Musings, Thoughts & News

The Cult of Busy

In my pursuit of better business practices and strategies I listen to several podcasts put out by people who are have the success that I’m seeking. Lindsay Teague Moreno wrote a book I like, called “Getting Noticed” (it’s about marketing strategies), so I started listening to her podcast “Boss Up”. Is it trite to say I like her because she’s real and really funny? She starts her podcast out with what wine she’s drinking while she does the podcast and ends it with a quip like, “Today’s podcast is brought to you by all the excuses you’ve given to get out of a playdate with a kid whose mom is just NOT your people, Cheers!” She’s also the head of a massive organization and has several established streams of income in addition to a really well polished and cohesive brand. There are a lot of things to learn from her but today I want to focus on one of the points she brought up in a podcast recently: Glorifying Busy.

It has been said about me, at times, that my full name is Sabrina Ann Busy Ortolano. I have millions of projects to get to (which means it can be hard to think about anything else when I’m home) and generally no less than 3 jobs or businesses I’m juggling at any given time. For example, right now, I’m doing the following: massage/bodywork, doula work, placenta encapsulation, working a part time gig for the city of Beverly Hills, and am a part time teacher for the massage school, all while I build a home based business – most of these gigs are part time. For example the teacher position this year was 6 days out of the year. (I really am working on creating more quiet time in my life, I swear.)

The thing is, there’s something about being busy. Some of it has to do with my family culture, growing up was a life chock full of Doing Things All The Time. Not like I see now, where there are play dates and such, but when I got underfoot in my Dad’s shop he would hand me a scrap of glass, some masking tape, a pencil and an exacto knife and tell me to draw something (yes I did say I played with glass and razors). When I was done he’d send me to the back yard to sand blast the glass in layers. I was 8. We just Did Things. Our time out of school was often unsupervised (“You’d better go outside and play RIGHT NOW! Be back when the street lights come on”) and full of building things out of found scraps and adventures (I swear our neighborhood was shockingly tolerant of random packs of kids rummaging through their garages, in retrospect I am surprised we didn’t get in more trouble). I rarely saw my father who worked more than 40 hours a week as a UPS man and then came home to do side jobs building custom furniture, or restoring cars, or just rebuilding our own house. And my mother was always cleaning, she would start at one end of the house in the beginning of the year, scrubbing until her hands were cracked and sore as proof of deserving the splendor my father built around her.

There’s almost this ingrained sense that my self-worth is directly tied to my To Do list. It means I feel guilty when I sit still, I get restless and twitchy, my hands ache to do something. I recently taught myself how to crochet again and now have approximately 150 hats I need to donate somewhere bc I wanted to watch tv and had to keep my hands busy… You may think I am exaggerating but my wife is choking on laughter right now because of the ever growing pile of hats in bags in our bedroom.

This also means that one of my greatest challenges as a small business owner is delegating.  I did a HUGE thing this week and went onto and hired a graphic designer to work out a logo for this site. I have been stalling out on so many other aspects of my business that actually NEED my attention while I focus on esthetics and obsess about logos and colors and such. What I NEED to be doing is making appointments with clients and growing my business, but I’ve been so BUSY with my design (and you know, if I’m honest just doing things I should delegate) I’ve been wearing my brain out and not doing the things that bring in money (like follow up with people who actually want to meet with me to consider working with me). So, I hired someone – it feels revolutionary. They’ll do it faster and better than I can and it frees me up for the things that make me money.

Next step, in the not too far future, is a bookkeeper and an assistant. I mean, right now my lovely wife is my assistant (and our bookkeeper), but as things gear up and truly get moving, the math makes sense. I was listening to Chalene Johnson the other day, talk about the wisdom of outsourcing and how to do it right. The thing is, say I make more time for seeing massage clients, my rates there vary from $100-230 an hour. If I could find someone who I paid $25-30 an hour to do things like run to the post office, do data entry, etc. so I could book even one more client a week, that hour of work pays for 4 of theirs. If I can meet a new business prospect, that has the potential of boosting my business at a value of thousands of dollars, rather than learning accounting software and taxes doesn’t that make more sense?

I think the thing that has been hardest for me to wrap my brain around over the years as a small business person/entrepreneur is: What is your hour worth? Your time is currency, are you spending that money appropriately?

