Mindset

Self Awareness as the Key That Unlocks Consistency with Marie Poulin

Marie and I talk about consistency and how critical it was to her success with Notion, her course, and community. And how discovering she was neurodivergent explained so much about how her brain worked and has helped her figure out how to set up systems that work the way she does.

Susan Boles
June 29, 2021
47
 MIN
Podcast
"How Marie fashioned her work schedules, the systems and tools she uses, and her business around what makes her tick and how her brain works.

Sometimes the challenges to consistency come from self-sabotage, things like distraction, boredom, imposter syndrome.

But especially for folks who are neurodivergent or dealing with chronic issues or disabilities, consistency comes with additional challenges that require you to figure out how to manage unpredictable energy levels, or how to cope with executive function issues.

Most common productivity advice centers on the idea of trying to do more work, to shove more into the day, to force yourself to change your behavior so you can do more.

But what if you don't want to do more? What if you just want to make it easier on yourself to do the work you love?

Or what if your brain or energy levels just don't work the same way that the productivity bros hawking the advice do? Then a lot of that advice is just downright useless.

The real key is figuring out how your brain works and creating an environment that supports you in doing your best work. And that may take some experimentation, but it probably won’t happen following someone else’s hacks.

Marie Poulin, of Notion Mastery, helps ambitious business owners level up their digital systems, workflow, and productivity, so they can spend more time on what matters. She's been an influential voice in the Notion community, has a big following on her Notion Youtube channel, and has created a lot of the Notion resources available today.

Marie also recently discovered that she has ADHD, so her brain works a little differently and things like consistency, scripting or executive functioning–like deciding what to prioritize working on–can be extra challenging.

Marie and I talk about consistency and how critical it was to her success with Notion and her course and community Notion Mastery. We also talk about how discovering she was neurodivergent explained so much about how her brain worked and has helped her figure out how to set up systems that work the way she does.


Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • How Marie uses making public commitments as an external motivator to keep herself consistent
  • Why she learned to build in opportunities for later iteration and improvement to projects so she can be finished enough for now
  • How Marie stumbled into her ADHD diagnosis and how she gave herself permission to accept that her brain works differently
  • Tools for noting when and how you work best so you can minimize resistance in your schedule

Episode Transcript

Marie Poulin (00:00):

I have crafted systems around to help me cope, and sometimes people, they are maybe in awe sometimes at some of the systems. "Oh, I wish I was this organized." I'm like, "You don't understand. If I was not this organized, this cart would go off the rails. It's pure chaos." It really is. Chaos is my default state.

Susan Boles (00:25):

Understanding the unique ways that your brain works can go a long way towards helping you be consistent. If you understand what works and what doesn't, for you specifically, you can create systems and support structures to help you be more consistent. I'm Susan Boles, and you're listening to Break The Ceiling, the show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit, and increase your capacity. So much of being able to be consistent has to do with the way you work and the systems you create to help you do that work consistently, which means that you have to figure out how you work best and where you particularly struggle. That's different for everyone.

Susan Boles (01:11):

Now, that idea runs counter to pretty much every productivity hack out there. Most common productivity advice centers on the idea of trying to do more work, to shove more into the day, to force yourself to change your behavior so you can do more. But what if you don't want to do more? What if you just want to make it easier on yourself to do the work you love? What if your brain or energy levels just don't work the same way that the productivity bros who hawk the advice do? Then a lot of that advice is really just downright useless. The real key is figuring out how your brain works and creating an environment that supports you doing your best work. That's probably not forcing yourself to follow someone else's hacks, but experimenting and figuring out what works for you.

Susan Boles (02:05):

Marie Poulin of Notion Mastery helps ambitious business owners level up their digital systems, workflow, and productivity, so they can spend more time on what matters. She's been an influential voice in the Notion community. She has a big following on her Notion YouTube channel. She's created a lot of the Notion resources that are available today. She also recently discovered that she has ADHD. So, her brain works a little differently. Things like consistency, or scripting things, or executive functioning, like deciding what to prioritize working on, can be extra challenging. It's one of the reasons she was drawn to Notion in the first place. She could build a completely customized project management system that worked the way her brain worked.

Susan Boles (02:51):

Marie and I talk about consistency and how critical it was to her success with Notion, and her course and community, Notion Mastery, but also, we talk about how discovering she was neuro-divergent explained so much about how her brain worked. It's helped her figure out how to set up systems that work the way she does. Hey, Marie. Thanks for coming back to the show.

Marie Poulin (03:15):

I'm excited.

Susan Boles (03:16):

The last time you were on, you were the beginning of the you're the Notion person. Since then, you have gone on to become the name of Notion. It's synonymous. It seems like you, when you started, you were just everywhere all at once, but it actually really hasn't been that long since you shifted your business to focus on Notion. You said you credited consistency as being one of the major reasons that you've succeeded. I mean, I absolutely agree. Consistency is really important. When you started down this whole YouTube, Notion path, was consistency actually a focus or a priority for you, when you started it? How did you approach, "I'm going to go be a YouTube star about Notion?"

