I Spent A Week Prioritizing Myself (And the World Kept Spinning)
Here’s what I learned…
A few interesting challenges have been floating around the interwebs; people taking photos with strangers, negotiating for discounts on coffee and otherwise stretching beyond their comfort zone by practicing asking for things despite the fear of failure.
It seems gimmicky at first, but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll see that these are merely training wheels for some very important skills. Smiling at strangers might set the stage for finally walking up and introducing yourself to that rock star industry leader you’ve been admiring from a distance. Asking for a discount on coffee taught me what negotiating for higher pay–on the phone and in person, not conveniently hidden behind my computer screen–would later feel like.
Long-time readers know about my penchant for experimentation and have read about various challenges I’ve put myself through, including a 30-day blog fast, a month of gluten-free eating, a month of Paleo and two BJJ experiments: 30 days attending a massive amount of seminars and a month-long BJJ challenge of entirely avoiding instructional videos and YouTube.
With all the talk of Failure Olympics, which I’d gone through as a student of the “How To Make Your First Dollar” course, I eventually asked Noah Kagan for another suggestion of something I might fail at. He challenged me to prioritize myself over others for a week. Apparently, others notice when I try so hard to make sure my clients are happy that I overextend myself. Taking on too much responsibility makes it difficult to retain that razor-sharp focus I pride myself on…and this makes me come across as scattered and trying to appease others. Bitter pill to swallow; but, the best way to address it is head-on.
Not that it’s easy. The challenge was terrifying and I even found myself strategizing my plan of attack should I lose all of my clients. In the not-too-distant past, I had found myself on rocky terrain with a long-time client because I was unable to bend over backwards or work ’round-the-clock due to other responsibilities (with clients who paid better). The juggling act, I felt, must go on and the biggest loser was always me.
But, the challenge was also exciting. Finally, I had an excuse to do what I really wanted: focus on myself.
The weekend started well. I bought gorgeous sunflowers at Trader Joe’s that lit up my entire home office. I made time to enjoy the long-awaited springtime weather, taking a scenic walk around the lake. I drove to a hot yoga class and spent 90 minutes twisting myself up like a pretzel–mindfully. I even had the chance to read fiction, something I really enjoy but rarely do because it’s not directly tied to work. It was a great weekend.
Then, Monday rolled in and that’s when the real work started. I decided the best way to prioritize myself was by refusing to work 12 to 15 hour days to finish work for other people. But, how would I get everything done in less time without sacrificing quality?
The biggest waste of my time is people who want to meet with me, in person or via phone, and either cancel at the last minute or just don’t call or show up. I’ve been working on this by sending people Google calendar invites to set clearer expectations, but, during the challenge, I ramped it up a bit.
- If someone had a 15-minute call scheduled and they called late, I just didn’t pick up. For the first time. I got a lot of email apologies with requests to reschedule (and, I waited 48 hours before responding to them). I know that sometimes people space on things, and I’ve done the same (I accidentally called at 1PM instead of a scheduled 11AM the other day, because I wrote the time down wrong), but it has become habitual. It’s not even about the 15 minutes, but about not giving up my time for people who don’t respect it.
- I didn’t drop everything to meet with people, even potential clients. Anyone who contacted me after Tuesday EOD had to wait until the following week. Again, I’ve benefited immensely on the other end of this (busy people who granted same-day meetings to me), but this was part of me getting over the myth that I need to bend over backwards for people to avoid losing work. 1) I didn’t and 2) I don’t know that I’d want to work with people that expect me to drop everything anyway.
- Instead of rushing to reschedule when a friend canceled a meeting, I just said, “Okay!” and left the ball in her court. She didn’t make an attempt to reschedule, which was fine by me–it saves me some time so that I can meet with people who DO see me as a priority.
- I demanded reasonable timelines for projects. These are people who are NOT paying rush fees, so why rush? I also got extensions when the scope of work was expanded.
- A client didn’t get back to me on some specifics of work she’d expected. Instead of taking a stab and then redoing it to meet her (unspoken) specifications, I just waited for the details before beginning the project.
- I turned assignments in on time, instead of early.
- I began charging token sums for work people expected me to do for free, or asked people I was doing favors for to do something for me in return.
What had looked like a week’s worth of work that I could barely keep up with, even if I worked ’round the clock, suddenly turned into a reasonable amount of work I could actually handle (we’re talking working only 8-10 hours/day instead of 12-16). Then the question became, what would I do with all the spare time I suddenly had?
- I taught myself how to screencast and edit in Camtasia and shipped PR For Startups, a 2+ hour video course perfect for people looking for media attention, without hiring an expensive and inefficient PR firm.
- I chipped in around the house, spending more time cooking, doing dishes and even cleaning my office.
- I slept 7-8 hours a night instead of 5.
- I got all of my workouts in and did more BJJ.
- I spent more time reading books that weren’t directly tied to work, and it was awesome.
The outcome? First of all, I didn’t lose any clients. In fact, I got a NEW client…and a raise I didn’t ask for.
I did not magically get “caught up” with all of my work, but I did realize that that magical state of affairs doesn’t come no matter how many hours I work, so I can put things down once in a while. (Work expands to fit the time available.)
My mood improved by leaps and bounds. I felt balanced and well-rested. And, though my week was turbulent, I was better equipped to handle it with equanimity rather than turning into a stressball and pulling out my hair.
The point of this post isn’t just to explain how great it is to free oneself from false and debilitating beliefs, but also how much is available to us if we ask for help, suck it up, take big risks, and listen to well-placed guidance of others.
My biggest goal for the year has been to make the same amount of money working less hours… and it looks like I had the answer all along.