No Plans November: What I Learned From One Month With An Empty Calendar

No Plans November- Jessica LawlorFor the past few months, I’ve absolutely packed my calendar. From the summer through the end of October, I didn’t have an empty weekend and most weeknights were filled with dinner plans, happy hours, events and more.

At the very beginning of November, I opened up my Google Calendar and looked at the month ahead. I saw something amazing…something I haven’t seen on my calendar for a long time.

Empty spaces. Freedom. I didn’t have ANY after work weekday plans on my calendar for the month of November…and I decided to keep it that way.

A fan of alliteration, I dubbed this personal challenge “No Plans November” and spent the month experimenting with my energy levels and happiness when I purposely left week nights open for yoga, running or simply, relaxation.

A few notes about No Plans November:

  • No Plans November applied to weeknight social plans only.
  • I did have a couple of work events in November, but didn’t count those toward the challenge since that’s not something I could say no to.
  • No Plans November had nothing to do with not liking the activities I choose to fill my time with. I LOVE being social and hanging out with my friends, but this experiment was intended to see how I felt if I limited those activities to weekends only.
  • I realize November isn’t over yet, but with the Thanksgiving holiday and upcoming weekend, there are no more work week weeknights to take into consideration.

Here’s what I learned and how I felt after one month with an (almost) empty calendar.

  • I felt way less stressed. Many of my post-work social plans take place in the city. I work in the suburbs, which usually means fighting rush hour traffic on 95 to get to my destination. Traffic makes me absolutely nutty and I noticed that my stress levels were way down when I wasn’t spending an hour or more in my car simply trying to get to a fun event or dinner.
  • No Plans November helped me better identify the things I want to do vs. the things I feel like I need to/should do. It was an easy excuse to tell people, “No, sorry, I can’t do ______ because I’m doing this thing called No Plans November.” But more than that, it helped me identify and decide between the things I actually WANTED to do and the things I had previously been saying yes to, but really didn’t want to do.
  • I felt, dare I say it, a little bored. Toward the end of the month, I found myself a little…bored. It was nice to have free time to lounge on the couch and catch up on TV shows, but I began to miss the social interaction I had become so used to throughout the week.
  • I WANTED to create more weekend plans. Because of how bored I began to feel, I found myself eager to make weekend social plans, which was a nice change from the feeling of just wanting the weekend to come to catch up on sleep and do nothing.
  • I had time to refocus on my health. I’ve struggled lately with finding time to get back into running and healthy eating. In November, I had more time to run (mostly after work, although it’s getting tougher now that it’s dark so early) and also had more space to plan out my meals, helping me eat healthier. I’m definitely happier when I’m active, so this helped with my energy and happiness levels.
  • It helped me be more choosy about what I say yes to. I’m getting better at saying no, but No Plans November really helped me prioritize what’s important to me. Because I was limited to only weekend plans, I was a little more conscious of the activities I chose to pursue on the weekends.
  • I felt calm. Mostly, No Plans November helped me feel more calm. I realized I spend my days super tense and stressed out because I’m trying to cram a million things into one tiny block of 24 hours. My expectations for how much could be packed in a day was unrealistic. I felt like I had more room to breathe and be a little more intentional about how I spent my time in November.

The big takeaway here? No Plans November is not realistic on an every month basis, but it was a fantastic way to help me find BALANCE in my calendar. It taught me the importance of SCHEDULING and blocking time for myself to make for a saner and happier life.

Most importantly, it reminded me of my priorities and helped me better evaluate what I say yes and no to and how those decisions make me feel.

Moving forward, I plan to incorporate a little bit of “No Plans November” into every month. I plan to block 1-2 weeknights per week for myself, while keeping plans to a healthy minimum. I want to find a healthy balance where I feel like I’m still able to be social, but also keep myself and my energy in check.

Have you ever tried a similar experiment? Think you’ll try this in a future month? Chime in below!

Get Gutsy with Sierra Elmore: “I Started My Own Design Business at Age 17″

Welcome to the Get Gutsy interview series! Each month, I interview people who are getting gutsy- stepping outside their comfort zones to reach their goals and live a life that makes them truly happy.

Click here to read past Get Gutsy interviews.

get gutsy with Sierra Elmore- Jessica Lawlor

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to an inspiring young woman, Sierra Elmore.

