“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”- John Steinbeck.
Today I’m shifting gears slightly from the legal realm to talk about another equally important side of entrepreneurship: how can we steward our time, energy, ourselves well? What happens if we chose not to?
How can we build sustainable businesses if we don’t?
To be entirely candid, this is not a post I’ve looked forward to sharing, yet I feel like it’s a message that is both relevant and incredibly necessary in the world of small business owners. Today, this very day, marks the 6th month anniversary of me opening my business doors, and today I completely shifting the way in which I run my business.
If you’re an entrepreneur, there’s a chance we have something in common: we aren’t afraid to take risks (starting a business basically feels like jumping off a cliff, right?), we have new ideas all.the.time, we don’t mind blazing our own trails, and we aren’t afraid to work hard…really hard.
So hard, if we’re being honest, a better description may be that we are slightly addicted to our work.
A Little Backstory
A little about me (it’s relevant, I promise): I’ve been an athlete since I was a child. In first grade I would beg and beg my PE teacher to take me to the high school track during recess, just so I could run. Running; sprinting is at the deepest core of who I am.
And it’s something I can’t do anymore because I don’t listen to my body.
I’ll spare you the details, but my senior year of high school, I ignored an injury for far too long and attempted to run my senior season with a broken back, so that I could secure a place on a college team. And I did it; I signed with a Division 1 sprinting program that year. The next day (literally) I collapsed on the track, feet from the finish line. My spine had broken, and two days after I graduated high school I had my first of several spinal fusions. I had to re-teach myself to run, because a surgery like that disrupts your muscle memory. Despite this, I didn’t tell my college coach how severe my surgery was, and showed up that first day acting as if everything was fine. As you can imagine, it wasn’t, and by the end of the year I had undergone more surgeries, and was told that if I continued to run I would be basically be choosing between a few years of college track, or the ability to hold my kids when I was 30. Although I quit, I never stopped running. I just couldn’t make myself. Now, it’s something I can’t do at all.
My point? When you love something; truly, to your core love it, it can be virtually impossible to draw boundaries. And if you don’t, it can be your Achille’s heel to being able to do it at all.
Simply put, October/November have been chaotic. Literally. As I told my mastermind girls, “chaos” is the one word that sums up my business right now. Not in the humble brag, “I’m pretending to be stressed because I’m so flooded with clients and I like talking about it” way, but in the “I never finished getting the core of my business organized, which means I’m working way past my ‘office hours'” every day. Clients will always take priority, which means my business keeps taking the backseat, which also means I’ve been working hard, but maybe not so smart.
As entrepreneurs, we live and breathe our businesses. When we don’t get something done, there’s no one there to pick up the slack. And I know I’m not alone when I say that I almost feel like a get a dopamine hit when I feel like I’ve truly accomplished my to-do list for the day. How’s that for honesty?
On Black Friday, I launched 45 new contracts into the new PHL sister company, the Creative Law Shop. I was so excited to launch this shop; it’s something I’ve been dreaming up since before I even opened my firm. I had a list of requests from clients, and I was going to do everything in my power to get them done. In November, I quickly got used to 12 hour work days…then 15…then it reached the point where I’d wake up in the wee hours of the morning with something work-related on my mind, and think, what the heck, I might as well get up and get it done. There were more than a handful of mornings where I’d start my day at 4am, and finish around 9:00pm. Namely, nearly every day in November. I took off one Sunday in November, and that was it.
If at any point while you’re reading this you think this is a humble brag, hear me clearly: I am not proud. But we need to widen the conversation around self-care and the glorification of hustle in the world of entrepreneurs, and this is my contribution.
My Wake Up Call
Thursday, November 16.
I knew I wasn’t treating my body well; skipping meals and foregoing sleep for work, but I was determined to launch the Creative Law Shop for you all before the holidays. I was wrapping up one of my last contracts for the shop, when my husband, Matt, came home. I’d put in roughly 14 hours already, so I figured it might as well be a good stopping point for the day. I’d just walked into the kitchen to welcome him home when he asked how my day had been.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up on our (tile) kitchen floor, with him holding me, trying to wake me up. Except, I didn’t know who he was, and I didn’t recognize the people in the photo behind him (it was our wedding photo). I was in so much pain.
When he had asked about my day, I had just collapsed and broken the fall with my head on our kitchen floor. Except, I’d already had two concussions in that spot already, so this concussion was very severe. I couldn’t eat solid food for days because my jaw was so swollen. I lost all memory from Thursday, Nov. 16 until the evening before Thanksgiving. My body was telling me loud and clear that it was time for a break.
This happened pretty recently, and is honestly still a very sensitive topic. And while part of me is ashamed to share, I’ve learned more lessons in that week as a business owner than I did in 6 months, and I think it could help you too. Here are my key takeaways:
Lesson No. 1: Have a plan in place.
As a lawyer, people are coming to me in times of vulnerability in their business- we have to talk about the potential scenarios that could arise, and map out a plan of protection. A question I have to ask sometimes that usually, no one can answer is this: if something happened to you tomorrow, what would happen to your business? Would it cease to exist?
