Led by Pat Flynn’s incredible transparency, there’s a growing trend among online business owners to peel back the curtain and share in-depth business details with their audiences. On the surface, these may seem like brag-posts, but they’re usually quite the opposite. The most insightful offer first-hand accounts of their recent successes, challenges, and even failures. For me, their greatest value lies in the inherent reminder that their businesses were built with consistent, focused action – month after month, day after day.
My destination is a bit different, but I decided there was value in sharing monthly progress reports on my journey to develop this project and my own habit recipe. Since I write about habits and productivity, I thought it would be helpful to see exactly how I apply those lessons personally. I’ll also be honest about where I slip-up so that you can identify and avoid those pitfalls.
(There’s also an accountability factor at play, as I’ve learned that’s a powerful motivator for me. I don’t want to waste a month of my life, and I sure don’t want to have to publicly write about it.)
So, if you’re interested in a behind-the-scenes look at my January, keep reading.
To get started, I thought it would be helpful to explain my “buckets” of projects.
- Accounting/Corporate Leadership – this includes my “day job” as the Director of Finance at Port Royal Ocean Resort and a few traditional accounting projects through the CPA firm I share with my husband.
- Non-profit Leadership – this primarily includes my responsibilities as President of Texas Business Women.
- Purpose Project – that’s this Habit Chef project and all of its related tentacles.
- Relationships – having a great relationship with God, my husband, my daughter, and my extended family and friends is very important to me, but doesn’t always come naturally, so I track progress in this area just like I would for any other project.
- Personal Habit Development – my own journey to living and giving my best.
It’s important to note that in previous years, this list would have been twice or three times as long. At some point, I realized that my busyness was a numbing mechanism that distracted and prevented me from making meaningful contributions and connections. As hard as it was, there were lots of things I had to stop doing altogether or pare down significantly. Simply put, I had to quit living scared, give up normal, and follow my own treasure map.
At the beginning of each month, I set goals and action plans for making consistent progress in each of these areas. Weekly, I think about the bigger picture and review those plans, scheduling the projects on my calendar and in Remember the Milk (my task management app). Daily, I do my best to simply follow my own plan.
Personal Habit Development
In January, this project took on extra importance. During my year-end planning, I realized that I needed a comprehensive schedule change if I wanted to significantly change my outputs. As the old saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Ending the insanity would be tough. I knew the ingrained power of my own daily habits.
I boiled it down to three key goals:
- Reserve from 5-7am Monday through Friday for prayer, writing, and creative projects. (Previously, I worked out during this time.)
- Develop a prescribed schedule for my morning routine.
- Move my workout to the end of the day, and maintain frequency of at least 3 times per week.
For the most part, I’ve achieved these goals. Getting out of bed to pray and write is tougher than getting out of bed to workout, so I’ve slept in a few more times than usual (an average of twice a week versus once). I think this will get easier for me as we move into spring. Sunlight helps me tremendously. (And I gotta give a big thank you to my husband for his daily encouragement.)
I deliberately made this area a priority as well, specifically with my husband and daughter.
At the beginning of the month, my husband and I committed to set aside one date night each week, and one date day each month. We were particularly inspired by this video of Brad Feld talking about his relationship with his wife and how purposeful they were in keeping it strong. Our date day accidentally fell on a Wednesday (as opposed to a weekend), and we were able to spend the entire day in uninterrupted conversation. It was awesome. I don’t think either one of us realized how much we missed that, and we’ve already scheduled our next “Wednesday.”
As my daughter gets closer to leaving the nest, our time together is also more purposeful. Over the last few months, her gifts in the technology arena became very apparent. So in January, my goal was to hire her as my virtual assistant and also for us to plan an online business for her to nurture and grow. She works for me about five hours each week, and I can assure you I’ve subtracted well more than five hours off my plate. It’s also allowed her to practice increasing saving and tithing as her income grows. And we have the beginnings of a plan for her business. (I’ll share more about that in the coming weeks.)
In changing my schedule, I was also able to make progress on a goal I’d struggled with for over a year – developing a stronger prayer life. I used Kay Arthur’s Lord, Teach Me to Pray workbook as a guide to get started each morning. This may sound silly, but for the first time in my life, I am learning to pray and getting more comfortable with it. It’s been beautiful and probably my favorite gift from January. The ripple effects from this have improved every other area of my life.
Left unchecked, I can spend upwards of 70-80 hours per week on these projects. Just by the nature of my responsibility, there’s always something more that could be done, and my default is to constantly push forward. But I’ve learned that isn’t always the most effective choice. A key part of my responsibility is to make decisions (often very tough ones), and exhaustion is not a positive influence. Starting in December, I took a different approach.
