(Looking for some background on the Creative Heroes series? Check out my intro post HERE!)
For this week’s Creative Heroes interview, I had the pleasure of talking with the Brave Girls!
Because Melody was out of town and tied up with some projects, my conversation was primarily with Kathy. But she was able to give me some great insight into how this team of sisters makes the wheels of their company turn – and how they get to all their wonderful creative pursuits.
The Brave Girls Club showed up in my life at a time when I really needed some support and guidance. Their courses, daily messages, and uplifting community helped me out of an emotional jam on several occasions. The fact that the personal development wisdom they provide is centered on creative experiences and projects was really important to me.
As background, the Brave Girls Club was founded by sisters Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins. When I discovered them, they were offering creative classes and retreats. Their message was based on the idea that “sisterhood” is important for women in good times and bad. Over the years, they added products showcasing Melody’s artwork, revised and improved their courses, and eventually developed an online membership portal (Brave Girl University) where a variety of classes are taught by many different teachers. More recently they’ve created a licensing program for some of the Brave Girls courses and expanded their “girls-only” retreat schedule to include retreats for guys.
Needless to say, the Brave Girls’ community is pretty big and there are a lot of moving parts to their business.
I knew that Melody and Kathy come from a big family (Melody’s adult children are often seen pitching in with the business) and these days they have full- and part-time employees. However, the heart of the business is still with Melody and Kathy… and those ladies are hardcore dedicated!
Kathy graciously gave me a look behind the scenes to help me understand just how they do it. Whether you are running a business with employees, or making it work as a one-person show, I think you’ll find some excellent nuggets of wisdom in what she shared with me!
To me, it isn’t a matter of balance but a matter of choices. Get the hard stuff done or the opportunity to do the fun stuff goes away. ~ Kathy Wilkins, Brave Girls Club
C+M: Is there a typical day or week at Brave Girls? If so, what does it look like?
Kathy: We formed Brave Girls Club 7 years ago, and while at first it was just the two of us working part time (in the evenings from home), our business has evolved to the point where we have a full-time staff and office space (although the ‘office’ is a remodeled 100-year old house that feels a lot like a home). We juggle a lot of projects and deadlines these days, and so what we are doing now isn’t the same as what we hope to be doing in another couple of years.
Our goals for the next few years include slowing down considerably and making more time for other things that are really important to us.
My typical day starts at 5:00 a.m. I have some time with my 17-year old twin daughters and my husband, and then a little before 7:00 a.m. the girls head for school, and I head for the office. I answer emails and go through task lists, etc., for a couple of hours before anyone else arrives.
Then I spend the day managing projects, working with our team (we have 5 full-time and several part-time employees), working with our Certified Instructors and Brave Girl University teachers, creating social media postings, and so on. Any creative or more ‘fun’ tasks are done later in the afternoon. I run out of brain space by about 3:00 and so I like doing manual labor or creative things at that time.
I generally work Monday – Saturday. Like I said, this schedule isn’t ideal. It’s a LOT of hours, but it’s honestly how we get so much done.
Melody tends to start a little later than I do in the morning but she goes until later at night. So our schedules and bio-rhythms are a little different that way.
C+M: Do you have any rituals for starting or ending your day?
Kathy: My day begins early because I don’t like to be rushed. I like my day to start off at a relaxed pace. I have scripture time with my girls and my husband at 6:30 am every morning, and then we are out the door.
Evenings aren’t generally very structured. I get home around 6:00 pm and have a simple dinner with my husband and the girls (when they are around…they are busy girls!). I am generally in bed by about 9:00 p.m. Not sleeping necessarily, but relaxing to an audio book, or doing some art or stitching, watching a movie, etc., until about 11:00 p.m.
I like to light a candle, turn down the bed, and put something comfortable on when I get home because it’s a signal to myself that I am done working.
C+M: With lots of Brave Girls things going on, do you have a particular way that you manage your schedule?
Kathy: Melody uses journals and notebooks to log ideas and plans and such. We both schedule things on our iPhone calendars with reminders/alerts. For me, if an appointment isn’t in my phone, I am not going to remember it!
Personally, I also make lots and lots of lists. And I like to use index cards when I’m juggling a really big project, with a task on each card that I can sort/prioritize and then toss when it’s done.
For REALLY big projects like our recent Symposium, I make huge spreadsheets with tasks and notes and dates and develop smaller to-do lists from that. But it’s important to have a central place where all the details can live.
I’m also still a fan of 3-ring binders where several projects can be organized at once and it can all live on my desk or be taken in the car or whatever, so I always have the most important information with me.
C+M: I’ve recently been thinking a lot about our ability to make time for the things we WANT to do, no matter how busy we are. (because we often use the excuse “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time” to stand in our way or to avoid things we aren’t really committed to) Do you have any thoughts or wisdom you can share about this idea?
Kathy: I just did an interview with Rachel McGough from Handmade U where she asked this same question. My answer is this: we make time for whatever is most important to us. No matter how ‘busy’ we are, we all have the same number of hours in a day and a LOT of choices about how to spend that time. If something is really important to us, we MAKE time for it.
The thing we have to let go of is waiting until everything is ‘done’ before we can do ‘__________ (fill in the blank).’ Because, guess what? There will never come a time when everything is done. The most important things have to be at the top of the priority list and we have to choose to make time for them.
That includes taking care of ourselves and having fun; taking breaks, relaxing, being with people we love, and so on.
