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Text on picture of lit bulb on desk: How do you plan for your creative work?

How do you plan for your creative work?

How do you plan for your creative work?

Someone asked me this a couple of weeks ago.

My default answer comes in a video by Craig Benzine (aka WheezyWaiter) many years ago where he said:

If you want to create something and you’re not feeling inspired, take a closer look as to why that is, or just ignore it and start doing stuff.

Craig Benzine

I think that’s true.

I also think there’s something to be said for taking inspiration when it comes.

Each week I have a rough idea when I’ll write my article.

Sometimes I’ll have an idea for the article before that time comes.

I used to write down a sentence or two and save the idea for my article writing time.

Then the time would come, I’d look at the note and write a brilliant article. Well, that’s the intention, but it very rarely happens that way.

What actually happens is: I look at the note and have no clue where I wanted to go with it.

Now, when inspiration comes, I’ll take about 15 minutes to write out as much of the idea as I can. Then, when my article writing time comes, I can polish it up.

There are still weeks where I sit down to write, and I’m not inspired. No ideas appear.

Sometimes I move on, sometimes I write about not having ideas, and last week I shared two articles from earlier this year that you might have missed or need to read again.

I guess you could say, sometimes not having inspiration can be the inspiration for something. 

How do you plan for creative work? Share in the comments below.

Different definitions of time blocking

There are several business podcasts that I check every week. I don’t listen to every single episode because the content doesn’t apply to what I’m doing or it’s not something I need or want right now.

However, the latest episode of Being Boss does NOT fall into that category.

Emily Thompson hosts this podcast and her topic last week was time blocking. 

She did a fabulous job describing how she uses it (you can listen to it or read the transcript here).

It’s not the way I describe it, but it is one approach.

If you’ve heard me talk about time blocking before, you know that I recommend NOT scheduling your tasks into your calendar.

When Emily time blocks, she does a version of scheduling tasks into her online calendar. Personally, it would drive me BATTY, but it works for her and might work for you.

I also came across a new Time-block Planner by Cal Newport. While I won’t be buying his planner (I prefer wire or disc-bound so I can keep them open to one page), I do LOVE how he lays it out. It’s similar to what Emily does, but on paper. 

And it’s very easy to do something similar in a regular notebook.​​

You can watch his quick video describing it here.

What I love about Cal’s method is no block is shorter than 30 minutes, even if there are tasks that are shorter than 30 minutes. He groups tasks together that can be completed in 30 minutes. 

You could make your blocks any size you’d like. I’d recommend sticking to 25 minutes or longer.

I also would recommend giving yourself an empty 30 minute or so time block at the end of the day to allow for the things you can’t anticipate (a potential client call, your sister calls, something else unexpected happens).

Neither of them talks about having time blocks pre-defined to make sure you’re spending time in different areas of your business. Some examples of pre-defined blocks are business development, marketing (a large chunk of your time), client time/work, and admin.

When I talk about time blocking, I share that you want to have different sections of your week reserved for each of these blocks. This way, you are always making time for admin (sending those invoices! or scheduling social media) and business development (goal setting, weekly reviews, learning new skills, or updating ​​​​your knowledge).

Do you time block? If so, how do you do it? If not, do you think you will after seeing these examples?

Comment below and let me know.

Text on picture of woman working at desk: 6 tips to complete the goal pushes against your comfort zone

6 tips to complete the project or goal that feels uncomfortable and pushes against your comfort zone

Last week I shared that I broke my habit of running around trying new projects and things that didn’t work by focusing on a project that forced me to learn and exercise a critical business skill that I lacked.

Working on that project was uncomfortable, pushed against my comfort zone hard, didn’t come naturally to me, and I wasn’t always motivated to keep going.

And yet I did, and the project was a success in the areas I needed it to be.

So, how did I do it?

The truth is there wasn’t just one thing that allowed me to complete this project. It was a combination of things.

Below I’ll share what I believe were the most significant contributors to completing the project.

My future success depended on me learning this skill.

While I wasn’t motivated to do this project specifically, I knew that not doing the project would mean I’d continue to have crappy results in my business. Basically, this skill was so important I knew that all my future success would be built on what I learned through this project. Not doing this project would mean my business would not move forward.

