Productive Doing Nothing

Today is the first day of my sabbatical.

As I tell people about taking a sabbatical, many say, “I am jealous!”

What’s funny is the part of me that tends to overwork would just as soon never stop working. But it turns out frequent breaks (even if they aren’t four months long) contribute to higher functioning. 

Yes, you workaholics read that right. More breaks equal better work.

I realize it’s tough to just drop everything and take time off. Extraordinary circumstances are allowing me to do it. But everyone can, and must, take more frequent breaks.

Read on for more information about how you can start doing this, today.

You can follow the progress of my break here. Sign up at the right for “Making It Real.”

Thanks again for reading.

Productive Doing Nothing 

A fellow coach has been talking to me about taking breaks every day at work. She suggests working for 50 minutes and then taking a 10-minute break.

That’s a break every hour!

I’ve been “working” on this, and while I have to admit I haven’t hit anything near work-break nirvana, I’ve made some progress.  Taking these short breaks has helped me recognize the need for a larger one (hence, this sabbatical; bear in mind, though, tiny breaks in your day don’t have to equal a four-month break)   .

The benefits of frequent breaks happens to be supported by a lot of brain research. Breaks make us more productive, not less. Who knew?         

Here is some guidance from an article on the Huffington Post, about daily work breaks. Summarized, it says:

1. Take a 10-minute break at least every 90 minutes.

2. During this break go for a quick walk or at least move around. Don’t jump on Facebook or Twitter. Bonus points if you can actually walk outside.

3. This next one is tough but if you can, take a 30 minute nap at lunch.

4. Make a real connection with another person. (See item #2–posting on their Facebook wall doesn’t count).

5. Avoid screens of all kinds. This means no cell phone, tablet or computer during your break.

6. And finally meditate, or be mindful, for 10 minutes.

Obviously you can’t cram all of the above into 10 minutes, but during the day you can rotate through them, trying something different each time. Except the nap, all these suggestions are pretty easy to execute, whether you work for yourself or for someone else.

The Next Frontier

Once you’ve mastered taking breaks during the day, the next challenge is to take a real vacation. This article has some brilliant suggestions for ways to lay the groundwork so you don’t have to work on your vacation. 

The most insidious vacation invader is email; the author lays out a plan to prepare people for your absence, so you don’t come back to a four-foot stack of unanswered messages.

This is harder to do for a small business owner, especially if you’re solo and you can’t get the right person to cover for you. But there is also some research that shows shorter vacations taken more frequently can also help.

You may not be able to drop everything for four months, but you can start letting more air and light into your work life immediately.

If you want to watch a sabbatical unfold in real time, subscribe to my blog (sign up for “Making It Real” to the right of this post). I’d also like to hear how you have implemented breaks, long or short, into your work. Comment below

 

The Plan of No Plan

Four Reasons to Unplug

The word sabbatical comes from the word Sabbath literally, “ceasing.” You can read about the biblical origins here, or the secular description here. As you can tell, the idea has been around for millennia.

People take sabbaticals for four reasons: To change track, rediscover their life purpose, rejuvenate, escape, or some combination of all of these. 

I fall into the rejuvenate camp. I’m not ready in any way to retire completely (did I say that forcefully enough?), but I need to rest for a bit.  

At some point, we’ve all experienced the need to do one of these four things in our work lives. It just seems too difficult to actually unplug.  

The steps are pretty simple, even though as we all know, simple doesn’t equal easy:

1. Figure out how much money you need.

2. Figure out what you want to accomplish, learn or change.

3. Find someone to cover for you (which seems like the hardest part). If you’re a sole proprietor, you can arrange for a fellow business owner (even a friendly competitor, with some written guidelines in place) to take over your work. Or, if you manage your money closely, you can spend some of it to give yourself start-up capital once your sabbatical is finished.  

4. Go. (This is actually the hardest part).

How would this help you? According to Fast Company, a sabbatical can be the best thing that happens to your business or career. They even advocate not making a lot of specific plans for your time off.

That’s my plan. No plan. At the beginning, at least, I’m going to wake up with no plan, other than to write, meditate and listen. I’m not sure at all what I’m going to hear. I’ve rolled out of bed for many years and jumped on my to do list without too much thought, so I am very curious to see what it’s like to bring consciousness to the process of “what shall I do next?”  

If you’d like to follow my journey without a plan, sign up for my blog. (Scroll down a bit once you get to the blog page to Subscribe to Small Business Warrior. You can either get it through RSS or as email).

Have you ever thought of taking a sabbatical? 

Ever taken one? What was it like? 

What did you learn? Comment below.

What They Don’t Teach You in Business School (Or Any School)

I have long harbored the theory that many other things were far more important to succeed in business: education, knowledge of your market, selling skills, contacts, start-up capital, and a long list of other items. Basically all the things I learned when I was an MBA student and business owner.

