Work-life-balance is elusive for most business owners, but here’s how to find it
Work-life-balance is a term that’s been bandied about by many business and life coaches, in the books and videos by the life style gurus and in the personal development industry. It’s what we’re all supposed to be creating for a long and happy life. It’s the dream. Sadly, it’s a distant dream for many business owners.
One of the reasons for the unattainability of the dream, is that the generally accepted idea of Work-life-balance is a myth. Many great philosophers and thinkers, such as the gently spoken Alain de Botton, consider that the way we think about Work-life-balance is fantasy (Watch Alain de Botton’s TED Talk here). We need an entirely different picture to model our lives on, if we want to feel satisfied about our life and work.
And you know this is true too, because in your business, if anything is to get done at all, it’s down to you; if you don’t do it, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. You’re often the first one in the door in the morning, and the last one out the door at night. You have breakfast and lunch on the run, and after the kids have been put to bed at night you have to catch up on your admin and quoting. And by the way: Isn’t it funny how with every new staff member you employ to lighten your workload, you seem to get busier?
Work-life-balance: It’s personal
To create a better Work-life-balance in our lives as small business owners and entrepreneurs, I believe there are a few principles we need to understand first:
Balance is a personal thing, what works for you won’t necessarily work for anyone else.
What feels right, is right. There are no hard and fast rules for balance.
Balance is a never ending negotiation. There is no set formula for balance. Priorities change constantly in life and business.
Sometimes we’ve just got to do what’s got to be done.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard, there’s nothing wrong with averting a crisis, but too much is too much.
Sometimes, not doing something, at all, (whatever the thing might be at this moment), or not doing it perfectly is fine. Your business and your life will most likely survive and the world will not come to an end.
Nobody has ever come to the end of their life and said: “I wish I’d worked harder”.
There is no rule book for Work-live-balance. There have been times in my life when I’ve worked insane hours while feeling totally balanced, in “flow” and happy, and other times when I’ve worked much less hard, yet felt overwhelmed and stressed. And just because I might work fewer hours per day, than you might do, doesn’t mean I have achieved better balance than you do. If you feel that your life is balanced, it is, and if you feel your life is out of balance, it is also.
All-nighters can be fun sometimes, can’t they?
As business owners, sometimes we’ll be confronted with situations that simply mean we have to pull an all-nighter or work on Sunday. It’s part of the package of being a business owner. It can even be highly rewarding to pull an all-nighter on a project, with a deadline looming and at the end of it, know you’re the one that’s made it happen, pulled a rabbit out of the hat. It can be one of the most fun experiences you have in business.
I will always remember the last weeks leading up to the opening of the Olympics in Sydney in 2000. I and my team worked every hour that God gave us for two weeks straight to complete the fit-out of the Holland Heineken House in Darling Harbour. It was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. That’s now 18 years ago and I have nothing but fun memories of that period (and about the 14 day long party with 100,000 of my closest friends in the Holland Heineken House afterwards).
The simple fact is that if you feel good about your life and the mix of things you spend time with, you’re in balance, and if you walk around feeling bad about the fact that your kids or your spouse or your choir or your health and fitness or your peace of mind are missing out, then your life is not in balance. And what’s more, it’s really important to understand that what is right for you today, may not necessarily be right for you tomorrow. It was perfectly alright for me to spend those weeks building the Holland Heineken House and barely seeing my family, for those weeks, at that time.
Things change… Don’t they?
But it would not have been alright for that to be my life all year round. It may be fine for you right now to catch up on your email after the kids have gone to bed, but it may also be that at some point in the coming year it will start to bother you, and then it’s not alright anymore.
But one thing is absolutely sure. You’re going to want to take the issue of balance in work and life seriously and check in with yourself regularly what is and what isn’t right, and you will want to move towards finding the balance that is right for you, because nobody has ever laid on their death bed wishing they’d worked longer and harder. (The top five regrets of the dying)
The 4 quadrants of time management. And also watch my video about managing the most valuable asset of your business here
Learning to delegate (one of the 4 D’s, see below)
Work-life-balance follows automatically once: you’ve learned what really matters in your life, you learn to say No to the stuff that doesn’t matter, you learn to trust that you’ll probably make the right decision (after all you’ve got this far, why not assume you’ll continue to do ok), and finally you learn to set time aside for the important stuff you must do and delegate the rest (or apply the 4 D’s)
Once you’ve learnt all of that, you’ll have started to create a Beautiful Business and Life and that although it mightn’t look like Balance to an outsider, it works for you, and that’s all that matters.
I’d love to help you take those 5 steps above. I have created a Five Steps to Discovery Process to help you get moving and find greater balance in your life and Build a Beautiful Business and Life. The steps are small and mostly free, find out more here.
