I learned how to access my flow state — Flow state is an optimal state of consciousness that allows you to perform at optimal levels. I ran daily experiments on what tools allowed me to get into the flow. I know I must be isolated, that 5–9 AM are my flow zone and what needs to be in my environment to spur creativity. From meditation to exercise I found a way to hack my flow state and access it at will. I once did 22 hours of work in 2 hours. And it was pristine. Now that’s slowing down to do more.
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Nichole Kelly. Nichole is a marketing executive at WebMechanix who helps marketers unlock their full potential and is the author of How to Measure Social Media. Nichole has been helping marketers unlock their full potential for over 17 years. From running corporate marketing teams to leading a successful marketing agency she has experienced all “sides” of the marketing equation. As a lead strategist at WebMechanix she helps brands discover their why and develop digital strategies that deliver impact beyond just profit, a gift she discovered after authoring the book How to Measure Social Media. She is a personal development aficionado and offers a level of self awareness and feminine leadership that is refreshing and inspiring.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
My story is a unique example of reaching complete burn out. Here’s what happened.
I founded an incredibly successful east coast marketing agency as a highly celebrated marketing visionary who transformed the industry’s ability to measure and demonstrate return on investment.
○ My company experienced a tremendous growth year with an over 400% increase in revenue in 2011.
○ During that same year, I had an offer from Pearson to write and publish a book, which I accepted and completed. The book, How to Measure Social Media was written from beginning to end in 4 months without a single missed deadline. I also completed a book tour and traveled the world speaking at dozens of events that year.
○ As if that wasn’t enough, I also had a baby and was mothering my third child. Due to my increasing demand in the industry, I went back to work full-time a mere 5 DAYS after she was born.
Fast forward three years to 2014 and I was lying in a hospital bed being told I had experienced two minor strokes. Shortly thereafter, I was told I had a 60% chance of a full stroke within a year. My life would never be the same. Despite all attempts to find balance, in 2016, I experienced another minor stroke and had a near-death experience. I had burned out. Completely. What happened isn’t unique to my story; it was simple.
The goals I set for myself put me on a hustle-wheel to success and achievement that would never end. The never-ending nature of my dreams was exhausting as I blew through every goal I set without never stopping to appreciate achieving them..
I was following the advice of Gary Vaynerchuck, Grant Cordone and other hustle advocates who said to keep going stronger and faster and it almost took my life.
Since then, I have redesigned my career and life around being in my flow state as often as possible. And in a surprising move, I surrendered the title of CEO and joined a marketing agency called WebMechanix that is a finalist for the Interactive Marketing Awards highly coveted, Agency of the Year award.
According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?
I had to start unraveling the unconscious programming that told me I “should be doing” something; all the time. I quickly noticed that I found it incredibly difficult to relax. I realized if I “wasn’t doing something” my internal dialogue was telling me I was “doing something wrong.” I was constantly in a rush to get to the next thing, finish the next task or just get as much into a day as possible. I was running at 150% all the time, but it wasn’t because I wanted to it was because I didn’t know how NOT to. I had to find a way to end the program or my body was going to shut down and I might not survive.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
The constant need to be “doing” was putting my body in fight or flight and increasing my stress and anxiety to the point of insomnia and obsessive work habits. My inability to relax meant that my brain was on hyperdrive all the time. Combine that with the pressure to succeed and trying to respond to the success that was already coming in and it was clear; my goals were unattainable because I designed them that way.
While I enjoyed the sense of fulfilment that came with checking of those to dos or TA DAs as I call them and receiving accolades in the industry, internally I felt like I was running on empty. And I was.
On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?
I began a daily practice of morning and before bed meditation. I started paying attention to when I get my best work done and realized that my key productivity hours are from 5–9 AM and realigned my schedule to support it. I learned how to use tools like exercise, meditation and music to change my brain wave patterns and access flow state.
I set aside time for focused creativity in 2 hour blocks with an hour and a half break in between heavy “thinking” work. And it’s a true break. I’ll exercise, eat, go for a walk or meditate. This allows me to be hyper productive. For example, once I completed 22 hours of work in only 2 hours. And it wasn’t just complete. It was pristine.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1) I eliminate mental weight at home — Have you ever noticed some of the most organized people at the office fall apart at home? I was one of those people. I realized I could take all of my good habits home and implement them. A big one was that I realized I was spending a lot of mental energy trying to remember things. So I freed my mind and created a system to make things the family does repeatedly easier. For example, in the mornings everyone has their own list for getting ready. Here’s an example of our daily lists; [Mom] [7 year old Daughter, Gia]. We’re even looking at implementing a project management tool like Asana at home so we can create project templates for things like cleaning days and more.
