Your Success Isn’t in the Laundry Basket or That Stack of Papers

Cleaning

After traveling for two weeks, I was happily settling into my own bed again when I began thinking about all the many things on my to do list for the next day. My kitten was sick and maybe needed to see the vet. My suitcase needed unpacking. There was an imposing stack of mail on the kitchen counter. I paid bills before I left 2 weeks ago, but new ones could already be late. My email in-box and voice mail are flashing with important messages to return. And of course, after many flights, time zone changes, and contact with lots of people, I was coming down with a cold. My feelings of contentment turned to overwhelm.

I sorted through the list of anxiety-producing thoughts in an effort to prioritize them. If I could just clear the decks tomorrow, get things organized, I’ll feel better. It’s that suitcase and stack of mail. If only the house and my office were cleaner, I’ll feel better. If only I had a day to get my email in-box to zero, I’ll feel better. And most importantly: If I feel better about these things, then I’ll be able to get back to business this week.

Do you ever get into this line of thinking?

I’m certain I’m not the only slightly neurotic perfectionist amongst you. One of the reasons I’ve always been good in the salon, spa, and retail industries is because I have a strong aesthetic. (Hello, aestheticians!) In fact, one of the reasons I was traveling was because someone hired me to help decorate and set up a new space. A book I read about the Enneagram (a personality typing system) explained how some people are more environmentally-oriented than others. If you’re that type, then you immediately notice if a place feels harmonious or not. Moreover, you’re probably the type to make it better, so that others feel good too. Is this resonating with you? We’ve got a gift for creating the perfect ambiance.

The downside however, as there is always a downside to our gifts it seems, is that we don’t feel “right” unless our environment is under control.

As I was restlessly stewing over the conflict of, “If only I could get things clean and organized, I’ll be able to be productive at work tomorrow,” I burst out laughing. Suddenly I realized that I’ve had this same conversation in my head for years. If only, if only, if only…I make myself crazy sometimes. It’s a mental lie to tell myself that I can’t have serenity until I do something. That’s an ego trap. I managed to calm my mind down and shift into a meditative space, noticing the real truth: My serenity is here now and always will be.

I firmly believe that getting your head on straight again through accessing your inner-calm is the best way to begin sorting out your personal and professional priorities.

Then another awareness came over me. I’ve been playing this, “If only I was more organized, I could be more productive,” game for many years. Sometimes I conquer it, but it still begs the question: Is it truly a need, or some kind of perfectionistic procrastination?

As a coach, I’ve observed people wasting years and never getting their business off the ground because there is always a reason not to start or not do the most important money-generating activities. A few common things I notice:

  • Ambitions might be bigger than available resources (not just money, but time as well.)
  • It’s an entrepreneurial trait to compulsively start more projects than one can finish.
  • “Big picture” thinkers chronically underestimate how much time/effort it really takes to get something done.

However, a more insidious dynamic sometimes lurks underneath: Avoidance. And where there’s avoidance, you’ll often find its best friend, Fear.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes a good trait, such as being “organized” or “detailed” can mask a more negative issue, such as fear of failure? This is where perfectionistic procrastination gets you. By spending too much time getting prepared or working on unimportant details, you get to postpone facing the tasks that intimidate you. It’s like appeasing the devil’s appetite with angel food cake. You can be “good,” and work very hard and put in long hours at “getting organized,” but if you’re secretly avoiding sales, management, or some other task that puts you in front of the public (instead of the back room) you might be setting yourself up for failure.

So which would you rather have: an organized business that generates little or no income, or one that is bringing in enough money that you can afford to hire help or take some time off later?

Don’t hide behind that disorganized file cabinet or laundry basket!

The next morning, I stayed amused when I had to fish a few things out of my suitcase, but left the dirty clothes inside. I plucked out checks and urgent bills from the mail, but left the rest in a pile. Then I got on with business. I returned my calls, scheduled appointments, collected income, paid bills, completed my corporate tax returns, and nursed my kitten and myself back to health. I had a super-productive week! The feeling of completion on the urgent things is satisfying. Now, I’m smiling as I’m writing this to you on a Saturday afternoon. Doing my laundry and housekeeping seems so deliciously mindless. Since business is caught up, I feel truly relaxed–quite the opposite of my thinking when I first got home!

Here are some coaching questions for you:

  1. What menial task(s) do you let get in the way of money-generating (or otherwise crucial) ones?
  2. Why are you wanting to do the least important thing first?
  3. What is one important task you can get done fairly quickly and that will also give you a sense of real accomplishment? (Build momentum by doing it!)

Remember, the world won’t stop just because you don’t have clean underwear. Priorities before panties! Besides, you can always buy some more, or go “commando.” Have a great weekend, everyone!

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About the Author

Jaya Savannah - Chief Inspiration Officer. Strategy Coach for Holistic Businesses. Trainer, speaker, and writer. Spiritually aware, yet street smart. Elephant lover.