Learn to tune OUT to tune IN to great progress in 2009

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About halfway through writing my book this year, I hit the wall.

I looked at the volume of online notes, stacks and stacks of resource books and hundreds of pages of blog posts and I froze.  The task of writing a book felt too enormous to accomplish, and I got completely overwhelmed.
So I gathered my wits about me and came up with a stunning, well-researched and strategic productivity plan:
I made a list of the titles of the sixteen chapters, taped it to my computer monitor,  and used a highlighter to cross off each one as I finished.
I know, my tactics are not exactly earth-shattering.
But this exceptionally simple tactic totally changed the way I thought about writing the book.  Instead of holding the structure of all of the chapters in my mind at the same time, I gave myself permission to only focus on the chapter right in front of me.  And if that became overwhelming, I only worried about completing one sub-topic.
This really reduced a lot of anxiety in the writing process, and allowed me to crank out sixteen chapters  in an agreed-upon time line (more or less – don’t ask my editor!).
I see a lot of my clients get in a similar state of overwhelm, particularly at the beginning of a new year, when they stack all kinds of goals and tasks and  priorities on top of each other.
The moment of panic increases when you want to start a new business, because there are a lot of steps required to get it off the ground.
So in the spirit of pragmatism from my grandma Alice Stewart, who used to give advice such as:
“Don’t bother to dust extensively when guests come over, just put out fresh flowers.  They will think you are a perfect housekeeper.”
and
“Don’t think you have to make everything from scratch – get a high-quality store-bought item (like a pie or a casserole), cook it, set it on fine china, and when people compliment you on your cooking, say “thank you!”
Here are a few tips for allowing yourself to focus on one thing at a time so you really can accomplish your dreams (or at least start them!) this coming year:
  1. Make The Big List.
    This is your opportunity to empty your head of all the hundreds of things you want to get done next year like:  “lose 10 pounds,” “start newsletter,” “write book,” “clean out the files in my office,” “create 10 new information products,” “get in 5 news publications,” or “start a blog,” or “create a beta version of my software product.”
  2. Think about your deeper contribution, purpose or mantra for the year.
    My friend Christine Kane wrote a nice article last year about choosing one word to start a new year instead of the dreaded resolutions.  The month of December she included guest posts from readers who talked about their results with their words.

    If one word feels too limiting, choose a mantra (described by Guy Kawasaki) like “inspire freedom,” or “encourage healthy relationships” or “kick serious creative bootie.”

    You should feel passionate about your word or purpose or mantra — lukewarm feelings get nothing done!

  3. Cross off anything from the list that does not directly serve your deeper purpose.
    This can be a tough task for those of you who have been doing things the same way for a long time.  But it is essential!  If you want to serve more people, live bigger, stress less and accomplish more, you must release unproductive tasks and thoughts and, yes, even people from your list.

    So if “have lunch every Wednesday with your friend Wendy the Winer” is on your Big List and your mantra for 2009 is “energizing partnerships,” guess what?  Lunches with Wendy might have to go.

    You may also have a lot of “would be nice someday” things on your list that are not really relevant to either the economic climate this year, your focus or or the timeframe of one year.  Save those things for next year, and see if they still are relevant enough to include for 2010.

  4. Create a simple 4×4 grid with one square for each quarter.
    Depending on your love of technology, this can be a simple piece of 8 1/2 x11 paper, an Excel spreadsheet, Word table, or, my favorite in the brainstorming phase, a flip chart with post-it notes for individual activities.

    Label each square with a quarter.

    Square One: January – March
    Square Two:  April – June
    Square Three:  July – September
    Square Four:  October – December

  5. Map your activities into the squares.
    This is where you get to play around with the sequence of certain activities.  You might find a natural order to things, like you have to start your mailing list before you design and launch your new information products.  You might want to design some custom landing pages on your website before doing a major promotion to the press or organizations.  You may want to do lots of exercise before entering an Ironman competition.

    Do your best to lay out activities within each quarter.  You don’t have to get it perfect, or to worry too much about the order of things in the 2nd to 4th quarters, since plans may change as you finish the first quarter.  But at least you can get started, and prioritize the things you must do early in the year versus later.

  6. Get your massive plan down to a very short list which you can start in January.
    Here is the real beauty of all this work.  Since you know that you will get to all the items on your list eventually, you can stop worrying about them and just focus on what’s ahead.

    Once I did this with my book, my creativity returned, and my writing flowed.

    Pick the most logical, highest impact activity to work on first thing next week, and get working on it.

  7. Celebrate every little accomplishment.
    Martha Beck gave me great advice when I was writing my book — she told me to never forget to reward myself for getting even the tiniest thing done.  When you promise yourself that if you complete a certain task you will get a pedicure, or go fishing, or get to play 2 hours of uninterrupted Doom on your computer, you must do it!  Otherwise, your finicky inner self will realize that your promises are empty, and will not hustle so hard to complete the next task you ask it to work on.

I am absolutely thrilled with the change coming to our country in the new year, and feel real enthusiasm and excitement for 2009.

I wish you, and all those you love, a healthy, joyful and prosperous new year.  We are in this together — let’s get some stuff done!