The 4 D’s
The 4 D’s I mentioned a couple of sentences ago are a nice management concept. The idea behind the 4 D’s is somewhat parallel to the 5 things I talked about above. For any task that comes across your desk consider one of the 4 D’s:
Do It –If it takes less than two minutes, and it needs to be done, just do it now. You could schedule it for later, or delegate it, but it might take you a couple of minutes just to do that. Save yourself the hassle and do it now.
Diarise It –if it’s going to take more than two minutes, if it’s got to be done, and you’re the right person for the job, block out some time in your diary in the next week or two to Do It.
Delegate It –The secret of getting more done and scaling your business is to delegate, delegate, delegate… So get good at delegating and look for every opportunity to do so.
Dump It –When you really stop and think about it, and you have a look at the 4 Quadrants of time management, some stuff isn’t actually all that important… A lot of demands on your time are firmly in quadrant 3 (urgent bu not important) or maybe even quadrant 4 (neither urgent, nor important) … The world won’t come to an end… What’s the worst that could happen… DELETE.
Have a look at my Big Pain of Small Business survey to see how you compare against other business owners on balancing work and life. You might also like to complete the very short Richard Branson Questionnaire, to see how you compare against the most famous of all the noble knights of business, who also seems to have his work and life sorted better than most of us poor peasants.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
This is the first post in the series of The Ten Priorities: Laying the Foundations for a Great Business and Life. The first Priority is about You, the business owner. The introduction to this series on The Ten Priorities is here.
As seen on Kochie’s Business Builders on Channel 7, on 1 October:
I sometimes like asking my clients what they think is the most valuable asset of their business?
Most people I ask that question of will mention, their customers, their staff, investments, equipment, IP, etc.
Of course, it’s a trick question, because the answer is, it’s You.
All other assets, as valuable as they might be, you can buy, borrow, hire or steal more of. But you, your time, your health and your brain cells are absolutely limited.
The first responsibility of any business owner is to look after the assets of the business and to maximise the return the business gets from those assets. And so, the most important job of a responsible business owner is to look after him- or herself.
Breakfast sitting down
Responsible business owners prioritise themselves.
They ensure they get enough sleep and rest. They ensure their brain gets time to relax, so it can function optimally. They ensure they have breakfast sitting down, most days. They get some form of regular exercise and they look after their own mental health and wellbeing.
You won’t always be successful at prioritising yourself, some days things just get out of hand, but regularly, maybe at the start of every day, stop for a moment and plan some space for yourself in the day.
If you take the responsibility of looking after your most valuable asset seriously, you will start to build a Great Small Business that Stands the Test of Time, and your Life will never be the same either… I promise you
It’s now a little over a year ago and I’ve noticed that her passing from my life has had a quite unexpected impact on me.
In the weeks and months leading up to her dying I’d tried to imagine what life would look like after the event. But no matter how hard I tried to imagine that future, it was as if I was looking at a black screen of a big television that wasn’t turned on, just a big black flat nothing. My imagination simply wasn’t able to create a picture of life without my mother in it.
And then, a couple of months after she died, I suddenly realised I was now on the other side of that big black screen and that, surprise surprise, life on the other side of the television looked very much like normal, life goes on.
People asked me how I was and how I felt, and if I missed her a lot and I wondered about that myself.
And the answer I generally gave, was that I felt at peace with how she’d died and how we had been able to complete our journey in life with each other and how much time and attention I’d been able to give her and the process, and I was ok, quite good even.
Don’t speak too soon
A little voice on my shoulder kept muttering things under it’s breath like: “Don’t you speak too soon”, and “I’ll talk to you in a while, you’ll think different then”, but it all sounded fairly harmless and I didn’t pay it too much more attention.
But now, a year later, I’ve started wondering.
Most of my life I’ve been interested in doing things differently than everyone else. Break the norm, stand out from the crowd. Whatever field of endeavour I went into, I felt the urge to do things differently, whether that was in boat building, home renovating, coaching or in any of the many other things I’ve occupied myself with in my life.
It’s always been Projects (with a capital “P”). Projects have excited me and kept me interested and moving. But I’ve noticed something change inside me this past year. And it might lead one to think that the little voice on my shoulder was right to be concerned after all.
You see, I now think of these projects as “Ego-Projects”… Projects that were designed to stroke my ego, to convince myself how special, clever, creative and different I really was.
Projects that were designed to show my mother how special, clever, creative and different I really was.
And now that’s she’s gone, it seems like I don’t feel the need to convince myself or my mother of anything anymore.
Projects hold no interest for me at the moment. All I’m interested in is Being.
Being with myself and Being in relationship with family and friends.
Tuesdays with the grandkids
I wrote about my wonderful Tuesday afternoons with my grandkids here and I get engaged when working with my clients and I love investing time in my friendships and in my relationship with Lady D, but I simply do not feel the need to go and do anything beyond that kind of Being.