It turns out the first step in business success, whether you have your own business or work for someone else, is knowing yourself well.This still seems strange to me. 

But enter “why is self-knowledge important” into a search engine and you get thousands of articles and books. Here’s a short sample from Psychology Today 

When you think about it, how could it be otherwise? Are we not simultaneously our best resource and our biggest roadblock?

The Myth of the Solo Operator 

Reality: You can’t run your business successfully all by yourself.

For some people, this news may come as a huge relief. You can stop pounding on yourself because you don’t do certain things very well, and you could just get help–end of story.

Or maybe you’ve already faced this reality. You’ve contracted with a part-time assistant, or you’ve taken the plunge and hired an employee. Or you work for someone else, but you figured out how to get help from your co-workers with the tasks you don’t do so well.

This is a strong first step. I congratulate you if you’ve already taken it.

But what happens when you don’t realize you need help? Suppose
you’re heavy on execution skills (you know how to get the work done and get it done well), but you don’t have much strategy (you can’t see the road ahead)?  

Then what? 

It’s easy to see when you don’t excel at the details of your business. Plenty of solo entrepreneurs have a hard time keeping track of their appointments. They can’t keep the paper under control, (that would be me) or they don’t keep up on their billing. These are execution problems and they’re relatively easy to fix.

There is an entire industry of bookkeepers, administrative experts, and virtual assistants waiting to help. If you work for someone else and you have trouble with administrative tasks, chances are they may actually be someone else’s job. (Lucky you.) 

But say you have your head down in the work every day–you’re strong on execution–and you aren’t looking ahead at ways to evolve the business. Customers love businesses like this, especially when the businesses first start up. The owner serves them. Who could be better?

However, if you’ve got your head down into the work every day, what happens if you need help in figuring out where to take your business next? How do you trust someone to help you with this “higher level” issue? Could you even admit you need help? 

The good news is that help is available. I have seen clients work through their business strategy questions using coaching; participation in trade associations and business organizations; and mastermind groups.

What do you do when you know you need help with the strategic questions about your business (or your career)? Comment below.

Priorities and a Finite Life Force

I’ve experienced a greater number of deaths in the past year than ever in my life. I’m not unique. As we get older, the people in our lives age too, and more of them begin to die. In a backhanded way, being affected by more people dying means I’m living, and loving a lot of people. This makes life full, and sad. It’s one of the the prices we pay for love.

If I’m lucky and live long enough, I’ll get to be like my 87-year-old dad, who recognizes the name of at least one person in the obituaries every week.  

Usually this topic seems pretty morbid and sad, but we’re beginning to talk about it more openly. Click here to read an article about a class (with a three-year waiting list) taught at Kean University, called “Death in Perspective.” 

My coach, Marlena DeCarion, once asked me: “How do you want to spend your finite amount of life force?”

It’s a different twist on the question we more often ask ourselves, that usually sounds like this: “What are your top five priorities for the day?”

Underneath, the questions are the same. I have to spend some life force to handle these priorities I’ve chosen as the important ones. Calling it “life force” instead of “time” makes the whole question more immediate, somehow. 

When I think about spending a finite amount of my life force on something, it makes me understand, at gut level, the price that handling each task exacts from me. I am spending something that I can never get back.

I begin to comprehend the fact that we each are allocated a limited amount of life force. It doesn’t mean I quit doing laundry or grocery shopping or cooking. I am willing to spend some of my life force on having clean clothes, food in the frig, and meals on the table. But it can make me think twice about saying yes to something I don’t want to do, or saying no to something else because it scares me or it’s out of my comfort zone.

What does this have to do with business and work? 

As I work with people to help them understand their strengths and blind spots, what they enjoy doing, excel at, dislike and do poorly, it becomes very clear that you need to know these things about yourself. Without this awareness, you can’t allocate your life force, in the way that best for you and your gifts.

We’ll all have to do some things we don’t like. There’s no way around it. But I’m very interested in minimizing those things I don’t like, or don’t do well, so I can spend my time doing things I’m built for, good at, and enjoy in a deep, satisfying way. 

Does it take someone dying to remind you about staying conscious of the way you spend your life force? How do you know you’re spending it in the right places?  Comment below.

What the Greek God Apollo Can Teach You About Your Business

Matt is a gregarious soul. He’s an ENFJ on the Myers-Briggs, an extroverted, people person.

He’s also a Pt. 7 on the Enneagram–a person who loves going to new places, meeting new people, and trying new things.

In the StrengthsFinder, his skills are centered around relationship and influence (“Woo” being my favorite skill).

