When you write a book about letting go of control, you have to expect that you’ll learn a few lessons on the topic along the way. My book writing definitely didn’t go according to schedule.
I did turn my manuscript in on time. I didn’t lose any sleep or really stress about its completion, but I planned to finish the initial draft of the book before Christmas. In reality, that didn’t happen until January 17. The stomach flu, some difficult situations in my personal life and the length of my final two chapters got in the way. What’s a time management coach to do when she isn’t exactly on target? Here are a few ways I coped:
When I lost the feeling of being completely “in control” or “on top” of things with the book writing schedule, I chose the way of self-compassion instead of self-criticism. In the process of writing my most recent book, I’ve been reminded of the importance of gentleness with myself and others. I’ve also been reminded of how I need to value myself as a human being, not simply a mode of production.
When you find yourself in a situation where you get off schedule, for whatever reason, decide to accept yourself for where you are in the moment and then move into action based on the current reality. Self-criticism is a complete waste of time and energy.
Remember the Margin
This project served as an excellent case in point that the larger the project, the bigger the margin you should include. In my original plan, I aimed to finish four-to-five weeks ahead of the deadline to give myself plenty of time for a final read-through. In reality, I finished two weeks ahead of the deadline. It was still enough time to do the read-through, but tighter than I had originally hoped. I started out strong but given the unexpected issues that came up, I had to slow down in December.
When you’re doing any large project, I highly recommend that you pad the schedule. In some cases, that will just need to be by a few days. In other cases, particularly with ambiguous projects, it’s good to give yourself weeks or even months of extra time. This is probably one of the biggest keys to not stressing out about deadlines.
Adjust to Reality
I initially thought that I could accomplish my writing objectives by blocking out my Wednesdays as book writing days. But when I realized that I was behind, I didn’t adamantly stick to my plan. I adjusted to reality. For me, that meant blocking out both Tuesdays and Wednesdays over the last few weeks of the project. I also spent some Saturday afternoons in coffee shops. I typically don’t work on the weekends, but I recognized I needed the time for this particular project and gave it to myself.
Don’t get upset about reality, but also don’t ignore it. Reality always wins. If you notice that you won’t complete your project on time, start giving it more time, making cuts to other areas or getting help.
Give Yourself Breaks
Even though I worked some extra hours, I still made sure to integrate fun into the process. I took off Sundays completely. I tried to do social activities even if I couldn’t stay for a long time. Even an hour or hour and a half on a weekend night of something I enjoyed did wonders for my energy and kept me from resenting the process. I also made time to do things like text people or take the occasional call. I’m half introvert and half extrovert, so entire days of book writing without any coaching calls was actually pretty difficult for me. I needed the connection and encouragement along the way to keep going.
Even when you need to work harder, take time for things that give you joy so you don’t burn out and lose motivation. Try to keep sleep, exercise and social activities part of the agenda whether it’s getting outside, getting together with friends or reading a book. Leisure still matters.
Celebrate and Recalibrate
I’ve been working on this book project for over a year and the manuscript for the past five months. Once I turned it in, it was time to celebrate! I had multiple celebration dinners and was sure to take time to share the joy with my friends and family. It is so important to stop and savor a major milestone to help make all the work feel worth it. It’s also important to recalibrate. There’s always more work to do, but I chose to go back to my normal schedule of not working on the weekends as soon as I turned in my book. I didn’t want a time-limited situation to turn into a bad habit.
Don’t get so stuck in focus mode that you miss out on the joys of your accomplishment. Stop, savor, do what feels like celebration to you and try to get back to what you want to be your normal as quickly as possible. For some, that will mean taking a little time off to regain perspective. For others, like me, it will simply mean reminding yourself of how you want to live on a normal basis and resisting the urge to stay in overdrive mode.
I hope that these lessons help you with whatever big projects you encounter in 2017. You can accomplish great things (with minimal stress) with the right strategies.