Clearing the (mental) clutter

When I read Marie Kondo’s book Tidying Up a few years ago, I promptly purged the overwhelming majority of my clothes (some from high school), knick-knacks, expired makeup, mismatched glassware, paper, and other junk that I had collected and stuffed in drawers and closets over the years. To my surprise, I’ve been able to maintain the system by seasonally going through clothes and systematically discarding stuff that I formerly would have held onto for years. I’ve been more conscious of what I let into my house  – I’ll turn down swag at conferences or ditch it in the hotel room; I donate or share books after reading them; I’m more discerning in the fitting room.

Even amidst a rough 2018 of homeowner problems, my house looked pretty tidy, but my mind still felt cluttered. Throughout much of the last year, I felt scattered, exhausted, and just generally unwell. For years, I had neglected the Health category on my Life Olympics and I was feeling it. I committed to finally making my mental and physical health a priority for 2019… and that was going to require setting some boundaries.

One month into 2019 it is not an exaggeration to say that I feel like a different person. I feel clear-headed, healthy, and full of energy. Perhaps most importantly, I have indeed reignited a feeling of deep joy after removing some mental and emotional clutter. Here are some things I put in place this month to declutter my mind and body:

  • A bedtime routine: Far too often last year, I found myself compiling spreadsheets and compulsively sending emails until the minute I went to bed. Shocking, then, that I wasn’t sleeping well. Technically, I was in bed for 7-8 hours a night, but I was maybe getting 3-4 hours of actual sleep. I woke up feeling groggy and lethargic every morning. I implemented the following routine and I stuck to it for all but 2-3 nights for the month of January when I made exceptions to stay out with friends:
    • 9:00-9:30 – wind down work-mode. I finalized emails and messages; brain-dumped to-do lists, and settled my work devices into their charging stations for the night.
    • 9:30-10 – 30 minutes of yoga. I started the Commit30 planner this year and my January goal was at least 30 minutes of yoga every day. Even with a month of nearly 20 days of travel (my usual excuse for slacking on exercise), I got it in all but two days, which I made up with doubles. I can’t overstate what this does for my mental and physical health.
    • 10-10:15 – get ready for bed and do my new skincare regimen because I see those lines creeping on my face and I am not ready to age gracefully.
    • 10:15-10:45 – light some candles and read for 30 minutes.
    • 10:45-11 – listen to the Daily Calm meditation while I fall asleep.

I actually started waking up before my alarm and not feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck all the time! I also have energy to spare for fun activities on evenings and weekends.

  • Taking control of my calendar: An undeniably important part of my job is taking meetings – with current and potential customers, partners, employees, and investors. It’s a LOT of meetings. And for years I have felt like I should make myself available to all of these people, anytime, anywhere. This often resulted in a calendar that consistently looked like a game-over screen of Tetris. I had meetings all day with 30-45 minutes between them, leaving me no time for deep-focus work (cue late night spreadsheets and such). I sat down and blocked out an ideal weekly calendar with strategic periods of time for 30- or 60-minute meetings and 2-3-hour chunks for focused work. I created appointment slots using Calendly and now use that to schedule meetings. I have occasionally made exceptions for conference schedules and such, but overall my schedule feels more manageable. In addition to carving out more time for strategic work, I also feel more clear-headed and attentive for each meeting that I do schedule.

None of these things is particularly drastic but the cumulative effect has been amazing. So why have these minor schedule improvements felt so impossibly out of reach for me for years? My big transformational life changes involve taking two hours a day of personal time and setting some modest parameters on scheduling?

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But it was, in fact, really hard to make these adjustments. At times, it was nauseatingly difficult for me to say no. I take a lot of pride in being available to my team and partners. There is also a lot of social pressure for entrepreneurs to appear indefatigable and I’m not immune to it. The media hype around the “hustle and grind” image makes it easy to feel like needing time to relax and unwind is a weakness – and there is even more pressure for female CEOs to feel like they can keep up.

I realized that my unwillingness to draw boundaries was rooted in fear. It sounds silly, but when I reflected on it, I realized that saying no/turning off prompted feelings of fear that people would think I was lazy or ungrateful or maybe not worth their time anyway. I am a big believer in the notion that speaking your fears takes away their power. Do I really think this partner won’t ever work with me if I tell them I can’t meet tomorrow? Do I really think a teammate will feel demoralized if I tell them I can’t meet until Thursday? Do I really think people will deem me lazy if I respond at 9am instead of 9pm? Probably not! I’m not totally cured of this insecurity/anxiety. I still feel it, but I’m working on recognizing it for what it is and literally asking myself these questions.

I’m only a month into the year, so I’m not yet ready to award myself the Gold in the 2019 Life Olympics, but this is honestly the longest streak of healthy behavior that I’ve been able to maintain since starting the company, so I’m taking a moment to celebrate. Cheers!



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