We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. - Will Durant
As a 15-year-old, my experience of remote work was entirely shaped by Carrie Bradshaw on Sex in the City. I would have been confident that it involved a lot of startling fashion choices and having uncomfortable, at times downright dubious romantic experiences, and then writing about it. I would have been sure it involved having a cigarette smoking in an ashtray next to you while you “got to thinking” while staring out the window. I’ve now been working as a freelance writer full time for five-months, while teaching yoga and Pilates at two local studios. Surprisingly, my freelance career has encompassed far less swishy skirts than I envisaged. Très disappointing. The window staring on the other hand, is rather accurate.
I’ve always had a side hustle writing. I pieced together articles in my evenings and on my weekends, while working full time as a TV news reporter. I’ve written blogs and short stories and journaled. I’ve read like I was famished for words. I was given dreamy travel assignments, and sent to the other side of the world to hunt down stories. It was piecemeal but it paid and I really enjoyed it. Now I live in a place where geographically there isn’t the opportunities for the work I want. Without thinking about it too much, I started writing full-time. Work unfolded organically, blooming in unexpected ways, like leafy foliage finding life on the side of concrete buildings. Word of mouth from a litany of delightful clients have rippled different opportunities my way. I’ve also been hustling; pitching different ideas to a gazillion different publications and organisations. I’ve had a lot of rejection – sometimes a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ reply and sometimes absolute radio silence. But I’ve also had some big affirmations; some nice, fat thumbs up to my capacity and what I am doing.
I now write for a variety of magazines and a couple of PR and Media companies in Australia and New Zealand, as well as a handful of different businesses working on their brand awareness and content creation. I write ‘copy’ and now say things like copy. From lifestyle and business articles to blog posts to website content to press releases to fact sheets to experiential musings; whatever gets rolled my way, I’ve been picking it up and running with it. Sometimes boring, often fascinating, I’ve interviewed farmers and scientists and artists and creators and innovators and change-makers and business owners and dream facilitators. I’ve written about real-estate and mental health and travel and food and life as a rural woman.
The experience has “got me thinking” as I stumble down the remote work path, driving by braille. How do I organise my time most effectively? How can I be my most productive? How do I provide my own inspiration and motivation (beside the ever-starving beast that is rent) to hustle up more business and expand what I already have? How do I do work that has purpose and serves others and evokes change and lights me up, while paying my bills? All questions that have been mused over by countless independent workers before me, and no doubt the squillions to come. So, I’ve been consuming and researching and reading and listening to podcasts and asking questions. And, as it always does when you throw questions out into the universe, answers (or more questions) hurtle back through the stratosphere and open doors at perfect times. After thinking for a while that I needed some sort of business mentor or coach, a friend put me in touch with Vickie Burkinshaw, the chief change maker and founder behind Purple Pyjamas. She is a professional facilitator that coaches entrepreneurs, business owners and social groups to boost their BOJO (business MOJO) by asking key questions and helping to untangle the why behind your what. A chat with Vickie confirmed an inkling I had been nursing for a while. My days lacked routine. I had been haphazardly lurching from project to project, saying yes to all in order to have something on the go. But there were no bookends to my day, no silver thread running its seams through my hours to back up my operation. I wasn’t super clear on what I was trying to achieve or where I wanted to go. I’m still working on those things – but knowing I needed to get clearer with my desires was a massive step in the right direction.
I have always believed that no one is going to give you time; you have to make it, or take it, to get in your non-negotiables. Your non-negotiables help you work better and be better, whatever guise that takes for you. Whether it’s exercise or meditation or eating well or family time or sleep or coffee with girlfriends or drawing or writing. I’m a sleep evangelist, and a very annoying one at that. A nine-hour kinda gal. And movement is a non-negotiable, every day. But what is my work framework and how do I create a template around my time, to squeeze the pulpy juice from my minutes? After all, time is money. How can I bank more for my buck?
Effective use of time comes down to your habits. So, how do we build our habits, the building blocks of our days and ultimately, our lives? A quote by Will Durant says“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Some habit studies estimate that between 30-40% of our daily activity is habitual. If this is the case, surely success is then dependent on a lifetime of accumulated habits, not one hit wonders trotted out every now and then. However, we often overlook how we can change things in small ways or tweak it slightly to get better at what we do. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits says,“habits are the compound interest of self-improvement…each behaviour casts a vote on the kind of person you want to become.” He suggests instead of setting goals, we set identities. Choose who you want to become and take steps to embody that behaviour. Want to make your bed every day? Become a tidy person. Want to run a marathon? Become a runner. And instead of whacking up your behaviour change a full 1,000 voltage and burning out after a week, try and be 1 per cent better, every day, by starting whatever new habits you’re wishing to instil in two-minute increments. Sustainable growth and sustainable change. The idea that instead of setting goals, but instead set your systems strongly into play, really made me think. If we concentrated on our systems and their effectiveness instead of an end objective, would we still get the same result? Clear believes we would - and be able to keep it up for longer. I love the idea, and its counter-intuitiveness. "The purpose of setting goals is to win the game," Clear said. "The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game." Adopting a long-term approach, rather than reaching for the low-hanging fruit of the immediate validation tree, sets up for a lifetime of success as opposed to the brief punctuations of a goal achieved.
Baby steps I have taken to habituate effectiveness::
- I’ve looked at my environment and made small tweaks to bits and pieces that help me keep my habits. Just as you wouldn’t keep chocolate in the house if you’re trying to lose weight; I’m setting up my surrounds to help me keep my routines. If you can make something auto-pilot rather than rely on self-discipline, this takes will-power out of the equation and gives you a lot more oomph and less decision fatigue. My meditation corner is set up so I can wake up, stumble over and go through my meditation ritual – frankincense essential oil at the ready for a sniff, a candle ready to be lit and a cushion to sit on. I leave my phone in the kitchen when I’m working so I can’t mindlessly and compulsively check it during my working hours. I food prep on a Sunday so I have several days’ worth of salad ready in the fridge, so I don’t have to think about lunch.
- Daily movement, whether it’s sweating, stretching or strengthening. And if I miss a day – no fear. As Clear says, “never miss twice.” Two days in a row is a no-no. And if you think you don't have time, how long do you check Instagram? Facebook? A casual 20-minutes, here and there? That time counts and you can use it. Do some sprints, some squats or five gentle sun-salutations.
- I write my best in the morning when I'm fresh and my brain is springy. So I leave my admin stuff - invoices, pitching and emails, till after lunch when I'm doughy and foster half the cognisance.
- Daily writing on my own creative projects – even if it’s half an hour, first thing in the morning over coffee. That novel isn’t going to write itself! But while I have the humming undercurrent hope of writing a book, it's steeped in writing for writing's sake. Because it's enjoyable, because I can, because I need to. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her wonderful book for creators, Big Magic, “Done is better than good” and that your work need'nt be original or new or shiny or making you a millionaire - we write because we must, we create to stop us from destroying (ourselves or others) and we do it from a place of curiosity and cheer, for
"It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at."
Who do you want to become? And how can your habits help you get there?