Happiness Is… Asking for Help

I’m really bad at asking for help.

Several years ago, my sister and I were wandering around Target—I don’t remember what we were looking for, but we couldn’t find it. At some point, a store employee walked by and asked if they could help us find anything. We both immediately responded, “No, we’re fine,” before realizing that yes, actually, we could use some help.

Yes, actually

I feel so used to saying, “Thank you, but I can do this on my own,” that it’s become a knee-jerk reaction even when I would love a helping hand.

That same response sometimes caused problems at my last 9-to-5 job. The team had a rule of thumb we were supposed to follow: if you’ve spent 15 minutes trying to figure something out on your own, it’s time to ask someone for help. So many of us felt determined to make it work by ourselves, embarrassed to need assistance, or just too stubborn to call for reinforcements.

I notice that when I’m struggling with the terrors of formatting in Microsoft Word or trying to find a display setting that I just know is buried somewhere in my WordPress dashboard. It’s sometimes alarming how much time I waste when the answer is a quick web search or text to a friend away.

Phone a friend

But I’m taking a cue from how good it feels when I do ask for help and get to move on from a minor problem without (metaphorically) pulling my hair out. And also from the joy I feel when I get to help someone else when I’m the one they reach out to.

Last weekend an old friend called just to chat about the apostrophe in “let’s” vs. “lets” and I was delighted to be his phone-a-friend resource.

That’s why I’ve started creating a few resources for just those kinds of situations—check out my new LinkedIn checklist, word count tracker, and basic copy checklist! And in the spirit of all of us asking for more help, I’d love to know what other checklists or templates or guides I can support you with.

Tell me in the comments or send me a message!

Top 3 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year of Business

Today is my first anniversary of life as a solopreneur and it’s been a crazy and wonderful twelve months of self-employment.

Keep up with your bookkeeping

When I was in college, my mom bought me a shirt that said “English Major: You Do the Math.” While I won’t say that I’m totally inept when it comes to numbers, my strong suit is definitely words.

It’s been a big mindset shift to not just be a writer and an editor, but to also be the chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and chief financial officer. And because it’s easy to put off categorizing all my revenue and expenses “until I have more time,” suddenly I’m faced with reconciling the last four months of financial data.

Fortunately, I’ve only had a couple of days that I’ve ended up having to dedicate to digging myself out of a financial reporting hole. And I’m glad that’s a lesson I learned early!

Take advantage of networking

Every personality test or analysis I’ve ever taken has confirmed what I’ve known since a young age: I’m an introvert. And not just an introvert but a shy introvert, which can make large groups of people and social situations a little uncomfortable.

But the truth is that networking is awesome. Local events, industry events, and freelancer events have all been an enormous support for finding a community, getting writing and editorial help, being my own boss, and finding great clients to work with.

Even when I feel butterflies about putting on a nametag and taking a deep breath before chatting with strangers about who I am and what I do, I almost always feel like it was time and energy well spent.

Turn off your computer

One of the joys of being self-employed is that you can truly work whenever you want. But one of the pitfalls is that you can truly work whenever.

Whether trying to meet an upcoming deadline, working to get ahead of schedule, or just tackling the never-ending to-do list of administrative work, it can be easy to start working as soon as I’m awake—and to keep working until it’s time to go to bed.

Being okay with shutting things down (even when there’s more to do), turning off excessive notifications on my phone, and setting boundaries to prevent me from becoming an actual workaholic are all essential to taking advantage of the fact that I can set my own schedule.

Are you a seasoned solopreneur? What have your most important lessons been?

Peg Legs and Embracing Imperfections

My suitcase has a peg leg and it reminds me that imperfections are beautiful.

It’s the biggest suitcase I own, and it doesn’t get much use since most of the trips I take are quick weekend getaways. But when I pulled it out of the closet for a big trip last month, I was pleased to see that its wooden leg was still intact.

Books are heavy

What happened is that I have long had a problem with owning too many books. I buy them faster than I can read, hold onto them long after I’ve finished them, and like to use them as temporary and portable furniture (end tables, laptop platforms, shelves for other books).

I also don’t have a great special awareness of things like size and weight.

So when it was time for me to leave college, I took my big suitcase and loaded it full of books. I figured since it had wheels, the only real challenge would be lifting it into the trunk. One trip over the curb and one of the suitcase’s sturdy plastic feet broke clean off.

