When September 2017 came along, I woke up each day feeling free. So free! I no longer had to be up at 5.45am to get ready and at school by 7.30am! Some might say I felt very smug about it as I opened my eyes at 7am and thought of my ex-colleagues who were already on their way to work. Not nice, I know!
Oh, the bliss of waking up and walking the dog with my boyfriend, going to a yoga class or practicing at home by myself and then having breakfast before leisurely starting work… Oh, let’s see, what do I feel like doing today? Yes, I’ll work on the website. That sounds good! For the first time in my life, my time was not regimented by the school bell.
Lead With A Twist started to take off and everything was perfect! Except... Slowly, very surreptitiously, tasks started to sneak into my to-do list. The list started to grow and the tasks to pile up. My inbox was busier, I had to complete paperwork… and before I knew it I started to feel overwhelmed. I was running around, did not take time to meet friends… How could I? I had to build a website, find clients, create workshops, deliver workshops, arrange coaching calls, go to networking events, create content, social media posts… Were those tasks breeding new tasks? The list grew into a monster and I started to crumble.
Where was the life I had sought when I left my job to work for myself? I soon realized I was making the wrong decisions to take control of my time. While I still don’t think that we can have “work/life balance”, I do think that we can prioritize and make compromises that will keep us happy. In “How Remarkable Women Lead”, Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston tell us to “let go of the notion that you can reach a steady state where you’re in total control. Replace it with managing your actual energy flows - within a personal framework of what is important to you.”
I reflected: “A personal framework of what was important to me. Ok! I can do that!”
I thought hard about my priorities. I had to reframe my thinking and reassess what I wanted my life to be. I asked myself deep questions and took the time to consider each one with care:
* What gives my life meaning? How can I include more of those areas into what I do?
* What are my core values (See previous blogpost on this here!) and how can I make sure they are a part of my every day life?
* What is MY definition of “balance”? What elements constitute a balanced life FOR ME?
* When I say YES to something, what am I saying NO to?
My next step was to consider where I wanted to be.
* What do I see as my ideal day or week?
* What is the goal for this reassessment?
Once I had answered all these questions, it became evident that starting my day with yoga, walking the dog with my boyfriend and generally feeling at peace and calm were non-negotiable. Feeling at peace and calm. I left a high paying safe job with health insurance because I blamed it for stress, tiredness and feeling at odds with my values. Was I really going to let myself do this to myself now? NO! The answer was NO!
It was time to put in place all that my training and readings had taught me. I started to prioritize by making prioritizing a priority! I know that the idea is not to manage time, but rather, to manage attention and energy, i.e. what I choose to focus on and when.
I worked out that for me, the best time to prioritize would be first thing in the morning, at the start of my work day and after breakfast when my brain can perform at its peak. I now spend about 20-30 minutes on Monday mornings prioritizing for the whole week! Here is my process, it might help you create your own!
- I have a Pages document that lists all the tasks I have to do. When a new tasks appears in my mind or from an email, I add it to the document without considering it! I just add it there with the level of difficulty I attribute to it. E.g. Today, I got an email with deadlines to abide to for a workshop I am leading in June. I simply added the list of deadlines to my big list of tasks and attributed a difficulty level 1 to 3 to each deadline.
- On Monday morning, I print blank daily calendars with timing and label them with each day of the week.
- I add all the obligations I have for each day: e.g. my coaching calls, meetings etc. That gives me a very clear picture of the time I have free each day.
- According to this and to the urgency of the tasks on my list, I start to fill the time - making sure I have breaks! If I have just a half hour - then I write “Tasks 1”. If I have at least one hour, I usually look at a Task 2 and if I have 2 hours or more, then I’m onto a Task 3. (see example tasks for me below!). I do this in PENCIL!
- I know that I work better on tasks 3 in the morning so as much as I can, I schedule those early.
- Once my rough schedule is ready, I do my best to stick to it and I review it every morning for 5 minutes to see if something else has come up that is more urgent or that I no longer need to do. (Remember - PENCIL! Plus, it means more beautiful stationary and who doesn’t want that?!)
Things always come up, and I don’t always manage to stick to the plan. So… what happens then?
Remember those big questions I asked myself before I started to use this process? That’s when they come in. What is important to me? What gives my life meaning? Being at peace and calm is one of my values and so, if something didn’t get done… well, it will get done! I don’t panic about it. It clearly wasn’t as high on my priority list as I thought it was! In fact, I often wonder if it should be on the list at all! I figure that the worst thing I can do is to spend energy being annoyed with myself! Instead, I breathe, let it go and decide when I can do it. I take a look at the schedule, move things around and that’s it, done!
A clear example is my posts on social media. I started thinking that I had to post every single day as if my life depended on it! Soon, I realized that while posting on social media is important for my business, it is not a huge priority and if miss a day... well... I miss a day! Life goes on and I don't need to beat myself up for it.
Am I 100% calm and at peace all the time? Of course not! Who is? Have I found a way to stay at peace and calm most of the time? YES! I know that I deliver the best possible experience to my clients when I am at peace and calm. I also know that prioritizing each each day makes me certain that I have accomplished all that needs to be accomplished. Everything else is a bonus! I hope that you can find what works for you and see prioritizing as a task in itself!
READY TO PRIORITIZE? HERE ARE SOME POINTS TO CONSIDER:
1. Did you know that prioritizing is a task that demands a high level of energy? That’s right. Our brain is energy hungry and if you think about it, prioritizing is pretty complex. You have to categorize, make decisions, structure, look at the big picture, break things down, remember… all at the same time! That’s a lot! What this tells us is that you need a lot of brain resources to do this - choose a time when you are at your peak!
2. What is the level of difficulty of each task you have to do? E.g. Filing mindlessly requires less energy than creating something new does! Can you categorize your tasks into levels of difficulty?
3. When do have the most energy? This varies for everyone so you might want to observe your days and make a note of when you feel in “flow”. Consider when you do your best work without interruptions. Make sure you plan those level 3 tasks at those times.
4. Our conscious brain can only hold a very limited amount of information at any one time: use pen and paper or anything that will help you put things down - not having to remember things will help to preserve brain resources.
5. SLEEP! According to Dr. Jessica Payne “If you’re not getting enough sleep before work, research shows you might as well be working drunk.” While that may sound like fun to some, it’s definitely not productive!
6. I’m sure you’ve heard it by now! Multitasking is not a thing! This piece of advice from Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT says it all: “Don’t try to multitask. It ruins productivity, causes mistakes, and impedes creative thought.”.
Finally, here are some examples of my tasks 1, 2, 3.
Tasks 1: Automatic tasks I can do without thinking.
- Creating an event on Eventbrite if I have all the write ups and pictures. It’s just a question of uploading.
- Adding a detail on my website
- Creating a Groupon for one of my offerings - this takes time but I already have all the info, not much thinking is required.
Tasks 2: Tasks that require a little more effort
- Responding to a client email: this takes some thought.
- Reading an article and making notes - this also requires some energy and resources.
- Creating a write up for an event.
Tasks 3: Creating something new I have never done before.
- Writing a new blogpost
- Planning for my e-book.
- Designing a new workshop