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Crazy Workload? This One Simple Question Calmed Me Down and Eased My Stress

How to Cope With a Crazy WorkloadTime is slipping away.

But you don’t even notice it.

You’re working hard to get a project finished, to accomplish an extra task. You’re pushing beyond exhaustion.

What midnight already??!?

Damn. Where has the time gone? You still need to find an image for your blog post. A big deadline looms tomorrow for a client project. And you’ve not even had a chance to pop into Google+ today.

More and more we’re running around, unsatisfied with our achievements. We’re scared of missing valuable opportunities. So we listen to one more podcast, open another social media account, add another book to our ever-growing wishlist.

Late last year, I stumbled upon one simple question, that helped me break through this cycle of Never Enough Time And Always More To Do. I started working fewer hours and virtually eliminated stress. But I still got stuff done.

Want to do the same?

Here’s the story of how I eased my stress…

After another grueling physiotherapy session (that’s physical therapy in the US), my body protested and decided to give up.

It was December 2014, and I’d been coping with a whiplash injury for over a year. But instead of healing, the treatment pushed me into a downward spiral. I was unable to sit behind my computer for long. I struggled to concentrate. I finally admitted I was ill.

And I realized I had to make radical changes.

I’d always been a workaholic. I always wanted to get a little more done, achieve a little more. But I could not continue to work like a maniac.

To-do lists are a source of stress

Let’s imagine a few scenarios we face day in day out.

Say you’re invited for a podcast interview. The interview takes only 30 minutes, and with a little preparation, and some emailing to agree a time, this will take you at most an hour. Sounds doable, doesn’t it? You can squeeze that one hour into your week.

Next, you decide to set up an Instagram account. To evaluate your efforts in a month’ time, you know you need to be consistent in sharing photos and drawings. You put Instagram at the top of your to-do list. It’ll only take you 15 or 20 minutes a day. That’s not much, right?

You’ve also been chatting with a friend about conversion rate optimization. With your social media traffic growing and search engine traffic soaring, it seems a great idea to run a couple of tests to get more web visitors to subscribe to your email list. You allocate one afternoon per month to improving conversion rates.

You can see where this is going, right?

To-do lists fool you into thinking you can easily squeeze a few extra tasks into your week. Working 15 minutes harder a day doesn’t sound like a lot. But your working hours are sneakily increasing. You slowly destroy your productivity.

A to-do list entices you to blindly add more tasks to your workload

You might prioritize and re-prioritize the to-do’s on your list. But a to-do list doesn’t force you to evaluate whether you have time for each task.

I’ve cursed my lack of productivity because my to-do list always grows. And as I don’t have an off switch, I kept running and running, trying to work harder and harder.

But my injury forced me to take a step back.

As my energy levels plummeted, I asked myself this one simple question:

If I can only sit at my desk for 3 hours on average a day, what shall I do?

(I changed treatment, and am now recovering. I now work 4 – 5 hours on average a day.)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this simple question completely changed my working habits. Rather than hopelessly stretching my time to try to do more, I fixed my time frame and decided what I would do.

To manage your workload you must decide how much time and energy you have first

You can’t manage time

Time passes by whether you like it or not. You can’t speed it up and you can’t slow it down.

So stop trying to manage time.

To radically reduce stress and working hours, stop focusing on becoming a more productive machine. Instead, decide how much time and energy you have. What do you want to do with your life?

At first, I couldn’t answer this question. I knew how much time I could work, but I didn’t know how much time I spent doing various tasks.

For a few days, I tracked what I was doing. I worked in 25-minute intervals and wrote down what I did in each period. And once I knew how much time I spent on various tasks, I started making decisions on what I would and wouldn’t do. I asked myself:

  • Which tasks help me run and grow my business?

  • Which tasks give me energy? What do I enjoy doing most?

Choose tasks to grow your biz and nourish your soul
A few examples of decisions I made at the start of the year:

  • I decided I wanted to relaunch my blogging course for a new group (This group started in February). I love teaching, and seeing how people improve their communication skills gives me energy. This feels like the future of my business.

  • I stopped taking on new copywriting clients, because new projects with new clients guzzle up energy. Moreover, copywriting projects don’t help me grow my business in the long term—I don’t want to establish a copywriting agency. I even forced myself to say no to new projects with former clients (this was hard).

  • I wanted to make time for drawing, because I enjoy it. It gives me energy. And while the business benefit is fuzzy, I can’t do only things because they’re good for my business.

  • I reduced guest blogging commitments because growing my list has become less of a priority; and although I see opportunities to meet new people and grow my reach through social media, I decided to put this on the back burner. Taking care of my existing audience seemed more important.

When you know the size of your energy basket and the size of your tasks, you find it easier to choose what to do and what not to do. You become aware that saying yes to one task means saying no to something else.

How many hours can you work? How many hours do you want to work? And what do you want to do in those hours?

I used to be deadline driven

I thought I was thriving on stress.

I was addicted to the adrenaline rush of getting stuff done just in time. I loved working long hours. Late at night.

Our working culture celebrates hard work. Stamina. Perseverance. That’s what we need to build a business, right? Being busy is a badge of honor. Being exhausted is part of our identity.

How could I accept working fewer hours?

I thought I was turning into a wimp. A whimpering weakling. A pushover.

But the truth is this:

I work fewer hours than I’ve ever done. But I’m more creative. I have more ideas, and I can implement them faster.

Sure, I’m no saint. I’m not disciplined. My rebellious mind still resists. But most of the time when I work, I work. I mess around a lot less. I stop when I’m tired. I take afternoon naps. I’ve learned to listen to my own body, and accept its limitations.

By allowing your body to rest, your mind refuels, too. So take time for daydreaming, staring out of the window, doing nothing, aimlessly wandering around.

