Jim Woods

Helping You Live A Better Story

How The Pros Stay Productive During The Holidays

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Christmas is less than three weeks away. Hard to believe right? 2014 is quickly wrapping up and soon we’ll be in 2015.

The holidays are also a very busy time with travel, parties, concerts and many other events.

As a result, most of us are less productive during this time. Heck, a few of us even had an extended turkey coma as a result of Thanksgiving, right?

To avoid a December slump–which could easily become a January or even February slump–I reached out to some of my friends who are amazing high-achievers to get some additional perspective.

I asked this one question:

What is your number one tip to stay productive during the holidays?

Here were the fantastic answers I received:

“Have a clear morning routine and don’t deviate from it during the holidays. If I start my day well, everything else falls into place.” Michael Hyatt 

Michael also was so kind to give a link to his podcast episode here which is all about reengineering your morning so you can be more productive. It’s definitely worth a listen.

My takeaway: Don’t stay up too late. You can move forward just by getting up a few minutes earlier and going to sleep a couple minutes earlier.  

“Make a map of the months of December and January. What’s the final destination? What are the stops along the way? Make the map to get you to where you want to be. Build in only as much rigidity as you need to get the absolutes done and give yourself as much flexibility as you can.” Erik Fisher of Beyond The To-Do List podcast

My takeaway: Look at your calendar and map things out. Figure out the “ABSOLUTES”. 

“Work when others are not. (This is not to say… “Don’t take your vacation.”) However, when offices are empty and quiet is a great time to work on new ideas and creative work. Also, perfect opportunity to get ahead of deadlines.” Craig Jarrow of Time Management Ninja.com

My takeaway: Keep hustling and use opportunities to really make the most of your time. 

“The most important thing is to brain dump all that needs to be done. We usually have more things than normal, and can miss them if we don’t take the time to recognize them. Then they MUST be scheduled with everything else.” Chris LoCurto of Chris Locurto.com

My takeaway: Set aside intentional time to reflect with calendar and a piece of paper. 

“Don’t compare yourself to other people & feel like you have to “do Christmas” like them. It’s okay to keep it simple!” Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom.com

My takeaway: keep it simple and don’t overdo it. This also gives flexibility on the calendar and more of a chance to stay balanced and focused. 

“Give yourself permission to enjoy the holidays. You’re not going to get as much done as other times of the year–and that’s OK.” Jon Acuff of Acuff.me

My takeaway: It’s totally cool to scale back during the holidays. Some always beats none.

“Work by context. This is how I move multiple projects forward like errands and shopping, as well as balancing things that require low energy vs. high energy.” Mike Vardy of Productivityist.com

Mike also gave me this great post found here which elaborates further on this thought. Context is very important and also provides mental clarity.

My takeaway: Be intentional to keep energy levels in mind. Gauging where I’m REALLY at is very important. 

“Be consistent. If you use the holidays as a time to unplug from writing, January will be much harder. Don’t think of writing as “work,” think of it as creative expulsion instead — something you need to do. Then do it.” Sean Platt author at Sterling and Stone.com

My takeaway: Again, some always beats none. Momentum IS very important. Such good advice from Sean.  

So now what?

Well, it’s time to implement these ideas and concepts into action steps and then take action. What does that look like?

Keeping things simple is very important. Erik’s advice working very much with Crystal’s.

Here is the 3-Step Summary:

1. Map out what the rest of Dec and Jan look like.   

2. Ask these questions: What is most important? What can you do? What will you likely not get a chance to do? Sort this out.

Whatever doesn’t fit has to move to February or later by default. Otherwise I’m just fooling myself and wasting valuable mental energy.

3. Plan out a time–put it on the calendar–and DO IT.

If something comes up, have a plan B (meaning another alternative time that the work can be done).

Lastly, If you need accountability or assistance in sorting things out, I’d be glad to help. You can fire me an email here. I will do my very best to help get you back on track.

 

If you want to dig deeper and REALLY knock it out of the park in 2015, more insight is available from some of the same amazing people in this post (such as Michael Hyatt, Crystal Paine and Erik Fisher) featured in the book Ready Aim Fire.  It’s like having a personal coach for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

 

What does your year end look like? Do you have any tips you would like to share about how you stay productive during the holidays?

