The One Thing You Can’t Afford to Blow Off


I have lots of friends who are entrepreneurs. Some have day jobs as well, others are making a full-time living in their businesses. Some think they “aren’t really entrepreneurs” because they run schools or nonprofits.

Some are successful and some are struggling, but we’ve all got one thing in common. We’ve maxed out our personal resources. Not our checkbooks or credit cards (although sometimes those too), but our creativity, our time, and our productive energy.

Scheduled maintenance

Ever work with a big, high-volume copy machine? High maintenance doesn’t begin to cover it. There’s always something wrong with the damned things–they start having hourly paper jams, or they get into the habit of sprinkling cheerful ink confetti on your documents. And of course they have pricy ink and toner that need frequent replacement.

The only way to keep these things running is to get ahead of the problem–to have the fix-it-up-chappie come out on a regular schedule to keep everything aligned and in good shape.

If you’re “too busy” or “too broke” to make that happen, the karmic law of disasters guarantees that the machine will break down spectacularly at the exact moment the FedEx guy is waiting for you to print out the biggest RFP of your career.

Scheduled maintenance is critical for any complex piece of equipment that’s working at or close to its maximum productivity. And the fix-it-up chappie will tell you that delicate equipment is a lot easier and cheaper to maintain than it is to repair.

How to get anything done

There’s a lot of verbiage out there about productivity, but most of it boils down to one central habit. If it must get done, you must carve out dedicated time for it. Twitter, gossip and television can all be fit into the spaces left over from real work. Returning client calls, hard thinking about business strategy and any kind of writing all need to be on your calendar. And in there for real, not just an Outlook appointment that you snooze every 15 minutes until you dismiss it, undone, at the end of the day.

You, my friend, are a high-maintenance machine.

You’re the complicated invention that can’t be replaced. Your work relies on your energy, your creativity, and your enthusiasm. And you can only fake those things on a very limited basis. Starbucks is a crappy substitute for creativity and life force.

By now, I suspect you’ve gotten my main point. You have to schedule maintenance on yourself. And you probably need to do that daily. (Sorry, workaholics. I don’t make the rules, I just write them down.)

You are too busy for a psychic breakdown. You are too broke to be forced into taking a week or a month off to repair your damaged nervous system. So start taking care of your machine every day.

Starting today.

The maintenance program

Figure out one or two times a day when you have a decent level of mental energy. Mornings are good for lots of people, but they might not be right for you. Don’t use “junk” time for maintenance–it’s too important. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your absolute peak performance time, but don’t use time slots when you have the creative capacity of a flatworm, either.

If you have a fabulous life, take an uninterrupted hour every day for maintenance. If you have a life like the rest of us, take 20 minutes in the morning and, when you can, another 20 before bed.

Use this time to do something just because you like it. It should be pointless and highly satisfying. Stupid is optional but not bad.

Read trashy books. Color with crayons. Take a hot bath, preferably with puppets or bath crayons. Make pornographic origami or models of Star Wars spaceships.

The one unbreakable rule: there must be no practical application whatsoever to maintenance work. Writing blog posts doesn’t count. Reading business books doesn’t count. Painting your toenails is iffy. Baking cookies is fair game, but only if you eat them all yourself.

Unless you are already magnificently sane and productive, and the words “homicidal rage” are quaintly foreign to you, nothing you regularly do now counts. Working out is great, meditation is great, but if you already do them and the machine is still making that funny grinding sound, you still need some stupid fun time.

The more uncomfortable this post makes you, the worse you need it.

If you’re mentally shrieking that this is pointless advice that only an irresponsible bonbon-eating slacker could give, you are in crisis. Your machine is just about to break, leaving you with a smoking pile of springs and burned gears and no way to get your work done.

Keep going the way you are and your work is going to start to get worse. The machine starts to disintegrate from the inside, corroding the parts that are very, very hard to see. You won’t notice it right away, but once the rust takes hold, it’s hard as hell to get rid of.

A broken machine means no work, or lousy work that quits getting results. It means crappy money, crappy success, crappy momentum. It means significant pain for the people who rely on you, whether they’re your clients or your kids. A broken machine is frustrating, massively inconvenient and painful as hell.

Step away from your to-do list. Buy a watercolor paintbox and some glitter before it’s too late.


Photo from


  1. Shayna says:

    With “pornagraphic origami” as the possible exception, I’d half swear you wrote this just for me! Thank you for the reminder – I’m going to send this post to every one of my wedding coordinator pals.

  2. David Linke says:

    Okay, I have told my wife…That I have been prescribed to play more golf. I will be getting back to the driving range twice a week and out on the course on the weekend…Now my wife might just work out how to find your blog, so could you just add a specific reference to the golf bit for me? :)

  3. Ali says:

    Thank you for this … something I really needed to read! I’m at a stage (full time job, as much freelancing as possible in the hope of “transitioning”) where I feel guilty if I’m not making good use of every spare minute.