Replenish your energy.

Because your energy is a precious resource.

Comments

  1. Great advice, Henneke! Thanks for sharing your experience. Establishing priorities can be very difficult, especially for creative types, but it’s crucial. A couple of years ago I came to the shocking revelation that I could not actually complete every ‘great idea’ that I have. We can’t do it all! So unfortunately we have to choose what’s most important, based on what truly matters to each of us. In the end it’s about creating a great life!

    • Yes, that’s so true. It’s frustrating, isn’t it, that we can’t implement more ideas?

      Thank you for stopping by, Nat!

  2. Hi Henneka,

    Thank you so much for this valuable post. I feel like I’ve been running around like a headless chicken. I’ve got 2 personal blogs and a business website with a blog. I’ve been doing a lot of work, but I can’t see any benefits and hardly any money.

    Last year I was asked to be an editor for a new bridal magazine. Without even thinking it through I grabbed the offer and said yes please. The result? It burnt me out. I had no time for blogging, working on my business, no social life and in fact, no life at all. I’ve given up the position but stayed on as a writer.

    You are so right in everything you said. I’m at the stage now where I need to reevaluate my life, business and the direction I want to take. I want to write books and use one of my blogs to empower women who have suffered domestic violence. That’s because for most of my adult life, abuse was part of it. I believe sharing my story and encouraging others will give me energy.

    I could go on but I’ve said enough already. So, thank you for helping to give me direction by sharing your experience.

    Have a good day. 🙂
    June recently posted…6 Ways Excellent Customer Service is Similar to Washing DishesMy Profile

    • Hi June

      When I started blogging, building an audience was my priority, because I knew that once I’d built an audience I would be able to find a way to make money, too. So most of my activities were evaluated based on only two metrics: Does this activity generate more subscribers? Or does it strengthen the bond with my existing audience?

      The first period of building a blog is the toughest as progress is slow, and I believe you can only get through this tough period if you do something you truly believe in. You have to put in an awful lot of energy before it starts paying off. But the good thing is that over time growth becomes exponential, and everything becomes easier.

      I hope this helps!

  3. Henneke,

    I’m very happy for your “recovery”. Thanks so much for sharing this vision, I would have never paused to see it in myself. The box illustration is the perfect example to explain that our available time is (very) limited and from the moment the balls reach the top, we’re starting to waste our time.

    Will think about my time from this perspective from now on. It’s good to have a big basket, but managing the tasks in it is a smart move in one’s life.

    Thanks again for your great article and take care!
    Virginia recently posted…10 Sites To Take The Best Skyline Pictures in ShanghaiMy Profile

    • In hindsight, this seems forehead-slappingly obvious, but the problem is that we don’t take the time to see it.

      In a way, I was lucky to be injured because it forced me to take a step back and change my bad working habits.

      Good to see you again!

  4. Henneke are you a psychic? 🙂

    That’s exactly what I’m dealing with these days.
    I changed my priorities and reduced my tasks to the most important ones. And chose those that I enjoy most and that propel me faster towards my goal.
    But then from time to time I have to tell myself that I did the right decision.

    Thank you so much for a timely post!
    Benny recently posted…How to Become an Original Thinker and Fascinate People With Your Fresh Ideas – Pick The BrainMy Profile

  5. Hi Henneke. Your post today is like a breath of fresh air. Doing what you choose to do and being able to say no, many would consider a luxury, particularly when you’re self employed It’s not – it’s common sense.

    Hope the whiplash injury is improving.

    Kind regards
    Mark
    Mark Crosling recently posted…How to Setup a Google+ Hangout On AirMy Profile

    • I find saying no quite difficult, but I’m learning. I also struggled with prioritizing in the beginning, thinking that a task that brings in more money per hour should be prioritized above tasks that bring in less money.

      You can evaluate business opportunities in that way when you work for a business. But as freelancer of solo-biz owner it doesn’t work like that. Priorities should also be based on strengths and what gives you energy.

      Thank you for stopping by, Mark. Always good to see you. And yes, the injury is improving. Too slowly, but I’m learning to be patient 😉

  6. Hi Henneke! Great post but I must admit I do more day dreaming then actually getting anything done especially on my new blog 🙂
    I recently bought your book and am trying to put what I read into practice.

    Regards,
    Thomas.
    Thomas recently posted…How to Index Your Website Fast or Let Search Engines Know of Your WebsiteMy Profile

    • I know this feeling, too! When starting a new blog, this can be difficult.

      Sometimes it’s because you feel you have all the time in the world to get something done, so you don’t get started. You can deal with this by considering what you want to do with your time. Some people reward themselves with a fun activity (reading a novel, going out for a bike ride) when they complete a difficult task faster. In my experience, the opposite approach can work better – do the fun activity first, and then the more difficult task in less time.

      With blog writing it also helps, to spread the work over a number of days to take advantage of “percolation time”. Say on day 1, you only pick a topic. On day 2, you do research if you don’t know enough yet and write a brief outline. On day 3, you write a quick draft. On day 4, you edit.

      Using a timer can help a lot. I use the focus booster – set it for 25 minutes to write your first draft. Take a break for five minutes, and then force yourself to finish the next draft in another 25 minutes. It doesn’t matter how crappy your draft is, as long as you write a draft.

      I hope this helps! I’ll be soon writing more about this topic. It’s on my list 🙂

  7. great advice – I try to follow it every day, and have found that I am so much more productive and enjoy what I do more. Getting all sorts of other things done too like gardening, exercising. It allows me time to think and assimilate the work I have done and meet my customer needs better as I am always fresher and can think more clearly.

    • Sounds like you cracked this problem 🙂

      I also learned that I had to prioritize sleep and recovery time. Once you take care of that, everything becomes easier.

