In many cultures throughout the world, there is a time of year when you fast. Depending on the culture and religion, the fast might be a literal fast without food, or it might be a time where you give up something you love. Whether it is figurative or literal, this fast is a set period of time of reflection and growth. Personally, I practice Forty Days of Cuts.
To me, Forty Days of Cuts is simple. Every year, I choose something that I think hinders me in some way from personal growth and I cut it. One time, my wife and I decided to cut out entertainment. That meant no books, movies, radio, plays, television, or video games for forty days. I was surprised by how much we learned not only about our business, but each other. By the end of the forty days, we had been able to use the brainpower that is usually saved for thinking about last week’s TV episode or internet cat videos and put it to use about the business. Now, I don’t know about you, but sitting in silence is pretty rare. Throughout the year, I don’t typically get a lot of time to just sit and think. There’s always something around the house that needs doing, a client that I need to meet with, or one of my children needs help with their homework. Normal everyday stuff that gets in the way of being quiet.
Sometimes when you’re stuck thinking about the problem and not the solution, a quiet atmosphere can be intimidating—especially because you never really know what you think until you allow your brain to relax and do its job. Many people believe that they get their best ideas in the shower or the bath because it’s quiet, alone time with themselves. Imposing something like Forty Days of Cuts in your life might help you to relax, fill your buckets, and tackle the problem that has been bothering you the most.
It doesn’t have to be forty days long, however. It can be two weeks or three months. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it is the right amount of time for you and that it’s an amount of time that you find challenging.
There’s no point in pruning if it’s easy to go back to what you were doing before. Every person and every problem are unique, so while it might take you two months of cutting out fast food to appreciate healthy home cooking, it might only take you two weeks to appreciate cutting out social media. This is why what you cut is just as important as the act of cutting it out of your life itself.
While I can’t promise that every pruning period will result in a specific desired result, I can promise that it will change how you view your time. You’ll be able to get a better sense of how much time you spend on various hobbies and habits and whether or not they are worth keeping around. But more than that, this type of intermittent fasting is good for your brain. It frees up time and space not only in your calendar but also in your mind. Suddenly, you have time to think about things outside of the shower. You have time to go to the art show with your friends. When we are caught up in day-to-day life, it can be difficult to see the big picture of opportunity.
The big picture being that every choice you make is a “yes” to one thing and a “no” to another.
A favourite quote of mine by author, speaker, and consultant, Jim Collins, “Good is the enemy of great,” reinforces this concept. Pruning is about more than just fasting. It’s also about making room for new growth and clearing out dead branches. When I bought my house, there was a huge, scraggly hedge out front. It didn’t have many good branches, there were too many old, dead branches, and it didn’t provide a lot of privacy like a good hedge should. So, I cut it back. I cut it back so far, that there was barely a hedge left. My neighbour, who had been using the hedge to hide his compost pile, was a little perturbed by my exuberant chopping, but I assured him that by the next summer it would look better. Luckily, I was right. By trimming back all the dead growth, and a good bit of the good growth, I allowed the hedge to come back fuller and healthier than ever. This is the same as your client list.
Clients should always be great. If you don’t have only great clients, then it’s time to do some pruning. Now, obviously, we all have to pay our bills, but it’s important to remember that if you have obligations to a good client, you can’t take a great client on. Having a full appointment book isn’t what you want all the time—then, you’re the entrepreneur and not the fisherman. You want to be able to meet with prospective clients without damaging your relationship with current clients. This doesn’t mean that when a great client comes along, you immediately drop your good client and leave their project unfinished. That’s rude and unprofessional. The goal is to never have too much on your plate. Being a little busy for a month is a fine price to pay for having landed an excellent client. Once the good client’s project is completed, you can politely turn down their next project and end the relationship amicably.
Ending on a good note is crucial because as the years go by, you never know when a good client will evolve into a great one. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their business grows and they can afford to pay you more—it’s not all about money—it means that the good client might end up with contacts that could help you or if they were happy with your services, they might recommend you to others. It’s important while pruning clients to have the utmost respect and professionalism that you can.
Beyond the temporary cuts that you can make in your life, it’s also important to consider the permanent cuts. As discussed previously, cutting clients is important, but that shouldn’t be the only thing in your life that you cut permanently. You should focus on keeping people around you who motivate, inspire, and help you. Similar to the bucket concept, the pruning principle is about bringing your life into balance and removing, whether permanently or temporarily, distractions.
Jim Collins suggests a brilliant concept. Every year on January 1st, almost everyone you know will start pursuing their New Year’s resolution. For the majority of people, it’s something they would like to do, such as losing weight, eating healthier, or spending more time with their kids. Collins suggests that instead of a New Year’s Resolution, you have New Year’s “Stop Doing” List. Before you can know what to put on that list, however, you really need to know what you’re doing that needs pruning back.
Some experts say you should prune in the busy times and grow during the slow times, but there are others who say the opposite. I think it’s important to keep up a constant growth as well as a constant evaluation of yourself, your habits, and your business. My Forty Days of Cuts is my way of ensuring my growth every year. I spend time with myself, focus on my good and bad habits, and evaluate what can go and what needs to stay.