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Jessica here. πŸ™‚

In the past couple of years since starting my business, I’ve had lots of ups and downs, like every entrepreneur. Along the way, I’ve learned some things and created some habits that I think would help others, both personally and professionally.

Below is a list of the top five things that have most helped me maintain – or regain, in many cases – my sanity as I work to grow my business.

Take a peek and try one (or more) out.

I sincerely hope they help you on your path!

1. Control Your Time, Don’t Let It Control You

When I first started my business, I was able to manage my time pretty readily. From past experience, I knew how long projects would take and if a client asked if I had time for something, I knew instinctively whether or not I could get it done. Although I worked a few late nights, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Fast forward a couple of years. I had more clients and more projects to manage, let alone babies to keep alive, a household to run, and a house to build.

My life was mass chaos.

Like survival mode mass chaos. I was pulling 2am work nights multiple days a week.

My sanity, health, and passion for business were quickly deteriorating.

Then, I went to a Biz to Biz leadership training and learned something profound – don’t let the “little rocks” get in the way of your “big rocks” by determining your priorities and scheduling your time. Like every hour. The training was based upon an apparently well-known Steven Covey teaching, but I had heard nothing of it.

Immediately, I went back to my office and started scheduling out my time. It took me a few months to get into the habit, but now, it’s routine. I schedule out personal time and professional time, so that the priorities in my life don’t get overtaken by small things that add up to a lot of time and distraction.

I set aside blocks of time for checking email – and only check it at those times. I set aside time for lunch and personal meetings (I’m still working on getting gym time blocked out, ha ha!). I block out time for every task I have to do, so I don’t over-schedule myself. There are weeks where I still need to work nights, but it’s intentional and not as a result of bad time management.

calendar_scheduling_big_rock_little_rock

A snapshot of my calendar this week. Each color has a meaning, which helps me balance billable versus non-billable time. Where it looks like I’ve “double-booked” myself, I’ve just added reminders for small tasks I need to get done while doing those things (usually during email time).

We’ve written about this before, but I’m still blown away by how much this simple habit has positively impacted my business and my life.

Just a little over a week ago, I went on vacation and when I got back, it wasn’t nearly as hard to play catch up as it had been in the past, all due to the fact that I was able to clearly set my own – and my clients’ – expectations as a result of scheduling every minute of my day.

(Goodbye 2am worknights, hello sleep!)

2. Speaking of Sleep, Get It!

We live in a world where things like 60 hour workweeks and pulling all-nighters are all but glorified.

I’m a driven person and I have to admit, there was a time when I would almost proudly “complain” of the fact that I worked long hours.

Until I realized those hours meant I was doing something wrong – and started scheduling out my time.

One of the biggest benefits of scheduling has been the fact that I now get the sleep we all know we need, but oftentimes don’t get. I do well on 7 hours of sleep per night, and consistently get that, if not 8 or more.

And, for those of you who have a hard time “turning off” your brain, I’m (usually) able to easily fall asleep, because I habitually make a sticky note list of all the things I need to do the next day at the end of each day. I also review and check off that day’s list of projects as well.

Even though everything is on my digital calendar, making the physical list helps put my brain to rest. I don’t know what it is about writing it out, but it’s like magic! (And on the off day where I don’t make the list, I invariably have a hard time falling asleep thinking about all of the things I need to do the next day… which is always a good reminder to maintain the habit.)

As a result of getting the sleep I need, I’m more focused and efficient when working – and the patient parent I aspire to be!

(Oh, and my irregular heartbeat has all but gone away, which I’m so grateful for.)

Which brings me to my next point…

3. Focus on Gratitude

If you’re anything like me, you have a passion for making things better. You’re always working to improve yourself, your business, and your life. But it still seems like things are never quite right.

This past fall, I was struggling emotionally. My business was growing. My children were healthy, smart, and spunky. My husband and I were finishing building our dream home. I had great clients, friends, and extended family. Not to mention, I live in a peaceful and free society, have clean running water, and a full fridge. My life was full of blessings.

But it just didn’t seem like enough. I wasn’t happy.

I have always been a fan of reading and listening to self-improvement books, blogs, and podcasts. One of them (I regrettably don’t remember which one, I follow quite a few, including Marie Forleo, Seth Godin, Mark Manson, Lewis Howes, and more), spoke about the 5 Minute Journal.

Actually, I think it was an interview with Tim Ferriss about gratitude – yes, that was it! (I’ll leave the other people I mentioned above in, because they are all worth checking out.)

