Sometimes Boring Solutions are Best

It’s just after breakfast on January 1, 2016. My husband, Ben and I sit at the dining table of the beach house we’re holidaying in, in stunned, hopeful silence.

We’ve just had an unexpected conversation about the year ahead and are both feeling a little surprised by the decision we’ve come to. Surprised, mostly, because of how easily it happened.

How smoothly the idea slipped from our mouths, how quickly the pen and paper appeared, and how naturally the plan came together.

How right it felt, despite the fact that timing wasn’t perfect.

We’d always thought we would work together at some stage, and had fuzzy ideas about starting our own business, but it was never quite the right moment.

Sometimes boring solutions are the bestThe kids were always too little, or we never had quite enough money to insulate us against the ebbs and flows of the self-employment cashflow tango. But that sunny morning on January 1, something was different.

A few days later Ben went back to his secure job and gave notice, and since then we’ve been successfully self-employed.

I’m not going to pretend it’s been all 4-hour work weeks and sleep-ins, nor will I pretend it’s been all diplomacy and co-working joy.

It hasn’t been any of those things.

In fact, the past year has seen us work harder than ever and feel stress more acutely than ever. But the payoff? It’s been pretty great.

Sometimes the boring solutions are the bestOne of the most common questions people ask when they learn that Ben and I work together is whether we annoy each other, working so closely on a daily basis. I can honestly say, that 95% of the time, the answer is no (which is pretty good no matter who your co-worker is!).

But aside from genuinely enjoying each other’s company for extended periods of time, I attribute this to one really simple decision: we have a Work In Progress meeting every Monday morning.

When Ben suggested on Day 1 of our business that we start each week with a WIP, I honestly thought it was over-kill.

Surely, we’d be able to keep on top of our projects without giving an hour a week to talking about them? Surely our to-do lists would be enough?

But I agreed to it, and every day of the past 12 months I’ve been grateful for it.

Sometimes boring solutions are the best

Our WIP – usually held at the dining table with coffee, notebooks, computers and diaries at the ready, but sometimes held in a sunny spot at our favourite coffee shop instead – is the beating heart of our business and, somewhat surprisingly, our home.

It gives us a chance to understand and empathise with what the other person has on that week, divide our work over the following five days, move projects forward and allows us to prepare for those times when we’re both going to be busy.

And I think that’s the real power of it – both the empathy and the preparation.

To me, that’s actually the epitome of living a slower-paced life in the face of busy-ness and complexity – that fine balance of being prepared, self-aware, outward thinking and values-based.

Because it’s really easy to get caught up in our own things, our own deadlines, our own to-do list and project timeframes, forgetting that others have their own pressures that are just as real and just as important to them.

Spending an hour each week acknowledging and workshopping those pressures, dividing them over the week and realising they’re achievable is validating and proactive, and what’s more, we start the week with a plan.

Sometimes boring solutions are the best

How We WIP:

• Start with a blank page in my everyday notebook, adding the date.

• Check our diaries for scheduled events – meetings in the city, Skype interviews or phone calls, school assemblies, yoga classes or birthday parties – and note them down as times that are already spoken for.

• Break things down in to various segments (Ben’s freelance work, my writing work, our combined projects and family/home) and simply work through each of the projects in these categories one by one, cataloguing where we’re at with each project, what the next steps are and what we need to get done by the end of the week.

• We assign each of these tasks an amount of time (over-estimating rather than under) and then add the task to one of the days of the week, and whether we’ll work on it in the morning on the afternoon. We continue until each of the tasks on our list has been allocated a time.

• Then I use this master list to write my daily to-do list, and simply work through the tasks I’ve allocated for the day. Anything that doesn’t get finished is transferred to the next day’s to-do list, or, occasionally (OK, fairly regularly) to the next week’s WIP.

This sounds kind of boring, even to me, and there was a time where I thought that scheduling a meeting with my husband was kind of silly, but it’s truly been the difference between a busy, fulfilling, productive first year in business and flailing both professionally and personally.

I guess sometimes the boring solutions are the best ones!

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18 Comments

  1. Tsh Oxenreider

    Brooke, I love this soooooo much. I’m gonna talk to Kyle about this later this afternoon. 🙂 XO

  2. Betsy

    You are a kindred spirit!

  3. Aimee @ Whispers of Worth

    Brooke,
    My husband and I just started having WIP (I like that term) meetings about a month ago, and they really have been helpful to us both. I am on the beginning end of starting my own writing/editing business, and he is an established independent contractor (for which I do a lot of the bookkeeping). When we meet, we go over my work logs for both his business and mine from the past week as well as the things he needs me to attend to in the coming week. It’s a little more one-sided at this point, but it helps me to get the necessary things accomplished each week and to be accountable for how I am spending my time. I used to feel defensive and nervous about the things we talk about when we didn’t have a scheduled time for it. Now, I have time to prepare and present what I have going on without feeling put on the spot. This is a great post, and I highly recommend it for all couples, whether they work together or not.

    • Cisely Johns

      I agree. My husband and I have future plans of starting our own business; however, we’re still working as school teachers. This method will strengthen communication in the marriage, even if it’s not about work. Team work makes the dream work!

