Here’s a great question I’ve gotten a bunch recently — it gets phrased different ways, like…

What would a daily schedule look like for me as an independent artist? – K.
How to complete things and avoid being overwhelmed? – J.
Should you focus on one goal or several? – Daddio
Help! How to plan so I’m not just responding to the urgent?! – C.
Guidance on sticking with one project while so many new ideas call for action – K.

Here’s my answer: I wonder if this is actually a problem for you.

Or to put it another way….

What result are you seeking that you are currently not getting?

The thing is, creative people have a lot of weird ways of getting things done. Ways that look completely bananas to the outside world. It’s like we’re the rheumy-eyed uncles who drink and smoke and say rude things and somehow end up living healthy as a horse until the age of 102. We’re an anomaly.

Not knowing the details of your work or your habitual pitfalls, it’s hard for me to give you specific advice, so I’ll just pull back the curtain and let you in on what I do:

I don’t really keep a regular schedule. I work when I want to work, or when it’s needful for me to work, and I goof off the rest of the time. I spend an inordinate amount of time learning, reading, listening to audios, and a shocking amount of time just having conversations with people I find interesting. I’m not very good about setting time limits or about “balance” in my life — whatever that’s supposed to mean.

I often go through long weeks when, much to my frustration, it seems like nothing is happening. In those times I remind myself that every field must lay fallow.

At other times I’m scheduled up to my eyeballs and I’m an absolute whirling dervish of productivity.

I pretty much always DO do the following:

– no electronics on Sundays
– no electronics in the bedroom
– generally I’m done by 7pm and then I’m off all night
– walk or swim every day
– meditate every day
– make a list each morning of the THREE things that MUST get done that day
– keep a running list of the bajillion of other things that need doing
– keep a “genius” folder for great ideas that I’m not ready to move forward on yet

I find that I work better when I have a few big projects going simultaneously. But “a few” meaning 3-5… not 12-30, you know?

Otherwise, I’ve learned to trust myself and to go with the flow. Some days I’m craz-zay-zee productive. Some days I go back to bed at 11am. Some days I write, some days I do the money stuff, some days I plan long-term, some days I putter and piddle the whole day away.

Now, I know a lot of very successful people who lead far more regimented lives than this, and I admire them.

And if you are NOT getting the results in your life that you want, well….you may want to try imposing some more structure on your day. BUT ONLY IF YOU KNOW YOURSELF TO BE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO RESPONDS WELL TO STRUCTURE. You know what I mean?

But make sure you do it in the way that works for YOU. So if you’re all energetic in the morning, schedule your hardest tasks for then. Eat your broccoli first, as it were.

And if you know that you only write well without interruptions, then for heaven’s sake, turn off your phone when you sit down to compose.

So my message is this: Put Down The Whip.

You don’t need to be better than you are.

You’re a strange bird, and you’re going to have to surf your schedule in whatever way seems right to you.

My guess is you probably don’t have to work any harder than you do already, but you may have to learn to work smarter. And that may mean saying “no” to people who are time-sucks, turning your back on household tasks and keeping your focus on your highest-income producing activities.

Big Pine 2006 photo by Sam Bennett

Where’s Your Path?

Have you said this sentence to yourself about your creative projects, your clutter or getting your business off the ground?

 

“I know what I need to do…I just have to make myself do it.”

 

Yep.

 

I’ve said it, too.

 

And it’s a huge, horrible lie.

 

The truth is this:

 

You are aware of one method that you could use to get your project moving and…you’re not interested in it.

 

It’s like you’re standing down at the bottom of a mountain….

 

You can see the top and you think, “Oh! I really want to go there!”

 

From where you are, you can see one big path up the mountain. Lots of people are on this path.

 

But for some reason, you don’t want to take that path. You think about it, but you don’t move.

 

It’s just…not for you.

 

You may even start to wonder if there’s another way up the mountain.

 

But then your big “rational” voice says, “Don’t be silly. There’s the road up the mountain. Just do it. Just make yourself do it. What’s your problem? Are you lazy? Why don’t you just do it already?”

 

This voice is amplified by helpful magazine articles and practical-minded friends and well-meaning fools who keep telling you, “There’s only this one way up the mountain and you know you need to climb the mountain so get on with it, why don’t you?”

 

And yet you don’t move.

