A few months ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning and found myself staring down a mountain full of work. Sure, my inbox was empty, but I’d gotten so busy that I could no longer finish my work between the usual 9:00am to 6:00pm window I gave myself. I had just wrapped up a 60+ hour work week and felt like I hadn’t finished anything – even though I was working weeknights and weekends just to try to keep up.
For all of the changes I’ve made to make my days as productive as possible, I had to own up to the fact that my life was spinning out of control. With the example of Buffer’s CEO Joel Gascoigne – who periodically fires himself from his company – in mind, I finally got up the courage to ask myself the tough questions I’d been avoiding for months. What am I doing with my life, and – more importantly – why am I doing it? If things are obviously this broken, how do I go about fixing them?
Hitting the Reset Button
When I was really, truly honest with myself about the state of my life, the answers to these questions were obvious – even though they were huge in their scope and ramifications. I needed a complete reset – and I needed it fast.
I had been working with Single Grain for nearly five years (longer if you count the multiple attempts I made to get things started stretching as far back as 2005). As my full-time job, it obviously took up the bulk of my time, but I realized that it had been a while since I asked myself if it was really what I wanted to be doing or if the work I was doing was in line with my goals for myself.
Surprisingly, the answers to these questions were no. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that the internet marketing space has changed tremendously in the past few years. But because I was so bogged down in the details of running a company, I never stopped to ask myself whether the SEO agency model made sense any more, considering that most SEO tactics are less effective or not working at all while the industry is shifting towards a multi channel approach.
After carefully evaluating my priorities and the direction I saw the industry taking, I decided it was time to step down. Over the next few weeks, I finalized my exit strategy from Single Grain, leaving my partner Eric Siu in command and stepping back entirely from the company as of January 1st, 2014. This move alone freed up 70-80% of my time and 150% of my energy (that extra 50% comes from getting rid of the high stress levels and restless nights I had as the result of my investment in the company).
Smaller Lifestyle Changes
Once the hard part was out of the way, I looked at the smaller things in my life that took up the remaining 20-30% of my time and asked myself the same questions: what am I doing, why am I doing it and do these things add to my life? This resulted in all of the following changes…
Downsizing My Reliance on Tech
If there’s one thing I love (besides my beautiful wife), it’s gadgets. But after some careful evaluation, I realized that all the different goodies I’d purchased – including cell phones, laptops, cars, bikes, surfboards, GoPros, fitness trackers, iPods and iPads – weren’t actually adding anything to my life. In fact, they were sapping up energy that would be much better spent elsewhere.
The only solution was to take everything I didn’t absolutely need and either sell it or give it away to somebody else who could use it. Despite my fears that I’d have to run out and buy back everything I’d given away, I felt so good. I felt free, liberated and – oddly enough – less stressed out than ever before.
At the same time, I majorly cut back on the amount of non-productive device time I was spending. Because I’ve always been a gadget whore, I’ve spent tons of time staying up-to-date on the latest tech news and gadgets. I’d always write off the time I wasted because I counted reading tech news as a hobby – even though it didn’t contribute at all to my long-term happiness. Since it was only giving me a short term buzz (not to mention costing me tons of money), I decided to go cold turkey and quit reading tech news altogether.
I also removed Facebook and Instagram from my phone. When I really thought about it, I realized that I was spending my time walking or commuting trolling Facebook or posting new pictures just to show off. It was incredibly difficult to quit these habits, but I feel so much better now that I’m not wasting time and being anti-social instead of getting real work done.
But one of the biggest changes I made from a tech-perspective was to de-prioritize the role email was playing in my life. Remember earlier when I said I was working 60 hours a week and still feeling like I wasn’t getting anything done? Well, I blame email. I used it wrong and checked it too often throughout the day, which prevented me from focusing on my real priorities. Embracing the mindset that “Nobody ever gets rich checking email” really helped me to take control of my time and energy by backing off the amount of attention I was giving my inbox.
More Tech Tweaks
Now, I don’t want you to think I’ve given up on tech 100%. I’m not a monk – I’m still very much connected to the digital world. I’m just more conscious about how I allocate my time and attention.
- Feedly, Prismatic and Instapaper – Instead of wasting time catching up on news on Facebook, I now use five specific apps to help me consume information effectively on my phone, tablet and computer. I’ll get into more specifics on how I do this in a future blog post…
- Evernote – Every day, I create a new note that’s broken into the following sections: Action (the one big thing I need to get done each day), Notes, Questions and Random Links. This helps me to stay organized and accountable for my actions, as well as minimize the odds that distractions will pull me away from the things I really need to focus on.
- Full-Screen Apps – Whenever I’m using email, my calendar, chat programs or Evernote, I do so using full-screen apps. This also helps reduce distractions, whether I’m trying to power through messages, catch up on news articles or talk to my coworkers through chat.
So what am I doing with all this free time? One big priority is spending more time on networking dinners. Every day, I email friends or professional contacts to see if they want to have dinner. I don’t have an agenda for these meals – I might wind up catching up with a friend one night or talking shop with a business contact on another. The point isn’t to meet some arbitrary business or performance goals – it’s to get out of my shell.
For so long, I was cooped up by myself – trying desperately to put out the fires I was facing at work every day – that I lost track of the bigger picture. In fact, I honestly believe that if I’d simply had more conversations like these with more people earlier on, I would have caught on to the problems I was having much sooner! I got the inspiration for this priority from Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone” book – and I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested in building a community that’ll help watch your back!
(I should also note that I’ve been making an effort to cut back on my carbs. The result? I feel less tired during the middle of the day, helping me to recapture even more of the energy I was missing earlier.)
The other personal goal I set for myself was to learn a new language. But instead of getting into French or Spanish, I wound up learning an entirely new platform. From Christmas to February, I learned as much as I could about mobile app development and marketing. I built one app, bought three others and spoke to over a dozen app marketers and developers to get a better understanding of all things mobile. As a result, I’m currently in the process of marketing two different apps that demonstrated both engagement and potential profitability.
Was the thought of making such drastic changes to my life scary? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, even though hitting the reset button cost me a little income, it opened up the free time and energy I needed to start 2014 with a brand new mentality. And when it comes down to it, income changes can be mitigated with adjustments in spending habits and new streams of income. Staying in a situation that was unsustainable for me on a personal and professional level? That’s the only thing that would have been truly unacceptable.
Want to hit the reset button on your life like I did? Check out the helpful resources below, and then leave a note in the comments section below about how you plan to take charge in 2014!