When I started Unsettle, I had one mission. It was the one thing that I needed to do to move the needle on my business. Especially as a freelancer at that time, and then as a content marketer, and then a content marketing consultant. That one thing?
I committed to writing one article per week and stuck to it for over a year. Every week, I’d publish a new article on Unsettle. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but during that time I was also writing for clients like Sumo, Smart Blogger, WordPress.com and guest writing on websites like Fast Company and Entrepreneur. But then, I experienced what I can only describe as “priority creep”. It’s that tricky thing that happens when you have one priority, and then you add another thing or two to your “must-do” list, and then a while later — maybe a month or maybe a year or two — you look at what you’re doing every day and realize that you have 20 different priorities. But here’s the thing… There never used to be a plural to the word “priority”. It was just that — one priority. Not priorities. Not more than one. Writing brought readers in. It connected with people. It built a community around my cause. But then I heard about Facebook groups. Apparently, three years ago, everyone needed a Facebook group. How else were you supposed to build community? So I started a Facebook group. Then my time was divided; no longer was I prioritizing writing. I also had to nurture my Facebook community, too. Then there was the podcast. Podcasts were up-and-coming. They were taking over the internet marketing space and I absolutely needed a podcast. I didn’t want to miss out on this amazing platform and new way to reach people! So I started a podcast. I had three things to maintain. Then there was Instagram. What kind of blogger would I be without a strong social media presence? Bloggers needed to be on social media. You can’t expect readers to check your blog every week to find your new articles, right? You have to get in front of them on the sites they spend the most time on. So I started growing my Instagram account. And then, I had four things to maintain. They were all ultra super important for my blog, though, so there’s no way I could drop them. Oh yeah, and then there was “segmentation”. I’m an email marketer. It’s what I do. So I absolutely needed to segment my audience to give them the content that’d resonate the most with them. But wait! I had this subset of people who were interested in Etsy, and Unsettle didn’t seem like the place for Etsy. So I started another website, just for my Etsy audience. Now, I had five things to focus on. Big things that needed thought, and planning, and strategy. And things that needed my time and focus. But the funny thing? You can’t focus on more than one thing. To make progress on anything, you need a singular focus. Otherwise, instead of your progress looking like this, where you’re giving 90% of your focus to one priority:
it looks like this:
You only give each item 25% of your focus. Theoretically. Except it doesn’t really look like that, because you can’t take each “priority” as far as it could go. You haven’t focused on the “priority” to learn enough about it to make it a true success. So it looks more like this:
So now, you’re only giving each item between 8-15% of your focus. And then, because you can’t possibly switch into focusing on that many projects in a day or even in a week and make meaningful progress on any of them, you begin to let a few fade out.
And then, something else happens, and you don’t even realize it. Those gaps? You begin to fill them in with the menial many. Things like checking email, Facebook, and Twitter for the eighteenth time today. Starting new projects (new projects that will, of course, never be finished). Now, you have some started projects that’ll be either left unfinished or sorely neglected, and others that are still a “priority” but on which you can’t seem to make any meaningful progress. But the problem is that progress is motivating. That’s why people trying to lose weight are far more likely to stick to their goals if they see an initial loss. That’s why, if one of the first articles you publish on your blog is popular, you’re more likely to continue blogging. So as you fail to make progress at all on the priorities you set out, even though it seems like you’re chipping away at least some of them every day, you begin to think that maybe you got it wrong. You start to think… “Writing doesn’t work anymore. It’s not moving the needle.” When really, it does work, but you have only been giving it 10% rather than the 90% you should have been giving it. Or, worse, you begin to think that you’re just no good at it. “I suck at this writing thing, so nobody wants to read my articles.” When really, you don’t suck, but you haven’t been turning pro. You haven’t given yourself a chance. You haven’t given any of your pieces your all because you were dividing your energy into a million little pieces. As you begin to doubt yourself, your focus begins to look a little more like this:
Until you read an article like this one or a book like this one or your mentor just holds a mirror up and you realize you have it all wrong and need to streamline. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because most people experience priority creep at some point in their lives. It doesn’t just have to be about work, either. I’ve experienced priority creep something fierce in my personal life, too. So priority creep is a problem. Check. But…
How Do You Deal With Priority Creep?
If you’re reading this and you’ve gotten this far down the page, I assume you’re in the thick of priority creep. This probably all sounds at least a bit familiar. And you probably want out. So here’s how to get out.