Marie Poulin (04:04):

That definitely wasn't the plan. I mean, being consistent, in the beginning, was part of the plan, because I felt like I could sense this energy emerging. I could see Notion was exploding. There was this popularity just building, and I felt like, "Okay. This is going to explode. I'm on the cusp of something." I started to see other people had some blogs about it, and courses, and some videos, but there still wasn't a ton. I thought, "If I'm going to get known for this, I'm going to have to really take it seriously." So, I committed to doing a YouTube video every week for three months, which is a lot of work, for sure. I certainly wasn't comfortable with video, at the time, but it was just the best way to share about Notion.

Marie Poulin (04:49):

The videos were getting so much traction so quickly, and the followers on YouTube, it happened so fast. I thought, "Okay." It was an immediate feedback loop that, "Okay. This is going to be the best way to get the information out." Between that, and then doing Notion's office hours every week, I basically had two different sources of content happening every week for about three to four months. If you look at my YouTube now, you'll see videos maybe once every month or so. Now, I don't have the same cadence and the same output that I used to have, but in the beginning, I think it really, really mattered, because it did feel like, "Oh, Marie's everywhere." They just associated me with Notion. Tight at the beginning, when I was doing that, I think, is when it mattered most. Then in some ways, it bought me some credibility in that I was able to take my foot off the gas a little bit.

Susan Boles (05:37):

So, this is super interesting. When you were embarking on this, "Okay. I'm going to do a video every week. That's my commitment to myself, my commitment to this project, and I'm going to do the video and the office hours," what were your biggest challenges actually doing that? It's one thing to say, "I'm going to be consistent. I'm going to do this," and then a week goes by, two weeks go by, and you do it, and then something comes up the third week, and you're like, "Well, maybe I won't."

Marie Poulin (06:17):

Yeah. Yeah. I definitely feel that now. I've shared this before. We can chat a little bit about the ADHD side of things, where I can go through wild bursts of intense focus that can last for days, weeks, sometimes months at a time, and I look back at that time in my life and I go, "How on Earth did I pull that off, because that is bananas." I think part of it was that it was the only thing I had going on. I knew I wanted to make a Notion course, probably July, August of 20 ... Was it 2018, maybe? Did my first webinar about Notion in that August. A few months later was when I launched the pilot of my course.

Marie Poulin (06:59):

I knew if I was going to sell a course about Notion, I needed to build that credibility and get that lift. I think there's external motivating factors, where I've promised people I'm going to do this thing. They're depending on me. People are asking for it. Ah, there's an opportunity here. So, I think I'm probably very driven by that, I don't know, people-pleasing or external expectations. That's a big part of it for me. I know that about myself. If I make a public promise, I'm much more likely to follow through on it. There was that. Again, just week after week, every time I was releasing a video, people were blown away. They were commenting. There was just so much engagement, it felt way easier. I had something to talk about. I was actually really excited.

Marie Poulin (07:41):

When you're really passionate about something, it's, obviously, a lot easier. So, in the beginning, I don't think it felt like a chore. It was like, "Ooh, okay. Another video. Aw, I've been meaning to share this." In some ways, it was me sharing and service to things that people were already asking me for all the time. I had this endless stream of video ideas and that sort of thing. That kept me going for quite some time. Then I think, at some point, it peters out, and you're like, "Whew, okay. Now I've got to focus on course content." Now, if people are paying for this thing, I want to make sure that I have enough behind the paywall that feels valuable, and people aren't like, "Wait. Can't I just look at all your YouTube videos?"

Marie Poulin (08:19):

So, finding that balance, I think, was very difficult, because creating content is no joke. Right? It takes a lot of time, energy, and attention. So, dividing that between my paid program and YouTube, it meant I needed to shift gears a little bit and didn't need to be so heavy on all of the free public content, and needed to focus more on the course. So, that's a little bit about that journey, consistent, really heavy for a short, focused burst, and then, "Whew. Okay. Now I need to focus over here."

Susan Boles (08:50):

This is not necessarily related to consistency, but how did you break down what goes public, what goes in the course? How do you balance creating content for ... I mean, it's essentially two channels that are talking about very similar things, and very similar content. How do you think about dividing the two, and balancing both the workloads?

Marie Poulin (09:19):

I think this is something I'm probably still working on. I haven't figured out, necessarily, the answer to that. I can share some of the observations. I think, in YouTube, people's attention span is so, so, so short. You have to get right to the point and get really specific. I think, in some ways, that was really tricky, because people would be like, "Get to the point." But then other people would be like, "Wait. Slow down. You didn't go into X, Y, Z." I was like, "Oh, wow." It was really interesting to try to figure out how much information to give, how fast to go. Again, people's attention span is very different. When they're paying for a course, they're invested in a different way. They're willing to spend a little bit more time.

Marie Poulin (10:03):

So, in some ways, the YouTube is a bit more teasing the possibilities, while showcasing something really specific, like tutorial style. "Hey. Here's how to do this one really simple thing in Notion," whereas the course is much more immersive. It's a longer term experience, if you will. It's touching upon all of the habit creation, and personal growth, and other parts that happen as a result of integrating Notion into different parts of your life and business. It's much more immersive, a little deeper. We get a lot more into the personal development and growth side of things, if that makes sense.

