“I feel so out of my depth”

“I’m not very good at this. I feel so out of my depth.” Me, yesterday afternoon, struggling to sketch out our business plans in a slide.

“I think this is where you really shine, D!” Teresa, reassuring me (for about the hundredth time) that I am actually quite good at this weird unknown jungle.

I’m in the process of putting together an investor deck for Outlaw Soaps, our happy little soap company (which is taking over the world, by the way), and this is all new to me on so many levels. From the actual budgeting process itself, to the articulation of our strategy, to the sexy graphics required for such presentations, I’m struggling to get the deck together in a compelling way.

Russ and I started Outlaw Soaps in 2013, and since its inception, we have stayed fairly faithful to the business plan I sketched out in my little silver notebook. The products have changed, and we shifted our business strategy a little to capitalize on shifting markets and our improved understanding of the industry, but the concept and plan was a good one.

According to that plan, 2017 was when we wrapped up our product development (it leaked a little into early 2018), 2018 was the year we worked out all the kinks in our product line and  created a business foundation to grow on… and 2019 is when we get an investor.

When we started the business, I didn’t know anything about corporate structures or investors.

Before Outlaw, I had been a cubicle worker at the Oprah Winfrey Network, putting together product specifications for the developer team to execute on the website. Aside from glimpses into project budgets and ad insertions, the business side of the Oprahverse was invisible to me. I collected a bi-weekly paycheck. For my own entertainment, I’d periodically calculate the “return on investment” (ROI) of my employment to Oprah, adding up the ad projects I worked on and measuring that against my paycheck. As long as I cost 1/5 as much as I was making, I was satisfied.

But that was for “fun.” It was very different from submitting a plan for new hires and additional marketing expenses. All my projects were responses to advertiser or editorial team requests, translating vague hand-waving into hard plans… and now I’m both the vague hand-waver and the plan generator, plus the accounting department, the marketing department, and a lot of other random stuff.

A few months ago, in preparation for getting an investor (who would want to be on a board), I assembled a board of directors – trusted advisors I had worked with on other projects or at other jobs.

I had no idea how to assemble a board, but I knew that just like we defined our customers as the kind of people we’d want to go camping with, our board would be people we could be ourselves around, vulnerability and nonprofessionalism included.

I wanted to get everyone together before we brought on an investor, so we could establish a rapport among ourselves and come up with an articulate business strategy. I wanted the investor to come to an existing foundation so we didn’t have to scramble around getting ourselves introduced, etc. It seemed like the wise thing to do.

And I did assemble the right team, that’s for sure.

As chaotic as it is inside my head, our board has been so great about introductions, laying the foundation for good board meetings, and bringing the kind of leadership our business needs.

On Monday, I’m going to San Jose for my third annual trip to the Quickbooks Connect Conference, which I’ve found to be very enlightening. This year, I’m going with an ear toward connecting with investors.

In a surprise serendipitous moment, I found that a startup incubator in San Francisco will be having a mixer on Wednesday morning. I bought a ticket just to see if some wisdom might rub off on me in the company of these slick, smart Silicon Valley types.

With this business, we’ve stayed focused on being our authentic selves and bringing our earnestness to everything. We’re hard workers. We’re scrappy as hell. We made mistakes early and with our own money so that when we finally went to ask other people for money, we could do it with the confidence that they’re making a good investment.

I hope we’ll find someone who can appreciate our authenticity, even if my slides are a little rugged looking.

NaBloWriMo? Anyways, the first of a month of posts

I saw a talk by Ana at View Source Conference last week that reminded me how important blogging is / could be to me, and I decided that instead of NaNoWriMo, I’d see if I could write one blog post every day for a month. I have tried (and both succeeded, and failed, at different times) this challenge before, but if you know my writing, you know that I think failure is nothing unless we assign meaning to it. Without meaning, the failure is just a thing that didn’t happen the way I hoped it would.

So here we are again, working on the blog (or my other blog, which I may update also).

