The following is a guest post from L&R sponsor The Nerd Nest! I’m super excited to share this with you, as this is a topic Megan and I have discussed previously via comments and tweets back and forth, so I know she cares about it AND this is a perfect little taste of what is to come in my Onward and Upward online workshop! I’d love if you commented below with any questions you have for Megan or for me. Megan and Jake are starting a series this week – Getting It Done. Click on over to check it out!
My name is Megan and I make time for my great work.
What kind of Great Work would you like to accomplish in your lifetime? Do you dream of becoming a noteworthy blogger, an amazing photographer, a tattoo artist, an award-winning chef, a corporate ladder climber, or an explorer of the world? Perhaps you share my dream of becoming a published novelist, or Amy’s dream of helping others to accomplish great work.
Whatever you want your great work to be, I’m here to tell you that no matter how busy your life is, you can find the time to work towards actively creating great work.
Here are four ways you can fit great work into your life:
Add Your Great Work to Your Routine
I wrote the first draft of my novel while I was a full-time college student, a part-time job holder, an avid scrapbooker, and parent to a precocious toddler. It may seem impossible to accomplish all of those things simultaneously and well, but I did. I found time to create my great work by allotting a small amount of time every day to work on my novel rough draft. Some days I’d write three hundred words before bed, sometimes I’d clear an afternoon and write a long chapter at a coffeeshop. By making writing part of my routine, I wrote the first draft in less than a year.
Now that I’m in the final editing stages for my manuscript, working in small bits everyday doesn’t work anymore. This stage of my work requires me to hold thousands of little details in my head as I’m working: it’s something that can’t be accomplished in small bits here and there. Now I work in several hour chunks each weekend.
Be flexible about adding your great work to your routine and match the time you’re spending to the type of work that needs to be done.
Find out what works best for you and commit to it.
If you’re working on a mural, sketch a bit everyday and then spend several hours once a week or a whole day once a month painting. If you’re working on becoming a great cook, challenge yourself to try a new technique every week or every day. If your great work is social activism, research daily and work towards making the world a better place on weekends. Add your great work to your routine, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in a seemingly short time frame.
Improve Your Skills
I started writing my novel in late 2009. In 2011, my second draft was finished and I felt blocked. My work wasn’t where I wanted it to be, and I was struggling to figure out how to make the product match my vision. I was too close to the work: I knew how much time and effort went into each sentence and character, so I was reluctant to make the cuts that needed to be made. My solution? I shoved my manuscript into a dark filing cabinet for six months, read a lot about writing and editing, started working on my second novel’s character profiles, and thought a lot about what I want my debut novel to say about me as a writer. I pulled the manuscript back into my life at the beginning of this year.
I knew my work wasn’t yet Great Work, so I did what I needed to do to get it there. Many people in my life were worried that I was giving up on the novel. I’ve heard more than my fair share of, “You’ll never finish at this rate.” That didn’t matter: I trusted my instincts and this draft is so much better–greater–than I though was possible.
Taking the time to improve my skills was what my work needed.
Even though I don’t actively work on my novel manuscript every day at this stage and I didn’t work on the manuscript at all for six months, I’ve done something to improve my creative writing skills every day. I read great literature and think about the techniques employed. I read books about creative writing, editing, literary theory, and the English language. I blog daily, which helps me to improve the conversational tone in my writing. I write children’s stories for fun for my kids. I write poems. I do writing exercises. I write lists. I research human psychology and interaction to create more realistic characters and plots.
I’ve found that improving my skills not only makes my great work greater, but it also makes me work more efficiently. By spending time developing skills, I make a better use of the time I set aside to do my great work.
Making time for improving skills is just as important as making time for your great work directly.
Try learning a new technique, reading an expert in the field, and expanding your view of what skills may be needed to accomplish your great work. Be careful not to let your skill-building take away from your great work completely: be confident that you already have the skills to start your great work. Building skills should help you to grow, not hold you back from accomplishing your great work.
Make Your Great Work Your Priority
You can’t really make time. If you feel there’s no time for your great work, then something in your life has got to go. Think about your priorities. What do you waste time doing? What can you cut from your life? What brings you no joy?
I’ve cut a lot of things out of my life: shopping, web surfing, TV watching, money making, and commute times have been the most meaningful cuts. I still do all of these things, but I don’t let any of them take up very much of my time. I try to only focus on things that I value in my life: my family, my creative outlets, daily tasks, and my great work. I use unnecessary time wasters to relax and make sure I’m not overworked, but I don’t get too caught up in them waste away the valuable hours in my life. (Setting a timer is a good way to make sure you’re not wasting too much time on a purposeless task.)
My great work is not my top priority: my family is. I look at my small children and am very aware of the relentless passing of time. I realize that I only get this time with them once. I realize that my time with my husband is precious. I have my whole lifetime to write novels. I’m in no rush. But that does not mean that I don’t make my novel a big priority. I do want to accomplish my great work, and I make sure that it is prioritized over things in my life that do not hold great meaning to me.
Try this exercise: Write a list of all the things you do daily or weekly. Order this list, starting with the things you think are most important in your life and ending with those you don’t think are important.
Then write down the time you spend on tasks for a whole week.
Compare those two lists.
Does the time you are spending on tasks reflect your priorities?
What can you cut out to make time for your great work? Is there something missing? What life changes could you make to find greater happiness?
Take it with You
Those ten minutes in line at the grocery store or post office? That twenty minute commute? The time it takes for your lunch to be served or reheated? All of that time can be used for your great work.
When an idea for great work strikes, you want to be ready for it.
There are lots of ways I make my work portable. I can’t drag my composition books of notes everywhere with me or delve into the aspects of my work that take a great deal of focus and concentration, but I can still make use of seemingly wasted time. When I drive alone, I turn the radio off and think about my great work. At a red light or when I’ve reached my destination, I record an audio file on my cell phone and send the file to Evernote for safekeeping. I bring a notebook with me when I know I’ll be waiting in a line so I can write instead of flip through magazines. I keep my drafts on an online server so I can work on them from any computer. I write poems on napkins in restaurants while waiting for my food. I go straight for a notebook when I’m done showering.
Great ideas can come throughout your day, not just in the time you’ve allotted to do your great work. Make sure you have a way to store them until you can use them.
Think often about your great work. Infuse it into your life through thoughts as well as routine to insure that you spend your time doing your great work instead of deciding what to do.
Making time for my great work has given me fulfillment. It’s allowed me to follow my passions, to learn, to grow, and to create work that I’m proud to call my own. Even though my life seems so full sometimes it might burst at the seems, slowing down to look at the big picture of what I’d like to accomplish with my life has given me more meaning and purpose. These ways of making time for great work are simple, really. They make big dreams manageable. And that’s how great work is created.
How will you make time for your Great Work?
Megan Anderson blogs with her husband Jake at The Nerd Nest, where they share their nerdy adventures in coding, books, memory keeping, social issues, crafts, food, and everyday life with their two nerds-in-training. Be sure to join them this week for their series Megan and Jake Get It Done to find more productivity tips. Then Follow Megan on Twitter so you won’t miss what comes next!