Quick notes:

  • The photo for this post is a shot I took at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  Inspired by my
    Brazilian compadres who have a wonderful new year celebration at the
    beach, we went out to the ocean to give thanks for 2008 and welcome in
    2009.  My Dad gave our older son Jeffery a camera, which he adores, and
    I caught him taking this shot of our younger son Josh.  It captured
    everything I want in the new year: love, creativity, strength,
    abundance and, per the topic of this newsletter, focus.
  • I posted my new schedule for free monthly coaching calls for 2009 on my blog – check them out if you want some advice and ideas to help get your business off the ground.
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19 Responses to “Learn to tune OUT to tune IN to great progress in 2009”

  1. I believe the cognitive psychological term for this practice is called “chunking.” It is a strategy of recognizing the “short” comings of short-term memory and working around them.

  2. elizabeth says:

    Hye Pam,
    As always, a great blog. It came at the right time – being a life coach and trying to squeeze everything in I never stop to tell myself, “great job. Now sit and breath.”
    I am sitting and breathing right now and it feels kinda of freaky, but nice! 🙂
    Here’s to a great 2009 for all!
    elizabeth

  3. Shannon says:

    I can definitely relate to the overwhelming feeling! I went through the same thing during the beginning of December when I was working to complete a final project for a Social Science class. When I came back to reality I focused on one section at a time and eventually finished. Afterward, I wondered why I had struggled with it for so long. 😉 May you have a great 2009! Shannon

  4. Thanks Pam, what a simple way to wade past the clutter and overwhelm of letting go of the old and focusing on the new. I’ve written down every little thing I want and am now at Tip # 3 – excited about the next step cos I love being organised 😀 Yay

    Happy New Year!

    ps: my word is YES!
    pps: my catch phrase is: Happy Coach, Happy Wife, Happy Connected Life! (encompassing my 3 major goals for 2009)

  5. Pamela Slim says:

    @Eamon and Kathryn, thanks!
    @Andy, indeed 2009 will be great!
    @Barry – given all that you do, I imagine you have a good handle on this task management stuff. 🙂
    @Lisa – yeah expat sister!
    @JR – bring on 2009 indeed
    @Joely – what is your word?
    @Isabel – my FAVORITE new year by far was on Copacabana beach – everyone in white, candles, flowers, fantastic fireworks – both peaceful and energizing at same time! Feliz Ano Novo! 🙂
    @Todd and Sital – happy new year back at you!
    @Janet – yes, some things can wait
    @Jennifer – I love your word! Here is to lots of movement in the new year
    @Kathlyn – focus on one task really did help me!
    @Suzie Q – so glad you liked it! Have an organized 2009. 😉

    Thanks for all the great comments!
    @

  6. Suzanne says:

    This is my favorite blog post EVER, Pam!!! Way to go, pretty lady!

  7. Kathlyn says:

    Love this post! I was just thinking that my mantra for 2009 would be “do one thing at a time” – like your chapter list, breaking the big things down to individual things that each in turn gets all attention and focus. I think this process gets a better quality product in the end. And a more satisfying “doing” as well!

    Thanks for another great post – so excited for 2009!!

    Cheers.

  8. Jennifer Lyle says:

    Pam,
    Wonderful, inspring post. I have printed your picture as a reminder for my year.

    I loved the idea of choosing one word for the year. Mine, and I’m deliberatey announcing this publicly, is MOVE.

    Move is an active verb. I’m an active person. Move my career, my business, my body, my spirit,my mind, my essential self, mountains & molehills.

    Thanks.

  9. Janet Bailey says:

    Ahhh…Love the permission to tune out things on list that aren’t relevant given current economic climate. Very freeing to postpone some “good ideas” to the 2010 (or later) list!

  10. Sital says:

    A really great post Pam. Comprehensive and really practical way to get started for the new year.

    All the best for 2009 and a sucessful book launch

    Sital

  11. Isabel says:

    Oh, Pam, I just have to start by thanking you for paying homage to the Brazilian compadres. I grew up in Rio and I so miss the New Year’s celebration on the beach!

    And thank you for mentioning “deeper purpose.” We sometimes get so caught up in the roles we play in society (employee, partner, parent), we forget there’s a deeper layer we’d be wise to be seeking guidance from. It is only through our soul’s path that we can evolve as loving and compassionate beings, which I believe is what we’re in this life for.

  12. I love this post! Brilliant ideas. I’ve adopted Christine Kane’s idea this year and chosen a single word. In a sense, that was what happened last year, but this year it’s a conscious effort.

  13. JR Moreau says:

    I hate to use a misapplied phrase, but this post really hit the spot! Great advice on thinking big and moving forward. Bring on 2009!

  14. Lisa Gates says:

    Pamela, this is brilliantly wonderful to find. Congratulaitons on your writing process and your book.

    We do a similar thing … declarations … simple, take-your-breath-away kind of statements designed to keep truing you back to your purpose. And if it ain’t linked to purpose, it doesn’t belong anywhere near your daily schedule.

    Your expat sistah,
    Lisa

  15. Barry Moltz says:

    I have been there. Great post. We need to focus on setting setting patient interim goals.

  16. Andy Pels says:

    Ah – perfect timing. Thanks Pam!
    2009 is going to be great. I feel it in my bones.

  17. Welcome home and bravo for a very grounded post!

  18. Eamon says:

    This is an encouraging post to read. Will remember it for my own business, as well as for my own writing (creative-writing: separate to work).

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