2015: Making Space and Doing Less

deer tracks on a frigid morning on the coast of Maine

A neighbor was poking around her vegetable garden recently. Not a noteworthy event except that her garden was covered with a good six inches of snow. It was a brilliantly sunny day and the snow glistened fiercely. I called out to ask what she was doing. “Oh,” she exclaimed. “I’m looking for animal tracks. There are lots of them. They love my garden and I want to see who is visiting.”

Let me tell you a little bit more about my friend. She is a longtime resident of Stonington, runs several businesses, directs an unusual mentoring project for students at Deer Isle High School, and seems to know everybody and everything on the island.

So what the heck was she doing at 11 AM in the morning tromping around her snow-covered yard? Nothing. Idling. Pausing. Breathing. Looking. Enjoying. Savoring. However you want to phrase it.

Ah, I said to myself. A thought that had been percolating suddenly came into focus. That’s what I want. To do less. To be in the moment. To do nothing. Nothing that is actually a significant something.

Creating a 2015 plan

Which brings me to my 2015 plan for work and life. Like most small business owners, I take time at the end of the year to create an annual plan for the following year. I’ve been working on a 2015 plan for weeks (and yes, I know it’s mid-January). I’ve scribbled on pads, typed into my laptop, and scrawled on a white board.

I’ve had a hard time coming up with a plan that feels right. This time I started from a different perspective. I acknowledged that it wasn’t just about revenue goals and number of clients. I reminded myself that moving to the coast of Maine is an act of reinvention. My reinvention is to figure out how to combine work and personal life in a way that is graceful and fluid. I want to feel a sense of ease and fulfillment, to be calmer and more mindful as I move through each day.

Space for doing less

It finally came to me. My plan for 2015 is “space” – specifically making space.

Snowy forest near our houseI want space for slowing down, for doing less, for noticing, for thinking, for writing, for reading, for walking outside, for reinventing my book coaching and publishing business. I want to delete the sense of guilt, the should’s and have-to’s, the feeling of always being rushed, the constant urge to multi-task, and the overwhelming, palpable sensation that I can never get it all done.

Why I am a terrible boss

I’ve been my own boss for 14 years now and, frankly, I am a terrible boss. I nag myself. I criticize: “Why didn’t you finish doing this and this and this today? I throw too much on my plate every single day. My To Do list is always unrealistic and too long. I confuse the urgent with the important. And because I am overwhelmed, I procrastinate constantly.

It will be a bit hard to fire my boss. But I am adopting some new habits that will help her slow down, I hope, and be a lot nicer to me.

What I will be doing differently in 2015

Studies say that, on average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. That number can be longer if it’s something hard to do. What I most want to change in 2015 is a habitual mindset of busyness and scarcity and not good enough. That’s not an easy thing to change. So, on the advice of my business coach*, I started with cutting down my daily To Do list.

Three things

Three things. That’s all I’m allowed to put on each day’s list. So I switched to 2-inch square stickies instead of the larger 4-inch ones. (I’m addicted to stickies. They have to be in bright colors, no purple or dark blue.)

Smaller stickies for Three Things

There are several reasons to choose three things. First, you can always get three things done and cross them off your list. This is a concrete and specific way to reframe your goals – and your definition of success – for each day. Specificity is essential to forming a new habit. Saying to yourself, “I want to get into the habit of being more productive” is too vague.

Second, three is a number that can encompass the three buckets that are most important: work (tied to your revenue goals), personal (related to health or fitness), and creative (whether it’s writing or painting).

Finally, if you ask yourself, “What will make me feel proud at the end of the day?” you can usually come up with the things that are most important.

So far, so good. I’m on day #11. I’ve used up dozens of little bright green stickies for my Three Things. I want this to work. So I bargain with myself. I write and rewrite my short list until I’ve chosen things that I can get done. “Write” is often on my list. And by finishing this blog post I can cross that off today’s list.

The biggest surprise

The biggest surprise so far? By completing the three important things and declaring, “This day is a success,” I find that I have a burst of energy and clarity. That enables me to get a bunch more things done as well as do the important nothing; i.e. take a walk in the woods or by the shore and look for deer tracks in the snow.

#  #

Photos: (from top) deer tracks and evidence of bedding down (not my neighbor’s yard); branches and twigs on a snowy walk in the woods; smaller stickies for Three Things. All snapped with my iPhone 6+ which seems to take terrific photos.

Useful linkHow Long It Takes to Form a New Habit by Maria Popova in Brain Pickings.

*My business coach: I’ll talk more later about why I have a business coach.



3 Responses to 2015: Making Space and Doing Less

  1. Laura January 18, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    Debbie, you could have been in my head writing this post!!! I too am struggling with exactly what you say; but mostly I think I get in my own way by being much too judgmental of myself and my work. My new years resolution has been to be kinder and more gentle with myself, to expect less of myself, to breath more and worry less, and to enjoy life much more. We have no snow in MA, but perhaps I will go look for tracks in the woods by the house, and write a list of three things to do today!

    Thanks and cheers!

  2. Debbie Weil January 18, 2015 at 10:44 am #

    Laura, thanks for your comment. Isn’t it funny how long it takes to come to these realizations? Have fun today and have a wonderful year. Your life on campus always sounds idyllic to me. xo

  3. Jenny January 18, 2015 at 10:55 am #

    So inspiring, Debbie. I recognized in the last couple of days that I started the year feeling strong and mid-last week, I felt lost. The culprit was the giant to-do list. I am recognizing that I, too, need to pare back and define a successful day differently. Thank you for sharing your method. I may have to borrow that one!

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