Winter’s coming and like a good deal of Mainers, my job is seasonal. I’m admittedly blessed to have the time off, though my initial instinct was one of fear. How will I keep sanity while being off?
I’m lucky there’s a job waiting for me at the end of February, which is a luxury we didn’t have last year. As I write this, we’re celebrating a year of being in Maine. As many of you know, we moved suddenly, without seeing the house we’re living in, having no friends or family here, and no jobs or prospects.
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.
Nonetheless, I admittedly enjoyed having a winter (and partial spring) off last year—I’ve had projects on hold for what seems to be an eternity. I loved the ability to hunker down and work on new ways to share my knowledge and passions. I’ve worked around the clock for the past 11 years, never having much time to come up for air and reach more people.
I relish winter. I love longer nights, colder weather, snow, silence. I love the silence it forces on us—it’s not a coincidence New Year’s falls during the season we go within and tap into our natural resources stored within.
Last spring, I was blessed enough to land a job that affords me hard work and longer work hours during the spring and summer. Fall is a slower yet busy season at work and winter means living off the fat of the land.
I’ve learned what it is to really be seasonal and even had my first successful season with flowering plants and a small vegetable garden.
I’ve got 2 months until the gears begin to grind again and as you’ll find out in the upcoming month, spring will be extremely busy with teaching live courses. I know my “critical deadline” is February 25—that leaves a lot of work to accomplish in the next 2 months. Once I’m back to work, we work nearly every day until the middle of summer. That means there won’t be as much time for focusing on heavy projects—everything must be on auto-pilot by the beginning of March.
So how do I organize all these projects for that 2-month span? 2 months ain’t that long. It took me about a year start-to-finish, to get my Transformation 101 book published. Here are 10-steps for keeping myself focused, organized, and on track for when my regular work season begins again.
I’m passing these along in hope you can use some of these tricks for your own upcoming year of new goals. After all, it’s never too early to get ready for the new year! It’s less than 2 weeks away and if you want success, don’t wait until New Year’s Day to review your year and set new goals.
That’s how 80% of most resolutions fail by the time February rolls around.
- Know yourself. I’m more creative early in the morning but my writing will require a good amount of editing. Without finances and editors at my fingers, I’ve taken classes, purchased software, and enlisted friends who could edit for a small fee. In the late morning, I can focus better on editing and the more difficult left-brained work. Taking classes works best for me in the morning hours as my brain is more alert at that point in my day. I’m more physical by the afternoon and less able to make difficult decisions, so I use the afternoon to clear my head with physical projects. I also know I’ll work until the following morning unless I keep myself in check. I take breaks every 50 minutes and stretch, walk around the house, make lunch, or just enjoy a 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 also means not trying to book classes in the middle of winter, just because I want to stay connected to people. I know classes would distract 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. They’re all listed on my mindmap board with the ranking and some basic steps needed to get the project completed (a mindmap is a vision board of sorts, which I’ve discussed in my Transformation course and written about previously).
- Set deadlines for each project. Whether the deadline comes from you or an external source, everything needs a goal date. Those of you in Corporate America have probably worked in teams where each project has deadlines… construction workers have deadlines; food establishments use 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, and you need to understand how/why the project or goal is important. This is why it’s so important to weigh your projects. If you don’t know how important they are to you, you have 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: I urge you to look at these last 2 steps again—I believe creative people don’t enjoy rigid details like this and we rarely complete goals because of that dislike. It doesn’t need to be a fancy spreadsheet… get creative on how you weight your projects and set deadlines for them. Trust me, it’s taken me years to figure out a system that works.
- List your 5 Next Steps. I list the 5 first steps for each project on my Time Management/Master Project Sheet (which I gave you here). While I may find other steps that need to go in between, I can see what needs to happen next. The 5 steps are entered into my planner on Sunday, which I’ll explain in another step. I work on 2-3 projects each week, which keeps me moving forward with everything and eliminates boredom.
- All my projects are colour-coded in my Time Management Sheet. It may seem OCD or anal retentive but it’s a matter of knowing myself. It’s easier for me to focus on the deadlines and what I’m working on when I’m not reading every detail on my project list. Color-coding avoids me finding a piece of another project that would be easier or more fun to work on.
- Each project has its own folder with a sticky note on the outside. The sticky note has the ranking, name of the project, and the deadline. I then place the folders in order of the deadline, so I’m not spending time searching for anything. Having all your projects in one binder may work for you unless you’re easily distracted by the shiny ball syndrome I mentioned in Step 5.
- Everything’s entered in my 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 laptop that’s an ongoing reminder to stay focused in the moment and sit still. “What’s my intention? (Deadline is everything for focus & motivation.) What’s my timeframe? Schedule your 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 daily in the morning. Daily. I start my morning with a large cup of water, make coffee, give the cats their required snacks, meditate, then look at my planner. What needs to be done today to move me forward on the 1, 2, or 3 projects I’m working on? On Sunday, I review where I am with all my projects and 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 while 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 proves you don’t. I could easily answer Quora questions fielded to me—they’re easy and fulfill my desire to give people free, useful information. It’s also a Saturday morning task that can easily distract and derail me any other day of the week.“Ah… I accomplished something! I’ve got more confidence, I’ll move on to the harder projects!” That doesn’t happen consistently. What does happen is you do a lot of piddly tasks and never get to the harder items. Life happens. There will be unexpected things that cause your day to not go as planned—don’t get distracted or discouraged by that. As I stressed with the Transformation course, the best thing is to get back on the horse ASAP and be flexible. As the saying goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”
- Stay off social media or at least reduce it to every 3-4 days. Turn off your phone notifications, too. Stop distractions whenever and wherever possible. The world won’t end if your presence isn’t known every hour or two. Quite frankly, you aren’t missing anything except drama. We all know how easy it is to harp 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 are aware this is normal and they’re afforded the same freedom from having to respond to me immediately.My business turnaround is 24-48 hours in most all cases… if it’ll be longer than that for any reason, I communicate it immediately. My business partners are always aware of my projects and I expect the same courtesy from them. I don’t expect anyone to know or care I have 5 large projects due in the next 2 months… they may care if one of those projects are theirs, though! There’s little I find more frustrating than planning a time to work on a project with someone and finding out they’re in the middle of another major task of their own. Communicate professionally and only when needed… the world doesn’t need constant updates from us.
I know my strengths and weaknesses. I need strict deadlines and I get distracted by nature, so my desk faces a less-active-wildlife window. I know I’m an over-achiever, I over-schedule myself, and don’t give projects enough time. I’ll work through breakfast, lunch, dinner, bathroom and water breaks. I know I’ll frig with folders and planners instead of actually DOING THE WORK. I start strong and finish weak (or never). I like to read and learn, gladly taking a webinar I think will benefit one of the projects I’m working on instead of actually launching the project. I know I’ll search on my computer for that “just so perfect description of what I need to do in this step and where to log it.”
I also know I’m very creative and have a lot of knowledge in my head without taking another single webinar this winter. It’s a matter of tapping in to that confidence when I need it. I spent last winter studying the rules of how to do what I’m going to be doing this winter. I’ve also built in a little wiggle room and pressure if something doe