Untouchable Days - an experiment

I've decided to start a series of experiments for and with myself and my businesses. This idea is loosely based on Brooke McAlary's Slow Home Experiments (maybe we should call this series Slow Business Experiments?) and is not fully fledged yet, but the basic gist is this: I would like to try a few new things when it comes to how I run my businesses and make space for living and breathing and document how that works out. 

If you'd like to, feel free to join the experiment and try the things I'm trying! I would love to hear your experiences as well. There's not a fixed schedule around these experiments, I'm probably starting a new one every six weeks or so. If you want to stay up to date with them, check this blog and / or my newsletter.

The first experiment I've started two weeks ago is this: Untouchable Days.

Let's talk a little bit about the backstory of this experiment. I recently came across this article by Neil Pasricha that had me nod from the very first sentence on:

"I hate meetings. They sit subconsciously in my brain, taking up space. I prepare for them in my notebooks. I travel to them, and then back again, in the middle of my work days. And what do most meetings usually result in? You guessed it — more meetings. [...] 

When I quit two years ago to strike out on my own as an author and keynote speaker, I thought my days full of meetings were behind me.

But I was wrong.

I now have research calls and phone interviews; lunches with literary agents and web developers; conference calls about book titles and publishing schedules; and radio interviews and media prep calls. And before every speech I give, there’s always a meeting with the client and meeting planner to clarify goals and logistics for the event.

Meetings never really go away.

But the problem is that I’m now measured almost solely on my creative output. And there’s no time for it!" 

Oh YES. Don't get me wrong, I also really like the meeting part of the work that I do now - it's mostly coaching calls and team meetings for Making Stories and calls with other creatives - but it DOES cut into my creative time.

In addition to that, if you expand the notion of "meetings" to "communication" and think about how much time we spend with things like emails and Ravelry messages and Instagram comments and the like, there's even less time to work on your creative output.

Neil's solution is simple - he implemented the so-called Untouchable Days, days where he is literally untouchable for anyone: "On the actual Untouchable Day itself, I picture myself sitting in a bulletproof car surrounded by two-inches of thick impenetrable plastic on all sides. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out. Meetings bounce off the windshield. Texts, alerts, and phone calls, too. My cell phone is in Airplane Mode all day. My laptop has Wi-Fi completely disabled." 

He schedules them in 16 (yes, SIXTEEN) weeks in advance in his calendar and they're not movable. Or if they do need to be moved (let's say a family emergency comes up), he needs to reschedule meetings from a different day that week to make space for an Untouchable Day.

Now, this concept isn't new. The lovely Hélène (one of my coaching clients) pointed me to this blog post that Heather Moore wrote about her habit of Making Fridays: "The thing is, finding the time [to be creative] will always be tricky, so one has to MAKE the time, and that is what Making Friday  is all about: The idea is to make an appointment with yourself in your studio that you consider important enough to keep. The reason it is so important to keep this appointment is that unless you keep the creative side of the business going, you’re going to run our of juice, you’ll resent your work, and the whole endeavour will become a burden. It’ll be just a job, which is not really what the idea is, is it?"

YES again. Heather puts it so well when she says that if we don't consciously carve out time for our creativity, no one is going to give that time to us - and if we don't continue with the creative side of our business (which is what got us into this in the first place, isn't it?) we're going to start hating what we do. And that is most definitely NOT what we signed up for.

These two articles hit home so hard because I have started to feel a little less than inspired when it comes to my own businesses in the last few months. Now, I'm not anywhere near resentment, but I do think I've come close to burn out a few times since fall, and I've started to lose the joy in quite a few things that used to make me happy previously. I had a long, long talk with my partner David about this and we decided a few things needed to change, leading to - among other things - me hiring more help when it comes to sewing project bags and spending time exploring knitwear design (just for pleasure, not with a business plan).

When I read about Untouchable Days it felt as if another puzzle piece was put in place. Carving out a day per week where I didn't have to reply to emails or check Social Media sounded like pure bliss. So two weeks ago, I decided that this would be my first experiment: Implementing Untouchable Days for the rest of this year. 

My Untouchable Days are a mash-up of Neil's and Heather's approach. I did put them into my calendar for the next few months, not on a fixed week day, but rather haphazardly.

Here are a few ground rules I set for myself for the Untouchable Day:

  • No email
  • No phone (no Instagram, no Whatsapp & no calls)
  • No other social media 

Neil also has a "No WiFi" rule - which I'm not enforcing as I'm not sure if that works with the type of work that I do. I would like to keep the option open of being able to post a blog post that day or research something or put together a knitting pattern. Not sure if that is a good idea, but we'll see!

The other thing I don't yet know how to do is the no whatsapp & no calls thingy. What if my parents get worried that I'm not available? It doesn't seem feasible to tell them every week which day I'm not available, so I'll have to figure that out.

I'll also try and consciously work on unusual things on my Untouchable Day. Things I'm envisioning doing are going to museums, sitting in a coffee shop and reading a book, playing with watercolors, taking a long walk - more in line with Heather's approach of a Making Friday.

How is it going so far?

I have already had to fight off meeting advances on these days. It feels GOOD to be able to say "no, I'm sorry, that day isn't available" without even opening up the possibility in my brain of adding a meeting that day. I think the effect is very similar to why I decided to just stop drinking alcohol: I didn't want to decide whether I wanted to have that glass of wine every single damn time someone asked me, I just wanted a default answer. Which is "no, thank you, I don't drink". Same thing here - no, that day isn't available unless it's a really, really, REALLY important meeting. And if that is the case, then I need to look into my calendar and ask myself if that is important enough to go through the trouble and embarrassment of rescheduling meetings on a different day that week.

Another thing that happened is that I actually felt relieved that there was one day in the week where I didn't have to check Instagram. It just feels like such a soul-less place these days, and while I still rely on it for my work, it was very telling how I felt about not seeing the app for a full 24 hours. We'll see where that goes.

I'm approaching my third Untouchable Day this Friday and am already looking forward to it! So far, I've planned a little get-away to a photography museum and maybe a walk in the sun.

I plan on posting a few more times over the next weeks about my Untouchable Day experiment - and if you'd like to join in, you're more than welcome! There are no rules other than make up your own rules. I'd love to hear about your ideas and experience! (Best way to reach me is a comment down below or an email.)