Self-leadership through lifestyle design: 6 ways to increase productivity, creativity, and success

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m naturally disorganized. While I love order and tidiness, my natural state is chaos and mess. As a kid, this resulted in failed classes, academic probation for sports (I nearly missed playing in a volleyball game because of my grades), and entering college conditionally: my alma mater, Boise State University, let me in . . . but I had to earn a B average or better to be allowed to stay at college. Otherwise I’d be out like Scout.

The thing is, my GPA was actually not so bad comparatively. I’d barely scraped by my first two years of high school, just managing to pass all my classes. Skipping several. Getting into trouble outside of school. One day, my art teacher called my mom, his voice edged with exasperation: “I can’t get Stacy to stay in class!” It seemed I was either not there or not doing my work. I was failing art, my second favorite subject. (English was my first favorite, of course!)

But my junior year of high school, everything changed. It was like someone flipped a switch in my brain, and suddenly I was showing up on time, getting straight As, and even graduated high school a semester early. In college, I graduated magna cum laude. I made it through graduate school with straight As as well, while building my business and working at a science publication at the university as part of my full funding scholarship.

Yep, I got full funding to grad school. Me. The naturally messy, disorganized, high school near-failure. I went on to build a six-figure location independent business that is on track to hit seven figures in the not-so-far-off future.

So, what happened? What changed? Am I special? That’s a resounding no. What changed is me. It started with keeping a planner in high school (mind blown!) and, as I saw how a simple tool could enable me to drastically improve my success at school, I became a student of productivity. I began adopting more habits to compensate for my lack of natural organization, focus, and follow-through. But I did so without suppressing my creativity. Because we all have great gifts, and I believe one of mine is my creative brain. Funny enough, I learned that I could be more creative when I wasn’t so stressed out all the time about all the things I hadn’t done or the people I’d let down.

At sixteen, I learned about self-leadership through lifestyle design and, as I saw its impact on my life, I continued studying productivity. Today, I’ve developed a lifestyle design model that I follow to support my productivity, creativity, and success. It has six core aspects.

#1 Intellectual: cultivating the discipline of focus and learning

Building space for discretionary time and integrating time blocking into your daily routine enables you to tap into the intellectual aspect of self-leadership, supporting focus, creativity, and productivity. This aspect of lifestyle design includes meaningful daily learning and feeding your brain the “right stuff.” That includes avoiding media that bring negativity into your life (news, anyone?) and instead intentionally choosing uplifting, thoughtful content.

#2 Spiritual: creating space for deeper internal connection

Spirituality is personal. I grew up Catholic, and while I don’t connect with the church the way I used to, spirituality is still an important part of my life. You may not believe in God, or you might, but either way, how can you carve out space for daily quietness that allows you to tap into that deeper part of yourself or connect with the higher power you believe in? A short, five-minute meditation or prayer first thing in the morning is one way to do this.

#3 Relational: valuing and nurturing interpersonal relationships

This is an aspect of lifestyle design I am constantly working to stay grounded in because it requires letting go of the American “work, work, work” mentality and instead being present. I have a tendency toward busyness—go, go, go all day long. Instead, the relational aspect of lifestyle design necessitates presence, connection, and valuing and nurturing relationships with the people we care most about.

#4 Personal: pursuing hobbies and activities that bring joy

When I became a mom, I briefly forgot that I am a separate and distinct person from the label “mother.” Don’t get me wrong—I love being a mom, but I also have passions and interests that have nothing to do with my children. Self-leadership includes engaging in hobbies and other joyful activities. What is something you used to love doing but don’t do anymore? Maybe start there.

#5 Physical: eating well and moving often (not just exercise)

A well body supports a well life, both personally and professionally. We all know to eat whole foods and exercise five days a week, but are you incorporating movement into your everyday, all day? Moving your body stimulates blood flow to the brain, which increases your productivity and focus. Take opportunities to walk during calls, ride a bike to work or for errands, or get up every forty-five minutes to do a lap around the neighborhood. Physical well-being is a non-negotiable when it comes to self-leadership because your body and brain impact every other aspect of your life. Treat them well.

#6 Emotional: honoring and caring for emotional well-being

“I’m fine.” “No, thanks, I’ve got it.” “Thanks for the offer, but I don’t need help.” All of these are phrases we have been conditioned to say. Not being fine is a sign of mental and emotional weakness . . . right? Absolutely not. Actually, mentally and emotionally strong people are able to recognize a need to recharge their batteries or ask for help. They recognize the difference between feeling lazy and needing to take time off to reenergize. They’re able to recognize when they’re emotionally overloaded and take the steps to recalibrate, whether that’s through taking a day (or week) off or going on a run.

I’m not suggesting to air your dirty laundry with your coworkers or team; I’m saying that there is space for being human in the workplace and in our relationships. One of the most powerful ways you can nurture emotional health is through rest. When you need it, ask for it. If you’re in a leadership role, if you recognize others’ need to rest or have space from the workplace, honor and encourage that. (My dear friend and expert leadership trainer Abbey Louie published a powerful video on her own emotionally hard day and the impact of one friend. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch it and learn from her example.)

I’ve just skimmed the surface of these principles. Which resonates most with you? To start harnessing self-leadership through lifestyle design, I suggest picking one aspect—intellectual, spiritual, relational, personal, physical, or emotional—and implement one habit to support your growth.

What would you add to this discussion? How do you nurture self-leadership in your life? What is a daily habit that supports your creativity and productivity? Share your thoughts in the comments. I love learning from you!

2 Comments

  • Abbey Reply

    I have a hard time imagining “pre-organized Stacy” :), but I can certainly attest to the way you live out these practices now. Love the practical strategies! #2, #3, and #5 are at the top of my priority list right now!

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Abbey! I admire how intentionally you lead yourself first so you can lead others. Maybe you can write a post about your own journey!

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