Hello gorgeous.

I want you to know something. Yes, starting your own business is wonderful. You wake up when you want, work from where you want and never have to sit through a boring-ass ‘weekly planning meeting’ EVER AGAIN. Rocking.

However. This freedom does not come on a platter. You don’t wake up one and go ‘oh I seem to have stumbled on the perfect life. Ho ho. Tea and toast, Jeeves’.

(Because that’s totally what my mornings look like. Ahem)

So let’s take a down-and-dirty look at what really goes on in a fledgling business. This isn’t a negative article, it’s just the less sexy bits that get left out of the ‘how I made it stories’. I think you deserve to know it all so today I’m sharing these 9 truths with you.

The below is your psychic ball to know what’s up ahead so you can be ready to ride through this messy, beautiful journey and make your free range life happen. FOR REAL.

Let’s get to it:

 

1. The business you start with won’t be the one you end up with.

The first version of your idea will be wrong. People won’t want it, or you won’t want to do it. More than likely:

Your first website won’t be your last

Neither will your first brand name

And that’s a good thing.

Your business is a living creature, not a statue. Until you’re in the field it’s hard to know what it’s really like to live with, and when you get there you’ll soon learn what you need to change. Sometimes the answer is ‘almost everything’.

So don’t spend too much on that first logo.

 

2. You will want to quit

More than once you will think you have made a huge mistake even starting this.

You will think you were crazy for even contemplating that you could run a business.

You’ll think you’re an imposter.

That’s when you know you’re on to something good.

 

3. Your family and friends won’t get it

Start your business and more than likely:

Aunt Maude will think you made a mistake.

Your buddy Sam won’t hold back letting you know how many businesses fail.

Others in your life will be ‘supportive’ but never actually understand what you do.

Many will miss the days they could put you into a box and say “she’s a lawyer”.

At least some of your friendship groups will change.

Honey let’s get real here. What is more important: your happiness every day, or someone else’s mild discomfort at introducing you at weddings? Sticking with the friends who count or the ones who only empathise because you both hate what you do? Following the beige army’s footsteps or living your real life? (you only get the one, you know)

Isn’t escaping from a box that doesn’t fit precisely the reason you are here?

 

4. There’s no such thing as an overnight success

You will work your butt off to get your first 10 clients. They will be the hardest ones to get.

You might look at a successful person in your field and say “I want what they have… but without doing the graft that let them achieve that”. They will look back at you and say “good luck, and if you find that easy button let us know”.

What counts is DOING (smartly). You can learn all the strategies in the world but unless you DO them they are worth nothing.

The overnight successes out there?

I admit it, they were ‘made overnight’: over many, many nights of late toil. With coffee and the company of streetlights.

They wanted to quit, they thought they made a mistake but they kept going and going until one day someone said “hey you’re an overnight success, I wish I could be as lucky as you!” (you can be, by the way. Just do the above.)

 

5. Your number of Twitter followers doesn’t count

There are a lot of things you can buy to look like  a business: you can rent an office, get good business cards, have a nice website made up by a hot designer, and yes you can even ‘buy’ Twitter followers and Facebook fans.

There might be good reasons for you to do all of these things. I’m not judging. However. None of these are enough on their own. You can easily sit in your office with nice cards, 10,000 followers and a cutting edge website… with no clients and no money. A business ‘shell’ is not a business.

It is one thing to build something that looks like a business. It is another to build that moment of magic where people love what you do, get it, and hand you money to do it some more.

Know the difference.

 

6. No one owes you a paycheque

I once heard someone say “no one is buying my ebook. I wrote it and created a website but no one is buying. I put so much time and effort into it already, I shouldn’t have to put any more into promoting it!”

Yes, you should. You are not an employee.

No one owes you a paycheque. No one owes you their money. No one owes you their attention.

It’s up to you to make your offer worth their attention, worth their money and worth a paycheque.

Showing up to work is not enough.

The value you bring is not just the content or the service. A huge whack of your value is presenting what you offer so GET IT. Don’t set yourself up to be ignored as one of the shouting hordes, but create an environment so people WANT what you have on the table. Desperately. Enough to pay for it, now.

Learning how to sell is 50% of the journey (so don’t waste all your start up time on creating a product you have no idea how to communicate and waiting for a  paycheque). Instead, live in your clients’ heads. Learn how to show them the value of what you do so that they want it, really want it, and pay to prove it too.

 

7. It’s not all cocktail parties and CEO moments. 

In the early days you will do it all. Forget the glamour of ‘having your own business’. For the first few months that just means “I sweep the floors, as well as meet the clients”.

