How To Keep Your Irons In the Fire

fire-91504_640I made a list of all the projects/jobs I’ve got on the go while J. and I were camping this summer. I stopped counting at six.

I didn’t include the dozen or so hats I’m hoping to knit in time for the pre-Christmas craft sales or walking the dog, making soups and generally having a life.

I did include building an online course, finishing a poetry and a short story collection, two novels, studying to be a certified creativity coach, blogging, and working as a freelance writer. Wait, that’s eight…

You might be playing a tiny violin for me right now, because you might be one of many writers and artists who are doing the same thing: finding a myriad of ways to make money, maybe working a day job, then squeezing in time to write/edit/rewrite a poem or shove something out through Submittable.

It’s not easy, but I started thinking about how it’s possible to do so much. And how it’s possible to get things done. And then I started breaking it down and pretty soon I had a list so I thought I’d set it down here in case you’re the kind of person like me who can’t take a vacation without bringing along two notebooks, a knitting project, and three books you’ve been intending to read.

One) Set deadlines.

The best advice I ever got was during a workshop with Eric Maisel. Get a three-month wall calendar. Look ahead. Set deadlines, then work backwards to figure out what you have to do. Changed. my. life.

Two) Do one thing at a time.

I’m not talking about big projects. Most days – today, for example – I start with creative writing, move on to online teaching/coaching, address some other pressing thing (on Thursdays, my weekly blog post) and then do my freelance editing/writing in the afternoon. Instead, I’m talking about hammering one nail at a time because they are the bits that hold the whole thing together.

It’s too easy to get sideswiped by an interesting article and hauled into the Internet thickets so I set my phone timer for 20-minute intervals and do one task at a time (re-setting if the current task needs more minutes). The alarm also reminds me to take breaks: grab a tea or, at least, look out my window to try to stall what feels some days like the encroachment of inevitable blindness.

Three) Get help.

Freedom. Anti-Social. Write or Die. Hootsuite. These are tools that mean a lot to me. When I’ve reached a hard part of a story and the Internet sends out its siren call, I muster the self-discipline to lock myself out using Freedom. If I need to research but don’t want to get lured into Facebook or Twitter to see what the chatter’s about, I use Anti-Social. Recently, I’ve started using Hootsuite to schedule a week’s worth of posts to help with marketing. And Write or Die? That’s just fun.

Four) Take breaks.

Yes, walking the dog. Yes, remembering to breathe while walking the dog and not get annoyed with him for needing to sniff and sample every potential pee-zone between here and there. Tea. Lunch. Moments of stretching. But also, I’ve started shutting the Internet down on Sundays and letting the day roll on slowly by: making soup, knitting, reading, reading, reading, or whatever else I feel like while my brain’s unbridled and wandering the open fields.

Five) Keep a wish list.

I find that the more I do, the more brilliant ideas (or so it seems) I have, so it hit me: keep a wish list. On this I jot down stuff I’d like to do, and then I can schedule that stuff for a time when I’ve shoved one or two big projects off my desk.

Six) Finish stuff.

I am talking about big projects here. It’s important to finish things because when you don’t, it feels like failure and then you’ve got a big roadblock in front of you when you want to get going again (a topic I cover in my upcoming online course). So, even if you can only work on your novel for ten minutes a day and it feels like it’s going to take a decade to finish the thing, as long as it’s still alive and you care about it, keep going. Finishing things feels great.

Any tips on how you manage many projects? Please share 🙂

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4 Responses to How To Keep Your Irons In the Fire

  1. Kerry Kohout September 18, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

    Shutting off the technology is starting to catch on amidst my circle of friends.Knitting, cooking, writing with pen to paper, playing musical instruments…these and many other activities involve skills that we, as humans, want to preserve and pass on to youngsters. Love your energy Lauren!

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 19, 2016 at 7:08 am #

      Thanks, Kerry! And you’re so right: we seem to be remembering/trying to pass down ‘old’ ways of making (which is great, because we’ll need them when the computers die out).

  2. Pauline Clark September 17, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    Great post. I really want to do the Sundays unplugged. I need to unplug more than that but damn, I’m scared to try Freedom. What if it locks me out FOREVER?

    • Lauren
      Lauren September 17, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

      The secret is: you can actually reset it if you turn your computer off and on… 🙂 I usually have so many windows open though that it’s too much of a hassle….

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