I was completely stunned! Not to mention embarrassed about my packing skills and mad about my new suitcase being broken.

But my dad got a block of wood, shaped it to match the other foot, painted it black, and screwed it into the base of the suitcase. It stabilized the suitcase and blended right in.

bottom of large red suitcase with one plastic foot and one wooden foot
That’s a suitcase with a peg leg.

And that’s not all

Ten years later, it’s still holding up just fine. And more than that, it makes me smile every time I see it—especially when I spot it at the baggage claim and know immediately that that red suitcase, out of all the others that look just like it, is mine.

It’s so easy to see memes with messages like “imperfections make things/life/you beautiful” or “no one is perfect but everyone is enough” and feel the sentiment go in one ear and out the other. Of course, no one is perfect. But then we keep trying to be perfect.

It’s not just that the wooden leg on my suitcase makes it useable. It makes me love it.

And when I realize that, I start to notice other imperfections that I don’t just tolerate but actively appreciate.

That I own more books than I can realistically read.

That I usually need about 15 minutes of spinning absentmindedly in my chair before I can get down to writing.

The weird crimp in my bangs that shows up whether I straighten, curl, or shave my hair.

It’s all good!

Turn Off Notifications, Take Back Your Time

A QUICK DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY USE AFFILIATE LINKS.

I’m a sucker for productivity hacks. I love the idea that one little tweak to my daily habits or routines can save time, boost efficiency, or make me feel like more of a pro.

No more badge icons

Admittedly, few of these helpful hints get so ingrained that they’re actually useful in the long run. But one of the biggest game-changers for me recently has been turning off notifications on my phone. Several weeks ago, I read this guide from Coach Tony that advocates, in part, for never seeing another badge icon again. While it’s a year and a half old, the recommendations have never felt more relevant for my phone/life balance.

In an ideal world, I’d remove social media apps altogether and keep my phone on airplane mode for regular intervals and never check my email while watching TV with my husband. But an ideal world this is not. And so what I’m striving for is “better” instead of “perfect.”

iphone with screen turned off sitting on a table in a ray of sunlight

Turning off notifications has been like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I still check my phone too much and spend too much time doing the scroll, but I no longer react to every new email, social, or file-upload alert. None of my apps display badges anymore, so I don’t feel that constant nagging to open something back up or guilt over not having addressed something yet, especially in the evenings or over the weekend when I’m trying to be off the clock. I know that I’m still spending plenty of time in my inbox—it’s not going to go ignored for too long.

Someone told me recently that as a workforce, we’ve quickly adapted to checking our email on a Saturday—but that we wouldn’t dare going to see a movie on a Monday afternoon. Part of the joy and reward in being my own boss is that I get to make those decisions about when I’m working and when I’m not (and choosing, sometimes, to go to a weekday matinee).

On the clock, off the clock

But with one phone to manage all things, those lines are just too hard to define sometimes. Engaging on Facebook as Mallory Herrmann is off-the-clock time but engaging as Mallory Herrmann Editorial Services LLC is not. How do I split those hairs when I’m glancing through social media while in line at the grocery store?

Changing how reactive I am to my phone doesn’t solve those problems, but it has made it easier to be more intentional about how I spend that time. When I open up the email app, it’s because I’m ready to read some email or to follow-up on something specific, and not just because my phone has been dinging at me all morning. When I’m ready for the weekend, I can discourage myself from opening Asana or Dropbox or Dubsado to check a project’s status—I can look at each and every one of those notifications when I’m ready to do the work on Monday.

Unplugged: 24 Blissful Hours without My Beloved Phone

A QUICK DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY USE AFFILIATE LINKS.

The time spent on my phone has officially become unsustainable. It’s often my closest companion all day, never more than an arm’s length away. Like so many bad habits, I don’t even realize what’s happening . . . and then I can only cringe when I see those stark weekly usage reports.

then and now

Digital detox

I did a “digital detox” a couple months back. I’d just finished reading How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, which culminates in a challenge to give up your phone (or, better, all screens or internet-enabled devices) for 24 hours and had convinced (coerced?) my husband to participate with me. We did a puzzle instead of watching TV and both read more than we might have otherwise.

I could sense that I had benefited from the exercise, but I was also practically counting down the minutes until time was up and I could get my hands back on my phone.

This time, I was participating in the National Day of Unplugging. Inspired by the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest beginning at sunset on Friday, the day encourages participants to engage in life beyond their devices for 24 hours.