      Thank you for stopping by, Judith!

  8. Hi i just wanted to say as someone that is still working a full time job and trying to build my own business this is something i’m trying to learn too.

    what with getting up and extra hour earlier in the morning and trying to squeeze things into lunch breaks it definitely makes you look at what your doing and why.

    so thanks again for your blogs to help keep me sane

    • Yep, that’s hard. I’ve been there, too. It can help to look at expenses. What can you do to live cheaper so the transition to running your own business becomes easier?

      I hope you’re finding time for exercise and sleep!

  9. First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about your injury and glad you are on the mend.

    I love this post, Henneke, you always seem to come up with these topics right as I’m grappling with them. Because of my father’s illness and family demands, I’m also working on reducing my working hours. Since launching my new course on Instagram marketing (you can be successful in less than 15 mins/day lol), I was taking pretty much any and every opportunity to get visibility – podcasts, webinars, guest posts – and it was exhausting me. Not every opportunity was a good one, but I wasn’t discriminating.

    I’ve been setting more boundaries, an also spending less time on social media (and worrying about not spending enough time on social media!) and I am starting to see the light.

    Now if I can just get my new website launched and migrate everything to Infusionsoft…lol But those are priorities, and although I can’t say the latter is enjoyable it will help me to automate things further and decrease hours in the long run.

    Thanks again for keeping me focused on the right things!

    • In my experience, it’s easier to make ruthless decisions when you’re almost in survival mode. So rather than think “How can I go from 50 to 45 hours a week?”, it helps to think “What if I could work only 30 hours?” The choices become clearer, and the temptation to cheat by saying “oh this doesn’t take long” becomes a lot less, so you’re less inclined to cram in a few extra “small” jobs.

      But it’s hard to stick to it. As my energy levels recover, I find it harder to stick to my choices.

      Good luck with balancing you life and work!

  10. With 3 dogs + a foster dog and a dog walking business, time can be a very rare commodity. So, my priorities have been established in order as:
    – time for my dogs first,
    – followed by time for my clients’ dogs,
    – then time for the day-to-day management of the business,
    – time for myself (at least one hour a day where nothing else matter, not even my dogs).

    If there is any time left after that, well the questions are: do I really need/want to do that, will it help my dogs or myself, will it help the business. Anything which doesn’t enter those categories get a “No, I’m sorry, thank you” answer. Only way to avoid burning out.

    Learning to be selfish is the only way and it is not a luxury but a necessity.
    “Stop saying yes to everybody, be selfish and take care of yourself first, only then take care of others.” That advice was given to me some 15 years ago. It only took me over 5 years to follow it. LOL
    Now I wonder how I could have once been saying yes at everything/everybody. Adopting adult dogs certainly help over the years to keep myself in check when I was about to relapse.

    Take care of yourself, get better and be healthy.

    Regards,
    Yvette
    Yvette Fouché recently posted…Are Domestic Dogs Losing the Ability to Get Along with Each Other?My Profile

    • Yep, so true. I am learning to be a little more selfish, too, and setting clearer boundaries of what I can help people with and what I can’t do.

      It’s just like the safety briefings on flights – first put your own oxygen mask on, then help others. 🙂

  11. Brilliance and simplicity often go hand in hand. And your solution is both 😉

    “If I can only sit at my desk for x hours per day, what shall I do?”
    Asking yourself that question several times a day, sounds like a good extra line of defence against the unproductive time wasters that sneak into our lives.

    Wishing you a speedy and full recovery!
    Amazing how illness or injury can teach us a lesson about ourselves, isn’t it? 😉
    Bart Schroeven recently posted…Dragons in the Vale of the White HorseMy Profile

    • Yes, it is amazing how much we learn from illness or injury. I agree. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my values. It’s been quite a journey.

      I’m hoping the lessons will stick when I recover 🙂

      Good to see you again, Bart!

  12. Hi Henneke,
    This post is such a relief and thank you for sharing your discovery. I’ve been overwhelmed for some time with so much to learn and do. Paralysis has set in. I think I’ll try your approach and see how I do.

    Sorry to read about your injury. I would never have known given how productive you are 🙂 Now you are healing, the setback has had a positive outcome. Love when that happens. Glad you are on the mend.

    • Yes, quite often there’s a meaning in our setbacks. This is so true.

      With learning “on the job”, the problem of “Too Much To Do” can feel even worse. I, for instance, can’t focus on learning different skills, so in the past years, I’ve tried to focus on one skill at a time. Once I got to a skill level I was happy with, I chose the next skill to work on.

      There’s always more to learn. And we tend to underestimate how much we know already (while overestimating what others know!).

      Hope you can kick your paralysis, Gay. Let me know if you need some help?

      • I like your approach of focusing on one new skill until you’ve got it. Then moving to the next.

        But how do you choose which skill to tackle? Is the answer in your comment to June? Start with your goal. And then choose the most effective activities to reach that goal? The challenge is still determining the best activities. How did you know which activities to focus on? Trial and error? Role models? Marketing knowledge?

        For those of us still starting out, is there a set of skills we need to master? Blogging, copywriting, email marketing, one or two social media tools?

        • Yes, it depends on your goal. In my first year, my focus was on improving my writing skills. I also took a little time to learn the basics of WordPress, so I guess I cheated a little and didn’t study just one skill. But learning to master writing was a much deeper dive than learning the basics of WordPress or doing a little social media on the side.

          I think you need to choose the skills that will make most difference to your business. If you’re looking to make money through copywriting, then improving your copywriting skills is in most cases recommended so you can increase your fees, work with fun clients, and either make more money or have more time for other things. However, if you’re struggling to get copywriting clients, then improving at least one marketing skill becomes a priority. Some copywriters find all their clients on LinkedIn. Some people find all their clients on Elance. I found all my first clients through guest posting. So you choose one marketing method (based on what you know already or what you’d like to try) and improve it. You can follow a role model, pay a coach, or ask around in a forum. I learned a lot from Copyblogger’s Authority forum. Carol Tice’s Den is pretty good, too.