2) I batch tasks and decision making — I’ve found that switching between tasks is one of the biggest wastes of time and energy. The time to switch your brain from one task to the other seems to take up to 20 minutes. So, I batch similar tasks together so I can get through them efficiently. Instead of responding to emails throughout the day I batch it all once or twice. I also batch decision making as I find it slows down productivity. I’ll make all the decisions that need to be made for a project separately from sitting down to complete the project. It means I have 2 work sessions and they can be shorter because each is designed with the same tasks in mind.
3) I use Kanban Boards to activate hyperfocus — Sometimes I get distracted by shiny things. Kanban boards help me stay focused. I use Asana to set up a project board with Ta Das (my way of saying to do), On Deck, In Progress, Complete and Waiting for. On Deck allows me to prioritize a work session and the key is only one thing can be in the in progress column at a time. This allows me to organize many tasks while only focusing on the one I’m doing at that moment.
4) I learned how to access my flow state — Flow state is an optimal state of consciousness that allows you to perform at optimal levels. I ran daily experiments on what tools allowed me to get into the flow. I know I must be isolated, that 5–9 AM are my flow zone and what needs to be in my environment to spur creativity. From meditation to exercise I found a way to hack my flow state and access it at will. I once did 22 hours of work in 2 hours. And it was pristine. Now that’s slowing down to do more.
5) I play more — This is an area where I’m grateful to have children. I realized I never really learned how to play and therefore I spent almost all of my time in adulting mode. I learned that play enhances productivity, creativity and more. At least once a week I take time out of my schedule to play whether it’s to play chase with my daughter, play dress up or play board games. And every day we set our intentions for the day and do a dance party before we head out the door.
6) I created a replenishment menu — Self care is key to doing more. I created a menu of items I can do to relax. It includes everything from a bath to a massage to a trip to the beach. I organized my replenishment menu into time and money outlay so that every week I could simply pick based on my preference. This takes all the big decisions that have held me back from honoring myself with self care in the past away. Finally prioritizing my replenishment time and not waiting for permission has been a huge key.
7) *BONUS — Actually work less — The key to all of this is to reward yourself for your gains in productivity. Take more time off, spend time with your family, finally take time for your hobbies and get out in nature.
I’m also testing out the Bullet Journal Method and planning time during the day using a circular format versus a vertical line will transform my perspective and experience.
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
For me, mindfulness means that I am living a life of presence. It means that I am present in the moment and in the potential impact of that moment. It’s a fluid state of awareness that every moment matters. The biggest area where I practice mindfulness is with my children. It’s so easy with our busy lives and never-ending Ta Da lists to forget to be present with our children.
To address that I ensure that when I’m talking with my children I get down to their level, I look them in the eyes and I ask lots of questions. I ask them about their day. I ask them about their dreams. I ask them how they feel. What’s on their minds and whatever else comes up. And the key is that I listen to what they have to say with my full attention. My 7 year old and I have had in-depth conversations about everything from consciousness to how she feels when her friends are arguing to how cool ants are.
When I can let go of controlling what is happening I actually get to experience it fully.
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
The number one shortcut is to meditate every day. It’s one many will say and fewer will do. A simple 5 minute meditation in the morning and before bed can make a huge amount of difference. It allows your brain to slow down and trust me, it wants to. Some struggle with meditation because of prescribed practices that won’t work for everyone. Try guided meditations from people like Emily Fletcher who helps people who think they can’t meditate learn what meditation really is. And I’ll say…it isn’t what we’ve been told. Personally, I try to do a minimum of 20 minutes in the morning upon waking and before bed. Staying present is easier when your mind knows it will have time to process that problem or opportunity later.
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
I meditate using NuCalm in the office which increases the effectiveness of meditation through neuroscience. I also listen to binaural beats through headphones while working on projects to create hyperfocus. Finally, I use exercise to switch brain hemispheres from left to right so I can effortlessly jump from creativity to analytical thought patterns. Essentially, I’m training my brain to follow my lead, rather than being led by it.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices
Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer
The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes
Impact Theory by Tom Bilyeu
AMP by Aubrey Marcus
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~Rumi
Judgement is one of life’s greatest detractors. I’ve found that removing judgement of myself and others helps me flow through life with more grace and ease. I give others the benefit of the doubt and understand that we are all doing our best.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire marketers to leverage the social conditioning engine we call media to unlock humanity’s full potential. The engine is effective. The current message isn’t. We have the power to flip the script from judgement, fear, guilt and shame in our society to one of acceptance, inclusion, forgiveness and empathy.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!