“The difference between great people and everyone else is that great people create their lives actively, while everyone else is created by their lives, passively waiting to see where life takes them next. The difference between the two is living fully and just existing.”
– Michael E. Gerber
When I work with new consulting clients, I always send them a questionnaire to help them drop in to the experience and start to reflect. Their answers help me get to know their businesses, of course. But I also feel that their intentional reflection is the key to unlocking the real treasures of our work together.
One of my favourite questions in the questionnaire (which you can get your own copy of here!) is this:
What are your dreamiest goals for how your business will look or function 5 years from now?
Such a simple question, right? But this also happens to be the question that gets responses that start with something along the lines of: “Oof, I am not sure. Hold on. I haven’t thought about that in a while.”
This isn’t because my clients aren’t thoughtful people (far from it, I have the honour of working with some of the world’s most considerate and compassionate business owners), it’s because when you’re hustling to put food on the table, launch new projects and find your true fans, it’s really hard to raise your eyes to look to the future. It feels like every moment that you’re not in the doing of your daily tasks, you’re wasting time that should be spent working.
Here’s the thing, though: I believe that the time we take for the “not-doing” is our most important work. The “not-doing” is where the magic happens. It’s how we know where to steer the ship. By taking this time, we unlock the ideas that feel like they were channeled (hint: they probably were) and come together in two days instead of two months. We get re-energized about what we’re building, why we’re building it, and who we’re building it for. Not-doing vs. doing is the difference between things flowing and things being forced, between smoothness and stuckness, and between brilliance and burnout.
So, how do we spend more time in the “not-doing”? How do we bring more intention to our businesses? Here are some of my favourite ways:
1. Take a time-out from life
The best thing I did for my business this year was take two days out of it. I didn’t check my email, didn’t do work, didn’t worry. The key here is that these days were taken off during the workweek, to send myself the message that this work was just as important as all the requests piling up in my inbox.
Two friends and I each took turns sharing where we were feeling stuck in our businesses and lives (it’s all connected) and what we needed support with, and workshopping solutions that felt easy and actionable.
This ‘retreat’ was not expensive or fancy, nor was it particularly relaxing – it was energizing. It led to so many game-changing decisions that have (no exaggeration) completely revolutionized the way I run my business. We have another one scheduled next month, and have set an intention to do them every quarter from now on: the results are too incredible not to make time for it.
2. Start a mastermind group
Every two weeks or so, I meet up with two entrepreneurs to talk business for a couple hours. We each get time to share what we’re working on and get feedback and new ideas from the others. We can also choose an intention for the month ahead, and are held accountable to it! There’s something about being supported by your peers that is energizing like almost nothing else, and it’s been amazing to see what comes out of these sessions. I routinely go home from mastermind and literally build a new offering in a weekend, that’s how much clarity and energy is unlocked by taking just a couple of hours to think things through with people who really get what you’re trying to do and want to help you do more of it.
There are a lot of resources online about how to start a mastermind, but the key is really just to find a couple of like-minded peers and start to meet regularly. The women in my group are friends with similar philosophies but very different businesses to my own.
3. Choose the right thought-leaders
The ideas we consume impact the way we live our lives and run our businesses, so it’s important that we’re choosing the right ideas for us. Are you following people who make you feel like you’re not doing enough, or running out of time, or need to somehow change who you fundamentally are in order to be successful in business? No, thank you!
I have specifically curated my blog & email subscriptions to help me shape my work & life philosophies with care and intention. I want to be steeped in these ideas and have them affect how I run my life and business. So I choose who I follow based on the kind of person I want to become.
Here are some of my favourite thought-leaders when it comes to creativity & intentional business:
- Jocelyn K. Glei: blog, newsletter & podcast
- Seth Godin: blog & podcast
- Wandering Aimfully: blog & podcast
- Amy Lynn Andrews: blog (especially this article) & newsletter
- Paul Jarvis: newsletter
- Marie Forleo: YouTube channel
4. Make time to work on your business, not just in it
This idea comes from a book that has impacted my work in big ways over the years: The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. It’s not enough to just take big steps back from our businesses to plan ahead, we also need to set the intention to take time to work on the parts of our businesses that don’t instantly make money or book new clients but are not less important.
These are things like your systems for onboarding, your website design, the tools you use and how they’re set up, your email newsletter, your workflows, your schedule, your processes. If you got sick and your business had to be taken over temporarily by someone else, could they do your job? Those meta pieces and strategies can make a huge difference in whether we are able to grow & scale our businesses in healthy, happy ways.
5. Create personal rituals
Every month, I do a reflection on the month before and make a plan for the month to come. The format I follow is loosely based on the questions in the Get To Work Book by Elise Cripe. I also choose a new word each December to guide the year to come, a practice inspired by Ali Edwards, and have recently become a part of the Modern Planner community which hosts monthly and quarterly planning parties to help you structure your time and set priorities. The habit of taking time to think about the future and reflect on the past is invaluable.
Time to think ahead & plan doesn’t just fall into our laps one magical day when we suddenly have nothing urgent left to do. It’s up to us to prioritize this kind of time, to carve it out, and to take it even (especially!) when we feel stressed out and overwhelmed by the tasks of our daily lives. By setting this intention, we can get more done and build a better future for ourselves & our businesses.
I would love to hear from you: How do you create the space in your life for reflection? How do you remember to pause and live more intentionally? How do you make time for the things that are important but not urgent?
PS. Are you in need of more intention for 2019? Learn more about my brand new group strategy program, The Foundery.