on the carpet — puppies, not babies (hopefully).
Because I work from home and because we have a new puppy, Murray, in the house with me I have had to be creative when it comes to caring for him, making certain he doesn’t chew through electrical cords and getting my client work done.
Here are my five tips for getting stuff done with a puppy in the house:
(Post 3 of 12 in the 12 Blog Post Blogging Badass Challenge)
As you may recall, we lost our Spenser in January. It’s taken us some time, but we feel we are ready to add a new puppy to our family. We did our research and determined that a Goldendoodle had the personality, was the size and is potentially non-shedding and will be a great fit for the family. We found a fantastic breeder in Copper Ridge Doodles and loved Gina’s, the breeder, philosophies and the way she took care of the mom and her puppies. We also fell in love with the look of the puppies on her site and were hooked. We decided this was the breed for us.
Our puppy, Murray (name subject to change!) was born on March 13. Since that time we have received updates with photos several times a week. Gina and I have exchanged, probably tens of thousands of words in our email exchanges about the puppy in specific and the breed in general. I have learned so much and I also love the fact that Gina made us feel a part of Murray’s life even before we got to meet him.
We had our meet and greet a week ago and our love was cemented. His fur is as soft as feathers. He ran to the puppy pad to pee when the need arose. He romped. He chewed our fingers, our shoes, his sister and he snuggled into our arms when we picked him up. I’d forgotten how amazing puppy breath is!
I sat on the floor and had Murray and his sister crawling all over me. It was glorious! Part of the reason I did this was because I wanted Henrietta, the Diva Poodle, to get a smell of him and a sense of him before he comes home. She was wholly unimpressed when we came home. Hen was only concerned with whether we’d had anything to eat because she sniffed our breathe then sat down staring at us. The cats, however, were all over me and my clothes. They know something is up!
Yesterday we went out and invested in a crate, toys a new collar and other puppy-centric items. His first vet appointment is scheduled and we are now counting down the hours until we bring him home — May 8!
Because Spenser was a very large dog (100+ pounds) and wasn’t very well trained — he did drag me and broke bones in my foot and did drag Tim and break his collarbone — we knew this new addition needed to be trained to be a good canine citizen. Thankfully, my involvement in the pet industry means I have access to experts and because I work with Larry Kay from Positively Woof I have a copy of Larry’s book and have been reading through it so we know the best way to train our new family addition. We know we want to have the best dog ever and understand that means training him to be the best dog ever! I also had the privilege of hosting Larry for dinner with the family when we were on vacation in San Diego so I had a one-on-one lesson with him about clicker training, target training and other items that will go a long way in helping Murray be the best pup he can be!
Although, when you look at his face in these photos you just know he will be able to get away with just about anything! Wish us luck with the Diva and her meeting of him for the first time on Sunday — her little nose will be all bent out of shape!