In Daring Greatly, she points to Teddy Roosevelt’s speech made April 23, 1910 in Paris:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
I have this written on a scrap of paper in my studio so I can periodically read it and remind myself that stepping into the arena of my work and life matters, and that in this space of the unknown, which is usually out of my comfort zone, great growth as a person and as an entrepreneur happens.
The Hard Truth
Unfortunately, I have also mis-interpreted these wise words to be a mandate and excuse to be continually in the space where I am covered with “dust, sweat and blood”. I have allowed myself to become addicted to work and to busy-ness.
I’d like to say I am modeling the good work ethic instilled in me by my parents. That my efforts are proof that I’m not one of ‘those cold and timid souls who knows neither victory nor defeat’.
Truthfully, however, I have come to realize that my never-ending pace and long work days are more of a need to prove something about myself that no one is asking for: That I am worthy of success.
The Benign Way It Begins
Three years ago when I started my journey and committed to creating my app and a product to match the high standards I envisioned for it, I said to my husband that we need to be prepared for this to take up a lot of my time but that I promise to keep a handle on how much it affects our lives.
I felt a need to warn him about this because I know myself. I’ve been a solopreneur for most of my career and have worked as a freelancer and contractor for a long time; working hard and long hours is just a part of entrepreneurial life, especially at the beginning of a new venture. However, up until this current endeavor, I’ve been able to manage and (dare I say) balance my life pretty well. That all changed last December when my app went live on the Apple App Store.
The high I felt seeing the fruits of my labor come to life was exhilarating, and like anything new, I wanted to shout it from the mountain tops to let everyone know that my fabulous new product was available for all to enjoy!
I dove head first into the marketing of my app, posting daily and seeking advice from professionals. I went into research mode, watching videos and reading books and articles to gauge where to best apply my time and energy. All the while, I was beginning the next phase of my app’s development and planning for the upcoming quarters’ growth.
My word for 2023 was ‘BUILD’, and I was taking that directive very seriously.
My mornings started early and I worked late into the evening. I forgot to eat a lot of the time, and my husband started bringing food in to me to make sure I ate. I kept assuring him that as soon as I got a handle on this or that, then I’d be back to living in the real world and doing normal things like watching a movie or tv show in the evenings, seeing friends, and taking at least one day of the weekend off.
After 6 months of this pace, I started to forget what my life looked like before. I was lucky to get 4-5 hours of sleep a night, and when I was sleeping, I dreamt about my app and work. I stopped going to my favorite classes at the gym and began excusing myself from get-togethers with friends because my head just wasn’t in a relaxed place to feel fully present with them.
I knew this wasn’t sustainable and that I needed to make some changes. I just needed to figure out how to get off the crazy-train and set up a new system for myself.
“Crazy-busy, but Great”
‘Crazy-busy’ is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us.” – Brené Brown
When anyone asked me how I was doing my auto-reply was, “crazy-busy, but great.”
Does this sound familiar?
I definitely was busy, but I for sure wasn’t great.
The Reckoning and the Rumble
In Rising Strong, Brené Brown talks about the Reckoning – “the process of calculating where you are”; and the Rumble – the process of “owning” where you are.
During my eighth month into my crazy-busy existence post launch, the Reckoning of my situation slapped me in the face. If changes weren’t made soon, I was going to reach burn-out on something I truly loved and was passionate about.
Once I had clarity that change needed to take place, it was time for me to have a hearty Rumble with what that change looked like.
The key to a good Rumble is to take expectations, preconceived notions, and as much ego as you possibly can out of the arena as you assess your work, business practices, and life.
In business, we never want to feel vulnerable, especially as women, but the difficult truth is that in the space of vulnerability, you are able to best recognize how the default actions that once seemed honorable, worthy, and necessary are no longer working.
Rather than numb what I didn’t want to feel (fear), I decided to take some action steps toward the change that needed to take place.
Rumble Actions to Get You Started
Time Blocks, Rabbit Holes, and an Eagle’s Eye
The first thing I needed to do was gain some perspective on just where and when I had become so out of sync. I needed to observe my life with an ‘eagle’s eye’; a perspective from above that sees the big picture but also focuses on the parts and pieces and how they work (or need to work) together.
I took an honest view of what my days looked like and how I was expending my energy and time.
Here’s what I asked myself:
What are your Optimal Time Blocks (OTB)?
I am a morning person, but unlike what I’ve been told for years – I don’t necessarily want to dive directly into work first thing in the day. I actually prefer to get my exercise/work-out done in the morning, which typically puts me to work between 9:00-10:00 am.
