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The two levels of success in work

I was listening to a podcast the other morning on my walk (this is becoming a standard thing I say now, “i was listening to a podcast”), and the speaker (Blair Enns) was talking about the two different levels of work, from your early days when you’re just getting started, to the goal level or later level where you’ve been working a long time.

He said at the beginning it’s “hard work, and saying yes to just about everything”. This is how you succeed. 

You’re working towards another level, in which you let go of both of those tools in order to succeed. 

You move to working less, and saying no to almost everything. 

You replace them both.

Hard work you replace with creativity (the ability to see opportunity) plus risk (the willingness to go for it).

And instead of saying yes to almost everything, you work on saying no to almost everything.

I could really FEEL that. 

I thought back to my early days of PF, when I did work hard and continuously and at top speeds, and when I said yes to almost everything. 

I said yes to any accountant who wanted to work with us - no qualifiers, no restrictions. I said yes to a few people who weren’t accountants, even though we were supposed to be exclusive to accountants. 

I said yes to hiring outsourcers and freelancers, and then later yes to hiring team members too. 

I said yes to webinars and speaking engagements and going to events. Yes to any new opportunity which came my way. Usually I would focus all this on our audience of accountants, but I’d even say yes to speaking engagements which weren’t to accountants, or on topics I was still figuring out. I remember spending a solid 2-3 days on preparation and travel and delivery of a talk at an event for people in the IT industry, and i wasn’t even paid for it (other than travel). 

I don’t regret my yeses at that time - every single one taught me something. 

I learned why we needed to keep our focus purely on accountants - and not every accountant, but those who were ready and willing to follow the PF way, the marketing map. I learned why we don’t work with those who aren’t accountants, no matter how lovely or kind or successful or willing they are, or how much money they have and are willing to spend. I learned from having outsourcers and freelancers, and I learned a LOT about profitability from bringing people in-house. I learned what events and engagements were profitable and valuable for PF and for me, and which ones were exhausting and didn’t really deliver much. I learned the toll travel and events and speaking took on me (and I’ve learned that even more by their absence over the past year). 

I’ve been moving slowly to a place of creativity and rest, of saying no to more things. I’m definitely not at the “saying no to almost everything” stage - that’s probably five years away still - but I’m on track for it and I am practicing my no a lot more often. 

Part of that involves scaling PF, building our agency into one which doesn’t rely solely on me. We had good systems and a great team, but I was the key person still. I was the speaker, the writer, the person everyone came to when they wanted to enquire about working with PF. So I set out to change that, by thinking about what I could divert to multiple members of the team (and what I wanted to keep). 

We looked at speaking engagements, and how if I’m to say no to more of those, we need to train up the rest of the team - certainly the Client Marketing Managers, who have strategic marketing experience and have worked with accounting clients for 3-5 years at least. That involved looking at our webinars, our live events, our Accelerator coaching group. I started having a PF team member co-lead the Accelerator sessions each week. 

I realised I was still writing the “Karen’s Marketing Tips” weekly, so we changed those to the “PF Marketing Tips” and a different member of the team writes one each week, with a video, and all that content is available and shared on socials and is on the website. It will go into our new PF Vault when the new website is built. I moved my writing to these Karen’s Notes, which are sometimes about marketing, and sometimes about leadership and life and values and creativity. 

It’s a process of moving from “hard work + yes” to “creativity + rest”. I’m not fully there yet, and it’s a sort of combo of all of those things. I still work hard, but that hard work is in different categories. Even looking at my meetings this week, out of 10 meetings in a three day period, 6 of them were with team members (or potential new team members), 2 were coaching groups, and 2 were marketing meetings. 

This is a fair representation of where my focus has been moving. I primarily focus on leading & training & helping the team, so they can then help more clients and prospects and together we all reach more. I’m still involved in our group coaching sessions, and there’s always at least one if not several PF team members on those with me. I’m involved in our marketing, but not at the detail level: at the strategic and big picture level. Leading the team, coaching clients in a group, and marketing. That’s night and day from how my time was being used less than two years ago, when I was still in many client meetings, holding most if not all prospect calls, primary writer of the PF content, leading all the coaching and training sessions on my own. 

We’ve come a long way, and it’s intentional. 

I still care about creativity and rest even now, and I’m making small steps towards that too. I take #creativitypillar time and #restpillar time, and every month I look at where my time has been going and what I need to change. If I’m worn out and exhausted, I plan rest time. I’m working on choosing rest even at odd times of the day, which feels weird. Even as “the boss”, I’ve struggled with feeling I’m letting the team down if I don’t start when they start and finish when they finish and work all the days they are working. It’s taken me a full year or more of “quiet Mondays” to be comfortable with the fact that Mondays are my quiet day, with no meetings (with team or clients), no deadlines, and sometimes even no checking email or Slack. (It’s helped immensely to have a team who consistently remind me that it’s right and good and healthy for me to do things on a different schedule at times, and who honour my quiet Mondays and remind me to take rest if I’m pushing a bit too hard.)

And I feel the benefit of it. When I skip a quiet Monday (and it becomes a busy Monday or a noisy Monday), the whole rest of the week and my work and my leadership suffers. 

The way I am doing this has been built for me, based on how I work and what I need and what I’m motivated by. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are highly motivated early on a Monday morning and have their team meeting first thing and fire into the whole week. We find at PF the whole team does better with a Tuesday afternoon team meet, giving us all time to move into the week intentionally, instead of exhausted or stressed. The team even began having no-meeting-Mondays themselves, and we eventually decided we’d roll that out company wide. Now we all have no-meeting-Mondays, only making exceptions for urgent situations or strange weeks where schedules are shifted for some reason. 

We’re still working hard, and we’re also being more intentional about our work. 

We still say yes a lot, and we’re also thinking about what we say yes to and why, and where we need to change. 

We seek creativity, and the headspace and time to be able to focus on it. We seek rest. Which means we’re hiring more and building a team which allows all of us to have that headspace and not be worked to the bone and exhausted. 

And together, as a team, we are all moving towards a place of creativity and rest. A place of putting our hard work in the right categories, and saying no to almost everything. 

It’s a ways off for me and for all of us, but we’re making progress towards it. And the very process is teaching us daily what matters. What we’re good at. What we enjoy.

Because otherwise, it’s just work. 

Here’s the podcast, if you want to listen: Pricing Creativity with Blair Enns


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