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Courtney Sanders

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hustle-hard-without-giving-up-your-life

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

That saying NEVER made sense to me.

I can’t have my cake and eat it too? Seriously? Then why did I bake a cake in the first place?!?!? What’s the point of even having cake if you aren’t going to eat it?

Well a few weeks ago, I found myself face to face with this question, though it wasn’t about cake.

It was about “the hustle.” You know, “the grind.” Chasing your dreams. Making moves.

Can a girl go after her dream life…and still have a life too?

Meaning…can you work extra hard for what you want, putting in long hours, grinding it out…yet still enjoy your life too?

Or do you just need to be okay with being stressed out, worn out, and overwhelmed until your stuff jumps off?

The Struggle for Balance

First, let me say that I DON’T have it all together. I’ve gotten a lot better than how I used to be when it comes to staying organized and beating procrastination (though I definitely procrastinated on writing this article this morning…oops) but I still slip up and have to find new ways to manage.

One of the big things I’ve been dealing with lately is actually having a life outside of my hustle. Or…hmm, I think a better way to put it is Having a Life That Doesn’t Fall Apart While I’m Out Here in These Streets Trying to be Successful. (Side note: I always crack up when people say “in these streets.” Just where are “these streets” exactly…? What ‘hood is everyone referring to?)

Having a life that doesn’t fall apart. It’s like, yeah, I want Think & Grow to blow up and yeah I have all these projects I’m working on…but I also want a clean house. I want to have enough time to do my hair and paint my nails. I want to talk to my friends on the phone. I want to go thrift shopping! You know, do things that make me feel like me. But up until very recently, I was increasingly feeling like I would never have time do any of that.

In fact, this all came to a head the other day. I came home, put my bag down, looked around and literally said out loud “I’m tired of living like this!” And by “this” I meant:

  1. The ever-growing pile of dishes in the sink (don’t judge me)
  2. The going-on-its-second-week pile of dirty laundry on the floor (don’t judge me)
  3. The fact that we’ve been in our house for 3 months now and STILL don’t have any furniture because I haven’t had the time to go pick anything out (don’t judge me)
  4. My sad, tired little wardrobe that hasn’t been updated since last year because I put all my extra money (and time) into my business (don’t judge me)
  5. Constantly feeling guilty because I don’t talk to family and friends nearly as often as I should (don’t judge me)
  6. The tendency to skip workouts that’s starting to become a habit (don’t judge me)
  7. My dry, un-done hair and chipped nails (Have you seen my hair? Who has the time to detangle all that?)
  8. Etc.
  9. Etc.
  10. The list goes on… (Seriously, don’t judge me..)

Yes, I love to get my hustle on. I love working toward my goals. And building a business has been INCREDIBLY fun!

But watching my life come undone around me? Yeah, not so fun.

Success on Your Terms

And the crazy thing is, when I graduated from college, I VOWED never to let this happen. Because I really had to crunch my last 2 years of college to make up for my former foolishness and finally graduate, EVERYTHING else went by the wayside. I hated how “haggard” my life had become (I’m told I’m a bit dramatic but that’s legitimately how I felt!) and I swore that once I was done with school and got a job, I would never let my life get to that state again.

Well, over the last few months I’ve definitely been breaking that promise. So before I did another thing – before I ran upstairs to my computer, before I started cooking dinner, before I even took my shoes off – that day when I got home from work, I sat down and I did something that, in retrospect, was pretty powerful.

I decided what success was going to look like for me.

Meaning, up until this point, I ALLOWED all that stuff to happen (or not happen, depending on how you look at it) because I thought that’s what was required in order to be successful. I thought in order to really give my dream my all, I had to sacrifice and cut corners and just be okay with sucking at certain life areas for a while.

And the crazy thing was, up until that point, I was okay with it. If this is what was required to succeed than I was willing to suck it up and do what it takes.

But when I got home from work that day, looked around, and saw the state of my house…I realized it was a troubling metaphor for the state of my life at that point in time. Everything outside of my hustle – my chase for success – I was letting fall into complete disarray.

So I sat down at the dining room table (which we only have because my Dad gave it to us – like I said, I’ve had ZERO time to pick out furniture) with my coat and shoes still on, and that second I DECIDED that success DID NOT have to come like this. No longer would I let it. From that moment forward, I decided to define success for myself. And success, to me, includes a life that isn’t falling apart.

But what exactly was a girl to do? Yeah, I made my big declaration and yeah it felt good but practically speaking, stuff still had to get done. And since I was now demanding that success come on my terms, I needed to know what “my terms” looked like.