          I think you need at least a basic knowledge of email marketing, WordPress, blogging, and one social media tool if you want to market your business using your blog. But you don’t need to be an expert in all of these. Keep it simple and just get it to function.

          Does that help?

  13. Wish you a quick and full recovery, Henneke.
    I know exactly what you mean – my to-do list is a bottomless pit. 🙂
    I’m trying to track my work every 30 minutes.
    I’m also trying to close my day at 9 pm followed by review and planning of the next day.
    Trying.
    I loved your diagrams, as always.
    Rohi Shetty recently posted…How James Chartrand Helped Me Publish 6 Kindle Books in 5 MonthsMy Profile

    • Yes, I’m doing the same – switching my computer off earlier, then deciding and writing down the priorities for the next day, and then relax before I go to bed.

      I’ve found that I need at least an hour to relax (away from my computer!) before I go to bed. Otherwise I can’t get a good night’s rest. And I’m trying to make sleeping well my number one priority. It helps a lot.

      Thank you, Rohi

      • Your plan to switch off the computer and relax an hour before bed is excellent — and backed by scientific evidence! They’ve done some studies demonstrating that watching a light-emitting screen (TV, tablet computer, desktop or laptop) actually stimulates your brain and can make it harder to fall asleep. The light suppresses melatonin release from the brain. I’ve seen quite a few articles on this topic. Here’s just one: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bright-screens-could-delay-bedtime/

        I set my iPod to a 9pm alarm (with a cute little chirping crickets sound!) to remind me to power it all down.

        Thanks for this post, Henneke! I enjoy your blog!

        Clare
        Clare Walker recently posted…in honor of NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams, it’s Delusions of Grandeur Week!My Profile

        • Thank you for sharing that article, Clare. To me, an hour feels like the absolute minimum. An hour and a half would be better, but it depends also a little on what I did before I switched off my computer – some things are more intense than others.

          Glad you’re enjoying the Enchanting blog. Nice to meet!

  14. Shadows! You’ve added shadows! Never think your drawing is of fuzzy benefit to your blogging venture–it is such a great expression of what you are about.

    I know what you mean about needing to learn more efficiency with time. I can afford however much it takes, to a certain point, but eventually, some triage is vital. And since I have ample time free for the work, how easy to waste some of it!

    Recently, though, I have experienced a small health issue. Only a few tests to go before I know how many work hours I still have, and how much I must reassign to staying healthy.

    How “timely” this post is for me!

    And I know how a person can devote too much of self to clients, to individualized work that someone else has prescribed, to the needs and agenda of someone else. It is fun being the one who can help others, and learning to love the personalities behind it. I must ask myself, though: Am I the only one, the only way, for this client work, and is it possible to meet client needs more efficiently? Regardless of the answer, I must ask myself this question more often: Is this the only way? Is there a better way?

    Thanks for the eye-opener this morning!
    Katharine recently posted…Smarter than a worm? Hmmm?My Profile

    • Having ample time can be as difficult to manage as having not enough time. I’ve grappled with both situations.

      It’s easy to prioritize client work and forget about growing our own business. One tiny change I made is, when I was still doing client work, I also set up a folder for my own business. This helped me realize that I couldn’t plan work on my own business as a “rest category” (to do when I have time).

      I hope your health issue turns out to be minor! Hope you get better soon.

  15. There are huge benefits of living alone (e.g. you can eat Fish ‘N Chips at 3.00 am if you choose 🙂 )

    However, the downside is that it’s terribly easy to ‘jut do one more thing’ – I am definitely guilty of this. And so the less time you have it’s arguably easier to prioritise..still working on this though.

    PS. I am partial to an afternoon nap and I don’t seem to have a problem slotting thee in.

    • Yes, exactly – do one more little thing and one more and before you know you ARE eating Fish ‘N Chips at 3am (not me as I’m not a fan – the Brits have not been able to fully anglicize me yet 😉 )

      And hooray for your afternoon naps! 🙂

      • Ah, but didn’t the Dutch invent Fish and Chips served with *both* ketchup and mayo? I seem to remember coming across this first on a road trip holiday to Holland many moons ago..

        • Yeah, some Dutch are crazy. You can indeed get chips with both ketchup and mayo (you can even get chips with both mayo and peanut sauce!). Mayo only, however, is our standard option. We don’t do vinegar on chips.

  16. I may try a version of this on my wife, especially when the gutters need to be raked.

    Did you see any change to the bottom line of your business? You sound chipper in the post, so it may seem worth it regardless.

    Working smarter, not harder, may be a trite expression, but it makes sense if your happier, healthier, and better off.

    • My company’s bottom line has remained stable. The “lost” income from copywriting projects has been replaced by selling more courses. This was a transition that was already underway, but looking at my workload helped me make the decision quicker. Simplifying my business model (not juggling both copywriting projects and courses) has helped a lot, too.

  17. Richard Padgett says:

    Hi Henneke,

    Great advice. I’m going to give it a go. I struggle to squeeze everything in and stay up late as a result. Then I’m tired next day when I need to be at my brightest. It’s a vicious circle.

    The approach you’ve outlined here makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

    • That’s exactly how I used to work, too. My energy levels could be low all day, but then after dinner I’d feel energetic and try and get as much done as possible. It’s a vicious circle. Prioritizing sleep and staying fit really helps. Before my injury, I had started improving my energy levels by agreeing with myself a time I wanted to be in bed by, so I knew I could sleep enough. It’s not an easy cycle to break, but it can be done!

