(A post in which you and I figure out how to get some good things started in the coming months, and also how to overcome lack of time and lack of confidence)
I had really big plans. I was going to write a book in the past ninety days. Knowing how life goes, it was no surprise to me that a couple of major roadblocks came along and slowed me down.
The first was a project at work. Up until October this year, I had been doing carpentry projects which didn't require much more of me than my showing up each day and doing the work. There were long stretches in each work day where I was able to put my body on auto pilot and use my mind to either take in inspiring input or work on honing and arranging my ideas for the book. I also had forty-five minutes of drive time each morning and evening during which which I could mentally play with new ideas.
Beginning at the end of September, I was tagged to be the project manager on a renovation which is just now wrapping up at the end of December. The long stretches of solo labor from earlier in the year were immediately replaced by phone calls, meetings, and lots and lots of planning and problem solving. The extra mental space I had gotten used to having was gone. All of a sudden now, it is December 31 and I haven't even finished the outline of my book, let alone prepared it for release.
Not what I was planning on at all. However, even though I didn't hit the deadline I had set for myself, I was able to make some good progress and get the book to the point where it is real in my imagination and simply needs to be written out of there. I'm even thankful for the delay now because I can see so many ways in which the book will be better for having a little more time so simmer before serving.
That was the first roadblock. The second was organization. I've been working steadily to capture and clarify my ideas about artistic freedom for months now. There are notes on my iPhone, notes in several notebooks, and lots of notes in one main notebook I started at the beginning of October. I also have source material on my computer in several folders, and some loose printouts with handwritten notes. Until very recently, I haven't had an efficient way to compile and rearrange those notes, and then refine them into something resembling an outline.
I've never written a book by myself before. I've actually never written anything like a proper research paper either. The one big writing project I was a part of was a year ago with my wife, when we wrote an ebook about iPhone photography for mothers. We used Microsoft Word for that project, and the draft process and organization was so clunky. I was not at all looking forward to using Word for my latest book project.
Here's where the second roadblock comes in: Thanksgiving day is when lots of retail stores are ramping up the deals on the stuff they sell. I had been eyeing a writing software called Scrivener for some time, but had held back from buying it because I had heard that it is notoriously time-consuming to learn to use.
I really wanted to try it out. On the one hand, I needed something better than Word with which to organize my thoughts into something ready to publish and share. On the other hand, how could I justify taking away time from writing in order to learn a tricky new computer program?
And then all of a sudden it's Thanksgiving and I'm on the computer and I stumble across a sale for Scrivener. For twenty-five dollars, Scrivener can be mine forever. It was a no-brainer. I went for it. I also found a couple of getting started tutorials for Scrivener. But up until last night, I had no plan for learning to integrate it into my writing process.
Yesterday, two things happened.
The first thing was that I finished being full time on the project I was managing. That means I'll have more brain space in the coming weeks and months, more space with which to work on my book, Artistic Freedom. I'll be back on track with my daily writing schedule each morning, and I'll have more mental energy to devote to writing.
The second thing was a TEDx talk I watched last night by a guy named Josh Kaufman (I've shared the link to the talk at the end of this post). It was about how you can learn to do nearly anything in twenty hours. Josh shared his experience of becoming a new father, and all of a sudden entering a life where it felt like, with this new little person in the house taking up all of his time and attention, there would never again ever be time for him to spend on anything he wanted to learn or pursue.
He was feeling desparate. So he did some research on how long it takes to learn new things. I won't summarize the entire talk here, but I will mention the points which were most inspiring to me.
First off, it doesn't take ten thousand hours to learn something new. If you want to master something and become one of the best, ten thousand hours might be what it takes. But if you just want to get past that stage where you feel frustrated and stupid and ashamed of your incompetence, twenty hours is usually plenty of time to build a new capability and be well on your way to confidence.
Now, of course, you don't want to bite off more than you can chew by trying to learn something unreasonable within that twenty hour time period, but if you commit to learning it for twenty hours, strip away anything from the new discipline which isn't absolutely essential to an introductory knowledge of it, and take away anything which might distract you in the process, most new skills are readily learnable within a weekend or a month.
I hope you'll take the time to watch the talk all the way through. The surprise at the end is really great!
At the beginning of October of this year, I started using a new time system. I have an idea of what I want my life to look like in twenty-five years. To make that life happen, I now begin every quarter of the year by deciding what I will do in the next ninety days to work toward achieving my twenty-five year life plan.
The great thing about working with ninety days instead of planning out a year in advance is that, if you get off track for one reason or another during the first quarter of a year, you still have three quarters of the year left to get back on track and try new things.
I should mention here that I still go into each new year with new intentions, but I don't set goals for each coming year. What our family has done instead has been to figure out what the priority for the year will be. Last year's priority was getting back on our feet. That priority led me to stop doing several things I enjoy but that were distracting, and concentrate on getting my carpentry business - and our household income - back on track. We also moved to a house with enough room to garden and have our kids roam freely, which is something we've been hoping for for many years.