Susan Boles (10:41):

Yeah. Totally. So, now that you have both channels ... At the beginning, you did really focus on YouTube. Then you really focused on course content. Now they're both, as far as I hear, pretty well established.

Marie Poulin (11:00):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (11:01):

How do you balance creating content now that there's two channels, and they're mostly there?

Marie Poulin (11:09):

Oh, it's so hard. It's really hard to keep up with YouTube now, because my excitement and my focus, I really want to serve the people who have already committed, and paid for the course, and are immersed in that, and are part of the community. So, what I like to do is make sure that if I'm teasing out a concept, I like to test that out with the community first. So, they always get first access to things I'm thinking about. "Hey. I'm experimenting with this new way of doing something in Notion. Check it out." So, there's this inner circle, and I get to co-create that with people in a chorus. I can say, "Oh, great. Now that we've figured out a way to do this, I can show one small part of that on YouTube."

Marie Poulin (11:50):

I'm ... I don't want to say less worried now about YouTube, but if I can get one video out a month, I'm happy. Obviously, more would be ideal. If I could be shipping a weekly video, that would be awesome. But in some ways, I feel like the traction that I've built up, and the SEO juice, and reputation, and all that, a lot of those videos that are still two years old ... I know you know this from your podcast, too. Right? The two-year-old videos that you're like, "What? I did that one thing, and now suddenly, that's how everybody knows me," and then they watch that video, and they purchase the course. I still have videos like that, that have been around forever, that still are really highly converting. In some ways, as long as you have that pillar content out there, that becomes an engine that can keep serving you over and over again.

Marie Poulin (12:34):

Again, I still haven't figured out all the answers. I would love to be able to ship a video at a more weekly cadence. Maybe part of that is going even smaller, like really, really tiny tips, and tricks, and that sort of thing, because video editing takes time. All of that stuff takes time. So, I'm still figuring out how to balance that, but I'm also I the midst of a curriculum redesign right now. So, my focus is just 100% on how can I make the paid program the most epic version of this there can possibly be? In some ways, you put marketing on hold a little bit. The content creation for your paid programs becomes priority. It's always a balancing act. Right? Sometimes you're in launch mode, other times you're in ideation mode, creation mode, and wavering between the two. It's a teeter-totter. There's always a bit of give and take.

Susan Boles (13:24):

Yeah. I've noticed similar ... Since my course launched, it was very much I focus on the content creation, and then I focus on the marketing, and then you go back and do curriculum updates, and then back on the marketing side.

Marie Poulin (13:36):

Exactly.

Susan Boles (13:37):

So, yeah. I feel that.

Marie Poulin (13:42):

You know the deal.

Susan Boles (13:43):

Well, as soon as I finished something, I'm like, "Oh, oh, oh. I could make this better." I have to be like, "Nope. Just put it on the list for next time. It's okay."

Marie Poulin (13:49):

Good enough for now.

Susan Boles (13:51):

You don't have to fix it right now. It's okay.

Marie Poulin (13:52):

Exactly.

Susan Boles (13:54):

So, were there any downsides to focusing on consistency, to being really singularly focused on the YouTube channel or the course? Are there any downsides that you've found?

Marie Poulin (14:11):

I guess I haven't personally. I think it was one of the smartest things that I ever did, was doubling down on it. I saw it as an experiment, a chapter. I'm like, "Let's see what happens." Because I've been a generalist for so, so long. I just have handled so many different parts of a project. I didn't really have a singular positioning or focus. So, doubling down on Notion was the first time I thought, "What if I were to get known for this, really, one specific thing?" It was a total experiment. The growth was explosive. I was like, "Well, feed a starving crowd." Right?

Marie Poulin (14:46):

It makes things so much easier when people know how to find you, because what you do is so specific. So, I would say it was a really smart move for me, to do that doubling down, and just being really consistent for a very, very focused burst. I can't say I can think of any downsides, other than it does take up a lot of your time, of course. It's a commitment. But it was definitely worth it, I'd say.

Susan Boles (15:12):

I'm curious how you prioritized making that time? So, in order to be consistent, in order to be really hyper-focused on something, you have to balance other things.

Marie Poulin (15:24):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (15:25):

At this point, you had a software. You're consulting. You had other stuff going on. How did you think through what are you going to give up? What are you going to prioritize? How are you going to balance all of these things?

Marie Poulin (15:40):

Yeah. I mean, as you said, you do have to make sacrifices, and you have to ask yourself, "What do you want in the longterm?" I knew that I wanted to develop a course about Notion. I've made courses before. I know they're not a small thing. Even a small course, it takes a lot out of you to not just create the content, but to market it, to talk about it. There's just a lot of moving parts with an online course. So, a few things. I think one was hiring my assistant, executive assistant, who is now my director of ops. She's become my first full-time employee.

Marie Poulin (16:10):

I brought her on shortly before the course launched, in a light capacity, started to delegate a few tasks. Then I started letting go of clients. I actually started saying, "Well, what if the only work that I did for the next six, 12 months was only Notion related consulting?" So, I pretty much let go of almost everyone that wasn't a really, really well established, longterm client, and just started referring out, and saying, "Hey. My business focus is changing a bit. I won't be able to serve you in the same way. Here's someone that might be able to help you." I just started to refer out old clients, being ruthless about saying no to anything that was not aligned with that for that short amount of time.

