You scroll through someone’s Instagram feed, green-eyeing their expensive vacations, ‘internet famous’ friends, and Pinterest-worthy home. Or maybe your heart beats double time when they share their monthly income. Or your stomach rumbles with jealousy when they launch a course on a topic you’d always meant to write about …. but never quite did.
Sound familiar? Dude, I get it. I have been there.
Do you quietly hate it when people tell you how busy they are?
Do you inwardly roll your eyes when someone responds to “How are you?” with a laundry list of duties and responsibilities they’ve been laboring under?
I ask because OMG YOU GUYS I’VE BEEN SO BUSY (but who cares and that’s kind of annoying, right?)
Because we’re all busy. We’re all sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated; we’re all over-committed and under-relaxed.
And while I’d like very much to tell you (and myself) to “say ‘no’ more” and “take on less,” that’s not always an option – particularly at work.
If you’re self-employed, you know what I mean.
If you’re launching something or starting a new job or training a new hire or absorbing responsibilities, you know what I mean.
If you’re a photographer and it’s wedding season,
If you’re an accountant and it’s tax season,
If you’re a teacher and it’s standardized test/conference/report card season, you know what I mean.
Here are 8 ways I’ve learned to enjoy work, even when I’m car-razy busy.
1. Schedule intentional, restorative breaks – even if they’re tiny
Open your Google calendar, find a 20-minute window, and literally type “TAKE A BREAK, DUDE.” Set a reminder on your phone or computer and when that alarm goes off take an actual break.
And by actual break what I mean is “physically distance yourself from the project you’re working on and do something completely different and totally relaxing for 20 minutes.”
If you’re tapping away on your computer, push back from your desk, point yourself towards some fresh air and go wander around it in. If you’re grading papers, go make yourself a healthy, energy-giving, prettily plated snack and eat it on the patio. If you’re taping off the trim before you paint the kitchen, put down the painters’ tape and go watch an episode of your favorite VT show.
And if this intense, high-pressure time will last longer than a few days – if it’s more like a few months – schedule a block of off days. Go camping. House swap with a friend. See what crazy all-inclusive trips Groupon is selling. Leave your phone and laptop at home and spend a few days really, truly recharging.
I know it can feel impossible to find time for these breaks.
But here’s the thing: when you wear yourself down and burn yourself out, you’re compromising the quality of your work and you’re borrowing from future productivity and creativity.
The stuff I create when I’m running on five hours of sleep? I usually end up deleting it all. Taking a break – and spending that break really relaxing and rejuvenating – is an investment in yourself and your work.
2. Keep a ‘smile file’
Is that name so cheesy you want to die? BE THAT AS IT MAY THIS ISH WORKS.
Every time you get a kind email from a blog reader/client/customer, move it into a folder that you’ve specifically designated for these glowing missives. If you do better with physical, tangible things, print out these emails and but them in a binder. If you’re lucky enough to get snail mail thank you notes, tuck them into a folder in your filing cabinet.
Reference all these kind, glowing words when you’re feeling run down and unsure of why you’re working so hard. It’s encouragement on tap!
3. Read glorious, escapist fiction
When you’re studying for the GRE or launching your first product, it’s tempting to spend every free minute reading things that will help you score a few points higher or nab a few more sales. Spoiler alert: GRE study guides and social media marketing plans don’t make for very good bedtime reading and they certainly don’t give you and your brain an opportunity to recharge.
Cut yourself some slack and put away the professional development. Re-read one of your favorite novels or find something that’s equal parts funny and (relatively) intelligent. I like Jennifer Wienerfor smarter-than-usual Lady Stories or anything by L.M. Montgomery for cozy, ‘comfort’ reading.
4. Make your workspace + work experience as lovely as possible
This might sound frivolous, but you’d be amazed by the difference a few tweaks can make.
What if you…
Moved your desk so you got more natural light?
Added a potted plant?
Decluttered your desk – or at least shoved all the clutter into a drawer?
