Don’t break the chain!

How is your calendar looking?  Not to , but mine is looking awesome!  I made a commitment to myself on December 27, 2016, to do some kind of work on this book everyday.  And, I have! (Here‘s my previous post about it.)  Some days it’s researching for a few hours and some days it’s simply sending or replying to an email.  BUT, it all adds up.

There have been a few days that I get ready to go to bed and realize that the day had slipped by, and I hadn’t done one single thing for the book.  So, I lug out the ol’ laptop and get to work.  There was one day that I even thought I could skip it–just that one time.  But, I know I wouldn’t be able to look at that one square on the calendar that didn’t have a big red X.  So, after everyone was in bed, I got to work.  And, I’m so glad I did.

So, just because it’s been quiet around here, I assure you, it’s not because I’m not working.  I’m actually getting quite a bit done.  Shocker! But, now that I’m committed to work on the book everyday, I’m getting so much more done.  Yeah, I know!  Who knew?

I have some great interviews in the works.  I just visited with Erin Althea, and I’ll be posting about that soon.  She’s the mother of twins and is a props/FX designer at DreamWorks!  She also owns her own business, Love&Quarry, where she produces concrete and resin objects and accessories.  I also have a telephone interview tomorrow with Darrah from OtisB Jewelry.

So, stay tuned.  There’s lots in the works.  And, keep working everyday so you can put that big red X on your calendar.

Dan Blank talks about finding focus to create more

The following is a share from my inbox today from Dan Blank:

Happy Friday!

If you are a writer or creative professional who works on your craft at home, I want to share my best advice on how to do so. I want to help you find more focus amidst the many distractions you face every single day.

This is everything I have learned through:

  • Working from home full-time for the past 6 years, while running my company WeGrowMedia, and raising a family.
  • Working from home both full and part time when I had a corporate job in the 3 years prior to that.
  • Working with thousands of writers and creative professionals, who themselves work from home, or split their time between a traditional office setting and nontraditional settings of home, cafe, etc.
  • Studying how successful people manage to get stuff done while at home.

Okay, let’s dig in:

Calendar everything.

My life runs on time blocking. This means I open up my calendar application (I use Apple’s Calendar) and block out each hour of the day for tasks.

Sounds crazy, right?

It’s not. It allows me to have clarity about what I need to do throughout the day, reducing decision-fatigue. What’s that? It’s having to think a million times “Um, what is on fire right now?” and rely on my emotions to tell me.

Instead, I have clarity in my day, and I’m allowed to work on some immediate tasks, but also work on projects that won’t have a pay off for months or years down the road. When you run every moment of your schedule based on emotions, you are going to spend all day reacting. It’s hard to build something meaningful over time when you are too busy reacting all the time.

I use three different color codes in my calendar: green for meetings, purple for focused creative work, and blue for non-work stuff. Yes, I schedule that too. Today I have scheduled what I’m eating for lunch and when I take my nap. Oh, I take a nap every day too. (More on that here.)

For important tasks, I schedule twice as much time as I think I need. Why? Because I have found that I will try to “squeeze in” an important task, when it truly requires more space. I want to be honest with myself about how long craft takes. This applies to so much of what I do, including writing. This morning I spent an hour editing 2 pages of a book I am writing, and that was with notes to guide me. That hour felt like 100 decisions to find clarity, to craft prose, to move things around, and to ensure it fit within the larger context of that chapter.

Schedule everything that requires your focus, including when you will get to email. Too often, someone will schedule meetings on their calendar, and just assume that email will be managed in the cracks in between meetings. It won’t. Instead what happens is that person’s day is spent constantly “trying to catch up,” and can’t effectively communicate with others because of it.

Does time blocking sound too rigid for your tastes? I keep it flexible by constantly moving blocks of time around on my calendar. Why? Because life happens. My schedule needs to honor the important work that needs to get done, but also that we are human beings living in a complex ecosystem where things change all the time. We are all managing family, relationships, physical and mental health, and our responsibilities to work, home, and our communities.