Stop relying on the TV

I turned off my phone around 6:30 on Friday, just before my mother-in-law came over. We usually visit over or around the TV: she shares our interest in true crime, and that always sparks interesting conversation related to whatever series or docuseries we’re following.

But this time, we (gasp!) left the TV off. A chat about how everyone’s week was going turned into funny anecdotes from the workplace; mentions of recently read books sparked the retelling of childhood memories. With tea in hand and candles lit, it felt very hygge. We turned toward each other instead of arranging ourselves around the television. And it was lovely!

The rest of my unplugged time felt just as wonderful: listening to vinyl records with Ali; attending a workshop without fear of my phone ringing (or temptation to check it under the table); running my errands on foot, spending the time outside feeling untethered to any schedule or route; reading a book on the couch in silence.

I actually found myself a little reluctant to re-engage, to open myself back up to the inbox, to dinging notifications, to the compulsion to scroll through feeds.

Baby steps

While I don’t think I’m ready to be unplugged a full day every week, I’m setting a goal to try it for an hour each day. I often spend that much or more reading, but still find myself reacting to each vibration or choosing to pick up my phone to look up a word . . . and then losing track of time or purpose as I get sucked into one app or another.

It’s kind of unnerving to realize how reliant we’ve become on having a tiny powerful computer in our pocket. But I appreciate the resistance I’m seeing in so many circles: setting aside time away from phones, being less reactive and more proactive in how technology is used, not being so afraid to just unplug for a bit.

Have you tried a digital detox? Is unplugging part of your regular routine? Tell me what’s working for you!

One Helpful Trick for Preventing Writer’s Block

A QUICK DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY USE AFFILIATE LINKS.

I started this post intending to say that when you write a lot, you start to write better. Words come more easily, you develop a kind of muscle memory that helps keep you going.

And do you know what happened? Writer’s block.

Proving, if nothing else, that the universe has a sense of humor.

Finding the thread

Writing can be a tricky business. Sometimes I sit down to write and feel like my fingers just cannot type fast enough to keep up. Other times I’ve made myself dizzy spinning in my office chair, hoping to catch any thread of anything to say something at all interesting or valuable.

ink pen and open notebook that only reads "Ummmm..."

Practice does help. As I started building my freelance business, that’s one of the greatest things I noticed: as I transitioned out of a 9-to-5 job that only required me to write in email form—and started writing more long-form content—it became easier to write well. I was more likely to have the speed-typing problem than the chair-spinning problem.

But like so many things in life, a plateau is inevitable. You get into a groove and then it becomes a rut.

Morning pages

One tool I’ve been using to stave off such a rut is the Morning Pages practice from Julia Cameron. I haven’t actually read The Artist’s Way (or at least not past the introduction; curse you, shopping ban) but I’d seen Julia’s name in enough acknowledgements sections to be familiar with the gist of this practice that so many artists swear by: three pages of longhand, stream-of-conscious writing every single morning.

There are no rules to Morning Pages. You just have to keep doing them.

My own Morning Pages practice is still very new. But while there was some horror in showing up on day two and feeling like I’d already run out of things to think (and then write), it’s making a great addition to my day. Usually part brain dump, panic over to-do lists and deadlines, and trying to remember whether or not I’ve already fed the cat, it’s also showing me patterns in my thinking, releasing mental clutter, and giving me the opportunity to play with language that I otherwise might have thought but not written down.

It’s also a chance to engage both my inner critic and my inner mentor, to practice my real-live handwriting, and to reform that callous on my right ring finger that I’ve hated since I was a kid.

If one of the most important ingredients of good writing is just to keep doing it, Morning Pages is creating an invaluable daily space to do just that—writer’s block, be damned.

Planners

I really miss the joys of buying school supplies, so each September I treat myself to a new planner or journal. It’s nice to get something after browsing the stationery and back-to-school aisles, and starting a new planner in the fall makes me feel like each year has two fresh starts—New Year’s Day and back-to-school—even though I’m not in school or have kids in school.

Keeping track of time

I read years ago that the average person uses something like 12 ways to keep track of their time: wall calendars, work planners, personal notebooks, online calendars, Post-it notes. It can get crazy.

