Over the last few weeks I have repeatedly come across quotes from various sources saying that you have all the time you need to do everything you want. If you are like me your inner critic jumps on this as an excuse to remind you of all the goals you have not met yet. So you have decide to stop procrastinating, and are already avoiding the time-sink of Minesweeper and its associates, but there are many necessary tasks that also call for our attention that cannot be as easily ignored. It is therefore unfortunate that reminding you that various famous people only had the same 24 hours in a day is often the extent of the quote.
As a result I have constructed my own method of spending an increased part of the day on more than routine. Whilst I am using it to find more time for writing it can be adapted for any repeating goal.
Most goals are like deciding to eat an elephant. You have seen an elephant on television or in as photograph and think it is big but you can manage, but when you have the elephant in front of you it suddenly seems even bigger. You take a few mouthfuls and it is still as big, so you decide to have a salad instead. For example, I wanted to write more: I have a novel I am working on; I want to write shorter works, some for competitions or submissions and others because I have a story screaming to be written; I want to do practice pieces to improve my skills. I can start doing it all and I could manage for a few days, or weeks, before I start to have days when my inner critic judges I did not do enough, and it begins to seem overwhelming. So I start to race to catch up, and give up because my inner critic says I am not good enough.
However, like an elephant, it becomes less overwhelming if broken into smaller pieces. Before I can write all those different things I need to write something every day so that might seem a good beginning, but I could still fail due to unforeseen circumstances, so I pick a smaller goal: writing something at least three times a week. Once I have achieved that I will move to writing something every weekday.
When I am writing every weekday, I will have enough time to commit to frequent regular work on several projects so I rank what I want to write: the novel is a longer-term project but I want to keep momentum; most competitions and submission opportunities will have a deadline, so I need to keep working toward that; if I do not practice I will not improve as quickly but writing daily is a sort of practice, so I would like to practice. Therefore I set a goal of at least two sessions on short stories, at least two on my novel and the last one on practicing or focussing on whatever seems most demanding that week.
As the aim is to keep everything manageable I favour only defining a few steps at a time and not planning all the way to your ideal commitment.
Time to Digest
Even after you have overcome the shock at how large an elephant is, you cannot eat it all at once. You need to take your time.
After doing the same thing regularly for a while the mind starts to see it a routine. Whilst it varies slightly depending on the person or circumstances, 21 days is almost always long enough. So commit to doing the first step for 21 days.
Over those 21 days I find out how much time it really takes up in the day and which days it is particularly hard to fit it in. However, it is just a small change to your routine so you only need to find a little more space.
As well as fixing the step into your routine, this quiets the inner critic as it now has a goal to focus on; instead of judging you for not being the best in your field it is watching for times when you have not taken a small step toward it.
Once the 21 days are up, add a new step to the end of your plan and start the second step for 21 days.
As well as meat an elephant has a trunk, tusks and other less savoury parts. As you complete more steps you will gain a better understanding of how large a step you can take at a time, and which parts of your overall goal need the most work, so you can start to season your goals to make them easier to digest.
To deal with particularly tough patches I like to leave some slack in my interim goals. Instead of aiming to write every day I leave the weekends uncommitted so I can catch-up if I missed a session due to unforeseen circumstances; I do not want to use it but having a buffer means I am less worried about not meeting the goal, and the free days feel like a reward each time I meet my weekly target.
After applying the method for a while I now work on either a short story or my novel every weekday as well as researching and practising techniques. I am coming toward the end of the first step to add this blog to the routine.
Eating the Frog