The first thing I did was create a list of the things I needed in my life to feel “whole” and at peace, but wasn’t currently experiencing. In no particular order, I wrote down:

  • To feel polished
  • To feel like my house is “a home”
  • To feel like I have time for my husband, family and friends
  • To feel like my business is moving forward in a systematic way
  • To feel like all the little things – responding to emails, running errands, returning phone calls, etc – aren’t constantly slipping through the cracks

Next, I expanded each item on my list to be more specific about what exactly I wanted:

  • To feel polished
    • To maintain a stylish but economical wardrobe
    • To keep my hair and skin looking good
    • To maintain my weight and physique
  • To feel like my house is “a home”
    • To keep the house clean
    • To furnish and decorate the house so it feels warm, inviting, and like “me”
  • To feel like I have time for my husband, family and friends
    • To generally be available for my husband when he gets off work (versus chained to my laptop)
    • To keep up with my weekly calls/texts to family and friends (everyone lives out-of-state)
  • To feel like my business is moving forward in a systematic way
    • To consistently produce blog posts, social media posts, and other brand building activities
    • To have a system in place to regularly do business building activities like creating new products and networking.
  • To feel like all the little things – responding to emails, running errands, returning phone calls, etc – aren’t constantly slipping through the cracks
    • (This was pretty self-explanatory so I didn’t add any more detail to it)

Just by writing all this stuff down, I immediately felt better. I’m the kind of person that thinks on paper and is always creating little lists, so taking a second to jot down the above literally left me feeling mentally clearer.

That said, even though I now had it all on paper, I still wasn’t sure what to do with it. The above were the areas in my life I knew I needed fix right away…but just how exactly was I supposed to do that?

Since I didn’t know what to do, I did what I always do when I don’t know – I read a book.

The Power of Systems

Actually, I started vacuuming the floor. I have no idea where I get this from but when I feel like my back is against the wall and I’m totally overwhelmed, I’ll pick a room in the house and just start cleaning. I fully admit that this is mildly neurotic (Yes, I’m partly crazy but aren’t we all? Don’t judge me…) but I think I resort to cleaning when nothing else is working because (1) it’s a quick way for me to feel like I’m “in control” (“Take that, soap scum!”) and (2) cleaning is a mindless activity, which gives me the space to think about how I’m going to solve my problem without working too hard.

So while I was vacuuming and cleaning, I started listening to different podcasts about time-management to see if I could learn something to help me with my situation. I stumbled on one podcast where the special guest being interviewed was Sam Carpenter, author of the book Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less. Now I never heard of Sam before but that title – especially the part about “making more and working less” – had me very intrigued.

During the interview Sam went on to tell his story of defeating extreme overwhelm and overwork by discovering the power of systems and applying them to his life and (failing) business. Curious, since I already sensed that my lack of “systems” was a major reason my “hustle” was taking over my life in the first place – I moseyed over to his website only to discover he was giving both the e-book version AND audio version of his book away FOR FREE!

Glory, glory, I couldn’t download that book fast enough! I think I scrubbed the toilet harder than I ever have in my life (TMI?) as I pressed “play” on my iPhone and listened intently to every word of Mr. Carpenter had to say.

One of the earlier statements he made in the book that really struck me was (I’m paraphrasing) despite how we feel sometimes, the world is not this out of control, chaotic place. Life is generally very predictable because the world itself is one big giant system, made up of smaller sub-systems. So if we’re ever experiencing results that feel out of control, we have to remember that those results are simply the logical outcomes of the systems we currently have in place.

This little insight stopped me in my yellow-rubber-gloves-wearing, Clorox-spray-bottle-toting tracks. The reason why my life felt all over the place was because I unintentionally created systems that were producing “all over the place” results.

To be clear before going any further, let’s define “system.” According to the dictionary, a “system” is:

“a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.”

In other words, a system is basically a collection of routines or rules you commit to operating by in order to produce a certain result.

Just as bad habits will form if you don’t intentionally create good ones, bad systems (a collection of routines or procedures) develop if you don’t intentionally put better systems in place. Without even meaning to, I created a system that was causing ever-mounting overwhelm in my life. Here’s what I mean…

Your “Hustle” is Not the Problem

One of the biggest things that drove me crazy during the week was how quickly the house seemed to get messy. I would spend HOURS cleaning up on Saturday only for the place to look like a tornado hit it on Tuesday. This is a problem for me not just because it’s annoying to walk around in a messy house but because I literally cannot THINK if the house is messy. This is probably totally irrational (I’m neurotic, remember?) but I literally lose HOURS of productivity because I mentally feel demotivated and can’t bring myself to do what I know I need to until the house is clean.