Marie Poulin (17:00):

Around the same time, too, my husband got a full-time job. So, we actually took a step back from the software, too, and he went off and did his own thing. So, we knew that we had really stable income. I knew that I could get away with letting go of some of those client projects. I knew I had a little bit of runway to work with. I thought, "I'm just going to make the most out of this runway." Yeah. Ruthless prioritization, really asking yourself what it is that you want longterm, and I really, really wanted to create this course, and do a really great job of it. It was definitely the majority of my focus for those months. I was just so excited about it. I think the beginning of projects is very, very exciting and motivating for me. So, I had no problem just throwing myself in there entirely.

Susan Boles (17:44):

So, I'm curious, because I am the same way. I love the beginning of projects. I will throw myself wholeheartedly in. Somewhere around the middle, and especially the last two weeks of the project, it's just dragging yourself through it to get to the finish. The finish and the middle are really difficult.

Marie Poulin (18:10):

Yes.

Susan Boles (18:11):

How did that play out for you? What did you do?

Marie Poulin (18:17):

Yes. It's very relatable. It's so easy to start. It's so easy to putter along. It's the, what, last 20% of a project that takes 80% of the time? Right? It's limping to the finish line. Again, part of it is hiring a little bit of that help, and that accountability. I do feel like the course, for me, it took a long time for it to feel complete. I launched it in beta. It was a pilot program. Everyone that initially joined the course was a co-creator. Through their questions in the live calls, I'd be revamping the material. It just felt like I was revamping the material all the time. It felt like, "Oh, my gosh. Is this project going to never end?"

Marie Poulin (19:00):

I'd say it took a good six months, between starting the course and actually feeling like, "Okay. I can call this complete." Then I'd say it still took many, many months after that, and just the more people that went through the course, and the more I would see the gaps, and I would see the potential, and I was like, "Okay." Part of me was like, "Well, what if, actually, it's okay that this course doesn't really complete?" That might sound insane, but I was like, "If one of my strengths is the iteration and the improvement process, and I do always see those opportunities, and I want to keep making it better, what if that's just part of the way the course grows?"

Marie Poulin (19:39):

How could I put the foundational elements in place, and lock that down, and be like, "That's complete?" But then the rest of the course could be more of resource library that could grow over time. I can, when I'm feeling energetic, and when I feel like there's an opportunity, I can go and rerecord those videos. So, in some ways, I gave myself permission to be like, "It's okay. You can keep working on this thing. It's going to keep getting better over time. But make sure at least the beginning fundamentals are locked down and complete." Having my assistant, Georgia, to, "Hey, Marie. We're missing a video here," or, "This needs to be complete," and get on my back a little bit about that, was very helpful.

Susan Boles (20:19):

Yeah. Maybe I need a Georgia.

Marie Poulin (20:21):

Everyone needs a Georgia. I will say that is definitely something I still struggle with, for sure, is it's always the finish of a project that is really, really difficult. I feel like I have to find ways to trick myself and motivate myself into just getting it done.

Susan Boles (20:37):

Yeah. I also struggle with the finish. I am great with designing the thing. I'm great with the ideation. That part is super easy. It just flows. Then towards the end, [crosstalk 00:20:50]

Marie Poulin (20:50):

Got to hire the finishers. Right? Hire the people who know how to help you.

Susan Boles (20:54):

Yeah. Yeah. "I've still got to do that. I'm not in the mood for that. Let's just push that off."

Marie Poulin (20:58):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (21:00):

So, you recently discovered that you have ADHD. How has that changed how you approach consistency, how you think about consistency? Has it explained or changed the way you thought about anything?

Marie Poulin (21:17):

Oh, man. Yeah. Part of me was like, "How did I not see this sooner?" It seems so obvious in hindsight, but in some ways, I feel like even I maybe contributed to some of the stigma, because I was like, "Oh, come on. That's all of us. We all have to ..." I resonated so hard with everything, all of the memes, and all of the hilarious jokes and descriptions. I was like, "Yeah. Yeah. Come on. That's all of us." At some point, I was like, "Wait a second. Maybe it resonates so hard because that's me." It really shook me. I was quite surprised, in a way, because my sister has ADHD, too. She is what I would call, maybe, the poster child of what you think of when you think of ADHD, of that completely hyperactive, extreme extroversion, inability to motivate yourself to follow through.

Marie Poulin (22:05):

I know she has really struggled over the years with school. I fast-tracked through high school, and did university and stuff. I thought, "Well, there's no way. Obviously, I've been self-directed, and running my own business, and all this stuff." But the more I learned about it, and the more I uncovered, I started to be like, "Oh, my gosh. That explains so much." It explains some of the exhaustion, I think, around maybe even hiding some of those parts that we're really not proud of, or that sometimes it takes a client being like, "Hey. Just checking in," before I'm like, "Oh, right. Oh, my gosh. I should follow-up with that client." Right?