Matt knows all these things about himself, but gathering the information together in a complete picture through the Know Yourself Coaching Program, gave him a comprehensive view he’d never seen before.

Oracle at Delphi in Greece

At the beginning of our coaching, Matt told me he was stuck. He’d recently retired from a career he’d pursued for 20 years, and he didn’t know what to do next. Befitting of an Enneagram Pt. 7 who loves future positive possibilities, he had lots of projects he’d investigated, and some business ideas he thought he might enjoy pursuing, all in various stages of non-completion.

I was ready to believe he didn’t know what he wanted to do next, but as he talked I realized he knew exactly what he wanted.

He was being attacked by our old friend, resistance. What he wants to do next is a business he’s been preparing for his whole life. No wonder resistance is attacking with a vengeance.

As a result of the Know Yourself project, he agreed to ax all but his top three outside projects, and plant his butt in the chair two hours a day in the morning to start creating the business he really wants.

Magic is already happening.

In this new program, I’ve worked with people who didn’t know themselves fully; who did know themselves but weren’t clear on what to do with their skills; and people like Matt who knew themselves well, but were paralyzed by resistance.

What could you do if your strengths, your personality traits, and your innate self, were all marshaled in the same direction toward your purpose in life? 

Comment below.

The Full View of You

Each time a new client goes through the Know Yourself process, I’m become more convinced that it’s as fundamental to having a successful business–if not more so–as a business plan and a marketing plan. 

Read on about this week’s client–we’ll call her Jane–and how her personality doesn’t just influence her business results, it creates them.

Here are the results of the combined tests and what they show about each client I’ve been working with:  

1. The Strengths Finder reports Jane is a strategist – 75% of her top five strengths are in this category (this means she can easily see what needs to be done in most circumstances).

An aside: If you’re a strategist like Jane, you either need to consider running your own business, or pray that your bosses listen to you about the direction the company needs to go. Otherwise, you’ll be frustrated with work. 

2. Jane’s Myers-Briggs type likes to take in a lot of information before making a decision. Sometimes people with this attribute can struggle to make any decisions at all.

3. Her third test results from the Enneagram show her interest in participating in a wide variety of activities (she’s a Point 7 in the Nine-Point system). This also highlights the difficulty Jane might have in deciding on the best two or three things to pursue at a time.

Are you getting the picture? Jane told me she had been thinking for many years about starting her own business but hadn’t. The outcome of her three tests showed exactly why she’d had trouble making the leap.

But what would happen if Jane had gotten help? What if she’d hired an office manager who was highly detail and task focused? Or found a partner like this?

Without additional help, this woman, a bright strategist, and great salesperson, was stuck working for someone else.

This is my new epiphany: It’s impossible to run a successful business without knowing ourselves well. I’m not kidding. To really thrive and make sound, strategic, bottom-line decisions, we need the full picture of who we are. One of the most holistic perspectives you can get comes through the converging lenses of Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and StrengthsFinder. 

It’s very powerful stuff. 

Do you think aspects of your personality are inhibiting in you in any way in your business? Where? How? Comment below.

What Do You Mean, I’m Not Perfect??

We are all human–meaning, by definition, we all make mistakes, we can’t do everything perfectly, and some things we can’t do at all. But are these things we can’t do well, or can’t do at all, just mistakes or weaknesses, or are they the product of personality hard wiring? If they are hard-wired, berating ourselves for our mistakes is futile. 

For instance, I don’t have the skills to change the oil in my car, so I take it to a mechanic. Instead of getting frustrated at my inability to organize my office and keep it clean, I hire someone to help me.  

The funny thing is, I wouldn’t think about beating myself up because I can’t change the oil in my car, but I do occasionally get very frustrated that I need help organizing my office. These weaknesses/mistakes both spring from the same place, though–the place where I’m human and can’t do absolutely everything perfectly. 

Below are some scenarios that would be considered mistakes. I’m proposing that these come not out of being bad or defective, but as by-products, or even the flip side of strengths you already possess.

Can you see yourself in any of these scenarios?

  1. Not returning phone calls in a timely way because they intrude on your downtime.
  2. Meeting people at networking events, making a connection, then not following up.
  3. Cutting prices on your services without calculating the effect beforehand.
  4. Jumping on the bandwagon of whatever is popular right now (Groupon? Living Social? Or even social media like Facebook or Twitter), before figuring out whether it will work for your particular business.
  5. Putting up with unacceptable behavior from employees or vendors (or customers!) because you don’t want to rock the boat.
  6. Not having a process for repetitive tasks so you have to recreate the wheel every time you do the task again.
  7. Not checking your work i.e., not quality control process.
  8. Getting lost in the day-to-day work and forgetting to look up to see what might be on the horizon.
  9. Having a hard time listening to opinions from other people who don’t agree with you.
  10. Having such high standards for perfection that no one can meet them, even you.