My peak focus time for creativity and productivity is highest from 10:00am – 4:00pm. Those are the hours when I feel the most expansive. I also have the most energy during these hours.
From 4:00-6:00 pm I have less openness in my mind but still feel energized to keep working, so those hours are best for returning emails, bookkeeping and banking, filing, and data entry. After 6:00 pm, I’m not typically feeling creative, so wrapping up any of my tasks from the previous block is good until I can stop for the day.
In gaining honest clarity on what my Optimal Time Blocks (OTBs) are, it was easy to see how my efforts for the previous eight months had gone so wrong. I was working completely outside of my optimal state.
Everyone is different and their OTB will be unique for them. My husband’s friend is a night owl and his most productive time of the day is from 8:00 pm – 2:00 am. There’s no right or wrong here, there’s just what is right for you. Get clear on what your Optimal Time Blocks are and work within them.
What are Your Rabbit Holes?
Once I knew what my Optimal Time Blocks were, I was able to analyze how I spent those hours each day. I quickly saw that I’m easily distracted by Rabbit Holes – in particular when doing my marketing.
Rabbit Holes for me are typically in the form of emails, texts, and social media posts.
When I watched my behavior over a few days, I caught myself complaining that ‘I have no time’. When I broke my hours down, however, I realized that the time I did have was often spent chasing shiny objects down side streets of texts and emails or in comfortable corners of Instagram and Pinterest to avoid doing the harder thing I needed to do.
The first step to breaking the Rabbit Hole cycle is to identify what yours are and create barriers around your time to keep those Rabbit Holes closed off and out of your OTB until you’re free and clear to let yourself jump in for a bit of side-tracked fun.
For me, that meant I needed to restrict myself from going off on tangents when I did my marketing so I could stay on track. For you, it could mean not responding to an email until the article is written or the invoice is sent or waiting to call back your sister until the submission is made.
Whatever it is, setting clear expectations for your efforts within your Optimal Time Block is what matters. Rabbit Holes are fun, but if you can learn to control yours, you’ll find that there is a lot more time in the day to get work done.
Know Your Why and Adopt a ‘Should Do’ Diet
When I started my business, my vision was clear and my focus was direct, but after the launch of my app, I found myself listening less often to my instincts and too much to other people’s ‘should do’ lists for me.
The lists of ‘should do’s’ ranged from marketing to finances, and most were well intended, but when I took the time to step back to remember the ‘why’ behind my business, I was able to see that what works for others may not be best for my business. I needed to go back to my gut to determine where and how my efforts and time needed to be spent to best optimize the growth I wanted to see.
It’s important for you to know your ‘why’ – why you created your business, what your expectations for it were then, and what your expectations are for it now. Knowing these things helps you filter out the ‘should do’s’ that don’t serve your directive.
End Your Day
Prior to understanding my OTB, I never had a defined end to my day. Because of that, I would work late into the night every night. It wasn’t once in a while; it was all the time. I started to get headaches and my sleep was messed up.
Once I knew what hours of the day I should be working, I started to set stricter boundaries on when I would stop. My rule now is to be done at around 6:00-6:30 pm. If I work later than that, it’s an exception, and if I can stop earlier, I do that too. This practice is empowering.
Set an ‘end’ time and stick to it. Try for a week and see how you feel.
Remove Thyself (at Least Once a Week)
This may seem like an impossibility but I urge you to do it. All the previous steps didn’t mesh for me until I started taking at least one day a week off from work. It may mean in the beginning you have to go someplace without cell reception or volunteer to help at a charity or non-profit somewhere or dive into a house project like gardening or cleaning.
Whatever it is for you, just make it a priority not to do your business work. Listen to a new podcast, sign up for a class to learn a new skill, or go to a park and read a book. Take the family for a beach day or have a leisure lunch with a friend. It doesn’t matter what it is that you do only that you focus on being present for the things in your life that steer you back to your center.
As the saying goes, ‘You can’t pour from an empty glass.’ Make sure to give yourself time to refill and refuel at least once a week.
Remember to Breathe and Enjoy the Ride
Starting a business is busy and the grind and hustle are par for the course, especially in the early years.
I have yet to hear any upstart’s story that says otherwise, so I know for myself I expect that my schedule will be full and my days long for a while. The difference is that I am now working on optimizing my time to best serve my effectiveness and productivity.
I am not successful at this every day, but every morning I start anew with an intention to do my best and keep focused on the tasks at hand.
It’s a journey not a race, and remembering why we’re entrepreneurs and why we set out to do what we do is the key to keeping on course. Let joy into the process. It will shine through the work that you do, especially when you’re standing in the middle of the arena.