Do you constantly find yourself wishing you had more hours in the day?
Do you feel like you have very little extra time to spend with family and friends?
Are you running your own business, but feel like your business is actually running you?
What if you stopped letting your business dictate your lifestyle, and instead put a plan in place to put your life first? To put your family first? To stop focusing on when the next chunk of money might come in, and instead built a plan that feels more sustainable?
When I set out on my entrepreneurial journey in 2007, it was all sunshine and rainbows. I wore sweatpants every day. I had some money saved up that felt like a nice cushion. I even had a business idea that took off (IWearYourShirt).
But then, an unfortunate chain of events occurred:
- I went from working 9-5 to 9-9
- I never had weekends off
- I never felt like I could take a break
- I was stressed to the max
- I gained weight
- I had more expenses than I’d ever had before
- I never had time for friends and family
My life was completely out of balance. To say the rainbows and sunshine disappeared would be an understatement.
The reason everything was out of balance was that I put my business first. I didn’t define the type of lifestyle I wanted. I just assumed a great life would come with a thriving business.
Boy oh boy, was I wrong!
When you don’t start with a plan to control your own business, it will control you.
I know what it’s like to start your own business and feel completely out of control. Like you don’t control your time, your income, or even your decisions (to some degree).
My wife, Caroline, has felt the same way.
(Caroline in her natural habitat.)
In 2014, when Caroline started Made Vibrant, it was a generic graphic design company. Not generic in the way it looked or was represented (obviously, Caroline is amazing), but in that she didn’t have a core offering or a concrete plan for how she should run her business.
Through some hard conversations, we were able to figure out:
- The hours that Caroline actually wanted to be working.
- What work she really wanted to be doing.
- What her prices and product offerings should be.
- What bare-bones expenses she had to cover in her business.
When we got to the other side of those conversations, we realized something crazy: she’d been overworking herself to reach someone else’s idea of success. She didn’t have to work nearly as hard as she thought she did. She’d been doing the same things I had been doing with IWearYourShirt, and we’d both gotten ourselves out of alignment. All because we’d put our business goals ahead of our life goals.
The idea of a 40-hour work week is ingrained in us, but if you work for yourself, it’s time for a history lesson
We believe that the way things have always been done is the way things have to be done. But it’s not true. The 40-hour work week is actually the result of labor laws passed in the 1940s. Prior to that, assembly-line workers often put in 100 hours per week (or more!) at their jobs, and union reps decided that was ridiculous. They fought long and hard to mandate fewer working hours, and they succeeded…kind of. Fast-forward to 2017, and far too many entrepreneurs are back to putting in 100-hour workweeks and calling it “hustle.” It’s not hustle. It’s outdated. And if you’ve ever read The 4-Hour Workweek, you might agree that even 40 hours is too much these days.
It’s never been easier or faster to start your own business, so why are we still adhering to a century-old way of thinking about running our businesses?
I’d like to give you four action steps to shift your thinking from living to work, to working to live.
Action Step #1: Identify your life metrics and schedule them before work
Before we design a business around the life you want, we have to get really specific about what that life looks like.
Questions to ask to start identifying your ideal life:
- How many hours a week do you *really* want to be working?
- What headaches are you tired of re-living over and over?
- What do you never make time for that you’re tired of neglecting?
- What are you always wishing you had more of in your days?
- What are the things you value most?
- What activities bring you the most joy and peace?
I want to challenge you to break down everything you know or expect from “normal” work hours and work days. Remember: YOU get to make the rules.
Here’s an example of how my wife and I break the 9-5 norms and schedule our weeks around our ideal life metrics:
- We see movies in the middle of the week, usually on Mondays
- #FreeYourMindFridays (no work on Fridays. Instead, we get outside and explore.)
- Summer sabbatical (taking 4-6 weeks completely off work )
- We prioritize exercise and white-space time (time doing nothing)
- Taking off the entire month of December
- No calls on Mondays or Fridays
We wrote down the things we wanted and then we worked to have them fit into our lives. It didn’t happen overnight, but without actually committing to making changes, it never would have happened.
ACTION ITEM: I don’t want you to read this article and not work toward making a positive change. It’s time to write down your life non-negotiables and nice-to-haves. Then, up next you’ll learn how to block off time on your weekly calendar, starting with your life (FIRST!).