We've decided that the coming year for us will be a year of simplifying and exploring. That is the priority. Every new activity gets measured against whether it aligns with simplifying and exploring. For me, that means keeping it simple when it comes to writing. My plan is to get up early every morning and use Scrivener for about an hour before I head off to work. After a month of weekdays of this new practice, I'll have clocked over twenty hours of learning time with Scrivener. I'll be out of the frustration zone and into the confidence zone.
If I'm going to make that happen, I'll have to stay away from anything that might derail me during that morning hour. I'll have to get to bed by 10pm. I will also have to stay away from email and the rest of the internet during my designated morning writing time. And I'll have to stay current on my correspondance and bookwork during evenings and weekends so that I don't end up with emergencies cropping up in the mornings and crowding out my writing/Scrivener time.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling stuck in the book writing process, so I put out a request to my friends on Facebook and asked them to share their artistic/creative blocks with me. The response was huge. So many people left comments or sent private messages, and, in the majority of responses, time was listed as one of the main blocks each person struggled with. Their specific blocks included:
-Not enough time to keep the household running well and still be able to have the time and energy to explore my artistic interests.
-Can't seem to justify setting aside obligations to others in order to make the time for artistic/creative pursuits. I feel like it would be selfish of me.
-Worried about getting started and having my art take over my life so that I'm not being able to control it.
-Afraid of not being good enough at the beginning and looking foolish in front of others because I don't know what I'm doing.
One friend said that she hadn't been able to figure out a place for ambition and personal exploration "in the priority heap." I think that phrase applies to most of us. We have so many expectations and commitments for ourselves, heaps and heaps of them, and the first thing most of us let go of is anything that feels remotely selfish.
But pushing down your creative side comes with a price. The price is a feeling of hopelessness and bitterness about life, like something wonderful is always just out of reach, the feeling of knowing you were made for something that might never happen.
If you yourself are feeling hopeless, like another year is about to come and go without you being able to dive into something you've been wanting to do to feed your inner creative, I have a message for you:
The creative part of you is worth investing time and energy in, right now.
The creative part of you needs to continually grow in order for you to be healthy in your life in the coming months.
The creative part of you is waiting for you to prioritize it. Remember: the priority is the one thing at the top of the heap in any given moment. Only one thing at a time can have priority. You are the one who picks the priority in any given moment.
The creative part of you is at the core of what makes you most helpful and life-giving to others. The only way you are going to be a source of energy for those around you is if you have energy to give.
And you don't have to push anything truly important out of the way to make it all happen. All you have to do is pick something to learn or make or do, set aside twenty hours over the next week or month or whatever time period works best for you, get rid of the distractions, and start.
The past few New Year's celebrations were a bit discouraging for me. I had lived through many "fresh starts", set heaps of new goals to be accomplished before the next year's December thirty-first arrived, and had been disappointed with my performance and results nearly every time.
This year is different. I'm not setting goals tied to the next year. I'm planning actions to be taken over the coming ninety days. Maybe I'll fall short of what I'm hoping to accomplish during the next quarter, but, as long as I consistently take action, I'll be farther along than I was when I began. I'll have grown. I'll have increased my confidence. I'll have taken a few more steps forward.
If you're in that place of staring down another year, feeling discouraged before it even begins, toying with the idea of making some new resolutions even though you don't believe they will actually happen, I hope you will join me in leaving that system behind.
Instead of making resolutions, dream about what you want your life to be like in twenty-five years, or even in one year. Write it out like it has already happened. Really let yourself get swept away in the dreaming. Don't worry about justifying it or editing it. Just write down your heart's longings.
Then write down one or two things you could do in the next ninety days to move you toward that life you dream of. If you've been putting something off for awhile now, maybe now is the time to embrace it and start learning it.
If that new thing is too big to do in the coming ninety days - especially if it is too big to learn or to make in twenty hours over the coming weeks - break it down until you have some part of it you can learn or do or make in twenty hours over the coming month or three.
Pick a couple of distractions you want to remove from your life, and arrange your daily schedule so that the old stuff is gone and the new thing has space. Be realistic. Don't pick something you simply can't afford. Choose a time in your day when you will have the energy, and pick something to learn that will give you energy rather than drain your energy.
Remember that it isn't going to always feel good at first. The anticipation of frustration is what has held you back or blocked you up until now. Yes, you will come up against obstacles and distractions. Yes, you will have to make adjustments. But don't let that stop you.
Give yourself the space and the grace to move forward imperfectly. Imagine what it will feel like when you have the confidence at the end of the learning.
You are less than twenty hours of practice away from that feeling.
Also, remember that this is for your growth. It isn't for anyone else. Your growth will have an impact on others, but that isn't why you are doing this. You are doing this because you are one of God's creatures, you and have a unique part to play in this life. Whether you step into that part rests soley within your power and control. You are no better and no worse than anyone else. You are simply you.
This life of yours is worth investing in.
If you've decided to join me in challenging yourself to invest twenty hours during the coming ninety days to learn something new, leave a comment below and tell me about it. And when you've finished the twenty hours of learning, I'd love for you to come back and share your results with me.
p.s. You can click the link to the TEDx talk HERE. And if you know someone who needs to read this post today, would you please share it creatively and directly with them?