The Simple Way To Pursue Many Interests (Especially If You Are A Multipod)

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Confession: I am not a fan of organization. I don’t like planning much either. I like making things up as I go more than Indiana Jones.

Some days, it feels like the closest I can get to being organized is playing a game of Tetris.

I know what you’re thinking–How the HECK are you a full time writer and coach?

I continually strive to make things as simple as possible.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Leonardo da Vinci

I don’t write two books at a time, I write one book at a time.

Otherwise, I have a folder full of partially written books. (True story.)

Okay, now I know what you’re thinking–That’s nice you write books Jim. I still don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to do. That’s the problem–I have TONS of interests because I’m a multipotentialite

And that’s fine–totally get that.

But here’s the thing–you can only do one thing at a time.

The real problem is fear.

You are afraid you will choose the wrong project.

Fear makes you confused and drains your mental energy.

It’s really difficult to make good decisions when you’re listening to fear.

Fear loves to tell you extreme scenarios.

Fear says things like, “if you go out and shoot some photos, all you can ever do is be a photographer.”

Or if you land a gig shooting pictures at a wedding, “you will be in a monkey suit sweating your butt off taking pictures of angry bridezillas forever! Muhhahaha!”

Well, at least that’s what fear tells me. I don’t even own a camera other than my phone. I make up one hypothetical wedding shoot in my mind and suddenly I am in eternal wedding hell.

Sure, this sounds incredibly stupid to write out, but this is what fear tells us. And then somehow these off-the-wall thoughts are accepted as truth in our minds.

To move forward, you must block out fear and do what you want to do in the simplest way possible.

Here’s the good news: you can use fear as a compass for which projects you should do.

Don’t believe the lies. A lie with an ounce of truth is still a lie.

When you hear negative voices say, “Hello fear, I know you’re there. I’m gonna do this anyways.”

Those two sentences are fear repellant. Don’t believe me? Try it. Go ahead, talk to yourself. If anyone picks on you, (99.99% sure they won’t) just tell them you’re an artist.

So here’s what to do

1. Pick one thing that scares you and try it out.

2. Experiment and set simple guidelines for it.

3. See if you like it.

That’s it. Not too bad, right?

If you like what you are doing, keep doing it and add on another angle.

So for this example let’s say you like blogging. To add on a new angle you could include photography by taking pictures with your phone to use on your blog.

Since one interest flows directly into the other, you get a snowball effect.

The challenge lies in that you can not continually add more and more projects on your plate. This is not an all-you-can-eat buffet.

You can only pursue three or four creative projects at one time. Any more and you will get overwhelmed or put out work that is lacking in quality. Your attention is finite.

You have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. There is no shame in this AT ALL.

If you’re still not sure, try talking it out with someone you trust. I’d be absolutely honored to help you–just hit me up. Getting support for the journey is absolutely vital to your success.

Talking it out–even mentioning your doubts or fears– can propel you forward like nothing else.

Keeping it all in your head often leads to more confusion. Fear loves to attack you with those nasty nagging voices in your head. (My bad inner voices often sound a lot like Nickelback.)

When I wrote Hit The Mark with Erik Fisher, we’d talk on the phone for hours and just hash things out. By asking question after question, we could then explain and analyze the content. See if there was anything missing and even plan out what move to make next.

But don’t let talking it out become resistance, stopping you in your tracks.

Once you have a game plan and you have clarity–attack it like Cookie Monster with a plateful of cookies. Darn it, now I’m hungry.

See cookie, eat cookie. That’s it. Got it? Good.

What Pursuing Several Interests Looks Like for Me

Honestly, I have several routines I’m rolling with now in this season of life. This is like the super-simplified version of Michael Hyatt’s Ideal Week schedule but here you go:

My freelance writing is done primarily on Monday and Tuesday, revisions are then done on Friday, from 10AM-12PM.

I write blog posts and work on a book in the evenings usually from around 9PM-1AM.

Coaching calls and podcast interviews in the afternoon, Monday through Friday usually from 12PM-5PM.

Most days I play guitar for about 20-30 minutes from between 4PM-5PM.

This is how my life looks right now. It’s all subject to change. Nothing is written in stone.