  4. Missy June

    When I worked at a smallish ad agency, We had this kind of meeting every Monday morning between the account reps and the creative side. It really helped everyone get on the same page with deadlines and end-goals and allowed us all to see the value and time required for the work each was doing. It’s a wonderful, simple, sometimes boring concept.

  5. Tylar @ Simplici-Ty

    What an amazing idea!

    Sometimes, the things that seem the most boring are the most useful to us in the end. I think this could be great for couples even if they don’t work together in a business sense, since most couples are working towards something (saving for a downpayment, projects around the house, raising kids, etc).

    Thanks Brooke!

    PS. I love the way you told this story, very captivating!

  6. Beth

    My husband and I have budget meetings, and once a month “business” meetings, where we talk about the month ahead and any business that needs our attention or stuff we need to work on or focus. I like a “WIP Meeting” much better, and I really like how you’ve divided yours up. We have a meeting set for this Sunday (that’s when we hold ours) and I’m going to send my husband this article to read beforehand.

  7. Unconventional Sustainability

    I have struggled with this for over a year – so thanks for the great post!

    My husband dreads the idea of a regular check-in meeting. When we do sporadically meet I usually have a large list of items I want to discuss, which I try and limit so that he doesn’t feel overwhelmed. But our conversations are usually more one-sided because he is not much of a planner and would rather figure things out as they come up.

    However, you have inspired me to try again to set up perhaps a monthly WIP. In fact, as part of my 2017 Sustainably Happy Project, I have dedicated the month of February to “marriage”. So I’ll think about a fun way to try to incorporate this into my monthly resolutions!

  8. Amy

    My husband and I have a daily “morning meeting.” We don’t work together – I’m a SAHM and he has a few different jobs, some that he works from home and others not – but our morning meeting gives us a chance to check the calendar so we both are on the same page regarding his work schedule and various appointments for the kids, and it gives us a chance to update each other about what’s on the other’s plate and let each other know if there’s something we need the other to take care of. We can split up errands that need to be run and make sure he’s able to be home with the kids if I have an appointment going on. Sometimes it just takes 5 minutes, but it’s been a huge help to keeping our home running smoothly.

  9. Cisely Johns

    I love this article. Many times husband and wives are working but not working together. This is so healthy for the marriage, family, business and finances. I’m going to definitely talk to my husband about doing this! Thank you for this article!

  10. Joan

    This is brilliant! I need this meeting with myself, to plan out what I want to accomplish for the week, and when is most realistic to do so. It would be the perfect compliment to a weekly review at the end of the week ala David Allen’s GTD, especially when I’m dead-exhausted at the end of the week and not wanting to think too hard about scheduling the next one.

    By way of reference, I’ve recently started work for a London-based company as the SVP of Finance (read: lots of responsibility and international interaction). And I’m based in Denver, CO. I have a team in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. I wake up at 4 AM during the week to instant overload, because my team is 9 hours ahead of me. I’ve had several trips there already because of the transition from my predecessor to me, so am now settling into what my work rhythm ought to be when I’m at home. It’s an amazing job, and I’m thrilled that I got the opportunity handed to me to even do it 🙂

  11. Prerna Malik

    Brooke! This is exactly what my husband and I have been doing for the last 5 years or so and yes, it’s one of the main reasons we’re able to blend work and home without losing our minds! I love the term WIP and I’m going to borrow it from you 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing and you’re right… the boring details ARE the best 🙂

  12. Nicole

    As a homeschooling Mum the kids and I have had similar planning/update meetings but I’ve never thought to get Dad on board since he works outside the house…but the wheels are turning now and I am curious to see what a difference it would make to start holding WIPs with him so he and I can better appreciate what we are each involved with, passionate about, aiming for…We tend to go through the week (and life) as satellites of one another, not really knowing what we’re up to in our separate lives. Thanks for the idea and I especially like how detailed you were about the mechanics of the meeting/note taking!

  13. Anna

    We’ve done something similar. When we are in the US, we travel quite a bit for our ministry. My husband would tell me dates as he scheduled things, but unless I stopped to write it down, I wouldn’t remember. After both of us getting frustrated a few times, we started having weekly meetings to go over our schedule and when things needed to be done. A little communication (and organization) can go a long way towards keeping the peace.

  14. Emily

    We don’t work together; he works out of the home, and I’m here (home schooling the kids) all day.
    But we still need a WIP meeting.
    For us, it’s Sunday evening once the little ones are in bed. We touch base about anything unusual in the schedule that week, anything coming up that’s going to need extra attention, anything going on for either of us the other should know about.
    We do it again on Friday evening, to make sure we’re on the same page for the weekend – with only one car, we need to make sure we aren’t both planning errands for Saturday afternoon!!

  15. Annette

    My husband and I don’t have businesses, but we take care of our infant granddaughter and a 12-year-old boy that is like a son to us. Her naps and bottles have to to allowed for and he has to be picked up from school every day. Add to that appointments, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry etc., you can be sure we need a weekly WIP.

  16. Theresa Boedeker

    This is a wonderful idea. I can think of several ways I could use this for my own life. What a great way to be pro-active and plan ahead.

  17. Millie Bobby Brown

    I always look up to such pairs as yours! I think, if you are in love, you will never annoy each other. Hope one day me and my husband will also work together

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