I recently fell back in love with reading. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. For an embarrassingly long time, I had little to no interest in it. Thinking about it, it’s because I wrongfully associated reading with stagnation. I would see other bloggers share posts about all of the books they’d read recently and scoff. I’d think to myself, “how in the world do they have time to read that laundry list of books? I can barely get through my to-do list as is. I need to manage MY thoughts, not spend time in someone else’s.”
I believed that if I wasn’t busy – busy moving, busy working, busy creating, busy outputting – I wasn’t enough. In my mind, all work was created equally, and in order to achieve anything significant, I always needed to be doing SOME sort of it.
Then I found The Third Door, by Alex Banayan. I’d been eyeing it for a while but hadn’t committed. I finally decided to take the plunge, and the water was better than I’d expected. I devoured the book for three straight days and before I knew it, I was knee deep in the next one.
Want to know the craziest part?
I still managed to get through my to-do list. That’s right. One and a half books in four days later, and I haven’t fallen behind. What? I was super confused. I’ve always been SO BUSY. Where did all of this newfound reading time come from?
I’m currently reading the book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” by Tim Ferriss. I’m about 80 pages in and have a bunch of thoughts so far, but I’ll save them for my forthcoming “currently reading” book review list – since I apparently have time to make those now.
The reading today focused on efficiency and effectiveness, and encouraged readers to stay away from “work for work’s sake (or W4W, as Ferriss refers to it).” He asks:
“Am I being productive or just active? Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?”
To be honest, this kind of blew my mind. It resonated with me because I realized that I had been conflating productivity with activity. You don’t ALWAYS have to be moving to be productive. Ferriess goes on to share two very important theories:
Pareto’s Law: 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the input
Parkinson’s Law: A task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.
More simply stated, Parkinson’s Law suggests that the more time you have to complete something, the more time it will take to complete.
I considered these theories, and I thought about my schedule as it applied to my newfound love of reading. Somehow, all of the important things I needed to accomplish were still getting done, and yet, I had carved out huge chunks of my day for reading. So was I being productive? Or was I just being active?
Listen, I’m a workaholic. I love working. It’s true. I love a good challenge, I love to collaborate, and I love to create. But intentionally carving out time for LIFE, has been… well, life-changing. I make a good breakfast for myself every single morning. I understand that’s a luxury, considering I work from home and don’t have to run out the door with my yogurt. But I know people who will wake up early to run or read or pray. Their version of a well-rounded morning (where there’s a will, there’s a way).
I also take Millie to the dog park (as I repeatedly recount to you guys) almost every day. It’s her break from watching me be a workaholic and my break from being one. It’s the time I use to force myself to get fresh air. And then there’s the reading – there’s the forcing myself to be still. I honestly think I’m sleeping better because of it.
You’re no good to anyone, least of all yourself, if you’re burnt out.
So, how to combat this burnout? Work smarter, not harder. Plan intentional efficiency. Here are four ways I’m working towards efficiency:
I don’t care what anyone says, time management is a skill, and it can be learned. It takes discipline. Open your iCal or Google Cal or go the old school route and grab a planner (might I suggest this one from Empowered Life?) Be intentional about how you spend your time and eliminate guess work. Wondering what you should be doing is lost energy.
I also suggest carving out space for the things that feed your soul FIRST (praying, reading, running, family). Fit work AROUND those things, when you can. It goes back to Parkinson’s Law: you’ll get the job done in the amount of time you allot for it. And yes – SCHEDULE your run. We had a pastor once tell us that if you REALLY want to commit to something, you put it in INK. It can’t be erased – it’s locked in. Grab a pen and put your yoga class in ink. Get used to scheduling yourself and you’ll get a better understanding of the value of time.
Create a To-Do List Every Night
Again, eliminate the guesswork. Prioritize 2-3 of the most important work related tasks that need attention for the next day and knock them out. I also suggest adding a bonus 1-2 items to tackle, time permitting, in case you’re being especially efficient. Schedules offer a broad-stroke overview of how your day will be spent. To-do lists get specific.
If you have an important conference call scheduled for 2PM, use your to-do list to make note of the important topics of discussion. If you’ve blocked out 10AM-4PM as designated “work time,” then what are the 2-3 projects that absolutely need accomplishing during that time? Be specific with your to-do list, and boil it down to the essentials – be PRODUCTIVE, not ACTIVE.
Understand Your Strengths
When I decided to launch The Kind Coalition, I tried to build the site myself. Horrible, horrible mistake. I’m completely design inept, and I spent entire days researching how to build a beautiful site only to come away with a product that even a five year old would laugh at. I finally decided to bite the bullet and spend money to bring on a professional. Everything that took me days to do, she got done in hours – and ten times better. She was efficient because web design was her forte – she could easily navigate it. This freed up my time to focus on places I excelled naturally. It’s important to understand your strengths and capitalize on them – outsource everything else.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “okay Natalie, but it costs to outsource.” To which I say this: I started to think about the things in which I’m efficient, and that’s when I decided to start picking up freelance work as a virtual assistant. Assisting is something I can do with my eyes closed. It doesn’t require me to exert a lot of effort because, after six years of assisting, I feel comfortable calling myself an expert. I’m an efficient assistant. I would rather pick up extra work doing jobs at which I’m extremely efficient to cover the cost of contractors who will employ their efficiencies to save me from exhausting myself trying to do those same things. Efficiency is key. Know your strengths and know when to delegate.
Ooft you guys. I learned this lesson the hard way. When I moved to LA, I bit off way more than I could chew in a panicked attempt to be useful. I adopted all of the world’s struggles as my own. I took every meeting. Fixed every problem. Attended every lunch event. And I burned the heck out. Hard. The physical symptoms of burnout are just as trying as the mental ones. Saying no saved me from myself, and it saved everyone else from having to deal with a very ugly version of me. The truth is, when you overcommit yourself, you’re not doing anyone any favors.
Even if you WANT to say yes to that lunch date with your childhood best friend – if it’s going to be the thing that spreads you thin enough to push you over the edge, it’s not worth it. No one wants to see you over activated. Saying no is sometimes the best thing you can do to help yourself AND those around you. “No, I’m sorry – I just don’t have the bandwidth to take on another client right now.” I literally just had a contractor tell me this today, and I had to respect that choice because I knew it stemmed from a desire to protect BOTH her resources and mine. No is not a bad thing.
How do you remain efficient? Sound off in the comments! Oh, and in case you missed it the first time around, we’re giving away $750 to Nordstrom! Click below to enter!!
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