We’re roughly halfway through the year. And if you’ve avoided breaking out in a cold sweat because time is flying by, then this is a great time to step back and refocus on your work.
It’s easy to lose sight of goals we established way back in January. And a lot can happen in the span of those months. Maybe you took time off to care for a loved one. Or to take care of yourself.
But before you return and dive into the work, take a moment to refocus on what’s important to you so you can thrive for the remainder of the year.
Take Stock of Everything You’ve Accomplished
Okay, before you dive in to work on refocusing, let’s talk about what you’ve accomplished. So often, we only look at what’s in front of us on our to-do list or calendar. And that can lead to feelings of how we’re falling short.
But to appreciate where we are, we must look at the good things we’ve done. And odds are, you’ve accomplished so much more than you realize. You just haven’t thought about it.
Think back over the last few months and write down the things you’re most proud of, whether it’s work or personal.
Maybe it’s a project you just knocked out of the park.
Or you’ve met a fitness or mental health goal. Whatever is important to you, put it on the list.
Identify When You’ve Done Your Best Work
If you feel like you’re in a rut with your productivity or focus, think back to times when you’ve done excellent work.
What were the conditions that helped you focus and be most productive?
Maybe you had an established schedule or were surrounded by people who encouraged and challenged you.
Identify how you were able to focus and work on re-creating those parameters in your current work setup.
Review Your Organization Methods
When you’re struggling to focus, organization methods are often a culprit. And even if you have a sound system for tracking projects and client requests, those tactics can fall by the wayside when you’re distracted.
Examine your organization process and see what needs to be tweaked or re-implemented to help stay focused on what’s in front of you.
Establish Short-Term and Long-Term Priorities
When searching for how to refocus, you can grab at straws and focus on the wrong things.
Instead, you gravitate towards tasks that make you feel good, like cleaning out your inbox or spending a lot of time responding to emails.
To avoid this trap, write out critical tasks or work you need to get done.
Prioritize them. Put them on your calendar (or wherever you track your work) and honor that list, as your life depends on it.
Drown out all other noise and save it for later. Those emails will still be in your inbox if you let them stay there till the end of the day.
Some “busy work” is essential. But a large part of finding your focus is knowing what to focus on at the right time.
We All Struggle with Focusing
Every business owner, freelancer, and employee struggles to maintain focus. Competing life priorities, outside influences, and many other issues can take our minds off work for long periods.
Remember to give yourself grace. Losing focus is part of being a normal human being. What’s important is you identify the cause and do what you can to find your focus and continue doing great work.
For most of us, telling someone we can’t do something just feels awkward. We think we’re letting them down. Or we’re giving up an opportunity for ourselves.
But the truth is, saying “no,” can be one of the most liberating things you’ll do. And it’s especially true for those who run their own businesses. If you’re not saying no once in a while, you’ll find yourself burnt out, working late nights, and answering emails after hours.
Not good at setting boundaries for yourself and your work? We’ll help you get started.
We spoke with Fiona Martin, who’s owned marketing co-operative FGM Internet Marketing LLC for 10 years. She has a lot of experience as a solopreneur. And she’s very good at setting boundaries. We wanted to get her insight.
Setting Boundaries Starts with Yourself
Fiona said she has firm working days and hours. And she sticks to them.
“I do not work on weekends, and I usually shut down at 3:00 pm on weekdays,” Fiona said. “I credit my last ‘proper job’ at VisitScotland in Edinburgh, and my managers, for not expecting us to work late or on the weekends.”
Fiona said she avoids checking emails at night or on the weekends.
Creating working hours will help you separate yourself from work. And honestly, who only checks one email when they sign-in on the weekends?
Is It Really Urgent?
According to Fiona, you need to understand what’s urgent and what is truly urgent.
“I work very hard in not getting caught up in urgency because honestly, as a digital marketer, I’m not saving lives here. The work will always be there, whether you speed up and get it done at 7:00 pm on a Tuesday or whether you take a moment and complete it in the next few days,” Fiona said.
Fiona noted urgency could also lead to poor work quality.
“The urgency, I find, also leads to shoddy work. It’s worth approaching your projects with a clear mind, and pushing for speed does not always promote that.”
It’s easy to get caught up in solving an issue immediately. So before responding to an email, or jumping on a project late at night, take a step back and see if the problem is truly urgent.
Create Boundaries with Clients
Setting boundaries with yourself is one thing. But how do you create boundaries with clients? Fiona says it starts at the beginning of the relationship.
“I include a “Rules of Engagement” page in our first contract. In it, I outline our standard working hours, preferred methods of communication, and behaviors that are unacceptable like racism, sexism, or ageism,” she said.
