A simple recipe for working independently
It can be hard not to marvel at those productivity gurus; the creative mavens; those extraordinary entrepreneurs. They’re so flawless, so sleek, so in-tune.
How do they get it all done?
How do they stay focused, primed, able to shut out the noise?
How are they able to work on the right things at the right times?
Why do I feel so lost, overwhelmed, and scattered?
Why does every day seem to yield so little?
Can I go and have a cup of tea now?
When we’re working alone – as consultants, solopreneurs, freelancers, seekers – these feelings tend to amplify.
To help us mere mortals on our quest there are now courses, books, and podcasts galore.
Many of them can help unlock what we need, but here’s another recipe to try – with a big tasty serving of reciprocity built in for good measure.
Time to stand up
A practice that’s helped me immeasurably over the past 6 months is a daily standup. You’ll probably be familiar with these if you work in an agile team building digital products or services. It’s a short meeting to get focused, take a brief look back, and then find a clear path forward.
However, if you spend much of your time working alone this practice may not feel like a relevant or viable option. It’s designed for teams, after all. And you went the other way.
But here’s the thing; you need it even more than they do. And you need it now more than ever.
Here’s a standup recipe for people working independently. It’s a little different from a typical team check-in: while it too looks back and looks forward at what’s next, this standup also provides a flexible frame to get grounded, and to remind yourself of what really matters most.
You can use this once a day, once a week, or at whatever time cadence you choose. I recommend daily during the working week if you can.
All that’s required is yourself, a peer, and 20 minutes or so. The person you do this with doesn’t need to work in the same field as you (in fact it can be better if they don’t), but what you do need is to be invested in other’s success.
I’ve been fortunate enough to undertake this practice with my good friend and collaborator Josh, and it’s helped me overcome so many obstacles and avoid dozens of dead-ends (the vast majority of which were self-created).
I’m also fortunate that this particular practice is part of Josh’s wider practice – he designed this recipe, and coaches and advises independents, teams, and organizations who want to do better work.
When using this recipe, each partner should be given time and space to speak, but the listener should also be comfortable asking questions and challenging as needed.
One area where I find myself being challenged (with good reason) is on my priorities for the day. Often there’s too much, or I create new things for myself that sound good (no, they sound great!) but really aren’t important (ok, you’re right). Without a peer who notices those patterns and calls them out, I’d find myself overwhelmed and frustrated.
As with all recipes, some ingredients can be substituted, and you can season to your taste. This is the version of our recipe I tend to gravitate towards most often.
However you use this recipe, the core nutritional value is in checking in with each other, getting clear on priorities, and – as Josh likes to say – reminding yourself that yes, indeed, you’re a human being.
I hope it’s as beneficial for you as it has been for us.
Recipe: A Daily Stand-Up
- Serves: 2
- Preparation Time: 2 minutes
- Cooking Time: 20 minutes
- Serving suggestion: One question each and rotate, or you can opt for a full go-round for each person before changing (the former usually gives far more flavor)
- Pairs well with: Morning coffee, no distractions
- Is anything preventing you from being present?
- How are you feeling today?
- What are 1-3 highlights since we last spoke? (the number of highlights depends on your cadence)
- What are 1-3 things you’re working on? (this could be today, or this week – we do a weekly view on Mondays, then a daily view thereafter)
- What do you need from the team? (this is an opportunity to set up a separate time to help the other work through a particular challenge, or review some work. We’ll usually have something here once a week or so) Note: Team Time has been massive for both of us on a number of occasions
- What are you doing for yourself today? (It could be going for a run, baking a cake, calling a friend, or sitting down for 10 minutes and doing…nothing. Every day, make space for doing something for yourself)
- Is there anything else on your mind?
- What’s changed for you over the course of today’s stand-up?