  18. Fabulous advice Henneke. As business owners, it seems counter intuitive to work less and accomplish more – because we feel like we’ve got to chase down every possible opportunity.

    But you’re right, focus actually makes is more productive and happier. And as you mentioned – making time to do those tasks that energize you and bring you joy are extremely important (even if you can’t directly measure them), because it makes the quality of your work better all around.

    Thanks once again for such great wisdom! 🙂
    Sonia Thompson recently posted…How to get the confidence you need to build the business you wantMy Profile

    • Yes, exactly, it’s counter intuitive. Our beliefs and values seem to resist this idea of taking enough rest. I’m hoping that now I can see and feel the benefit, I keep to these healthier habits! I’ll keep reminding myself 🙂

  19. Thanks for another wonderful post, Henneke! Our office is learning the power of saying “no” or “not now” to projects during our Year of Optimization.

    This part of your post really hit home for me: “[…]although I see opportunities to meet new people and grow my reach through social media, I decided to put this on the back burner. Taking care of my existing audience seemed more important.”

    <3
    Kara Werner recently posted…What fascinates YOU?My Profile

  20. Take care.
    Treasure your pencils 🙂
    Veronique Mermaz recently posted…18 Copywriting Tips to Catch the Roaring E-Commerce WaveMy Profile

  21. Hi Henneke,

    How do you decide or calculate how much energy you have each day?

    I’ve been trying to write an e-book. Though I don’t give much time to social media, even reading blog posts and commenting took a lot of my time. I had to completely stop reading blog posts to get some writing done.

    I found, it was the newsletters which made me read new blog posts, so I set up filters to file them into folders, automatically, away from Inbox. This helped me concentrate on what I wanted to do.

    The Rescuetime app/browser extension can be helpful in tracking what activities we do.

    I didn’t know you drew those cartoons yourself. Like our Sean D’Souza? Great artist. 🙂

    P.S.: Thanks for the great snacks.

    • It makes sense to look at a whole working week. If you feel exhausted at the end of the week, you’re working too hard at the beginning of the week. So I’d recommend slowing down, so you have enough energy left at the end of the week.

      You might find this article by Chris Winfield useful: http://www.chriswinfield.com/40-pomodoro-workweek/ He suggests that while he works a total of 35 – 40 hours, but is only able to do 17 hours of intense and focused work a week. I’m not sure how much this varies from person to person.

      I’ve found that keeping a clean inbox and getting rid of newsletters I don’t read is definitely helpful!

      Sean d’Souza is one of my drawing teachers 🙂

  22. Thank you for sharing your story and glad that physically you are on the mend. Love this post you are speaking to ME – all of us! Perfect timing. I switched off my computer at 1.15am this morning. Ahem! Great practical real-world tips everyone – thank you. I will be adopting and customising lots of them to suit. Taking a tea-break now…
    Nicole recently posted…5 Useful Decision-making Tips to Make Sense from NonsenseMy Profile

    • Yay for your tea break!

      I found that even short breaks (like five minutes every half hour) can make a difference.

      Thank you for stopping by, Nicole.

  23. Yay, I hate to-do lists! For these very reasons. And I can’t even begin to tell you how much of my time feels like a mouse caught in a spinning wheel. Feeling guilty whenever I do anything not considered “productive.” Another great post! Thanks, Henneke!
    Terri Cruce recently posted…How to Succeed at Social Media Marketing And Keep Your FriendsMy Profile

    • I’ve noticed that when I get tired, I lose my willpower. So I hang around Twitter, even though I’m well aware I need to do something more productive or at least take a break. Prioritizing sleep and taking more breaks helps. Also, I try to rely less on willpower. In the morning, for instance, I start working on a difficult task and work on it for 2 x 25 minutes. I don’t start up my browsers, so it’s much easier to stay concentrated on what I want to do – I take the temptation away. It really helps me to get the day off to a good start.

  24. Henneke,
    Just when I need a reminder or a support for my decisions, there you are! If we were neighbors I am certain we would be friends. I’ve grown my content business as big as I want it to be right now, and was struggling with that push to “succeed by doing MORE!” I know the definition of success must be tailored to each soul, yet I felt obligated to go one step further and then one more step….such a timely and relevant piece of information. Thanks Henneke!
    ps
    LOVE LOVE LOVE your artwork ;o)
    Marie Youngblood-Krebs recently posted…Personal Safety in the Real Estate IndustryMy Profile

    • Thank you, Marie. Glad you like my illustrations – they were so much fun to do 🙂

      On the internet we can all be neighbors, right?

  25. Henneke, this is wonderful.

    No surprise there, though. 😉

    I’m a to-do list junkie (and my primary source of income comes from the planners and organizational tools I sell), however I learned early on to “chill on insane listing”. I make a list the night before with my top 3 tasks for the day, and 3 “negotiable” tasks—meaning no worries if I have to push them back.

    I stopped working with clients, as well, last month and have been focusing on designing and blogging, and I’m so much less stressed! I’m actually motivated and excited to get up every morning at 5AM to start working.

    I can imagine us having an awesome conversation about organization…Hmm… 🙂

    Have a wonderful day! And, as always, thanks for all your shared knowledge and experience.

    – Sara@GoffCreative

    • Glad to hear you’re feeling a lot less stressed, too!

      I assume that simplifying a business model will usually reduce stress. Juggling various commitments like growing your own business and helping clients with their projects can be a difficult balancing act. I felt quite relieved when I decided to focus on my own business, too. I did enjoy working with clients, but working on fewer projects works better for me.

      I used to have 3 top tasks and a few nice-to-do’s, but now I focus purely on my top tasks. At my current energy levels, that works better. I’m sure it’ll change again!

