The title of this post pretty well sums up the ideal environment for me. I like to be busy–the good kind, full of clients, great work, and lots of cool writing assignments–while maintaining my sanity.
Most likely, you fall into that category as well. After all, there’s no reason to be working toward a greater good, or toward building a legacy, if the work is just mundane. We call that “busy work” because it’s literally mindless “work” that’s meant to keep us busy.
Assuming you are working toward something that’s valuable, like building a platform, writing a book, growing a company, or all of the above, you’ll need to be very careful not to bite off too much–you need to stay sane.
I’m no expert in this arena–I tend to bite off more than I can chew out of sheer habit–but I am blessed in the fact that it usually takes me many, many more projects than the average Joe to get me stressed out. For example:
- I’m finishing up The Golden Crystal (my first novel). It’s in the editing stage with the best editor in the entire universe, and I’m really excited about it.
- I’m (supposed to be) helping in the launch of Wrecked, Jeff Goins’ latest book, but I’ve been slacking on getting the blog post written.
- I just launched a platform-building course that’s guaranteed to help get your “Home Base” off the ground.
Oh yeah–and I just finished my second nonfiction book, Welcome Home: The Author’s Guide to Building A Marketing Home Base. It’s available on Amazon for immediate download, but will be ready to go on Barnes & Noble’s site and for other e-readers, as well as in print. More on that soon.
Basically, I’ve been busy.
That’s no excuse–it’s just an explanation that justifies this next section. There are a few things I’ve done that have kept me “sane,” meaning crazy-busy-but-not-pulling-my-hair-out-mad. In all honesty, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last few weeks, and I got to see some family and friends, travel to the mountains with my wife, and generally enjoy life.
So here’s my not-so-secret secret method:
1. Stay busy with huge-yet-awesome projects, and find the value in each of them.
Granted, some of us aren’t able to pick and choose which projects we’re a part of, but we should constantly strive to that point–in my eyes, life is made up of many projects, all of differing sizes and importance. From “finding a church and getting connected” to “raising children,” almost anything can be seen as a project.
It’s our job though, regardless of the particular projects we’re working on, to see the benefit and the value of each one. Raising kids, finding a perfect job, and getting connected into a community have their obvious merit and value. But what about finishing that crappy report for your dreary job? Or picking up the yard every day so your spouse can mow? Surely there are better (read: more fun) ways to spend your time, but at what expense?
Find the balance–there should be a benefit or two (or more) involved in them: picking up the yard helps your spouse, letting them finish sooner, letting them spend more time with you. Finishing that report means you get to keep your job. Making it fun for everyone involved and knocking it out of the park means an increase in your perceived workplace value.
Above all, find and seek out the opportunities that you deem “awesome projects.” For me, it’s growing this blog into a business, writing books that people love, and finding ways to surprise my wife with little gifts (I admit I’m slacking in this department too). Each of these projects have their benefits, but they’re also awesome. The purely fun, difficult, challenging, worthwhile type of awesome.
2. Schedule your not-so-awesome projects.
I need to do marketing stuff every day, including wading through 300+ blog posts to find the ones to share with you, scheduling my newsletter autoresponders, and going through income reports. These are necessary, but they’re not always fun or awesome.
You can usually get away with not scheduling the big, fun, awesome projects because those are the things we’re drawn to each day–the cool, challenging stuff that we wake up early to do.
That’s all well and good, but don’t let the smaller day-to-day stuff go unnoticed, or the bigger stuff will be pointless.
Case in point: when I was writing Welcome Home, I sort of let the necessary marketing preparation go undone. I didn’t plan out in detail when and how I’d launch the book, schedule news updates, and let you know what was coming. My bad. Now, I’m sort of releasing it as a “oh yeah, by the way: here’s this book I wrote…”
Not good for sales, but the biggest issue is that I now have to work “upstream” to try to prove its worth to you and the readers. I don’t have testimonials ready, nor do I have a killer marketing campaign in place. I’m working on a day-to-day basis to get this thing into your hands and Kindles, but it’s much more challenging than if I would have prepared ahead of time.
