Ideas + Insights
September 12, 2018
My first job was at McDonalds. No kidding.
When we weren’t being harassed by impatient soccer mums demanding Astro boy with their Happy Meals, or underagers jacked up on soft serve, my yellow-clad colleagues and I used to play this game where we’d throw the little sauce containers as hard as we could against the floor and whoever’s sauce splattered against the ceiling, won. It was, at the time, one of the biggest challenges of my life. (I was only 13, don’t judge me).
Fast forward to today and some days I would kill to be back at Maccas. I now juggle 4 businesses, house renovations, a Kelpie and shortly, a newborn.
I hate the notion of wearing the ‘busy badge’ with every cell of my body. But in all honestly, I find it super hard to buy into this ‘my life is full’ not ‘busy’ methodology. When you wake up each morning and study your calendar to try and find the 5 minute breaks in your day when you might be able to fuel your body and take care of its bodily functions, it’s hard to avoid using the word ‘busy’.
The other day, a 7 year old asked me the million dollar question – if I could have any superpower in the world, which would I choose. I told him, I would freeze time. If I could just have an extra hour in my day, or day in my week, or month in my year I would be so much more chill. But until I stumble across a Genie in a bottle, I’ll have to put up with the same 365 days as everyone else.
I know all business owners out there can relate to this. I often joke that the only place busier than an entrepreneur’s calendar is Disneyland in the peak of school holidays. And to be honest, running a business often feels just as unhinged, bewildering and energy draining, only you walk away with far less fairy floss and Vitamin D in your system. More on the ‘busy’ dilemma here.
Whilst I haven’t yet found the Genie to grant our wishes, (don’t worry, I’m still looking), I have, however, found the next best solution. It’s called an Untouchable Day.
Since I started my business I’ve always had one day a week that I spend on the business, not in it. Sounds great in theory right?! But implementing this is one of the hardest things to do. I’ve had to be really disciplined about sticking to it. Even though I’ve been doing it for seven years now, still every week, every force under the sun will try to prevent me from taking a day out of the studio, a day away from the mundane tasks, away from my inbox (God forbid!!) and a day to sit in solitude and get some proper, deeper work done.
But the thing that keeps me persisting with it is that these untouchable days are almost as addictive as crack. No joke. They are so valuable to the trajectory of my business and my sanity that I crave them. And if I don’t get my hit one week? I feel it – like a junkie coming down, I feel anxious, stressed and like I haven’t achieved anything in my week.
So, what do I actually do on an untouchable day?
It depends. I either label the day as an ideation day or execution day, depending on what the business needs from me that week.
An ideation day is where I use the day to generate new ideas and workshop existing problems or facets of the business that need my attention. In the first half of an ideation day, my existence usually evaporates into a piece of butcher’s paper, scrawling my thoughts and ideas so vigorously I’m sure I’ve got early onset RSI, completely losing track of time and brain dumping anything and everything that comes to mind with the filter of a 3 year old child.
The second half of the day is a process of coming down from caffeine, and slowly but surely piecing together the remnants of a few good ideas and transforming them into a solid strategy and action plan.
An execution day on the other hand, is a day spent ploughing through some actual work. It’s all about implementing new strategies, systems or action plans. I write down no more than two or three things I want to get done for the day. These tasks are solid tasks that require my full strength focus and a full strength coffee. They might include writing a bunch of blog posts, auditing our processes, reviewing one of our products or implementing an action plan for a new strategy I’m working on.
The day is most certainly spent in a top knot and trackies, with endless snacks, and some sweet tunes cranking (lately it’s been a close battle between this and this). It’s about finding the perfect balance of upbeat and calm, so that I can focus in and switch my brain from frantic to focused.
I have a couple of rules for my untouchable days to ensure I get the most out of them and don’t just spend the day going back and forth to the fridge (FYI – the contents of your fridge don’t actually change no matter how many five minutes intervals you visit it. I know, so disappointing.)
Cardinal rule #1 of an untouchable day is to block out the time on your calendar.
Essentially treat it with the same level of seriousness as your fiancé’s wedding (you should probably attend that one) or emergency surgery (okay, perhaps not that level of severity, but almost).
I know just as well as anyone, that if I postponed my untouchable day to when I finish all my urgent, pressing, semi-on-fire tasks I might see the light of the untouchable day in ummm, approximately ten years’ time.
Look, in ten years’ time I plan on living in Topanga Canyon for half the year and drinking chilled red wine from a Swarovski goblet. Not having some kind of doctrinal ‘working sabbatical’ in my office each week – c’mon!
Long story short? I’m not getting to the bottom of my inbox or daily to-do’s anytime soon, so I may as well pretend like they don’t exist for one day a week and do the stuff that really matters.
Cardinal rule #2 is to block out distractions.
I am obsessed with Gmail’s Inbox Pause feature and swear by it for when I want to get some real work done. It essentially just pauses any new emails coming into your inbox for a nominated period of time. Because let’s face it, anyone who’s tried to avoid the allure of a busy inbox for an entire day knows it’s harder than breaking up with your high school sweetheart. There’s so much procrastination, temptation and ease to just slip back into it and not face the music.
I also pretend that it’s the good ol’ days and social media doesn’t yet exist (oh, what a time to be alive!). An Untouchable Day means avoiding falling down any proverbial rabbit holes such as Instagram, Pinterest, The Fat Jewish, Comments by Celebs or answering the door to people who aren’t couriers bringing me gifts. This extends to and includes friends, family and girl scouts. You are not welcome. Except for my partner / roommate / gardener, Byron, and even sometimes then, I’ll only allow him into our home at my own discretion.
So, what are the benefits of an untouchable day?
Well, that’s a 40km long blog post, so I’ll leave the full deets for another day. But in short, when I’m not sucked into the vortex of the daily to-do’s I can access my brain with a killer combination of speed, intelligence, focus and grounding. As soon as I open that little red demon we refer to as Gmail? All these parts of my brain are zapped. Nadda. Zilch. Empty. It’s like a phone with a dead battery – you know it works and functions as it should, but you just can’t access it.
No matter what kind of work you do — writing, designing, coaching, project management, personal styling or potato peeling — having an Untouchable Day will bring back the genius in you.
Because after all, time is the most valuable asset you own, you have to use it wisely.
Image credit: Glossier
loved reading this. ive just had one of these days (forcibly due to illness) but being bound to a home office & not in the workplace really helped me tackle those tasks that kept escaping me. Ill definitely do it more often (hopefully without the flu symptoms). Great points !! PS: my first job was also at McDonalds