But maybe time blocking won’t work for you. If that is the case, I encourage you to take the same strategy, but apply it to different tactics. Perhaps instead you wake up every day to a hand-written to-do list that you made out the night before. Or you wake up to an intention that you wrote out the night before — a single thing that you need to ensure gets done each day.

My point is this: have a system.

If you feel that you are drowning every day, and can never find the time for your creative work, I strongly encourage you to consider new ways to manage your daily calendar.

Have a door. That locks.

If you work from home, even if just for what you feel is a “hobby” of writing, find a space that can be truly private. And this is the important part: the door should have a lock on it.

Since I run a little company, I have an office at home that is 100% dedicated to work. When we bought the house, this was the first space I defined when divvying up the bedrooms because it needed to have a sense of privacy in terms of the layout of the house. I also installed a lock on the door — a signal to myself and to my family that there are times when work is more important than whatever the interruption is.

Perhaps you can only find a tiny desk in a spare bedroom for you to use for your work. Or a section of the basement. Whatever it is, take the time to go to Home Depot, buy one of those cheap locks with keys, and install it on the door.

That key is a symbol that your creative work matters.

Learn to create in sprints, not marathons

I know, there are some full-time writers or artists who can devote 12 hours a day to becoming lost in their work. I think that is truly awesome.

But for the rest of us, we can’t.

Our days are spent juggling 1,000 things: the litter box has to be changed, you have two kids about to come home from school, you work part time at the post office, and as a crossing guard for extra cash, and the dishes are piled up in the sink. Oh, and you want to write today.

I would encourage you to develop the skill to create even in small increments of time: 10 or 20 minutes.

You may tell me that it takes you longer than that to “get into” writing, and that once you are in the zone, you lose track of time. That’s fine, but if it the result is that you can never find that kind of time to write, then I encourage you to work on the skill of smaller sprints of creative work.

Buy a timer. One of those kitchen timers, or a cheap timer on Amazon. Set if for 20 minutes to give yourself little bouts of work in between moments of your otherwise busy day. For many of you, you will never have a spare 2 hours where you can write. BUT… you may have 20 minutes. Set the timer so that you can feel freedom to write for those 20 minutes.

Connect a task to a place

Sometimes “working from home” really means not working in the home. I spend the first 4 hours of the day working from my local Starbucks.

That means I never schedule meetings first thing in the day, because that time is dedicated to writing and to doing client work. When I come home, that is when I catch up on other tasks and take calls. Starbucks is a place dedicated to doing focused work.

You can create this for yourself in a variety of ways; perhaps you go to the library where you will only work on your novel; then you will go to a cafe where you will only do business planning; and then at home, you will only do admin, email, and take calls.

Each place has their own mood — experiment and find what works for a given task. I have found that I focus really well when working amidst the chaos of morning rush hour at Starbucks.

Develop tiny habits

Everything I have shared above comes down to creating small habits. The bottom line is that I understand that you are likely struggling to make ends meet financially; that you are taking care of a family; that you may be going through a health crisis; that the time to focus on your creative work never seems to be “right now,” because important things come up.

My final pieces of advice:

  • Forgive yourself. Let go of the guilt you feel in feeling that you can’t do it all.
  • Find joy in the process. I listen to music while I work, and that helps me stay focused and inspired.
  • Reward yourself for the tasks you do accomplish each week, even if you feel you dropped a few balls. The reward can be simple, such as food or a beverage.

What helps you get your creative work done?

Thanks.
-Dan

Well, I definitely felt that this email was written directly to me today.  It’s been 22 days since my last blog post.  22!  There’s no excuse for that, even though I’ve thought of several during those 22 days.  I’m definitely feeling that my creative work needs to become a priority instead of the first thing shoved to the back burner when something else (anything else) comes up.  Dan’s words could not have come at a better time for me.

