Getting it done

So many writers I have spoken to recently have mentioned something like, “I bought three courses I haven’t even had time to take yet.”

Most creative professionals I know feel inundated with webinars, with tips from blog posts, with podcasts, and yes, courses that promise that you can “achieve your goals twice as fast with half the effort.”

Can these things be incredibly helpful — even transforming — to a writer? Yes.

But buying a course can, oddly enough, be a form of procrastination. We take a course as a way of staving off taking action until we feel we are 100% prepared. We think we need to have a rock solid plan in place in order to be the most efficient, achieve the highest return on investment, and avoid pitfalls.

Buying a course represents an intention. The decision to purchase it feels like progress.

But it isn’t, unless you commit to action. To taking actions that are public, that shares your work, that creates habits, that learns via experience.

I began teaching courses online in 2010. Today, the online course industry has grown so much, there is even an avalanche of “courses on courses,” promising you that if you launch your own course, you can achieve a huge passive revenue stream.

It isn’t. I wrote about this recently in a post titled “3 Common Marketing Fallacies that Writers Need to Be Wary Of.”

The solution? Collaboration.

Today I want to share two simple — free — actions you can take to ensure momentum in your work, and then one opportunity at the end:

  1. The tactic I am using to ensure progress with the things that matter most to me.
  2. A weird — and effective — solution to finding collaborators when you have no time or money.

If It Matters To You: Find a Collaborator For It

Over the past couple years, I have come to realize two things. First: there are 1,000 things I could give my attention to at any given moment. All of them are important and somehow attend to my family, my work, my health, or other interests or responsibilities.

If I want to focus on what truly matters, I have to ignore that which only kinda-sorta matters. Everything I cut away allows more time, attention, energy, and love for that which matters most.

I think about this all of the time: what matters most to me? What would I fight for if it was at risk? Then, I double down on investing in those things.

My personal answers for what matters to me are rather obvious, but the actions I take to invest in them are not. For example, spending time with my family matters deeply to me. Because of that, I work from home full-time, and I say “no” to nearly every social obligation that doesn’t include them.

Is that a little extreme? Yep. But I never lay awake at night worried that I’m not spending enough time with my family. My reason for this? Because again and again, I’ve heard older generations express that one of their big regrets in life was not spending enough time with family. I am listening to their wisdom, and I am taking action on it.

This applies to areas of your life such as your writing and creative work, your career and revenue streams, your health, and so much else. Lots of folks say “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” yet many people struggle to find time to eat anything healthy during the day, and can’t stick to a workout routine.

Which leads me to the second thing I have realized in the past couple of years: if it matters to me, I find a collaborator for it.

I have stuck to a specific workout routine for a solid year now for a single reason: I joined a small group personal training program. Basically, it’s a personal trainer with a group of 2-4 people per session. I book three workouts each week, and then I show up 100% of the time for a single reason: my trainer is waiting for me.

Because if she wasn’t, I would skip it. 1,000 other important tasks would prevent me from making time to work out. But my trainer is there waiting. So I show up.

I’m 43 years old, and I am in the best shape of my life. All because my trainer — my collaborator — is at the gym, waiting for me.

For each area of my life that I want to invest in, I am identifying a collaborator for it. Sometimes these are folks I pay, like my trainer, but others times they are friends or colleagues. Humans are social creatures — you want to use that to your advantage when it comes to the things that matter most to you. Finding a collaborator creates a social trigger within you to live up to their expectations, and to prioritize that relationship.

If you are struggling to write, to publish, to find an audience, to launch a business — I urge you to find a collaborator.

Hire an Imaginary Assistant

Recently I’ve encouraged you to hire your own interns. But what if you don’t have the time or money for that? Well, then hire your own imaginary assistant. Yes, imaginary.

KevinA writer I know Lisa Manterfield, did exactly that. She calls him Kevin. She even created a little avatar for Kevin, see the image to the right.

Her philosophy was that if she created a job description for an assistant, that would help her focus on the tasks that she could use help with. If she pretended that she hired someone, she would establish a process by which to attend to the tasks and make progress. When she told me this, I immediately thought of the genius of The Checklist Manifesto — that simply identifying the steps to take can dramatically improve results.

Her takeaways from working with her imaginary assistant so far:

  1. “Conveying what you need to someone else creates clarity.”
  2. “A little silliness makes it fun, instead of another chore. I still have to put in the work, but it’s easier somehow.”

What was amazing to me about her takeaways was how much they aligned to my experience of hiring actual people. She received some of the same benefits simply by shifting her mindset.

If, for any reason, you don’t have the ability to engage with a collaborator right now, perhaps begin by creating an imaginary one. Use that to focus your goals, create a process, and turn intention into action.

Getting It Done

There are many ways you can collaborate with others, and in doing so, make true progress with your creative work and career goals. Above are a bunch of ideas I have tried again and again, and have worked not just for me, but so many people I have spoken to.

If anything I mentioned in this post resonates with you, I’d love to know: what is one area of your life that you want to invest in to move things forward?