Later you can (and should) outsource the parts you don’t love. But if you outsource something before you understand it, you’ll find it slide to a halt all too soon.

The only way to understand something? Do it yourself, first time round. Keep notes on how you did it and the mistakes you made and what you learnt. Then pass it on. Of course, by then you’ll be taking control and acting like a free range human.

You will also be handy with a broom.

 

8. Your dream life does not come with your dream business

You’re not doing this just to ‘be an entrepreneur’ (you’d be reading another blog if you were).

You’re doing this for a reason: to build a life that you love. To spend time with the people and places that mean something to you. You have a vision of what you want to contribute to the world, of doing something that makes you come alive every day, and your business is your vehicle to get it.

Never lose sight of that. That groundwork, knowing what you’re in this for, is crucial.

If you just ‘build a business’ without considering ‘you’, then you’ll end up in a cage of your own making. This time there will be no boss to blame.

Getting free is a conscious decision, not a gift that comes with self employment or a job title.

More important than just “I have a business” is sticking true to what you want and crafting each element of your business to suit you and your life.

That takes guts.

You’re not building a business, you’re creating a life. And that, my dear, starts with you.

 

9. You wouldn’t give this up for the world

Once you get into the free range life, you’ll know two things

1) the above is true and

2) you wouldn’t give this up for the world.

The payoff of being your own boss is bigger than a paycheque.

I read some research recently showing that self employed humans are happier than employed humans, and it clicked instantly.

When you are self employed, you get validated every time someone likes you enough to hand over money and buy from you (when did you ever feel that praised by your boss?).You get to do every part of the business you want to (see that chicken logo at the top? I drew him, cause I wanted to). And you get to be YOU every day.

It’s like becoming a grown up for the first time.

You’ll get addicted to this life. And that’s when you know you’ve made it.

 

10. You get to make your own rules.

Hey you’re a free range human! Want to include 10 points when the article asks for 9? Do it. Like this :)

Seriously. I want you to know this honey: the hardest part is understanding, truly understanding, that you make up your own rules. And then grasping that opportunity with both hands.

With no boss to hold you back, and no boss to blame, it’s down to you to make magic happen on your own terms.

To me that is the most wonderful thing in the world.

Like the idea of making your own rules?

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So you’re at an extended family wedding. It’s late in the day, the sun is going down, and for the first time that day you notice a man you don’t quite recognise. He’s the one wearing a shiny suit, with a terrible comb-over, necking leftover drinks in the corner.

Is he a distant cousin? guests whisper to one another. He’s got Uncle Rob’s nose don’t you think? Who is he?

Well, if this were Jo Over-Worked and Pat Under-Pricing’s wedding, then odds are, that possibly-a-cousin-in-a-wrinkled-suit sniffing the inside of used plastic cups?  The one who people are trying to pretend isn’t there?

Is the crappy business model.

Oh yes, I said it. Business Model. The two words most people try to ignore as it lurks in the corner necking the dregs of your drinks (setting the tone for the room, even though no one wants to admit it’s there).

But here’s the thing.

Your business model isn’t a blood relation.

It’s something you choose to let in the room, or you don’t.

Does yours fit you? If not, it might be time to politely show it the door.

I know, I know: business models are that thing that we sometimes avoid thinking about, but if you’re running your own thing then, whether you are aware of it or not, you have one (read on to find out!).

The thing is, if you don’t think about yours? It can easily spiral into the hidden killer of that free range career that started with so much potential.

One of the common ways this happens is with what I call the “neighborhood wino” business model

This is the way of doing things in your business that seems fun enough the start of the day…. but ends up pissing your income and time up the wall by nightfall.

Then, it does the same thing the next day. And the next week. Until both your time and income seem in short supply.

(In this model it’s not uncommon to end up being followed around by a small smelly dog that the client promised would be ‘no hassle’ (You love dogs! He’s cute!) but turned out to be a ball of fleas and neuroses who just chewed up your last dollar/pound/peso note).

Without a real clue what he’s doing, this sad, rootless business model bumbles around the same streets day in, day out, always needing more of his currency of choice (wine) but never really figuring out how to get a consistent source.

Voila. The neighbourhood wino business model. Like traipsing through your career with a giant hangover.

To be clear, I don’t want to belittle this for a minute. Not knowing how to leave the stuckness cycle is not a nice place to be. This message is about another way.

Because, I’ve got to be honest: NO ONE has ever come to me and said “I’d like to start my own business and I’d like the neighbourhood wino model, thanks!”

Freedom? Yes please. Wino business model? Not so much. This is not the place anyone wants to, or should, end up.