Hung a few pretty art prints? (I like this one, this one, and this one)
Cleaned your computer so it ran faster and wasn’t covered in crumbs and smudges?
Considered the hours that you’re most creative + productive and adjusted your work schedule accordingly?
Bought office supplies and software that were a joy to use? (cough these paper clips cough)
If you’re spending all that time working, you might as well do it in a pretty, inspiring space at a time of day you like!
5. Make yourself as physically comfortable as possible
Be smarter than me. Don’t buy a used Ikea desk chair off Craigslist because it “works with your aesthetic.”
When you work for yourself – or you’re in the middle of your busy season – it’s easy to let your workday rampage out of control. Allofasudden you’re answering emails in bed and starting work late because you ended work late the day before.
Ferociously guard the boundaries between work and play. Maybe you need to work 9 am – 9 pm for a month; maybe you need to work six days a week. That’s okay! But really, actually work those hours and when the clock clicks over from 8:59 to 9:00 pm, hang up your proverbial apron and call it a day.
When you’re entering a busy season, consider the hours you’ll need to work. Block them off on your calendar and work those hours. And when those hours are over? STOP.
8. Remind yourself why you’re working so hard
Why, exactly, are you busting your sweet behind? Why are you working 12-hour days or juggling two jobs? It’s hard to stay motivated if you can’t remember why you’re working these long hours and making all these compromises.
Create a visual reminder of your goals and aspirations. Maybe you’re working this hard so you can afford a three-week vacation in Thailand. Maybe you’re putting your kids through college. Maybe you want your name on the New York Times Bestseller list.
Whatever the goal, find a related photo or image and make it your screensaver, or frame it and hang it next to your desk! Just make sure it’s visible and easy to reference when you’re working at 8 pm on Sunday night.
How do you deal when you’re in the middle of a busy season? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!
A few weeks ago I did something exceptionally brave.
I had to psyche myself up a bit and it took a few false starts, but after a few minutes of hovering and second guessing, I did it.
I was flooded with a mix of relief and guilt. I felt the internal click of an idea sliding into place, the realization that I could do things differently than I have in the past.
And what difficult, meaningful thing did I do?
Dear readers, I clicked ‘mark all as read’ on my RSS feed.
And when I saw newsletters from some of my favorite writers and bloggers filter into my inbox? I clicked ‘delete.’
Are you audibly groaning and rolling your eyes?
I realize it might not seem like a particularly revolutionary act, but this temporary ‘opting out’ has increased my productivity and cleared my mind like nothing else.
You see, I’m deep in ‘creation mode’ at the moment, I’m ghostwriting a book for Penguin. I’m writing a book proposal for another client. I’m completely rewriting, re-marketing, Kindle-izing and Amazon-ing two of my ebooks.
And all those great articles and clever blog posts and super helpful tutorials that I usually read aren’t helping me get any closer my goals. In fact, they’re distracting and misdirecting me.
Just learned 20 blog changing tweaks?I should probably stop what I’m doing right now and implement every suggestion in that 20-point list.
Just heard about the benefits of Periscope for the 50th time? Better scope riiiiiight now!
Happened upon Regina’s beautifully formatted and optimized images? Wouldn’t it be awesome if every image in my entire archive of 2,000+ blog posts looked like that? Clearly, I should start doing that now.
So I’m making the decision to safeguard my focus and productivity. I’m putting the proverbial blinders on and keeping my eyes on my own paper. And you can do exactly the same thing if you want to.
And while any suggestion that includes the word ‘ignorance’ might give you pause, hear me out.
Intentional Ignorance gives you space to do your best work. It frees up mental energy for big, exciting projects. It allows you to focus – with laser-like intensity – on one or two things.
What Intentional Ignorance is
It’s realizing that you’ve reached mental capacity and you don’t have time for another social media platform. It’s deciding that – while you’re sure webinars are great – you’re simply not going to learn about them right now.
It’s deciding that your SEO situation is good enough because you’re focusing on something else for the time being. It’s a temporary decision to put tweaking and fine tuning on hold because you’re busy putting E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G into one (or two) projects.