The only problem is it takes me a minimum of 4 hours to clean the entire house – who has that kind of time during the week?!?! So the chaos would pile up and I would just sit there mad, blaming the condition of my house on my belief that I didn’t have enough time to work on my dreams AND…well, clean!

But after listening to the Work the Systems book, I quickly realized my “hustle” had nothing to do with my problem. In reality, most of my evenings looked like this:

  1. Walk through the door
  2. Kick off my shoes
  3. Throw my keys somewhere
  4. Change out of my work clothes
  5. Throw them on the bed
  6. Make and eat dinner
  7. Put the dishes in the sink
  8. Tell myself I’m going to wash the dished before bed
  9. Go work on my side projects and forget about the dishes until 10:30pm
  10. Tell myself I’m too tired, I’ll do the dishes and hang up my clothes in the morning
  11. Wake up in the morning and get behind because I can’t find anything because stuff is everywhere
  12. Promise myself I’ll fix it when I get home and rush out the door so I’m not late for work
  13. Start the process over a #1

Was it any wonder why I was “so overwhelmed” and “so burned out”! Well duh! Unwillingly, I built a system that was PRODUCING overwhelm. And that was just when it came to keeping the house clean – I soon realized I had at least a dozen other systems that were producing similar results in other areas of my life.

After getting honest with myself, it’s was clear that if I wanted success and I wanted it on my terms (see “Success on Your Terms” above), then I needed new systems that would produce the results I was looking for.

Whether your hustle is building your up your brand or finishing that Master’s degree or putting in overtime for that year-end promotion – if you’re feeling overwhelmed and completely outmatched, maybe your ambition isn’t the problem. Maybe there are systems in your life that are actively working against you.

How to Create Your Own Systems

That was clearly the case for me. With the lessons from the Work the System book in hand, I spent the next few days creating systems that would give me the results I was looking for.

In the book, author Sam Carpenter shows you how to create a new overall system for your life or business in 3 phases:

  1. Define your Vision (“Strategic Objective”)
  2. Commit to new Standards (“General Operating Principles”)
  3. Setup and work your new Routines (“Working Procedures”)

Note: because the book focuses heavily on systems as they were applied to the author’s business, he uses technical terms like “Strategic Objective”, “General Operating Principles”, and “Working Procedures”. Since I wanted to (1) keep this simple and (2) apply this process to my business and life, I just made things easier by renaming the phases “Vision,” “Standards”, and “Routines”. Same diff, right?

Step #1: Define Your Vision

Defining your vision comes first when creating new systems for your life and business because a vision tells you where to go. I’ve long had a clear personal and professional vision but when it came to attacking this problem, I ended up defining a more specific vision when I first listed out what I needed in my life but wasn’t experiencing. You’ll remember this list:

  • To feel polished
  • To feel like my house is “a home”
  • To feel like I have time for my husband, family and friends
  • To feel like my business is moving forward in a systematic way
  • To feel like all the little things – responding to emails, running errands, returning phone calls, etc – aren’t constantly slipping through the cracks

If you too want to create a new systems that allow you “hustle hard” yet still have a life, start with what you want your life to look like. What does success look like for you?

Shamless plus alert: If you’re not quite sure what you want your life to look life, I encourage you to check out my workbook Get What You Want which walks you through the entire vision-defining process. It’s helped a lot of women get clarity on what they want out of life and it may be helpful to you too! Click here to check it out. (End shameless plug.)

Step #2: Commit to New Standards

By setting new standards, you’re basically identifying the kind of person you need to be in order to get the kind of results you seek. Coming to this part in the book (“General Operating Principles”) was a big eye-opener for me because I realized that lax standards in certain areas is what got me into this mess in the first place. For instance, I was constantly battling a messy house very week because I didn’t have a standard of putting things back in their place immediately after using them. I would come home, kick off my shoes, throw my keys on the counter, and move through the house like that for the rest of the night, only to wonder why things routinely got so messy so quickly.

By first referring to my vision (see above), I came up with a set of standards that spoke to the kind of person I was committed to being in order to reach my vision. Here are a few of my new standards:

  • I do things NOW. And if it can’t be done now, I schedule when it can be done later
  • My self-care is non-negotiable. Daily, weekly, and monthly, I spend a portion of my time, energy, and money making sure that I look and feel my best.
  • Everyday I spend at least ONE HOUR (generally the first hour of the day) moving my business forward by executing on my highest priority freedom generating tasks.
  • I work on my business quickly and with focus, in the time periods I allot for it, so that it does not encroach on my personal time and time with my husband. Time for myself and time for those I care about is just as important as my business.
  • My business is only successful when I reach my objectives within the guidelines I choose. To run my business at the expense of my health, my self-care, my marriage, and my mental peace is to run it unsuccessfully.