So, bottom line: don’t let the little things go undone. If you know you need about half an hour to check emails every day, schedule it–don’t just “wait until you have a minute.” You have that minute, because you’ll be daydreaming about that awesome project, or actually working on it!
3. Know your limits, and take breaks often.
Use the Pomodoro technique to force yourself to take breaks every 20 or 25 minutes. It’s worth figuring out your “motivation schedule,” as I call it.
Mine is about 17-24 minutes of intense motivation for a task, followed by about 7 minutes of “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Using the Pomodoro technique, I can track those 17-24 minutes of activity, schedule a forced break from work for the next 7, and feel refreshed afterwards for another 24-minute stretch. Continue this indefinitely, and you’re a ridiculously-productive awesome-project-doer ninja.
Welcome to the club.
4. You don’t have time, you make time.
I’ve lived by this mantra since high school–not that I haven’t complained about being busy or anything, it’s just that I also know the truth:
No one has time for anything. We’re all ridiculously busy, our lives are filled with ungodly amounts of tasks and to-dos, and we’re constantly struggling to fit it all in.
So stop pretending like you have less time than me, or anyone else. Get over it (sorry, I know it’s harsh) and make the time you want to have. I didn’t write a 110,000-word novel in my copious amounts of spare time–I wrote it at lunch, in the morning before the world woke up, and at night when everyone else went to bed. It took a long time, but it was worth it.
I’m glad I made the time to get it done, and I’m glad I make the time to get my projects done now as well.
The exercise here is to pay attention to your habits. You know better than anyone how you’re wired, and what your daily schedule needs to look like. But have you considered napping at work, to be able to stay up much later than you could ever imagine? I’ve tried it, done it, and made it work. You’ll get some weird looks at first, but being the “nap-under-his-desk” guy is much better than the “don’t-go-into-the-restroom-after-him” guy…
Anyway, write out your schedule, sleep habits, and daily requirements that you have no control over. Then start tweaking, hacking, and messing until you find that extra hour or two before or after your “normal” business hours.
5. Learn how to sleep.
This one sounds pretty weird, but bear with me. I’ve done some studying on the human being’s sleep habits, both of the modern-day variety (you and me) and the ancient, prehistoric Neanderthal-like ones. The results are stunning, but here are the highlights:
- We’re wired a lot like animals–our natural inclinations are to sleep two cycles during a 24-hour stretch (called “biphasic sleep”). This habit is similar to dogs and other animals.
- We don’t need pills, supplements, or drugs to help us sleep, but we do need a diet that helps, not hinders, REM sleep and the other important “recharge” phases.
- We can “hack” a nap in the middle of the day, depending on what type of sleep we need. See this series I wrote for more information on how to do it.
I hate mornings. I try to get a good nights’ sleep, but no matter how many hours I sleep I’m dead tired in the morning. No matter what. My mom never understood it, my friends never understood it, and my poor wife doesn’t understand it now. But I also know that I can pretty much work until any time at night. If everyone else is in bed, I can pop open my MacBook Pro, whip out a few emails, and work until the sun comes up on whatever I need to do.
If you take a few weeks to set the habit well, you can use a combination of midday naps, great sleep at night, and a proper diet to achieve unheard of productivity. Winston Churchill was known to be a napper/productive genius, as were Einstein, Bell, and many other famous task-killer ninjas of their day.
Your mileage may vary, but I kind of doubt it will.
These are just five of the things I’ve done to stay “sane,” and I know they’ll work for you because I didn’t invent them or dream them up. However, we’re all wired a bit differently, and I know there are some things going on in your life that I just plain don’t know about or understand. I’m 25 with no kids, so I understand there’s a lot in your life that I don’t have in mine.
But that shouldn’t discount your trying. If you’re truly wanting more–more time, more freedom, more money, or whatever–you owe it to yourself to make the commitment.
Start small, stick with it, and don’t give up.
As I wrote at the end of Welcome Home, ”don’t give up–just give more.”