Over the last year, I’ve put in long days, working hard to build a solid platform and market my debut novel. Social networking, the heart and soul of indie marketing, can be exhausting. When I can’t get to my desk—someone is ill, I have personal issues to attend to or my husband and I plan a much-needed vacation—I panic, knowing that whenever I take time off the work invariably piles up.
Deadlines loom, networks beg for attention, messages keep popping into the inbox. And I feel torn, caught between what I want to do and what Conscientious Me says I oughtto be doing. Here are six simple strategies that, when life gets in the way—or I just need a break—help me conquer those demons.
Make a list. This is so simple, and yet, maybe for that very reason, we often neglect to do it. A list shows all your tasks at a glance. When I know what’s coming up, I can plan accordingly. This feels much less overwhelming, and more doable, than tasks floating around in my head. When time is at a premium, I can easily see which tasks need to be attended to and which, if need be, I can let go. In early August, my eldest daughter had a baby, her fourth, and I spent two weeks in DC, helping her with the kids. As you might imagine, our days were packed, leaving me with 2-3 hours to work after the kids were in bed. If I hadn’t had a list, I’d have gone batty, worried about falling behind. Because I had one to refer to, I spent those few hours productively. Yes, I got behind, but I was able to keep up with important commitments.
Use Your Calendar. If you’re like me, you lose your lists. To solve the problem, I use the calendar function in my email inbox to track important projects—such as writing this post—and I’ve set it up to send reminders a few days before they’re due. Gmail has a similar function. There are, of course, applications dedicated to tracking tasks; for me, the email function works best. It may not be the most sophisticated tool, but it’s easy. I don’t have to look for it—it’s there when I need it—and I see the list whenever I open my inbox.
Prioritize. Establishing priorities is absolutely essential. When I don’t have a clear list of priorities with an action list of to-do items, I fritter my time away. I get a minimum of 100 email messages a day. Nearly every message elicits a response. If I start my morning answering mail, a go-to task when I’m not on a schedule, I’m often still answering mail at 6, 7, or 8 that night. The only way I can accomplish anything is by prioritizing my tasks each day. Tackling and making headway on defined projects helps me feel useful and in control.
Unanticipated tasks or requests always seem to pop up, so priorities sometimes change. If I schedule too rigidly, I get frustrated and lose track altogether, so for me it’s important to allow for flexibility.
Eliminate extras. Are you starting to see a pattern? That’s because these are the things I’m working to change—although it hasn’t been easy, the changes are making a difference.
I’m the poster girl for taking on more work than I can possibly fit into my available hours. Trying to be nice, saying yes to every request, gets me in trouble. When some people can’t follow through, they say “Sorry, pal,” and let it go. I’m not built that way; I wish I were. Instead, I’ll work until midnight—or 2 or 3 or 4 a.m.—in order to finish. The next day, I’m useless and exhausted. Sure, I can make up the sleep, but it takes days; every day I work at half-speed, I get further behind. Worse, because I’m not present, or because I’m tired and grumpy, the people I love—my husband and kids—get shortchanged.
The only way around this is to take on only as much as I can comfortably handle. Easier said than done? You betcha. But I’m trying. I’ll let you know if or when I finally arrive.
Reward yourself for completing small tasks. This is a biggie. All too often we flog ourselves for all the tasks we didn’t complete—the unanswered email, the people we forgot to respond to, the blog comment we failed to leave. This is a tremendously counterproductive attitude! As my husband would put it—the beatings will continue until morality improves. I’ve operated on that principle for far too many years, beating myself up over every little thing I’ve done wrong or forgotten to do. Does it make me feel better? No, I stew, berating myself again and again in a silly, self-defeating author’s Groundhog Day.
So much better to turn the situation on its head! If I finish the tasks I set out to do, I can read or catch up on the news or bake a cake or pig out on chocolate. Because accomplishing your goals on any given day, despite the myriad distractions, is hard work and deserves a reward!
Lower your expectations. I saved this for last because I honestly and truly believe that this is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. We all want to accomplish big things—of course we do! We want to be proud of our work; we want to make our loved ones proud. But when we set our goals too high, we set ourselves up for failure. My husband, often the wiser of the two of us, has always advocated setting goals we can reasonably expect to accomplish. Before a runner can break the five-minute-mile, he says, she has to run a six-minute mile. So focus on running six minutes before shooting for five.
Experience has proven him right. If I’d set out with a goal of selling over 100,000 books, I’d have been overwhelmed. When the going got tough, as it inevitably does, with the goal so far out in front of me, I might have quit in frustration. Instead, I set a far more reachable, albeit challenging, goal of selling 5,000 books. As often happens in indie publishing, I hit 25,000 within weeks of hitting 5. Because I was having fun, I went for 50, then 75, then 100. Now it’s time to move on, time to finish writing my next book.
Final thought—know when it’s time to let go!
Terri Giuliano Long is the bestselling author of the novel In Leah’s Wake. Her life outside of books is devoted to her family. In her free time, she enjoys walking, traveling, and listening to music. True to her Italian-American heritage, she’s an enthusiastic cook. In an alternate reality, she might be an international food writer. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College.
In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel.
For more details about Terri and her book events, please visit her website: www.tglong.com, www.tglong.com/blog, Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter: @tglong