I’m excited about this recent post by Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest and blogger of There Are No Rules. The title of the post is My Secret for Battling Procrastination, but I think it’s actually more about how to focus your attention and make reasonable goals than about motivating yourself.
Thank goodness for Jane. I can really use some of her tried-and-true wisdom on this topic.
It seems I’m always planning out my collection of grandiose goals, only to find (hours/days/weeks later) that I’m stressing myself out trying to micromanage every detail of my life for the next year.
Even just this morning, I attempted (again) to map out the phases of my major goals, point by point, in hopes of seeing into the future and being more productive with the here and now. And like every other time, I could feel the tension and anxiety creeping into my heart, rendering me useless.
I’ve got good news, though. The difference between this morning and many other previous “planning” sessions is this: I finally realized that this system is inefficient and must go.
The thing is, I’m so new at most of these projects, I have no idea where I’m headed from one week to the next–and that’s okay. There is a learning curve to overcome and a new path to pave for myself. And I’m only just headed down that path.
After 3 hours of excel table manipulation and labored breathing, I finally closed the file, shut my computer, and declared this system dead. It doesn’t work for me, and I’m a creative person, so it’s time to find / create / customize something else that does work.
After over a year of system insanity, I’m finally ready to try something new and simpler.
The reason I like Jane’s advice in this post is because her system is not only simple but also promotes a nice balance of focus. It allows you to see what’s up ahead and plan your time, but it also keeps the near future–all those intimidating white-water rapids–out of your way until you are ready to tackle them. And the way the system works, you may not even know you’re heading down those rapids until you’re past them.
In a nutshell, it’s a way to keep yourself from freaking out over too many new and scary things while still accomplishing tasks throughout the week.
I also like the worksheet she provides. The language she uses plays more to the emotional self than to the practical, robot self, asking questions like “What do I need to do to feel most satisfied?” instead of “What tasks do I need to complete to be successful?”
After attempting to “plan my goals” this morning, I’m feeling burned out with the whole planning thing. Still, I want to try out Jane’s system and see if it might make me feel better and more productive about my life.
Once my brain stops churning smoke and I can get the gears running on this new idea, I’ll let you know how it goes.
August 16, 2011
I’m on a train bound for London, watching the sun rise majestically over the sleepy little towns of the English countryside. It is 6:20am, I’m traveling alone, and I probably got 4 hours of sleep last night, but somehow I am at peace.
I’m headed to London to meet my dad, his assistant, and another coworker–all here in England from Utah for a work project. My dad is one of my clients, and while I typically edit his expert reports, I’m simply a data cruncher this time. I used to intern for his company, so this kind of work isn’t new to me.
This project couldn’t have come at a better time. For one thing, I am still amazed that the project is happening when we are in the area. Second, I didn’t get to see much of my family in the week leading up to our departure from the US, so I can now spend some time with my dad. And also, this work will mean extra money in our pocket, which should pay for a good portion of our trip up to this point. Ryan and I have joked about how awesome it would be to make enough money while we’re here to keep our savings intact for when we return. That is a feasible goal, and one we are striving for.
I’m actually pretty amazed that I’ve handled the idea of this solitary trip to London so well. I’ve come a long way since high school and university, when every little new thing used to stress me out. Now, traveling doesn’t seem like such a big deal. In fact, I probably err on the side of “Let’s just go and figure it out when we get there” than the “Everything must be exactly organized and in its place before we leave” attitude I had a few years ago.
Traveling alone still makes me a bit anxious. I’m child-sized and not too terrible to look at, so I feel vulnerable when I travel to new places without a buddy. In the case of last night, I also had a magazine deadline for Latter-day Woman Magazine, cramming my junk back into my 22″x10″ bag, and figuring out the final logistics of my journey, so I guess it’s okay if my nerves weren’t completely relaxed. The important thing is that it all worked out, as it always does.
Ryan understands who I am and is always a huge support in these kinds of situations. He will stay behind in Ascot until the B. family comes home this evening. Then he’ll take a train to London to meet us. I never like to be very far from Ryan–I just enjoy his company so much–but it will be a worthwhile few hours apart. I guess it says something about our relationship if we can spend nearly every moment with him for this long and not get too sick of each other.
I’m amazed that our time in Ascot has come to an end. It was a very relaxed time, but it went quickly, and I think I’m going to miss the area very much. It’s kind of a quiet little town (at least when a horse race isn’t going on), with tons of green woods to walk the dog in. But we (read: Ryan) took lots of pictures and I will be recording our experiences in more detail this week, so we can remember it always. Leaving early means I won’t get to see the B family, which I’m bummed about. Maybe one day I will get a chance to meet up with them again. They are such kind, generous, and fun people.
