“There is never a good time to start a new endeavor.”
If that isn’t a quote by someone famous, it should be. I imagine it being delivered in a very dry, and slightly ironic voice. Because if there is never a good time to start something the choices are 1) Never even bother to attempt something new no matter how much your soul yearns for it or 2) Get on with it RIGHT NOW.
I pretty much go for the latter. Sometimes to the point of wondering if I have slightly neurotic desire to see how much I can handle. But that is a different conversation. Today we are talking about jumping into a project that you know you want to do … at some point. You just haven’t really worked on it much, or at all, yet.
Since this is a writing blog, I’ll couch this in terms of writing a novel. Not just writing a book, but finishing it. There is a big difference there. It takes a sentence to start a novel. It takes around 5000 sentences (or more!) that are tied together in a cohesive manner to tell a story that is novel length.
What is stopping you from reaching that goal of finishing a novel?
Well life is busy.
There are groceries, the kids, the spouse, the dog, cleaning, checking in with your bff on Facebook. I’m not making light of the many duties and pleasures that come with life. They are real and easily outweigh a desire to do something. Truly I feel that now.
I’m writing the ending to a novel while attempting to keep my blog going and building my list of writing courses. Plus there is book marketing, including Facebook events. Oh and did I mention I’m selling my house and outfitting a vehicle for long term overland travel?
I don’t mention all that to illustrate what can be done. Honestly, I really want to drop something. So much that I’ve been slacking and time I could spend getting something done has been utilized surfing Facebook or reading the news. Trust me, there is nothing good in the news. There isn’t much good on Facebook though I look very hard for cute dragon photos.
But if I put off blogging or my novel until things are less crazy on the home front … that would be when? Even if I weren’t planning to travel cross country this winter, something new and pressing would come up. There will be something. There will ALWAYS be something.
And, honestly, to be expanding my business and reach, I should be blogging more. Creatively, I know I’m not working at my optimum or to my potential. Didn’t I just say I was slacking?
So what can I do now to keep up a pace that feels way too hectic?
Put what needs to get done on your “To Do” list
And then put the list somewhere you will see it everyday. Make it a habit to look over your list at the start of every morning, after breaks, after lunch, and before you wrap up for the day.
If you forget about a personal goal because of overwhelming other obligations, giving it the same importance as those other obligations by listing it with them will not only remind you to do it, it will make you take it seriously.
I used to keep weekly goal lists. But then I had a huge work push and thought I’d take a break. It turned into a very LONG break. So last week I put some virtual sticky notes on my desktop: one for long term projects/ideas and the other for more immediate tasks. I won’t say that I’m getting everything done more efficiently, possibly because I like burying my desktop under a mountain of open programs. But I am getting more done … and learning to look at the list first instead of opening up Firefox and checking book stats.
The inverse is that adding a task to your list can make you feel more stressed. If you are busy adding more things to your list it can be the tipping point to not finishing anything and instead curling up with a bowl of ice cream and a good movie (ooh, that sounds good!). So how do you fight that?
I took a leadership class many years ago now and one thing that has really stuck with me is a tip from the book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In it Stephen Covey suggests scheduling time in your week for all the roles you play in life. In other words, you need to not just get X, Y, and Z done, but you need to put in time to call your mother (be a daughter), go grocery shopping (be a provider), watch your son’s game (be a parent). And that includes time for you and your projects. If you aren’t scheduling in at least five minutes to listen to your favorite song, drink your favorite tea and stare at a pretty picture, well you aren’t taking care of you. And no one else will take care of you or give you permission to do so. So do it.
What I really like about this is that scheduling time for your roles places equal importance on all the things you do. Instead of feeling rushed to get some tasks done so that you can focus on the roles that are “important,” it helps to make you, me, realize all the roles are important. It is easy for me to get lost in what other people think I should be doing and getting done and not advocate for my goals. It is also sometimes simply difficult to sort through a list of things that are all important and need to get done!
So what happens when your schedule is just too full?
Take five minutes
To start out on any project, you don’t have to give it hours. In fact, for new endeavors it might be better not to give it hours. Quick successions to get you thinking about the book you plan on writing so that you begin creating a habit while building momentum and enthusiasm are better than staring at a keyboard for hours and feeling like you’ll never finish because you can’t make it through an hour. Instead grabbing five minutes between making dinner and getting the kids to bed will not only get you a page further ahead, it will get your subconscious trained to continue the story.
Besides that 5 minutes @ 45 words per minute = 225 words or about 15 sentences. Not much, but it is almost a page of most paperback books. One page … if you could write a page a day, you’d still finish your book in less than a year. (An 80,000 word book is 320 pages). That is in five minutes a day. Once you get going hopefully you can add in more time. Do you have five minutes? You really can finish that book!
This was my forte through most of my writing career up until recently. Ideas would develop and instead of ignoring them, I’d flip open my iPad and add them straight into what I was writing. I captured a LOT of ideas, my books moved forward until I could finish one in four months and often wrote two at a time. Somewhere along the way I started glancing at the clock and realizing I “only had five minutes, so why bother?” Do you ever say that? Don’t. You are undermining not only what work you could do, but also your goals.
I’m trying to revert my mindset back so that when those brainstorm moments hit, I capture them. This is really retraining my attitude. Five minutes is a lot of time. I moved books beyond sticky points, fixed plot holes, thought of perfect bits of dialogue. Without utilizing that little bit of space when everything clicks … nothing is clicking.
The Pomodoro system
A friend turned me onto this tactic and now when I actually have extended time like a whole morning to work on projects, I use this. This technique is similar to sprint writing. You set a timer for usually 25 minutes and you work continuous until it goes off. Then you get a short break, somewhere between 3 to 5 minutes. After four sets of 25 minutes, you get a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
There is a bit more to it than that, like jotting down thoughts that pop in your head but then continuing with your task, and the overall method is thought to help keep your mental agility up. Have you ever noticed that if you work on something for three hours, no matter how much you love it, your brain feels like mush? This helps to prevent that. So you can keep working at a high level longer. Yay!
Those breaks are important, especially if you are working on a computer. Switch to looking out a window or reading a real book. Move and stretch! You need to adjust your sight to reduce eye strain and tunnel vision. There is no reward for producing a lot of material but reducing yourself to a puddle of exhaustion when done. It is much better to have enough energy remaining to toast a well accomplished day!
Hold yourself accountable
It takes discipline to finish a project and effort to train your mind and body to do the work required. If you are strong willed, you might be able to do it alone. I’m strong willed and I’m still struggling at the moment. Berating yourself for failing is a poor motivator. Rewarding yourself for progress works better. Having someone ask you if you are progressing while you have to own up to what you’ve been doing is the best.
So if you have a friend or mentor who can check in with you, arrange that NOW. Otherwise announce what you intend to do in public. No, don’t stick your head out the window and yell it! But state on Facebook that you are going to write five minutes every day. Then go and do it. Do you really want to post a follow-up that you failed?
And if the friends and self-discipline aren’t working, check out these 9 apps that will shut off all the distracting internet sites and force you to work from PC World!
So I’m feeling overwhelmed, but I’m not procrastinating. Not any more. I’m writing every day, building both new blog posts and inching closer to finishing my next novel. And packing boxes, and …
What is your big project you are working on? Announce it here and set a goal!