For example. Some years ago I set myself a big Project, to be talking on a global TED stage by the time I was 65. (I wrote about that Project in November last year here). But now, I have zero interest in doing that anymore. Quite apart from the fact that it’s unlikely I’ll actually get to speak from a global TED stage, I’m simply not interested. I have better things to do with my life than chase after such a thing. And even if I were to get onto that stage, what then? What’s next? Election to the USA presidency? (oh wait, there’s a thought)
But it’s very strange, It’s a weird experience for me, unsettling. I’ve never felt like this in my life before.
On the one hand I think it’s actually really positive. What else could I ask for than to feel good about just Being, to want nothing else than to just Be. To be here and nowhere else with the people that matter to me? Free from striving, free from feeling pressured and free from feeling I have anything to prove.
But on the other hand, isn’t that also dreadfully close to being depressed?
Aren’t we meant to be striving, and achieving and making things happen, building stuff, creating stuff, developing stuff? Isn’t that what sets us apart from the monkeys?
Striving for Sgt Pepper’s
I suppose there is little doubt that if it wasn’t for human striving the Beatles wouldn’t have created Sgt Peppers, van Gogh wouldn’t have painted “Irises” (or cut of his ear), and Bill Gates wouldn’t have created his Foundation, but by the same token, all that striving has led to all the wars that ever were, to overpopulation and to global warming, to loss of bio diversity and to looming mass extinctions.
And then there is this little thing called: “The need to earn money” (To be honest you could easily argue, that writing blog posts such as this one, don’t fit in any kind of regular marketing strategy for my business. Maybe if my business was a meditation retreat, blogging about giving up all earthly desires might prove to be useful, but for a business coaching business?… Not so much)
So… It’s been a weird year since my mother died. I imagine the changes it’s wrought in me, will continue for a while yet.
Why throwing a Big Fat Tantrum feels like a great option right now
Life feels a bit like I’m wrestling in a mud bath right now. There are a bunch of challenges and big changes in front of Lady D and myself and I’m not finding it all that easy to navigate my way through.
I know about emotional intelligence, and part of me knows that I can trust myself to ride through these challenges and changes, that I’ll come out the other end, and that life will go on. I tell myself that 58 years of living my life as I have, means I’ve earned the right to trust myself to manage, to decide and to do the right stuff.
But there’s also a hint of panic creeping in. What if this time I don’t get on top of the challenges, what if this time I slowly but inexorably spiral down into a deep black hole and what if this time I won’t find the way out?
I volunteer at a homeless support centre in Sydney called the Wayside Chapel, and I have met many people who have spiralled down into that black hole and many who don’t ever find the way out again.
Those people scare the bejesus out of me. I see them drag themselves through life, day in day out, and they freak me out. I’ve sometimes wondered how it’s possible that people allow themselves to disappear down that hole so deeply. I’ve always considered myself “better” than them, because I held the cocky belief I have the inner strength to pick myself up by the scruff of the neck and go and do something constructive.
But right now, I’m not so confident of that strength.
Crawling out of Trouble
And maybe that’s a good thing. To quote Graham Long, the CEO of The Wayside Chapel: “Whenever you find yourself thinking you are the smartest (strongest, most resourceful) person in the room… You’re in trouble.” Maybe I’ve been in trouble and now I’m crawling out!
And I remind myself that the last couple of years have brought significant change in my life and all of that change is bound to have an impact on me and to just allow it to take its course.
But it’s not that easy, is it?
There’s simple practicalities of life to consider.
It may be perfectly healthy to just let things develop as they will, but I need to get new clients, I need to find a new city to live in and buy a house, I need to make sure that things in our house in Holland go well, I need to support Lady D and I need to continue to develop my business and stay healthy.
And I’m not sure how to do all that. Actually, forget knowing how to do all that, I’m confused even about the steps to take, to arrive at that knowledge.
Lean into The Discomfort
In the past, in the days when I was more or less convinced that I was the smartest person in the room, I used to say stuff like: “Lean into the discomfort” and “Being lost in the wilderness is the only way to discover the hidden treasure” and “Trust you’ll have the answers deep inside you”.
There’s nothing like an Inspiring Facebook Meme to remind people you actually are the smartest person in the room, is there?
But it doesn’t feel so great when the shoe is on my own foot, and I’m not feeling so smart these days.
The Wave Form of Life
Graham Long talks about the wave form of life. We go from peaks to troughs and back up again. He makes the point that the impulse to stay on top of the peaks all the time, and never descend into the troughs, is the impulse of the addict.
And I get that, I really do. I accept that as soon as we find ourselves on the top of a wave, we’ll start heading down into the trough, every time. It’s just that these days I feel less certain about the opposite, about climbing out of the trough again. Or maybe it’s that I’m not so sure I’ve hit the bottom of the trough yet, maybe there’s a lot further to go, who can tell?