What Intentional Ignorance isn’t
It’s not a long-term strategy. It’s not an excuse to ignore advances and changes in your field. Intentional Ignorance won’t save you when Google and Facebook change their algorithms.
How you can add a little Intentional Ignorance to your business life
Allot a specific amount of time for your information sabbatical
When are you going to resurface? A week after you launch your product? Once you’re done promoting your new ebook? January 1st? It’ll feel more professional (and less flakey) if you choose an end date.
Choose an area of interest and stick with it
If you’re working on defining your writing voice, those are the blog posts you should be reading, the webinars you should be watching, and the newsletters you should be opening. If doesn’t address the topic you’re working on, you officially have my permission to ignore it. (In the event that you need permission from some stranger on the internet.)
Resist the urge to pin/save/sort things that you’ll ‘read later’
I know, I know. You imagine resurfacing from your romance with Intentional Ignorance and actually clicking through everything you’ve filed in your ‘professional development’ folder.I’m here to tell you that a) that won’t happen b) all those unread newsletters carry an immeasurable psychic weight. They make you feel bad just sitting there, all unread! Dude, delete them. That’s what Google is for. When you’re ready, you can just type ‘how to get more blog sponsors‘ into that search box.
Consider dialing back your other commitments + responsibilities
If you’re in the depths of a huge project, you should be intentional with your information consumption and intentional with your energy. You’re totally allowed to post less – or bring in guest posters, host interviews, do link roundups, or reuse old posts.You’re allowed to turn down clients or take a vacation from your blog.
We all cycle through seasons in our lives and businesses – times when we’re seeking inspiration and insight and times when we need quiet single-mindedness and uninterrupted time. Take a look at where you are and what you’re doing and if you need to turn down the noise, go ahead and click ‘unfollow’ or ‘unsubscribe’ or even just ‘mark all as read.’
The internet will still be here when you get back.
Have you ever practiced Intentional Ignorance? Would you? What big things are you working on right now?
Good writing isn’t enough to make your blog successful.
(Can you hear that? It’s 2007 me weeping. It’s Professor Purdy shaking his head. It’s the sound of ‘Bird by Bird’ throwing itself off my bookshelf.)
The truth is, good writing and helpful content are significant aspects of any blog’s success, but if we’re screwing up the other stuff, we’ll struggle to keep readers around or make any money.
And I don’t want that for you! I want your readers to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole of your online space and emerge hours later, fingers numb from clicking the ‘older post’ link. I want them to pick up what you’re putting down and buy what you’re selling.
With that in mind, here are nine things that make for a successful blog … and have very little to do with your actual blog posts.
Your site is clean and professional-looking
How many times have you clicked a promising-sounding link only to find yourself on a center-justified, GIF-filled, neon-fonted Geocities-eque nightmare? For most people, it wouldn’t matter if the blog posts rivaled David Foster Wallace, we want to read things in an aesthetically appealing space. When a site is busy or ugly, we’ll immediately navigate away.
Having a well-designed site is especially important if you’re selling products or services. When your site is polished and professional, you seem more trustworthy, so we’re more likely to buy things from you.
In fact, having a well-designed site is so important, I’ve re-directed potential clients to a web designer before we work together. All the content and strategy advice I give can’t do much when it’s housed on an ugly site!
You show us + tell us what to do next
Do you want us to sign up for your newsletter? Then make sure you have sign up boxes in multiple places on your site. Do you want us to read through your blog archives? Then make sure you’re using a ‘related posts’ plugin or giving us a P.S. that links to other posts.
You make it easy to find your best stuff
We all have a few pieces that are our cornerstone content, stuff that’s super helpful and really insightful. Do you have a ‘start here’ tab? Or a ‘popular posts’ widget? Do you have an email series that shares your best things with new subscribers? Don’t let your best stuff gather dust! Find a way to bring it front and center so new readers can find it easily.
You share your stuff all over. Repeatedly.
