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Quiet, simple, intentional - Peek inside my unfussy morning routine

Back in my corporate job days, my time was pretty structured. Between the hours and 8 and 5 or so, I’d mostly be a slave to my calendar. Colleagues and clients would schedule meetings with me, and I’d attend.

I constructed the rest of my life around the 9 or so hours I'd spend in the office. Add an hour and a half both before and after to account for commenting.

By day 3 of becoming a freelance copywriter full time, I realized I needed to set up some serious structure to my day. Otherwise, I’d find myself feeling frantic and entirely out of control.

Happiness = feeling like we have control over our lives. 

You might be hearing a lot about morning routines lately. These past few years, I’ve become curious about how successful people use their mornings.

Here’s a peek into my morning routine. I hope it gives you some ideas of things to try out as you figure your routine out.


I'm a pop out of bed like a pop-tart kind of morning person

5-5:30 am
Wake up with the alarm on my phone in airplane mode and WiFI off. I never ever ever ever hit snooze. Waking up with my phone in airplane mode makes it easy to avoid checking email and social media first thing in the morning. I want to start MY day, not someone else's.

Make coffee. Most of it is set up from the night before. I grind coffee beans fresh in the morning and use a Chemex pour over method (try it, it'll rock your world). It takes approximately 6 minutes longer than pressing a button like a zombie on a drip coffee machine. It’s slow and purposeful. Also, it makes a damn good cup of coffee, and coffee is essential. You don’t know you’re drinking crappy coffee until you have the good stuff.

What goes in my coffee—I’ve been enjoying a rocket fuel latte every morning. This coffee that tastes like dessert is part of a high-fat, low-carb way I eat that keeps my brain firing on all cylinders. It sounds involved, but most days, this replaces breakfast.

Getting up around 5 am is important to me so I can make time for myself before the kids get up and I start looking after everyone else. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and mama can’t do shit if I haven’t looked after myself first.

5:45 am
Morning Pages. You can read more about morning pages and why they’re awesome in this post. It’s three unedited, unfiltered, brain dump kind of writing to get the gunk out of my brain so I can move onto my day. I write while I’m drinking my coffee and it only takes 10-15 minutes.

6 am
Flip open my paper day planner. I live and die by my Google Calendar and calendly for scheduling client meetings, but pen and paper force me to slow down and see what’s ahead of me. I’ve become a huge fan of Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map day planner.

Before the coming week, I write down all my appointments and map out the week's tasks. My tasks change throughout the week, but having a basis for how I spend my time is essential.

The planner also includes writing down how I want to feel. This is the woo-est I’ll ever get on you. Knowing how I want to feel drives all my work. If how I’m spending my doesn’t make me feel this way, something needs to change. For the past year or more, here’s what I want to feel every day: freedom, creativity, curiosity, and abundance. Next, I jot down three quick things I’m grateful for (cause I want to feel abundant, remember).

6:05 - 7 am
The above took some explaining, but it only takes a few minutes. I spend the next 45 minutes or so on a personal writing project. On Monday’s I spend it writing a blog post for the week, on Tuesday I spend some time sharing it with an email to my favorite people, then, I work on other writing projects, which varies depending on my goals and my mood. These days, it’s 1 of 2 books I’m working on, writing free guides to share with you, or updating website pages.

I write for myself before I dive into writing for anyone else. I do my best work in the morning, and why shouldn’t I give that to myself? At the end of my life, if I’m not contributing to my growing body of work, I can start to feel grumpy and like I’m totally out of control.

7-8 am
Mom time! This is the time for getting the kids up, making breakfasts (fresh eggs thanks to our backyard chickens!) lunches, gathering homework, feeding the chickens, ducks, dog, cats, and everything with a mouth. I lay everything out the night before. I don’t ask what the kids want for breakfast or lunch in the morning. Do that ahead of time, so there’s no whining. Often, there is whining, but I can say, “This is what you said you wanted yesterday, so tough.”

8-8:30  am
I either go to the gym or walk the dog and listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Currently listening to this audiobook on repeat - Braving the Wilderness. And listening to these podcasts: Marketing in Yoga Pants, The Accidental Creative, The Keto Diet PodcastThe Tim Ferriss Show, and Success on Your Terms with Jenny Shih.

I work out for no more than 30 minutes 2-3x a week. Hardcore, I know. I’m ridiculously focused because who likes spending that much time in the gym? I only lift weights, and I move quickly to get out of there. If I’m walking the dog, it’s much slower.

Shower. If I don’t have to be anywhere later, it’s a no mascara day. No mascara days are super productive days.