So how in the name of all things chocolatey does this happen to smart, well-intentioned own-bossers?

The truth is, there are several ways it can start (clichéd marketing that fails to speak your customers’ language being one…) but today I want to hone in on one of the most common wino-creation-moments, which is also one of the simplest to fix.

This one is all about numbers.

How to go from ‘great idea’ to this (and back up again)

Let’s look at the case of Charlie.

Charlie has her own business, run from her laptop at home. That side of it is all lovely, but she needs to sell 50 of her widgets/tickets/cat-pee-training sessions a month just to break even.

In reality it’s a stretch for Charlie to sell 5 or 10.

Charlie feels secret shame about where she is in her business. She can’t admit to her friends she is only selling 5 things a month, and living off some freelance work on the side… but the truth is she is: and even that is a stretch.

Worse, Charlie has been looking at other people with products like hers who price in the way she prices – why are their businesses working when hers is not?

This seems crazy, because the catch is, Charlie has people who LOVE what she does. She knows the problem in her case isn’t that her marketing is off the mark (it’s way better than many others, and it’s not like she’s sold nothing!). It’s also not that she’s selling something people don’t want (people are definitely buying this sort of thing elsewhere).

By now, Charlie is exhausted. She feels like a failure. She wonders if she should be doing this.

What should she do now?

Well, common wisdom might say Charlie just isn’t well known enough yet. Common wisdom might say she needs to put her all into increasing her numbers 10-fold (!) and until then, she has to just, well, wait it out and keep doing what she’s doing.

Nice in theory…  but this is why Mr Com N. Wisdom (and his chatty cousin, Mrs Evri Wan-Saez) went out of business.

Growing the numbers of people knowing you + wanting what you have to offer is darn important, of course it is… but the good news is that giant numbers are not a pre-requisite to a great full time free range income. Not with the right model. So let’s get realistic about your timeframe and your needs this decade:

A ten-fold growth is a big thing to wait for before you can even pay your bills without burning yourself out every week. (Did I mention Charlie hates selling? Well there’s that. She hates selling and has to sell to – once again  - 50 people a month. WTF? When did a business model that makes her have to constantly sell lots of low priced things connect with Charlie creating a life where she does what she loves?).

Here’s what I’d say to Charlie: if you have spare money to live off for a year or so? If you don’t need to make any real income from this for that period? Or if you have a growth plan that you’re kid-in-a-candy-shop excited about? (And that does not end in the words “and in 10 years time Google will buy us out for 10 million bitcoins!”)?

Awesome. Do it.

However… if you need to make this work sooner rather than later?

Then you need to work with what you have. And what Charlie has is a business model that’s not right for her.

So if you were Charlie? Taking aside possibilities about improving your marketing + attraction (which is a whole other blog post in itself), at this point you’d have two choices:

  1. Raise. Your. Damn. Prices. (in other words charge more for the same thing) or
  2. Change your business model so you don’t need to sell much in order to make what you need.

Let’s look at both of these:

1. Check your pricing (aka stop trying to be a supermarket, when you’re really a boutique).

Under-pricing… it’s insanely common. Which seems odd at first glance, doesn’t it? After all, why on earth would someone price too low to be able to live off what they do (without exhausting themselves in the process) ? Well, usually it’s that people don’t think they can price well.

Maybe someone else in their field can charge more, they say, but not them, not now.

The funny thing is this assumption is often not related to questions of quality. It’s often more a vague feeling that you are not “allowed” to price at (or above) market rate until you hit a magic level (such as being very well known in your market).

When you reach that point, common wisdom says, well then you will be “allowed” to charge well. Then people will let you.

Until then, common wisdom agrees you have to under price.

Once again – this is why “common wisdom” didn’t stay free range for very long. Under-pricing is a key killer of many potentially amazing businesses:

Because that theory? Has it the wrong way around.

Staying around won’t let you price well. Pricing well is what will let you stay around.

The local boutique doesn’t stay in business by competing on price with the large clothing retailer in the city. They simply don’t have the volume of customers to pull that off. Instead they grow their business on relationship and quality for a specific group of people who they really care about and who they can really serve.

Luckily, those elements are a pretty big deal, and are things that plenty of people buy on.

Which is perfect, because when you’re a boutique you don’t need ‘everyone’ to buy: you may just need a handful of committed people a month. Reckon you can get a handful of smart clients a month, a handful who care about things other than rock bottom price? You bet you can.

Plus, starting out with a boutique mindset holds you in good stead as you grow. Because the boutique owner never stops caring about quality.