I had intended to write a long piece about my weird trip to the Louvre (where you can eventually see such sure-fire hits as my “LOUVRE feet,” at right), but instead decided to open with the reason I’m going to be writing more now (hopefully).

I enjoy writing, mostly (unless I’m writing a book, which is actual torture designed to ruin lives), so the idea of blogging regularly is not just familiar, it’s downright friendly!

But also, life happens.

And in this month, life is going to happen a lot. I’m currently in Paris (you know, where The Louvre is), and we’re about to hop on a train back to London, and then Saturday, I’m flying back to Sacramento, then Monday, I’m leaving for San Mateo for the Quickbooks Connect Conference (because small business conferences!!!! wooo!), then, the following week, my friend from Australia (the legendary Belinda Hellyeah!) and I are driving to Joshua Tree for a few days (I’m exhausted just writing that all out).

And then I’m back home from the 18th of November through the 8th of December, and then I’m gone for another week – this time, to Orlando for the Mozilla All Hands.

I want and enjoy a life of travel and adventure, so this is all by design, but I guess I’m just disclaiming to say that probably most of everything I write will be written in transit or under duress.

But it’s best left said, rather than unsaid, however imperfectly. Here we go.

Your opportunity is time, allocated wisely.

In meditation this morning, I asked The Universe to show me the opportunities I needed to make our goals a reality. The Universe’s response* was “Your opportunity is time, allocated wisely.”

This reminded me of a meme I saw four or five years ago:

 

That realization was the catalyst that started me on my quest for optimal time management. Because if Beyoncé could figure out how to become Beyoncé with only 24 hours in every day, then I could certainly figure out how to become Danielle.

Since then, people have asked me things like, “Do you ever sleep?” and “I feel like you’re a rush of activity, but you also seem to have so much leisure time. What?”

Friends, I get 8 – 9 hours of restful sleep every night. I meditate almost daily. I dork around on Facebook for 1 or 2 hours every day. Russ and I have dinner together almost every night, and watch between 3 and 4 hours of television every night. And yet I also lead a small company called Outlaw Soaps, have a great contracting job with Mozilla, and wrote a book (and continue to write them). I go to the gym about 3x per week and hang out with people I love, doing exercises I enjoy.

It’s a good life.

There’s no reason you need to be running around harried.

Here are the fundamental driving principles behind my time management strategy:

1. Manage Your Priorities

I have tried many time management techniques, and really, the biggest and most important time management technique I have found is PRIORITY MANAGEMENT. Because you can optimize every one of your actions, work 30 hours every day, and chase your feet to the bone on a treadmill, but if your actions are working toward a goal you don’t care about, then your time is still wasted.

This is why I created the Goal Workshop as one of my very first pieces of content. It’s that important to me.

When you are clear about your priorities and what is important to you:

  1. You can stay motivated even when stuff gets hard – and stuff will get hard
  2. It’s easier to decide what tasks are of no use (see point #2, below)
  3. It’s easier to identify what tasks are valuable, and make time to prioritize those tasks (see point #3, below)
  4. Articulating your priorities to other people is easier, so if you’re working with other people, they can understand the logic behind your priorities and not even bother you with stuff that isn’t in your priorities

2. Reduce Inefficiency

“Do nothing that is of no use.” – saying I heard somewhere

“80% – 90% of stuff we do doesn’t matter.” – Gary Vaynerchuck

Between these two principles is the answer: Don’t do 80% – 90% of the things that you think you “have to” or “should” do. If it aligns with your priorities and is in the 10% of tasks that will create meaningful progress, then it must be done. Otherwise, don’t do it. Delegate it to someone else and let go of the outcome, because it probably isn’t that important.

3. Actually do the things that need to be done

This is actually the hardest part for me, and I have been trying my darndest to figure out a way to be sure to actually do the things that need to be done. From the beginning of my time management journey, I have been trying to craft systems. The Checklist of Doom was one such attempt. I still do believe in that and am going to be incorporating it into my future time management system, but I am shamed to admit that I don’t use it now.