With this approach, I have freedom and flexibility. If you take away one thing from this post, it is this:

Keeping things simple is the best way to go.

What you think is simple may not be simple to me. Figure out the way your mind works and don’t fight it–especially if you are a multipod. If you must have deadlines, put firm deadlines and have someone hold you accountable.

Simplicity is the ultimate fear fighter and also the approach that allows you to get more done.

Do you think it is fear holding you back or is it maybe something else?

How do you keep things simple?

So You’re a Multipotentialite. Now What?

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Last week, I wrote a guest post titled One Word To Help You Build Your Dream for the awesome Jon Acuff. You can read all about it here. As you can probably guess–the one word is multipotentialite

Certain words and phrases have impact. I love you. I do. You’re accepted. I quit. You win. You’re fired.

Once you hear the words, you know things have changed.

The word multipotentialite is an absolute gamechanger.

Why? This word means rethinking many perceived negatives. What if doing a lot of things you thought are weaknesses are really strengths?

The most important thing you can do is to embrace who you are. 

And as a multipod, you are not one label. You are many, many different things.

Being a multipod is a strength, not a weakness.

We live in an age of comparison. It’s unavoidable.

But you really can’t compare where you are and what you are doing with anyone else.

The biggest struggle for a multipotentialite is that fear attacks us more because of multiple interests:

  • Fear of finishing which says “Am I doing the right project?”
  • Fear of boredom tells us “This project is not the right project.”
  • Fear of missing out says “Shouldn’t I be doing another project?”

Now I get it–fear is not a fun topic. It’s not brought up at parties or even around the dinner table.

But don’t let fear stop you from doing what you want to do. 

Wanna know the best way to give fear a nice throat chop?

You form a plan.

Not a complicated plan but rather a simple one to give you measurable, meaningful results.

So Here’s the Plan

Instead of coming up with a confusing plan, let’s just use one that we know already works: the scientific method.

1. Ask a question. 

So you may ask: “What should I do with my multipod skills?”  or maybe even “What is my passion?”

Once you have your question, move on to the next step.

2. Do background research. 

This one is tricky because research is one of the biggest distractions to stop you from finishing your work.

To stay on target, limit your research to one thing. That’s it.

Answer one question from this list:

  • Skim through an old notebook you’ve filled. What topics pop up?
  • What were your favorite classes and projects from school?
  • What do you do naturally?
  • Do you have any hobbies or interests you love?
  • What do you love so much you’d do it for free?

Once you answer one questions, you likely list of several things and you are feeling a little (or a lot) overwhelmed because it is not one answer. That’s normal. Breathe. Seriously it’s alright. I promise.

See if there are any common threads on your list. Narrow it down if possible. Just pick one from the list.  For me, one of the common threads was writing–as I was interested in a guitar blog and a blog about creativity.

If you’re not sure still, just pick one. Remember this is going to be an experiment. You will be testing this out.

3. Construct a hypothesis.

_______________ is my passion or dream.

So let’s just assume you want to test out the hypothesis “photography is my passion.”

4. Experiment and test your hypothesis.

To test your experiment,  you decide to shoot 20 photos a week  for a month and upload the pictures online for feedback on a photography forum and Facebook.

5. Analyze your data and draw a conclusion. 

What was the response to your photography? Did you enjoy it? Did you get tired of it? What feedback did it receive?

If you really enjoyed it and had positive feedback, try another experiment with photography but try to be more specific in measurement and choose a certain kind of photography.

Now if you got bored spending time with photography, ask these questions:

  • When did you get bored?
  • Is it possible you enjoy photography but would rather spend less time on it? For example, maybe you would enjoy just posting photography to a blog.

If you are a multipotentialite, one of the best things you can do is continually experiment and document your results. Maybe that sounds a little overwhelming–no worries!

Journaling is a simple way to do this. At some point you will likely want to get more detailed, but out of the gate, journaling is absolutely fine.

 

What do you want to experiment with? How will you measure it? I’d love to hear about it!

A Message For Young Parents In Pursuit Of A Dream

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Photo by Susan Sermoneta (Creative Commons)

Note: This is Lesson 2 from my the Inside Scoop on Self-Employment series. For Lesson 1 just click here.

