This Tales of a Solopreneur installment discusses building an action plan to keep you learning (aka building your brain power), while also ensuring you maintain your mental momentum without any guilt or self-defeat when you slow down.
Backing things up…The solo part of solopreneur is a double-sided coin. Despite its many advantages, there are also some challenges to working alone, including stricter limits on time and resources when delegation isn’t an option. There will be times when you choose to slow down or go into a full-stop hiatus (think vacations, holidays, and summer breaks) to rest and recharge, so you can bounce back stronger.
Unfortunately, there will also be times when life happens to you, and you are hit by a curveball that forces you to turn your attention to something even more important or pressing than your business. I’ve learned that it’s not if, but when, the latter will happen; so it’s helpful to be prepared.
Although the end of the school year arrives the same time each year, it always seems to sneak up on me. The house buzzes with activity from morning to night as the school schedule is abandoned. A change in schedule can cause a ripple effect for solopreneurs, especially for those who work from home. It often starts with an interruption in targeted completion dates; but it can quickly spiral into loss of momentum and then motivation resulting in mind games that open the door to self-defeat.
But being off schedule, or off all together, for a little while doesn’t have to knock you off track; and in fact, it can be a game-changer long-term if you use the time to maintain a positive mindset and keep challenging yourself.
Building Brain Power: The Under-rated Business Asset
I believe your brain is one of your most important business assets even though you’ll never see it listed on a balance sheet. Being a solopreneur is not for the faint of heart, and you need your brain to show up at the station on time and stick around for the full adventure.
Sometimes your brain can be your greatest supporter; but it can also be your worst enemy, often when you’re down on yourself or your situation. It’s easy to slip into the mindset that nothing is being done to move your business forward if you aren’t logging hours in daily, or at
least on a consistent basis. But this doesn’t have to be the case because building a business requires more than just completing a series of tasks listed on a spreadsheet or a course handout.
I believe aspects of a small business’ growth will always be tied to the solopreneur’s personal growth, and it’s important for solopreneurs to actively seek learning opportunities in areas such as effective brainstorming, optimizing strategic goal setting and tracking, increasing efficiency and productivity, discovering new perspectives and new ways to do things, and learning how to pivot. Being successful in each of these areas requires a solopreneur’s mental focus—and the greater the focus, the higher the probability for a successful outcome.
You can set up back-office systems to keep your business running while you’re away from your computer. But establishing and growing your business requires much more of you and your brainpower than business maintenance does.
Despite my dreams of being able to split myself in half to get double the work done, I’ve learned the hard way that my brainpower is not a bottomless well, it requires both positive generation and constant protection, and it’s much harder to restart from a stop position than if I keep things moving along at a slower speed. Plus, when my brain has idle time, that’s when the weight of the world feels heaviest on my shoulders and when impostor syndrome starts knocking.
For all of these reasons, I make it a priority to learn new things year-round that generate more brain power. I also preserve my brain power during more difficult hiatuses when my brain is susceptible to draining but distractions are welcome.
This approach helps me keep my mental focus and my business development moving forward whether I’m working at maximum speed on projects or I’m just managing the musts and have put a pause on the nice to haves.
Plus, life interruptions aren’t as destabling since I always have a plan in place to keep my mind engaged until I can kick back into a higher gear. And just as important, I’ve figured out how to fold this plan into my daily life without carving out extra time.
Designing My Brain Power Builder
The three pillars of my Brain Power Builder are: mindset, habits, and creativity.
Focusing on a positive and open mindset helps me to create targets and move toward them without being defeated when I face challenges. Developing better habits helps me do more with less. Sparking creativity helps me stay resilient and responsive and think out of the box.
I ebb and flow between these three pillars depending on how I’m feeling, what’s been going on in my life, and what’s on my mind (or not on my mind); but they all remain on my radar even if I’m not actively working on them since an area that was under control last month might be out of sync by next month.
There’s a wealth of knowledge available both for free and for purchase for each of these pillars in multiple formats to match learning styles and situations. I’m an advocate of literary citizenship, and I still love to hold a book in my hands and mark important pages; so I purchase my books in print.
But I also use my library card to check out the audiobook version, so I can listen to the book on my phone while I’m doing household tasks, exercising, driving, or during my daily knitting sessions (which also help me spark my creativity). Relying on audio formats has become a game-changer for me since I can squeeze in learning while multitasking, and I don’t have to carve out separate time that feels selfish. Plus, I love listening to authors read their own books since it feels like I’m taking their master class. I also listen to related podcasts, videos, webinars, and online classes.
Here are some of my recent reads and listens that I recommend:
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- GrowthDay, which is an online subscription platform providing access to personal development master classes
- The High 5 Habit by Mel Robbins
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard
- The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp
- Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace. (See Virtual Writers Sabbatical: How Creativity, Inc. Inspired Me.)
Building Your Brain Power Plan
Are you ready to prioritize your brain power, so your mind will support you and your business long-term? If so, follow these easy steps to create your own Brain Power Builder:
- Write down a bullet list of the pillars you want to focus on, or borrow my list (mindset, habits, and creativity) if you’re not sure where to start.
- Star the bullets you’re most interested in learning about or think will help you move the needle the most.
- Prioritize your starred items, select your top three, and rank them as pillars 1, 2, and 3.
- Write down a list of three things you can do for each of your three pillars.
- Select an item from pillar 1 and get started, working your way down the list as you go.
- Keep notes or journal entries on important takeaways or action items.
- If your preference is to focus on one thing from start to finish before starting something new, then I recommend selecting the next item at the same time you reshelve your book or check your loan back into the library; so you will keep your momentum going.
- Check off each item you complete and record the date.
- Add to the list as you discover new ideas.
- Periodically revisit your pillars to see if they need updating.
Building your brain power can lead to epiphanies that spark both your momentum and motivation, so don’t forget to celebrate your wins when you apply something you’ve learned to your business or your personal life.
Next Up, Summertime Reading
I have a short list of business formation items that I plan to work on in July and August, but I’ve opted to slow down during summer break to rest and recharge, focus on family, and have some fun. But I’ve updated my Brain Power Builder to make sure I maximize my free time and listening opportunities to keep focusing on mindset, habits, and creativity.
My current read is We Should All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers, and I was immediately hooked by her introduction. The other brain power books I have queued up include:
- Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr
- Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In a Distracted World by Cal Newport
- How to Live a Good Life and Sparked, both by Jonathan Fields
- A Curious Mind: The Secret To a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
- The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
I hope you have some exciting summer plans for yourself that will help you recharge and get ready for the second half of the year. And don’t forget your summer reading list at home…
Tell us in the comments: What do you read to build your brain power?
Richelle Lyn is a compensation & benefits attorney and HR executive, who now spends her days focused on the writing life. Her favorite fiction reads involve leading ladies who push boundaries and conquer their fears while preferably digging for secrets, learning magic, and/or saving the World. She’s also a fan of non-fiction reads focused on personal growth and transformation. She loves her tea hot and her coffee iced. She calls South Florida home, but her favorite place to be is on a trip. You can check her out on Twitter and Instagram.