For now, I just have a bunch of pieces of paper with daily lists on them.

I know. It’s not fancy. There are online tools like Asana I have tried to use, but the tasks build up.

Since most of the tasks are timely, if I don’t finish a task list in 24 hours, I decide what to carry over (what still fits in the 10% of things I need to do) and throw out the rest. There’s no point in doing tasks too late (except taxes). Let them go. It has been proven time and time again that letting shit go (and self-compassion is a big part of this, which I’ll discuss later) is the best way to reduce stress and build enjoyment of life.

My most recent attempt is this daily worksheet:

planner sheet

(click to download)

The best explanation I have come up with so far is this: As long as you are only attempting to do the 10% of tasks that create meaningful progress toward your actual goals, even if you don’t do all of them, you’re still making measurable progress.

Perfection is not the goal here, incremental improvement is.

Assorted other rabble

Once those Big Three Principles guide your time management, you’re doing great. Not only will you be living on purpose, you’ll be making progress toward your measurable goals in a stress-free way.

There are a few other things that you can add to the mix like salt:

  • My friend introduced me to the 1 Minute Rule the other day, and I have been dabbling with implementing it.
  • Delegation: I am really blessed to have capable, competent people around me. If I delegate something to Ruth or Russ or Alyssa, I know it’s going to be done right 99% of the time.
  • Ask for help. People really do want to help you. And yeah, in some cases, you have to ask them, and you feel like you shouldn’t have to ask them… but do you want to be offended, or do you want to get the shit done? It is what it is. Get shit done.

Ok, that’s it! Those are my principles! And now I’m off to conquer the day!

* Yes, I do believe that I can get divinely-inspired messages

Recording the Audiobook of You-Nicorn

Today was a hilarious day. I woke up full of things to do: Super important things. And then I got tired and a little dizzy, and I realized maybe I needed a day off, since mayyyybe I was feeling a little overwhelmed with my new book just being submitted, and my next book’s deadline already looming.

Yeah, I am burnt out.

My rule around when I’m feeling burnt out is that I treat myself like I have the flu. I lay down, watch some mindless inspirational movies, and fix myself a cup of tea.

Because I’m a perpetual motion machine, if I even so much as start reading a book, I’ll dive down a hole and find some way to make that a productive action. I didn’t want to do that, so I decided to force myself to take a break.

In the name of “taking a break,” I was wasting time on Facebook.  I saw that my friend, who has just published her own romance novel, was looking for a recording studio resource. My dear friend Buck, who just released his new album (I have the most incredible friends), responded and said that he knows how to do recording and would happily do it.

Ah ha, I thought! Just what I need on this burnt out day: A NEW PROJECT TO START

No, actually, what I really thought was, “Oh crap! Right! I need to make arrangements to record the audio. But I don’t want to actually find a recording studio or travel to one, or sit around in a studio for 12 hours with a stranger. CRAP! Why did I say I’d do this?” and then I remembered that I actually am excited to work on this, but my overwhelm is telling me that I don’t want to.

But hey, if I was working with a friend, it might not be so bad. And maybe Buck could let me know how to set up a studio in my own home, so I could use my fancy Yeti mic and not bother leaving my haven.

I wrote Buck. He sent me to this golden post. It brilliantly describes how microphones work, and explains that the most important thing with these kind of microphones is containing the echo behind the narrator, not in front of the narrator like one might assume. It suggests using a mattress.

home recording studio kind of
Ah, the glorified pillow fort!

We have a guest bedroom, so I started making plans for how I was going to explain to Russ that I needed to dismantle our guest bedroom so I could make a recording studio in his office (which is in the guest bedroom). After babbling at him for about 20 minutes, he said, “Would the memory foam pads work?”

UM YES.

