This is the kind of advice you won’t like to hear.
Or maybe you’ll be okay with hearing it, but when you actually put it into practice, you’ll hate it.
Why? Because it WORKS. More on that in a second.
It’s been an odd beginning of the year for me. Normally I take the last two weeks of the year off, but this time I took off the last week of December and the first week of January. While I would normally hit the ground running in January, setting goals and making big plans, this year I’ve been chilling. Playing MarioKart. Watching movies. Shooting Owen with a Nerf gun.
As the week draws to a close, and as I get ready to dive back into work, I’m starting to think about my plan for the month…and the year.
Remember when I told you about my 3 Words for 2018? One of them was BUFFER. I want to build more of a buffer into my life and work in 2018. I don’t want to continue this bad habit of waiting until things are due to start working on them. With that in mind, I want to share with you how I intend to go about planning my January and the rest of 2018.
It all starts with a calendar.
While I waffle back and forth every few months between using digital and analog systems to manage my to-do lists and stay organized, I’m currently in a very analog state of mine. My notebook keeps my life together, with one exception.
My calendar is my future planning tool. I use my notebook for today’s tasks and thoughts and ideas, but anything that needs to happen in the future goes on the digital calendar.
My advice to you isn’t to “use a calendar.” (That’s hardly revolutionary.) What I’m suggesting is a way of using the calendar that forces you to get things done.
Here’s what I do.
Step 1 — Make a list of all projects I want to work on in January.
This includes routine stuff like everything that goes into running Dueling Mixes and my VIP membership. This also includes any one-off projects that I want to complete in January — studio projects (like another Nashville Tracking Day or my next EP), prep for the Winter NAMM show later this month, and other business/administrative stuff.
I write “January 2018” at the top of the page and list out all these projects.
Step 2 — Add each project to my calendar.
Next, I add each of these projects as an all-day event to my calendar. I created a separate calendar called “Projects,” where I put these. I schedule them as all-day events, deciding how many days I think each project would take and plugging them in the calendar.
Here’s the kicker: I only let myself work on one project at a time.
It may seem like nothing, but this is one of the biggest ways to get out of a rut and start making huge leaps in productivity and impact.
Here’s why: If I only allow myself to work on one project at a time, that means I can’t work on any other projects until THIS one is finished. I’ve currently got 12 projects on my list for January. Some will take a couple days to complete. Some will take a couple hours. But if I only work on one at a time, it creates a really helpful pressure to finish. If I give myself one day to finish Project X, and it takes me 3 days to finish, That’s pushed back all my other projects 2 days. Knowing that I have more projects waiting for me helps me stay on task, stay focused, get the work done. And it works.
[In case you’re wondering, I tend to not let these projects overlap on my calendar. While some projects may only take an hour, I also have regular daily and weekly activities (like Ask Joe and GilderCam) that that take up some time every day, leaving a portion of my day to work on that day’s project. Not allowing projects to overlap on the calendar gives me added buffer. If I get ahead of schedule, that’s just icing on the cake.]
Operation: Hump Remover
Every project has a “hump,” a place towards the end of the project where you’re not quite done but you don’t feel like finishing. That’s the place where most people will switch to a new project. Then they’ll reach the hump on that project, and they switch to another, and another. That’s a recipe for having done a lot of work with nothing to show. You’ll have 15 unfinished projects. An unfinished project is almost as useless as a project you never started. So instead of letting yourself off the hook, instead of switching to a new project when you encounter the hump, stick it out. Don’t allow yourself to take on a new project until this one is FINISHED.
You won’t like it. It will frustrate you. You may even raise your fist to the sky and curse the name of Joe Gilder.
But you’ll finish.
And you’ll be amazed at how much you can finish when your focus is on FINISHING a project instead of WORKING on a project.
Imagine for a moment that you have a huge body of work, a massive collection of FINISHED projects. How would that feel? How much stress would that relieve to finally get these projects off your plate? How satisfying would it be to sit back and bask in the glow of a giant body of finished work?
I can tell you from experience, it feels pretty amazing.
It creates momentum, and momentum is one of the most exhilarating and powerful forces in the world.
Let’s make 2018 the year you stopped “working on” projects and you started FINISHING them. Deal?
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