#1: Identify Your ONE Thing
There’s one thing you could be doing that will move the needle. It’s one thing that’ll help propel you forward. Not sure what it is? It’s probably the one thing that you set out to do initially. Here are a few prompts if that little tidbit didn’t help: When you think of what you do, what words first jump to mind? For example, if you’re wrestling priority creep around you’re side hustle and your side hustle is “blogging”, you might think of writing. If you’re a photographer and and you think of photography, “photos” might spring to mind. If this seems too simple, that’s because it is simple, because your priority should be simple. We’re trying to simplify here, remember? But if that doesn’t work… Go over what got you results before. If you’re wrangling priority creep with your business, review your PayPal account. Where are those payments coming from? Yeah, clients or customers, sure. But what helped them find you? Was it your Instagram account full of beautiful photos? Or your personal training YouTube videos? That should help identify what you should prioritize. Ask yourself this question: “What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This question comes from Gary Keller’s book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. It’s one of the most important books you’ll read this decade.
#2: Ruthlessly Eliminate What’s in The Way
Since starting Unsettle three years ago, a lot has changed.
- I started writing for Sumo (and then I stopped)
- I started taking on content consulting and copywriting clients
- I’ve coached dozens of clients to start their business, quit their day jobs, earn a full time income online, then earn $10K/month or more.
I’ve started side projects like Etsy How To and Adventure Baby. I’ve sold personal finance blogs, launched courses and challenges, grown my own income to $20,000+/month, moved, traveled as a digital nomad for nearly a year and had a baby. It’s that last part that made me check myself. Having a baby changes a lot of things, not the least of which is your priorities. I used to start work early in the morning and end work late at night. I’d have breaks in between — to go to the gym, get a massage, have coffee with a friend — but working remotely and online meant that my workday spanned 12-16 hours/day, 6-7 days/week. Now, I get all of my work done between 6am and 4pm, try to hit the gym, and then focus on my family. Since most of those hours are spent working on Perfect Keto, my Unsettle to-do list is ever growing:
And rarely does anything get checked off. So I needed a solution. After brainstorming all of the possible solutions, here’s what I came up with:
- Work more hours at the end of the day
- Work more hours at the beginning of the day
- Work on these projects before bed.
Solution #1 means something else I was doing would have to go. I have 24 hours in each day, like everyone else, so that means that I’d spend less time with Poppy and Ryan, or stop going to the gym. Solution #2 means that I’dwake up an hour earlier every day
(so at 5am) and forgo sleep. I’m a parent, so sleep is sacred, and also part of living healthfully. Solution #3 is the most enticing, since Poppy goes to bed at 7:30, giving me at least a couple of hours to work on these projects. But then I’d have no time to practice guitar, unwind with Ryan, read, chat with friends, or manage our household. So that leaves me with Solution #4: say “no” to priority creep and either shut down these projects or outsource them. Since Unsettle is supposed to be a lifestyle business, based on the principle of building my business around my life (and not my life around my business), I’m choosing #4. If you’re not sure what’s in the way of your priorities, it will make it difficult to ruthlessly eliminate, so track your time. Every minute of how you spend your days. See where you’re task switching and what you spend your time on. Eliminate the many little things that fill the gaps. And every time you think “oh yeah, I should ____”, recognize that as priority creep.
#3: Schedule a Reality Check With Yourself.
It’s far too easy to give in to priority creep. It’s like the Shadow Monster. It will gain speed on you. Before you know it, if you don’t outsmart it, it’ll take over your body like you’re Will Byers in 1984. Once you’ve nailed down your priority, and ruthlessly cut everything that’s in the way, don’t be surprised if in a month or a couple of months you find yourself dealing with priority creep again. Be proactive and schedule a priority review with yourself. It makes the most sense to do it at the end of each month (or the beginning of the following month). Actually put it in your calendar:
- Whether you met your monthly goals during the month. If not, why? (We’re looking for whether you became distracted from your priority)
- Whether you stayed on track with your priority
- Whether you took on any new projects distracting you from your priority.
If the answer to #3 is “yes,” this is when you can ruthlessly eliminate.
Stop Dividing Your Focus
If you chase two rabbits at once you catch neither of them. Having ideas is a good thing (it probably means you’re entrepreneurial) but you don’t have to action every idea you think of. And anytime somebody says “you should do [x]”, remember that is a huge red flag for priority creep.