If you recognize yourself in any of these situations, I’m guessing the recognition comes with a dollop of self-condemnation or criticism.

What would it be like if instead of beating yourself up, you approached these less-than-skillful behaviors with the same attitude I bring to changing the oil in my car? That instead of criticizing yourself, you just find someone to help you? 

How do you handle areas in your life where you are less than skilled? Comment below.

The Water We Swim In

How does it help to know ourselves?

This seems like a dumb question on the surface. Of course it’s always better to know yourself. People have been telling us to do this since we were in elementary school.

But in my experience knowing myself is one thing, changing my behavior, trying something new and responding differently to a familiar stimulus, is a lot harder than it looks.

I’ll take myself as an example. One of the things I’ve learned from putting myself through the Know Yourself pilot, is that I am a Six on the Enneagram, sometimes called the Loyal Skeptic.  

We Loyal Skeptics have lots going for us, but one thing that isn’t, is our knee-jerk reaction to be afraid, whether there’s a reason to be or not. Things look scary or dangerous even when they aren’t. Until Sixes become aware of this automatic reaction, we don’t notice ourselves becoming paranoid or fearful. It’s simply the water we swim in.

 

Now that I recognize this fear reaction, I have choices.

 

Noticing the behavior is the second-hardest part. Research is showing that in order to notice your automatic behavior, you need to train yourself to be observant. And to train yourself to be self-observant, you need a mindfulness practice. (Read here and here to get a taste of the benefits of a mindfulness practice).

The first hardest part is what to do now that you’ve noticed and you want to change your behavior.

Here are some pretty reliable options:

  1. Call someone for support or just to listen to you observe your own behavior. 
  2. Read a spiritual book.
  3. Pray.
  4. Or my least favorite, and most effective: Get curious and notice what’s going on, whatever it is, without judgment. Sit with it. This choice is also counter-intuitive. In my case, why would I want to pay more attention to fear? But happens is that the feeling shifts. Sometimes in less than 90 seconds.

When it does, I can make clearer decisions about what to do next. I can even take the advice I gave you in the introduction to this edition of the newsletter.

How about you? Do you notice yourself repeating unskillful behavior? What do you do once you see yourself? I’d love to hear. Comment below.

What Do You Think About At the End of the Year?

I’ll spare you the cliché about how fast time flies, and just say that the end of the year can be a fruitful time for reflection and soul-searching. 

I’ve had three significant people pass away in 2013. These deaths (two of them unexpected) make me want to spend whatever time I have left on this planet doing work that is meaningful to me, and also to my clients.

How about you? What do you think about when December rolls around–aside from holidays, presents and parties?  

Read here for ways you can deepen mastery of your business and yourself. 

And comment below if you’d like to talk about what the end of the year means to you.

Wholeness Leads to Mastery

I’m continuing to work with people in the new pilot program I’ve been telling you about. I’m using the StrengthsFinder (this is a link where you can get your top 5 strengths for $10),  Myers-Briggs, and the Enneagram personality tests. 

(They aren’t really tests because there are no right or wrong answers, but the right terms for these tests, “instrument” sounds like I’m torturing people.)

I began talking about mastery also here and here a few months ago. I stumbled on the realization that what blocks us from building successful businesses isn’t what I originally thought, lack of information. I thought if I explained how to market and how to do a business plan in a way that was easy to comprehend and simple to implement, that would be sufficient.

It’s not.  

Even with the best information in the world, mastery can elude us, because there are internal blocks we may be unaware of. These are the real barriers to mastery. (Here’s a sneak-peak of my new promo video on this very subject.)  

 

I think about myself sometimes as moving around in the world partially blind. As humans, we may never be able to see our whole selves clearly. Most of us “see through a glass darkly.”

 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress. 

The “data” gleaned from this pilot is incredibly illuminating. It can point to some of the places that block you and places you excel–if not the whole picture of you as a human being and a business owner, pretty darn near. (By the way, and even though it isn’t intuitively obvious, blindness in knowing what you do well can block you, too. Lots of people discount what they do well because it feels so effortless. They assume their special talents come easily to everyone else, and they belittle the very skills that set them apart.)

 

When you get more familiar with your blocks, strengths and “shadow aspects” you can start using this knowledge to deepen your mastery. You become more congruent, more real, more whole.  

How might knowing yourself really well help your business? Consistent marketing? A workable business plan? The ability to sell and be true to yourself at the same time? 

If you want to deepen your knowledge about what makes you tick, email me about this new pilot. I’ll take you through the three tests and help you understand what they mean, and how the “data” translates into you creating and sustaining a successful business.  

Have you thought about what you want to master in your business? What gets in your way? Comment below.