Can’t Buy Me Love…


IMG_3233Monday, 6:48pm
Davis, CA
“… everybody tells me so...” (Beatles)


Hope you’re enjoying these dog days of summer. Bloated thermometers, singed grasslands still smoldering from fireworks gone bad, outdoor concerts, late evening strolls, gorgeous sunsets and glorious full moons rising like ancient gods lighting up the sky.

Oh, yeah, and politics up the yin-yang. But enough about that.

What I want to discuss is something much closer to home.

Specifically: You. And your future happiness.

One thing I see, a LOT, in consultations with entrepreneurs is the steady drumbeat of burnout and personal lives gone to shit from the most mundane problem of all: Working too much.

I don’t have a problem with standard-issue workaholics (who occasionally get overwhelmed with their own over-scheduling), any more than I care if you occasionally get stupid drunk and embarrass yourself and your entire lineup of ancestors stretching back to the dawn of time. That’s your business.

The key to both of these issues, however, is the word “occasionally”. My personal motto is “moderation in all vices“, which has served me well for a very long time (yes, I consider overwork a vice). I like to live near the edge, chewing up scenery and sampling all the pleasures and misadventures offered up by a life well-lived. It’s certainly kept me flush with great stories to tell.

But I don’t go overboard as a steady diet.

With work, occasionally you may have to burn the midnight oil on a project.

Miss your daughter’s piano recital, not be home for dinner for weeks on end, never have a decent day off. It happens. Running your own biz, or freelancing for clients can play havoc with anyone’s schedule.

The operative word: Occasionally.

However, I don’t usually see the moderate dudes and dudettes when I do “my life sucks” type of consultations.

No. I see the basket cases, who are at the end of their rope and desperate.

Another divorce coming down the pike, kids alienated and getting in trouble at school, old friends not even bothering to check in anymore (cuz you’ve blown them off once too often). Plus, another biz crisis plowing up the legacy, threatening to destroy everything you’ve worked so hard for.

That’s the irony. All that relentless time at the job not only destroys private lives… but it also doesn’t necessarily get rewarded in the real world of business. Cuz your brain is thrashed, your energy stores depleted, your creative thinking conked out, your mojo just gone.

All because you lost sight of what matters.

It’s not money.

I know a lot of very, VERY rich individuals… who are absolutely miserable most of the time. They’re damn good at earning profits, but piss poor at building relationships and establishing something to work FOR. Other than the almighty buck.

A rich life isn’t just one that’s blessed with an abundance of money. It’s one that’s well lived, full of memories & experiences. That’s why I don’t just talk shop on my list. I also talk about how you can enjoy the ride more. Ahem… you’re on the list, right? If not, get over here, pronto!

Trying to get a true workaholic to see the ravages of his evil ways is a fool’s errand. Like the hard-core alcoholic determined to hit bottom, the workaholic has an internal dialog going 24/7 that won’t release him from the need to work until he drops. Every day. Every night. Every weekend. Forever or until biology steps in with a stroke, whichever comes first.

So I never try to “fix” a workaholic.

I mean, I have tried, many times before… and after years of experimenting, I’ve given up on “solving” the problem. Can’t be done, not without a drastic life change (like, oh, say, a stroke) that forces the issue. But until the hammer comes down, the workaholic will refuse to even think about alternatives.

I do, however, have a good workaround that’s successfully helped some workaholics “reframe” things enough to sneak in some relaxing time, some time with family, some fun times even with pals who’ve forgotten what you looked like.

Want to hear what this workaround is?

Okay. I’ll tell you.

It’s called “The Big Damn Reframe To Bring Love And Happiness Back Into Your Miserable Life“, and it goes like this:

You know how you treat clients — with all that respect and deference and paying attention to “doing the right thing” by them? Whether it’s a professional’s code, or a personal style of doing business… if you’re successful at business, you’ve found a way to deal with clients, manage their expectations, and work with them to get the best possible result no matter what the situation.

Well, that attitude is both what brings in the Big Bucks, cuz you’re attentive to the details of making a deal happen (and in most businesses, the devil is in the details)… and what creates problems with your life outside of work.

You bend over backwards to treat a good client with respect, you meet your deadlines no matter what, you provide excellent customer support, etc. All the things that go into a successful arrangement that keeps profits flowing.

The problem is… you do NOT treat your private life the same way – and you should.

You shrug off “deadlines” like dinner with the family, or push problem-solving off to your spouse whenever you can, and you seldom leave enough energy from your day to have any fun before crashing into your pillow like a statue falling over.

And therein lies both the problem…

and the solution.

Here it is:

Simply start treating the people and activities you love the exact way you treat good clients.

With respect for fulfilling your promises, yes. With the same energy you’d bring to a critical meeting. With everything you’d do to accomplish great things to impress, persuade, fulfill and help your business relationship thrive.

Yes on all that. Standard advice from any amateur shrink.