For Port Royal, we created an annual plan with all of the standing and special projects that needed to be completed for us to achieve our goals. We then mapped those out on a timeline, recognizing that our pace would need to be sustainable. We also added formal monthly and quarterly reporting to each of our Board Committees so that communication would remain a top priority.
In both of my areas of responsibility, accounting and revenue management, there are recurring tasks that must take place each day, week, or month. My teams have those covered, and my role is to ensure that there are no bottlenecks and our checklists are current. In addition to those, our plan outlined 9 key projects for January, including preparing our annual marketing plan, closing our financials for 2012, and updating our prospective owner brochure. It was ambitious, and during the month, we layered on another major software implementation project. So, it took five extra days, but we completed every item on the list. (Kudos to my teams. They’re rockstars!)
The most exciting part of achieving those goals in January is doing so with a much healthier schedule. I now have bookends on each day, aiming to arrive at 9am for our daily Stand-Up meeting and leave in time to workout at 5:30pm. I also allow myself 30-60 minutes each evening to review email and critical projects. For weekends, I allocate one each month for preparing our monthly financial statements, and in January we also had a Board Meeting. On average, that’s a much more sustainable 45-50 hours each week.
This is another area where pacing can be a problem. The list of to-do’s is nearly limitless, so I tried using the same approach of identifying the key areas where progress was needed and could be made. That also requires acknowledging that other projects would not be completed this month, and not feeling guilty about that. At the beginning of January, I identified 11 key projects, with several of them involving better planning and coordination from me so that others were able to contribute their skills and talents as well.
As I review the list, 9 of them were completed, on time and in spirit. That means that we’re working better as a team. (Woohoo!) The last two involve a new member of our team, and we’ve yet to figure out a rhythm that tackles TBW projects and still honors our other commitments to work and family. We’re moving in the right direction, though, and I’m confident a plan will come together in the next few weeks.
Now it’s time to explore the area where I’d planned to make the most progress. My goals for the month were: 11 distinct articles (9 for my blog, 2 for another), adding 3 pages to my site, and reviewing a potential tool for managing my backend operations.
How’d I do?
For my site, I was 5 out of 9. I published:
- Stay in the Ring with your Resolutions
- Have you Updated your Appliances Lately?
- Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life
- Why You Can’t Be Normal
- How To Find Your Secret Treasure
For the other site, I submitted two – one written and one video. (They haven’t been published yet.)
I didn’t add any of the three pages, and I decided the new tool didn’t make sense right now.
In total, that’s 8 of 15 projects – 53%.
After the first week, I couldn’t keep up with the publishing schedule I’d planned. The writing time for each article was more than I had anticipated, and I had difficulty getting up some mornings. I also began to question the whole basis of the project. Something just didn’t fit. I couldn’t “play the movie” in my mind and see where it might lead. It was easy to let myself feel frustrated and discouraged. And I did plenty of that.
But that wasn’t all I did. Somehow, I still kept trying to get up each morning to pray and think and write (with lots of encouragement from my awesome hubby). I felt bad when I couldn’t pull myself out of bed, or when I couldn’t quiet my mind to pray, or when I couldn’t put any meaningful sentences together. But then I would simply try again the next day. I realized that I had found my resolve. It would be ugly, and it would take a long time, but I would not quit.
Then something really interesting happened – it got better. The outputs haven’t increased yet, but my inputs are more consistent. I wouldn’t even have realized the shift if I didn’t track my time on my calendar or my habits with the Lift app. Since the 24th, I have shown up every morning to connect with God and do my purpose work. It’s still not pretty, but I’m present.
And that vision? It’s coming together. Right now, it’s just a seed, but I’ve been shown many ways that it could grow. I realize that my job is simply to show up every day and water it.
Next Month’s Goals
Originally, I planned to close this article with a list of my goals for February. But I’m not ready to do that yet. I’ve spent more than six hours reflecting on January and writing all this down. In the process, I’ve realized that I still need more time. So I’ll dedicate my mornings for the next few days to mapping out the next three weeks.
The first half of March is already spoken for as I’ll be attending our TBW Spring Conference in Wichita Falls (March 1-3) and SXSW in Austin (March 8-12). Whatever the next steps are, I’ll need to figure it out before February ends.
If you’re interested in seeing where the journey leads, be sure to sign up for my newsletter below. I can’t say I know where the path leads, but I know I’ll keep walking.
(If you’re reading this somewhere other than my website, click here to go directly to the article.)