The Simple Experiment I’m Most Excited to Complete

The Simple Experiment I'm Most Excited to Complete

If you remember, this year of slow living experiments stemmed from anxiety I had about how much work I knew was ahead of me. Work I was excited to do, yes. But still, work that would require my balance to tilt in a way where I would be doing a lot more working than living. And I wasn’t excited about that. I wasn’t excited because I’d come off three years in startup life, where I can’t even remember how I found time to maintain this blog, let alone spend time with family or friends. I wasn’t excited because I then hustled so much in my first six months of being self-employed that I suffered from major burnout. I wasn’t excited because I’d learned what really mattered to me—and hustling wasn’t part of that equation.

When you’re not excited about something but know you have to do it anyway, it can have a serious impact on your mental health. In my case, it was adding to my anxiety and taking it to a level where I couldn’t function properly. So, I knew this experiment was coming: the slow work experiment. In fact, I had originally planned on doing it in April, but that’s when I decided to tackle the bigger issue instead. I started going to therapy. I lowered my anxiety. I worked on myself. I consider this the best investment I’ve ever made because it provided me with tools I might never have had otherwise. It has also given me an incredible amount of clarity about who I am and what I want, as well as how I want to achieve it.

Now, it’s time for the slow work experiment.

Fortunately, I am excited to say this experiment is going to look a lot different than I had originally expected it to. I thought I would be focusing on productivity experiments, and making sure I was taking lots of breaks and days off, but I don’t think I need much help in that department. Am I doing things perfectly? I’m not saying that either. I could certainly use a little help setting up new systems and staying organized. But nobody needs to remind me to take breaks or take time off. In fact, I have two trips this month (for Thanksgiving and FinCon) and I plan on doing a whole lot of nothing while I’m away on both. (Other than speaking at FinCon! If you’re coming, I’m talking about how to write “Rockstar content” on Thursday morning.)

Instead, the only “experiment” I’ll be doing this month is an extension of something I started doing last month: tracking how many hours I’m working. The hours themselves don’t mean much, but my goal is to see if I’m working on the projects I claim are my highest priorities. It’s like tracking your spending and seeing if your money is actually going towards what you value most. I want to make sure I’m putting my energy into work that matters.

I’m also going to spend some time outlining the projects I want to complete and setting realistic expectations of when I can do it all. I’m not unique in that I often think I can do a lot more than is possible, and either feel frustrated by the lack of time or disappointed in myself, as a result. Having goals and dreams is a good thing, so I’m not going to limit the possibilities of what I can do. I just want to be realistic about when I can do it.

Finally, I get a lot of questions about how I’ve grown this blog, built an audience, etc. I’ve given short responses in email and on social media, but I thought it might be time to turn my answers into a blog post or two. Long before I ever embraced minimalism or slow living in my personal life, I’ve always been very intentional with this blog. More than anything, I have intentionally ignored the advice that’s out there re: how to be “successful” at this and always done things in a way that felt good to me. If you’re interested, I would love to share some of the rules and boundaries I’ve created for myself and stuck to since the beginning. (Trust me when I say it has been a slow process, but slow growth feels better to me—and is so much more manageable.)

Experiment #8: Slow Work

  • track how many hours I work every day (and how many per project)
  • set realistic expectations of what I can get done (with timelines)
  • explore other creative outlets (this could be fun – stay tuned!)
  • share how I slowly grew my blog (incl. dollars + blog stats)
  • share plans for what’s next :)

One thing I can tell you right now is I have no anxiety about the work that’s ahead of me. It almost felt as though the anxiety about work completely disappeared after I quit freelancing. Managing multiple clients with multiple deadlines (and multiple late payments) was taking up a lot of energy and time. And then it was just gone, and the energy and time came back and flooded me. It has felt incredible.

Carrie and I talked about this on the podcast in August, but when you say no to one thing, you’re saying yes to something else. By saying no to freelance work, I’ve said yes to myself. I’ve said yes to this blog. I’ve said yes to my ideas. And I’ve said yes to you. Because the projects I can work on now are for you. Not clients. You. And in doing them together, I think we can create something pretty amazing.

Is there anything you’d like me to write about this month?

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  • “When you’re not excited about something but know you have to do it anyway, it can have a serious impact on your mental health.” Ugh, well, that’s a punch in the gut. That basically sums up my job.
    I’m very interested to hear about how you grew the blog. I’ve often daydreamed of starting one, but never actually take any steps towards it as I am unsure I have anything of interest to say.
    It’s wonderful that so much of your anxiety has lifted!

    • If I could suggest anything it would be to write 3-5 posts for yourself (just in a Word or Google Doc) and see if you actually like writing. People put a lot of pressure on themselves even before they get started. Just write and make sure you enjoy that. :)

      • Thanks for the suggestion! I’ve recently started journaling, it’s more like brain-dump sort of stuff, but it has sort of highlighted some areas I would like to explore further – maybe that’s a good place to start.