Fiona outlines working conditions and how she prefers to communicate with clients.
“I also tend to ask my clients to schedule a time for a call. Everyone is busy, and I want to give my clients my undivided attention, so you won’t find me taking client calls in the car or while I’m grocery shopping. In order to guarantee you have my attention, we need to plan a 30 or 60-minute phone call that works with everyone’s schedule,” Fiona noted.
If you’re spending time responding to unexpected calls, or texts, you’re giving up the thing most precious to a business owner: time.
So, what if you set boundaries with clients who aren’t very happy about them?
Then it’s probably a sign they aren’t the right fit for you.
Most clients will respect your guidelines and adhere to them. And if they’re not it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship.
Maintaining Your Boundaries
You can write down and create all the boundaries you want, but they don’t mean much if you don’t enforce them.
Fiona said if she begins to violate boundaries she’s created for herself, it causes her to step back and see what’s going on in her work life.
“I’ve found that boundaries are useless if you don’t follow them yourself, so I don’t often violate my own boundaries. If I do, it gives me a sense of unease because ultimately, I’m disrespecting myself, and I have to take a moment to reassess what I’m doing and course correct.”
If clients aren’t respecting boundaries, including your core values, it’s crucial to stand by what you say.
“For work hours and methods of communication, I simply don’t respond. If a client wants a response, they use the methods clearly outlined. Reinforcing other boundaries like not tolerating racism is usually done with conversation, and I’ve had to terminate contracts over those types of issues, too,” Fiona said.
Your Boundaries are Valid
Creating and maintaining boundaries isn’t easy. But it’s essential for everyone, especially those on a self-employment journey. Fiona said the process begins with self-discovery.
“The key is really to understand what sorts of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable to you,” Fiona emphasized. “Your own boundaries are valid and don’t need outside validation from others. If you have a client that doesn’t accept your boundaries, maybe they shouldn’t be a client.”
And Fiona noted it’s hard when you’re starting out, trying to land clients, to make boundaries a priority. But in her opinion, it’s not worth the money or mental toll to keep a client who doesn’t respect your boundaries.
Communicate Your Values
Defining your values begins with a bit of self-discovery.
“It’s important to understand your own boundaries first. What do you want your work-life to look like in a very specific way? This part was the hardest for me,” she said.
Take time to write out what you want your business to look like. For example, when are your working hours? How do you want clients to communicate with you? And what are unacceptable behaviors you won’t tolerate?
Fiona said it’s critical to communicate your values to clients and colleagues. It’s like a store posting its hours on the door. Those are their boundaries. So you should do the same, even if you don’t have a physical door.
Along with her contract, Fiona includes a Rules of Engagement document which outlines how FGM Internet Marketing communicates, their working hours, and expected turnaround times.
Over time, your boundaries will likely change based on circumstances in your life. And that’s okay.
“But the hardest part for me was figuring out those boundaries and defining them. And they will likely change every year as you accumulate new experiences, good and bad,” Fiona said.
For your productivity and health, boundaries are essential. And while they may seem prohibitive, you may find that you’ll do better work for clients you love by setting the proper parameters.
I‘ve been trying to think about the idea of Sincerity. Specifically how sincerity relates to being a leader. You can talk all day long about what you’re going to do, but until people see you doing it, they won’t believe you.
Or believe in you…
Have you ever heard of the term “lead by example?”
Leading by example is surely the best way to be a great leader. But to do that you have to be truly sincere in your belief in what it is you’re doing…
There is a great story about sincerity — as it applies to Leadership from the book Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield.
The book is about Spartan warrior culture. He tells the story of King Leonidas and his 300 spartans who fought and died defending their homeland against what is said to have been thousands and thousands of Persian invaders.
There is a chapter about a lesser known part of the story; when the king and his army of 300 arrived at the spot where they would be having the battle the next day, there were remnants of what was once a defensive stone wall or battlement. The King ordered his men to rebuild the wall as quickly as they could so they could use it for themselves.
These guys knew that the overwhelming size of the invading Persian army, which numbered in the millions against the Spartans’ 300, would be rendered useless, because the width of the land at the pass of Thermopylae was much smaller, and would only allow a small portion of the Persians to present themselves at once time — thus the Spartans would be able to match man for man at any given time the Persians’ numbers. The trouble was there used to be a wall there, but it had been destroyed in a previous battle unbeknownst to the Spartans.