Here’s a quick story about me and Sierra: Rewind back to summer and I’m out to dinner with my good friend and fellow solopreneur Amy Chick. I tell Amy how I’m looking for a designer for the Get Gutsy ebook. Amy tells me she knows this amazing young woman who is 17 years old and running her own design business. My first reaction was, “Wait, what?! 17???” Amy said she had hired her and was incredibly impressed with her work and professionalism. I checked out her company, 13 Elm Streets, and decided to hire her to design my book…and the rest is history! That woman? Sierra Elmore.

Let’s get into it! Meet Sierra.

1. Hi Sierra! Thanks for being on the blog today. Could you please give us your best Twitter-style introduction? (140 characters or less!)

I do graphic design (PDFs, social media, branding) for creatives, own a online design shop and blog about business/productivity!

2. Tell us about how you are getting gutsy.

Starting a business (13 Elm Streets) at age 17 was pretty scary! I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to make it as a designer at such a young age. So many times over the past few months, I’ve thought “What if this fails? Maybe I should have gotten a part-time job instead.” But I’ve forged on, and things have gotten so much better than they were when I first started.

3. When I was in high school, I was busy fretting over boys and agonizing over geometry homework. YOU started your own business! Why?

Haha, there was plenty of crying over math homework until I started taking business math! (Now, for some odd reason, I love math.) In all seriousness, though, I started 13 Elm Streets because I saw all of these amazing women starting up unique online businesses and I thought something like that would be perfect for me. I was originally going to just make 13 Elm Streets an Etsy shop when I was 18, but I decided to take the plunge and start this past March! I’m so happy that I didn’t wait, since I most likely would have lost interest and moved on to something less sustainable.

4. What kind of projects do you love to work on?

I love, love, LOVE working on PDF design projects and book covers! It must be the reader in me :)

5. How did you prepare yourself to run a business? Were there any tools or resources you found particularly useful?

I read a LOT of blogs about business, productivity, ecommerce, craft shows, design..and I still do! The blogs that helped me the most in the beginning are the Etsy Seller Handbook, XO Sarah, your productivity tips (Note from Jess: Aw, thanks!) and Create and Thrive. As for tools, I love, love, LOVE Asana for project management, my Kate Spade planner and Google Calendar for planning my day, my Moleskine for keeping track of random tasks and Evernote for storing articles and keeping notes.

6. How important has it been to collaborate and work with other business owners? Do you have a support system you can lean on for advice?

I love working with other business owners! Right now, I’m working on a Small Business Saturdays blog column where I feature small business owners, and my friend Samantha Zalenski (she’s also a teenage entrepreneur and one of the best illustrators I’ve come across!) and I are working on a Facebook support group for other young entrepreneurs. I get a lot of support from my family, business friends and Facebook groups for small business owners. They’ve all helped me a lot.

7. Have you faced any challenges because of your age? Tell us how you overcome roadblocks.

Surprisingly, there haven’t been too many! My biggest frustration was finding online accounts that I could work with without feeling guilty about lying about my age (although, erm, I may do that with some accounts). That’s how I found my awesome online shop host, Storenvy! At first I thought that nobody would take me seriously, but my clients don’t even flinch when I say “my mom has to co-sign this contract because I’m 17.” In fact, sometimes they congratulate me for my moxie!

8. What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business? Maybe other people who are facing obstacles because of their age or some other attribute?

Don’t let anybody stop you. Seriously, age is just a number and it says nothing about your abilities. Keep learning your craft, get smart about business and keep creating.

9. What does your life look like five years from now? More importantly, how do you hope to feel?

Five years from now, I’m fresh out of college and am starting to build the all-female design studio that I’ve been dreaming of. I hope to feel happy, fulfilled and busy with client work – but not overwhelmed!

10. What does getting gutsy mean to you?

Getting Gutsy means not following everybody else’s rules and instead choosing to follow your heart. You may be wrong or others may mock you – it doesn’t matter. As long as you reach outside of the conventional and do what you feel is right, everything will work out in your favor.

Want to connect with Sierra? 

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Pinterest

Know someone you think I should chat with for the Get Gutsy interview series? I’d love to hear about them! Let me know in the comments below!

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