 

You start to feel worse and worse — because you really do want to get to the top of the mountain. So maybe you work on your self-esteem or you say affirmations or you try enforcing your willpower… but still…

 

Nothing.

 

Zip.

 

No movement.

 

 

Here’s the truth:
You aren’t moving because, honey — THAT ISN’T YOUR PATH.

 

There IS a way for you to climb that mountain and accomplish your goals… it’s just not the way you think.

 

After all, you are a Creative Genius.

 

You think different.

 

Your life is about art and self-expression and healing people and laughter and loving and doing the kind of work that doesn’t even feel like work because you love it so much and you don’t even notice the time passing.

 

So give up the idea that any cookie-cutter, conventional answer is going to work for you and start thinking of the craziest, most YOU way to get up that mountain.

 

Because The World Needs Your Good Work.

One of my favorite productivity strategies is “reverse engineering” my calendar.  Which is to say, I start at the end and calculate backwards.  I do this for big projects as well as for my daily schedule.

 

So, let’s say I want to send invitations to a dinner party for Friday, Feb. 22nd, I would want to have a final head count by the day before, so I’d put “check on RSVPs” on my calendar for the 21st.  I would want to send the invitations two weeks before, so that means a note about a “trip to the post office” on the 8th, which means I need to have them all stamped and addressed by the 7th, which means I need to have a “get invitations printed” note on the 5th, which means I need to have the final guest list by the 29th of January.  So now I know that on the 27th of January, I need to sit down and make a preliminary list of people I might want to invite, and I can schedule in some time to do that.

 

Making these notes in my calendar help keep me on track, and also to adjust if there are any unseen delays.  I always build in a few “buffer” days, just in case.

For my daily schedule, I often write out my day in reverse.  So, for example, if I have a meeting with Brett at 10am, my schedule for the morning might read:

 

10am – meet with Brett

9:50am – park

9:20am – drive to Brett’s

9:10am – check driving directions & traffic

8:10am – shower and dress

7:45am – tea

7am – wake & morning beach walk

 

And yes, I really do write it out almost every time, because the action of thinking backwards often prompts other useful thoughts like, “Do I have the notes for our meeting in my bag?” and “Does the car need gas?”

 

Thinking “backwards” through my schedule also reminds me to allow extra time for the things like finding parking that can eat away at my time and, if I fail to consider, will have me late and frazzled.

 

One night I took a chronically late girlfriend to dinner & the theatre for her birthday, and as we finished our coffee and strolled into the lobby, she remarked how refreshing it was to not be rushing in late, having missed the opening number and aggravated from caroming around parking garage in an all-fired rush.

 

“Yes,” I said, “I knew that if we wanted to be in our seats at 7:55pm we’d need to be leaving the restaurant by 7:45pm, which means we’d need to be here by 6:30pm, which is why I picked you up at 5:45pm.”

 

“But I was late getting dressed!” she laughed.

 

“I know,” I said, “If I’d thought that you would have been ready on time I would have picked you up at 6pm, but I figured you’d be running around ‘trying to put five pounds of sugar in a four-pound bag’ (as my grandmother would say) so I allowed an extra 15 minutes.”

 

She looked at me as though I were a magician.

 

The other great benefit to building my schedule backwards is that it necessitates a deadline.  There is beauty and magic to deadlines.  Deadlines inspire us to action, they set our wheels spinning and they let us know when we’re slacking off.

 

People often say to me, “Oh, I never get anything done until the last minute” and I am here to tell you, sweetheart, nobody gets anything done until the last minute.

 

But when you know what the last minute is, you know when you need to make your move.  And if you find yourself NOT making your move, you can take a moment to analyze the reason why and take action.  Are you just plain scared?  Then call a reliable friend for encouragement.  Are you lacking information?  Spend ten minutes (only) on Internet research.  Are you genuinely not interested in this goal?  Great – cross the boring goal off your list and give yourself something juicier to work on.

 

Not assigning a deadline can mean that an idea just spins and spins inside of your mind, which is both demoralizing and unproductive.  Setting a deadline and creating a work plan in reverse allows you to track your progress while keeping an eye on your prize.

 

excerpted from Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day

Get It Done Book Cover image

Get your copy here: http://amzn.to/1giBal5

photo - Sam at Big Yes

Sam at The Big Yes 2013

In June, 2013 I made a quantum leap in my business by hosting my first-ever live event, “The Big Yes: How To Overcome Procrastination, Perfectionism and Self-Doubt and Make Money from Your Creativity.”