      Happy to have a conversation about organization some time 🙂

  26. Getting older is such a great thing.

    When you’re in your 20’s and 30’s, life seems like it will go on forever. You have the energy to burn the candle at both ends. And most of the time you’re chasing a fuzzy image of the life you were meant to live.

    Then you reach your 40’s and 50’s and find yourself slowing down. You have less energy and a new annoyance with people demanding so much of your time. It’s funny how the future turned out differently than what you pictured. All of the planning and worrying about deadlines have become a distant memory.

    I will soon turn 62. And I have become aware of my mortality. Not in a bad way as I have very few regrets. I learned to fly airplanes, I started a successful business, and have 3 incredible adult children and 5 grandsons. I’ve been happily married to the same woman for 41 years. And we still love spending time alone with each other.

    But my focus has changed to things that bring me the most enjoyment. Thinks like writing, drawing, and photography. My dogs and cats. Taking naps. Walking. None of this stuff meant anything to me 40 years ago.

    A bottle of good wine, a glass of great scotch whiskey, and relaxing with a cigar on a Sunday afternoon are my new favorite pastimes. When my garden thrives, I’m happy. When the birds eat my grapes, I’m angry. Watching my little dog’s excitement when I tell him were going for a walk makes me laugh.

    I still keep a “To Do” list. Mostly so I can prioritize my day and keep from forgetting stuff I need to do (a by-product of getting old). But I don’t overload my list anymore. And I try not to let low priority urgent items clutter up my day.

    Thanks for the insightful post, Henneke.

    • Yes, I do think it’s easier to recover from a crazy working week when you’re younger. I’d probably have recovered from my injury faster if I’d still been in my 20s or 30s. But wisdom increases with age, so perhaps I’m able to manage it better now 🙂

      I also still keep a to-do list. I know what I need to achieve each week, but I try to keep the list as short as possible and don’t use it to get more productive.

      Thank you for stopping by, Bill!

  27. As usual you have tapped into a very real problem for most writers. Thank you for sharing both your pain AND your solution. I realized this year that returning to my travel writing was more important to me than other projects. Now if I could let go of a few more things and JUST do that, life would be grand. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve been away from your blog for too long!
    Melinda Crow recently posted…Yahoo! TravelMy Profile

    • Good to “see” you again, Melinda!

      It has taken me some trial and error before I found out what I enjoyed doing most. When I left my job, I knew I never wanted to get involved in office politics again, and I knew I enjoyed writing. All the rest has been a journey of discovery. But once you know that it becomes easier to work towards your goal (and evaluate what will help you get there).

  28. Loved this post, Henneke!

    My fave line was >> “When you know the size of your energy basket and the size of your tasks, you find it easier to choose what to do and what not to do. You become aware that saying yes to one task means saying no to something else.”

    I find this same strategy works so well for me. I stopped trying to accomplish everything on my to-do list and got a lot smarter about what got on my to-do list in the first place!

    Thanks for sharing your story. It was super helpful 🙂
    Jenna Dalton recently posted…How to Wow Influencers & Get Them to Promote YouMy Profile

    • Glad it’s working for you, too, Jenna!

      It feels much more satisfying when my to-do list is short and I can accomplish the tasks on it 🙂

  29. Great post Henneke – but you’ve just answered 30 fairly lengthy posts between 12 noon and 11pm on the 21st April. When you say above, “I reduced guest blogging commitments” it sure looks like you still knee deep in blogging. Even though I prioritize where I spend my time, I often find it hard not to slip back into the things I enjoy. Much appreciate your obvious dedication to what you do. Paul

    • Ha yes, you’re right!

      Blogging here is part of taking care of my existing audience. I’ve seriously considered reducing my publishing schedule to every other week, but it feels like ripping the heart out of my business (or at least making it skip every other beat!). From a business and productivity perspective, publishing every other week might make sense, but I can’t quite make myself do that. I enjoy it too much 🙂

      Yesterday (when I published this post), I didn’t do much more than answering comments and providing feedback in my blogging course. Last year, I would have seen that as an unproductive day. Now, I’m happy with it.

  30. Annamarie says:

    Hi Henneke,
    This article is great support for my decision to actually do what I most enjoy.
    I Have been trying out what I like to comunicate, but nothing made me feel happy without trying, if that makes sense.
    Animals do though, they speak to the soul. I am writing this here, to reinforce my courage to finally accept the truth.

  31. Hi Henneke,

    I hope you are getting better.

    A much needed post with the reminder to set our priorities right. Working late and pushing through seems to get work done in the short term but at what expense! Need to re-look at priorities and re-scheduling now and work in some rest and fun time 🙂

    Thanks for sharing, Henneke and feel better soon!
    Louisa Chan recently posted…Ending Facebook Native Videos With Clear Calls to ActionMy Profile

    • Thank you so much, Louisa. I am getting better. It’s a slow process, but I’ve learned to accept that I can’t force my body to heal faster. I just need to take care of it almost like a baby.

      What surprised me, is that if you work only when you’re fresh, you might be working fewer hours, but you get more done. This was quite an eye-opener. Prioritizing sleep and rest & fun, really does make a big difference.

  32. Hi Henneke,
    I hope that you will feel better. I have always been a workaholic too and I also had my wake-up call. It is too bad that sometimes you need a big trigger to make a real change in your life, I feel fortunate that I opened my eyes to a healthier life.
    I still like to set some milestones though (rather than deadlines) but I give myself permission to say no to more things too (whereas in the past, I would pride myself to crush it all within the deadlines, which often ended up with only few hours of sleep per night).
    Thank you for this post, it was refreshing to read it today.
    Thuy recently posted…5 Ways to stay focused on a taskMy Profile

    • Yes, I agree with you – I also feel fortunate that my injury has opened my eyes to a healthier life.

