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Here’s a truth about me: I’ve never missed a writing or work deadline. Not once. And only one time in my ten-plus year career as a solopreneur have I asked for a work extension — it was only for three days and I could have made it without the cushion, but I knew they weren’t going to look at it over the weekend, so I made the request.
Knowing I’ve never missed a deadline helps me immensely, especially when I’m up against a tight one and I start to question whether or not I’m going to make it this time, which was what was happening towards the end of September as I raced towards my October 1 deadline of turning in my manuscript for Doable.
As people checked in on my progress, I’d nervously laugh and answer, “I don’t know if it’s going to happen, and if I do get it finished in time, it’s not going to be pretty.” I’d written books under extraordinary circumstances before, including wrapping up the first of The Real Deal books while nursing a newborn back in 2004, but September of this year was especially hairy. I had just moved to Amsterdam, was living in a temporary (read: soul-less, tiny, depressing) apartment, I was homeschooling my son for the first time ever, said son was not happy about the move, homeschooling, or any of it, I was mourning the loss of my dog (muse) Baxter, I didn’t have my support network on the ground, and I was just all around disoriented and struggling with the transition.
But I knew I wanted to hit that deadline. And not just hit it by turning something in…I wanted to deliver a solid manuscript that was in great shape and that I was proud of. So, I did.
Here are some of the strategies I used to keep me moving forward even though it seemed like the odds were definitely not ever in my favor. I hope they work for you too the next time you’re up against the wire and you’re worried about hitting your deadline:
Don’t panic: Talk about a complete waste of energy! Panic does nothing useful in situations like this. In fact, it makes it less likely that we’ll hit our target. Panic may be a normal and natural response to what’s happening, but it is simply not productive. So notice the panic, acknowledge it (oh yes, YOU again!), and ask it to move along….there’s nothing to see here.
Trust in your ability to get it done: When you’re moving ahead full-throttle in an attempt to complete something that feels impossible, blind trust and faith in who you are is a good thing. Believe in yourself. You’ve done this before. You’ve got this.
Find ways to make the work enjoyable: However you can eke pleasure into your work process — getting productive at your favorite coffee shop or breaking work sessions up with reality TV breaks or doing what needs to be done while simultaneously reclining on a chaise in your bathrobe and cozy slippers and enjoying a glass of wine — do it. Be indulgent. Eat chocolate if need be.
Two words – self care: Self-care is perhaps never more important than when you’re stressed and swamped. It can help with clarity and creativity, not to mention good old fashioned mental and emotional health. So though the urge to skip self-care (exercise, naps, down-time, massages, meditation, whatever) can be strong when time is a very limited resource, don’t do it. Twenty to thirty minutes per day of self-care is worth hours of productivity.
Know it will pass: Just like allergy season or the flu or dealing with the breakup of a relationship, remember that the way you feel right now is not the way you’re always going to feel. And things will not always be this way. What you’re going through is a moment in time, a period of your life. And then you’ll move onto something else.
Life imitates art, so the saying goes. I haven’t given that notion much thought until now, but it seems like all of my worlds — my creative world, my professional world, my personal world — are suddenly tied together in the most interesting ways. As George Costanza so eloquently said in Seinfeld, “My worlds are colliding!”
Here I am, in perhaps one of the most stressful times I’ve experienced in I don’t know how long, trying to get it all done – keep my house clean for realtors, manage my kid’s camp schedule, pack, figure out how to move animals overseas, meet the deadline for my upcoming book, and pack some more.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the book I’m writing for teens just happens to be about how to get things done. Doable: How to Accomplish Just About Anything lays out my 8-step approach for tackling absolutely any to do. And while I normally love the opportunity to test all of the theories I include in a book, frankly a few less obstacles would be nice. Just this week alone I’ve had a lost cat, a sick dog, an issue at my son’s camp that required a quick change of plans, and house buyers who got cold feet the day before we started escrow. And it’s only Wednesday.
