In this issue, you'll look at how scheduling your work helps you focus on the right tasks so you can focus on what matters, and you'll explore the stages authors go through when developing a large project like a book so you can identify those when they start happening to you.
But first, I'll share a quick shell trick I use when working with Git repositories on the command line interface.
If you're working on a project in the CLI and you've navigated to a subfolder, you might want a quick way to navigate back to the project root. You can use a combination of
popd to jump around your shell, but there's a faster way if your project is a Git repository.
git rev-parse --show-toplevel will tell you the path to the top-level directory of a repository. You can feed the result of that command to the
cd command to jump to that folder:
$ cd $(git rev-parse --show-toplevel)
That command is way too long to remember, so create an alias for it.
With the Bash shell, add an alias by adding the following line to
~/.bashrc on Linux or
~/.bash_profile on macOS:
alias cdr='cd $(git rev-parse --show-toplevel)'
If you use
zsh, add the alias to
When you open a new terminal window or
source your configuration file, you can use the command
cdr to jump to the project root.
When working in a large mono repo with subprojects, like sample code for a book or course, this is a huge time saver.
Speaking of saving time, let's explore scheduling your work.
Let me set the stage. You're working on something you're trying to ship because it's important to the business, and you get a Slack message from someone you work with. They found a bug impacting their work, and they'd like to get it fixed as soon as possible. You know how to fix it, and you know it won't take much time. What do you do?
If you said, "fix the bug," I'm here to tell you that you chose poorly. You're not alone, though. People are more likely to prioritize short, urgent tasks with a short deadline over more critical tasks, even if the overall payout is lower. Psychologists call this the Mere Urgency Effect.
Being reactive is no way to get impactful work done. The most successful people I know plan their work. And you should, too.
Here are the immediate problems with fixing the bug:
Think about the top performers in your organization. If you ask them for a quick meeting, would they give you their time right now? No, they'd say, "Find some time on my calendar next week." Their calendar is full, and so is their plate. They've made commitments to others in the organization and have their own priorities. Of course, they will drop everything if it's a critical request, but you'll find that is the exception, not the rule. Your "urgent" issue isn't their urgent issue.
You need to triage the requests, just like the most successful people and teams do. You need your own personal backlog system with priorities. There are quite a few out there, but the one I believe in is the Eisenhower Matrix, outlined in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea behind the Eisenhower Matrix comes from former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who stated in a 1954 speech:
"I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Here's what the Eisenhower Matrix looks like:
You can draw this on a whiteboard for yourself, or you can just create the categories in your to-do application.
The idea behind the matrix is that you assess everything you have to do based on the urgency and importance of the task. You end up with four categories:
Here's how these categories work.
Tasks with clear deadlines and clear consequences for inaction are urgent and important, and you have to prioritize those. These tasks can impact your long-term goals if you don't handle them. In healthy environments, few things ever fall into this category. If you have a lot of tasks piling up here, you're heading for burnout.
These tasks don't have a set deadline, but they bring you closer to your goals. These are things like strategic planning, building your professional network, professional development, learning new skills, and other things that lead to long-term success. They are the ones that are the easiest to procrastinate on. These are the things you do when you have the urgent and important tasks taken care of.
Too many urgent and important tasks eat into your ability to do longer-term planning. Your goal should be to free up as much of your time as possible so you can focus more on tasks that fall here because neglecting this area is how you stall out or get in trouble later. This is why maintenance tasks also fall into this category; you want to schedule them so they don't become urgent later.
This is also where people prioritize their health. Exercise, good sleep, and good nutrition fall here. Your health is important. Don't let it become urgent.
Some things need to get done, but you don't need to be the one who handles them. Leaders use this a lot, but if you are part of a team, you can also do this. That bug that just came in from a critical partner might need fixing right away, but perhaps someone else on your team can handle it. You don't have to be a hero and put out all the fires other people set. That's why you have teams.
And if you're a solo freelancer, this is where you subcontract work to someone else. This happens in the trades all the time. A small landscaping company may need to do a driveway, so they delegate that urgent task to someone else.
When you delegate the work, you're often still responsible for it, so you'll want to keep an eye on it. But you don't always need to be the one doing the work.
There are things you do that don't fall into any of these other categories. They are not urgent and not important. They are the left-over "busy work" that can waste your time. In fact, things that end up here might be things you shouldn't be doing at all.
A lot of articles on the Eisenhower Matrix will try to shame you by saying that this is where you bucket those "time-wasting" activities like Netflix, social media doom scrolling, video games, or other things you do that don't contribute to your long-term success.
"Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business." - C. Montgomery Burns.
I disagree with this. It's healthy to spend time doing things that enrich your life and make you happy. As such, I'd say those are important but maybe not urgent. Schedule them if they are important to you. Just remember that you only have so many hours in the day.
