Too Much Time: When Accomplishing Goals Takes Discipline

This week’s post addresses how to keep yourself on task when you are not busy. Yes, this is a legitimate topic: Lots of us do better at accomplishing important tasks when we’re busy than when we have a lot of free time.

Many of us are closet procrastinators who struggle to achieve daily discipline. Yet it’s vital to master productivity habits, especially for those of us who are entrepreneurs, business owners, freelancers or authors. Failing to get our work done means lost clients, less books or products sold, lessened ability to conquer our goals. When we’re busy, it’s hard to get things done, that goes without saying.

But when we’re not busy, it can be even harder.

I’m serious. Perhaps it’s because we tend as Americans to live such on-the-go lives that when things slow down, we get lazy and don’t want to do anything. Perhaps we lose our drive, our sense of panic.

But the more free time I have, the more tempted I am to put off important tasks. And I’m not alone. Fellow writer Serena Saint-Marceaux shared with me her challenge of writing like this:

“I don’t have a structured schedule that keeps me from having time to write… And sometimes that seems harder to deal with, almost, because there is no demarcation of ‘Oh, now that everything is finished for the day, now I can write.’ I just have to decide, ‘Now, I’ll set aside a couple of hours, or a half hour, or a few moments, to write.'”

There’s an important truth in Serena’s statement. When we’re not busy, we may feel no urgency to make a schedule of what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it. It can be temptingly easy to say to ourselves: “I’ll do that later, because I’ll have time for it later.” If that’s how we treat the important tasks that lead to accomplishing our goals, though, it’s the kiss of death for us.

No, if we have goals we want to accomplish, then we need to schedule, or set aside, a length of time to work on those goals on a regular basis. And if that’s the only appointment we make for ourselves on a slow day, that’s fine. It’s still an appointment we need to keep…one that matters greatly to ourselves.

It’s a form of self-care for us to fit time in for the things that matter the most — whether it’s building a business, taking time for loved ones, or scheduling in a much-needed vacation. All these things are important to caring for ourselves and achieving our vision for our lives.

For writers like me, the act of writing is such a part of who we are that we aren’t really being our full selves if we don’t do it sometime. And I’m sure that’s true of you. Whatever it is that you see as a vital part of you — that’s who you are. Make time for that part of you in your daily planning.

If you have the freedom to set your own schedule (as many freelancers and entrepreneurs do), then you might want to experiment with different times for working on your goals, until you find the time that is most productive for you. But do yourself a favor and make a daily appointment with yourself to work on your key life goals, so that the day doesn’t get away from you. You’re worth it, and so are your goals.

Managing Your Time When You’re Busy

Life may be super busy for you right now. I know it is for me — and that’s a good thing in many ways. If you’re a business owner, you’ll appreciate what I’m saying. Having more projects than is completely comfortable means your business is expanding. That’s a good problem to have. But it’s still a problem, and it needs solutions.

I’ve said it before,  but time management is not my favorite thing. Don’t get me wrong. Organization is one of my happy places. But it’s a challenge to be organized and on top of things in a world where events move fast and the unexpected happens frequently. Right now, the cats have fleas, I’ve got visitors coming to town this week and next week,  a good friend is dealing with a death in the family, we’re late on an important deadline at my day job, the holidays are coming… And I’m going to be speaking at Comic Con in Tulsa, as well as my Writing Well Creative Writing Workshop in November. And business at Chipper Muse Creative Service is booming.
As you can see, lots of good things are happening, mixed up with one very sad thing and one very annoying thing, and lots of annoying details to make the good things go smoothly.
The first time I tackled this topic, I was having a rough week. This time, it’s been a rough month. But as a special person in my life reminded me just this morning: All you have is right now. And right now, you have time for what you are doing right now.
Sounds very zen. But there’s truth in it. All any of us can handle is the immediate moment, and we exhaust ourselves when we worry about our to-do lists. Even on an ideal day, you can only do one thing at a time. So focus on that one thing, and get it done well. And then move on to the next thing. Remember the old saying, one day at a time? Make it one moment at a time, and you’ll be better off.