I’m on the home stretch of my first draft, and just finished the second-to-last chapter on Monday. That chapter, entitled Dealing with Setbacks, talks about how failures and setbacks are part of working towards anything. The key isn’t to resist the setbacks or make them mean something about our ability achieve what we set out to do, but rather it’s about accepting, even welcoming, the setbacks and failures, allowing ourselves to experience the emotions they bring up in us, and exploring what’s really going on with curiosity and flexibility.
Really, it’s about rolling with the punches and moving forward. And it’s about embracing the gifts of failures and setbacks. Even if you can’t come up with a “reason” for why things are happening the way they are or you’re unable to see the flip side of the circumstances, by its very nature, failure is a positive thing.
Failure is feedback. Nothing more, nothing less. Failure is information that tells us something isn’t working or there’s a better way.
Failure and setbacks build grit. And the more setbacks we face, the more we grow the traits of perseverance and resilience.
Failure results in creativity. True innovation and creativity is almost always the result of failure.
Failure begets self-knowledge. According to author Gretchen Rubin, self-knowledge is the key to happiness. (And I believe her.)
What benefits have you experienced from failure and setbacks in your life? What is your secret to rolling with the punches?
Because I’m a busy gal and am usually juggling multiple projects in the midst of a very full life, people often ask me how I get it all done. There are many different ways I go about actually seeing my projects through, many of which are detailed in my ebook, 5 Secrets for Tackling (& Shipping) Creative Projects. (If you haven’t received this, you can get your free copy by signing up here.)
But as I’m in serious crunch mode at the moment, I thought I’d share with you what I’m trying to accomplish in a short period of time, as well as my plan for getting it done.
Here’s the situation: I am currently writing a book for teen girls called Doable: How to Accomplish Just About Anything to come out in Spring 2015. My publisher, Beyond Words/Simon Pulse, wants a first draft in their hot little hands by October 1.
This date normally wouldn’t have been an issue, but remember that little cross-continental move that has recently come up? Yes…organizing and executing an international relocation is happening right smack in the middle of what would normally have been my core writing time.
In early June, I set a deadline for myself of having a shitty first draft of the manuscript completed by July 31. That would leave me two months to edit and clean up the manuscript, as well as interview the girls I want to feature in the book. I’ve been steadily working towards that goal, but I woke up this morning with a start and the realization that July 31 is um, like, one week away.
Well, to that I say, game on. I’ve got two-and-a-half chapters left to go. I know I can hit this deadline, but it’s going to take some serious focus and planning.
Here’s my strategy:
1. Publicly declare my goal and post updates daily on Facebook as a way of crowdsourcing accountability (feel free to bug, remind, and encourage at will on any and all social media!)
2. Leave my lovely new laptop perched next to my comfy writing spot on the chaise, ready to let these fingers to do their thing
3. Wake up at 6:30am every day to handle emails and other online work so that the time my son is in camp can be used exclusively for writing
4. If I get tired and think I may need a nap (writing does this to me!), take my dog for a brisk walk around the block instead
5. Exercise every (yes, every) day
6. Write an average of 1500 words per day between now and deadline
7. Let other things, things that don’t have to be done in the next week, go
8. Treat myself with frozen yogurt every night after I’ve hit my word target
9. More green smoothies, less frozen Thin Mints
10. Don’t worry about things that are beyond my control (when the house will sell, where we’ll live in Amsterdam, etc.)
So that’s what I’ve got. That’s my plan. If I stick to it, I know I’ll hit my deadline.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do!
I almost bailed on the World Domination Summit. True story.
Not because I didn’t want to go, but because in my pre-house-selling-pre-moving-abroad frenzy, I didn’t think I could give up a weekend for a road trip to Portland just for the purposes of being inspired.
But one of my besties was flying in from the east coast for the event, and so pulling out wasn’t an option. So around 2pm on a Friday afternoon, we climbed into my Prius, jumped onto I-5, and headed south. For me, WDS was on.