But here’s the key to this reframing:

  • You’ve got to SCHEDULE your family, friend and relationship time, right there in your planner next to the “real” clients. And you treat each scheduled event the SAME.
  • If you wouldn’t blow off a biz meeting, don’t do it for little Tobie’s baseball game.
  • If you wouldn’t skip a phone call to a client waiting for advice or input on a project, then don’t skip that phone call to an ailing pal (even if you “don’t know what to say” or feel awkward). (Figure it out. Just like you do with every client you’ve ever had.)
  • If you know how to save up your energy for a meeting with a client during a busy week, use that same tactic for everything else on your schedule.

And if you have to take on less clients, then that’s what you do.

One of the first pieces of advice I give any entrepreneur is to FIRE their worst clients.

Don’t let money by your guide — let your quality of life rule this.

When you get going in biz, and your reputation starts bringing in more and more work… get more picky about who you take on. Have a sense of how much you want to work, and don’t push past that boundary by taking on too much. Yes, occasionally “the” great opportunity will come along and upend all your plans…

… but that doesn’t mean every asshole client who drops a check in your lap deserves your attention. Send them to a colleague (maybe for a nice 10% finders fee). Keep an eye on your very LIMITED energy reserves. Charge more, if you need to take on less clients to stay sane. Figure it out.

That’s what the real pro’s at living well do. They figure it out. They NEVER allow their idea of a good life to be subsumed by clients who make them miserable.

And, they know how to keep that work-life balance thing going.

If you aren’t in the habit of doing sloppy work for a client, then don’t buy pizza again when it’s your turn to handle dinner at home. Take ten minutes to google a decent home-cooked meal, bop into the store just like you’d bop into Staples for printer ink when you’re out during a deadline, and whip up something tasty. It ain’t that hard.

Mr. Google is crammed to bursting with easy recipes and advice. Heck, I’m the worst cook to ever stumble into a kitchen, but I’ve learned how to make wonders happen on the stovetop… because it fucking MATTERED to me.

Just like creating killer hooks for an ad matter to me. Yes, they take a bit of time to get right. You have to work at it. There are very few shortcuts that don’t require some elbow grease.

So what. You learned to keep your eyes on the prize at work — do good stuff, collect the Big Bucks.

Well, guess what?

It’s the same with everything else.

Put in the effort… collect Big Love and Big Happiness.

Yes, this sounds like pop psychology, cuz it is. It’s a simple tactic that anyone can adopt in their toolkit.

But knowing about it is one thing.

DOING it is quite another. If you already knew about this tactic, and you’re not doing it, then shame on you. Give yourself a big slap upside your head, and immediately get busy correcting things.

Life doesn’t “start” at some future point, after you’ve taken care of all your biz commitments.

No. Your life is what you’re doing NOW. THIS is your life, right now, this moment. However you feel, whatever mess you’ve made of things, this is your life right now.

And sometimes, a simple little tactic can make all the difference in the world. As well as providing the very excellence bonus of not burning you the fuck out.

Give your loved ones the same attention, energy and time you give your best clients. Don’t squander your best stuff on strangers who just happen to have enough dough to hire you.

Hope this helps.

Now, go enjoy the rest of your summer.

Stay frosty,


P.S. Bonus coping tactic: 

Whenever a client wants more of your time, and it’s going to eat into your “special” time… NEVER explain to them what’s going on. You simply say “Sorry, I’m booked for the next hour (or whatever). Let’s get you on the schedule for tomorrow (or next week).

You wouldn’t explain to a client that you can’t help them now, because you have another client already booked. YOU DON’T OFFER AN EXCUSE AT ALL. You’re booked. As a professional, you honor your booked clients, no explanation necessary. You’re treating your friends/family/tee time/whatever the same way you’d treat ANY client — with assumed confidentiality, and due respect for the time they booked with you.

Pro’s don’t blow off commitments because something “better” comes along. They honor their promises, and find a way to make everyone happy. Clients know that trying to get extra time outside of what you scheduled for them isn’t something they should expect. They don’t do it for THEIR clients, you know. They’re just trying to get first on your list, and eat up more of your time, because humans tend to be naturally selfish.

No harm in asking.

Big harm, though, in blowing off your other clients (no matter what relationship you have with them) to satisfy someone’s need for extra attention.

My good pal Dan Kennedy has a great saying: “Do not make your crisis my emergency.” In other words, you don’t earn extra time just because you fucked up. He makes sure all clients understand this, too. He’s booked to the max, routinely, with multiple clients. But he works his schedule like a pro.

You should, too.

And if you like this advice, you should also invest a couple bucks and get my book. The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together is available on Amazon.

If you’ve already got it (and USED what you learned), you can get Volume 2 right here.


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  • Riz Aseem says:

    Great post John.

    Finally, a proper take on work-life balance. On putting your family, friends and life on the same scale as your clients.

    Love it.


    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, it shocked me, at first, when I started playing around with the reframe, of how simple it can be. Give equal weight to what’s important. Both clients AND your loved ones (and fun times). They’re not the second option, but the first, alongside the work that brings in the moolah.

      I hope I hear, later, that folks have been successful implementing this idea…

  • Jack The Barber says:

    Wow! Good stuff! I needed to hear that right now. Thanks!