And while I’m here, what am I supposed to do? Swim? Or let the wave toss me about for a while?
One of the challenges I am currently struggling with is the fact that we’re going to have to leave Sydney, probably NSW, possibly even Australia. I won’t bore you with the reasons, suffice to say it’s a consequence of decisions we’ve made over the past 15 years. I am not regretting the decisions I’ve made, I believe they were entirely the right decisions for my life at that time, but ultimately it now means we can’t stay here.
Blind Freddy Could Have Seen This Coming
It’s not as if the situation we find ourselves in right now comes as a complete surprise. To be honest, Blind Freddy could have seen this coming 15 years ago, and what’s more, at least we have options, many more options than the people I meet at the Wayside have. But I don’t want those options. I resent being forced to choose one of them. What I really want is to throw a tantrum, stamp my feet, throw myself on the floor and scream at the top of my voice, until someone fixes things for me.
Not a good look for a big 58 year old, balding, overweight man (I tried it on my grandkids the other day, they were not impressed).
Lack of Conclusions
For the last hour, I’ve been procrastinating about how to continue this piece. One of the reasons I started writing this post was to help me clarify things for myself, and to make me feel like I was doing something constructive. But I’m stuck now. Not sure where to go next or how to finish up.
Normally, having arrived at this stage in an essay, I’d start drawing a conclusion and a lesson and then find a way to finish with my signature closing words: “I Promise you”.
But now that I’m not the smartest person in the room anymore, that formula doesn’t really work any longer. I don’t have a lesson, I don’t even have a conclusion for you…
Sorry about that.
I’ll just go and throw that Tantrum now… It will make me feel better… I Prom…
I’d love to hear about your Rules in the comments below
I hate Rules, as a Rule (!!), but if we must have Rules, I’d rather we had Rules about happiness than about eating chocolate or wearing helmets.
I recently watched a great video by Robert Waldinger about a 75 year Harvard study on Happiness (watch the video here). It’s a fascinating talk and a fascinating research project. It got me to thinking about the good life and happiness and I arrived at these 10 Rules. As a business coach who’s focus is helping his clients feel great about themselves and build great businesses, my perspective is tilted in that direction of course. Robert Waldinger talks about the value of relationships and at some point in the video he says: “On the whole, the people who do best in their lives as they get older are those who have leant into building relationships during their younger years”. I am completely convinced that he is right, and so I offer these 10 Rules as additional to the findings of the Harvard study.
BTW, they’re not really Rules of course, think of them as food for thought and conversation starters instead.
Also, you need to know, that for me, there is little difference between Life and Business, so I suggest you consider these 10 Rules in whatever context suits you best.
And I’d love to hear about your own Rules for happiness… Please share your thoughts in the comments below… I dare you!!!
So here goes:
Rule 1 : If you know where you’re going and you’re in control of the ship, it’s easy to get up in the morning.
I believe there are two reasons we get to feel overwhelmed and stuck in life. The first is when we don’t know where we’re going and the second is when we feel that life is living us instead of the other way round. The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland told Alice: “If you don’t know where you’re going, My Dear, any road will do“. I’ve always loved that quote (as long as you keep Rule #2 below in mind as well), but what is just as important is that we have a sense of agency in our lives, of having our hand on the tiller. Nothing is more stress inducing in my experience, than feeling we are being pushed and pulled in directions that we have no input over. It is one of the reasons I believe we, as business owners, suffer from depression less than the average population, because even though business might be terribly stressful and frustrating at times, at least we have this sense of being in control of the levers.
Rule 2 : Goals are merely directions on a compass, not destinations to get to.
The self-development craze of the past 30 years has sent us up the garden path with it’s focus on goal setting. We’ve been told that you must set clear measurable goals in life and strive to achieve them (Remember SMART Goals?). But goals can never be anything else than a Hail-Mary: “Given everything I know right now and assuming my best efforts in the future, I am going to achieve XYZ”. You don’t actually know anything about the future. Tomorrow the world will be a different place than it is today; Tomorrow you’ll be a different person than you are today. You may well decide to change your mind about your Goal tomorrow. So Goal setting is indeed a very useful thing to do, as long as you treat the Goal as a direction, a course to travel in, not a destination. And when circumstances on the journey change, you should of course always be prepared to change your direction, if that is what’s required to keep your journey going.
Rule 3 : The smallest difference that makes a difference will change your life.
Forget Change with a capital “C”. Sustainable change in life or business happens by taking one small step at a time, one day at a time. Every day a tiny step forward is a much more effective recipe for effecting change than attempting to jump forward in big leaps. Small step change is much less risky, it allows for everyone to adjust to changed realities and if one of the steps doesn’t work out, it’s no big drama to take one small little step back again.
Rule 4 : Forget growth, concentrate on delivery.