When I first signed up in January to go to the summit which was created in 2011 by unconventional author and blogger Chris Gillibeau, I did so for 3 reasons: 1) I wanted to take away learning that would help me creatively grow my business, 2) a handful of friends I love and respect were going and I wanted to soak in some of their goodness, and 3) great speakers + a room full of world changers = good stuff.
But with the move madness going on at home, by the time I arrived at WDS, I frankly didn’t even know why I was there. My mind was elsewhere and I was feeling out of sorts. But I decided to just stay open to whatever the experience had offer me, and in doing so, I quickly realized that the biggest reason on my original list, the one about being inspired to creatively grow my business, wasn’t really on track. In fact, as I listened to talks by the likes of Nancy Duarte, Tess Vigeland, Jia Jiang, Gretchen Rubin, and Darren Rowse, I understood there was a very clear purpose for why I was there – WDS was about helping me set an intention for our upcoming move to Amsterdam and the major shift my family and I are in the midst of.
Deciding to take this huge leap of faith to leave our lives in Seattle and move overseas has and continues to be scary, hard, exciting, stressful. Our nearly 9-year-old son is, to put it bluntly, seriously pissed off about the whole thing, and more than once my husband and I have asked ourselves why we were doing this…why we felt the need to disrupt what is arguably a very good life in the Northwest. We’ve got a nice home, a great neighborhood, good jobs, views of snow-capped mountains year-round, fresh air.
But this is the change we asked for. And this is the change we know in our hearts is best for our family. Being at World Domination Summit and being surrounded by people who crave adventure, community, living an unconventional life, the pursuing of big dreams, and share a belief that what we are here to do matters reminded me just how critical taking this leap is.
Change is hard. But it’s such an amazing thing. It’s where the good stuff happens. As a writer and creative person, I know it’s where the inspiration for new work comes from.
For me, I ultimately took away more from the World Domination Summit than I ever could have imagined. I was reminded of some powerful truisms that hit the spot:
- True vulnerability is the key to powerful connection
- We’re never too busy to be inspired
- We are not alone
- Transparency and humility is where it’s at
- There are a lot of people doing some really cool shit out there
- There is value in setting out on a journey with no map or plan (watch the documentary Janapar)
- Alone time wandering in a new city can’t be beat
- Generosity and community are interconnected
- My work life and my personal life can’t be separated
I arrived home from the weekend inspired and focused and ready to embark on this new adventure and experience what our life in Europe has in store for my whole family. I still have days where I feel overwhelmed or sad but bigger than that is the sense of deep knowing and trust that our move itself and the adventures that will come as a result of it are actually part of what we’re here to create.
So there’s no other choice but to embrace the change, leap off that cliff, and simply be in each and every moment of our new life in The Netherlands.
Oh, and figure out a way to get to Portland next July for the next WDS…there’s that too…
When I signed a contract for my next book, Doable: How to Accomplish Just About Anything, several months ago with a manuscript delivery deadline of October 1, I thought, no problem. Sure, I had some other major work things going on at the time, but my plan was to dedicate the entire summer to cranking out the book. I’d have a rough draft by the end of August and then have the month of September to tighten, clean up, and finesse. Perfect.
What I didn’t anticipate was that in early June we would get word that our family was relocating to The Netherlands in August. And as excited as I was about the news, I also started experiencing a low-level panic as I realized my long, leisurely writing days of summer were about to go up in smoke.
Once my husband and I got down to some serious planning, the massive To Do list was born. There are contractors to hire, getting the house on the market, finding long-term storage, packing, move logistics, and more.
Meanwhile, my lovely little book? The one that’s all about how any goal or To Do can be doable? Well, let’s just say it’s providing me with a perfect opportunity to put my money where my mouth is.
Here’s my new and improved plan: Complete first draft of manuscript by July 31st so while I’m in the middle of the move I can be editing and tweaking instead of writing. I can lug that draft with me everywhere I go and edit as I can.