So when you start out thinking small and caring about your people, you’ll keep that as you grow. Even if 4 years down the line you’ve got so big you have a team to help out? You’ll pass those people-matter values on to them. Most of all, because you both cared AND priced boutique style? You’ll have a chance of still being around in 4 years.

Which is where we started this in the first place. Are you playing a supermarket’s pricing game… with boutique customer numbers?

Dear free ranger,

Raise Your Damn Prices.

Sincerely, people who want you still around doing your thing this time next year.

2. Change what you sell (or change HOW you sell it)

For some people, raising prices alone isn’t enough.

A quick way of knowing if this is the case for you is to ask: how much would you need to raise your prices by?

In Charlie’s case, she needs 50 sales a month but has realized that 5 is more her speed. If nothing else shifted she would need a 10-times increase in price. If raising prices by a factor of 10 would result in her charging $100 for a pencil… then maybe she’d be better off with the second option which is:

Change your model.

Show that embarrassing wino cousin the door:

Instead of a lower value product to 50? Create a higher value product for 5 or 10 people. Then care the actual socks of those clients (hint: this is how people get the reputation to get to the bigger levels in the first place).

If you could do that for just 6 months, focusing on lower numbers for higher value/price… how much more would you learn?

How much more secure would you feel (without that pressure of sell all the things all the time!)?

And what a better position you’d be in, 6 months down the line, than the person who sat there insisting they had to sell a bunch each month and feeling like a failure every step of the way?

Because here’s the thing. Charlie is not a failure. She is darn good at what she does. She just has a terrible business model for the place she is in, in her business, here and now.

Where can you add the most value to the world? If it isn’t where you’ve been playing, move your game.

There’s a difference between stretching yourself… vs having your next month income rely on in-a-year’s-time customer numbers. So to be clear: I am not saying “don’t step out of your comfort zone” or “give up if you don’t have it all on a plate” – neither of these are free range thinking! In fact in your first year of business, you will be finding your feet and probably working more at the start than you would be down the line (this is true of anything new you move in to, isn’t it?). But even then this advice counts. Thinking like this, whether you make this change now or keep it up your sleeve? Might be one thing that makes that future happen faster than most people imagine possible.

While we talk a lot about choosing what you do, you know what’s equally important? How you do it. And from this moment on, know that that is in your control as much as anything else.

Love,

Marianne x

 

PS: These two examples might look like a case of too-small vs too-big… but in some ways they are exactly the same. Both of them take you away from the now, and both fail to honour your needs. Both of them take away your power to make thing work and hand it over to fate. If you’ve taken back your power from an office and a boss? I know you can take it back from a shoddy business model.

I’d love to hear from you: have you ever been in a position where you were working too hard for too little? What did you do to change that?

(Or if you are in that position now  – or just want to stay out of it in the future! – drop a comment below and tell me: what ONE thing from the above most resonated with you?)

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In my first year of changing from my old work into my free range life, I met up with a friend who had moved overseas and I hadn’t seen in years. Over coffee and sticky cinnamon rolls I told him what I was doing now and how much I loved it.

He looked at me and said “oh that makes so much sense for you, I can see you doing that so much more than what you used to do”. He said it like it was obvious. Yet for a long time it hadn’t felt obvious to me!

Why is it that when someone is doing what they love it looks like the clues were always there – but when we are the ones doing the looking, for ourselves (in the ‘before’), it’s like we’re fumbling in the dark?

Here’s a short cut to finding ‘your thing’ (aka your direction, what you actually want to be doing):

It’s likely to involve something you’ve been told to ‘tone down’ more than once.

For example:

The person who needs to be doing something advising/mentoring others but thinks “who am I to do that?” or “that’s too ego-y” is unlikely to be the one hiding his opinions in the corner – ask people in his life if he offers unsolicited advice about how they could make things better, and the answer is likely a big old heck yes, all the time.

The person who is better at improving things than coming up with something brand new? Might be telling themselves that there’s only value in developing something new that no one else has thought of… but in reality simply can’t help finding improvements or awesomifying what’s already there. (If they are currently in the wrong work environment they may be driving their colleagues batshit crazy with this tendency).

Your biggest strength (your superpower even) doesn’t want to be caged. When your ‘thing’ doesn’t have a home, and barely has acknowledgement as anything more than an irritating weakness, it goes around like a whirlwind, untamed. Result: it might well be something you’ve been told to tone down more than once.

And of course you were told to tone it down. It was shining in garish blinding lights not because it was wrong in itself, but because you never learned how to direct your flow to find its sweet spot.

