A few weeks ago I (Shelby) wrote about how while there are no silver bullets in life, for my family, margin was the closest thing that we found to one.
This next tip is definitely a close second.
Having margin in your schedule to think, dream, rest, adjust, and plan is an incredible gift. But if your only productivity super power is designing ways to pad your schedule with margin, you might find yourself with lots of time to strategize, but not a lot of fruit to show for it.
Life may still feel like it’s “getting in the way.”
Perhaps you made that space in your schedule for launching the business (or attending that class, or building that addition, or tackling that debt) that will revolutionize your family’s future, but today still feels like the homefront is in an unnecessary state of survival mode. You feel like every time you turn around, something is undone, overdue, or undermanaged. You’re high on dreams, clear on goals, but low on the mental organization necessary to execute because your environment feels chaotic.
If this describes you, take heart! You can begin to free up even more (!!) mental bandwidth by leaning in to your basic responsibilities.
The Stress of Procrastination Clutters Your Brain
Avoiding or procrastinating basic responsibilities is a common ailment. The source of this resistance can be so many things including our childhoods, our personalities, and our fallen human nature.
But harboring resistance to the core responsibilities on our plates creates so much mental and environmental background noise that it makes it nearly impossible to truly focus on the things that matter most. It also hampers growth.
This is because a strong life grows from the inside out. If your core responsibilities are neglected, anything you build has a shaky foundation. All of your hard-won margin begins to be eaten up in putting out fires, patching up holes, and recovering lost ground.
Think about it:
If you build a strong running habit but neglect the basic responsibility of eating on a regular basis, you start to throw your blood sugar out of whack. Your blood sugar roller coaster soon begins to jack with your circadian rhythm, and before you know it, getting up at 6am to run becomes an impossibility.
If you set income goals for a five-figure month, but you neglect the basic responsibility of answering your team’s questions on a regular basis, you start to severely outpace your company’s systems. You might land an amazing deal / client / collab, but if your team doesn’t have what they need to properly steward the incredible new opportunity, you could easily end up worse off than before.
If you show up for personal goals but neglect the basic responsibility of responding with intention to your children, their lack of boundaries and chaotic attempts to meet their own needs begin to crowd out your progress with so much persistence that you begin to see them as the problem. The heart you had for personal growth gets lost in a victim mentality.
In the back of your mind, you know these things, even if you’re not actively considering them. The stress that results from avoiding or procrastinating basic responsibilities such as self care, home management, and team leadership is stress that runs like a computer program in the background, eating up mental bandwidth and margin at alarming rates.
Pretty soon, the consequences that come from procrastinating the basics overcome the advantages of instant gratification. Overwhelm settles in. Life seems to have “gotten in the way” of growth again.
Since basic responsibilities are, well, basic responsibilities, the only thing to be done in this instance is to fully lean in.
Productivity Super Power #2: Acceptance
So if we describe margin-making as Productivity Super Power #1, we could describe acceptance as Super Power #2.
When it comes to consistently getting things done, so many of the answers lie in having the right mindset.
We can (and should) make those braindumped lists, highlighting the essentials and then delegating and purging whatever we can. But at the end of the day, no matter how creatively we minimize our load, we still have those essentials to tend.
Here’s an example of my short list of essentials:
- communion with the Lord
- managing self care
- communion with my husband
- communion with my children
- keeping my home
- teaching my children
- growing Evergreen Planner
- supporting my local church
- communion with other Christians
- being a voice for the oppressed
I can (and should) find ways to delegate aspects of these essentials. I can hire someone to clean my house, coach me in health, or handle basic customer service inquiries. I can (and should) also find ways to keep these essentials trimmed and focused. I can replace going through the motions of Bible reading with studying out an issue in Scripture that is causing conflict. I can replace obsession over homeschool schedules with a robust daily rhythm of reading aloud to my kids. I can stop over-complicating dietary changes and simply add in a daily salad or green shake.
But with all of these clever tweaks for outsourcing and essentializing, I still have basic responsibilities that take forethought, effort, and follow-through.
I still need to make space to pray, eat, date my husband, shower, sit with my baby, do the dishes, fold the laundry, schedule the appointment, clean out the carport, make the dinner for a grieving family, listen to hurting friend, build out the sales funnel, show up for the webinar, write the email, tidy the office, make the trip, show up on time, etc., etc., etc.
With all my care to avoid useless busy-ness, the essentials still remain, and my life stays full.
The most detrimental thing I can do in the face of this is to avoid, procrastinate, or resent my basic responsibilities. Instead, I must lean into them with a heart of acceptance.
Diligence Flows Out of You
When you hear the word “diligence,” what is your inner response?
In the early days of my productivity journey, the word “diligence” invoked feelings of unending hustle. I thought that diligent people mustered up fresh energy to do every little thing on their lists. Because I personally felt that the basics (such as getting ready in the morning, making meals, cleaning the house, responding to a misbehaving child, writing content, conducting an interview, packing for a trip, etc., etc.) were each these projects that needed to be tackled, I was absolutely dazzled (and pretty intimidated) by the people in my life who seemed to move through their responsibilities effortlessly.
But as I studied the most diligent people in my life, I began to observe something.
They accepted their basic responsibilities as… well… basic.
They didn’t have to muster up fresh energy for each little thing because, for them, accomplishing their basic responsibilities was as mentally simple, automated, and non-negotiable as walking or brushing their teeth.
Diligence flowed out of them.
When I began to accept my basic responsibilities for what they were and leaned into them, the overwhelm began to fade.
How to Build Diligence Into Your Life
At the beginning of my productivity journey, focusing on my basic responsibilities took up all of my time. I was really “adulting” for the first time in so many different areas of life that it was pretty mentally taxing. But I persevered, beginning to realize that literally any skill or habit could become as second nature to me as checking my social media notifications or putting on shoes before heading to town.
Pretty soon, I didn’t have to convince myself to make my bed first thing in the morning. I had slept in the bed, and having a made bed set the stage for peace and productivity in that room, so I accepted that making the bed was just basic to my day. With that inner acceptance in place, there was no resistance when I started in toward making my bed (even though there were plenty of other things that could vie for that three minutes of my time). Once making my bed became muscle memory, I anchored it to happen before I even opened my door and left my bedroom first thing in the morning, and it soon became as automatic as eating breakfast.
After I mastered making my bed, I turned toward the kitchen. I accepted that eating meant that washing dishes, wiping countertops, and sweeping floors were a basic element in my lifestyle. I stopped asking myself if I were too tired to clean the kitchen before bed and started to just see it as part of what happens in the evening. Soon, the motions of getting the kitchen clean also became muscle memory, and I anchored it to happen before I brushed my teeth, filled up my waterbottle, and got into my pajamas. It soon became as automatic as getting under the covers at night.
These two automated habits (making my bed and cleaning my kitchen) are on such autopilot in my life that I can use the time it takes for me to do either one as a mental opportunity to work through complex problems, develop solutions, write content, imagine important conversations, and prioritize my next steps.
But that freed up mental bandwidth for growth could only come after a season of acceptance and leaning in. It’s a process, but it’s a process that’s worth every single second.
By naming, accepting, and leaning into your basic responsibilities, you can set the stage to create solid habits in every area of life. You can take the guesswork, decision-fatigue, and overwhelm out of the core structures of your life. You can become faithful in little so that you’ve exercised the muscles needed to grow your influence.
You are firming up the solid foundation you need to begin stacking your efforts with confidence as you reach for your biggest dreams.