Winter’s coming and like many Mainers, my job is seasonal. I’m lucky to have the time off, though my first season “off” was one of fear. How will I maintain sanity? Can we afford for me to be off for 2 months while I work on projects?
There’s a job waiting for me at the end of February; it’s a luxury we didn’t when we moved here. As I write this, we’re celebrating 2 years of being in this beautiful state. We moved here suddenly, without seeing the house we live in, had no friends or family here, and no jobs or prospects. Zero support network.
Maybe we thought we’d move here and open a café immediately. Maybe we thought finding work in the winter would be easier. It was anything but easy.
Regardless of the stress, I enjoyed having that first winter and partial spring off—I’ve had projects on hold for what feels like an eternity. I loved the free time that enabled new ways of sharing knowledge and my passions. I’ve worked 60+ hours per week for 20 years; I never had time to breathe and expand my reach. It gave me a chance to begin publication of my first book… a concept I’d never considered.
I relish winter. I love longer nights, colder weather, and snow. I love the forced silence placed upon us—it’s no coincidence New Year declarations (goals) occur the season we tap into our stored natural resources. The same happens on farms and in gardens; harvest the last bounty and plan for the upcoming year.
Spring of ‘18, I was blessed to land a job that affords me laborious work and long work hours during spring and summer. Fall is slower but busy season; we sell the last of our plantings, close up the greenhouses, and prepare for wreath season. Winter requires us to live off the fat of the land.
I’ve learned what it is to live truly seasonal; I’ve had 2 successful seasons with flowering plants and grew a small vegetable garden in our 10×10′ converted chicken coop.
I have 2 months until the gears grind again—my “critical deadline” for returning to work is February 27. It leaves a lot of work to accomplish in the next 2 months. I have 6 personal growth books to read, which aren’t passive reads. I have online classes to create, a book to market, and a mini-farm I need to plan at our house for next year. I want to harvest 90% of our vegetables from our 10×10’ space; at least 5 pounds per week.
Once I return to work, it’s 6-7 days per week until the middle of summer. That means there’s minimal time to focus on heavy projects—everything must be on auto-pilot by the beginning of March. I made hard decisions on what 20/20 required me to say “no” to… I underestimated how little time I have at home during our planting and harvest season at work.
How do I organize projects for a 2-month span? It took me a year start-to-finish, to get my Transformation 101 book published. How can YOU leverage your time, even though you don’t have 2 months off like I do? You probably have nights or a weekend day off that you can utilize.
Here are 10-steps for maintaining focus, staying organized and on track through a regular work season. I’m passing these along for you to plan your declaration for the new decade. After all, the new year is less than 2 weeks away; if you want success, don’t wait until January 1 to set new goals. 80% of most resolutions fail by February.
Let’s have 20/20 vision for an incredible new decade!
- Know yourself and the skills you need to acquire. I’m more creative early in the morning, but like all author’s, my writing requires a lot of editing. Without finances for professional editors at my fingers, I take classes, purchase software, and enlisted friends to edit for a small fee. Taking classes works best in the morning hours as my brain is more alert.In the later morning, I focus better on editing and other difficult left-brained projects. I’m more physical by the afternoon and less able to make difficult decisions; I use the afternoon to clear my head with physical projects.
I also know I’ll work non-stop unless I keep myself in check (Pitta characteristic, for those who study Ayurveda). I take breaks every 50 minutes and stretch, walk around the house, make lunch, or just enjoy our view of nature. I usually stop working about 4:30-5 pm, cook, and spend the evening with Rob, the cats, and a good book or movie.
Recharging and saying no are critical to anyone’s success. Sometimes saying no means not booking classes, just to stay connected to people. Teaching distracts me from hours of useful writing and planning.
- List all projects and weigh them. I use Brendon Burchard’s rating scale to determine how important projects are, working on only 3 projects at any moment. They’re all listed on my mindmap dry-erase board with the ranking and basic steps needed to complete the project. It starts in Excel in a workbook that looks like this:
- Set deadlines for each project. Whether the deadline comes from you or an external source, everything needs an end date. Those in office jobs have worked in teams where each project has deadlines; construction workers have deadlines; food establishments have expiration dates. Why do we not apply this basic concept to our personal lives?
If you want success in any area of life, you need deadlines. You also need to understand how or why the project is important; it’s important to weigh your projects as shown above. If you don’t know how important goals are, there’s no internal consequence for not accomplishing it. If there’s no consequence or pain attached to not achieving that goal, you’ll never achieve it.
