By Sophie Lippert, sophielippert.com
During the summer months, it is nearly impossible for me to maintain a regular schedule. My life becomes inundated with vacations and visitors; day trips and outdoor concerts; barbecues and late-night stargazing. For my friends with families, their rhythm shifts even more dramatically, as there’s a whole new set of responsibilities and expectations for parents when school is out and kids are unoccupied by regular extra-curricular activities.
But upsets to daily rhythm aren’t exclusively a summertime scenario. I’ve found that life has a way of walloping me with unexpected situations when I’m least expecting them, forcing me to abandon carefully-made plans in lieu of whatever pressing issue arises. Do you ever feel like a living, breathing GPS system, feeling yourself stuck in a state of “recalculating” for much longer than you’d care to admit? I do! I’ve come to realize that, despite my best intentions to plan everything out “just so,” there’s only so much I can do before the winds of chance whisk in whatever they will.
But what to do about this? How to stay productive and on task, when there’s so much outside of our control? How to “plan for the unexpected,” rather than letting it derail us?
The strategy I suggest is one that’s based on polarities. It’s rooted in the idea that both a schedule and flexibility are important; that having focus and also keeping perspective is essential; that it’s possible to learn from the masters and simultaneously find your own unique way.
The concepts I’m suggesting below might, on first glance, seem like they are directly in opposition. However, the longer I’ve been in business, the more clear I am that trying to work in one particular way is NOT the way to maximize productivity and success. We are not one-trick ponies; we are unique and varied. The way we work, too, is not fixed—it changes and fluctuates. We work differently depending on our mood and the time of day; if we are traveling abroad, or at a coffee shop, or at our home office. We work differently depending on who is around us, what project we are working on, and our variant level of excitement and enthusiasm. We have a very different approach to working when spending a week at a family reunion, surrounded by nonstop activity and chatter, versus when we are alone and undisturbed, nursing a cup of tea in quiet.
Here are three key ideas for staying even-keeled in work life, no matter the extenuating circumstances:
Calendars and deadlines are fabulous. They help us stay on task, fulfill obligations, and finalize projects. Budget time for your work projects, even if that just means a 30-minute block in your planner listed as “first draft of contract” or “5 cold-calls.” Also schedule time for anything else that’s a priority: your daily walk, a 60-minute dinner with family or friends, time to read or journal. Self-care, whatever that looks like to you, will help you stay balanced and present.
Then: lighten up, and give yourself some grace when things don’t go exactly as planned. Maybe you’ve got a sick kiddo to take care of, which totally derails your plans to go to the gym. Maybe you stayed out late with friends, and didn’t make as much progress as you’d planned on a pressing assignment with a looming deadline. All is not lost. One of my favorite things to do is to “steal time” wherever and whenever I can. Missed my walk in the morning, but unexpectedly got out of a midday meeting 15 minutes early? Perfect! A short stroll around the city works wonders to clear my mind and brighten my mood. Eating lunch alone, and feeling motivated to edit an assignment while digesting, rather than scrolling through my social media feed? Fantastic! Challenge yourself to use the time you have to be active, focused, and productive, especially when your energy is high.
Spend a good portion of your time focusing on the “small stuff”: the important daily assignments, social media posts, calls, and emails. Identify the to-dos that you can knock out quickly, and see how many tasks you can accomplish in a 30-minute or 60-minute block of time. The small stuff often isn’t glamorous, exciting, or fun. But every building block contributes to the foundation and framework of the business and the life you are creating!
Before you get totally consumed by details, however, make sure you’re keeping perspective. Spend some time every day or week remembering where the small stuff fits in, what you’re working for, and the end goals that inspire you. It’s easy to get bogged down in the little things, and lose track of your big WHY. It’s also easy to get tangled up in daily tasks that aren’t, actually, as important as they seem. “Zooming out” will allow you to recognize if, say, spending all morning engaging with your social media audience is distracting you from the “more important” things.
We live in the information age, and there are a huge amount of invaluable resources available to us at all times! So, let yourself immerse in the things that excite you. Read books and listen to podcasts. Go to conferences, and keep up on what’s new and trendy. Access this base of knowledge and wisdom in whatever way most delights you. Allow yourself to learn voraciously and consume information freely.
But before you start to jump headfirst into following the methods and advice that you’ve acquired, check back in with yourself. Because really, truly, there’s no one else who knows what will work for YOU. The books you read haven’t been written specifically for your brain. Isn’t it a little silly that we grant ultimate authority to authors or inspirational speakers who have never even met us, had a conversation with us, or gotten any context about who we are and what our individual needs entail? YOU get to be the final authority about the choices you make and the paths you forge.
Remember: just because people have developed methods for success doesn’t mean those methods will be successful for YOU. And just because no one’s done something your way before doesn’t mean your way isn’t good or that it will fail.
Though I’ve introduced these ideas as ways to run a business, they can be applied in many other areas. Cultivating the power of being both fixed and flexible, narrow and wide, follower and leader, is a beautiful way to embrace the variety inherent in life. Harnessing polarities allows for more ease in navigating career life, family life, relationship life, and inner life. And ultimately, embracing contradictions can help you find more freedom, joy, and success, both professionally and personally.
Sophie is a classical pianist, piano teacher, writer, and business consultant. The thread that unites all of her work is her passion for helping people connect more deeply: to themselves, to their communities, to their passions, and to their work. Sophie teaches piano to kids and adults of all levels and backgrounds in a beautiful studio in downtown Portland. She also has an active concert calendar as a professional classical pianist, in Portland and beyond. For clips of Sophie playing piano, find her on Instagram.