I’m not talking about a topic area or a hobby by the way, I’m talking about something deeper – the main thing you bring to the table. The theme behind that person you are when your lights are fully on, without apology. 

Bottom line: in the times you’re not officially looking for what you ‘should do’ you’re being a part of it already. Whether you are looking for that ‘big idea for what direction you should take’, or how to hone what you are already doing to be more you, odds are a clue is right there, in the moments you just can’t help doing.

Quite often a long-term search for self is rarely that: scratch the surface and it’s a search for another self, a more acceptable, shiny self, that you can call your own.

That person may end up finding that ‘other self’ in their third best strengths, so they plough on and do pretty ok, but never feel like they are thriving… and meanwhile they save their very best thing to unintentionally vomit up over friends, family, and colleagues when they aren’t watching themselves. (That right there is a great way to reinforce that your strength is really a weakness).

If you take one thing from this message? Take this:

Honour yourself.

Stop looking outside yourself for who you think you should be, and instead look at the clues of who you are when you just can’t help it. The former is the way to years of feeling not good enough (and feeling lost in the process). The latter is the seed that will thrive when you own it, and create the right environment.

A natural ‘superpower’ isn’t usually playing the piano like Mozart. It’s that little thing you can’t help doing… and it turns from a weakness to a strength when a) you do it in the right environment (ie: not unasked among family or within an organisation that truly doesn’t give a damn) and b) you step into it and own it.

Stepping into who you are is not selfish and it’s not a ‘luxury’ for when you’re in a better place: it’s the key to what you’re looking for. Because being the person you are? Will do more for the world than being a shadow of the person you think you should be.

So going back to the start, with my friend and the coffee and the sticky cinnamon rolls – he wasn’t saying “well done for a brilliant idea”. He was saying “well done for stepping into the person you’ve always been”.

If you haven’t done this yet, one day I’d like to say the same to you. Because that person, my dear, is more than worthwhile.

Love

Marianne x

PS: and when you find that thing? Odds are at first you’ll dismiss it as not good enough. You’ll tell me it’s not worthy, too quiet (or too loud). You’ll tell me it is the only strength in the world that can’t possibly be a seed in your free range career. You’ll tell yourself it’s too ‘boring’ too ‘hubristic’ too ‘obvious’ or too something.

I’ll tell you aren’t evaluating whether or not you get to be that person or do that thing – the reality is that you will continue to do it all the darn time as you always have done. Instead, you’re deciding, here and now, whether you spend the next however long looking for who you should be… rather than turning in to what’s already there, patiently waiting to be seen.  That person has more value than you can imagine.

 

Trying to find your thing?

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Ever feel like you’re ‘too’ sensitive, or get overwhelmed too easily? And sometimes worry that might get in the way of really growing (or even starting) your own-boss career?

Then this video is for you.

How do people run businesses when they are a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP?). And what might come up day to day? This is a topic which usually doesn’t get much air time, but has been brought up a few times by free range tribe members, so I’m speaking directly to it in the video below.

(NOTE: if you haven’t heard of the concept of a Highly Sensitive Person it is a term coined by Elaine Aron and describes someone with a heightened sensory system who “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment”. More info, including a free quiz, can be found here: http://www.hsperson.com).

 

Watch this video for an open chat sharing my experience with this topic and what you can do if you identify as being that type of person:

Marianne x

 

Create your own career (when no one job ticks the boxes)

Because settling for a one size fits all work-life? Isn't what you're here for. Drop your name below for another way:

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(though soon that patient bird is going to be all like "screw this shit, I'm getting us both outta here" and, well, you don't want a pissed off imaginary bird pecking through your insides. Trust me on this one).

Recently I was sent a question about what I wish I’d known when starting out figuring out my ideas / doing my own thing. I had a lot of things I could have said, and a lot of things I did say, but there were more that came up after I replied. So I’d like to share these with you below.

 

You see, you can Google the answer to questions like ‘how do I set up a facebook fan page’ or ‘how do I do that twitter thing anyway?’ but there are some big picture things that matter more than any of that. 9 of the things I wish I’d known when starting out… but which no one really tells you:

 

1. At some point you will have a choice between speaking your truth and making the ‘sensible decision’. The first time this happens you will choose the latter. Some time later you will realize this was the least sensible move you could have made.

(This will not stop you making that same mistake at least once again).

 

2. You will decide, at some point between coming up with your idea and launching, that there is too much competition. You might be right.

 

3. You will find, some time after ditching your idea because of the competition, that someone else has launched this idea anyway. They seem to be doing well. You will, at this point, kick yourself.