My strategy for the next 28 days? Write in short, productive bursts — 15-30 minutes each — multiple times throughout each day and chip away at the book, chapter by chapter. I find that this kind of writing, especially when under deadline, keeps the creative well open. If I reach a point during one of these bursts where I feel stuck or the words aren’t coming, I consider that burst over and close the laptop. Usually by the time I come back to it hours later, I’ll be ready to dive back in from a fresh place.
The process isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done. (At least that’s my plan!)
* * * * *
If you want to know more about my personal creative and writing process, I just recorded an interview with the fabulous Gia Duke where I share what my days look like when I’m on deadline and juggling a very busy life. Listen to the interview here, and be sure to check out Gia’s Super Love Summer Mashup for more interviews and awesome content from a pretty kick-ass crew of people.
For the past few months, big changes have been brewing in my world. The kind of changes that my husband and I dreamed about and hoped for, that we knew deep down in our core were going to happen, but were simultaneously completely and utterly freaked out that we just might get what we asked for and then we’d have no choice but to take a big scary leap. (Or maybe that last part was just me…)
I’ve been sitting on this news for a few weeks now — I didn’t want to say anything until things were 100 percent definite and I’ve also needed time to tell my family and friends what’s happening.
So here’s the big reveal…
At the end of August, my family and I will be relocating to Amsterdam in The Netherlands. (Insert squeal here!) For the past few years, we’ve been craving a traveling adventure and luckily we’ve been able to finagle it through my husband’s job.
Our plan is to go abroad for 2-3 years to see and experience as much as we can. While I’m admittedly terrified of diving headfirst into many unknowns with an almost 9-year-old in tow, we know in our gut that this is the right thing for our family, and the excitement outweighs the fear (on most days).
My greatest intention for this adventure is that it enables us as a family and as individuals the opportunity for lots of growth, connection, and fun. I know there will be days where I question what the hell we’ve gotten ourselves into (these days are already occurring as we begin packing up and selling a house, I frantically try to wrap up my manuscript which is due to my publisher by Oct 1, and manage the expectations of my son who isn’t really bought into the whole idea … yet).
I honestly don’t know how it’s all going to play out, but I think that’s kind of the point, right?
So for now, I’ll close by simply saying, “To be continued…”
Me too. More than a few.
I’m usually good with deadlines when everything’s humming along and going smoothly, but as the mantra coined by Martha Beck goes, Everything’s changing all the time.
While sometimes these changes can be good — having a close friend move back to town or getting a promotion at work or finding a new coffee place that makes the best latte in town — other, less positive changes can completely derail us and bring our work to a halt, our finely laid plan rendered useless.
And of course those deadlines are still there, nagging at us. And at some point we need to collect ourselves, regroup, and dive back in to our work. Of course, this is one of those easier-said-than-done kind of things. Like re-entering the real world after a vacation, diving back in to a project that we’ve stepped away from can feel daunting and overwhelming. And that feeling can be enough to keep us stuck, helpless bystanders as we watch the days tick by and our deadline marching towards us.
I’m in such a place right now, but I am climbing to the top of the high dive and getting ready to plunge into the pool. Here’s how I’m going to do it:
Change it Up: Life has been full of change, so why not use change as a tool for re-entry? My plan is to formally shift gears and immerse myself in my project by finding a new venue to work on it. By creating a new routine and associating a specific place with this project, I’m using Chip & Dan Heath’s strategy of shaping my path to help me formulate a new habit…one that leads to my successfully tackling my work.
Revisit & Review: If you’ve ever been in a long-distance relationship, you know it takes a little getting-to-know-you-again time to get back into the comfortable swing of things. The same applies to creative projects. I’m going to spend time rereading my development content for my project, articles, drafts, and more to get back into the headspace. It may look like procrastination, but it’s really a critical part of the work transition.