        • YES! It absolutely is. Honestly, I’ve only gotten better about journaling in 2017 but it’s been so helpful with both my personal life and with this blog/my work. Enjoy it. :)

  • I know exactly what you mean regarding anxiety and I feel like I am there now. I have set myself a mission to go self-employed through my blog in September, but it hasn’t gone to plan because my littlest girl didn’t settle in the nursery and my anxiety levels have tripled. I am going to try and track my time too and set more realistic goals. Its the unrealistic goals that create lots of my anxiety! Glad you’re feeling less anxious and good luck with your plans x

    • You’re so right about the unrealistic goals only adding to our anxiety, Hannah. Good luck setting some that are more realistic, including when you can go out on your own. There are a lot of calculated risks in that, so just do it when there are more positives than negatives and it actually feels ok. (You’ll still feel nervous, btw. I felt nervous for the first 6-7 months, at least.)

  • Hi Cait :)

    There’s actually something I’ve always wondered about your blogging journey and would be interested in knowing more about: have you ever gone through periods where you just didn’t feel like writing about your personal life here? I feel like there can be both benefits and drawbacks to talking about one’s own life in an honest way on a public forum, and it’s amazing to me that you’ve been so consistent over the years, both in terms of posting regularly and in terms of sharing on pretty personal topics. Do you pretty much always feel comfortable and positive about sharing in this space, or do you go through phases where you have to push yourself to keep writing about personal topics?

    Also, hooray for working on ourselves and taking care of ourselves! :)

    • That’s a great question! To be honest, I’ve always been comfortable writing about my personal life. But that’s exactly why I started this blog: to document a journey. If anything, I have a more difficult time when I try to switch over and write something that’s more of a how-to, because it doesn’t come as naturally to me in *this* space (I can do it for work, but this blog has always been more personal). I’ll note that I used to write anonymously. When I was maxed out, I didn’t want anyone in my real life to find my blog and figure out how much debt I had. But as I started getting out of debt and then making more changes, it felt easier to open up to family/friends. There were also times when writing personal stuff was harder: specifically, when I found out my parents were getting divorced. So what felt worse was trying to write about my life without being ready to share what was *really* going on. It helps that I have readers who support whatever is going on! And even though being personal opens you up to a different kind of criticism, I can fall back on the advice of Brené Brown: if the naysayers aren’t in the arena being as open and vulnerable as I am, their opinion of me doesn’t matter.

      • Cait, I have been reading you for so long I usually can tell something is wrong before you say anything. I may not know or need to know the exact details but when you are in pain it comes through crystal clear in your writing. On those days it can be hard to feel your pain and not be able to help you when you have helped me so much.

  • “Managing multiple clients with multiple deadlines (and multiple late payments) was taking up a lot of energy and time. And then it was just gone, and the energy and time came back and flooded me. It has felt incredible.”
    This almost made me cry. I have a second small job that takes up alot of energy and time and I need that energy and time back for the things that are important. Thank you.

  • Good for you for taking on this experiment and saying no to things. I can be really hard sometimes, but so necessary!
    I would love to read more about how you’ve grown your blog. I find those types of posts incredibly interesting (but I might just be a super nerd).

    • Ha, not nerdy at all. I have a feeling it’ll be a longer post but I’ll see if I can finish it for this coming Monday. :)

  • Looking forward to the upcoming posts Cait and yeah to anxiety letting up :) “When you’re not excited about something but know you have to do it anyway, it can have a serious impact on your mental health.” – massive head nodding to this statement! I tend to underestimate the time that things can take and feel the anxiety building up over it. Trying to be more realistic about things especially when there are other things going on in the background that rob my time and my oh so precious energy. Enjoy your trips :)

    • It seems to be a pretty normal practice for most of us: overestimating how much we can do while underestimating how much time it all takes. It’s good to have the ambition, but being realistic can help us feel more satisfied with the final outcome. Something to continue to try and put in practice. :)

  • Gah! I am so excited about this experiment! In particular, I’d curious to see where your work hours end up and how that aligns with your priorities. I have found that I spend a lot of time thinking about my blog and what I want to do with it, but much less time actually doing the things that would get it to where I want it to be. What a wonderful irony that is. Who knows – maybe you’ll find out your work hours align perfectly with your priorities! How great would that be?!

    • Yea, I’m REALLY curious about the time tracking. In September, I found I worked fewer hours than I thought I did, which pushed me to work a bit more and get back into a better routine. I have no idea what to expect of October, but my plan is to check-in with myself weekly and continually tweak what I’m doing.

  • So glad the anxiety has eased up! It sure can be defeating. Therapy is the best investment! Looking forward to reading more how you have grown your blog.