If you’ve slaved over a blog post for three hours, don’t tweet about it once and then allow it to fester in your archives. Tweet about it several times (with images, of course). Share it on Facebook and Instagram and Google+ and LinkedIn. If that post is particularly applicable to a specific time of year – the holidays, tax season – promote it then, too. If you’ve linked to businesses or people in that post, email them and tell them so or @mention them on Twitter.
Writing wonderful, useful posts for your own blog is lovely, but if we’re not careful it can get a bit ‘if a tree falls in the forest’-y. Your fantastic blog posts will strengthen your relationship with your current readers, but they don’t do much to bring in new readers.If you really want a successful blog, you need to introduce your writing and ideas to new audiences. Write guest posts. Do interviews. Appear as a guest on podcasts and webinars.
You’re creating supportive, lovely relationships all over the web
What’s that old cliché? No blog is an island? Yes, I’m sure that’s it. You’ll find more support, inspiration, success, and inbound traffic when you make an active effort to develop relationships with other bloggers. Create link roundup posts and send traffic towards other awesome bloggers. Retweet. Comment. @mention. Send now-fawning fan emails. Befriending bloggers isn’t hard!
You’re making your content easy to share
If you write something awesome, your readers just might want to share it – but what happens after that depends on how shareable you’ve made it.
You’re meeting up with internet buddies IN REAL LIFE
All the Twitter conversations in the world can’t match a great dinner or a window-shopping date. Reach out and get to know your favorite internet people in Actual Real Life! Invite them to coffee. If you’re traveling through their city, invite them for coffee or a drink. Go to meetups and conferences. Ask them if they’d like to rent a house with you in Mexico.*
Now, all the professional relationships and good site design can’t make up for poorly written, unhelpful blog posts. But if you’ve wondered why your awesome blog has failed to thrive, these seven reasons might give you a bit of insight.
I’d love to hear from you! What non-writing, non-blog post things do you think make for a successful online life?
* Yes, really. After we’re back in the states, I’ll write a post about how to DIY your own ‘mastermind retreat.’
I remember the first time I saw that now-famous pin, informing me that I had exactly the same number of hours in my day as Beyoncé.
“By god, you’re right, Pinterest! Beyoncé and I are both bound by the same laws of space and time! We are both doing our best with the 24 hours we’re given, but she’s clearly doing a lot more with hers. This is a wakeup call, self! Use your time more wisely! Less Netflix, more sit ups!Nooooo moooore excuses!”
And then I drank a pot of coffee and wrote a bunch of things filled with typos and worked for so long I gave myself a headache and my hands cramped up.
Now, I like a tough-love reality check as much as the next Virgo but here’s the thing: you and I actually don’t have the same number of hours in the day as Beyoncé.
Let’s look at the numbers.
In a given 24 hour period, mere mortals like you and I run errands, cook meals, tidy our homes, and take care of our pets/children/partners. We drive places, we shop for things, we do our makeup and style our hair and choose our outfits.
We do all these things in addition to the things we actually do to earn a living. We do these things in addition to writing, consulting, coding, designing, or styling. Of the 24 hours we’re given, most of us spend at least 3-8 hours just managing our lives.
I’d wager a guess that Beyoncé (or Oprah or Taylor) spends 0-1 of her 24 hours managing her day-to-day life. In fact, if you added up the hours that Beyoncé’s team puts in every day – promoting her, photographing her, styling her, cooking for her – girl probably has 200+ hours in her day. At a minimum.
So I guess what I’m saying is, when you see that image float across your internet life, instead of doubling down on your workload or feeling like a failure, go ahead and reinterpret it.
This is what that aspirational image should really say:
“Perhaps you could be using your time a bit more wisely. Maybe take the Facebook app off your phone. But it’s not fair to compare yourself to an international pop star who has a staff of dozens. You’re doing a great job! Keep going.”
How do you balance your expectations of yourself with reality? What do you do when you get down on yourself?
P.S. This is a concept I first came across in the book The Effortless Everyday. It’s full of smart, sweet, helpful epiphanies like this. Check it out!
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