The myth is that business must grow or else it dies. I’m not sure where the myth comes from, but it is a myth, and a dangerous one at that. Focusing on growth as the measure of success in anything is a recipe for disaster and many businesses have grown themselves right into oblivion. The trick is not to grow your business or your organisation, it is to do so while continuing to deliver the quality and consistency and reliability that you aspire to. Growth will follow automatically if you do what you say you’ll do by the time you say you’ll do it at the price you say you’ll do it for, every time, with a smile.
Rule 5 : If you want something you’ve never had before…. You’ve got to BE someone you’ve never been before.
Your business (your career, your relationships, your health) is what it is today, because of WHO you are today. It follows that if you want your business to be something else, you have to Be someone else first. Change in other words, personal Change with a capital “C” (don’t forget to take Rule #3 above to heart as well). You simply can not create the business you dream of and do so without putting your face right up close to the mirror, looking yourself in the eye until it gets uncomfortable, and stay there.
Rule 6 : Today’s plans are tomorrows toilet paper.
Someone once said that planning is guessing, and a famous general is quoted as saying: “No battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”, and in my days as a builder I used to say that all project plans I’ve ever created were out of date before they’d come off the printer. But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that planning is therefore a waste of time. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact. The conclusion to draw is that we must always be planning. Because planning is a verb, it is what we must do all the time. We must constantly ask ourselves “what-if” questions, imagining the possible scenarios we might encounter and how we’ll respond to those should they come to pass. The value of the plan is never in the piece of paper but in the work done to create it.
Rule 7 : Change is uncomfortable, and that’s OK.
Human beings don’t like Change, we’re scared of it. And that’s because change happens as a result of going on a journey. And going on journeys is scary. Think of the anxiety you feel before going on a big trip, especially a trip where not a lot has been pre-booked. And a journey of change is like a journey where nothing is pre-booked, it’s a journey out on the open ocean, out of sight of land. Journeys of change never take place in the safety of the harbour. It takes courage to leave the harbour behind. After every visit to the harbour, we have to take a deep breath to push off again, set a course for the horizon and resist the temptation to turn back as soon as the first big swells hit. But then once the sails are set and the ship settles on its keel, we start to revel in the possibilities of the open ocean again (even if we might feel sea sick from time to time).
Rule 8 : Feeling fear and anxiety means you’re not a psychopath, and that is a good thing.
Fear, anxiety, nerves, worries… They’re normal human emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling fear. Being nervous about the outcome of things is a good thing. Worrying about things means you’ll double check that your parachute is shackled on securely before you jump from the plane. Feeling anxiety before making a new investment, employing a new staff member or signing a contract is healthy. Love your anxieties I say; Seriously, they’ve gotten you this far, don’t knock them.
Rule 9 : Presence is a great thing to aspire to, but un-achievable for normal humans.
Yep I know, it is a great thing to be Mindful, to be “here and nowhere else” and to always remember that Now is all there is. I know it, I feel it, I hear you… and… I also know that I will not attain that state of mind until about 1.5 minutes before I die, and I suspect, nor will you. So by all means, remind yourself to be in the Now from time to time, but don’t give yourself a hard time when you’re not… Noone else is either.
Rule Last : You’ll never be as cool or as rich as Richard Branson, and that’s cool.
Emotional roller coasters as the facts of life in Sydney catch up with us
Lady D and I have lived in an amazing apartment in Sydney with sweeping views over the harbour for the past 7 years. Besides enjoying the space, the light and the view, I’ve felt at home there and possibly even “house proud”. As I was want to say to various friends and acquaintances: “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a box”. But the harsh realities of Sydney real estate and tenancy laws meant we’ve had to move a bit sooner than that, and on our own two feet.
We found a nice place in a new suburb and we’ve settled down again, three months since being confronted with the facts of life in Sydney. The past three months have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster, as you might imagine, and it’s been fascinating to observe my brain in action during this time.
One of the first things I noticed, was that my whole outlook and appreciation of what had been our home for the past 7 years changed.
Suddenly, the apartment became just 4 walls and a roof.
Suddenly, I stopped looking at the view and where previously I’d always opened the doors to the balcony, whenever I could, now I couldn’t be bothered half the time.
For years I made a point of waking up around sunrise to see the sun come up over the water, but suddenly, I started sleeping in most mornings.
Suddenly, I felt out of place in the suburb and even Sydney lost some of its gloss.
Once the decision was made to move, I couldn’t get out fast enough.
Looking beyond Sydney
Beyond the short-term move we’ve now made, we also decided it’s time to look beyond Sydney for the next stage of our lives. The house we’ve moved into a month ago will only be our home for only a year or so.
And again, I’ve noticed my brain scrambling into action. Because we know we’re only going to be here for a year or so, I’m finding it difficult to get emotionally connected to this place. It doesn’t feel like home and where previously I would have gone out of my way to make our place feel homely, now I’m not even motivated to hang up any pictures. I have this sense of having moved into a furnished apartment.