After downtown London, where we have some fun plans, we’ll head to Bristol, a decently sized city that got its beginning in the tobacco and spirits trade. We’ll be watching an indoor rabbit, which seems quite humorous to us. What in the world do you do with an indoor rabbit? It is litterbox trained, though, so it should be easy. Kind of like a cat. A silent, floppy-eared cat.Read More
The past several weeks, I’ve been involved in all kinds of wonderful projects, and it has felt so empowering. I’ve nurtured relationships with potential clients and enjoyed interest from new people. I’ve been blogging, outlining my novel in prep for NaNoWriMo, and writing a decent short story (something new for me). I even got acquainted with someone from my college years and together we have started a writing group. Best of all, she has been kind enough to let me join her online magazine, Latter-day Woman Magazine, as Associate Editor. This means I have a few articles to write and a part in a real mag! So exciting.
Of course, about the time that everything seemed to be going perfectly, I realized something important was missing; namely, the new clients, new copywriting projects, and the moolah they would generate. I had planted plenty of seeds, but when I looked, there weren’t many contracted projects to speak of. …Uh, where’d they all go? With a quick rundown of the budget, I knew money would be even tighter. I had to hope I could get a few new projects without selling off our possessions…
And that’s when the poop hit the fan. I was counting on getting paid in full by a client, but they only paid me half. That meant I didn’t have new work from that client, and my other clients didn’t have anything to offer me for awhile, either. The ball was out of my court for all client prospects. And to add to the drama, my cat, Moki, didn’t come home one night. (I don’t have kids, so I kind of dump all that nurturing on him [and my husband]. I realized I would be devastated if I lost him like that.) I had so much going for me, but all that seeming failure–I was a cat killer and a breadwinner with no bread!–was too much.
Sometimes I think stress is hard-wired in me, because no matter what I do, when things get rough, the optimism and self-respect go out the window. I can’t see reason. I can’t see hope. I can just see plain and painful emotion–and a big sign that reads”YOU FAILED!” staring me in the face. And of course I can’t function when I beat myself up like that. For a couple days, I went into a kind of panicked trance, asking all the “appropriate” self-damning questions: Why hadn’t I been more focused on making money? What was I going to do now? How could I have been so stupid? All the while, I was walking the streets of my neighborhood, lamely searching for my stupid feline.
Then, just as quickly as the drama had started, it righted itself. One day, I got up, heard a cry outside, and opened the door to a very dirty cat. MY cat. Yay. That same day, I got a call from one of my clients. And lo and behold, he wants me to go to Europe (you read that right) with him and his secretary for two weeks to help out on business. I’ve never been to Europe and suddenly I am going, and getting paid for it!
I’m a target for lesson learning, I guess. With the kinds of things I pull, who blames God for reminding me on a daily basis that freaking out is not the way to handle the tough blows of life. Fortunately, I know the message of this lesson well, and it applies to you just as well as it does to me: Yes, crappy things happen on occasion. Sometimes they seem just a little too messy to clean up. But you know what? They always work out eventually. ALWAYS. Perhaps now I’ll get this through my tough skull and remember it next time something potentially disastrous comes my way.
For all my crazy anxiety issues, I’m at least good at turning them around with a big helping of gratitude and a desire to work even harder than before. I feel so fortunate for the opportunity I have to work on this writing business of mine. Sometimes I do feel like a failure, but other times, I feel really proud of what I’ve accomplished. More than anything, I know I couldn’t do it without a fantastic support system. My dear husband is the king of patience, optimism, and control during stressful times, and he is gracious enough to hear me out when I’m panicking and then gently remind me that it will work out.
It always does.Read More
There are many days, sometimes in a single week, where I have to get a hold of my negative thoughts, build myself up (yet again), and tell myself that I can do it. When things get tough, I’m always tempted to sit down at my computer and “theorize” my writing job—that is, THINK about it abstractly and try to figure out how to make things work better from a technical standpoint. But the truth is, you can only think about things for so long before you start going in circles. At some point, you’ve got to convince yourself to ACT.
Networking is one road block for me that I’ve had to learn to face head-on. I’m not a natural salesperson, nor am I always interested in meeting loads of new people, so finding the motivation to get out there and sell myself has been a challenge at times. Yet, I have known all along that networking is a requirement for success in the freelance world, and that knowledge has helped (forced, rather) me to change the way I do things.
I think the biggest networking breakthrough came when I realized the huge difference a little attitude adjustment can make. When I choose to simply ignore my hesitations—fear of rejection, appearing foolish or naïve, or making mistakes—and focus on the task at hand (that is, putting projects on my plate, money in my pocket, and more impressive pieces in my portfolio), networking becomes almost second nature.
Ignoring these things isn’t easy at first. There are always those voices inside you that question your worth and overemphasize how terrible criticism can be. Yet, the more you practice combating those negative voices and replacing them with positive ones, the faster you become more comfortable in your skin. And since confidence is eye-catching, there’s a good chance that people will take greater notice of you and help you get where you want to go.