Marie Poulin (22:42):

There were things that I think I have crafted systems around to help me cope, and sometimes people are maybe in awe sometimes at some of the systems. "Oh, I wish I was this organized." I'm like, "You don't understand. If I was not this organized, this cart would go off the rails. It's pure chaos." It really is. Chaos is my default state. I think I've had to almost ... I've found these ways of tricking my brain, but I didn't realize that, in a way, it was coping with the way that my brain works. Even being self-employed, I didn't really realize ... I've joked about being unemployable, and getting to work on time has been a problem my entire life. I don't know if I have ever made it to work on time. It's an embarrassing thing to think about. Right? I'm not proud of that, but getting up in the morning ... Funny enough, I was watching a video about what is ADHD, and how does it often get missed in women?

Marie Poulin (23:43):

That was actually the first thing that triggered it, was extreme difficulty getting up in the morning. I was like, "What? Okay. This has been an issue." I used to have three alarm clocks in my bedroom when I was in high school. I would still be running down the street, trying to make the bus on time. It was chaos. So, I was like, "That's a symptom?" I started doing a little bit of research. Just all sorts of funny little quirks that I thought were quirks, and I was like, "Oh, wow. It would explain a lot of these behaviors." It would explain, even in calls, often when I'm in a call with someone, and my brain is going a million miles an hour. I'm interrupting thoughts with other thoughts.

Marie Poulin (24:24):

These things that I just thought were quirks, or things that I was maybe embarrassed about, I thought, "Oh, there might actually be a reason. My brain might actually work a different way." I think it's what has led me to be really great at strategic work, and ideation, and all this, creative projects, and why I can have these really, really intense hyper-focused bursts of energy, but followed by, "All right. Well, Marie doesn't want to do that. So, she's not going to do that." Even my house being in a state of complete disarray, but then my business is always humming along. Right? It's like, "How can I run a successful business, and work with these big-name clients, and stuff, but my house is in complete chaos?"

Marie Poulin (25:09):

It's been an interesting process to uncover what are the things about this that have actually helped me succeed? Where are the parts that I've struggled with, and maybe have hidden, even from myself, or maybe that I denied, or was embarrassed about, or maybe spent a lot of energy masking? It was very permission-giving to go, "Oh, what if that's just how my brain works? Now I can find ways to work with it, and stop judging myself so harshly about that stuff." It was quite a process of highs and lows, and compassion for myself, and then also just being like, "How the F did I miss this?" I'm 37, 38, I'm like, "How on Earth did I miss this information?"

Susan Boles (25:53):

I think that's really interesting. I love the idea of just accepting that is how your brain works, and then using systems, using tools to work with your brain, instead of trying to force your brain into somebody else's box of how they think things are supposed to work, or even your own idea of how things are supposed to work.

Marie Poulin (26:17):

Absolutely.

Susan Boles (26:18):

Can you talk a little bit about some of the tools or systems that you've put in place that have made a significant difference to you being able to run a successful business, and be, seemingly, from the outside, very organized? It may not be that way behind the scenes. That's fine. But from the outside, it looks very organized and lovely.

Marie Poulin (26:41):

Yeah. I mean, there is lots of pieces that are organized. I think there's also parts that might feel a bit chaotic. Again, part of that has been having a team that can fill some of those gaps, and even a team that understands how I work, and can be supportive in that way. I often feel very chaotic when I'm talking, or let's say I'm in a strategy session with team members, and I can see Georgia is very quiet and taking notes, and I'm just doing my thing, and brain dumping, and being chaotic. Then toward the end, she can be like, "So, as next steps, what I'm seeing is A, B, and C," and I'm like, "Yes. That's brilliant." Just someone who can translate a little bit of that creative energy into really practical next steps has been incredible.

Marie Poulin (27:25):

Again, having an assistant whose brain works very different than mine, much more linear, logical, maybe slower, and ... I don't want to say more intentional, but it's a little bit of a different energy. That's been huge. Time blocking, huge. I have to force myself into these containers to contain the chaos. So, theme-ing my days, time blocking, giving myself those containers, wherever possible, embracing the hyper-focus while also ... Even my husband and I, we'll get into those wild bursts of focus, where it's like, "I'm in the zone. Don't bother me. Please make me dinner." Making sure you've got your support network in place is huge.

Marie Poulin (28:09):

I mean, another thing I'll add is I work on weekends. I actually love working on weekends, because it is quiet, nobody is bothering me. I can get a burst of work done, and I might go out and play in the garden, and then come back and do some more work. I think I used to carry a lot of shame and judgment around that, of, "Oh, recovering workaholic," and this sort of thing. Actually, the ADHD thing helped me understand, "Oh, my brain, it just never stops. I'm just always thinking of possibilities, and connections are forming, and I just get so fired up." For me, it's actually rejuvenating, and it's exciting to be taking a course on the weekend, or working on a YouTube video.