Be Patient & Judgment-Free: Feeling bad about just how off-schedule I am doesn’t really do anything except hinder my creative process. So I accept my situation for what it is, give myself time to get back into the swing of things, and turn off the self-judgment (the word “should” doesn’t really have a place in this conversation).
Take Small Steps: While I’m going to dive back in to the project, I’ll picture the slow-mo replay version of said dive. I’ll start small and set simple targets for what I want to accomplish each day. I know that once I’m fully immersed in the project I’ll eventually get back to a state of creative flow.
Get Accountability: This is a biggie. I’m turning to my people who are my cheerleaders, my supporters, and my accountability partners and I’m publicly declaring…I will be doing X this week. I’ll ask them to check in on me and make sure I’m on track, and possibly send a few words of encouragement. If I feel really brave, I’ll publicly declare my goal and ask my social media community to hold me to it.
Reward Myself: I’m such a sucker for rewards, so this is a no-brainer for me. I’ll set targets for what I hope to accomplish each day / week, and will happily cash in on my rewards, which will include a late-night frozen yogurt run, a mid-day nap, a trip to the beach with my son (even if it is 52 degrees and raining…). Small rewards for small tasks are proven to work, so I intend to use them!
So that’s what I’ve got. I feel pretty sure it’s going to work.
How about you? What strategies do you use to dive back in to a project after life has thrown you a curve ball?
I don’t know about you, but I’m experiencing some serious spring fever. Longer days, my garden in bloom, and an unusual sunny streak (for Seattle) has something to do with it, as I’m sure does the fact that I spent last week in NYC where I lived during my twenties and still feels very much like home to me. (That’s a pic of me and my boy at the Bronx Zoo.)
Since last week, I’ve been overcome by excitement about the many things I want to do and create. Even better, I feel like I might just have the energy to get (half of) them done.
But I’ve been here before — I get all pumped up about new possibilities and new projects and then one little thing happens (or more appropriately, doesn’t happen) and I get completely derailed.
I have a bad day with my son or a rainy cold front blows in or something I’m developing gets quashed and suddenly I’m back to square one, my energy and momentum gone and my mindset ripe for thoughts of insecurity and doubt.
I know it’s part of the cycle for creative entrepreneurs, but it still takes getting through.
But during this bout of spring fever, I’m going to try doing things a little differently…see if I can make some genuine shifts in my work and energy that can weather me through all the seasons. Here’s my plan:
- More action now, less To Do lists: I love to organize my work and desk and often that means spending time going through my pile and making detailed lists and notes outlining what has to be done for each task. Meanwhile, I could probably just do it in about 5 minutes and be done with it. So I’m going to do more of that.
- Spend less time on Facebook: Now, I love me some Facebook and the community I interact with online is important to me, but I’m going to try and strike a better balance. I’m a research junkie and a five-minute check-in on Facebook can turn into a long trip down the rabbit hole reading articles and following links that are of interest, so setting my timer will be key.
- Focus on gratitude: I’ve been taking a 30-day gratitude course that Florence Moyer created to help people nurture a more intentional gratitude practice. I’m a week in and enjoying the daily reminder to notice all that I’m grateful for, and I can see shifts in keeping me in the present and not so focused on the outcome of what I’m creating.This is a good thing.
- Be curious: A curiosity mindset is so, so, so powerful. Curiosity means a desire to know or learn something. Curiosity makes everything — every project, every risk, every idea — about growth and evolving, not about money or jobs or sure things. There are no good or bad outcomes when focusing on curiosity — there’s only information.
- Think less: Thinking gets me into trouble. Thinking reminds me of what could go wrong, or why something isn’t going to work out, or why my idea might be a bad one. Thinking keeps me from taking creative risks and pursuing opportunities that could be amazing because I might create something that completely sucks. Which leads me to….
- Be willing to suck: There’s nothing wrong with sucking. We’ve just dust ourselves off, look at what we learned from what happened, and move on. Without being willing to suck, we’ll never create the really good stuff.