Anyway, I had heard journaling improves attitudes and emotional health, but hadn’t been interested in it. I didn’t think I had time for it and didn’t really care to do it. But I was getting pretty desperate and it sounded like the 5 Minute Journal was different than writing page-long entries in a diary or something. It literally takes 5 minutes each morning and evening.

I freakin’ love it.

Initially, I bought the journal book, which I loved. It was a very physical way of getting into the journaling habit. (And it is beautifully designed to boot.)

Five Minute Journal

When the company released their redesigned app, however, I went for it.

5-minute-journal-app-screenshot

I personally love the app, because you can load a picture to each day to visually show why that day was awesome. And, at the end of every year, you can print out your journal, which is pretty dang cool for those of us who want a physical object to look back through to see how far we’ve come.

Journaling has been a habit that’s vastly improved my emotional health. When I start out my day thinking of all that I have to be grateful for, it makes me excited for the day ahead. And when I finish it with gratitude, it helps me focus on the positive things that happened that day, drowning out the negative.

Try it. You won’t regret it.

4. Lean On Others

Whether it’s a housekeeper, an assistant, an employee, or a sub-contractor of some sort, figure out where you are spending time or resources that you shouldn’t be (or don’t like to)…

And Hire. It.

Last year, when we were still in the process of building our house and I was in survival mode, I had a housekeeper clean my house twice a month. She was worth every single penny.

Before I hired her, my filthy house was stressing me out even more and oftentimes preventing me from focusing on the things that mattered (like my family and growing my business). Once she came along, cleaning was one thing I could free from my mind.

Now that our house is done and my kids areΒ older and more easily self-entertained, I no longer need her help… but it was imperative at the time.

I also hired a bookkeeper just a year after starting my business.

I wish I would have hired one earlier than that – and I wish I would have hired a local bookkeeper initially.

My first one was out of town and it made it hard for me to be accountable to her with getting records and the things she needed to do her job well. As a result, my books were a complete mess for a couple of years and took a lot of time and money to make them right.

Not to mention, I didn’t really know where things stood during that timeframe, so I ended up making a couple of nearly fatal mistakes that could have been avoided if my books had been a good reference point.

Good bookkeepers are worth every penny, in my opinion, and are something every business owner should consider if they aren’t savvy bookkeepers themselves.

(And just because you have a bookkeeper doesn’t mean you have to hand over every financial aspect. I still pay all of my bills and sign all of my checks. The data entry is her role and she keeps me informed and in-check on how things are looking financially with the business – and is a great business brain and resource for me as well.)

5. Take Digital Sabbaths

For the first couple of years in my business, I felt like I needed to be checking my email on my phone at night, the weekend, random days off, and even while on vacation. I strive to provide excellent customer service and I thought if I didn’t get things taken care of immediately, even during off hours, I would lose clients.

What I didn’t know was that it was a recipe for burnout. The constant connection to my work was physically and emotionally draining me.

I knew I needed to change how I did things, so I thought back to when I worked for another agency and realized that we always left our work at the office. Of course, that was before smartphones, but there were plenty of competitors whose employees worked crazy hours and were constantly connected to their work, and we knew we wanted to keep our priorities in check.

So then I thought about how it didn’t seem to bother any of the clients back then. And I’m sure I read some advice from one of the folks mentioned above to take “digital sabbaths” – meaning, when it’s not working time, it’s not. No checking email. No checking voicemails (or answering phone calls). It is time to take a damn break!

So I tried it. And it worked! I would come back to work feeling refreshed and ready for the week ahead – and I was a lot more productive! To top it off, my clients seemed to understand (or not care at all)!

Funny how that works.

Just this past month, I took a nearly week-long vacation and avoided the (very strong) urge to check email and messages the entire time I was away for the first time since starting my business. I had told my clients I would be unavailable, so I was confident there wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait until I got back.

Turns out, there was one thing, but the client was understanding and we got it taken care of as soon as I was working again. And the world didn’t end. And I didn’t get fired. Amazing. Life-changing.

So there you have it, 5 lessons from me after being in business for (almost) 5 years. πŸ™‚

I hope you all have had a wonderful summer, I know my family and I have. Take a peek at some of the fun we’ve been having!

Thank you for being a part of my life – and allowing me to serve you. My life is better with you in it.

Family Float Trip on Yellowstone

Yellowstone River float with my parents and family!

Slalom Water Skiing

Slalom waterskiing – I’ve still got it! πŸ˜‰

Rose Island, Bahamas

Kids playing on the beauitful beach of Rose Island in the Bahamas.

Relaxing on Yacht in Bahamas

Actually relaxing on a yacht while in the Bahamas! A dream.