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Friday, August 25, 2017

August Is Another Great Month And The Ongoing Struggle To Maintain A Healthy Perspective

It has been a month since my last post. I had kept meaning to write this month, but every week I kept running out of time before I could write a post, so after exactly a month at 9:17pm on a Friday, I decided to make writing this post my last activity for the week.

Last month ended with a combined revenue from stamp sales and the bed and breakfast totaling just over $13,800, which was phenomenal, and I do not expect to have another month quite that spectacular for quite some time. This month, with just a week remaining in the month, we have sold $5,244 in stamps. I don't have a total as yet for the bed and breakfast, but for most of this month, we have been double booked, so I would expect that we have made close to $4,000 from the B&B, which would bring us to just over $9,000 for the month, which is very, very good.

My investors were due to be paid their interest cheques last month and this month, and thanks to the sales level we had no problem paying them at all. In addition, we were able to afford to pay for some important upgrades to the house, as well as to be able to make some significant investments in inventory.

However, it was a difficult month in one very important sense: I was still really struggling with the fact that I wasn't approaching my work in a healthy, sustainable manner for most of this month. Early at the beginning of the summer, Steph and I decided that each week starting in July, we would have her friends out to stay with us and we would close off the B&B for much of July while they were here, with the last guests here in the first week of August. Even though I know that I am on the Autistic Spectrum, and I know that I get anxious when my schedule is interrupted and I can tend to shut down after too much social interaction, I told Steph that I would be perfectly fine having guests over for a whole month. It was a great idea in theory, but I had a really hard time with what it did to my schedule. At the end of it, I was in total despair over how far behind schedule I was and I broke down one night. My despair was amplified by the fact that I love our friends and I wanted to see them and hang out with them, and I was saddened deeply by how I was allowing my attitude towards my business to ruin my time with them.

About a month before, Steph had suggested to me that she had read an article somewhere that said that rather than focusing on accomplishing goals, it is wiser to focus on cultivating and following best practices. I took it with a grain of salt when she told me, and went right back stubbornly into full-bore production mode, running myself ragged to try and get everything done that I had told myself needed to get done for that week.

It was clear to me after our last guests had left that I had to do something about my attitude to my work, as it has slowly taken over my life to the point where:

  1. I'm not cooking good meals anymore and am eating food that while easy to prepare is giving me heartburn most days.
  2. I'm not working on maintaining my relationship with Steph at all, taking her completely for granted and expecting her to be completely OK with it., and
  3. I'm not working out anymore. 
In effect, I have given up, one by one, most of the things that I wrote about at the beginning of this blog that I touted as the main advantage of being self-employed, because I was afraid that if I didn't devote 100% of myself to my work that my business would eventually fail. But one night a few weeks ago at around 1am, I was so incredibly exhausted, that I kept nodding off at my desk. But rather than go to bed, I just kept pushing myself to complete the task. What should have taken me 1/2 an hour took almost 2 hours. 

It was then that I realized that I really did need to draw some firm boundaries on work and I had to place strict time limits on how much time I spend working each week. I decided that to start, I would quit at 10pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and at 12am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Under no circumstances would I ever work past midnight again. At the same time, I began the process of looking for an employee to help take over some of the tasks that were preventing me from listing as much material as I wanted each week. My goal is eventually to be able to quit at 6pm every weeknight. 

So two weeks ago, I started this schedule with these strict time limits in place. I also decided to resume menu planning and cooking of well balanced, and nutritious meals, as well as a lunch break. Dinner breaks were to last 2 full hours in order to give Steph and I a chance to reconnect and spend some quality time together each day. I was really excited and curious to see whether my productivity would be any less with this schedule than what it had been before when I was working until 2am every night. 

Interestingly, what I have noticed is that I am just as productive as before! I am simply not spending as much time on some tasks as I was doing before. For instance, before the change, I would write these blog posts that would take me 6-8 hours to write and if I didn't have them done by Tuesday night, I would continue working on them on Wednesday and sometimes even Thursday. But now, what I started doing was managing the length of the posts so that they would be finished by 12am on Tuesday no matter what. If I wasn't done writing the post by 11:45pm, I would tweak it so that I could add "part one" to the title and tell my readers it would be completed the following week. I haven't seen my readership affected significantly, but my stress levels are way, way down. I am focusing on doing the best work that I can, which means:

  • Giving priority to customer requests and want lists. I never let administrative activities like listing material to prevent me from giving service to my customers - even those customers who aren't currently spending money. 
  • Then, after all my customers are looked after, I focus on making sure all my bills are paid and government filings are under control. 
  • Then after all that is done, I focus on my listings, and I do as much as I can, without worrying about how quickly it is getting done.
This is what they mean when the talk about systems over goals. I work towards my goals, but I no longer have time-frames attached to them. I have abandoned the arbitrary time-frames, largely because I really have no idea of how long things are supposed to take, so why stress myself out by holding myself to goals that are potentially unrealistic?

I know that just this small attitude shift is working wonders for these past two weeks. It is something to think about for all you entrepreneurs who are slaving away. If you stop focusing on your goals and start focusing on doing just the things that get you to where you want to be, do you really think you will fail to ultimately meet those goals?