Speaking of Ruth Soukup…

I just shared with you an email that I received from Ruth Soukup on Friday.  Within that email was a link to The Genius Blogger’s Toolkit.  While the toolkit looks amazing, that’s not the point of this post.  I LOVE the story Ruth shares about how she began her blog.  Very inspiring and definitely worth sharing.

Here’s the story from Ruth’s blog:

I don’t usually write about the business side of blogging here at Living Well Spending Less. My main focus and passion is helping my readers discover simple ways to live better, spend less, and have more time for the things that matter most.   

That said, as someone who earns a full-time income through blogging, the topic of how to start a blog and how to make money blogging is something I get asked about all the time! The truth is that I am incredibly passionate about helping other bloggers—or those who aspire to be—gain the knowledge to do the same.   Don’t get me wrong, blogging is by no means “easy money”, but it is very possible to earn a full-time living writing about what you love and care about.

I know because I’ve done it.

You see, when I first started blogging, I set a goal to make enough money from my blog that my husband—an aerospace engineer—could quit his job and become a stay-at-home dad.  At the time, it was a completely crazy goal that seemed utterly impossible, and my husband told me as much, insisting that I would never be able to make money from a blog.

But I wanted it so bad, I could almost taste it, and I was determined to do whatever it took to make that crazy dream a reality.

And so, with two toddlers at home, I started getting up at 3am every morning—and sometimes even earlier—in order to work on my blog before anyone else was up.  I took advantage of every naptime, every weekend, and every spare moment.  And when I wasn’t working on the blog itself, I was learning everything I could about blogging, from SEO to social media to how to monetize.

I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty exhausting time.  There were lots of downsides.  My husband couldn’t understand why on earth I was spending all my time on a blog that he was sure would never amount to anything.  My real life friends made fun of me and talked about me behind my back.  My kids watched way too much Dora the Explorer.  I didn’t get nearly enough sleep.  I had almost no life.

But to me, it was all worth it, because I could see the vision, even if no one else could.

And eventually, that vision paid off because in 2013, 2 ½ years after starting my blog, my husband was able to quit his job, and we’ve never looked back.  The blog—and the business that has grown out of it—has continued to grow and flourish.

Such an inspiring story!  You can read Ruth’s full post here.

Caitlin Thomson gives advice on setting realistic goals

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Caitlin Thomson.  Here‘s my previous post about Caitlin.  She had such great answers to my interview questions, and one amazing/heartbreaking/eye-opening story that she shared with me.  Unfortunately for you, I’m saving that one for the book.  But, I will share with you some great words of wisdom she shared with me when I asked her how she deals with disappointment or discouragement along her creative journey.  This is what she had to say: 

When I was a younger writer I regularly made unrealistic goals in terms of my writing, mostly to do with publishing. In the last three years I have put a lot of effort into making goals for myself that are within my control. For example being traditionally published as a novelist within three years is an unrealistic goal. But submitting my novel to at least 5 agents within the next year is a realistic goal, because it is within my direct control. This has helped me from becoming discouraged as easily.

Whenever I find myself particularly discouraged I have turned to focus instead on creating something new – not editing something that exists already, not submitting, just focusing on the pure act of creation for a while. That for me is the most rewarding.

I think this is so important!  Maybe her words really hit home with me because I am seeking to publish this book.  But, I think this advice applies to anything really, not just writing.  It only makes sense to make goals that are within reach AND within your control.  It’s so common sense, yet a game-changer for me.  And hopefully for you too. 

I consider myself a goal-oriented person.  I love a good challenge.  Even better, I love a good checklist or list of tasks to accomplish.  On the flip side of that, I find myself easily discouraged.  BUT, maybe I’m setting my goals all wrong.  So thank you, Caitlin, for (inadvertently) bringing this to my attention.  Such good advice, and I think we all can benefit from it. 

Thanks again to Caitlin for a great interview!  Please check out her website http://www.caitlinthomson.com/ to learn more about her.