A Commentary On Time Management, Productivity and Work/Life Balance
Let’s Talk About Dishes
How do you load the dishwasher? No really? Are you a “let it pile up and I’ll tackle it all at once” kinda human or a “that dish just landed and I’m coming in hot” kinda person? Or maybe you’re the “Just what I need, when I need it” weirdo. I’m sort of obsessed with ways to get more out of myself, my day and (of course) my work. I think it’s a healthy reverence. My friends and family use “obsession” (whatevs).
If you hang around SOCO long enough, you’ll inevitably see me hovering over the dishwasher rearranging mugs and glasses and bowls in the eternal search for the “optimized wash”
pss: Yes. Hannah Lee and I are working on a team member handbook on how to optimize dishwashing as one of our core values. 🙌🏾
What The Hell Are You Talking About, Greg?
Well friend. Washing dishes is a corollary for your work (or your life or both):
It’s a daily routine (for most of us)
It can feel never ending (you run it and 10 minutes later they’re baaaaack!)
If you don’t tend to them, they pile up and can create a lot of stress and not just for you (don’t believe me? Read this).
They suck! Like, who raises their hand for dishes??? But, you just have to do it (kind of like work for most of us).
And finally…there are a like hundred different ways to getting them done!
So, Why Are You Creating Dishwasher Distress?
Here goes. The actual dishes are ALL THE THINGS IN YOUR LIFE. 💥
Your work commitments. Your social relationships. Your family needs. Your personal time. Your mom (that you haven’t called back in weeks). If you need to spend time on it, then it’s a “dish”. And you need to take care of each one (eventually). But every bloody week, the dishes pile up and you can never seem to get around to all of them.
What needs to go in right now? What can wait? Are the plates more important than the mugs? Do some need to be washed by hand because they are delicate or breakable? How many minutes should I spend standing over this sink before I go postal (I can’t be the only one)?
My point is this. It’s all gotta get done. So, the real question is what’s important to you and how do you handle things when when the “shit” piles up?
6 Things We Can Learn About “Balance” From Dishes
There’s Always Dirty Work: We all want to do the high value work that’s strategic and high value. But, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can avoid the dirty work all the time. In fact, sometimes leadership is more about showing than telling. So, lead by example and get your hands dirty. 🧼
Take Pleasure In Small Wins/Steps/Efforts: Struggling with an overwhelming task? Start small. Wash a dish. And then another. And then another. Small wins can have a profound impact on your well-being. Take baby steps towards your goal and before you know it…”the dishes are done man…”. 😂
Find Purpose In All Things: Washing dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning out your inbox, decluttering your workspace, reviewing your spending…whatever the mundane task…it does serve a purpose. Assign value to the outcome and transcend the monotony of the task. For me (at home), washing the dishes is one way that I say “I love you” to my partner. I wash the dishes (at night mostly) so that when she wakes up, she’ll come into a clean(er) kitchen. That reduces her stress and that’s a good thing. 💪🏽
Know Your Priorities: Know When Something Is A Priority (And When It Isn’t). We can’t get it all done. Stop trying. Really. So, life is really about choosing where to invest your time and in what. Take a hard look at where you spend your time and what efforts will help you create the most momentum. Those small tasks can consume your day, but ask yourself if they’re moving the needle or not. If they aren’t, maybe the dishes can wait another day. 🎯
Reward Yourself: Listen. Carrots always work better than sticks. So, if you have to get through some hard stuff (or a hard day/week), know it’s going to suck and set aside some time to reward yourself with something related to emotional, mental or physical wellness. Hard = A Reward. Listen…there’s a reason people plan their vacations in advance. 🏖️
Ask For Help: Sometimes, life can get overwhelming. Being entrepreneurial sometimes feels like you’re the “capitan”, the first mate and everyone else on the deck of the ship. Know when to ask for help and Surround yourself with people who can offer emotional support, practical help, and guidance when needed. 🆘
Greg Hilton is the cofounder and managing partner for SOCO, SOCO is a thriving platform and community focused on supporting creators, indie workers and entrepreneurs just like you. He’s an avid outdoorsman, creator and storyteller.