 

4. You will try to create something magnificent and put your mark on the world, but early on you will look at what you have created and feel its smallness. In that moment you will wonder if anyone else notices how far wide of your mark you have fallen. What you don’t realize is that they are too busy with their own lives to ponder yours. Are you touching them? Does what you do matter to them? Why not?

Ponder that rather than your own grand dreams and you will find that somewhere along the way your grand dreams happen anyway.

 

5. The people you used to spend time with? Some of them will stop understanding you. (Although in a way that’s probably ok: after all, you stopped understanding them quite a while ago. This is your cue to find a new tribe).

 

6. One day when you are feeling stuck someone will give you a piece of advice – or maybe an opportunity. At the time you will reject them, vehemently. Watch out for those moments. Those are usually the moments where you heard exactly what you needed to hear, or had the chance to learn exactly what you needed to learn.

Why? Because when you are well and truly stuck, your options are restricted to what lies in your comfort zone. But your answer is not there. The road to where you want to be, at those moments, lies outside your comfort zone, and it won’t look quite like you expected (if it did you’d have found it already).

 

7. You will start out with two things: 1) a diary full of things that need to be done this week (your washing, that latest report, that thing for your dad) and 2) a jumbled up list of dreams in your head all labeled ‘one day’. Your breakthrough will come when you learn to sync the two.

Watch out for the opportunities to which you say ‘one day’. They are quite often the ones you need, as you are, here and now (click to tweet this!).

 

8. You will feel that you have a secret. A secret about your own lack of progress. About how your so-together outside doesn’t fit with the turbulent mash up of your insides. About how you haven’t sorted this out by now and it’s just not coming together and how you just don’t know what to do and how you feel ashamed you don’t know what you want by your age.

To which I would say: please know that you are not alone in this. Right now, someone else is reading these words too. And another, and another. One of them may be in your neighbourhood and the other across the world, and they are nodding and saying ‘yes that’s me, how did she know’ and the answer is simple: while how you feel may be a secret to you, I have been through it and I have watched many others go through this same uncertainty and come out the other side.

When you poke your head out of your fog of confusion, and join others in forging a path toward your own clarity, you might well do the same.

 

9. One day you will come across a list of advice, with which you may or may not resonate. You will have the chance to complete this list with a thought of your very own. When that time comes, what will you say?

(Feel free to share your answer below or on the Free Range Facebook page).

 

Marianne x

 

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Last month I realised I was developing a procrastination habit. It was creeping in, slowly (much like that innocent toast-crumb covered plate and knife on the sink can morph into a crockery pile of “did we have 20 guests over yesterday and just not notice?!” proportions).

That one’s not just me, is it? You’ve been there with creeping crockery, right? RIGHT? Ahem.

Anyway, that’s how my procrastination started. Slowly. At first it was hardly something I noticed. One slipped project timeline here, one day where that “important” stuff got put on the backburner – “never mind, it’s just one day ha ha!” – …and then a week whooshed by.

Being a former chronic procrastinator I noticed the signs and swung into action (using the 6 steps below).  You see while it starts small, I know from experience that left unchecked procrastination creep has a big impact. For one thing, it can turn you from someone who’s so full of potential… to someone who’s secretly spinning in circles with that one thing that’s so important to you in your life just not moving forward anymore.

Even if you’re reading this and thinking “er, has Marianne been sneaking into my head again?” let me assure you, there is a way out. But it might not look the way you expect it to.

 

Why conventional ‘procrastination advice’ might not always work for you

Here’s the thing.

Most procrastination busting advice focuses on tactics. Like “turn off your Facebook notifications!” or “check email once a day!”. Don’t get me wrong, these are great pieces of advice – so why don’t they always work? Simply, because when you’re a smart and creative person (which you are) these “naughty child” approaches are so easy to get out of.

Don’t check Facebook? Sure thing! Oops, there goes 3 hours on another site instead.

(see, I do live inside your head don’t I? Freaky…).

And that’s the point. You are a smart person, not a naughty child. So rather than diving into a range of ‘be a good boy/girl now’ tactics that stick for about 10 minutes, let’s treat you as an adult by starting with your ‘big picture’ (hint: this will give you a heap more control over things).

Only after these first big picture tips will we dive into some on-the-ground tactics to help you see things through for real.

 

6 smart steps to stop procrastinating (and start living)

 

1. Distinguish between the urgent and the important

Procrastination is often misunderstood as being a thing you do when you don’t go ‘anything’. But being in the grip of procrastination does not mean you don’t get things done. It just means you’re focusing on things outside of your ‘important’ list.