I was clear about my deadlines.

Because the project was uncomfortable and pushed against my comfort zone, it was super important to be very clear about what needed to be done and when. This allowed me to put on blinders to the larger project and only focus on the specific task in front of me.

Knowing that I wanted to start sending invites x days before the project began meant those deadlines weren’t moveable. Once I sent the first invites out, I was now committed to the date. It was out there.

I spread the work out over time.

I also made sure that the work was getting done, but was spread out. This allowed me to keep my energy up. I generally have more energy and attention in the morning, so I made sure those uncomfortable tasks came first.

I regularly reviewed my progress.

I gave myself time to review what worked and didn’t and adjust. Because the skill I was learning didn’t come naturally to me, I paid attention when something felt more in line with me (more down my alley, more me) and made a note of it to repeat later.

I had clearly defined tasks.

I was very clear about the tasks that needed to be completed. My task wasn’t to “invite people.” The tasks were to “make a list of at least 25 people that I think will benefit from this” and “personally invite that list of people via a phone call.”

It helped to focus on today’s task (or tasks) for the project. And because I spread the work out, I usually only had one 30-minute to 1-hour block of this to do each day. Once it was done, I could move on to tasks that felt much easier.

The bonus was how great it felt to have the task done and be able to move on.

I remembered my bigger goal when things felt hard (my why).

When things felt difficult, I’d take a deep breath and remember what I saw on the other side of this project. I’d remind myself why it was important to do this.

This sounds a bit like my first reason above, but this one is a bit deeper. The first one, my future successes depended on me learning this skill, is more of a nuts and bolts reason.

This reason is more of a mindset shift. It was about reminding myself that I could do these hard things and why it was important to step into being a person who did this hard thing and what that would do for me.

Again, it wasn’t just one of the above reasons that allowed me to complete the project that, on some levels, I did not want to do. It was the above reasons together that made the difference.

I’ve read multiple places that what makes a goal successful isn’t just about remembering why it’s important to you. It’s about putting the systems in place that support the work of doing hard things—remembering your why is one crucial part of that.

What questions do you have around doing projects in your business that feel uncomfortable or push against your comfort zone? Or share your experiences with this. Let me know in the comments.

Text on picture of cute hiding cat: How do you tell when you're avoiding things and when it's something to put your heart and business into?

How do you tell when you’re avoiding things, and when it’s something to put your heart and business into?

Last week I shared details of the pattern of avoiding something with an exciting new project.

It can sidetrack you from doing the work in your business that you need to be doing.

This week I said I’d share how to recognize this pattern.

Sidenote: a project can be almost anything you do in your business that is multiple steps. It might be a marketing plan, program, class, or any number of things.

So, how do you tell when it’s a project or idea that allows you to avoid other things, and when it’s something that you really should be putting your heart and business into?

It can be difficult to differentiate because it can feel the same at the beginning of both types of projects.

One question to ask yourself is, “Why do you want to do this new project/idea?”

One answer to look more into is, “I want it to be easier” (your it might be any number of things).

Sometimes making things easier is a legitimate reason. 

You might be adding a needed system to your business to make it run smoother, or you recognize you’re spending more time and energy on something than you need to be.

Sometimes making things easier is legitimate, but isn’t actually a priority.

Moving your email marketing system from your current system to a more expensive and robust system might be something you’ll need to do when you get to a certain point. Still, if you’re not going to be using even half of the features, it’s probably best to wait a bit.

Other times making things easier is a way of avoiding something in your business.

If things are falling through the cracks and lots of important tasks don’t get completed, you can decide you’ll only focus on that one big project for a while. However, without the skill of knowing how to keep track of the things you want to accomplish in your business (this is a skill, most of us aren’t born knowing how to do these things), you’ll feel even farther behind after the project is over and you still have all that other stuff to do.

This is the pattern for most answers to “Why do you want to do this new project/idea?”

Some of the reasons are legitimate, some are legitimate but not a priority, and other reasons allow you to avoid things.