Now, if you want some additional tips on time management, I’ve got some good links for you to check out:

  1. Over at Writing Is Hard Work, busy teacher Roger Colby is offering tips for surviving National Novel Writing Month. His first post is about time management, and he is busy enough that I’m embarrassed at my own lack of productivity. Read his Compartmentalizing post.
  2. Nanowrimo’s website has a post on time management for college students who are writing. I’m not in college, but I like the post’s title, which is about the “preservation of sanity.” That post is here, if you’d like to remind yourself that no matter how busy you are, you don’t have a essay due on top of it. Unless, of course, you do have an essay due today, in which case I extend my sympathies.
  3. BookBaby has a blog post on time management for writers on a deadline. And let’s face it, who isn’t on a deadline? If the deadline isn’t for your writing, it’s for something else, like fitting your writing into a certain time slot before you have to go to work, the doctor, etc.
  4. Rebecca Bradley shares her tips for time management, including what to do with the kids (if you have them). She also recommends cutting out unnecessary TV, which of course can be extended to cutting out anything that we don’t really need to be doing and that we’re using just as time-fillers.
That’s the best I can do in the limited time I have this morning to get this post live. On the other hand, that’s pretty good information to get you started, and I came up with it in 20 minutes. Proof positive that I can, in fact, manage my time and get some writing done fast, if I set my mind to it. And you can too.
Copyright (c) 2016 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

What Your Work “Should” Look Like…or Should It?

photo 2This is what we all wish our important goals and work projects always looked like, isn’t it? Pretty…orderly… with a great title attached to it… I mean, Red Poppy Cafe is just delightful. The flowers are beautifully crafted. The grass is so green, I want to take off my shoes and walk in it. Every detail is in its perfect place. This gingerbread house is a winner in every way.

That’s what we tell ourselves our daily work should look like. And in some ways, this is true. If you’re going to ask someone else to read what you’ve written, watch a video you’ve created, study that client report you produced, or whatever it is you’re working on, you’ll want to give that person a path as nice as the candy flagstones in the picture here.

The other part of the truth, though…the other side of the coin…is that our accomplishments aren’t always this neat and lovely. Whatever we may be working on, it certainly doesn’t start out looking this attractive. Nope, when we create, our first version of our project usually looks more like 1 edited

This is the work of a three-year-old, by the way.

But don’t we all feel, when we start learning a new thing or taking on a task that’s bigger than anything we’ve done before, that our first efforts are the sprawling work of a toddler? The building blocks are scattered. Glue gets everywhere. The walls fall down. It’s messy.

But it’s colorful too, and the joy of creation is evident in every sloppy, pragmatic inch of what you’ve made.

In talking with a friend just a few days ago, I was reminded once again that it’s important to maintain our sense of joy in whatever we do. It can be business or personal… But if you’re not willing to love the process of following through on a project, no matter how messy it looks when you’ve finished, then you’re missing out on one of the most precious parts of life…

…the moment you connect with someone over what you’ve accomplished…big or small, great or not so great.

Whatever else you do, don’t miss out on the fun and adventure of creating good work. That’s what keeps you coming back to the drawing board to try again, day after day. A little fun is a good thing. And if it gets messy, that’s okay. Let it be messy. You can always prop up those graham cracker walls later on.


Why We All Need Feedback

If you’re trying to accomplish anything bold in life, you have to take some risks. And sometimes, the risk is largely being willing to fall on your face and fail terrifically. It can be hard to pick yourself up and try again after an embarrassing failure, but you have to do it. Seriously. You must try again. Trying again is what helped me to create a piece of art:

photo 2

Can you believe I painted this picture? I can’t. Let me explain why.

When I was in elementary school, we did an “easy” painting project in which we used masking tape to help us create sharp, well-defined straight lines with our paint. Everyone else achieved this. I got paint in places you wouldn’t think it was possible to get paint. Needless to say, my five pointed star wasn’t pointed or star-like. I’m not sure what it was. The Blob, perhaps?

In middle school, the art teacher instructed us to create a landscape. I was such a lousy artist, I made a sun with rays coming from it. Like this:


Well, without the smiley face. But just barely without it. The teacher was appalled. She asked, “Does the sun look like that?” Um…Yes? Okay, okay, no. No, it doesn’t. Did you want this to look both good and realistic?

Hence, I don’t think of myself as a visual artist. But even people like me can create something kind of nice with help, which is how I painted that miracle painting at the top of this post. I went to one of those painting places where they give you wine to numb your anxiety, then a teacher who tells you what to do and reminds you that it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be yours.

And that’s how I ended up with a painting I can actually show people.

It’s the same with anything we do in life. No matter how good you are, you need people to give you feedback and help you make your work better. You need honest people who can share with you what you’re doing well and where you could use some improvement.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a little constructive feedback from someone you trust today. You’ll survive. And you just might produce some amazing work — the kind of work you can’t do on your own.

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