After all, procrastination can be a busy thing: we clever folk can always find something urgent to do instead – and urgent is not the same as important.

Which begs the question: what’s important to you, honey?

And is the time you are spending on that honouring its importance to you?

Remember if the two don’t match up this isn’t about blame or telling yourself you’ve been ‘naughty’. It’s about what you do with it from here. And what I suggest you do? Is honour the heck out of your answer.

One way to do that is to ask the question “how does this serve me?”

For example I use this when I’m in the middle of ‘not doing very much’. In procrastination mode I typically justify my ‘not much’ with a line like “I’m just getting ready for the day” but with this in mind I’ll ask: “does this serve my future self?”. And answer it honestly.

Try it yourself: when you are about to do (or not do) something ask this simple question: how does this serve me?  (Or does this serve my future self?) 

At the start of every thing, I ask myself this ‘why’ question. Sometimes it means keeping going with that task, sometimes it means doing it for a shorter amount of time, and sometimes it means closing it the heck down because it doesn’t serve my future self nearly as much as the thing I’m not doing because of it.

Tip: When you ask yourself this question, honour your future self with the answer. This isn’t about justifying one thing or another. There’s no one grading you on your life. There is no right or wrong, only what’s moving you toward the person you want to step into, and what is not.

(If you haven’t spent much time getting clear on what is most important to you and how that’s fitting into you life,  I’ve put together a simple exercise to get you thinking: click here to download it)

 

2. Install Momentum on your computer (seriously, now you can  download your own momentum. I love the internet)

Momentum is a free Google Chrome browser app that I’ve fallen in love with.

At the start of the day you are asked “what is your focus for today” and you plug in your answer:

Every time you open a new tab in your browser this page comes up, but this time with your one line reminder there in bold. A friendly hello from this morning’s you, if you will. (So you don’t get bored, it comes with a fresh new background photo every day too).

To get the most from your Momentum page, think of the MAIN THING you would be proud of (or disappointed if you didn’t do) at the end of that day and put that, and only that, down.

For example it can be something specific like “complete introduction of new course” or a theme to fulfill on for the day like “relax with family”. You may have more on your list for the day but you know that if you got THAT done you are serving the person you want to be.

This is the power of the one line format: you get a few minutes at the start of each day to think about what you would really value by the end, and have that pop up at you as you go throughout your day.

You can download Momentum here for free: http://frh.me/chromemomentumapp (note this only works on Chrome, not other browsers).

 

3. Distinguish between fake work and real work

This is a way of checking in on yourself and getting more done (while feeling like you’re working less).

Diving back to the big picture for a moment, what happens after you remind yourself of your important and start on it? Well, you’ll get started. But it’s possible you will get distracted after a while, right?

You might spend ages on formatting a document in a way that no one really notices… or find yourself ending up down a google rabbit hole until you look up and think “oh my, is it bed time already?”– fake work vs real work how you can end the day saying “I worked hard!” but not feeling like you got anywhere.

You don’t get paid for face time (or fake time) in free range land. The worst outcome for a free ranger or free range fledgling is to feel like you have no free time and are exhausted but actually have just procrastinated the heck out of your evening or day. 

The secret to getting around this is to be ruthlessly honest about fake work and real work.

Solution? The second you see you’re doing fake work, get the actual heck up and leave the scene.

How to do this: when it’s fake work – shut down. Close off the laptop, or move out of the room, whichever is appropriate for you. Leave the scene and do something different.

You’ll learn to get honest with yourself: if you know that you’re just not on this and are going to spend 2 hours faffing, then spend 30 minutes doing something you love AWAY from the work scene. Walk, hoop, eat, call a friend, do something for you.

Warning: at first this will feel indulgent (and you will probably tell yourself it’s not allowed).

“I don’t have time!”

“Do things for ME? That’s selfish”

“No, I need to focus”

But it is allowed. It’s not selfish. And you’re not actually focusing in that time anyway.

After all, if you think about it there’s no outcome difference doing something that’s an indulgence for you vs messing around doing fake work….

Well, no difference except the fact that you’ll come back refreshed, and possibly more creative.

No difference except that your day won’t feel like a blur anymore.

No difference except that at the end of the day you may look back and go “wow, I thought I was working hard all day, but a huge chunk was fake work.”

And from that place you’ll have the power to either change how you spend that time in terms of working better OR you’ll take time off consciously, actually enjoy it… and spend your now limited time so much more focused.

Sounds like a pretty good outcome to me.

You might just find your life open up and your relationships improve with this one tiny question. And all it takes is being conscious and honest about what’s going on in that moment.