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Back when I first married my wife Kat, we LOVED to travel and explore the outdoors. We’d go all over the southeast in search of good trails. One fall, we decided to hike from Amicalola Falls (straight) up to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain in North Georgia. It’s an epic hike with a memorable visual finish at the start of the storied Appalachian Trail. It’s also a bloody slog and almost all uphill.
Don’t Think. Just Start.
I was anxious to get out there and on the trail and being a confident 30-something, didn’t really do much by way of planning. Kat trusted me, so we got up early, headed to Amicalola and without much fanfare, hit the trail with a small backpack, “enough” water and some snacks to get us through the hike. I wasn’t really worried. It was a pretty straight shot and we had a lot of experience hiking. Also. There’s this wonderful “hike in” hostel up there that is a fantastic mid-way point. They have food, snacks, water and a place to rest should you need it.
When Your Plan Goes To Shit
The “straight” hike was straight alright. Straight up. A brisk pace turned to a snails crawl. We passed the Inn on the way up and stopped in to say hello. We didn’t resupply because we thought we’d do it on the way back down. 5 hours into our hike, we reached the terminus. We celebrated with a few photos and started the trek back down.
That’s when things got worse. We were running low on water and had burned through our provisions. We also took a wrong turn near the top (and our navigation app didn’t work up on the mountain) so by the time we got back on track, our 15 mile hike was looking more like 19.0 miles. Kat was exhausted. I was fatigued.
Then things got a lot worse. We were desperately trying to reach the hike inn hostel and arrived ready to fall over. Trouble was…they had closed up early that day and the placed was locked up. So, we were out of food, running low on water (and light) and still had another terrible 5 miles to go. That was the longest 5 miles of our relationship. Kat was feeling terrible and nearly collapsed a couple of times. The only way we made it down the mountain was by playing word association games to distract ourselves from the hunger, thirst and fatigue.
We laugh about it now, but that 18 miles in 1 day hiking experience tested our relationship and our will/perseverance. And the worst part about it is that it all could have been avoided.
This IS The Entrepreneurial Journey (but, does it have to be?)
I feel like that hike is symbolic of life (and the entrepreneurial journey) in a lot of ways. We’re all scrambling to create opportunities, take risks with social or financial rewards and balance all the elements of our work and lives. Like everything else, we all:
Have lofty, ambitious goals
Feel eternally under-resourced, while being eternally optimistic
Are gritting/willing our way through things
Experience constant obstacles
Have to come up with creative problem solving
Did you have lofty ambitions for this year? Were your sights set on big things? Did you hit the ground running? Charging up the mountain only to run out of water halfway up?
5 Painful Lessons I Learned
If you’re starting a new journey or evaluating the one that you’re on, I humbly submit some suggestions for your consideration based on our “wonderful” experience.
Plan Ahead 🎯 – You can’t ever predict everything that can happen on a journey like this, but you prepare and plan for contingencies. The more you can de-risk a situation, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve success. Where are we going? What’s the journey along the way look like really? What do we need to pack (the right people, enough financial resources, tools that will help make the job easier, etc).
Get a Freaking Map 🗺️ – Listen. It’s just stupid to launch into something big without a good map (read: clear game plan) for where you’re going, what stops along the way you can make along the way (read: milestones) and what alternatives you can take to reach the summit (read: backup plans).
Pack The Essentials 🚰 – Knowing what really matters and focusing on those things can be the difference between achieving your goals and bailing with miles left to go. As Greg McKeown espouses in “Essentialism”, learn to quickly discern the trivial many from the vital few tasks that will help you achieve success.
Check In Often ✅ – Stuff goes wrong. And I’ve never hit a goal that I wasn’t tracking and monitoring. Have some good KPIs that are meaningful. Check in often with those KPIs, your team and yourself.
Correct Your Course 🧭 – Don’t be too proud, confident or stubborn to acknowledge when things are going off course. As Tyson said: “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
About The Author:
Greg Hilton is the cofounder and managing partner for SOCO, SOCO is a thriving platform and community focused on supporting creators, indie workers and entrepreneurs just like you. He’s an avid outdoorsman, creator and storyteller.
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We’re all surrounded by talented women in our lives. It just so happens that we’re super extra fortunate to be a part of a co-operative work community that is chock full of badass female creators, innovators and community builders. They wear many hats. They take on a bunch of responsibilities. And they do amazing work. So this post is for them.