As an example week, my wife Caroline wrote down these life metrics:
- Non-negotiable: Work out at least three times a week
- Non-negotiable: Time to create in my studio
- Nice-to-have: Daily time for white space (aka “recess”)
- Nice-to-have: Dedicated time for “adulting” (aka “life”)
Then, she blocked them off FIRST on her calendar:
After her life was scheduled, she THEN added her work blocks to her calendar:
You’ll notice her work hours add up to a 26-hour workweek. Sorry Tim Ferriss, we’re go-getters around here. Joking aside, this is a fairly standard workweek Caroline. Yes, it does change from time to time, just as life changes. But the point is to set the intention each week to focus on LIFE first, then work.
Action Step #2: Break your life metrics down into measurable goals
The way we measure things matters. What we measure = the way we define success.
Are you measuring only money? If you are, you’re conditioning your mind and heart to live or die based on your bank account. Spoiler alert: this is a recipe for never being satisfied.
Instead of thinking about standard business metrics first, how about thinking of life metrics like these:
- Number of hours you actually work?
- Date nights you have with your spouse?
- Trips you take?
- Hobbies you pick up?
- Saturdays you spend away from a screen?
- Getting married on a random Tuesday?
- Fitness goals?
Let’s bring my wife back into the mix and and show you how she created a practical exercise to write out her life metrics and then reflect on them.
Here’s the practical life metrics chart you can use:
Here’s Caroline’s life metrics chart filled in (honestly, which is important!):
Alrighty, this is all well and good. Now that we know what a good life looks like (our life metrics), and how to measure it, let’s talk about MONEY. More specifically: Using money as a TOOL.
Action Step #3: Come up with your “MMM” Number (Minimum Monthly Magic Number)
You may feel the financial crunch of money on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. My wife and I felt this exact same way a few years ago. Until we realized we needed a Minimum Monthly Magic (MMM) number.
How do you define your MMM number?
Identify the LEAST amount of money you need to get your Life Metrics where you want them.
There are two questions that can really help during the MMM number discovery process:
- How much money are you REALLY spending right now?
- Where are you willing to make SACRIFICES to lower that number?
Before I give you the MMM number formula we’ve created, I want to hit home an important point: your current choices about money and life haven’t gotten you where you want to be yet, have they? So, if you aren’t willing to make a change, how do you ever expect to get the things you actually want? Change is uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary.
Here is our MMM number formula:
Monthly living expenses
+ Monthly business expenses
+ Paying off debt
+ Peace of mind cushion
= Your MMM number
I’m bringing Caroline back into the mix, because we’ve been using her as a guinea pig, so why stop now??
As you can see, Caroline’s MMM number was $3,000. That number may be high or low for you. The number is only important as a measuring stick to achieving the life you actually want. The MMM number will change over time, and may change within the next few months. That’s okay!
One of the major problems we encountered when we were struggling financially was that it was hard to see how much money we were actually spending on a monthly basis. Banks and credit cards show you a list of transactions, but a list can be very difficult to apply to your entire monthly financial situation (aka budget).
If you want some further reading on how we found thousands of extra dollars every year that we could save by making small sacrifices, read my getting out of debt article. The tip about setting a weekly budget meeting (in that article) may also be extremely helpful for you, as it has been for us.
Action Step #4: Break down the exact changes you need to make in your life and business
Where are you NOW vs where you WANT to be? What’s the gap? How do you make up the gap? Example: $3,000 (your ideal MMM) – $1,000 (current MMM) = $2,000 (MMM gap)
We have three strategies you can use to make up the MMM gap:
Strategy #1 Your product: Charge more per hour, raise prices, look for efficiencies. This is the place you should ABSOLUTELY start. It may not be the sexy and exciting place to start, but it doesn’t require reinventing any wheels. It requires only being willing to make your existing wheel(s) more efficient.
Strategy #2 Your marketing: Get more projects, more customers, new audiences. If you feel your product is on-point, then it may be time for marketing. Marketing tip #1: Marketing is not one tweet, one Facebook post, or one email. Marketing looks a lot like continual effort. Marketing tip #2: Specialize/narrow your offering, and you’ll actually create more opportunities (ex: don’t call yourself a designer, call yourself a designer who focuses on branding).
Strategy #3 New revenue streams. This is the shiny object in the mix. If you’ve exhausted your existing product(s) and your existing marketing for those product(s), it may be time to create/offer something new.
Here’s a handy-dandy decision tree to help you decide which strategy you should work on to help you make up your MMM gap.
