Sweat the Details

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

The best snorkeling experience I’ve ever had was off a coast in the central Philippines. Most of the memory has blurred together: warm sun, salty air, the sound of my friends' laughter echoing off the boat. What I remember vividly, with photographic precision, are the neon blue and purple starfish below the waves. Colors that seem like they couldn’t possibly exist in nature, yet they do.

If design didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, snowflakes would be ugly. Leaves wouldn’t turn red and gold in the Fall. Spring would arrive unannounced by bright yellow daffodils. And a world underwater that we rarely experience in the day-to-day would be bland and colorless.

People have a right to live fully, not just merely. Good design adds to the fullness of life. The fullness, ironically, allows for margin. Margin empowers people to dream big, enabling them to do things that change the world.

Sweat the details. The details go beyond ourselves.

Originally published October 2014

5 Ways To Keep Your Sanity

It's easy, especially when the future seems uncertain, to become jaded, to let annoyances pile up, to react to the short-term instead of thinking through things strategically with the long-term in mind. It can also be difficult to focus on your work when the seemingly reactionary decisions of your competitors — such as doing work for a deep discount or as trade for "exposure" — affect the conversations your clients have with you.

If you can keep your mind and your energy in a space that is healthy, you'll be able to more clearly see the opportunities that are in front of you right now. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1. A Gratitude Journal

I've talked about these before, and I believe in them so much. Take time each day to jott down three things you are grateful for. You can do this with regular pen and paper, one of the many gratitude apps, or even Instagram. Yes, we all like to have our mini pity parties and no one is grateful 100% of time, but you can't keep that up 24/7. Spending a few minutes each day focusing on what you do have (and it doesn't need to be material) instead of what you don't have will help shape your outlook.

2. Watch What You Say (Or Write)

While you may take note of a few things you're thankful for, it sort of negates the entire process if you then turn around and use Instagram Stories, Facebook, or Twitter to vent about every little annoyance. No need to be a Pollyanna (those are just as annoying), but venting should make up a small percentage of what you share, not the majority.

Go through your social media posts from the past month and see how many are complaints. Set a goal to cut that number in half over the next month. Chances are you’ll start to notice a positive difference in your perspective.

3. Unsubscribe from the Dramacolypse

While you should have people in your life who are willing to be REAL and not fake happy-go-lucky 24/7, you should also be careful not to surround yourself with people who are cynical dream-stoppers. This also includes people you follow on social media. If someone gets under your skin or lives in your head "rent-free," unsubscribe, unfollow, or mute them. Real drama is your friend who is going through chemo or a divorce or taking care of a sick family member. Unnecessary drama is the inane gossip people make up because they are intimidated by someone else’s success.

4. Declutter and Streamline

The scientific law Occam's razor suggests that the simplest solution is usually the best one. Getting simple, however, is not always easy. It requires being willing to let things go. It also requires checking your ego at the door so that you can make things work for you without worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Take some time to evaluate what things or processes you can cut or simplify in your life or workflow. This isn't a license to be selfish, but it is a way to evaluate what you need to do to simplify your life and your business. What areas can you streamline?

5. Breathe

Create margin for your life. The easiest way to do this is to create boundaries around how you work and when you are available to people. There will be some days that require you to work late and reply to emails at 2:00 A.M., but if this is a daily occurrence, it's likely time to slow down.

Slowing down can be difficult because it often means giving up the facade of power. It is also easy to justify our propensity toward a frenetic pace by using the excuse that we love our work. You should love your work. You should also love yourself and your family enough to keep your mental, emotional, and physical health in check.

Slow down. Go to sleep. Get some exercise. Take a "sabbath" day or afternoon to renew your mind and spirit (it doesn't have to be Saturday or Sunday). As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Once you slow down, you’ll find that you think more clearly, focus better, and get more done when you sit down to work again.

Originally published April 2009

A Small Way to Make Your Day Run A Bit More Smoothly

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I picked up Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin at an airport bookshop while on a layover several years ago, back when the book was first released. I don't remember too much from it, but one thing that stuck with me is her recommendation to intentionally add small things to your daily routine that bring you joy. 

I decided there, on the plane during the next leg of my flight, that from then on fresh flowers would be included in my weekly grocery budget and that French-pressed coffee would be part of my morning routine. And, six years later, I can attest that both things continue to make my days a little brighter, even if the coffee is decaf these days. Plus, I truly feel that fresh flowers bring a room to life in a way nothing else can. The ten extra dollars added to my budget each week (I generally just pick up whatever is pretty, cheerful, and on sale at the supermarket) has been money well-spent. 

This principle – choosing to add something to your day that makes you a bit more happy, allowing the day to go a bit more smoothly – can apply to both home life and business life. And it doesn't have to cost much, if anything at all: your happiness addition could be starting the day reading the news old-school style with coffee on your front porch, or it could be unwinding in the evenings with Coltrane and a cup of chamomile tea. At work it could mean adding a favorite piece of artwork to your office wall that brings up a cherished memory whenever you look at it or setting aside 15 minutes a day to connect by phone with colleagues you haven't seen in a while (only talking to people when you need something from them is a terrible way to network). 

I find that many entrepreneurs are pro implementing these tiny life edits when it comes to others but tend to skip them when it comes to themselves. While the additions may feel frivolous, they lead to a better mood which boosts productivity and optimism – and staying optimistic, of course, helps keep you open to new ideas and opportunities.

The little things matter in life, and being intentional about adding good things that bring more joy to (and don't distract us from) our daily routines is both a practical and doable form of self-care.