9-11:30 am
Client work. This involves making progress on ghostwriting projects, blogging, planning, or editing website copy.

Tuesdays - Thursdays between 9-1 are for client conversations, new client research, proposals, and any interviews I’m doing. I reserve Mondays and Fridays to get ahead on all my projects and ignore everyone else.

I split my time between working from my home office or heading to a coffee shop. At coffee shops, I’m more focused—there are no dog or cats asking to come in or out every 10 minutes.

Afternoon
I eat lunch, splitting time with getting a load of laundry done or starting dinner in the crockpot. I work for a few hours in the afternoon before getting the kids and then taking them to their sport of the day. Sometimes I do a little client work or writing for myself while at the hockey rink or gymnastics building— the buzz of the energy in there helps me focus.

Night night!
Often after dinner, I might finish up some client work, finish a blog post I drafted in the morning, or work on some more personal writing projects like books, ebooks, or free downloads. I check out my schedule for the next day and add any tasks I need to complete.

Reading, jotting down a few notes of gratitude from the day, and in bed between 10-10:30.

 

Having a fairly consistent routine takes the guesswork out of my day. I can wake up, and know exactly what I need to do, without thinking too much. 

Save the thinking for the bigger projects. 

 

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The only way to figure out what you want to do

It was at least a year ago when you had the inkling to quit your day job and try something different. Whether you’re doing the same job, except as a freelancer, or switching careers completely, you’re getting close to quitting time.

I first got that little itch to start my own business in 2009 (eight years ago from this writing). My son was a year old, and I had just been laid off for the first time (turned out it would happen twice more). Except I had no ideas, so I got another job.

Again in 2011, while pregnant with my daughter, I came across a book on my lunch hour, called the Firestarter Sessions. It was all about finding work that you love. The kind of work you were meant to do.

Oh—this is a thing? I don’t need to have a job? I can create work that’s perfect for me? I had no idea. I have bills to pay, kids, and a mortgage. Do you really mean I can get off this corporate ladder and build my own thing?

I dug into those worksheets like my life depended on it. I wasn’t sure what to do. I started a food and lifestyle blog. 

Five years later, still brainstorming, still pouring over the worksheets, taking online courses, building my own mastermind groups, bouncing from idea to idea, wondering what that work was that I was supposed to do, it finally hit me—I want to write. I want to write more for myself and others. I had written a book a few years prior; I wanted to write more. And I wanted to write for other people. I was writing for people in a corporate setting, but I needed more control over my time and the work I took on.

My point—keep trying different ideas. There’s insight inside every action.

Here’s a list of all the things I tried over eight years to turn into a business (some were more successful than others):

  • Food blogging
  • Cookbook writing
  • Cooking classes
  • Private cooking lessons
  • Customized meal plans based on people’s taste buds
  • Minimalism coaching
  • Accountability coaching

If I didn’t try all these things, I might not have landed on what I’m doing today. The side hustle that turned into a profitable business and replaced my corporate income might have never happened, and I’d still be commuting three hours a day and rushing around like a frazzled mom trying to keep everything together.

If you’re sitting there reading this and are thinking that you want to do something “else,” and you just don’t know what that something else is just yet, just keep looking.

Reading some self-help books and doing some workbooks can help, but there are only so many online courses and experts you can listen to.

You need to listen to the most important expert—you.

Try one thing. Do it until it doesn’t work anymore, or make tweaks and keep plugging on. Keep doing that until you find work that feels good.

Get out of your head and off the couch, and out from behind the laptop. The only way you’ll know is if you take action and give things a try. Hey, you might land on something that really lights your fire right away, or maybe it will take 30 tries. Maybe you’ll never land on one thing; you’ll land on doing a few things.

Just. Keep. Trying. 

 

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The secret to "making the time" is simply tracking it

How many hours did you spend in meetings last week?

How much time did you dedicate to learning and personal development?

If you have to guess, you need to stop it. I'm far from being a data person, but this is one of a few areas (money is the other), where you need data!

You need to be tracking your working time, every second of the day.

Here’s why:

  • You’ll know how many hours you’re actually working. Think you work a 40-hour week? Your actual heads down work time might be 25 hours.

  • Accountability. That Facebook scrolling time, what are you going to log that as? Tracking your time keeps you honest.

  • Data behind how much you charge for services. When I first got started freelancing (and still today), I tracked my hours. I did this so I could learn approximately how long it takes me to do things like new client research, writing a website, and writing a blog post. Now, I can present my clients with a single rate that eliminates all the guesswork of wondering how long a task will take me to complete. 