      I still have deadlines (like publishing here on Tuesdays), but I’ve learned to start earlier and not wait until the last moment for an adrenaline rush. What’s interesting is that by spreading the blog writing over several days, I write much faster, as I can take advantage of “percolation time.”

      Thank you for stopping by, Thuy.

  33. Hello Henneke,

    Thanks for your tips. I experienced it is hard to focus and to set your priorities. My to-do-list is growing all the time. The numbers of e-mail I have to read is overwhelming and is also still growing.
    I will implement your tips. Try to work smarter! Thanks again.
    Where did you learn this kind of making illustrations? I like them.
    Have a great day.

    • Email can feel like a heavy burden. I struggled with this last year already before my injury turned worse.

      What has helped me is an “inbox zero” policy. Each day I try to empty my inbox and, if necessary, I power through as fast as I can. Some emails take time to reply to, but others can be dealt with fairly quickly. To cut down on emails, I also unsubscribed from virtually all e-newsletters. When I have time, I read via RSS, but I’ve given up trying to keep up with reading everything – it’s just not possible.

      I started learning drawing with the Da Vinci course from Sean d’Souza: http://www.psychotactics.com/davinci/ I’ve also learned a lot from Koosje Koene: http://koosjekoene.blogspot.co.uk/

  34. Henneke, I think this is my favorite post so far. I have read theories about time management before, but this really hits home. It must be as simple as you write- we all just don’t get it and don’t do it.

    So – what did you spend the extra hours on after your whiplash got a bit better? (Congratulations on that).

    • Yes, it is simple, but it’s difficult to stick to it 🙂

      My extra hours first went into drawing. I also spent more time developing a self-study mini-course for writing an About page, but I only work on this when I have energy. I don’t have a launch deadline.

      I should probably track again what I’m spending my time on and re-do the exercise as it’s easy for old habits to creep back in as my energy level improves. Doing that exercise (writing down for each 25-minute period what I was doing) already helped me to become more productive, because I didn’t want to write down “wasting time on Twitter again” 😉

  35. Tracking what you spend your time on. Want me to look it up?
    Kitty Kilian recently posted…Hoe kom ik aan een mooie website (maar wel snel)?My Profile

    • Yes, might be interesting!

      I’m finding a simple old-fashioned notebook works well, too. The act of writing down by hand what you did is powerful, too! 😉

  36. Wow, what excellent advice. I’m a huge fan of to-do lists but for prioritisation, rather than cramming things in. I like the idea of deciding how much time and energy I have. The trouble is I can see myself feeling guilty for stopping work and starting to sew…but that’s what you’re saying – not every moment you’re awake needs to be spent working.
    thank you for an excellent post,
    Grace x
    Grace Elliot recently posted…The Stand-Up Wash: Keeping Clean in Victorian BritainMy Profile

    • Sewing sounds like a great way to relax ! 🙂

      Yes, I also still use to-do lists, but mainly as reminders so I won’t forget anything. I just don’t rely on to-do lists to manage my workload.

      Thank you for stopping by, Grace

  37. Good on you Henneke! 🙂 I agree wholeheartedly – setting up priorities based on your energy and what you want to do more of in life definitely makes a person more productive. Even with less hours.

    I choose to spend a lot of my week with my 2.5 year old princess – so the balance between that, running a business, and a life outside of both, has forced me to keep re-evaluating what’s important in the limited hours I’ve decided to work.

    So much energy is taken up with a kid that everything else I do needs to put back into the energy bank.

    So thank you for this wonderful post, I read it and feel like you are in the room chatting to me right now 🙂

    xxoo from sunny Melbourne (not!)

    • I’m sorry the sun hasn’t been shining on you recently. Your good weather will come when we get our dreary and grey weather 🙂

      I can imagine it’s tough to balance work and family life when you have small children. Sounds like you’re consciously setting your priorities and deciding how much you want to work.

      Thank you for stopping by, Cynthia 🙂

  38. Loved this. Recently had a version of to-do list fever myself. I started publishing more often on my blog because more is better, at least I thought. I started getting stressed about meeting 2-3 deadlines a week instead of one. The blog went from being fun to this monster I had to keep feeding. Finally, I throttled back to once a week and now I’m happy again. I guess its better to do quality work less often than slap stuff together to meet a self-imposed deadline.

    • Yes, I’m with you – writing needs to remain fun. I think readers also notice it when blogging becomes a conveyor-belt-type of work. Glad you throttled back to a frequency you’re happy with!

  39. Hey Henneke,

    Sometimes I wish there was more than 24 hours in a day, but it’s set up like this for a purpose right? That purpose is to manage your time wisely by focusing on the tasks that matter and the ones that don’t.

    I too like to squeeze some things in, but how much quality will it be. That’s the big question and I want to give my audience the best. So instead of trying to do things all in one shot, I spread it throughout the week which give me time to do other things!

    Thanks for sharing Henneke! I hope you’re enjoying your weekend!
    Sherman Smith recently posted…Attract More Targeted Traffic With Commentluv PremiumMy Profile

    • Yes, I know – wouldn’t it be nice if our days were 30 hours or so? But I guess the problem would remain, because we would still try to squeeze in even more work 😉

      Hope you’re enjoying your weekend, too, Sherman!

  40. Thanks for sharing your story Henneke,

    My wife and I are constantly having to monitor this issue.

    There are so many activities and business ideas that we want to participate in but of course there is never enough time. We often have to remind ourselves about the Big Rocks, the main “to-experience list” that we have created. We contrast each new opportunity that we come across to this master list, if it helps us to achieve a “to-experience” item then we may add it, if doesn’t it is immediately crossed out.

    We have also discovered that by following a to-experience list rather than a to-do list, it is actually re-energizing instead of depleting because what we accomplish is in alignment with our deeper purpose.