It’s a fascinating process my brain is taking me through these months. It seems to me that it’s all about self-preservation. My brain is intent on protecting me from being hurt. Having to leave the apartment, having to move again in a year and having to leave Sydney, potentially involves a lot of pain, but if I don’t like the apartment, if I’m bored with the view or with the pretentiousness of the suburb… Everything changes, doesn’t it? I won’t grieve for something I don’t like anyway. And as long as I’m not emotionally attached to the new place, well it won’t matter so much to leave that behind later either.
It’s a neat trick really.
A con trick, but a neat one nevertheless. Especially when bundled with the other trick the brain plays to minimise pain. The trick of blaming the rest of the world.
Landlords and Carlords
I found myself getting incredibly angry with the rental property managers, with the government’s mis-management of the Sydney property market, with the pre-historic state of Sydney tenancy laws and with the property owners (I refuse to call them landlords by the way, as if I would refer to the owners of Hertz car rentals as “Carlords”).
Red hot angry.
Those moronic &%$**$% and corrupt @#%^$&& etc etc etc, you get the picture.
(Don’t get me started, I can work myself into a right frenzy here.)
But of course, it’s just my brain doing more self-preservation. It stops me from focusing on what’s really going on.
My anger may indeed be righteous and justified, as I firmly believe it is, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I could have seen this thing coming for years. The Tenancy laws haven’t changed in any recent past and I made good use of the insanity of Sydney real estate myself, some years back.
Really what’s going on is frustration with myself for not having prepared better and possibly even some embarrassment that my business hasn’t become so successful that a little thing like a 40% rent hike is of no consequence.
The primary function our brain has, is to keep us alive and to protect us from any and all possible attacks. It all goes back to cavemen days in fact. If a sabretooth tiger is about to pounce, you don’t have the luxury to check in with your deepest feelings, to feel the disappointment in yourself for not being more careful in your choice of camp site. The only thing that matters is to preserve your life and the lives of those that are dependent on you. Time enough for recriminations and learning the lessons and feeling the pain later… As long as you make it out of there alive first.
A hundred thousand years on
And so it goes with our brains still, 100,000 years later. Our stresses and pains have different causes, but our brains behave in the only way they know how: preserve life, minimise pain, get out of there and live to fight another day.
I’ve found it really useful to realise that that is what my brain has been doing over these past few months. It’s allowed me to calm down more easily and it’s allowed me to make cleaner decisions.
Of course I can’t know what tricks your brain plays on you from time to time, but rest assured it does. I suggest you be on the lookout for them and see if you can’t catch your brain out some time. It’s quite wonderful to behold your brain in action… I promise you.
From Pirates in the Bahamas to Danish women in Italian Piazzas
One of my favourite Facebook memes is:
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”
We grow up and find that the world looks quite different when we’re 30, 40, 50 and beyond, than we thought it was going to look when we were young.
I thought I was going to be a modern day pirate like Long John Silver (a fantasy recently revived with the swashbuckling Netflix series “Blacksails”), but it turned out I got violently seasick on the oceans of the world. And besides my wife and I had our first child and children don’t go that well on pirate ships.
Then I thought I was going to be a journalist of world renown, but I didn’t have the patience to make it through the ranks.
I set my sights on a boatbuilding business on Sydney Harbour, but what I knew about running a business in those days could be written on the back of a beer coaster, and the business failed.
Next I started a building business in Sydney. I developed it and ran it for about 20 years. At times it did very well, at other times not so much, but in the end I had enough of the never ending struggle between contractors, homeowners and architects. I was very happy when a former employee of mine offered to buy the business.
More or less at the same time my personal life took a 180 degree turn and where I’d always thought I would grow old as one half of a happily married couple, I suddenly found myself single (by my own choice I hasten to add).
The rest of my life
I was 45, single, without home or business or any immediate responsibilities other than to work out what to do with the rest of my life.
And I had no idea. None.
I figured I needed to create a bit of space in which to work out what direction to head and I took myself off to Italy. The idea being, that if I were to sit myself down on a piazza in Italy for long enough, the universe might speak to me.
And it did.
I actually remember the precise moment that it did: I was having dinner with a bunch of friends in a little restaurant in Perugia in Umbria. I got talking to a Danish woman who was in Italy for a month long sabbatical and she told me about her life coach. My ears pricked up. I’d never heard of the term life coach and I was equally intrigued and sceptical. Long story short. I did some research and decided to do a foundation coach training course when I got back to Sydney. I loved it and in the next few years I enrolled in as many studies and trainings in coaching and related fields as I could.