Sit down and open up the computer. It’s time to pick up where you left off. You open the file and  finally get to start working.  A couple minutes later, the pitter-patter of little feet fill the hall way.

Or…

You sit down on the couch for the first time today. You sit in silence savoring the fact no one is climbing on you or wanting a sippy cup or snack from you… then you start to hear some crying over the monitor.

This is how it goes when you are a young parent building a dream.

Plan all you want, but when the kids need mommy or daddy, all bets are off.

Don’t get me wrong, being a parent is absolutely awesome, but it is unpredictable and draining too.

Some days (and depending on the season, even many days)  you will simply run out of hours available to work on your dream.

Many times the best you can do is work with your spouse and intentionally support each other.

Then you simply do what you can.

Your dream will quickly turn into a nightmare if you are both not on the same page and working together. But how can you do this?

Here are a few ideas for how you can fit dream building into an unpredictable parenting schedule:

  • Set aside some time every other Saturday morning to give your spouse some dream time.
  • Do a babysit swap with another couple.
  • Work on your dream when the kids are asleep and stop when they get up.
  • Instead of watching TV, work on your dream.
  • If mentally drained, focus on easier repetitive work and automate as much as possible.

Do what you can and realize this could be a particular season where your time is very limited.

Enjoy this time together and don’t neglect your family or you have already failed.

Many times it is best to intentionally move slowly so you can focus on what matters most to you.

You’re not a robot, so don’t pretend you are one. Don’t compare yourself to others who work more hours than you do. Good for them. This isn’t a race.

It is NOT a badge of honor to say, “I work 80 hours a week.”

You already know this, but the odds of divorce and the amount of disconnection you have with your family increases with each hour you work.

Do not allow yourself to become a workaholic. Your family–especially your kids–want your time and attention.

Give yourself some credit–very few have the courage to build a dream–let alone work on it with young kids.

You are doing much, much more than you realize. Don’t believe me? Think about some of the things you’ve accomplished over the past year.

Will you list a few of these things in the comments? I’m calling a brag table. Go ahead–it’s okay. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments together.

The Top 10 Ultimate Writing Tips You Gotta Use in 2014

I’ve been writing seriously for about three years and now that I’m a full-time writer, here are some things I wish I knew starting out:

1. Writing is almost never just about the writing. It is often more about presentation, marketing and networking. If your website looks absolutely terrible, that is a contributing factor to why you don’t have many readers.

2.Your writing can be terrible as long as it is interesting. Seriously, 95% of readers don’t care about Grammar Nazi things such as tense, oxford commas, typos, sentence fragments, run-ons, etc.

None of those matter as much as writers think. If the majority of the world were English majors, this would change.

As long as the message is clear—that is clear enough to let the writing be entertaining—that is what matters most.

3. Publish less and edit more. I’m not saying don’t write a lot—you should—but don’t hit the publish button as often. 1 great or even good blog post is better than 40 mediocre ones.

Don’t try to compete with other writers putting out more posts or words than you are. You’ll never win.

4. Headlines are ABSOLUTELY critical to your success. Without a great headline, it is very likely only your mom and a few bored Facebook friends that read your posts.

5. Most advice about how to do things is just a preference. Very few other rules apply today as things change so quickly.

6. Your writing is not about you. If you want to write for yourself, that is fine, but let’s be clear—that is called a journal or a diary. That is not something to share online. You must write for a particular audience or you will spend the majority of your time spinning your wheels. Write to help the audience. Even if you write fiction, you want to take the audience on an adventure and solve the problem of boredom.

7. If you want to be a writer, you have to be a marketer as well. It is UNAVOIDABLE. Marketing is NOT a dirty word. It is just how you spread a message or share a story. Don’t let the sleazy, pushy guy in an ugly sportcoat skew how you view marketing or sales.

Marketing is just storytelling. And if you write a good story, over time, some of them will spread.

8-10. But most importantly, write these three things forever on your brain to  find success with your writing:

Entertain. Inform. Don’t be a jerk.

That’s it. I’m not saying this is easy though. Even this post is competing with MILLIONS if not billions of other options fighting for your attention.

Want more? Subscribe to my free newsletter here and I’ll give you more of the inside scoop. I may even throw in some awesome freebies too. I want to treat you right–not like a random number as many do.

Got anything you would add to this list? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

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