  • Productivity. When I'm watching the little timer going and I'm in the middle of writing this blog post and get the urge to check my email, I stop. Also, when I see the timer has been running for over an hour and I haven't taken a break because I've been in the zone, I force a break. My brain and productivity will thank me in the long run. 

  • Where your life minutes are going. If you have a goal of quitting your day job and becoming an entrepreneur, you’re going to have a lot of work to do. This is totally an understatement. This way, you can check-in mid-day, mid-week, mid-month, and mid-year if you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time on tasks that aren’t adding to your bottom line or bringing you joy.

 

Tasks I track:

  • Blogging. I track the time it took me to write this blog post and every post on my website.

  • Website updating. When I’m writing new web copy or tweaking my About page for the 38th time, I’m tracking it.

  • Book writing. Because I want to know how long each book takes me to write. Because I’m going to spend the same amount of time marketing it. Thanks, Perennial Seller.

  • Client work. I estimate based on how long I think a task will take, if my effective hourly rate is $10 an hour, I’m doing something seriously wrong or taking way too long.

  • Proposal time. This is the time I spend talking to potential clients, preparing proposals and discussing estimates.

  • Volunteer time. I volunteer my time for writing for a few organizations and need to track this for a few reasons, but also, I have to keep an eye on my work for free time. 

toggl.png

 

In 2017, I’ve worked over 500 hours. In the chart above, you’ll see a spike in time starting in April. This is when I left my corporate 9-5 to write full-time. I tracked my work as a management consultant separately.

 

My biggest finding

I thought that when I started working for myself full-time, I’d easily log 40-50 hours per week. Isn’t that what entrepreneurs do?

I was dead wrong. Between school pickup and drop off, summer vacation landing in the middle of my new freelance career, and realizing that I had this thing called creative energy and I needed to refill my creative well to bring my best work for my clients, I was heads-down working or writing 20-25 hours per week.

 

What I use to track my time

I use an online tool called Toggl. So far, the free version has given me everything I need, and I haven’t needed a premium subscription. There are other tools out there, but I’m happy with this one for it’s easy and free-ness.

You could always use your calendar, or a pen and paper, but this is a handy tool. Especially if you’re billing by the hour. Your clients will be oh-so-impressed when you give them a time report from Toggl.

If you’re not used to tracking your time, this will take some time to become a habit. In management consulting, we usually had to bill our client time in 15-minute increments, so I’m used to being conscious of every minute.

If you have a big project you want to finish or are wondering, “where did all the time go?” Track your time. The answer is in the data.

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The surprisingly practical life lesson I learned from Moana

As soon as I got “Let it go” out of my head, I started singing “You’re welcome,” and “It’s so shiny...”—thanks to Disney’s latest mega-hit, Moana.

It’s a feel-good movie with music that I’ve been singing for months now. One of my clients recently told me that Moana changed her life. Naturally, I listen to the soundtrack while I’m writing for her now.

In the film, Moana lives on a Pacific island and is afraid to sail beyond the reef. She wants to get on a boat and go out there, but every time she tries, she gets hurt. Also, her dad doesn’t want her too. It’s dangerous out there in the big sea. In the movie, she’s 16. Would you let your 16-year-old daughter venture out on the Pacific ocean alone with no training?

“Screw them,” she says. [Not literally, this is Disney, you guys. This is just my translation]. And she ventures out.

She learns from Maui, the boisterous demigod of the Pacific islands that you move forward one step at a time.

Here’s the dialogue that turned a light-bulb on in my head:

Maui: [lying face-down on a canoe's outrigger] If the current's warm, you're going the right way.

Moana: [putting her hand in the water behind him] It's cold. Wait, it's getting warmer.

[seeing a relieved look on his face]

Moana: Aah! That is disgusting! What is wrong with you?

 

In case you didn’t get it right away, he peed in the water.

Take away the pee, however, and the current really does get warmer when she’s steering the boat the right way. This is just one way Moana knows she’s headed in the right direction. She also looks up at the stars for a constellation of a hook—one that resembles the one Maui carries around.

While en route to the island of Te Fiti, where she needs to take Maui to return “the heart” he stole from the island, she finds her way by moving ahead, little by little.

Checking the current, checking the star patterns ahead, adjusting her sails, moving forward, then repeating this process over and over again.

This is called wayfaring—someone who “lives on the way.”

Thinking about how wayfaring applies to our lives—how when we route a trip, we look down at our GPS map on our phone along the way to make sure we’re headed where we want to go.