    However, I’m starting to get not just that weird grinding noise, but a persistent alarm going “warning, warning”…

    I’m going to take your advice, and have some time purely to recharge. Because you’re right, I’m not going to be doing my best work if I’m curled up in a hysterical sobbing heap under the duvet…

  4. Judy Dunn says:

    I’m loving all your posts, but this one is perfect. We’re discussing this on right now.

    I have a plan to play every day. Don’t always get 40 minutes in, but I had to laugh at your reference to the watercolor box. I have my watercolor set handy. My juggling balls. My Elmer’s Glue and glitter.

    I read two hours a night (I know, it’s crazy) because there is nothing on television worth watching. I have a “no business book rule.” (Currently I’m rereading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.)

    I’m saving this post to share with some stressed-out buddies of mine. Thanks so much for the permission to play.

  5. “Read trashy books. Color with crayons. Take a hot bath, preferably with puppets or bath crayons. Make pornographic origami or models of Star Wars spaceships.”

    Crunch , grind, warning ,warning all happening here. I am laughing so hard…this post is perfect!!

    And I love Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It has been so long since I read it. Might have to head to the library …wait that’s not trashy enough is it?

  6. One, why are you on Typepad where I cannot subscribe to comments? Tsk tsk…


    A broken machine means no work, or lousy work that quits getting results. It means crappy money, crappy success, crappy momentum. It means significant pain for the people who rely on you, whether they’re your clients or your kids. A broken machine is frustrating, massively inconvenient and painful as hell.

    You couldn’t have said it better. We need to hear stuff like this more often.

  7. This is the second post I’ve read like this in as many days. Somebody must be trying to tell me something.

    By the way, Starbucks is also a crappy substitute for coffee.

  8. Sonia Simone says:

    @David, good luck with that! Get her to start doing some maintenance herself and she will probably forgive you anything.

    @Judy, Janice, Shayna, funny how universal it is, ain’t it? (Janice, if you love it, I hereby give you a trash license for Ayn Rand.)

    @James, yes, Michael Martine has already mocked me for my lowly Typepad blog. It’s on the list of stuff to fix. Somewhere.

    @Michael, yah, there’s a lot of crazy in the air right now. I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t think of business as a creative process, so they think it’s “self indulgent” to fill the well.

  9. Yahee says:

    Great advice… but so far I think I’m good. I’m a full time mom to a 2yr old super hero and an entrepreneur (bag designer). I work in my dining room while being attacked by various disney heros/villains. When I start to freak we go for a walk, or I turn on highly inappropriate music at high levels and we shake our money makers. Life’s pretty good… even when it’s not.

    P.S. I’ll be passing this one on to my less “slackerish” friends.

  10. Gilly says:

    The bit that hit me between the eyes was ‘don’t use junk time for maintenance’. That’s what I do so often – have some me-time when I’m too tired to do anything else. Thanks.

  11. First time I read this article it meant nothing to me.

    This time I said, “Yes, but…” six times.

    I’m going to go see Iron Man 2 tonight and EVERY DAY will have maintenance time. I promise.
    .-= Catherine Caine´s last blog ..My Awesome April results, and an Announcement =-.

  12. How come I see almost all of my favorite bloggers over here? Sonia, you must be doing something right (aside from that Typepad thing).

    I’m really bad about this, but most people that know me know this. Is it bad that my favorite thing to do is work? I’m not sure.

    The other day I was looking at gmail and all I saw was lines and colors and my heart started beating very fast…thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. Luckily, a few beers fixed it and I was back to work :)

    I usually violate the “junk time maintenance” rule, and it costs me. I fall asleep during my downtime. Not good, must work on this.

    I blame Copyblogger for their tough editorial standards :P
    .-= Nathan Hangen – Digital Emperor´s last blog ..The Secret to Getting Past Go =-.

  13. “Maintenance is cheaper than repair” is one of the Three Things I’ve Learned from Engineering.

    This is a timely warning. I was about to start listening to business-related podcasts instead of reading science fiction and comic books at night. There just seems to be so little time… (But there’ll be less if I wear myself down by using it all to work.)

  14. Good reminder to us entrepreneurs who try to fit work into every possible time slot! We have a “day of rest” built into our society for a good reason, though retailers don’t really practice “rest”. I try to unplug on Sundays, unless I’ve taken the previous Friday off – which I do on occasion – also good. Sunday matinees, coffee shops and ice cream treats are so much fun! No malls or grocery shopping allowed!
    .-= Marlene Hielema´s last blog ..The importance of monitor calibration =-.

  15. I’m behind on a lot of important work things.

    To solve that problem, last night I went out dancing with some friends and we hung out until about 3am afterwards. And I slept all day today.

    That was awesome.
    .-= Mark W. “Extra Crispy” Schumann´s last blog ..Pair programming sucks. That’s okay. =-.


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