Being busy feels good to me. It feels productive, like I’m making progress because I’m tired. But what if real progress is more about innovation and doing the things that only I can do for my businesses? What if that takes a quiet afternoon at a café, drinking coffee and contemplating the direction I want to move in, what I want to write about, or taking the time to respond with thoughtful resources to a team member rather than a quick text. What does that look like? How do I make the room for it?

The thing I’m getting from my mentors is to value your time enough to focus on the profit driving things and do it sooner than later so that you will be more profitable earlier. Also? I learned in my last business what a headache it is to not have an actual, qualified, knowledgeable bookkeeper help you in the beginning stages. God was that a mess, I won’t go into the horror stories but trust me, find a good qualified bookkeeper (check no less than 3 references before hiring them) it will save you SO much money. So I am prioritizing that one.

The thing is, people who are successful, like really large scale successful, know the value of their time and using it on the things that will move them forward. Being busy doesn’t mean you’re making progress. Sometimes it’s being still so you can be rested and resourced to deal with challenges is what needs to happen. Taking time so you can see the way you need to go or cultivating your ideas and meaningful relationships that will move you forward. That takes time and being busy doesn’t allow for that. Most importantly, I’m having to look at how I want to spend my life. If you don’t envision where you want to go and what your life will be like when you get there, you’ll never know when you arrive and you’ll never find the steps you need to get to where you want to be. Also, what is the point of building a massive, life-eating business and never spending time with the people who matter to you?

Now don’t get me wrong, life is full of twisty turns and curve balls, and building a business does take work, but the thing that became abundantly clear to me in 2014, when my wife was given a brain cancer diagnosis and I had to borrow and fundraise money to pay for her surgery, is that I didn’t want to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Running a small business that ate up my life, 7 day work weeks with 17 hour days (during the slow season), a business that grew faster than we could keep up with and a business partner I didn’t see eye to eye with about the direction of basically anything.  I was a slave to my business and most weeks I couldn’t even cash my paycheck. I could say “we’re in every state in the US and represented in 5 other countries and Yes, we do make every single thing by hand”, with pride, but I didn’t have a life and that wasn’t going to improve. I was buried in Busy and kept believing the lie that we couldn’t afford to delegate so I could focus on what needed to change.

Now part of that was a dysfunctional partnership, but there is no small part of me that felt like I was “Paying My Dues” as a small business owner. That the exhaustion and overwork was just part of it. It took the most important person in my life, the person I hardly ever had time for anymore, nearly dying for me to re-evaluate my priorities and decide I don’t want to be THAT busy ever again.

What is your hour worth? Are you spending that precious currency appropriately? I have to take time out of every week now to stop and evaluate what I’m doing. To keep myself from being caught up in it all. I, weirdly, get a lot more done when I share the load. I’m happier, more effective and more fulfilled. Most importantly, I am carving out time for the people I love and taking time to cultivate friendships that I let lapse in my rush to bleed myself dry on the altar of my business. Balance. I guess you could say I’m learning more balance. But also how to look at All The Things and decide to not treat them so preciously and hold them so closely that they smother me.

My new business is growing at a steady pace that I can handle and I chose a business that isn’t a traditional model purposely to mitigate the risk and support our life. My massage practice is flourishing after me letting it languish while I killed myself making thousands of bath bombs and hundreds of pounds of soap. I work with entertaining and wonderful people in the city office, so I enjoy my time there. And everything is flexible enough to allow me to occasionally be honored to support a woman as she becomes a mother. I’m more grounded. I am investing daily into educating myself and working toward the life we dream of.

There’s always room for improvement, I am constantly battling my internal dialogue about my value and self-worth as gauged by the number of check marks on my never ending To Do list. But I’m making headway. Cyndi helps remind me what’s important, like resting when you’re tired, caring for our own bodies as much or more than we do for others, and time talking over coffee about our goals and our lives and the people we love.

So I ask you, are you spending your hours in the best way possible? What do you need to delegate? What would you like to change? Are you moving toward the life you really want? Or are you selling your most precious resource for less than you deserve? Do you want to change that? If so, what does that look like?

Please share where you are at in your life in the comments (or email me directly if that feels better). We are all on a journey and the wonderful thing about our community is that we’re all so willing to support each other and share. Love you all!