Marie Poulin (28:51):

I gave myself a bit of permission to say, "Work how you best work. If you notice that you're in the zone and feeling really inspired, harness that. Listen to it. Take advantage of it." So, sometimes I'll have to interrupt my husband and be like, "Hold on. I'm in the zone. I'm feeling really creative right now. Can we table this discussion? Because I need to work on this thing. I need to get writing done," whatever it is. Part of it is just listening to my brain, listening to my body, knowing what I need, and forgetting some of those shoulds. I don't work in a 9:00 to 5:00 environment or schedule, and that's okay. My team knows that.

Marie Poulin (29:29):

Again, just finding ways to work with your natural strengths, your natural communication preferences, again, scheduling, scheduling email time and low effort, shallow work. Another one is you know how you hear people say, "Eat the frog. Do the most difficult thing in the morning." Right? You hear these sorts of productivity best practices and advice, and then you feel ashamed because you're like, "Well, why does this not work for me?"

Susan Boles (29:55):

"Why can't I do that?"

Marie Poulin (29:58):

That difficulty getting up in the morning, it takes my brain at least two hours to actually wake up and do anything productive. So, realizing nothing effective is going to happen before 10:00, 11:00 AM, for sure. So, I book meetings in the mornings because my brain is still waking up, but in terms of writing, or creative work, or anything like that, that has to happen 3:00, 4:00 PM. You can say, "Oh, the early bird gets the worm," but I'm sorry, my brain is not active at that time. So, honestly, a lot of it's just been letting go of a lot of the traditional productivity advice and asking, "What do I know is true about the way that I work? When have I been most effective?"

Marie Poulin (30:39):

All of this nerdy stuff, I track in Notion. I track my daily effectiveness, happiness, feelings, when I'm in flow. I've been tracking my flow for years. So, I can actually look back at the data from my journal and say, "Oh, wow. Wednesdays are actually the most effective day of the week, and I'm most in flow. That's really interesting." I can use that data to help me make better decisions about my day. Where some people are like, "Oh, wow. You're so organized," I'm like, "You don't understand. I have to be, because otherwise, it's chaos." Yeah.

Susan Boles (31:10):

That's so interesting. I love that idea of just tracking your data, and your energy, and how you're feeling, because you can then go back and use that data to schedule. I did something very similar. I'm completely the opposite of you. If I don't write it first thing in the morning, it ain't happening that day.

Marie Poulin (31:35):

Oh, amazing. Yeah.

Susan Boles (31:36):

I have to do admin and email stuff in the afternoon, because if I get into it, and I haven't done the thing that requires focus, if I have to write an intro for a podcast, or whatever, that has to happen first thing, or my brain is mush by 2:00 in the afternoon. It took me a really long time of tracking to figure out, "Okay. Cool. If it doesn't happen before lunch, it ain't happening. How can I schedule my days, and plan out how my work works, so that I can work the best way for me, and how my energy levels and my brain works?" I love that you've done something similar, and that it is completely the opposite.

Marie Poulin (32:21):

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You can read all the productivity advice, but at the end of the day, nobody knows your circumstances, your brain, your energy better than you do. I like to pay attention to that and be like, "What are the trends? What are some things I can see that work? Where do I notice resistance? How can I basically design resistance out of my schedule, or at least to minimize it as much as possible, knowing I might have, maybe, less, I don't know, motivation, or willpower, or whatever to work with? How do I work with that?"

Susan Boles (32:51):

Yes. I love this idea of paying attention to where there's resistance, and trying to understand why there's resistance. Is it something because I don't feel like I know how to do this task? Is it just something I don't want to do? I'm never going to want to do it?

Marie Poulin (33:05):

Exactly.

Susan Boles (33:06):

Find somebody, and have somebody on your team who does want to do those things, and hand them off, and being able to really look at how you work as an experiment. That, at least for me, is constantly evolving. [crosstalk 00:33:19] I'll try something and go, "That didn't work." I guess, 2019, I tried doing ... I would schedule a break week. Once a month, there was a break week, where I didn't have any meetings.

Marie Poulin (33:32):

I love that.

Susan Boles (33:32):

I didn't have anything. I was trying to really focus on recovery from burnout.

Marie Poulin (33:37):

Yeah.

Susan Boles (33:38):

I was like, "I need time off." The first two or three times, I would go around my own boundaries and schedule stuff. I would get to my break week and I'd be like, "I have to work the whole week. How did that happen?"

Marie Poulin (33:52):

Definitely been there.

Susan Boles (33:54):

"That wasn't supposed to happen. How did that happen?" Then going back and realizing that it was me. I was the one that was doing that, where I was like, "Oh, this is somebody that I like talking to. We'll just schedule a meeting. It'll be fine."

Marie Poulin (34:04):

Special exceptions. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (34:06):

I special exceptions my way out of a break week. It took me probably three or four months before I was like, "Oh, okay. Cool. My boundaries are my boundaries. It's totally okay if I schedule them for the next week. There's plenty of time. It's not urgent." But I did it. It probably took me four months before I actually figured out what was going on. It was just an experiment of, "Does this work? Nope. That doesn't work. Why doesn't that work? Okay. Let's try something else."

Marie Poulin (34:36):

I love that you said it took you three to four months. I'm laughing because literally last week, I had seven or eight calls. It was meant to be my week off. I was like, "How did this happen? How did this happen?"

Susan Boles (34:46):

I'm so glad it's not just me.

