Your goal for day 5: Embrace the time-space continuum in which we live (i.e. get realistic about what you can actually do in one day)
Aspirational to-do lists
So, in early 2016, I decided I wanted to write a book about creative focus. I had written a number of blog articles, I’d run a few cohorts of my course, the Creative Focus Workshop, and people were asking for me to organize my work in a more cohesive form.
So, a book. Great idea. It would be more of a collection, really, but I could make a PDF and put it on my site for sale.
It went on my to-do list.
There it sat, for months. I would put “work on book outline” or “gather materials for book” on my to-do list for a week or two out, and then when the day arrived, I’d push it off another week.
I knew these postponements were going to happen, and I told myself I was OK with it. They served as a kind of a reminder of my intention to get going on my project.
But here’s the thing: every time I let that task go red on my list (because I use a task-management app called OmniFocus, and at 6 pm, everything on my daily list that isn’t done turns red. I could change that setting…but haven’t.), it beat me down a little bit. I ended every day feeling just a tiny bit like I’d failed.
I didn’t waste a lot of time berating myself over it, but why was I letting that happen in the first place, when I knew it wasn’t likely I’d get to it?
I kept kicking that can until finally I was working with a coach, Breanne Dyck. Breanne cuts straight the heart of things. I would say stuff like, “I want to write this book,” and she’d say, “Is it on your calendar?”
And it wasn’t.
I had blank time on my calendar, but when it came, I’d fill it with whatever came up. I’d have 15 priorities for a week, finish only four, and realize they were the wrong four.
Breanne said, “‘Priority’ is inherently a singular word. It means ‘first thing.’ You can’t have more than one priority at a time. Just sayin’.” (Breanne is often “just sayin’.”)
I went on this three-week retreat where I wanted to:
- Rewrite and rerecord the Creative Focus Workshop materials,
- Ink 20 or so pages of comics, and
- Outline my book.
Breanne said, “That’s three projects. You can only do one at a time.”
She said, “Have you put it on your calendar?”
It was tough love, but it worked. I made the book my No. 1 priority (AKA my priority) and put it on the calendar every day.
Within six months, I published the book
Of course that meant that other things got kicked down the road. But I made a conscious decision, and I stuck with it.
What happened to all those other things? I still have them on the list, but I don’t confuse my daily to-do list with the holding pen for all my other ideas. I [try very hard to] only put things on my list that I will [probably] get to that day.
Which usually means 1-3 demanding items, and a few more quick tasks. That’s it.
I keep the rest of the list out of sight until I make decisions about what to do next.
Let me be clear: I still let things go red on my list. I still struggle with the “aspirational to-do list,” and I still get it wrong by overestimating what I can achieve in a day. I’m not perfect, and I have a looooong history to correct.
My calendar is an iteration and my goal is to get closer and closer to reflecting reality in what I’m asking of myself
Because that’s the secret to escaping the busy trap and not letting your inner critic take over: reflect your real circumstances and capacity in what you expect of yourself.
Yes, you want to aim high, to make more creative work, to do a better job on all of your high priorities (I’m still gonna use that plural…).
But expecting more of yourself than is physically possible within the strictures of the space-time continuum is just setting yourself up for failure and self-blame.
And that is how you slow yourself down and achieve less with more anxiety and less ease. Not really what we’re going for, is it?
So today, you’re going to create a calendar for tomorrow that as closely as possible reflects what is actually possible for you.
Remember: this is a first iteration. If you don’t nail it first time out, that’s fine. Just try again.
And speaking of your calendar, don’t forget to get the Chart Your True Course on there! Sign up here to save your spot, and choose the work today that will build the future you envision.
You have more things on your list than you can physically do in a day. Not finishing them leads to self-blame, and finishing in a random order can lead to not doing the things that you really want or need to be doing.
Your action plan
Choose your 1-3 highest priorities and give them slots on your calendar alongside the things that absolutely have to happen. Decide to put the rest, consciously, on hold.
Creative Compass Day 5 Q&A
Fill out this form to start making your conscious decisions concrete
Post a photo of your calendar on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtags #IdealDay and #CreativeCompass to help give you accountability to your decision (and tag me! @jccabel on facebook and twitter, and @visiblewoman on Instagram).
Further reading: How to escape panic mode and embrace your life-expanding projects
THANK YOU for completing the Creative Compass! Your fortitude in facing the hard stuff and making conscious decisions is admirable.
I hope you’ve gained clarity and feel the wind in your sails…and I look forward to more nautical-themed adventures with you in the future!
If you’re feeling the momentum and want more help ASAP, check out my book Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life, which is chock-full of exercises that will put the captain’s wheel in your hands!