I’ve known Pick The Brain Editor-in-Chief and LeafTV Co-founder Erin Falconer for years, so when I find out that she’s birthed both a book and a baby within a short span of time, I’m not surprised. Falconer has, after all, been a boss babe since long before the term entered the zeitgeist, and she’s the type of overachiever who can cause you to evaluate your own CV with anxiety-inducing results.
The accomplished entrepreneur, however, didn’t see herself as such when she was first approached to write a book. Instead, she questioned her credentials (imposter syndrome is real). But in doing so, she realized she’d hit on an angle for her manuscript, which became How to Get Sh*t Done: Why Women Need to Stop Doing Everything so They Can Achieve Anything, out January 2.
The book addresses this idea that as modern women, we are extraordinarily busy; however, we don’t have ownership over many of the things we’re busy doing, and this is making us feel unfulfilled and unaccomplished. “Even though I’m a pretty confident person, it really surprised me just how much work there is to do on even myself in terms of fully being able to own who I am, where I want to go, and how I want to spend my time,” Falconer tells me when I call her to chat about the new book. “I’ve seen a lot of similar discontent among my peers who are successful, courageous, and ambitious women—on paper they’re getting a lot done, but likewise they aren’t feeling great about themselves and their accomplishments and are low energy as a result.”
“It really surprised me just how much work there is to do on even myself in terms of fully being able to own who I am, where I want to go, and how I want to spend my time.” —Erin Falconer
The reasons for this are myriad, but Falconer points in large part to the aforementioned lack of self-awareness she first spotted in herself. To this end, one of my favorite takeaways from the book has to do with identifying for yourself what Falconer calls “the Big 3.”
“In the book, I talk about your three big buckets—your personal life, your professional life, and your relationships,” Falconer says. She suggests picking one major goal from each bucket and making steps toward those goals the focus of your day, every day, eliminating the things from your schedule that do not directly feed them. In other words, she wants you to simplify in order to be actually productive as opposed to just busy.
To help you in this endeavor, Falconer introduces what she calls a 7-Day Time-Tracking Challenge. The idea is to spend one week accounting for every hour of your time, being 100 percent honest about how it was spent. “You’ll carve out an hour to get part of a project done, but what you’re not aware of is that in that hour you’ve checked your phone, you’ve scrolled Instagram, you’ve responded to a text, etc,” she says by way of example. “So it’s really a distracted hour, and [if you find this to be true for you], it would be better to schedule half an hour that’s uninterrupted than an hour that’s disrupted.”
At the end of the week, she says, anything you spent time doing that doesn’t feed one of your Big 3 goals—with the exception of small pockets of relaxation—has to go. The toughest ones to cut, many women may find, are specific to gender: the “I shoulds.” Read more about them in an exclusive excerpt from How to Get Sh*t Done below.
Keep reading for a sneak peek at Falconer’s book, a master class in productivity.
How to Get Sh*t Done by Erin Falconer
The Devil of All Devils: The Word “Should”
“Guilt is to the spirit what pain is to the body.” — Elder David A. Bednar
And now we come to the final word that I want to draw your attention to—and then kick to the curb. Should. Should is a word that implies obligation and expectation and often comes as a box set that’s gift-wrapped in guilt and even shame. It’s also a word that implies an open-endedness and the absence of a decision. It describes possibility rather than reality. “I should go to the gym” is not the same as “I’m going to the gym.” “I’m going to the gym” is definitive. You’ve got a plan and you’re executing that plan. There’s no feeling involved, it’s simply a commitment. The person saying, “I should go to the gym,” might end up by lacing up her runners, or she might spend another hour on the couch. Not only does should suggest things are still up in the air, it’s almost always a negative. We rarely use should when talking about something we’re looking forward to. If you wanted to describe something you hoped for but weren’t sure would come through, you’d say, “I hope I can make it to that conference next month,” or, “I want to leave the office in time to join friends for dinner.” You don’t have a set-in- stone plan yet in these scenarios, but your desires are clear. When you find yourself saying should, you’re not anticipating something great, but rather are reminding yourself of that never-ending to-do list you should (there it is again!) be chipping away at.
Shoulding ourselves is a major energy drain, as it compels us to split focus. We’re forcing our minds to be in two places at once. If I’m exhausted after a marathon week and am urgently in need of a day involving my bed and a book, but I’m taunted by the feeling that I should be helping my parents clean out their garage, I’m now in two places. I’m also in neither place, really. I’m not enjoying some well-earned self-care, because I’m distracted by my guilt, and I’m not helping my parents, because I couldn’t make a decision to do so. I’ve robbed myself of the satisfaction that either of these choices could have brought me. We’re never truly in the moment if we allow thoughts of should to be telling us a story of another choice that might have been made.
Shoulding ourselves is a major energy drain, as it compels us to split focus. We’re forcing our minds to be in two places at once.
Which brings us to should’s true toxic nature. We don’t actually say should that often, not out loud, anyway. No, should is the word we say to ourselves, all day long. Inner dialogue is something all humans have. If left unchecked and untrained in the ways we worked on in the last chapter, the brain can be noisy with negative commentary. Imagine a sportscaster (except it’s you!) describing your day. “Really? Can you not see the muffin top those jeans are creating? You should lose five pounds before wearing those.” Should plays a key role in the lion’s share of this trash talk. Your alarm goes off and you think, I should go for a run . . . but I really want to sleep for fifteen more minutes. At lunch you tell yourself, I should order the salad . . . but I’m craving a burger. After a phone call with you mother, you think, I really should get out to my parents’ place more often. I should go this weekend. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to exercise, eat healthy, and stay connected with our families. But the very fact of a should in a sentence is a red flag that you either don’t want to do that thing or don’t really intend to do it. Either way, you’ve created a divide between what you’re expected to do and what you want to do. If you are saying the word should, but really mean something different, you are penalizing yourself—which over time will deplete you.
And whose expectations are we meeting—or worse, failing—when we badger ourselves with should? This can be a tricky tangle to unpick. But it’s worth slowing down and examining if you’re being pulled toward doing something because you believe it’s the right thing to do or because you’re conforming to a societal expectation that doesn’t serve you.
Here are a few times you shouldn’t should:
I should go to Jenny’s baby shower because she went to mine. Wrong.
I should do more work on this paper because I have an extra couple hours. Wrong.
I should go pick up the kids because my husband has had a really tough week. Wrong.
Making changes in how we speak, and therefore in how we think, is significant.
If you are saying the word should in a sentence there is a 99 percent chance you are wrong. The only time should should be used is in choosing a priority or order to something that has a quantifiable outcome, e.g., “I should go to the bank before the meeting because traffic is lighter and I will waste less time.”
Making changes in how we speak, and therefore in how we think, is significant. If you’ve been doing anything one way for years, switching gears will feel uncomfortable. And it’s that discomfort that can set off alarm bells for many women. Making other people uncomfortable? Making myself uncomfortable? It’s like sirens going off in your brain! But with repetition, saying what you mean (rather than what is expected of you) can become as comfortable as your old habits were.
Need more help living an actually productive life? Try these 8 apps. Plus, Tim Ferris shares his trick for prioritizing self-care without compromising productivity. (Spoiler alert: It echoes Erin’s.)