It’s challenging to keep relationships a priority when you have a busy business, but it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
I used to teach this principle using juggling as an example: I am juggling ALL these rubber balls…emails and employees and schedules, projects, ideas, programs, clients, etc. But in that mix are a few balls I am juggling that are made of the rarest, most valuable, fragile crystal. Those balls have names: Kurt, Angela, and Tessa. No matter how many rubber balls I can keep in the air, I can’t afford to drop even ONE of my crystal balls, so I have to take great care. The rubber balls will bounce; the crystal balls will shatter.
That’s the image I try to keep in my head so that I don’t put at risk the relationships and responsibilities as a wife and mother that are most important to me.
C+M: Do you have any suggestions or best practices for creative entrepreneurs/artists who are trying to balance time to actually create with time to perform non-creative duties required to run their business?
Kathy: Well, you just have to do the hard stuff. The fun stuff isn’t going to be a huge part of the job; it’s probably what I would call the pay-off, rather than the meat of the job. The foundation of any business isn’t pretty or glamorous or necessarily fun: it’s hard, hard work.
If you are making and creating for fun, then that’s fantastic. Keep it there and enjoy it! When you decide you want to make a living by doing that creative thing, then it’s turning a corner and most of what you will be doing is something entirely different.
The risk is that that thing you love to do will no longer be something you love. It can become just a job and a grind. I see that happening a lot. So the answer for us has been in attitude and a love of work itself. A willingness to do the gritty, difficult, anything-but-glamorous parts of our business and find things to love about those tasks as well.
It helps tremendously to bring on people that you enjoy working with to take some of that load when you can. But sometimes that takes a few years to make possible.
To me, it isn’t a matter of balance but a matter of choices. Get the hard stuff done or the opportunity to do the fun stuff goes away.
Kathy: No matter what, if you are over-committed you can’t perform. You can’t develop or deliver your best work. That means that hard choices have to be made. Some great ideas never happen, some projects get dumped, direction gets changed, and calendars are adjusted.
So you need people on your team that can handle that…and not all people can. Sometimes we’ve had to dump lots and lots of work in order to change direction, and that can drive some great people right over the edge. But you can’t do everything at once; it’s impossible.
If you’re not an organized person, you need to hire someone to handle that for you. Or learn to function within your disorganization. Or learn to discipline yourself into getting organized. I don’t think there’s a magic bullet…do or don’t do.
Again, we do what’s most important to us. People think that I am highly organized, but in reality, only SOME parts of my life are organized; some are loosely organized, some not organized at all. Whatever project is most important at the moment is going to get the most effort and be the most organized, but there’s no way I could be that level of organized with every project or idea that is on my plate. It would be impossible. A lot of things can get done without having to be entered onto a project sheet or a spreadsheet – even from a messy desk!
As for procrastination, I don’t know the answer to that. I just like to get things done; the hardest things first thing in the morning so I don’t have to worry about them all day. You often just have to have the self-discipline to get to work, and if you don’t have that level of self-discipline when it’s required, then you’re probably better off working for someone else where they dictate your priorities and where you have a boss to be accountable to. And it’s okay if that’s you…we are all different.
C+M: Do you have any productivity techniques that have been helpful for you during really busy times?
Kathy: I don’t use any specific techniques, although I do often give myself a block of time to work on something before I have to move on to something else. I think that a person just has to get to know themselves and their own uniqueness, and what works for them.
Sometimes when we have a really dizzying deadline for a big project, we bring everyone in and work on it side by side, even if that means for a few days and into the nights. The synergy of teamwork cannot be measured in a case like that. And we use some super duper important tools for managing the stress of things like that: HUMOR, LAUGHTER, great attitudes, and a sense of teamwork.
Teamwork: as in helping one another without ever competing or trying to get OUT of work. That would never work for our team! They are just the kind of people who enjoy working together and accomplishing tremendous things.
Our rule is that if you can’t come with a great attitude, then go do whatever it takes to get back in a good frame of mind. Rest, take a run, ride a long-board, get a good meal; whatever it takes! The grumpies are not allowed in our building. Not that we don’t all get the grumpies, but we never ever impose that sort of thing on our team. It’s like poison.
Other than that, when we each have difficult work to complete, we each have our own strategies. I like to get my office organized and clean early in the morning or on Saturdays when no one is around. I turn up my favorite music and just get it done!
C+M: What else would you like to share with Creative + Mindful readers about productivity and creativity?
Kathy: Do what you love and ALL of this becomes a joy. It really does. Even the hard or boring stuff. If your work has purpose and meaning (something FAR more meaningful than just paying the bills), especially if it has a purpose that involves helping other people, then you can put up with a lot of inconvenience and exhaustion for a period of time.
Then in order to keep going you simply must take care of yourself, watch out for each other, get rest, have fun, and take care of your relationships (those precious crystal balls)….or what are you even doing all of it for??
I hope you enjoyed this installment of Creative Heroes. Much appreciation to Kathy for taking time out to talk with me about productivity in the Brave Girls world!
Want more Brave Girls? Check out Brave Girls Club for lots of inspiration, their daily emails and other great stuff. Check out Brave Girl University for classes and live events. And follow Brave Girls Club on Instagram.
Like this series? Be sure to share it with your fellow creative peeps!
Looking forward to more advice from my Creative Heroes? Stay tuned for my next interview! (I’ll give you a hint… his name sounds a little scary, but he’s actually quite nice!)