Everyone always wants to START with “new revenue stream,” but that’s the hardest thing. You’re starting from scratch.
Caroline created this chart to help figure out exactly how to fill the MMM gap using the three strategies and then applying specific tactics to make those strategies actually happen.
Here’s a look at the strategies, or the overarching structure she would use to reach her goals:
And then here’s a look at the tactics that she would use to implement those strategies:
I won’t bore you with the long-winded story of how it all worked out, but let’s just say that Caroline was able to go from making ~$1,000 per month to over $3,000 per month in just six months using these exact strategies and tactics. Yes, that is absolutely all the time it took for her to hit her MMM number. And spoiler alert: since that time (two years ago), Caroline has tripled her annual revenue!
Remember your business is the means to get the LIFE you want. Life metrics are the goal, business metrics are how you get there.
Having the life you want, and escaping the 40-hour work week, isn’t going to happen by accident.
If you’re completely happy with your life and business, then you can move on from this article and continue working to live.
But if you’re not happy with your life and business, it’s time to take action. It’s time to look through the four action steps and put in the work I’ve outlined here.
This isn’t a get-rich-quick solution. You will have to make sacrifices You will have to put in some hard work. If you aren’t willing to break your bad habits you’ve picked up over the years, how can you ever expect anything to change?
Embrace short-term pain for long term gain.
The best way to find hidden money you can save right now is to list out EVERY expense you have (line by line) in one spreadsheet. Once you have that list, you’ll find places where you can make sacrifices.
Getting the life you want typically has to do with money and time. Let’s look at both and how you can make sacrifices with each.
Money: Here’s what we found when we made a list of all our expenses and took a hard look at trimming back (in the short term):
- Eating less meals out: saved us $1,000/month
- Calling credit card companies to reduce monthly APR: saved us $400/month
- Not doing any unnecessary shopping: saved us $300/month
- Reducing our phone bill by calling AT&T: saved us $100/month
- Cutting cable: saved us $100/month
- Stopping business product subscriptions: saved us $250/month
- TOTAL SAVINGS: $2,150* every month!
*Your number may not be close to this, or it may be higher. No matter what, find YOUR amount of money you can save each month by making a few sacrifices.
Time: Here’s how we found more hours we could spend enjoying our lives (or using for Action Step #4 above):
- Limiting social media to twice per day: saved us 3 hours
- Limiting Netflix to two hours at night: saved us 2 hours
- Limiting time reading articles/emails: saved us 1 hour
- Limiting time spent using iPhone: saved us 1 hour
- TOTAL SAVINGS: 8 hours PER DAY!*
*That’s an extra 240 hours each month! These numbers might shock you and they shocked us too. Start keeping track of your time spent in a journal or through an app like RescueTime.
Did you catch that? We literally save ourselves an entire 40-hour work week just in “wasted” hours. We could each work an extra full-time job with those hours! (Or not. That’s the whole point.)
People don’t focus on this stuff enough (I know we didn’t!). As business owners, we’re always telling people what’s possible, but we often forget to share what it takes to get there. We had to give up A LOT in the short-term to experience the life that we now have.
What are you willing to trade to get the life you want?
These aren’t forever changes. The things you sacrifice now are simply a way for you to accelerate your journey toward having the life and business you want.
The problem is that so many people don’t want to give things up, so they settle for tiny pieces of the life they want in the present instead of buckling down and making sacrifices in the short term to experience the WHOLE of the life they want in the longer term.
As a final note, I really want to distinguish between the short-term pain of budgeting and sacrificing to achieve your ideal lifestyle (which I advocate), and the so-called short-term pain of working crazy hours now so you can become a millionaire in a few years (which I have done, and do NOT advocate). Not all sacrifices are the same. Your life and time are as important right now as they will be when/if you reach some random IPO goal in the future, so please consider your whole life when making decisions about where to spend your time and money.
We’ve given you the exercises. We’ve talked about the theory of Working To Live. But now it’s up to you.
Are you going to put in the time it takes to have the life you dream about?
Are you going to embrace the short-term pain to achieve the long-term gain?
If you’re working your ass off right now and wondering when you’ll finally be able to come up for air, let me leave you with this one question:
What is it all for, anyway?
Honestly? What’s the point of all the blood, sweat, and tears — the launches, the clients, the hustle, the risks — if not to architect a life filled with all the things you’ve always wanted?
Did you enjoy learning the Working to Live framework?
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