  • Love this article John, thank you. It’s getting more and more apparent that we need to be choosing our perfect clients and not just accepting ‘everybody’.. for the examples you’ve outlined above.
    And your take on sticking to a strict schedule, it’s hard for ‘nice’ guys like me that have a tendency to say ‘ok’, but I’ve learned it’s better for everyone to stay firm with the rules and conditions already agreed upon. Keep up the great work!


  • Jeff Sada says:

    This was gold, John. Thank you, sensei. I’m guessing there was a time in your life when you wandered around and never had a schedule….What did you do to transform into a task master? Did you ever have a problem with honoring your schedule in the beginning? If so, what was your process in overcoming this?

    • John Carlton says:

      You just gotta make a decision to go for it, and do it. That’s the hard part — actually putting the good advice you hear into action. With slackers like me, every fiber of my being offered up excuses not to act — it was too hard, I’d rather do something else, I’ll start tomorrow, etc.

      You ignore those voices, and develop the voice that says “Okay, fine, let’s do it.” It’s simple, but takes patient and practice. And dedication to moving forward, not backsliding. Once you get into the habit, it’s way easier to get stuff done because you’re experienced at busting through the resistance.

      To begin, simply begin.

  • JenL says:

    You’re giving voice to the ideas in my head…

    Oh, got wind of a golf swing improvement box.

    A group of Asian merchants with an acupuncturist designed a box to stand inside. There may be a secret in standing inside pushing out training the arms by resistance…

  • Larry E says:

    Great words to live by…thanks John!

  • Holly Lisle says:

    Thank you. On my way to surgery tomorrow, looking at some forced downtime, and was stressed to the eyeballs about the work I won’t be able to do for a good month.

    This helped a lot.

  • I like it. My wife and I do things very differently so this is actually a way for us to stay on the same page.

  • Jeremy Blake says:

    Now is the time, when the classic workaholic splashes out large amounts of dosh to take their spouse and kids to a remote destination or hyper luxurious spot, and explain – to anyone listening… that all of the neglect of family and friends is worth it…for this holiday!

    This is a good post to read come September or October as the tan is wearing and the flakes of skin are revealing the true self underneath once more.

    The old expression of not being able to choose your family – though you can choose your fiends – means surely you can choose how to prioritise your time and communication with the friends, family, in laws and outlaws? Thanks for a important if not urgent – post. JJB

  • Rex Wisehart says:

    You just hit me right between the eyes… I might be pissed because you nailed me… and we haven’t talked in years. Instead say a healthy ‘THANKS JOHN’. I’m implementing this… today.

    • John Carlton says:

      I, too, always get pissed when I hear or read advice that applies to me. How dare the universe confront me like that. But, after I cool off, I appreciate it…

  • Andrew Hussey says:

    Bullseye stuff John love it. We need to have high expectations (of ourselves) That dismisses a lot of the bull.

  • Tim Woo says:

    Really appreciate this post, John.

    I once dated a girl who saw that I scheduled them in for a slot of my time in my planner and her reaction was “I’m only worth two hours of your time?”

    I’d been scared to schedule in my personal things since then, but reading this made me feel a little better about doing it.

    It was the only way I could remember that I had to do the important things in life — spend time with people I care about.

  • Michael T says:

    Hey John

    Great post (though I am sure you don’t need me to tell you that LOL).. They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear and then this drops in my inbox…. I’ll send you the Apple… thank you

  • GirlPie says:

    Great to hear what I “know” (but don’t act upon often enough) in your passionate voice.

    For me, the trick has been to not let my tightly-scheduled BoyPie *feel* scheduled with me (he prefers “freedom”, as many men do.) So I keep my prioritizing to be there for/with him PRIVATE. He feels like the prize, like recess… not another thing on my calendar.

    As two small biz owners, you know we’d never see each other without following your good reminder.
    Thank you~!

  • I once heard a coach ask a female client complaining about her husband, “How do you treat him when he walks in the door every evening. Do you even look up and greet him? How would you treat Oprah if she came walking in your door? Treat him like you’d treat Oprah, every time he walks in the door.” This post is wonderful, John. I’m filing it in my mind with the Oprah story.

  • Angie Colee says:

    I’ve long been a big advocate of “they don’t need to know why”. Funny thing is, at the start of my career I felt I had to justify why I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) jump the moment a client said to. These days I just say, “Hey, can’t make that time work. Can you do X or Y instead?” and I have YET to be asked for a justification.

  • Alison says:

    Wow, paradigm shift. Why not have every aspect of life be amazing, not just the working life? Thanks beyond belief John. I have put work first for way too long. I can’t wait to give my full attention to my partner. This week will be the best ever. Thanks for your gusto in speaking the Truth!

  • John Van Epps says:

    I needed to hear this, John. I’ve put off those things that I enjoy to finish ‘must do’ tasks far too often. I will start scheduling the ‘wants’ in my life, just like I do the ‘needs’. Foregoing the ‘wants’ has left me adrift. Time to adjust the rudder…

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