Marie Poulin (34:46):

Yeah. Whoops. Yeah.

Susan Boles (34:51):

So, I've been doing that for a year plus. I still probably, one or two meetings that week, still usually.

Marie Poulin (35:00):

Sneak in.

Susan Boles (35:01):

Something that I'm super excited about, so I don't want to wait.

Marie Poulin (35:06):

Totally. Yeah. It's hard. I'm excited about everything. I'm like, "Oh, God. How do I contain this?"

Susan Boles (35:12):

I'm curious. You mentioned about the hyper-focus.

Marie Poulin (35:17):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Susan Boles (35:18):

I'm wondering if after your periods of hyper-focus, do you end up with ... I end up with energy hangovers.

Marie Poulin (35:25):

Oh, yes.

Susan Boles (35:25):

If I'm super hyper-focused on something, and I can go for a couple of weeks, probably, and then I'll get to a point where I'm just like, "It's used up. I used everything up. I don't know what to do." How do you deal with those? Do you plan for them? Because they can be unpredictable. Never quite know when your energy is just going to be like, "And we're done."

Marie Poulin (35:45):

100%. Ugh. It's so relatable. Because like I said, with the beginning of the YouTube stuff, it felt like months. When I look back, I'm like, "Wow. From September to December, that was a wild burst of focused, how the heck did I do that, and how do I channel that?" Sometimes I'm like, "Does every year just get three, four months where it's go time?" I'm trying to notice those patterns at a bigger level. Like you said, you don't know sometimes is this just a week of inspired creativity? Is it going to happen for months? You often don't really know. It can be hard to predict. I don't necessarily know what the answer is, but I am just watching, paying attention, noticing, and like you said, knowing that often, if I do have a week of intense, intense hyper-focus, I am going to be more gentle on myself the following week, because I do definitely have those crashes where you feel useless.

Marie Poulin (36:37):

I think the hardest part is that self-compassion, and not beating myself up the next week, where it's like, "Ugh. I feel like I should be doing this, or should be doing that." I'm like, "Calm down. You really, really did superhuman tasks the last week, cramming three weeks worth of work into one week. You can calm down and take this week a little bit chill." But it is very difficult. Difficult not to beat yourself up a little bit. I'm learning. I'm trying to be a little bit more compassionate with myself.

Susan Boles (37:06):

I'm curious if either the lows or the productivity, how do you find that works with having a course, a community where there is an expectation that somebody's going to show up regularly? There will be content of some sort at some point, and that may or may not line up with you feeling like working.

Marie Poulin (37:33):

I think what's cool, at least what I really appreciate about the format of the course, it's fairly set it and forget it. So, in some ways, as long as I'm doing the bare minimum that week, which would be logging into Circle and checking if there's any messages. Even then, there's lots of other people that are answering questions in the forum. It's not just me. So, that's one piece. Log in, at least say hello to any new people that have joined, check in if there's anything that needs me. That feels pretty shallow work. It's pretty easy to do. Then I do live office hours once every two weeks. I find those incredibly energizing. I'm usually hyper when I get off one of those calls. So, that's actually really, really enjoyable.

Marie Poulin (38:16):

The content creation, that's the part I find really difficult. Again, this comes back to what gives you energy, and how do you best show up? I know I am actually at my best when it's unscripted, and it's unplanned. So, in office hours, it is so easy, because I'm like, "Oh, I get to connect with people, answer their questions, problem solve, troubleshoot. Woo hoo!" That just gets my brain fired up. It's so easy. That's actually likely to give me energy on an off week. Planning curriculum and scripting a video, anything that requires that pre-planning, and planning out what I'm going to say, and making sure that I'm covering all the key points, that feels like a whole different energy. It takes a lot out of me.

Marie Poulin (39:00):

That's another reason why I have assistance with that. I hired a learning advocate. I'm working with a curriculum developer. So, people who can give me the structure, so that I know what videos to make, and I can be a little bit more impulsive. That's something that I've learned about myself. Even adding events like hot seats, where someone can pre-submit, "Hey. I'm trying to solve this one thing in my workspace. How would I approach this," and then we hop on live ... It's basically a live one-hour coaching session that other people can drop in on and watch, if they want to. But being on the spot, weirdly enough, years ago, I would never have thought this would be the case, but being on the spot, and being impulsive and at the ready is actually so easy and so energizing. I don't actually feel like even if I had a week where I felt drained, that part of my responsibilities actually gives me energy and makes me really excited.

Susan Boles (39:52):

Oh, I love that. I love the idea of creating a business around the things that do energize you. The minimum requirements of keeping what you're doing alive are things that bring you energy, things that are easy. I think so often, we feel like things that are easy are less valuable.

Marie Poulin (40:13):

That's so true.

Susan Boles (40:14):

There's this weird switch in our brain that we're like, "Oh, this is something that is super easy for me. So, people might not find it valuable," when in fact, those are the things that people usually find most valuable, are the things that are easy for you. Sometimes that feels not okay.