His captains and sergeants began to discuss and plan on the best way to rebuild it. One said that the wall should be as tall as two men, one said that it should be short but wide, while another argued that it should have firing positions for their bowmen. Meanwhile all the other Spartans just sat around and watched their leaders argue and fight over the “best” way to do it…
In seeing his men in disarray and lacking clear leadership, King Leonidas himself walked over to one of the piles of rocks and just started picking them up and pilling them back up to form a wall. When his Spartans saw what he was doing, they all cheered “AROO!” (which is the Spartan war cry) and they all fell into the work right along side their king. Every last one…
King Leonidas never stopped, even when he saw his men working and as the pile started to resemble a real wall he said to them;
Nothing too fancy, men. For a wall of stone will not preserve us, but a wall of warriors shall.
If you truly believe in what you are doing then show those around you that you sincerely believe it is the right way to do it by acting on it instead of just talking about it.
Aim to inspire first and you will win the battle whatever it may be.
This is that great passage about leadership from the book Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfieldso you can read it as written here. It picks up a rather crucial moment when the 300 lead by King Leonidas arrive at the famous pass of Thermopylae known as the “Hot Gates”.
What I find most inspiring is that leading isn’t about telling people what to do, being the one in charge, or simply authoring all the plans. It’s about doing first so that others can see and learn.
Setting the example for your team. Keeping the bar high, by your own personally displayed example of work and ethics. It is one thing to have a ton of experience and share that with the people you work with or work for you but it’s another thing entirely to sit back while others labor and toss out direction without the implication that you are willing and able to dig in too.
If you’re like me you’ve tediously waited for each Wednesday morning for the latest episode of The Book of Boba Fett to drop. I’ve been a long time Star Wars fan since the early 80’s. I’ve survived the long draught between the original trilogy (Ep. 4, 5 & 6) and the prequels (Ep. 1, 2 & 3) when we got the Expanded Universe books, stories and characters, later re-branded and retconned into what is now called Legends. The Mandalorian and Book of Boba Fett series is truly some of the best Star Wars we’ve gotten in a very long time, we won’t talk about the sequel trilogy here though…
Something I have noticed across these episodes is how they’ve handled the growth of Boba Fett. It is a story about a single freelancer (bounty hunter) who is learning how to be a strong leader (crime syndicate boss). It is a compelling arc for anyone who is charged with a leadership role in their job or is an owner operator at their own small business. There is a lot to unpack so stick with me for a few minutes please.
SPOILERS: Don’t read on until you’ve either watched it or decided you don’t care…
Let’s get nerdy shall we?
Boba Fett has been arguably the best and most notorious bounty hunter in the galaxy, regularly working for a huge employer, The Galactic Empire as well as at other times Jabba The Hutt. We catch up with him just after he has assumed the throne of the criminal empire of his former employer Jabba. The story uses flashbacks to backfill the story of how we’ve gotten to where we are, and so in the first flashback we find Fett stuck in the belly of the Sarlacc fighting to free himself. After-which he is captured by a group of Tusken Raiders. He is bound and enslaved only to earn his place in the group by deeds of heroism and courage.
He learns one of the most powerful lessons in leadership which is that the only thing you can control is your choices. This reminds me of Stoic Philosophical writings of Marcus Aurelius where he focuses primarily on knowing the difference between what you can change and what you can not. What you have influence over in life and what you do not. There is a lot of application and utility there as it relates to business and leading others.
Being a leader is a lonely place to live and the only thing you can do as a leader is focus on the things you can change for the positive whether that’s related to other people or internally for yourself.
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
Everything you see and hear from others is more often than not an opinion, albeit typically laced with their own agendas, perspectives and emotions.
Just like the fellow prisoner, Fett found himself next to in the desert, their responses to being in the same situation are quite different. If you can get out of responding to things happening in your business or on your team emotionally then you can begin to truly make choices and steer things in the right direction instead of simply reacting to things emotionally.
There are opposing forces in the form of a pair of Hutts known as “The Twins”, who want to claim Fett’s new position for themselves. While he is taking tribute from those that he manages in his criminal territory we learn that he has chosen to lead with respect instead of fear. In order to do that effectively, he has to embody the qualities needed to gain respect by living them for real.
At this point we are two episodes in and everyone on the internet is already saying that this isn’t the Boba Fett they remember from earlier movies and shows. This is because he is making a transition from being a loner/freelancer to a leader of others, the person in charge of an expansive business made up of teams of talented individuals. He must lead by making choices and not by blasting those that he doesn’t agree with anymore. He must use patience and make disciplined decisions in which fights to pick. Very much like Michael Corleone’s rise to power in The Godfather movies.