If we apply wayfaring to our lives when we have a goal in mind, say, writing a book. We can’t just put our head down and write and write and write. We review what we wrote, check-in with facts and our guts to make sure we’re on the right track. We put it down for a day, or a month to let it sink in. We move forward, just a few paragraphs at a time. Adjusting our course as we go.

Living on the way. Writing on the way.

Running a race, we look at the mile markers on the side of the road, and constantly check in with how our body feels. Are my feet okay? Is it time for water or some electrolytes? Is that pee or sweat running down my leg?

We find our way in business and in life one step at a time.

If we don’t like the direction we’re headed, we adjust, change our course until we’re on a path that feels right.

Then, we keep adjusting until we “land” where we want.

Wayfaring.

Double, triple, and quadruple checking along the way to make sure we’re headed in the right direction and it’s not just pee in the water.


 

Doing nothing is a decision. Clues it’s time to move on & how to do it.

Leveling up. Upleveling. Rising up. Onward.

I just threw a lot of jargon at you.

As a change management consultant, I used to focus solely on big company changes. I’d take a close look at what a change in software meant to all the employees.

  • Will this affect how they do their job?

  • Will this make their life easier or harder?

  • How will people react? Will they hate their life?

  • Is this even possible?

Quick definition: Change management is like taking a stick and making sure a change happens. Stick beatings come in the form of communication, positioning, and high-fives.
Disclaimer: I don’t use actual sticks on clients.

My job was to figure out how to make change suck less for a specific group of people. They needed to learn a new skill pretty quickly, throw out their old ways, and start being productive—like yesterday.

Most change is good. I mean, why would we even bother trying to make a change in our personal or professional life if the change was going to make our lives worse?

You know you’re stuck, and you need a change, but aren’t sure what to do next. What do you do?

Your brain might be telling you that you suck at this point.

When I was ready to quit my job and dive into freelance writing full time, I wrestled with limiting thoughts all the time.

  • Staying at my job is easier

  • I know what I need to do every day

  • I know how much money I’m going to make every two weeks

No change required.

But then, I’d wonder if I was just too accepting. I wasn’t challenging myself. I knew I could do more. Do something different. Something that had more meaning. But doing nothing was easier. Back to Starbucks for my second almond milk latte of the day.

Sometimes you need to take the emotion out of it and just leap.

I was worried about it being too hard, and I’d fail. 

I would just tell my brain to shut up. My gut would continue nagging me, and I couldn’t put it off any longer.

What if I could also play the part of the change management expert in my life change?

Let’s look at the example of me quitting my job to write full time:

  • Who would the change affect? Hubby, kids, and me.

  • Would they be negatively affected? We’d lose almost half of our total household income. Ouch.

  • What are the positives? I’m less of a stress bag and can do more work I enjoy. The kids could sleep for an extra hour and be able to relax at home at the end of their school day instead of trotting to after-school care.

  • What does the change mean for me? I’d have to get out there and find my own clients. If I don’t make enough money, I’ll have to eat cat food and never have a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte ever again. Oh, and we’d also probably file bankruptcy.

 

Here’s what I did to make the change happen and lessen the pain for the “stakeholders”—my family in this case:

  • I grew my business on the side for more than a year, so I could set up systems to make my business run well when I started doing it full time

  • I started new habits like blogging every single week and sending a helpful email to my email subscribers every Tuesday (sometimes on Wednesday)

  • I did as much work on the side as I could and socked my extra income in savings. I’d use this to invest back in my business. Like a new website, a new logo, business cards, and subscriptions (this one is my fave)

  • I self-published a book

  • I started telling everyone I knew, planting seeds for future freelance writing and editing work, and also to keep me honest. I was getting really sick of talking about doing it. The more I talked about it, the more seriously I took the change and had to make it happen. I didn’t want to be a schlep that was all talk and no action.

  • I prepared the kids by working from home more. They’d get used to the new behavior of seeing me at home, but not being fully “available” all the time to cut up another apple, or make another cheese-free grilled cheese sandwich.

  • I put a date on our family calendar so we could mentally prepare.

 

Do you know what life would have been like if I didn’t do any of this upfront, make my life suck less work? I would have sat down at my desk on day one and been totally overwhelmed—what do I do first?

Sometimes a big decision isn’t really that big. Sometimes if you do leap, a net will appear. Sometimes if you pour a glass of wine, some salty caramel chocolate appears. It’s magical.

And sometimes, when you have a nagging feeling and get sick to death of talking about doing the thing, taking the leap, making the change, you just gotta grab some lady balls (preferably your own) and do it.

You’re a doer. Be a doer. Lady balls optional.

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