At one pivotal point in my business, I realized that I was hopping from one great idea to another to avoid learning essential business skills by telling myself that this new thing would quickly bring in money. It never did.

I needed income, and it felt like nothing was working.

I did what I tell my clients to do; I took a step back and evaluated what worked and what hadn’t worked.

The good news was some things worked that I didn’t realize.

The bad news was that skill that I was avoiding was holding me back in almost everything else.

I created a new project for myself that made learning and using that skill a priority. I knew it wasn’t going to make me immediate money, but not learning and being comfortable with that skill was costing me a lot (and later, I invested in a program build on that knowledge).

I still found myself evaluating this project periodically because I kept wondering if this was my new distraction. It wasn’t.

Here’s why I knew the new project wasn’t a distraction:

  1. It helped me build and exercise a skill that I needed to move forward in my business. 
  2. I knew it wasn’t prudent to move forward with any other projects until I completed this one.
  3. I had clear goals and tracking metrics created to track my progress.
  4. I gave myself more time to set it up and do it. This didn’t mean I waited months. In reality, it meant instead of going from idea to release in 2-3 weeks, I did it in a little over four weeks (in this case, that extra week really did make a big difference).

If these things had been present, it might have been a distraction:

  1. If I do this, it will make all my other problems disappear (the magic pill or magic wand type of solution).
  2. The feeling of I must do this thing now, while the idea and motivation are fresh. If it’s a good idea, it will continue to be a good idea even when the idea/motivation is no longer fresh.
  3. I’m ignoring a skill I know I need to learn.

Doing the project was uncomfortable. It pushed against my comfort zone, I was learning something that doesn’t come naturally to me, and many days I was not motivated to keep going. 

Next week I’ll share what I did that allowed me to complete the project despite the uncomfortableness and lack of motivation.

Are you wondering if your new idea or project is a distraction or not? Bring it to the Your Productivity Break meeting on Wednesdays at 1pm Central (join the FB group, Productivity for Women Entrepreneurs, for the details) or send me a private message.

Text on picture of quilt: What situations in your business might resemble this pattern

What situations in your business might resemble this pattern?

There’s this pattern I see in myself and some of my clients.

You’ve had an excellent idea for your business, and you want to make it happen quickly.

After all, this is something that will offer lots of value to your people, and it also promises to result in extra income.

You push the other projects and tasks you had planned for aside and start working on this new thing you’re really motivated about.

But it doesn’t take off the way you expected it to. 

You thought it would be a slam dunk! Instead, you have very few people involved and your other goals, projects, and tasks have taken a hit.

Initially, it looked like you were doing something super productive for your business, even if it was a bit of productive procrastination (head over here for the productive/unproductive procrastination definitions).

Upon reflection, it seems it might have been more of an unproductive procrastination situation.

Next week I’ll share how to avoid it. This week, let’s look at what’s really going on.

If you’ve done this, know that you’re in excellent company.

The reasons I’ve fallen into this pattern are many of the same reasons I’ve seen my clients fall into this pattern.

One reason is I need to learn a new skill in my business (or a new level of that skill) and I cannot figure it out on my own. And rather than finding someone to teach it to me, I come up with a brilliant way that I think might circumvent needing to learn this vital business skill, but it doesn’t work. Now I’m more frustrated because I feel like I’ve wasted a month or more of my time, and I still need to learn that skill.

Another reason is if I’m not getting the interest or engagement I want around something I’m doing. So, instead of looking at what I can adjust or add to have the interest or engagement I want, I do something completely new that I think will result in that interest or engagement. What ends up happening is people are confused about what I’m doing, I still have to promote the new thing (and often I’m doing it the same way I was promoting the other thing), and I end up with even less interest or engagement. Then I’m frustrated and annoyed and feel like I’ve taken five steps backward.

There are lots of other ways this can manifest itself.

The basic formula is:

  1. I want to avoid this thing in my business
  2. I create a distraction that feels exciting and promising
  3. It doesn’t go the way I want
  4. I feel frustrated and further behind
  5. I either repeat the formula OR do the thing I’m avoiding

What situations in your business might resemble this pattern?

Next week I’ll share how to recognize this pattern and put a stop to it.