 

4. Morning matters

This is our first pure ‘tactic’.

Simply: do the most important thing, first thing.

Spend 30 minutes or one hour on your one main priority for the day (or that one important project that keeps being put on the backburner…) before doing anything else in the morning.

Hit that timer button, do not log into anything or check anything (turn notifications off the previous day if they are going to bother you) and go.

I know, I know, you’re not a morning person: but hear me out. There’s are several reasons why this works (and why it’s used by many successful people).

Firstly when you wake up your mind isn’t yet cluttered by the minutiae of the day: that first email you read, that first news story you see, that first conversation sets the tone for your day and your thoughts start spiraling in another direction. When you wake up you’re ‘clean’ and you get to set the agenda for that next hour (best of all once you do this you’ll often find the rest of your day goes more smoothly too).

Secondly, the closer you are to sleep state, the better (no, really). When you’re waking up your conscious mind isn’t rattling around like a pissed off bag of jellybeans – your unconscious, where creativity comes from is far more strongly activated. You know that way your best ideas come to you on a walk or in the shower? That’s the sort of space your mind is most likely to be in first thing (even if you’re not a ‘morning person’).

I had a reference here for a study that backs up this second point based on what’s going on in the brain first thing in the morning… but, er, I lost it. (*shakes head at self*). If you know the study I’m talking about drop me a line in the comments so I can link to it here!

Note: this ‘first thing in the morning’ advice might well be one you’ve heard before so this time my challenge to you is to do it. It really does work – and doesn’t require any ‘willpower’, just an alarm clock and a chunk of time spent even before your day kicks off. It is honestly the quickest win you can get in getting things done land.

 

5. Time chunk

Got a project or ‘should do’ that’s been built up in your mind so much that it now seems like an Everest?

Answer: chunk it.

You can’t do that project in one sitting (I’m guessing!), but you can start rolling in 15 minutes.

I know, I know, doing just 15 minutes at a time can seem like a waste of time (that’s why it’s tempting to read this advice and then think “well not for me, for me I’m going to wait until I can dedicate a full 3 hours to it. But not this week, I’m snowed under this week”).

These 15 minutes aren’t about doing all the things. They are simply intended to open up that closed door and set things gently rolling.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set a clear outcome for what you want to do in that time (make sure this is do-able).
  2. Now put that in the diary, as firmly as an appointment with someone hard-to-reach…
  3. Show up for it, exactly as you would if it was an appointment with that person you admire who is only in town once every 10 years.
  4. At the end, congratulate yourself, and schedule your next round for longer if you like.

Yes, this sounds  too simple, right? Yet doing that small chunk breaks the ‘impossible’ into the steps that it actually takes. This is how real life momentum begins.

Hint: before you start your time chunk, turn your internet off unless directly related to what you need to do in that moment. Have to send an email? Write it offline. When I do this I am amazed at the time my browser will suddenly be in front of me with “no internet connection” written on it. Eh? I think. Browser? I don’t even remember clicking that thing! HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

In short:  be honest about your mind wander reflexes and set yourself up for them in advance. For many of us the internet is a distraction so turn it (and any notifications) off for your time chunk: the world will still be there when you log back on but this time it will be a world where you don’t have that thing hanging over your head ;)

 

6. Productive procrastination

If you’ve been in free range land a while you will be familiar with this one. If not, take a look at my productive procrastination post and video here (yes you can productively procrastinate!).

 

“Ok I know there’s not a secret sauce to bring this all together… but if there was what would it be?”

My best shot at this one?

Stay honest with yourself.

These tips aren’t about finding a magic button, they are ways for you to honour that thing that matters to you and your future self (over and above the call of the other shiny moments).

After all, procrastination isn’t (always) a state where you are getting nothing at all done, it’s often a state where you aren’t getting that thing that really matters to you done.

So an experienced procrastinator can often list out all the many things they ‘did’ in the last week, and beautifully justify every one….

But your life is not graded.

This isn’t about justification or approval: yes what you did instead was a necessary and reasonable: tick! or tut tut, you’re wasting time. This is not about being “naughty” or “good”. It’s about taking that care you show to others and showing that same respect to yourself.

So do your future self a favour, and don’t cheat on yourself today. You know what’s important to you (if you aren’t clear on it, go back and do the exercise in step 1 above) and these tips are here to pave your way .

Now it’s over to you. Which are you going to put into play today?

 

NOTE: This is not an article to save for later; it’s a list to do something about now, with your future self firmly in mind. Drop me a comment below and let me know which of the above you’re going to start with!

Something to do right now:

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