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For this month’s Sunday| Mag articles, we asked some of our favorite writers this one question: What’s one thing you’ve been learning all year long that you’d like to share with Sunday| Mag’s readers? In this article,?Joe Cavazos talks about what he’s learning about working smarter instead of harder?keeping himself from burnout.


From an early age, the example of working hard has always been a big part of my life. My parents were great examples of hard workers. Not only were they full-time ministers, but also they often found themselves working outside of ministry in order to provide for the family. They would say things like, ?Work hard, do it unto God, and you?ll see opportunities open up.?

That was a huge foundation in my life. It?s safe to say I wouldn?t be where I?m at today without them instilling that work ethic.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2014. I found myself in one of the funkiest seasons of my life. I was tired and burnt out. I was spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. In retrospect, I had spread myself too thin without taking steps to invest in myself. It was this season that lead me to discover some of my weaknesses as well as to evaluate how I could work smarter.

While I still feel like I?m in the process of learning and discovering how to work better, these are a few practices and principles I?ve wrestled with this year. I do my best work when I rise early, schedule focus time, and under-commit.

Early Rise, Early Sleep

I fell into this practice out of necessity a couple of years back. At the time I still had a day job and, with kids in the home, the only time I could work on my growing freelance business would be during the early mornings. While I never thought of myself as a morning person, I noticed that I was doing my best creative work in the mornings. It also helped carry that same productivity and mindset as I went into my day job.[quote]While I never thought of myself as a morning person, I noticed that I was doing my best creative work in the mornings.[/quote]

The struggle of waking up early was never a big deal, but going to bed at a decent hour was. Who would have thought that getting a full night?s rest was crucial to the creative process and my all around good health?both physically and mentally?

Schedule Focus Time and Breaks

I used to argue that I was a great multitasker?having 2-3 projects open at the same time, answering emails, and checking Twitter updates. It was really more of what I like to think of as subconscious procrastination. At day?s end, I felt like I was working a lot with minimal breaks. But my to-do list never got shorter.[quote]Multitasking?was really more of what I like to think of as subconscious procrastination.[/quote]

Four months ago I was introduced to a practice of creating 90-minute focused work blocks. I found that 90 minutes is around the maximum amount of attention span I have for something. Instead of working a straight 5-6 hour morning, I break it up in 90-minute blocks with 30-minute breaks. I try to schedule most of the creative work in the mornings and leave the afternoon for emails, revisions, meetings, and administration.

The key is to create distraction-free focus time. Since I work from home, it?s a little tricky. But after planning things out with my wife, it?s been a smooth transition. Honestly, the worst distractions are the ones I create myself. I started using an app called Self-Control that blocks some of my go-to time waster websites. I also have all notifications turned off both on my computer and my phone.

This process isn?t perfect. I still stray from the schedule at times. But it?s always easier to fall back into alignment once a schedule is in place than working on the whims of the day.

Having focus blocks in place has not only doubled my productivity, but also decreased the amount of work hours I put in.[quote]Having focus blocks in place has not only doubled my productivity, but also decreased the amount of work hours I put in.[/quote]

Under-commit

Just recently I over committed myself on a client project. I was already overbooked, but thought this was simple enough. What?s another couple of hours? Those couple of hours turned into a dozen that dramatically affected the already overbooked schedule. The end product was delivered in time, but it meant several evenings away from the family and a severe lack of rest. This also knocked me off the normal work block schedule.

I?ve learned that I need to set realistic expectations?not only for the client but myself as well. It?s much better to under-commit and over deliver than overcommit and fall short. I?ve learned when I overcommit someone always loses?either the client or myself. There are times and seasons that are busy, however constantly working in this mode is never a healthy place to be.[quote]It?s much better to under-commit and over deliver than overcommit and fall short.[/quote]

I?m coming off a season of overcommitting myself. It?s really easy to fall into that cycle of over-commitment and not realize it until you?re deep in the middle of the project. As a safe guard, I asked a good friend of mine to hold me accountable on what things I commit to in the coming weeks.

I?m thankful that I?m at a place where my passions line up with my vocation. Unfortunately, this causes the lines of work and play to become blurred. I want to take the lessons learned in 2014 and bring then into 2015 with a fresh perspective. My goal this coming year is to do more with less.

The older I get, the more I think about how valuable time is. I?ll never have this day back. The hustle will always be in my blood, but I don?t want it to be my end.

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