My full list has 38 standards I’ve set for myself, broken down by category (self-management, health, self-care, business, etc.). Based on your own definition of success – your vision, your terms – what standards do you now need to operate by? What needs to become non-negotiable for you? Create a list of new standards and commit to abiding by it going forward.

Step #3: Setup and Work Your New Routines

This is the fun part. Based on what you want (your vision) and the person you’re committed to becoming (your standards), next you come up with several routines that, if done, will automatically produce the kind of results you’re looking for. I took my expanded “Vision” list:

  • To feel polished
    • To maintain a stylish but economical wardrobe
    • To keep my hair and skin looking good
    • To maintain my weight and physique
  • To feel like my house is “a home”
    • To keep the house clean
    • To furnish and decorate the house so it feels warm, inviting, and like “me”
  • To feel like I have time for my husband, family and friends
    • To generally be available for my husband when he gets off work (versus chained to my laptop)
    • To keep up with my weekly calls/texts to family and friends (everyone lives out-of-state)
  • To feel like my business is moving forward in a systematic way
    • To consistently produce blog posts, social media posts, and other brand building activities
    • To have a system in place to regularly do business building activities like creating new products and networking.
  • To feel like all the little things – responding to emails, running errands, returning phone calls, etc – aren’t constantly slipping through the cracks
    • (This was pretty self-explanatory so I didn’t add any more detail to it)

..and created new routines for each specific result I wanted. For instance, here’s a routine I created for keeping the house clean throughout the week:

Daily (Nightly):

  • Load dish washer (no dishes in sink)
  • Remove everything from kitchen counters (wipe down)
  • Sweep kitchen floor
  • Remove everything from dining room table
  • Remove everything from bathroom counter (wipe down)
  • Make sure clothes & towels are off the floor
  • Put a load in wash
  • Pick everything off the floor in office and straighten up

Weekly:

  • Monday – Straighten up closets and throw away wire hangers from dry-cleaners (10 minutes)
  • Tuesday – Clean toilet (5 minutes)
  • Wednesday – Sweep and mop bathroom floor (10 minutes)
  • Thursday – Drop off dry-cleaning (15 minutes)
  • Friday – Pick-up dry-cleaning after work (15 minutes); wipe down mirrors in bathroom (5 minutes)
  • Saturday – Clean shower in master bathroom (10 minutes); clean guest bathroom (20 minutes)
  • Sunday – Sweep and mop hardwood floors downstairs (20 minutes)

I have a dozen other routines broken down like this for everything from making sure I work on blog posts everyday, to shopping for new clothes once a week, to pinning decorating ideas on pinterest every night before bed. I just went through my expanded vision list (see above) and one by one wrote a up a simple routine I could do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to ensure I’d get the results I’m looking for in that area of my life.

Work the System and Keep Your Life

I’ve only been working on this system for a few weeks but the beauty of it is that it frees your time AND your mind. Before, I was so stressed out trying to take care of everything that came up (Working the System calls this “playing whack a mole”) that I felt like I literally did not have enough time to handle all of my normal, day-to-day responsibilities AND put in any significant time toward my dream. After getting introduced to this concept of systems, I now see that I DO have enough time, and I CAN succeed on my own terms, as long as I work my systems faithfully.

What I do now is in the morning, I review my vision, standards, and any of my routines that are applicable for that day. Generally, I have a morning routine that I go into as soon as I wake up, then I have second routine for right when I get home from work, then I have an pre-bed routine that I do right before I fall asleep. None of these routines take a long time – I think combined (including my morning routine) – I might spend a total of 2 hours on all this everyday. My morning routine takes about an hour, then the after work routine and the pre-bed routine take about 30 minutes each.

Now you might feel like “Who has 2 hours everyday to do this?!?!” but I promise that if you do it regularly, you will get SO much done and it frees up so much time! For instance, now I’m getting the majority of my blog posts written in the morning during my hour-long morning routine, which frees me up in the evening to either work on other projects or to simply have some fun. My after work and pre-bed routines make my days a lot smoother because I’m using that time to prepare for the next day.

For instance, my after work routine includes prepping my breakfast smoothie for tomorrow morning, and my pre-bed routine includes tidying up and laying out my clothes for the next day. When all of these systems come together, I feel more in control, less overwhelmed, and best of all I STILL GET STUFF DONE!!!

In other words, it’s totally possible to hustle hard without giving up your life! The glue that holds it all together is creating strong systems. If you’re struggling with going after your dreams and still maintaining a life, try setting up some new systems today.

Talk to Me:

Do you struggle with “hustling hard” toward your dreams and maintaining a life? Share in the comments below