We want to celebrate their spirit, tell their stories and amplify their voices this month. While we are fortunate to have many, many female members in our community…too many to list here. But these are just some of the folks doing big, cool or interesting things worth noting. Our challenge to you…read their stories, connect with them, follow them. They have causes you can support, skills and knowledge you can hire and stories worth sharing. When women thrive…we all thrive.
PS: There are 12 actually…we couldn’t help ourselves. 😂
Amy Johnson Ely
Amy is the Executive Director for The Palmetto Cycling Coalition whose mission is to make South Carolina bicycle and pedestrian friendly, by improving safety through better access and education, to promote healthy lifestyles and livable and economically viable communities. Amy is a huge advocate for bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities and livable communities; activating stakeholders, citizens and evangelists alike.
Bianca is an entrepreneur, wife, mom and a pizza and Prosecco enthusiast. Her favorite meal is brunch (check out her podcast Books, Brunch and Babes), a lover of all books (she still buys actual books), a branding photoshoot pro (check out her company, the Crawford Austin Agency) and a travel snob.
Dawn Dawson House
Dawn is fighting to preserve, celebrate and elevate African American cultural heritage in South Carolina and beyond. As the Executive Director of the WeGOJA Foundation, Dawn leverages her 20+ years as a tourism professional, storyteller and convener to document, preserve and activate African American heritage in South Carolina. Their wildly popular and award-winning GreenBook of SC provided one of the first of its kind travel guide to SC African American cultural sites. (a co-operative project with SOCO members).
Fiona is a competitive triathlete, founder of the worker-owned digital marketing agency FGM Internet Marketing, and an environmental activist. When she’s not designing digital campaigns for companies and causes she believes in, she’s competing at the highest level in triathlons around the world (competing in the ITU World Championships for Team USA). Fiona is a vocal advocate for the environment, sustainable development and equitable access for marginalized persons and cultures.
Founder and creative director of digital powerhouse HLJ Creative, Helen Johnson is passionate about combining eye-catching design with data-driven marketing strategies to create brands and websites that make the right impression, accomplish your goals, and lead to long-term growth. She’s an entrepreneur and a super mom. She’s seeing incredible growth and is evolving her team’s capabilities to serve the needs of a new generation of clients.
A high energy and highly impactful coach, consultant and thought leader in organizational culture, talent attraction & retention and leadership…Jada built and sold her first company in late 2022 and is now working on empowering CEOs to build incredible cultures and companies with several new ventures in the works.
Freelancer turned creative executive. Kaleigh Cox had a successful career as a freelance copywriter before she met fellow SOCO member Robert Gilbert in the early days of DxTEL. The two joined forces a few years ago and haven’t looked back. DxTEL is a fast growing managed services and platform company serving the rural broadband/telecom industry. Kaleigh has built a reputation as a savvy storyteller and influencer in the space. When she’s not evangelizing for access for everyone, she’s all about faith, family and community.
Kassy Alia Ray
After losing her police officer husband in the line of duty, Kassy was moved to take action and founded Serve & Connect with the mission to help police and citizens work together as one community; Serve & Connect works to heal the relationships between police and the communities they serve and by doing so, creating a future where police and citizens work together as one community.
Katherine Swartz and Bre Spaulding
This dynamic duo is transforming entrepreneurial education and building the next generation of student entrepreneurs at USC through the McNair Institute for Entrepreneurialism and Free Enterprise. Katherine has been transforming nonprofits and shaping the next generation for 20+ years. “Bre” is one of Soda City’s most dynamic young leaders. Working with stakeholders from across the university, the McNair team successfully launched USC’s first ever minor in Entrepreneurship.
Shannon is the Cofounder and COO of Consciously, a creative agency serving the needs of conscious brands including Akimbo (altMBA), B Lab, Black Wealth Data Center, and Planned Parenthood. Consciously builds purpose-driven, inclusive marketing platforms that help companies nourish their business ecosystem. In addition to being a mompreneur and a brand builder, Shannon has launched a life coaching business.
Starlitt Miller is blending a creative background with technology and data with her new startup Transity. In 2022, Starlitt graduated from Visible Hands, a high tech accelerator focused on investing in and lifting up underrepresented founders. She’s a vocal and active member of the Cola startup scene and the most recent Entrepreneur in Residence at the Richland Library.
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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.