On the night of my accident, after I started to come-to slightly, my husband’s first question was what needed to be handled in my business for the foreseeable future. He runs his own business, and he knows that the entirety of this little law firm is me (and the pawalegal, of course). When he asked me that, I realized I needed a “business binder” to just be able to hand to him, with all of that information. When I set up businesses for clients, this is something I do for them, but the cobbler’s children have no shoes here. So, I’m starting to create one, which I’m sharing here:
This is a rough blueprint of the information that needs to be included, but it should get you started. Who are your active clients? What stage are you at with their projects? How can someone access your emails, your calendar, etc? Do you have your EIN#, your LLC renewal date, your bank account information in a central location? Maybe (hopefully), you do, but if you’re like me and you didn’t have time to think about it, swipe these sheet I’m now using, and get that info collected!
Lesson No. 2: Someone other than you needs to be “in the loop” about your business.
One of my first messages was to my VA, Brea Horton. I’m almost hesitant to share Brea’s contact, just because I don’t want her get too busy to continue helping me! Ha. Brea went above and beyond in every way to shoulder the load of launching a new business during Black Friday, which is obviously no easy feat. My second call was to my business coach, who would know exactly how to take the reins if needed.
Now, I know that not everyone has the capacity or need for a VA or a coach, but I would argue that your business needs someone who is at least familiar enough to step in and be able to help do those essential things like put client projects on hold, etc. if the situation arises.
Lesson No. 3: I’m not the only one who’s had a similar experience.
This was the most surprising takeaway for me, but also the reason why I wanted to share about this. So many people whom I’ve spoken to about this had a “me too” type story; and more worrisome than that, most of those people had their experiences during launch periods as well. Clearly, there’s a correlation. As my coach so succinctly said, clearly many entrepreneurs blur the line between our work and our health, and forget that at the end of the day we’re just humans.
photo by Laura Foote
Lesson No. 4: Community.
By far and away, this taught me more about community than anything could.
My best friend came and sat with me all day on (I think) Monday, just to help me, and honestly to keep me from trying to work. At that point, my amnesia was so bad I was having to write down my meals because I’d forget if I’d eaten earlier in the day. My friend Hayley Bigham got a tearful phone call from me that I barely remember, and spent her entire Sunday making all of the graphics I needed for the CLS launch, so I’d have one less thing on my plate. She did this without hesitation, no questions asked. The mastermind girls were literally my backbone of support all week, with offers to step in and take over my business when and where I needed it, and to tell me to stop working when I started feeling panicked about missing the week.
We spend a lot of “social” time building up our social media presences, but when it matters, there is nothing more important than true relationships. I hope we never get too busy with all the moving pieces of owning businesses to forget that.
Photo by my talented friend Abigail of Wander and Rose
Lesson No. 5: Rest can be as productive as hustle.
I’ll be honest, I see these words and recognize the truth, but knowing how to implement them in my life is hard. But clearly, working yourself into the ground is the opposite of productive, so a balance must be struck.
I look up to my friend Josefina Sanders an incredible amount when it comes to the discussion on self-care. Fina has used a difficult personal journey to spread more light on this topic, which is clearly so needed. If you’re looking for more thoughts on the topic, head on over to her blog.
Lesson No. 6: Balance & boundaries.
When you find the golden unicorn, will you tell me about it? All jokes aside, these are now things I’m defining in my own business. I’m a walking paradox: some of my favorite voices are Gary Vaynerchuk and Erin Loechner of Chasing Slow.
Luckily, I’ve surrounded myself with people who I’d argue are wiser than myself, who are making me define how exactly I’ll do this. From a practical, medical standpoint, the ER doctor told me that we shouldn’t be spending more than 4-6 hours on a screen a day (this one might be hard). So, I’m carving out some margin away from the screen. For example, all of my blog posts and emails are either handwritten first, or transcribed via Google audio.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, this means that I’m breaking my addiction to my business. On one side, this means setting aside time to truly get some systems and processes in place, so that I can start maximizing my time. I’m setting true office hours, so that I’m no longer skipping out on time with friends and family to get “one more thing” checked off my to-do list. I’m sticking to my batch scheduling and time-blocking, no exceptions. I’m taking some notes from my friend and business strategist for overwhelmed creatives, Cindy Maka, and creating some margin.
Equally important, maybe we can get more out of our work when we step away from it. I’m carving out time outside of the office. Truly away- to me, nothing recharges me like time outside with nature.
We’re entering December, a month that’s usually a paradox of busyness and special celebrations. Frantic end of year to-do’s and maybe one too many holiday parties, but also times that if we rush through, will cause us to lose out on precious time with friends and family.
Photo by Brett Heidebrecht (of my little sister’s beautiful Christmas wedding)
December will be a different month for me, with different priorities. Quieter, slower, and I have to think, richer in the end. I hope that hearing a little of the lessons of my story will challenge you to seek the same, and I’d love to hear, how are you slowing down in this season?