A side note for creative people: creative folks don’t enjoy rigid details like this and we rarely finish projects as a result. It doesn’t need to be a fancy spreadsheet like I shared… get creative on how you weigh your projects and set deadlines for them. It’s taken years to figure out a system that works for me.
- List your 5 Next Steps. I list the 5 next steps on my Time Management/Master Project Sheet. While you’ll find additional steps before or after your initial list, you’ll have an idea what needs to happen next. I enter these 5 steps into my planner on Sunday, which I explain in Step #7. I work on 2-3 projects each week, which keeps me moving forward and eliminates creative stagnation or boredom.
- I color-code my projects in my Time Management Sheet. It may seem OCD but it’s a matter of knowing myself. It’s easier to focus on deadlines and what I’m working on when I’m not reading the details of each project. This method also eliminates finding a piece of another project that’s easier or more fun to work on (a.k.a. “shiny ball syndrome”). Note: focusing on easy tasks DOES NOT increase productivity nor build confidence; it delays completing your real needle-movers.
- Each project has its own folder with a sticky note. The sticky note has the ranking, name of the project, and initial deadline. I put my folders in order of the deadline, so I don’t waste time searching for the day’s work. Searching leads to distractions. Having all your projects in one binder may work for you if you’re not easily distracted by the shiny ball syndrome mentioned in Step #5.
- Everything’s listed in my day planner. Without a visual deadline, you’re dead in the water. You need a reminder in front of you. I also have a note on my computer to remind me to stay focused and sit still. “What’s my intention? What’s my timeframe? (Deadline is everything for focus & motivation.) Schedule blocks of time for this one project. Set a timer. Don’t be random about your work. Focus=progress=momentum.”
- Reset and review. I review goals every morning. Daily. I start my morning with a glass of water, make coffee, give the cats their treats, meditate, and review my planner. What needs to happen today to move me forward on my 1, 2, or 3 projects? On Sunday, I review all my projects to make sure I’m on target for my deadlines. I enter the 5 next steps into my planner, giving each step a set timeframe. My morning review is about 5 minutes; Sunday takes about a half hour.
- Skip the easy stuff. Just because a project is easier doesn’t mean you should finish it first. While you may believe you’ll gain momentum doing this, research shows otherwise. “Ah… I accomplished something! I’ve got more confidence; I’ll move on to the harder projects!” That doesn’t happen consistently. You just complete lots of piddly tasks and never get to the harder, soul-fulfilling items. Sh*t happens. Unexpected events will always change your day; it won’t always go as planned—don’t get distracted or discouraged. As I stressed in my Transformation 101 course and book, your best option is to get back on the horse ASAP and be flexible. As the saying goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”
- Eliminate social media or limit it to every 3-4 days; turn off your phone notifications. Stop distractions whenever possible. The world won’t end if your presence isn’t known every day. YOU aren’t missing anything on social media except drama. We all know how easy it is to focus on something you saw 3 days ago, letting our Ego get the best of a useless situation. I sometimes don’t answer a personal text or email for 1-2 weeks—my friends know this is normal and I afford them the same freedom. We connect more meaningful this way.
However, my business turnaround is 24-48 hours… if it’s longer, I communicate this immediately. My business partners and I share our projects with each other. While they don’t need the details of my ongoing projects, they need to know if I can focus on a mutual product launch. There’s nothing more frustrating than planning a project with someone just to find out they overbooked their time. If you know they’ll be out of town at a convention, you know not to expect emails and project updates while they’re gone. Communicate professionally and only when needed… the world doesn’t need constant updates.
I know my strengths and weaknesses: I need strict deadlines; I get distracted by nature, so my desk faces a less-active-wildlife window (a lesson learned from Stephen King); I’m an over-achiever and I over-book myself; I don’t give projects enough time. I work through breakfast, lunch, dinner, bathroom and water breaks whenever possible. I know I’ll frig with folders and planners instead of actually DOING THE WORK.
I start strong and finish weak (if ever). I love to read and learn, gladly taking a webinar I think will benefit one of my projects, rather than launching a course or product. I’ll search for that “just-so-perfect-description-of-what-I-need-to-do-and-where-to-log-it,” instead of letting it go just-slightly imperfect. Art requires you letting it go, usually before you feel it’s ready.
I also know I’m very creative and have enough knowledge in my head without taking another webinar. It’s a matter of tapping into that space of confidence. I spend my busy year studying the rules of what I’ll accomplish this winter. I also build in wiggle room for deadlines to relieve pressure if something doesn’t get completed. There IS next year after all. No one plans perfectly.
What’s your 20/20 vision for the upcoming year? Will you make a crazy declaration to stretch your capacities over the next decade? Email me or comment below… here’s to your success!