“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” – Desmond Tutu
Let’s address the elephant in the room: self-publishing a book takes a lot of work. In fact, plenty of accomplishments in our lives seem daunting at first glance, but turn out to be just an enormous amount of smaller tasks. The trick with any of these large projects is the ability to break the end goal into smaller milestones that are easily achievable. Nobody expects to climb a mountain with one giant leap. However, with enough small steps, even Mount Everest can fall to a determined climber (given they have the right gear for it).
While enough determination can overcome most things, experience helps lay the framework for completing a long-term goal. Even with endless hours of commitment, there are enough “unknown unknowns” in any field of interest that prevent a neophyte from becoming a master. Heck, even with enough steps, it is unlikely that an inexperienced person will successfully climb Mount Everest. Being able to recognize the “bite-size” piece of a project comes with knowing the scope of the project.
How do we determine the “bites” of a project?
At the end of last year, I became a father for the first time. While this was a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything, I did inadvertently trade something for it: my free time. Before fatherhood, I had plenty of free time in the evenings and on weekends and holidays to pursue my hobbies. I knew I could finish editing photos or self-publishing books because there was always free time to do so. While I had the experience to complete my projects, now I no longer had the unstructured free time to do so. Even with COVID-19 keeping me at home for most of the year, my productivity didn’t increase by the same amount (which is fine).
Realizing the limitations of my free time, I decided to change how I went about completing my long-term goals. When January rolled around, I made the conscious choice to give myself a task to accomplish each night of the week. I fastened a “week at a glance” whiteboard near my workspace and chose each Sunday night to schedule what tasks I would accomplish in the upcoming seven days. Knowing what commitments I would have during the week, I could flex how much of a small goal I could achieve each night. I also made sure to include weekly tasks that I have to do anyway (like scheduling social media posts or doing yard work), so I could adjust what my additional tasks for that day would be.
What can you accomplish for an hour each day?
The fortunate thing about children is that they go to bed earlier than I do. Since I also needed to spend time with my wife (who also goes to bed before I do), I figured that there’s probably an hour or two of free time each evening that I could use to work on my goals. The first challenge came with determining how much of my long-term goals I could fit into one-hour chunks. Luckily, my experience helped give me realistic expectations. Sure, I could probably edit 100 photographs in an evening, but 30 was a manageable amount that would allow me some time to rest and relax (and thus prevent eventual burnout).
Here’s a list of some of the nightly tasks that I gave myself this year. Each one took me about one to two hours each night to complete:
- Edit 3,333 words of a novel
- Submit ten stock photos to three stock photo sites
- Edit 30 photographs
- Review a chapter of a proof copy of Buried Colony
- Revise and schedule three reviews on my main website
Seeing as we’re half-way through 2020, I can say that my “whiteboard tasks” system is working pretty well. Granted, some months—like April’s re-write of nearly 100,000 words of a manuscript—were a challenge. Still, even factoring for some grace periods to work around family events that would have me out of the house (back when that was a regular thing), I did manage to accomplish quite a bit more than I expected at the start of the year.
Dormant projects can finally see completion.
I’ll admit that some of my larger projects were so big in my mind’s eye that I dreaded working on them. These are the tedious tasks that I’d like to eventually complete…just not all at once. I could spend tons of mindless hours submitting stock photos to Shutterstock and Adobe Stock, but chipping away at my backlog an hour at a time still feels like progress, even if it’s at a slower pace. Some progress is better than no progress at all. It’s encouraging to mark off milestones on more significant tasks and see the finish line inching closer each week—and to have a predicted end date as well.
Additionally, I’ve pinned longer-term projects to this whiteboard to keep my eye on the end goal for these more significant accomplishments. This helps keep me focused on what self-imposed deadlines I have and potentially even gives me the motivation to complete the “dreaded” projects so I can work on the fun ones. Consequently, in these six months, I’ve been able to self-publish a short story anthology, get Buried Colony ready for self-publication early enough to have Advanced Reader Copies available (and with enough time to pull back and perform re-writes), finish editing my backlog of photographs I’ve taken, submit over 200 stock photographs to Shutterstock and Adobe Stock, and schedule 70+ reviews on my website. With some of my long-term projects finally entering the “completed” stage, I’m starting to wonder what other projects I’ll pick up in their stead. In the end, there will always be something to do, and my whiteboard keeps me accountable on these projects.
How many projects do you work on concurrently?
Do you schedule your free time to work on projects?
What method helps you complete your long-term goals?