2016 was a mixed bag, wasn’t it? At least, it was for me. On the one hand, I accomplished one of the biggest goals of my life, while on the other hand, it felt like I was emotionally beaten up left and right…and not just by what was pelted at us in the news.
At the beginning of the year, I went into it like most other years. I was excited. I had BIG goals. I wanted to land a book contract, I wanted finish the book I was currently writing and a second one, I wanted to teach a workshop at least once every two months–one of those I hoped would be at a conference–and continue to build my online presence.
Since I’d spent so much of my time over the last few years learning about productivity, and because each year, I’ve honed in on and improved these skills, I felt like I had my goals in the bag–at least the ones I could control. I had a plan.
Working Hard Wasn’t Working
I worked last year at top speed. I did end up landing that book contract, and I finished the book I was in the middle of at the beginning of year, as well as made it halfway through the next book. I built my platform at a steady rate–not as much as I would have liked but these things take time, and even at the slower rate of growth, managing social media became a lot more time consuming.
I had my systems in place and I stayed on top of most things, between my writing goals, business goals, family demands, and social commitments. I even made time for self-care…or at least I thought I was, though looking back now, even that was an attempt to be more “productive.” The problem was that I was living every moment of my life in a constant state of anxious, stressful energy–always living in fear of falling behind, of all the balls I had in the air falling down around me.
Still, I made it through November. I even hit my National Novel Writing Month word count while traveling for 10 days.
But as soon as I logged out of my NaNoWriMo account, I hit the biggest burnout of my life. I was suddenly unable to bring myself to touch my computer without being overwhelmed by a crushing sense of panic. The more days that passed, the further I fell behind–at least in my own mind. But I couldn’t overcome the dread I felt at facing all the things I needed to get done. So I continued to check out.
Getting Perspective on What’s Important
Thankfully I have some amazing friends who talked through things with me and let me off the hook, so to speak. They reminded me that I was harder on myself than anyone else ever would be, and that I didn’t have to take on everything.
What was even more eye opening was what I realized when I finally built up the courage to review my progress for 2016. While I’d accomplished a lot, I was struck speechless when I realized I hadn’t taught a single live workshop all year, though I consider teaching to be my true purpose. And the worst part? I hadn’t even noticed. On top of that, I’d been telling my writing group all year that I wanted to start a non-fiction project and how much of it had I accomplished? Just a few thousand words.
I’d been suffocatingly busy all year and yet I hadn’t accomplished the things that were most important to me. As I looked back over my calendar, I couldn’t even see where my time had disappeared to. It had fallen into the frenzy, never to be seen again, and I had little to show for it, considering that writing and mom-ing is my full-time job. I knew what I was capable, had I been focused, and this wasn’t it.
Productivity Problem Areas
The good part about identifying the problem is that I can then come up with a solution. I pinpointed two main issues:
Proactive vs. Reactive
1) I had fallen into reactive mode, something that social media makes all too easy. Instead of being proactive and working on the projects that were most important to me and would help me build my career, I’d fallen into the habit of jumping at every request I received in my inbox, postponing my own goals. In addition to the obvious problem of not making progress on my projects, it made me feel out of control of my own life which killed my motivation, inspiration, and creativity. It was also taking a major toll on my health.
Effective vs. Efficient
2) I was being efficient, but I wasn’t being effective. As Peter Drucker said, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” Yes, my inbox was consistently cleared and I kept up with all the commitments I made, but forgetting that in order to be good for anyone else, I have to take care of myself first, I wasn’t doing the “right” things–the things that would fill my well. My projects. I was constantly drawing from an empty cup.
I’ll admit, it was a hopeless moment for me. I rang in the New Year–my favorite holiday–with a sense of melancholy, wondering if I was capable of doing things differently this year. Our modern culture glorifies being busy, but more than that, it seems to demand it. We have come to expect responses at ever-increasing speeds. We are made to feel that our lives are supposed to look Pinterest perfect and anything less is a failure.
But as I realized that my health, my sanity, and my relationships with the people I love most were suffering because of these arbitrary ideals, it was like a switch flipped inside me and my priorities became very clear. I was suddenly willing to take whatever risks it took to get back in line with my values.
Productivity Based on Values and Priorities
I’ve had a banner on my Facebook page for over a year that reads, “The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art,” a quote by Junot Diaz. And I believe that, and this year my main goal is to live that.
I’ve come up with a few techniques I’ve already begun implementing that I’m going to share with you this month, so if you’ve been feeling the pressure to work faster, take on more, and push yourself past your limits in order to succeed, I hope you’ll subscribe to my newsletter so we can talk about them in the weeks to come.
Have you been feeling overwhelmed by the increasing demands of supporting a successful writing career? Do you have any techniques you’ve used to be more effective, rather than just efficient?