In this issue ~~
Very often, when we consider taking on a new project, we feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the magnitude of it. We look at what seems like a monolith and feel inadequate to the task. Just the thought of facing it can stop us in our tracks. And even if we choose to move forward, we may find ourselves procrastinating, not knowing what to do first.
One of the greatest deterrents to a new dream or goal is confronting the enormity of it and feeling it has to be accomplished in one grand leap; this is rarely true. Or we see it as a huge, amorphous mass, like an overstuffed sandwich, and we don't know where to take the first bite. We can make our new projects more manageable by breaking them down into small, doable steps. And we can take those steps over time.
The tasks involved in achieving a goal may be challenging to you. You may be doing a creative project around a full-time job and a family, and finding time may be difficult. Your goal may involve emotional challenges, like putting your creative vision out to the world for the first time. Or it may require skills or other resources that you don't currently have.
Let's look at these three situations.
If time is your challenge, the solution is to start small. In the beginning, you may only be able to afford 15 minutes a day or an hour on the weekend. Take what you can get, and go from there. If you wait until you can find a big chunk of time, it may never happen. As you get involved in your project, you'll be motivated to find or make more time for it. And you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish with small, consistent pockets of time.
If your challenge is emotional, approach it gradually. Face the small challenges first to build your courage. If you want to write a book but find the prospect daunting, begin by journaling or writing an essay, article or short story. Read books about writing for their advice and inspiration. If you've done the work, but are afraid of making it public, begin by showing it to a trusted friend or two. From there, you might advance to a support or critique group, then to a small publication or local exhibit, a web site, and so on.
If you lack the skills you need, make moves to get them. When I coach beginning writers, they're often discouraged that their first work isn't all that inspiring. I remind them that writing is a skill that needs to be developed through practice, and often a writer's first published novel is actually the third or sixth they've written. Writing the "bad stuff" is part of the process.
Classes can also be helpful in acquiring skills and receiving encouragement and feedback. Some goals may require a certificate or degree that takes time to complete, and planning ahead can be helpful. A great example of this is a psychotherapist I met who had been a professional ballet dancer. She knew her career had a short life, so while she was still dancing, she went to graduate school. When her dancing career ended, she had her degree and was ready to "glissade" easily into her new career.
If you're facing big dreams and feel inadequate to achieve them, try this exercise: Look at some of the things you're doing now or that you've accomplished in your life. Would you have been capable of doing that 10 or 20 years before? Probably not. There's a reason CEOs are not 20 years old (except in Silicon Valley, perhaps!). Short of being a Mozart, most people's work, along with their life skills, confidence and wisdom, grows and improves with time.
If money is the issue, start putting some away now. Say you want to start a business in 5 years. Do some research to determine what will be required for start-up, and write an estimated budget. Divide that amount by 60 (12 months x 5 years), and put that amount into a money market account every month. If you can't afford the full amount, put away whatever you can. Even putting away $25 a week for 5 years will give you $6,500, not including interest! And once you make a habit of saving, you won't miss the money.
Make your life easier by doing long- and short-term planning. Break your project into phases and steps. Create a timeline and mark out the steps, either starting from the present and working forward or, if you have a projected start or completion date, starting from that date and working back. Then, break each step into the smaller tasks involved.
If you want to get creative with this, get a bulletin board and stretch a string or strip of paper across it as your timeline. Write your tasks on small pieces of paper (perhaps even color-code them) and tack them to the board in the appropriate place. Projects rarely go exactly as scheduled, and this method allows you to move the tasks around as needed. Support your timeline with pictures and words that represent your goal to inspire you and keep you focused.
As you work on each leg of your timeline, highlight the relevant tasks (and perhaps those from the next leg) on your bulletin board or transfer them into your day planner or a to-do list. From time to time, look ahead on your timeline to see what tasks you might begin implementing. This allows you to integrate the tasks into your life and make more efficient and productive use of your time, rather than waiting until the last minute and scrambling to catch up.
If your challenge is the "overstuffed sandwich" and you don't know where to begin, sit down with someone and talk through the project, or get it down on paper to help you think it through. Use lists, timelines or bubbles to map out the components or phases of the project. Start pulling out specific steps, and break down those steps into a task list.
If the thought process itself is overwhelming, you can even take that in steps. The first session, you may only be able to come up with the ultimate goal and one or two big steps. If that's all your psyche can handle that day, let it be. Schedule another time to flesh it out further, and then another, until your timeline is filled in. You may also find that the more immediate tasks are clearer, while your later steps don't come into focus until you get closer to them.
As you move through the process, your goal may shift as you discover new things about it. Go with the flow. The creative process, whether a work of art or a business, is not predictable. Many writers sit down to write a book, and what they end up with is the result of a discovery process that the writing took them through, bearing little resemblance to their original idea. And a waitress I knew 20 years ago, who dreamed of opening a little dessert shop, now owns 2 successful chili restaurants.
While you may feel eager to accomplish your goal and frustrated
when obstacles keep it from happening right away, remember that
time is your friend. Just keep taking small steps forward, stay
focused, and one day you'll turn around to find your goal has
been accomplished or is well on its way.
If you find yourself putting off a project, take it in steps. For example, say you need to organize your taxes, but your receipts are in one big pile in a drawer. Begin by making a list of the categories into which your receipts fall. The next day, buy some envelopes. Another time, write the categories on the envelopes. Next, take a handful of receipts and file them in the correct envelopes; do this until all the receipts are filed. Then, run a total for one or more categories. Keep taking steps until your taxes are completed or ready for your accountant.
"Don't wait for your 'ship to come in,' and feel angry and cheated when it doesn't. Get going with something small."
"Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.
"Water is patient; it can stagnate and let itself be coated with scum if need be. It is as gentle as the morning's dew. It is non-confrontational, even respectful, in circumventing the rocks in a stream. It makes room for everything that enters its pools. It accommodates by assuming the shape of any vessel it is poured into. And it is humble, seeking always the lowest level. Yet along with – or rather because of – these adaptive, yielding properties, it is ultimately irresistible; it carves canyons out of stone."
"I've been writing a book. I've got the page numbers done."
(click on the book or tape graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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