Marie Poulin (40:31):

I think it's become baked into the values with the team, too. Again, I think a lot of this is the result of ADHD, but I didn't realize it. It is very, very difficult for me to summon up the wherewithal, if I am not super, super stoked about the thing, the task that I need to do. For everyone on the team, I want to make sure, "Is everybody doing what they are so freaking excited about that they can't believe they get paid to do that?" That is my desire for everybody on the team, that they're doing the stuff that is fun, that nobody feels like they're, ugh, dragging their feet, "Ugh. I have to do this." Because that's how I operate. In many ways, I think it's an exciting place for people to work, too, because they're like, "Whoa. I get paid to do this? This is so fun." That's the vibe that I want everybody to be super aligned with your talents, super aligned with your strengths.

Marie Poulin (41:19):

I don't know if you've done those personality tests. We've done PrinciplesYou, is a really fun one. Myers–Briggs, Enneagram. So, we've gotten different team members to fill out those things, StrengthsFinder. We've mapped them out together, too, so you can see, "Oh, wow. We can see who are the detailed and reliable folks, and who are the creative conceptual folks."

Susan Boles (41:37):

Oh, I love that.

Marie Poulin (41:38):

It's been really fun. I've been told I have an uncanny ability to bring people in based on an intuitive sense of where their skillset fits in. That's been really interesting, to just notice, "Oh, wow. We cover a really interesting range of skills." Even something as simple as I don't think I'm necessarily the most skilled instructor, but I think I have a knack for some of the more coaching, or maybe more facilitation. But then we have other people that are really strong on instruction and that sort of thing. So, how can we make sure that we design events so that the instructors get to instruct, and the coaches get to coach, and what does that look like? How do we fill the calendar with these different types of events that draw people in, in different ways? That's been really fun.

Susan Boles (42:27):

I love that. So, as we wrap up, is there anything you think we should talk about or touch on that we haven't yet?

Marie Poulin (42:37):

I think we judge ourselves really harshly, especially when life happens. We think we need to be everywhere all the time. In some ways, I'm consistent about showing up. It just looks very different from season to season, or week to week, or month to month. Sometimes I'll spend a month where I'll actually get a newsletter out every week for one month, and then not for another month. But I'm also on Twitter really actively. In some ways, I'm consistently always online. It's just not always with the same formats all the time. It hasn't stopped me from being able to grow a really successful business. So, I would just encourage folks, if consistency is something that you're struggling with, there's lots of ways to think of consistency that don't necessarily mean, "I do this one thing all the time every week." It can look a little bit different. I think giving ourself permission to approach things in seasons, and knowing that we're just not always going to be operating at the same output all the time, and it's okay.

Susan Boles (43:37):

That's a perfect place to wrap it up on.

Marie Poulin (43:40):

Awesome.

Susan Boles (43:40):

So, where can our listeners find you, if they want to connect or learn more about what you do?

Marie Poulin (43:44):

Yeah. You can find me online, MariePoulin.com. If you're curious on the Notion side of things, NotionMastery.com. Pretty active on Twitter or Instagram. You can usually find me at my handle, @mariepoulin.

Susan Boles (43:57):

Sometimes the challenges to consistency come from self-sabotage. Things like getting distracted by shiny objects, or getting bored, or imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head right at the point where you're getting ready to launch the thing, but especially for folks who are neuro-divergent, or dealing with chronic health issues, or disabilities. Consistency comes with additional challenges that require you to figure out how to manage unpredictable energy levels or how to cope with executive function issues. Regardless of your specific challenges with consistency, the key to becoming more consistent is figuring out what you struggle with, and then experimenting to figure out what works for you.

Susan Boles (44:40):

For Marie, she tracked her energy and focused, and figured out that Wednesdays are really productive for her, and that she had to work on hard things in the afternoon, or whenever the inspiration struck, even if that happened to be a weekend. For me, I realized that I needed really big stretches of break time, and that I needed to work on hard things in the morning. We both came to those systems by trying new things, seeing what worked and what didn't, and then modifying as we went. Does time blocking help you? Do you feel constrained or trapped by it? Do you work best in the morning or in the evening? Are there certain days of the week, or weeks of the month, where you just don't have the energy to work?

Susan Boles (45:25):

A lot of figuring out what works for you is just trying to notice and collect some data that you can use to try new techniques and new tools. Ashley Gartland realized she needed more breaks. So, she started planning her work to allow her to take one week off per month. [Tara McMullin noticed that she gets a big energy slump in the Fall when the time changes. So, she plans a few weeks off from work at that point in time. Brittany Berger created an energy tracker to help her notice when she has the energy to work, or when she has big slumps, so that she could plan her work for when she has the most chance of having the energy to do the work.

Susan Boles (46:04):

That energy tracker is fantastic, by the way. I've included a link to it in the show notes. Each one of these folks shared their strategy with me, and these were ones that sounded helpful for me, I experimented with, and eventually, I've implemented all of these. I'm continually experimenting with and creating systems to support me, and to help me be more consistent. A lot of that just comes from trying things and noticing what's working and what doesn't. It's all about figuring out what works and doesn't work for you. If you liked this episode, I'd really appreciate it if you shared it with someone you think would enjoy it and would benefit from it. Break The Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMullin. Our production coordinator is Lou Blaser.


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