I’d tried going super structured with the Productivity Planner from Intelligent Change, which helps you prioritize a few essential tasks each day. It’s based on using the Pomodoro Technique to complete them. (The Pomodoro is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Francesco Cirillo used to set 25-minute sprints for himself. The idea is that you stay completely focused on a task for 25 minutes, break for 5 minutes, and repeat. You take longer breaks every four rounds and keep going until your goal is complete.) I love the idea but find it difficult to stick to it past a round or two.

I loosened up and hopped on the bullet journal bandwagon, buying a dotted (rather than lined) notebook and using the grid to create elaborate charts and monthly, weekly, and daily schedules. While I appreciated the excuse to expand my washi tape collection and indulge in fun pens, it gets exhausting to recreate templates every day/week/month, rather than just dropping in my to-do list or upcoming deadlines.

This year I went with a spiral planner from Paper Source: it’s got a lined two-page weekly spread that I can fill up however seems most helpful at the time and monthly calendars for longer-term planning. I like that it’s sturdy enough to toss into my giant bag, has a pretty, plain design, and already has all the dates and days of the week in there so I don’t have to write them myself.

Do you use a planner? How do you like to keep track of your time?

Abundance

I’ve been struggling with the idea of abundance lately. I have a tendency to think, “I love these shoes so much that I don’t want to wear them too often so they’ll last longer.” And also, “I’m afraid of getting too much work in case it runs out.” The scarcity mindset.

Unlimited resources, power, and compassion

purple abundance chakra energy candle

A few months ago, I was in a tiny shop that was full of local, handmade, and New-Agey-type things. I was drawn to a display of chakra energy candles, and one labeled “abundance” in particular. It smelled yummy and, at the time, I was in the process of ramping up my freelance business so that I could leave my corporate day job. Abundance. It felt like destiny. It even said so on the label: Your true self will attract unlimited resources, power, and compassion to realize your destiny.

I brought it home and lit it, enjoying its pretty color and wonderful scent. It wasn’t a particularly cheap candle (and with the job change I was planning, I certainly wasn’t looking for any more expensive habits) so when I finished my meditation, I extinguished it and put the plastic protective covering back. It sat on my desk, unlit, for a good six weeks. It wasn’t until today, when I was trying on an affirmation about having everything I need, about the universe providing limitless resources, that I saw it (and my mindset) and laughed out loud.

Want it all!

I have a drawer full of white T-shirts I don’t wear so they won’t start to look gray. I keep gift cards for nicer-than-average restaurants until there’s a special-enough special occasion. I have a cute basket with spa-inspired face masks and bath bombs that I save for some future day when I really need one, whatever that means.

There are clients I want to work with, projects I want to pursue—but not until I’m ready. Not until I have the calendar capital to devote an entire day just to it. Not until I’m sure I’ve got other work to follow it.

I read recently: “Want it all, that’s what it’s there for.” I think that’s from Mike Dooley; I have it taped to my computer monitor. It could also be, “use it all, that’s what it’s there for.” Work, energy, and yes, even money: these are renewable resources! We don’t have to hoard them until there’s enough. We’ve got all we need already.

Page 2

I’ve had “start a blog” on my to-do list for approximately 11 months. As a person who likes to write, who likes to fancy herself a little bit witty and/or interesting, and who has recently started a freaking writing business . . . it seems like a totally reasonable thing to be doing. But I’m terrified of first pages.

The fear of starting

When I start any kind of paper-bound project, and I’ve been doing this for years, I start on page two. Diaries, food trackers, notebooks for classes, bullet journals, blank calendars. I leave that first page blank on all of them and start on the second one. I’m not sure if it’s a fear of imperfection or just of starting, but there’s just a little less pressure after I flip past the first page.

I suppose I’ve avoided a blog because there isn’t a way to avoid that on-screen. I just have to start and hope that I don’t later feel compelled to come back and slide some kind of explanation in front: “What you’re about to read is a bunch of drivel and my apologies in advance.”

Start anyway

But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that good stuff happens when you commit to taking leaps. I suspect that anyone reading this post is likely to already know a good bit about me—which is probably true of most First Blog Posts—but here’s my quick introduction anyway:

I’m the 30-something owner of Mallory Herrmann Editorial Services LLC. I live in the Kansas City area with my sweet husband of nearly four months and our (mostly sweet) cat Hot Dog. I’m a lifelong reader and writer with a knack for finding subject-verb disagreement and an insistence on using the Oxford comma. I’ve been writing and helping writers for a decade, and I made the leap into full-time self-employment earlier this year. This is my first (and hopefully not last) blog.