Various coaching practices
I set about building Life coaching, Executive coaching, personal counselling practices and combinations of all of them. In the end I created the thing I do now, which is all about helping small business owners feel great about themselves and their business and about making business Fun (with a capital “F”).
I love what I do these days and by all accounts I am actually really good at it. Until quite recently, I saw myself growing old in the inner-city of Sydney together with my new spouse, doing what I do now, connected with the community and my kids, grandkids and extended family and friends. But another change is coming down the pike, heading straight for us. Life is going to take another 90 degree turn. I can’t tell you exactly which direction this 90 degree turn is going to take, but it seems quite clear that we’ll be leaving Sydney in the next year or so.
We’re upset and anxious about this prospect. It’s going to mean significant adjustment and changed circumstances, but really, the change is no greater than any of the changes I mentioned above, and those were just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s a good chance that the changes will turn out to be really positive in the long run and that we’ll look back and smile at the memories of our anxieties and dine out on the stories, just like I do now when thinking about the changes I mentioned before.
Life is indeed what happens when we’re making other plans. Planning is guessing. I’ve said it before when writing about goalsetting in business here, but it’s no different in life.
The one thing we can be sure of is change But us humans, it seems, are hardwired to resist change as much as we can. There’s a primal instinctive fear we feel in change, I believe.
But change is coming and In any case, I’m going to remind myself how positive the experience of change can be, especially in hindsight, even if it doesn’t quite feel that way now.
Most small business owners are overwhelmed on a day to day basis. They’re drowning in the daily demands of their business and they don’t get to the important stuff. Their families, health and social lives suffer, and even though they’re running around all day looking after the needs of their business, the business seems stuck, spinning it’s wheels.
This is not news.
“Tell us something we didn’t know”, I hear all of you say. You’ve probably experienced this state of overwhelm for many of the days you’ve run your business and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve spoken about it either.
But what’s the way out?
Potholes and Motorbikes
I remember when learning to ride a motorbike, the instructor taught us how to avoid an obstacle on the road, a pothole for example. He said:
“Where you direct your gaze on a motorcycle is where the bike will automatically want to follow. When spotting a pothole, focus on where you want to go instead if you want to avoid breaking your fork.”
It’s a good analogy. I find that by focusing on how we want to reduce our Overwhelm, we often end up magnifying the pothole.
The trick is to focus on the opposite of Overwhelm
I refer to the opposite of Overwhelm as “Fun”, “Fun in Business” to be precise, because Fun and Overwhelm cannot exist side by side. When you’re having Fun you’re not Overwhelmed and when you’re Overwhelmed you’re not having Fun.
Of course you’re very welcome to use a different word than overwhelm, some people think about the concept of Flow, others talk about being fully engaged or you can call it buzzing if you prefer. What matters is that we put a clear picture in our minds of what we want life to be like, rather than focusing on what we don’t want anymore.
So let’s do a little exercise. I’d like you to get out a piece of paper and pen and draw a horizontal line across the page and mark the line 0 at the left end and 10 at the right end.
I’m calling this line your “Fun in Business” scale, but if you’d rather call it the “I’m buzzing scale” that’s fine too.
Write today’s date beside the scale.
This is how we define the scale, 10 on the scale means that the week just past in your business has been as much fun as you can imagine. It’s been a buzz, you’ve been paid well, you’ve done great work, you’ve delivered on your deadlines, your staff are engaged and do great work and are efficient and making money for you, you’re customers love you and they’ve told you so, you’ve been able to get home at normal times and have had energy to give attention to your spouse and kids (if you have them), orders are looking good for the immediate future, you’ve met some important challenges, you feel creative, resourceful and in control of life.
That’s a 10 on the scale.
0 is the opposite of all of that.
Now, I want you to think about the following questions:
What number on would you give the past week in your business, on your Fun in Business Scale? Go ahead and mark that number on the scale.
Now that you’ve picked a number, ask yourself, and ideally write down, why you picked that number and NOT a lower number, in other words, what have you achieved already, to get yourself to that number on the scale. Important note: with all your might, resist the temptation to focus on why you are not at a higher number.
Now ask yourself: If I were to ask myself the same question next week at the same time, what number would I want to be on the scale then? Say you were a 4.7 this past week… Maybe you can get to a 5? Or a 4.8? Mark the number on the scale.
Last question: Having decided that you want next week to be a 5.3 for example, on the Fun in Business scale, what specific things must you do this week? What specific tasks, actions can you commit to, to get your week from 4.7 to 5.3? (I generally suggest to pick a maximum of three things and each of these things should take a maximum of 1 hr each to do)
A little less overwhelm, a little more Fun next week
And now comes the fun part. If you’ve gone through the little exercise above with me, you will have selected 1, 2 or 3 things to make happen in the week ahead and if you do these things, your week will have been a little more Fun than the immediate past week has been.
Of course that’s all well and good, but you’ve still got to find time for those three things and actually do them.
