Let’s set the stage. Every morning, the alarm goes off. You hit snooze, roll out of bed, and if you’re like most humans, you check your phone first. Before you say good morning, have coffee, stretch, or take two seconds to come into the day, you are absorbing info. And all that information starts our day—every day—on a very split trajectory.
How Did We Get Here?
Our world moves fast, and if we aren’t willing to keep up, then too bad. But, that doesn’t mean our brains were ever meant to constantly work at warped speed, multitasking even the most banal actions (hello, driving and talking on the phone). Every single day, we are bombarded with news, social media updates, texts, phone calls, meetings, endless web browsing, work emails, chores, errands, etc. The problem isn’t with us, necessarily, it’s with the information.
Information is available wherever we look, and while it’s good to be informed, too much of anything can lead to overwhelm. When we tune in to everything around us, it forces us to constantly be in a state of “absorbing” and sorting instead of focusing—and completing—one task at a time.
How can you ever figure out what you want out of life, your relationship, or even your job if you can’t figure out what you want for breakfast? There are just too many choices.
The New Normal
When we constantly seek info, we waste time. If we work 9 to 5, we will fill those hours—but not necessarily with work. It’s important to assess what our time wasters are, because we all have them. Do you obsessively: web browse; check texts; check emails; talk to co-workers while working on a project; call people when alone; interrupt tasks to just “check one thing”; have endless errands; own more than one social media account; subscribe to podcasts, blogs, or magazines; constantly say “I’m busy”?
If so, chances are you are distracted, especially when it comes to completing tasks start to finish, distraction-free. Are we staying productive, or just active? Does it really take 8 hours to get your work done? What would happen if we only checked our email twice a day? If we ditched our phones at night? If we took a break from the news?
What would happen is that you would realize you have all the time in the world, and most of the things you fill your days with have nothing to do with productivity or happiness. The richest people in the world do the absolute least amount of work, because they have outsourced their lives in a way where businesses can run without them. How do you get there? You have to be consistent.
Anyone can do a social media detox for kicks. Ta-da! I didn’t check Facebook for an entire day, and I feel so much better! Until tomorrow. Clock how many times you hop onto any social media account, your phone, Chrome, etc., and then calculate how much time you spend on work, family, running errands, chores, laughing, and doing absolutely nothing. You might get a very clear picture at how skewed your priorities actually are.
Stay in Your Lane
Learning to cleanse ourselves of too much information can make us happier, allow us more time for healthy activities (cooking, taking a walk with family, stretching, listening to music, thinking) and will produce less feelings of doom, gloom, overwhelm, jealousy, and despair. It’s hard to keep your eye on the prize, when everyone else’s is shiny and dangling inches from your face.
If you want more productivity and more time in your day, then you have to change. Period. You have to do less and absorb less to do more. Being busy is no longer an excuse, because busyness is actually a form of laziness. (Yes, you read that right.) When you’re “constantly busy,” you’re filling the time you have—probably with things you don’t want to do. You can outsource the errands, stop the obsessive mind wandering, texting, email checking, etc., and rearrange your life to put the important tasks first. Every single day.
6 Tips for a Low Info Diet
1. Check your email just twice per day. Here’s the kicker: Email was never set up to be a “chat” system. All of the back and forth and open-ended emails waste time. Stop checking your email first thing in the morning. Nothing is that critical. If you do one thing, do this. Check your email at 10 and 4 or 12 and 5. Try it for one week and see how much more free time you have. When you sit down and answer emails in a cluster, you can knock it out in half an hour versus spread out over the entire day.
2. No news. It’s important to be informed, but there’s a fine line between informed and obsessed. If you want to know what’s happening, ask someone who is informed to get a daily or weekly recap. If it doesn’t affect you on a personal level, leave the mental headspace for something else.
3. Mind your texts. Once you get your email under control, you’ll realize the most distracting culprit in today’s tech savvy world is texting. We are so conditioned to respond, respond, respond, no matter what we’re doing. Designate just a few times per day to respond to texts and put the phone away at night. Talk to your family—you know, the one that’s under your roof. Remember them?
4. Get to the finish line. How many times do you sit down at your desk, only to check email, which then has you logging onto Facebook, which takes you to a photo, which makes you think of IG, which takes you to YouTube or any other various site. We’ve gotten into a very familiar pattern of letting our minds wander—even when we have deadlines or tasks ahead of us. Use disabling software if you have to, but do not check emails, texts, or do anything other than what you sat down to do. You will be astounded at how quickly you can complete tasks when they are uninterrupted.
5. Stop taking unnecessary phone calls and meetings. Raise your hand if you’ve worked in a corporation that lives by the motto: death by meetings. Meetings rarely ever do anything to get actual work done. Phone meetings, in-person meetings, virtual meetings... They are the ultimate distraction. If you’re the boss, set less meetings. If you’re an employee, attend less meetings. (Really.) Productivity soars only when you have the opportunity to sit down and work.
6. Set no more than two tasks to complete every single day. Look at your to-do list. What actually has to get done today, and what on your list will make you happy, get you further to your goals, and help you grow either professionally or personally? If you write down the same to-do tasks, it’s time to create a new list. Every day, you have one chance to do anything—truly. If you want different results, you have to do different things. Lead every day through that lens.
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.