I’m completely obsessed with doing less right now.
This year I chose the word “elevate” as my mantra in my business, which gave me a goal to write out of my comfort zone, produce more, market more, network more, and essentially double all of my efforts when it comes to writing romance. And, I’ll be honest, I’m super happy with the results so far. I’m on schedule to finish all my goals for the year, I’ve never been so productive in my life, and I’m challenging myself along the way.
But there’s also a downside to pushing myself this hard. My body can’t keep up. I’ve talked a little bit about my fight with auto-immune disease the past few months, and well, I can tell you that is only getting harder. There are days where I can’t get out of bed, I can’t pick up my daughter, or a migraine has destroyed my vision to the point I can’t even work. And unfortunately, writing is my stress relief and purpose in life. So if my body isn’t cooperating, I can’t meet deadlines or keep up with my marketing efforts (and my eye has been twitching all day, damn it!). And that pulls me right down into the rage-cycle of depression. The relationship I’ve developed with my work is not healthy by any means. I rely on my ability to write on a daily basis to manage my depression and worth, which is bonkers, but hey, at least I’m not in denial. But other than making an appt with a therapist and spend lots of money I really don’t have, I didn’t know how I’d be able to win this battle.
As a romance author, there’s a pressure within the industry to write as fast as possible, produce an insane amount of manuscripts, and publish 6-10 titles a year to keep our readers wanting more. Add on top of that all of the marketing efforts, social media engagement, and business essentials, I’ve recently felt as though I’ve been falling behind. Even that I was a failure.
I made a deal with myself two years ago after signing my first contract with Harlequin. Either I’d make this my career, or I’d walk away. Well, obviously I’m still here so you know my choice, but I didn’t fully understand how much that pressure would get to me until last year.
So in an effort to come to terms with how I can give my body the rest it needs while still being fulfilled in my work (in a healthy manner), I’ve been reading a lot of personal growth books. Like a lot. And I came across an episode of The Goal Digger Podcast featuring Kate Northrup and her interview about doing less to achieve more. Experimenting with her, well…experiments, has really given me the chance to re-focus on why I love to write, how to manage my energy and stress levels, how to listen to my body, and cut out the overwhelming compulsion to produce, produce, produce.
While I’m not sure that unhealthy side to my relationship with my work will ever go away, I’ve learned (and put into practice) that I can still reach my goals and honor the rest my body needs to recover at the same time.
Tracking My Monthly Cycle
I wrote a blog post about this last month (<–go read it, it’s one of my best, in my opinion). After reading Kate Northrup’s book “Do Less,” tracking my monthly cycles was the very first experiment I put into practice in order to start honoring my body’s needs. My biggest hurdle right now with being sick is simply having the energy to write. I sleep 8-9 hours at night, then have to give into a series of micro naps during the day, but it’s not enough and those naps are taking away the chance for me to work and be with my kids.
So it made sense for me to start studying my energy levels on a daily basis, and that included me tracking my monthly cycles. I’m tired every day, but my body’s natural hormones and menstrual phases also play a part in my energy levels.
How did tracking my cycle help me do less to achieve more? Let’s use last month as an example. In July, my main goal for the month was to finish the draft of my work in progress by my deadline, but I had social media I needed to schedule, a pitch to write, proofs that came in from my editor for my December release, and a critique to read for my critique partner. All of this was on my schedule to finish before I left for New York at the end of the month.
But by knowing ahead of time when I’d have an extra dose of energy during say, my ovulation phase, I scheduled every single piece of marketing, critiquing, and content creation (like this post!) for those five days while I was ovulating for the following month. Plus, my daily word counts on top of that. That, in turn, gave me the ability to really buckle down and do less (and relieve a ton of pressure) the rest of the month so I could make my deadline in time.
By doing this, I’ve actually learned to be more patient with my body, how to forgive myself for coming up short (not in an excuse kind of way), and let go of that pressure to produce, produce, produce, but it goes way deeper than that than I can get into with one blog post.
Narrowing Down My Vital Few
This experiment has to be my favorite out of this whole experience of doing less. Probably because I’m actually doing less now that I’ve put it into practice. Not only has it given me clarity in what I should be focusing on every day, but it gets me out of losing myself to distraction and shiny things.
Essentially, here’s what your vital few means. You have your goals that you made at the beginning of the year, right? You’re working toward them, but are you focused? Are you working on them every single day, or do things keep getting in the way, and you’re left wondering, “What the hell did I even do today?” <– that happens to me a lot, and I can’t be the only one! So, if the idea of doing less to achieve more is attractive to you, you might want to start by narrowing down your vital few. Ask yourself what are 3-4 things I need to focus on every day that will move the needle toward my goal?
(Tangent) Before I started this experiment, I hated creating and scheduling social media. I don’t think SM convinces readers to buy books that often, and I’ve never had a ton of followers anyway, but my chosen word for the year was “elevate” so I decided to double my efforts and see what happens. But in her book, Northrup reveals her vital few, and one of them is engaging her readers.
*light bulb moment*
Duh! I don’t know why I refused to see this from the beginning, but for the longest time I viewed social media engagement as a distraction from writing, when, in reality, it’s part of my damn job. Having that simple mindshift has really helped me relieve a ton of frustration and saved energy, but let’s get back to the point of this experiment.
Vital few. Okay, so I chose three things that I need to be focused on at all times in my business (including engaging my readers through social media), and now if a task on my calendar isn’t one of those three vital few, it ain’t happening, sister. That’s right. If a task sneaks onto my calendar that doesn’t include 1. Writing new books, 2. Engaging with readers, or 3. Contracting new books, it. ain’t. happening. Not kidding either.
Now, I know you’re shaking your head and thinking, “That’s just not possible for me,” and you’re probably right. It’s damn near impossible to cut your entire life down to three simple focuses. We are more than our jobs. We’re mothers, wives, have other obligations, and hobbies. So, I’ve only applied this this experiment to my business (which is where I personally needed help in my life), but even further, Northrup suggests trying to schedule those vital three focuses as 80% of your day. Not 100%.
This way I’m doing less, but I’m reaching my goals a lot faster due to less distractions and more focus. Ta da!
I Asked for Help
I’m not one of those people. I prefer to suffer in silence, keep my head down, and not rely on anyone else but myself. Sound familiar? I was raised to do everything myself, to take care of myself, to be independent. It’s only in the last few years, and really after having kids, I’ve learned I can’t do it all myself. Especially if I intend to live up to the “elevate” goal I set at the beginning of the year. So this experiment was probably the hardest to come to terms with for me.
I had to ask for help.
The idea of help varies from person to person. For me, it looks like budgeting enough money from our paychecks to afford to go out a few times a week so I don’t have to cook, hiring a nanny this summer to watch my kids for an extra five hours a week so I can make my back-to-back deadlines (or, let’s be honest, take a nap), and asking my husband to help a bit more around the house.
For you, help might include hiring an assistant or a maid, ordering groceries online or getting a subscription to HelloFresh or Blue Apron. There are any of number of ways to make it so you (and especially me) are doing less, reserving your energy for your vital few, and giving yourself the ability to listen to your body’s needs.
These three are the main changes I’ve made in my life over the last few months, and I’ve already started noticing a difference in my productivity, started to heal the relationship with my work, and made huge progress toward my goals without burning myself out as I’ve done in previous years. Kate Northrup has fourteen different experiments in her book, “Do Less,” and I highly recommend finding out what works for you.
How can you start doing less today?