So, grab your diary, right now and block out time for those three things this coming week. I’ll run through a little example to illustrate the process:
Let’s say one of those actions of yours might be around planning your days better. So maybe an action might be to get up ten minutes earlier every day and before you pick up your phone or go to your email you think about the day ahead… The Big Rocks… What are the big things you need to get done today, and when can you realistically expect to be able to do them?
Such a ten-minute planning moment, before the craziness of the day gets under way, will in most cases improve your feeling of being in control throughout the day and hence increase your sense of Fun in Business. (Make sure you leave plenty of space to allow for the inevitable unforeseens and crises… Just plonk the big rocks in the diary… The rest will slot in around those)
Of course, your actions this coming week might be around entirely different aspects of business and life. Using the scaling approach is a really simple and effective method to help you focus on the preferred future rather than on the past you don’t want anymore. It will help you get into the habit of looking ahead and concentrating on what’s in your control, and to take small specific actions moving forward.
Don’t make the mistake of wanting to do everything at once. Taking one specific small action every week is much more sustainable than trying to take an enormous great big step. Big steps lead to big falls. People that take consistent small steps end up changing their lives … I promise you.
Careful what you wish for in your business, you might just get it
The weary traveler makes a wish
December has come around and we’re officially in the silly season, end of 2016 in sight. I think it’s time to do some reflecting.
I learned a couple of big lessons this year about myself and business.
First, I learned that Kindness is a key success factor in small business. I published a whole newsletter on the topic of Kindness in October. It’s a nice collection of articles and videos from some great writers, as well as some of my own musings on the matter. Learning to be more Kind to myself and everyone else is one of my projects now, maybe for the rest of my life.
And second I learned the value of the old warning: “Careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.”
Here’s what that’s about:
Three and a half years ago, I decided I wanted to spend a lot more time with my family in Holland every year. Until then I’d do the regular family visits, but those were expensive, and exhausting, and you don’t really get to develop your relationships on those kind of annual flyin – flyout trips.
Reorganising my business and my life
I decided that what I wanted to do, was to reorganise my business and life in such a way that would allow me to travel to Holland and live and work from there for 3 months every year. It’s been my project over the past 3.5 years to make that come together, and I did it.
This year I’ve been in Holland for a total of 4 months, in two trips, and my business hasn’t suffered… If anything it’s healthier now than it’s been for years.
I have a really great marketing assistant in the Philippines now who continuously improves my findability. I have created lots of useful articles, videos, webinars, newsletters and my three books. I have implemented two sophisticated Marketing Automation Systems to connect with and build relationships with my audience. My clients are entirely happy to work with me via Skype and because of VOIP telephony I can simply make phonecalls to Australia from anywhere in the world.
It’s taken a lot of effort, time and money, and I wasn’t always sure if it would work out in the end, but it did, and now it simply doesn’t matter where in the world I am anymore.
I have so little to do
And that’s what is such a strange experience for me, because suddenly, I have so little to do. I stopped nearly all of my previous marketing activities. I resigned from the business referral group I was a committed member of for 10 years. I stopped going to networking events, I’m not doing “coffees” anymore and my online activities are nearly all automated. All I do, in terms of business development, is that I write articles and read interesting blogs in order to offer my audience useful Food-for-Thought, but that’s it. And as a consequence I have all this time available; time to do with as I please.
It’s a mighty weird experience, because I haven’t had time like that for such a long time. I’ve always had work to do, business to generate, quotes to complete, networking, sales follow up, proposals to write, admin to carry out… Never enough time in a day to get everything done as a matter of fact.
But now, I’ve found myself considering what kind of hobbies I might take up, or if I might volunteer somewhere. I didn’t truly appreciate what was going on most of this year; I struggled with myself a lot this year. I felt I was procrastinating and lazy and ill-disciplined and distracted most days. I’d sit down behind my computer determined to do some work, but I’d waste whole days doing nothing much at all.
Stuck in the procrastination swamp
I’ve written about procrastination before and I said in the article, that one of the reasons we procrastinate is that we aren’t clear on what it is we are meant to be doing. I suddenly realised a few months ago, that I was stuck in the middle of exactly that kind of procrastination swamp. I didn’t know what I was meant to be doing, because there was nothing to do.
Since that realisation I feel great about myself. I actually achieved what I set out to do in 2013 and now I have to learn how to live in this new reality.
Have you ever set yourself a challenge and then when you’ve achieved it, made it work, you suddenly find yourself wondering: So What’s Next?”
And so we go from challenge to challenge in life, but I tell you what, I’m up for this challenge!
I publish a weekly “One-Minute-Business-Tips” newsletter which is designed to help small business owners take these very small simple steps every week… Each tip I send out on Friday morning, is designed to take less than 15 minutes, but taking those little steps every week will start to change your life… I promise you.