It was a huge investment of time, money and resources. It was terrifying. It was totally worth it.

Here’s what I learned:

1) Ask Yourself: What Is The Point Of This Meeting?
In any gathering, especially a big event, make sure everyone involved knows what the purpose of the gathering is, and what’s expected of him/her.  Stay laser-focused on your topic, and don’t allow scope-creep to weigh your agenda down.

You’ll want to survey your attendees ahead of time to find out exactly what they are hoping to get out of it – what is the transformation they are wanting?

 

2) Seek Alternatives To One-Way Communication
I’ve heard it said that an audience will remember almost nothing about what you say (except maybe a really good story).
They will remember some of what they say.
They will remember almost all of what they do.

Get them talking to each other, sharing insights. Get them up out of their chairs. Have dance breaks. I had an improv class after lunch on Day One. Make sure there’s a break every 90 minutes. And make it a long break – 25 or 30 minutes is good – so they can check email, go outside, get refreshed and come back ready for more.

 

3) Hire Geniuses
Ask around, find the best event planners in your field, hire them and listen to their advice. Hire the best; don’t cheap out. The money you spend on them you will get back ten times over by averting ill-advised budget allocations, lack of follow-through and other rookie mistakes.

For example, I don’t speak “hotel” and I had no interest in learning the ins and outs of hotel contracts. My event planners, the wonderful folks at Powered by Sage,  more than paid for themselves just in contract concessions alone. On site, they were able to communicate with the Banquet staff with the kind of clarity that only comes from experience, and I was so grateful not to have to engage in any of the discussions about where the bagels should go and the proper alignment of the dip-dang centerpieces.

 

4) Have Yummy Food
It’s exhausting to sit in an airless hotel ballroom, so having fresh, light food is critical in keeping people’s energy up. Go the extra mile to accommodate vegans, gluten-, sugar- and dairy-free eaters and people with allergies and sensitivities.  Your attendees will love you for it, and a few days of eating high-protein, low-carb food will do your energy a world of good, too. (And believe me, honey, you will need all the energy you can get.)

 

5) Buy New Clothes and Great Shoes
You are the star of your event. You MUST look and feel your best. I don’t care if it sounds shallow: appearances matter. And wearing new clothes that fit well and are stylish (including wearing pristine, comfortable shoes) will help your attendees see you as the leader you are.

 

6) Pick A Groovy Destination With An International Airport
I chose San Diego because it’s not too far from me (so I didn’t have to fly) and it’s a lovely place to visit, so many of my attendees ended up extending their stay to relax and sightsee. (Which helped with my “room block.” If you don’t know what a room block is, let me refer you back to Tip #2: Find a brilliant event planner.) It’s also an easy city to get around in, and the weather is lovely year-round.

 

7) Employ “Stick” Strategies
Just because they bought a ticket doesn’t mean they’re coming. Be sure you stay in close communication with them in the weeks leading up to the event, teasing topics, surveying them about their concerns and reminding them how fabulous this event is going to be.

 

8) Give Them Toys
Many people think better when their hands are busy, so I put pipe cleaners, colored markers, and notepads on each table. A very inexpensive treat that received oohs and ahhs of delight.

 

9) Don’t Back Off Of The Pitch
Of course you want to sell them something – and they have come all this way to sit in this room with you because they need your help. Don’t let some blushing shyness or sudden terror of being sales-y get in the way of you making your irresistible invitation.

I started my sales pitch by saying, “Hello, this is the sales portion of our presentation,” and got a big laugh. I taught them about sales strategy as I was selling them. As one participant told me, “You know, Sam, the levels of transparency here are sort of freaking me out…” Yep.  That’s how I roll.

 

10) Let Your Weird Out
This is your party, and it’s your time to shine. Let your audience in on your passions, preferences and the things that bring you joy. If you want to pray, boogie, swear, make jokes, cheerlead, whisper, yell or lead a conga-line, honey – go for it. Your tribe will love you for it.

 

Having your own live event does wonders for you and your business. It elevates your profile, it establishes you as an expert and a thought-leader and it’s a wonderful way to connect with your people.

 

One last word of advice: keep an unwavering eye on your goal, because along the way there will be bone-crushingly expensive decisions to make, terrifying moments of being sure this was all a terrible idea and all the other roller-coaster feelings that come when you are growing.  So…just hang on and enjoy the ride!