    There are so many great opportunities out there but sadly not enough time and energy to pursue all of them. We’ve found that if we don’t keep a tight rein on saying “no, thank you,” easily and often, we become diluted, depleted and distracted.

    wishing you a speedy recovery and restful, stress-free days,
    Chuck

    • Thank you for your kind wishes, Chuck.

      I like your idea of to-experience list, and how you vet new ideas against your existing list. It’s sometimes hard to accept that we can’t implement all good ideas.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  41. Hey Henneke,

    Great post and share.

    Time is something that there never seems to be enough of. And even though I don’t have a schedule like you, I feel stress from time to time. And more and more I’ve been wondering HOW to ease that stress. But it has A LOT to do with setting up your priorities.

    I’m the complete opposite to you right now. Even though I want to focus on my current audience, I want to grow my list as well. And lately, I haven’t been motivated enough to want to publish posts on my own blog. I keep thinking, “These would be better off as a guest post.”

    Have you ever experienced that? Wrote a post for your own blog but then realized that you should have used it as a guest post instead?

    Anyhow, kudos to you for being able to say no. I know that must have been difficult, but it’s a necessity if taking on new copywriting clients at the time isn’t going to help you grow. And I agree with that.

    Great post here as always, Henneke.

    – Andrew

    P.S. Sorry to hear about your injury. Hope it’s getting better. 🙂

    • Henneke says:

      Yes, I agree with you – easing stress has a lot to do with setting priorities. In a way, it’s a good experience to work fewer hours, because it forces me to set these priorities, to make clear choices and to stop wasting time with stuff that doesn’t matter to me and to my business.

      I’ve never felt that I wanted to write something as a guest post rather than a blog post. In a sense, it’s good to use your own blog to write about certain topics first, and then see whether you can go one step better for a guest post, e.g. by turning a how-not-to into a how-to, or by going a step deeper into the material (questions and suggestions in the comments can help), or by combining two or three related posts into a substantial guest post. I’ve found that when I keep writing the best post I can every time, somehow it still gets better.

      Thank you for your well wishes! I appreciate it 🙂

  42. Great advice and great to see it written. I’ve had a similar experience and found that freelancing can be and should be stress-free and about enjoying the work. Also, I love your personal touch with the cartoons from all your articles!

    • Henneke says:

      Yep, I agree – freelancing or running your own business can be virtually stress-free, but for me it’s been quite a journey to get there 😉

      Thank you, Daniela. Glad to hear you’re enjoying my cartoons 🙂

  43. Great post!

    I have a presentation about time that always gets great reviews and engagement. First of all, people want to save time but they can’t define what time is. Pretty hard to manage something you don’t understand.

    The “To Do” list isn’t the problem so much as our need to see progress. So we add something like “check into Google+” to our list because we it’s fun and we do it easily—and get the sense of reward for checking it off. Ever put something on your “To Do” list that was already done? Why? To get the satisfaction of checking it off.

    Chris Reich,
    BizPhyZ.com

    • Henneke says:

      I agree with you that “to do” lists don’t need to be a problem. I still keep to-do lists. The problem arises when you use to-do lists to manage your time without considering how much you can do.

      And yeah, I also noticed, I’d be happy to check off lots of little items without ever getting to the chunky and important stuff. Or perhaps I got to doing the important stuff after 10pm 😉

  44. A bit late to the party on this post, for which I thank you, Henneke! I find it’s very much in line with one of Gary’s Vaynerchuk latest episodes of #AskGaryVee where he says: “World is about depth, not width. Do things that are meaningful, not wide.”

    I’ve been struggling with an RSI in my right shoulder and arm for the past couple of months. Main cause: not listening to my body, and rest when that was what I was supposed to be doing. Losing myself in the “width,” instead of the “depth.” Spreading myself too thin.

    I gave up on to do lists long ago as they would have the opposite effect of accomplishing more, and am now working on focusing on one task at a time. I’m also reconsidering my business model to gradually move from writing to podcasting, this way getting more done by doing something I’m much more drawn to. I find that talking to people who have something meaningful to say gives me much more energy than writing.

    By no means am I disciplined, which drew me into a vicious circle.

    Sharing your process of how you’overcome stress while being in pain and yet productive (you religiously posted here every Tuesday) is inspiring and gives me hope.

    Thanks again, Henneke! Hope you’re feeling much better. 🙂
    Anca Dumitru recently posted…Painted Picture: How to Travel into the Future with Your Business and ThriveMy Profile

    • Henneke says:

      Hey Anca – you’re always welcome at my party, no matter what time you arrive! I’m sorry to hear about your RSI problem – that sounds very nasty.

      You mention an interesting point about width vs depth. I guess it’s similar to my endless drive to simplify my business. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of overcomplicating things, but it’s feels so much better to focus on a seriously limited number of tasks and do them well.

      I hope you’re soon feeling better, too. Let me know how you get on with podcasting? That sounds like an interesting venture.

  45. Enjoyed this article Henneke. Of course, I suffer from the same problem of not enough time.
    One thing I have learnt is to take regular short breaks to ‘reset” the mind. 5 minute walk,
    mundane things like fold laundry clothes, or make a cup of tea.

    As for your brilliant sketches and artistry I say they actually are profitable for your business
    since they distinguish you, and I really enjoy the adventures of your alter ego-Henrietta.

    Right now I am working on a blog post, so this was my 5 minute break. To read one of your articles.

    • I’ve found that my best short breaks require me to get up and move. So, I’d rather empty the dishwasher than read the newspaper; and making a cup of tea is a must for every break 🙂

      I think Henrietta has earned her place in my company. I can’t do without her anymore. 😉

      Thank you for your kind words!

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