Pruning activities from your life and business might be the most important move you’ll ever make.

How Pruning Works in Nature

Here in Austin, the Arizona Ash Trees are prolific and pretty. They also grow rapidly, which makes them a popular choice for landscaping new subdivisions. But the problem with the Arizona Ash is that it grows too fast. They often split in two or drop large limbs once the growth has exceeded the trunk’s ability to support it. If your car or house hovers in the shade of one of these heavy and ill-supported branches, watch out. Some people call it an Arizona Trash Tree after it destroys their car or roof.

To prevent damage to nearby property and keep the trees alive, homeowners must prune them. Pruning forces the tree to direct nutrients toward the remaining limbs. 

Reasons Pruning Can Be Helpful:

  • Increases the structural strength of the remaining plant.
  • Increases fruit production. By cutting underperforming branches, the remaining branches produce more and better fruit. This is why domesticated fruit trees produce better fruit than wild trees. The same applies to rose bushes and flowering plants.
  • Improve the aesthetic shape of the tree. If you want the tree to have a certain shape, pruning is the only way to make it happen.
  • Removes diseased or unhealthy limbs that can kill the tree.

The same principle of pruning applies to our lives.

Thomas’ Story of Pruning

Thomas: Earlier this year, I had a mental breakdown.

I calculated my responsibilities, and I had 20 titles with various companies and organizations:

I was:

  1. CEO, Author Media Hosting
  2. Podcast Co-Host, Novel Marketing
  3. Keynote Speaker, Thomas Umstattd Sole Proprietorship
  4. Literary Agent, Steve Laube Agency
  5. Instructor, Author Media Courses
  6. Vice President, Christian Writers Institute
  7. Podcast Host, Christian Publishing Show
  8. CEO, Castle Media Podcast Production
  9. Podcasting, Publishing, and Marketing Consultant
  10. Podcast Host, Liberty Buzzard
  11. Podcast Host, Creative Funding Show
  12. Author, Courtship in Crisis
  13. Organizer, Austin Entrepreneur Meetup
  14. Board Member, Way Makers International
  15. Organizer, Austin Christian Writers
  16. Product owner, MyBook Plug-ins
  17. Organizer, Austin Board Game Designers Meetup
  18. Co-Organizer, Austin Podcasters Meetup
  19. Blogger, ThomasUmstattd.com, AuthorMedia.com

I was also a husband and father!

This was too much! Like an Arizona Ash, I was about to split. Around that time, someone asked me how I did everything. I almost told her, “By failing at most things most of the time.” I didn’t say that, but it was the truth.

With all those activities, you’d think I would have been flush with cash and prosperous. But all my branches were producing very little fruit. So, over the next several months, I began cutting my list of responsibilities. 

My inspiration was a 700-year-old tree I saw in Switzerland. It had recently been pruned back to its nubs, and yet it was bursting with new growth. 

I realized I was that tree, and I needed to cut back before I split. 

I stepped down as the:

  • Podcast Host of Liberty Buzzard and Creative Funding Show
  • Organizer of Austin Entrepreneur Meetup
  • Literary Agent, Steve Laube Agency
  • Board Member, Way Makers International
  • Organizer, Austin Christian Writers Meetup
  • Organizer, Austin Board Game Designers Meetup

I also:

  • Put my book Courtship in Crisis on retirement. People can still buy it, but I no longer accept press inquiries or podcast interviews about the book.
  • Sold the MyBook Plug-ins to Stormhill Media.

During the pruning process, you say “no” to the branches you choose to cut, but you say “yes” to the branches you allow to remain. When I cut those responsibilities, I had more energy to say “yes” to the remaining things. My goal was to have a single business card by the time I turned 35.

Of all my professional roles, I enjoyed teaching the most. Creating courses and hosting podcasts involved teaching, so those branches got to stay. I planned to compensate for the lost revenue of all the other activities I cut by devoting more energy to podcasting and course creation. 

Jim’s Story of Pruning

Jim: People my age talk about retirement. I’ve heard some folks say, “When I retire, I don’t know what I’ll do with my time.” That befuddled me because I knew I still wouldn’t have enough time to do all the things I loved even if I retired from all my professional activities. 

I love to

  • Play guitar
  • Ride dirt bikes
  • Practice sleight of hand
  • Water ski
  • Take photos
  • Golf
  • Scuba dive
  • Play pickleball

For 30 years, Darci has told me I had too much on my plate. It never sunk in, and I never made any changes. Consequently, my plate was always jam-packed. 

At the start of a new year, many people choose a word or phrase to encompass their annual goals. My phrase for the year was “big rocks.” I wanted to concentrate on the “big rocks” in my life instead of all the pebbles and sand that tend to fill people’s lives. 

As the year went on, I realized that I needed to remove some of my big rocks too. 

I made a list of all the professional plates I had spinning. 

  • Editing
  • Speaking
  • Writing back cover copy
  • One-on-one consulting
  • Website building 
  • JR2 Marketing 
  • Narrating audiobooks
  • The Rubart Writing Academy
  • Writing my books

Three of my “big rocks” had been ramping up. I was narrating more audiobooks, spending more time on the Rubart Writing Academy, and after taking a break from book-writing, I was ready to begin again.

When Thomas and I were at a conference that year, it became clear I was far too busy, and Thomas helped me to see it. I realized I needed to prune. 

I needed to choose one thing or at least the few things that revolved around one thing. Some people can spin six plates, but I’m not one of them. I can spin about three. So over the past year, I’ve learned how to use the most powerful word in the English language: No.

I love pleasing people, and it’s so easy to say yes to the interview, coffee, and lunch. After all, it doesn’t take long. But over time, those commitments add up and ultimately take time and energy from the “big rocks.” 

I thought long and hard about my role in Novel Marketing. By far and away, the thing I loved most about the show was working with my good friend Thomas. But I didn’t think that reason was compelling enough to continue my involvement. After all, Thomas and I can maintain our friendship outside of the show. I dreaded having that conversation with him because I didn’t want to disappoint him. But I’ve also learned it’s OK to disappoint people, and I decided to step back from the Novel Marketing show with only occasional guest appearances in the future.

Growth after Pruning

Jim The aftermath of this decision has been interesting. 

A few days after our conversation, Steve Laube learned of my audiobook narration and asked about having me narrate books for Enclave Publishing. 

If Thomas and I had not had the conversation, we wouldn’t have acted on our plan to create courses. 

Emotionally, I realized what a huge relief I felt when I could prune one major activity from my schedule and life. 

Future opportunities can’t come unless you prune. Maybe you need to prune your personal life. There may be relationships you can’t maintain any longer.

If you see the need to prune and concentrate on the “big rocks” in your personal or professional life, I’d recommend reading One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No Regret Life and Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt.

Thomas: When I first became an agent, everyone said I would be the best agent. I liked my clients. But being in the middle of constant email conversations was a special kind of hell for me, and I did not enjoy it at all. Not only was I stressed by the amount of email, but I also felt like I was failing everyone. Saying goodbye to my clients was painful, but it was a huge relief. 

What Novel Marketing Will Look Like in the Future

Jim: Thomas will continue hosting Novel Marketing. We’ll both continue to create courses, but stepping away from the podcast will give me more time to focus on the Rubart Writing Academy, narrate audiobooks, and write my next book. 

Thomas: I’ll be able to dive deep into marketing topics and provide more robust weekly content. I plan to experiment with the format in the coming weeks, so please leave your questions via voicemail that I can answer on the air. 

Pruning is painful. But after it’s done, you will find relief, and other branches of your life and business can finally flourish.

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