- Play more: I know I need to do things I love to stay energized, so I’m going to protect my personal self-care routines more than ever. That includes running, gardening, spazzing out, and napping when the urge strikes.
So, that’s the plan. I’ll let you know how it goes. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: How do you maintain your creative spring fever?
A number of the clients I’ve been working with lately seem to be struggling with the same thing. They’ve got big things they want to create — their book or their blog or their business — but they hit a brick wall somewhere along the way and the resistance is strong.
When we dig a little deeper, we discover that what they’re really struggling with is the disconnect between what they want to do and what they think they have to do in order to be successful.
And if what they think they have to do doesn’t sit right with them, the creativity can come to a grinding halt.
In a world where we’re constantly being marketed to and told do X and Y in order to get Z, it’s all too easy to get hung up executing the X and Y without focusing on all those other lovely letters of the alphabet.
You know what I’m talking about — how many times have you been told there’s a right way to write your blog or there’s a formula you have to use to write your sales page or there’s the most effective format for your resume or there’s the perfect way to grow your mailing list.
But if those ways don’t feel in alignment with you, not only won’t they work for you — they’ll prevent you from moving forward.
Are there strategies that people have found success with when it comes to blogging or writing or building a business or finding a job? Sure. Can you learn something from them? Absolutely.
But at the end of the day, take what works for you and toss out the rest.
When we focus on doing it our own way, what we do or create most reflects who we are. And I believe that kind of creation can have the most powerful impact of all.
Have you ever wanted something and then when it actually happened or came through, gone into a full-fledged panic, and asked yourself why in the hell you wanted that thing in the first place? Maybe for you it was taking a new job or enrolling in grad school. Maybe it was registering for your first marathon or saying yes to a new role at work with more money and more responsibility.
We want these things and what goes along with them — the new job, the graduate degree, the accomplishment of running 26.2 miles, the bump in salary and prestige — but when it comes time to fully step into the commitment, something often happens.
Something called fear.
Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being vulnerable.
That kind of fear is powerful stuff. It causes anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and more.
But that kind of fear is also rooted in crappy thinking. A.K.A lies.
Fear of change is really believing that if things don’t work out we’ll have totally f*cked everything up.
Fear of the unknown is believing that playing it safe is better and personal growth isn’t worth the risk.
Fear of being vulnerable is really believing that we’re frauds, that we’re not good enough, that others won’t approve / accept / love us if we fully step into who we are.
(See what I mean? Lies!)
Last week, I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address at the Girl Scouts of Western Washington’s annual fundraising luncheon. It was an incredible experience and I loved every moment, once I got to the luncheon. But the few days leading up to the event and the morning of? My fear was just about winning the battle for control of my body and mind.
Intellectually, I was excited. I love talking about girl empowerment, I’d done the prep work and gotten super clear on my intention. I had crafted a speech I felt connected to and I had an outfit to wear that I felt good in. But that morning? That was rough. I went for a run and listened my favorite tunes. That helped until I stopped running and then the panic ensued again. So after dropping my son off at school, I put on my “80′s happy music” (don’t ask) and danced around like a fool. That helped. Plus, my dog was amused. Then I got out the yoga ball, sat on it, and bounced for a good fifteen minutes, a tip I learned from the brilliant Cheryl Dolan at Power Boost Live last year. That helped some more.
And then it was time to get ready and go. So I did.
Once I got there, I was better.
Once I got on stage, it was awesome.
I love speaking to groups about things I am passionate about, like the importance of empowering girls and giving them strategies to rock their lives. Just like you probably love your new job, or love being in graduate school and learning new things, or love the feeling of crossing the finish line after running a marathon, or love having the opportunity to grow and stretch within your company.
The key, I think, is to focus on the feel-good… on the love. Through the anxiety and stress and more, remind yourself that those feelings are based on nothing but fear-fueled lies. And love outweighs that kind of fear any day of the week.