The "delete" part of the Eisenhower Matrix is about prioritization and avoiding too many distractions. When I get my other things done, scheduled, or delegated, then I can tackle the items here. This is also where a lot of my ideas end up. They go here because they are not important or urgent, and by placing those things into this category, I might discover that they are indeed not worth doing at all.
These four categories give you a quick way to triage a task you need to do, an idea you have, or a request you received. You'll find that most things don't need your attention now; you can schedule them and finish up what you're working on. But this approach may also help you decide if someone else should do the thing or if the thing should be done at all. Schedule the meeting, hand the typo fix off to a more junior colleague, and decline the feature request from that one open-source user who wants you to provide support for their favorite programming language.
Schedule as much as you can so you don't get buried in critical tasks. Remember that being busy doesn't mean you're being productive or impactful. It just means you are doing a lot of stuff. You want impact. Schedule your work and stay focused on the things that move you forward.
Creating content, especially something of significant length, is a challenging but rewarding process. Writing a book or creating an online course is its own Hero's Journey, with the call to adventure, the ordeal, and the revelation. It can be full of joy, and it can be devastatingly frustrating.
It's been my experience that authors go through five stages when creating something sizeable. I've worked with authors on books, courses, articles, documentation, videos, and audio projects. I've seen authors go through various stages as they work through their projects. I've experienced the stages myself on almost every book I wrote.
I want to share the stages with you for two reasons. First, to help prepare you for what's in store before you set out on your project. But also to show you that you're not alone and can get through them.
The five stages are excitement, drudgery, fear, avoidance, and acceptance.
You're ready to go. You have a topic you're excited about, and you're organizing all the ideas. You're writing some of your content, and you're thinking about how great it will be when things are done.
You're even telling others about the thing you're writing. All is good.
The real work has set in, and it's hard. You're writing, you're editing, and you're incorporating feedback from others. You may encounter writer's block a few times, which leaves you feeling stuck, frustrated, or demotivated. You're making forward progress, but it's slowed. Maybe you've even missed some deadlines. Working on the project may even feel like a chore or another job. It's not exciting anymore; it's a commitment you've made. Your excitement is replaced by a sense of duty or honor.
As time passes, your research and conversations with others will cause that voice in your head to tell you you're not the right person to write this thing. You feel like a fraud and wonder why you're even bothering to do this work. You've slipped on deadlines, which gives that inner voice even more ammunition. "If I were any good at this, if I knew the topic better like the experts do, I'd be farther ahead!"
The demotivation and fear pile up, and you stop writing every day. Then you don't touch the project for a week. And you get frustrated when people ask you about it because you know you're failing at something you were so excited to do. The project sits on your to-do list, staring at you, mocking you, and you push it out of the way to work on other more exciting things that are less challenging.
The final stage is accepting your fate. You arrive at this stage after making a decision to continue or quit. But either way, you acknowledge your fate. You either muster up the courage and energy to finish what you started and you ship, or you decide that the project is something you can no longer do.
Either way, the project gets done, and you move on.
But hopefully, you finish.
The way out is through.
You have to reignite the spark that got you excited in the first place. You set out to create the thing because you had a story you felt you had to share. Something wasn't right, and you knew the way to make it right. Someone needed help, and you knew how to provide it.
You've put in so much work, emotion, and time into something you were once excited about. You're probably just as excited about the thing, but the reality of the work took its toll.
Talk with supportive friends about your project. Admit you're struggling. The act of talking it out can help. Then, find other writers and talk with them about the process. If you have a developmental editor you're working with, they're a fantastic resource. I owe a couple of my books to my wonderful editors, and I've helped a few authors get over the finish line myself when I held the editorial pen. Ask for help.
The best way I know to avoid the most frustrating stages is to move quickly while you're still excited. Time is definitely not your friend.
Work on the project every day rather than once a week. If you have to miss a day, you'll be fine. But if something comes up the day you planned to work on the project, you're now a week behind. That adds up.
If you are writing a ten-chapter book and it takes you two weeks to write each chapter and a week to revise each one, that will take 30 weeks. That's over half a year. And a lot can happen in six months. The longer you take to wrap up your project, the more chance external factors can interfere with your plans. And that will turn your excitement into drudgery, fear, and avoidance.
We've all been there. You're not alone.
You got this. Your story is too important not to share with the world.
I'm thankful for the Eisenhower Matrix. That, combined with my to-do list, is how I manage to stay (mostly) on top of everything I have to do. The key for me really was about being less reactive so I could keep myself focused on more important tasks. And this week, a good friend I've looked up to for years told me they were struggling on a book project, just as I was struggling on my own. It reminded me that I wasn't alone, and neither are you.
As always, see if you can answer these questions before the next issue hits your inbox:
What do you currently do to determine what to work on? Do you have a system, or do you find yourself reacting to things?
What's an activity you can start scheduling regularly that will help you toward a longer-term goal? What can you eliminate to make the time for that activity?
Have you gone through the authorship stages on any large projects you've worked on? How did you get through the project?
Thanks again for reading.