  • I want so badly to start a blog – just not sure how to actually start. I’m not super tech savy but I do feel I have a lot to share. I want to share about my life and how many things I’ve learned I feel others can benefit from. I love to give advice and help someone cope or deal with life issues. I would love to have someone walk me through this – kind of a Blogging for Dummies type of thing.

    • Ahhh, ok. I’ll keep that in mind, Marsha – the tutorial aspect. What I would say for now is this: just start writing. Create a Word doc or a Google doc and write. Once you have 3 or 5 posts drafted, start brainstorming a list of other posts you think you could write. If you enjoy all of that, then it just might be time to start that blog. :)

  • Hey Cait, I am excited to hear the details of your blogging journey and how you’ve made yourself such a success. I am also very happy to hear that you are not feeling any anxiety about this experiment. It shows that you have grown personally and are moving in the right direction, eh? Good luck with your experiment this month and I hope you have a great relaxing fun time on both your trips!

    • Thanks, Jena! The first is to Edmonton to spend Thanksgiving with my brother (mom and sister are coming too). The second is to Dallas for FinCon. Should be a great month. :)

  • Great post, Cait! Would love to hear your blogging tips in a post :). I definitely agree with you about slow growth in the digital world – I also think it can be more meaningful and build stronger connections with readers.

  • I wonder how the whole “10,000 hours to become an expert” thing works with goal setting. Seems like a cache-22 where if you have invested a bunch of time to get really good at goal setting then that’s a bunch of time you’re not executing. Luckily, it seems like finding a good balance where you’re happy with your goal progress doesn’t require being an expert — and technically doesn’t require getting anything done at all (well unless someone is depending on you). Your mention that you don’t have anxiety about work ahead of you is an awesome place to be!

    • That’s an interesting question. Personally, I’d apply the same way those 10,000 hours have affected the way I budget to the way I set goals. I don’t need to track things daily anymore, but I look at things monthly to make sure I’m on the track I want to be on. Over time, it requires less work and becomes more intuitive.

  • Hey Cait,

    Having read your blog for many moons now and seeing how you are getting all set to launch your first book, I was wondering:

    (1) Did you find writing your book much different than writing your blog posts, other than the amount of writing involved to complete the task. In other words, did it take a different type of writing discipline and approach in each case?

    (2) When your book launches, will you be going on a promotional book tour?

    (3) Do you see your slow work approach being useful in writing your next book, assuming that you are so inclined and motivated in the future to keep writing books as well as blogging?

    Just wondering … :-)
    Stay well and happy, my friend.

    • Such good questions, Rob! I’m going to work on a post about all I lined from the book writing process, but to answer the first question, YES it was very different from writing blog posts. With a blog post, you present and solve a problem in 1,500 words or less. With the book, I couldn’t start to solve the problem until around word 50,000 haha.

      I do plan on doing a speaking tour next year! And I’d love to write more books. :)

  • Hi Cait
    I was introduced to the idea of ‘tilting’ in the book Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary. I like that you mention it in your post.

    It is a really good thing that you started to deal with your anxiety in April because I do not think you could of handled both the growing anxiety and the loss of the girls in May. That is why it is important to ‘Take care of yourself’ because we really do not know what opportunities or challenges await us in the future. I think of life as a triathlon with some dragons and sharks thrown in just for fun.

    I also would love to hear about the rules and boundaries that you have set for yourself in this blog.

    • You’re definitely right about the fact that therapy helped me deal with losing the girls. It’s interesting how things like that work, right? You obviously can’t plan for when bad stuff will happen, but I’m grateful I had an extra person who had tools for me in my corner.

  • Setting boundaries in work is something I did very recently, and it’s been so beneficial for my mental health. I own an online shop for my brand, as well as a brick and mortar store, and I found myself working seven days a week for 60+ hours and burning myself out. Now I give myself every Sunday and Monday off and use Tuesday as a work from home day, leaving me time to be in the shop Wed-Sat. I also turned off notifications on my phone, knowing I will look at my email in the mornings on work days. It’s been so freeing. I’m no longer frazzled and pulled in too many directions by silly tasks that were not getting me any closer to my shop goals. But now that I have two days off I have to figure out what I want to do for fun. lol. Sometimes that’s hard because I haven’t been able to think about myself for so long.

  • Not that you don’t inspire me with everything you do, but I love your money posts the best. You’re so open and honest with your figures! You’re shown me loving money is cool (and oh how I do). It’s nice to have that love and respect in common with someone! I’m also in awe of your slow year and hadn’t realized until this moment how much I’d followed your lead and, more importantly, how much (insert italics here) I’d needed it.
    You’re such an inspiration, so strong and so sweet! Your wholesome, natural persona shines right through and that is something else I hadn’t realized was healing me. So thank you from the bottom of my heart- ‘just’ for being you!

  • I love the idea of tracking how you are doing the work. Seeing what you value there must also be a great learning tool to help you understand what sort of work you should be taking on. May the self-knowledge grow abundantly!