I’ve had a few months to practice networking (and confidence) now, and I can tell you that it has become surprisingly enjoyable for me. And I’m not nearly as bad at it as I originally thought. I’ve found that when I allow myself to stop caring about people’s opinions of me, the pressure of the situation diminishes and my creative self comes alive. All of a sudden, marketing my business is fun—almost addicting. And networking, in general, is a way to enjoy great company, learn something valuable from others, and share some of my own insights.
I wouldn’t have discovered all this if I hadn’t thrown myself—completely unwillingly—out there and given myself a chance to prove I was capable. It was hard, I admit. Even a few months ago, I didn’t think I liked people enough to interact with them this much. But I do! And the more I talk with people, the easier it gets. Best of all, the more I talk, the better I understand and can communicate that I AM worth people’s time, and money.
It’s always great to have support from those around you, but the best kind of support you can have when building a business is yourself. Learn to make friends with the person inside you, and you’ll always have someone to turn to for guidance and inspiration.Read More
Many professionals in the corporate world can tell you about lunchtime events. For instance, they offer something to look forward to. They are fun. They break up your day. They keep your sanity in check. And they always seem to take more time then anyone expected (which means fewer hours to suffer through until home time). That’s a pretty nice list of positives for lunchtime events (at least from an employee standpoint), but everything changes when you have your own business.
The past few weeks, I’ve found myself filling my schedule with events that fall around lunchtime—perhaps for the above reasons. By Friday of last week, I had excitedly penned in at least one event per day for this week’s agenda: everything from job fairs to lunch with clients to crazy opportunities like photo shoots and book clubs.
And this is how it all went down—on Day 2, no less.
I decided to try my hand at modeling and volunteered to do a photo shoot yesterday for two sisters who are hoping to get into the fashion industry. I spent the morning cleaning and prepping my house, which was good. The shoot lasted four hours. It was fun. It was a new opportunity. The evening came quickly. I hadn’t written all day. I was tired. End of story.
Then came today’s Park City job fair. The preparations alone make me cringe. (Why, again, would I want to iron clothes, get ready, drive an hour to Park City, generate enough energy to market myself, then drive an hour home?) Around 1pm, I’m still pre-shower. Burnout hits. I decide the job fair doesn’t interest me. As a fitting substitute, I try to figure out why.
And here is what I’ve decided: Lunchtime events are super fun, and necessary to any freelancer. They are also super TIME-CONSUMING and possibly a waste of time, if misused.
Think about it:
- Like it or not, events take preparation. That might include putting on a decent pair of pants. That might include dolling yourself up to look your best (which takes time). It might also require compiling resumes and business cards and commuting to the event (which may take a lot of time).
- Lunchtime comes around fast, particularly if you are like me and wake up fairly late in the morning (to compensate for night owl tendencies). The later your sleep habits, the less time you have to do anything but prepare and attend your event.
- Events tie up mental and emotional space. When I have an event to attend, my thoughts are often focused on that event and nothing else for several hours before (and sometimes after). I’m thinking of exactly when I need to get ready. I’m thinking of exactly when I need to leave. If it’s a client meeting, I’m thinking of things I should say or do. That leaves very little concentration for writing a blog post or planning a new project—even if I have the time to do it before I head out the door. And when I return, chances are I’ll analyze the event’s value according to my impressions, which also takes time and energy away from my writing.
- And how many lunchtime events actually last just an hour? Some, but not all.
I’m not that great at math, but the above list seems to add up to a lot of hours in preparation, attendance, and debriefing. No wonder we feel anxiety when we roll too many of these up in our agenda in a single week.
As with a lot of best business practices, the key to managing our events is balance. These opportunities are important—and sometimes crucial–to our businesses and our lives. How else can we build new relationships with people and maintain the ones we already have? How else can we try new things and develop our marketable skills? The trick is to weigh the value (pros & cons) of our events with (1) the time it will take to attend them and (2) the time we need to get our other projects finished to our satisfaction.
In reality, my tune hasn’t changed much over the past few days. I still love to go to lunch with friends, attend networking events, and meet new people. And let’s be honest: sometimes there just isn’t a way around the lunchtime scheduling period. It’s simply the most convenient time for many current and future clients to meet with us. In those instances, you just have to learn how to put your business on hold for the day and make up for it at other times.
At the same time, I’ve realized that when it comes to business, my office hours are sacred space, and I need to think hard about giving up that time to just anything. Typically, the more events I pack into my schedule, the more quickly I hit burnout and the less productive I am in the areas that really matter. (And I think no event is worth it if I’m unhappy and having trouble progressing.) Of course I will have things I have to attend to, but the more flexible I can be with myself, the better I will feel and the more successful my results will be.
After this week, I think I’m ready to space these kinds of events out a bit, so I can enjoy them more fully. I think one or two a week is about right for me, though I’ll leave room for those valuable exceptions. And as for the remainder of this week, I think just writing this blog post has been therapy enough. I’ll get through it, learn from it, and apply that newfound knowledge to the future.
What scheduling tricks have you acquired to keep yourself happy and motivated? Share your experience in the comments below.Read More