I had totally forgotten that we basically have piles of sound dampening foam hanging out under our bed in storage. I LOVE IT WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER.

Operation: Home Recording Studio was within my grasp.

I lept up and started dragging around our old memory foam mattresses to make a pillow fort… um… a “recording studio,” grabbed the unfortunately squeaky ancient chair, upended the chest at the bottom of the guest bed, and wedged the memory foam slabs between chairs to make a little horseshoe booth.

HEY! It worked pretty dang well.

I recorded a couple test tracks, which made me realize exactly how frustratingly terribly I read. Just listen to this clip:

The recording quality is acceptable, though, and so I’ve embarked on this probably-totally-doable project of recording my book for release on Audible on the same week as You-Nicorn comes out. Hooray!

Stay tuned for what will undoubtedly be some hilarious stories of studio time. Our dogs have not yet learned that “OMG WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?” means “stop barking, I am recording something important,” so I anticipate some hard conversations with our fluffy animals soon.

The Manuscript Has Been Submitted! – or – The Long Write Home

Writing: it's what I do.It’s late, and I’m tired. But I committed to writing 500 words per day on a public forum, so here I am.

This has been very much the experience of writing YOU-NICORN, and now my newest book, the to-be-named one about how to find a job you love, that suits your personality and passions. Every day for the past week, I have written 1,500 words on the manuscript per day. The only reason I gave myself today off is because – HUZZAH – I sent the manuscript to my publisher.

1,500 words isn’t a lot to a seasoned writer, and it is becoming not-a-lot to me. I’m amazed at how much quicker I write these days, now that I have committed to assembling these mountains of words in a readable order.

The manuscript is good. It’s in its (very) first draft form. I know many people say just to submit a shitty first draft, but my drafts are always legible, with massive holes. And then I send it to the publisher, Happily Ever After Press, and they read it over and let me know both directionally and structurally what improvements I need to make.

But it’s going to be a good and helpful book. I know that already. And that’s what helps me keep going.

It’s hard to find a job you love.

Our lives are so short, and we spend so much of them stuck in jobs that we don’t love.

I remember several years ago, when Russ (my husband) and I were first dating, I thought, “How is it possible I stayed with so many other people for so long, just so I wouldn’t be alone? And all the while, I was pushing off the relationship I was meant to be in, because I was fussing around with these people who were fundamentally just not suited for me.”

By staying in an ill-fitting relationship, I was blocking the relationship of my dreams.

Now, it turns out that Russ was also doing some similar work on his own stuff, so it wouldn’t have been the right time for us anyways, but the point still stands, and I think it really applies very strongly here too:

As long as you’re sitting in a job you don’t like “because you have to,” you’re keeping the door closed for a job of your dreams.

The other day, when I was writing the chapter about cover letters (because they’re so important and also they’re fricken’ difficult to write), I happened to overhear the conversation of the woman next to me. She was offering someone a job, talking with them about the details of compensation, and giving them a deadline on an offer. Could this be a coincidence? I think not!

After her call, I leaned over and asked if she was a recruiter. She affirmed she was. I asked if I could chat with her about cover letters and jobs, since I happened to be writing a book.

She gladly engaged me in some delightful conversation, and in return, I asked her if she had any positions she really needed filling. She gave me the title of VP of Customer Acquisition… and it just so happens that I know of someone who might enjoy this exact job. It’s remote, so they don’t have to go into an office. It’s for a quickly growing company, so it will be fun.

I passed the position on to a couple friends who I thought might be interested, and hey, maybe something will happen, or maybe nothing will happen, but it’s my duty to pursue every opportunity that the universe shoves in my path, and certainly it’s hard to deny that reeked of Universal influence.

If you’re unhappy in your job, take heart. It doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

For now, just stop complaining about your job. Experience gratitude and express gratitude. I don’t care if you’re the sidewalk gum-cleaner, just express gratitude for the job you do currently have, and open yourself up to the possibility that another job is on the horizon. They’re out there waiting for you.