In various flashbacks we see Fett making emotionally derived decisions like attacking an opposing outpost and then leading his tribe of Tuskens to attack a train and even training them to drive speeder bikes. While he has learned the value of his team, his tribe, over operating alone he has not yet learned that being too aggressive, while successful in the short term, can have consequences you must take ownership for in the long run. For good or bad…
We see this sort of play out for the positive in his decision to not wage a direct war with The Twins, he instead practices patience and in the end, they are driven out of business by a much larger player in the Pykes. We even have this echoed when we see Fett witnesses Krrsantan fighting with the Trandoshans in the Sanctuary, after which he hires him for his own team.
Any time Fett has chosen the high road, to help other competing bounty hunters when it’s in his best interests he comes out on top. Stronger and better supported by others in their loyalty for his cause. Like in helping Shand, whom he found dying from a gut wound. He took her to a mod-parlor, where she was saved or when he let Krrsantan go free only to later hire him.
In “Chapter 4: The Gathering Storm” while at a banquet he is hosing for Mos Espa’s other crime bosses to unite against the Pyke Syndicate, Fett learns another valuable lesson in business which is that your competitors may not directly go to war with you, you can and should be friendly with each other, but that good will likely only goes so far as to support your own agendas.
“Keep Your Friends Close, But Your Enemies Closer”
The series is getting a lot of criticism for the flashbacks and broken storyline as well as the surprise episode(s) focusing more on Din Djarin the Mandalorian than Fett. I personally love it, but to each his own, I guess all the critics need something to focus on.
“Don’t Cling to a Mistake Just Because You Spent a lot of Time Making it.”
Aubrey De Graf
Even in these episodes that feature the Mandalorian we are presented with the notion that you should always be growing, learning and upgrading yourself when you can. After Djarin beats Vizsla in their duel over the Darksaber, he reveals to The Armorer that he previously broke the tribe’s code by removing his helmet in front of others.
He learns after being rejected out of the tribe that their ways may not always be the right way to do things.
Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, you should always be looking at it and studying it to make sure it is still the right way. Being open to criticism and checking your ego at the door we can find ourselves within the right team and doing things we truly believe in.
As Din Djarin is learning we should strive to be self-aware to a certain level so as to recognize when we make mistakes and to not let the same old ways of doing things lead you to less successful conclusions. Momentum and doing something for the sake of doing it will be a powerful pull in your daily business. It’s not easy to know when to course correct or flat out stop doing something you first thought would lead you to success.
One of the most important attributes in an employee, team member or even a friend is commitment. As leaders we seek it out and try to develop it in others. But along with commitment, we should also reward thought that gets us positive feedback and critique. We should strive to create an environment where this can happen safely for others under our charge.
In the final two episodes, we are presented with the idea that you have to go all-in, Burn the boats, however you should always retain your values. The commitment Fett shows to his mission of ruling by respect and working for the betterment of his organization instead of taking care of his own personal needs pays off in a big way. He makes personal sacrifices in the face of everything going against him to get there.
When he is negotiating with Cad Bane in the finale episode we see him listening to council from his management team, in Fennec Shand and Din Djarin, about not taking the bait and blasting away with an emotional response. This obvious choice over personal revenge for long term goals and to better position his organization is after all the heart of this series.
He still gets to blast away at his enemies from a stronger position in the end… 🙂
Retaining a growth mindset is very difficult because we rarely see the bigger picture when we are responding from a position of anger or fear.
Being a leader of anything typically comes with a strong daily dose of both of these emotions. It does not matter how, but you MUST have people in your corner if you are to survive. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. It can be trusted team members, friends, peers, or even a coach.
One thing is for sure, if you try to stand alone for too long, you’ll fall alone.
There are not many things on earth better than a good book. And SOCO members are a well-read bunch. Here are the books they recommend reading, whether you want to go to a fictional world or learn about something brand new.
Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age by Annalee Newitz
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Educated by Tara Westover
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of Christian Faith by Tim Keller
A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good by Daniel Darling
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
The Lazy Genius by Kendra Adachi
An Indigeonus People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Chales C. Mann
The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Farming While Black by Leah Penniman
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States (collection of essays)
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber
The Shock Doctrine and Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Coggins
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
There, There by Tommy Orange
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
The Night Watchman by Louis Erdrick
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
The Cold Millions by Jess Walter
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Venice Sketchbook by Kaleigh Cox
Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal-ElMohtar and Max Gladstone
All Systems Red(Murderbot series) by Martha Wells
The Calculating Stars (The Lady Astronaut series) by Mary-Robinette Kowal
The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time series) by Robert Jordan
That’s enough to keep your nose in a book for quite a while. If you’re a Columbia local, go grab a copy of something on this list from our local bookstores, like Ed’s Editions in West Columbia or Odd Birds Books on Main St. in downtown Columbia. Bookstores are a treasure. Let’s keep supporting them.