Quite a few years back, when I realized I wasn’t twenty-five anymore (that realization took time), I begrudgingly joined all those sweaty people doing fitness things. I didn’t literally join them, because yuck, but I definitely started doing somewhat sporty things as part of the long term plan to live forever and not be sick. To that end, when I became annoyed about my lack of muscle growth, I started working with Nikki Gallos, who gave some super unexpected advice: Take Breaks.
Not just “take breaks throughout the day sometime” but actually “work hard, then take a break, then work hard again”. But, since I’m all about productivity, how about if I just work hard, work hard, and then work hard again? Then more would get done, right?
Apparently not. Ever get an eye-roll from your personal trainer? Me neither, because she’s too nice, but I bet there was part of her that really wanted to.
The story is that apparently, you don’t build muscle while you’re working out - you build it in recovery. Your strength increases in direct relation to your ability to rest.
Now, let’s turn that into an analogy and take it for a spin…
You’re an entrepreneur, and you’re busy AF. If you’re like most of us, you got into the game because you have a deep - possibly pathological - need to change the status quo.
It’s no coincidence that entrepreneurs are disproportionately affected by ADD, which brings a whole host of superpowers that are desperately needed in the world of startups and business. From being incredibly useful in a crisis to having boatloads of creativity and intuition, those of us - yes, I said “us” - with this supposed disorder leap small businesses in a single bound and have laser vision focus once we’re actually in the zone. Didn’t expect that, did you? Oh, and we love change.
Change ≠ Progress
Sometimes, it feels like doing something is better than doing nothing, but the reality is… doing nothing is better than doing something wrong. A little rest, lifting your foot off of that gas pedal, and giving yourself some breathing room can be the most effective bit of work you’ve done in weeks. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a nap.
How to Actually Calm the @#$% Down
I guarantee you I do not regularly exist in this space. In the past few years, I’ve received many kind recommendations to slow down, relax, and rest. I’ve been told I “deserve it” - which makes no sense to me. That sounds boring. But since I’m up against science here and would rather be successful than right, I needed to incorporate this whole “rest” thing into my day. But how?
No, seriously, I didn’t know how.
Thankfully, we have access to all kinds of professionals, and here’s what we’ve learned about how to create calm spaces in your life:
Practice Mindfulness. I love the title of Sylvia Boorstein’s book on mindfulness: Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There. For those of us with squirrels in our brains, this is very difficult. The key thing to remember here is “practice”. It’s something you just take stabs at and keep trying.
Meditation. I’ve had this concept thrown at me so many times I cannot count, and I do math for a living. I’ve tried sitting down and just making my mind blank (it doesn’t do that, I don’t care what you say). I’ve tried it with other people (all I do is listen to them breathe and make up stories in my head about them - you don’t want to be silent in a room with me). I’ve tried the meditation apps, and I’ve tried those YouTube meditation videos (this is my favourite). They didn’t work. Everything about meditation sucked until a mentor of mine said, “Have you tried Walking Meditation?” Mind. Blown. I have the benefit of an additional H in the ADD world - that’d be Hyperactivity, my friends - and just sitting still doing nothing is a recipe for disaster. Walking meditation is a thing. It works. There is, in fact, something for everyone.
Plan Like A Boss. It’s really hard to make good strategic decisions in the moment. If you’re always making decisions off-the-cuff, then there’s a good chance that they aren’t well thought out, which means a lot of them won’t land, and you’ll be busier and more frustrated than you were before… and the hits just keep piling up until they overwhelm you. Save yourself from pain, frustration, and utter failure by committing time and space for planning.
Define Success - on your own terms. Success isn’t what the magazines tell you it is. The magazines sell ad space and those ads want you to consume; they don’t care about your sense of fulfillment and purpose. Get real about what “success” means to you, what it looks like - down to the hours in the day and what you do with them. You’ll find out what you want, when you want it, and suddenly, you’ll see a pathway to getting there (or, with help, you’ll find it once you’ve got the goal posts set up). You know what that gives you? The room and the reason to say “no” to things that aren’t part of your success. All the “what ifs” are removed. The person on the other end of the phone can give you all the reasons why this or that is going to make you successful but you won’t even have to listen - because you’ll know what you need.
Celebrate Your Wins. You know we love doing this, but it’s not just because we like gold stars (but we loooove gold stars). Celebrating your wins helps you realize that you ARE making progress, and you don’t have to constantly tweak things that don’t need tweaking.
Put Someone Else in Charge. Gasp! No, really. I’ve got a Slayer managing my calendar. It’s not because I’m entirely incompetent with scheduling - though I have to admit, I’m not great at it - it’s because if I’m left to my own devices, I will say “YES” to everything and as it is, managing my calendar is at least a half day’s work, every day. I trust the Slayers on my team to tell me when stuff just isn’t possible, and when they do, I back off.
Give yourself permission. Block off time for rest. Count it. Give yourself points. Share resting as one of the wins in your life with your team. Get credit for it. Define what rest looks like (it’s not reading your email, just FYI). Remind yourself that your brain, your team, your creativity, and your business will be definitively stronger in relation to how much you rest.
Just like those muscles Nikki is confident I’ll build, we break down our creativity, initiative, and productivity with hard work. We build them back up again by taking breaks, and giving our brains and bodies the downtime they need to power up again.