Do More Than One Thing

Last week I got some gut wrenching news. No, nobody died, nothing so terrible. But I got a message that a project I had been working on would not work out. I was devastated. At the beginning of the year, the project had been one of the first goals on my queue, and there I was, being told that I had to put it on hold, send it back to the back of the line when what I really wanted was to get it done and cross it out for something else on the list.

On that same day, however, I also found myself putting the finishing touches on another project that began last year, was shipped in February, and would see me sharing some exciting publishing news with you this week.

Now, even if project one didn’t work out, two seems to be going pretty well. Looking back to that day, the only reason I was able to plough through the sadness I was feeling over the first project was that I was actively working on the second. And regardless of the outcome of this second project, I’m going full steam ahead on the next goal on the queue.

Win or lose we move.

So, if your goals, plans, or projects seem to be going south, don’t worry too much. You may not succeed at every one of them just yet, but keep showing up and keep doing more than one thing. Do as much as possible as frequently as possible. Eventually, one thing will stick.

Until next time.

P.S. Remember, even though you’re doing many things, everything you do must be intentional.

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When is done, done?

Done (1)You come across this piece of advice a lot. It is geared towards getting you to finish whatever it is you are working on. You believe it, so you finish your first draft without editing; just pour it out on the page, get it down until you type those last three letters, E.N.D. Voila! Your complete story.

But are you done (like done-done)?

No. Never. You know you never submit the first draft of anything; you know getting the story down is not getting the story done. To get the story done you edit, edit, write and re-write and edit some more. You do this a couple of times, sometimes with very long breaks in between. Finally, something a lot better than what you first put down emerges.

So are you done now?

Maybe. Or maybe not. Or maybe you are done enough to let the world see what you have written. You send out to beta readers and friends and family. Their feedback comes, and you change (or don’t change) ideas, themes, characters etc. You proofread, revise, send out again, get some additional feedback (maybe). You revise some more and tighten all those loose points. Again, something even better emerges.

You guess now you are done.

But are you? Don’t you need just one more person to read it? Don’t you need to go over it again for the million and tenth time? Don’t you need to check if all those pesky punctuation marks are used just right?

So how do you know when done is done?

The answer: Never.

The truth is there will probably always be something that can be changed if you look hard enough. And this is why done is better than perfect, because as a writer you’re never done. You just have to get to the point where you can accept that what you have down is done.

Endure

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I joined my house’s track team as soon as I got into secondary school. Of course, there was no formal joining process at the time, it was as simple as asking the question, “Can you run?”, and you were pitted against first, other juniors like you whose mettle had not been proven, and then later others who had become champions of their houses over time. If you were good enough, showed potential to be trained, then you became a runner for your house, and by extension, conscripted into the school’s track and relay team.

In my first Inter-house sports games I ran the 1500 meters open race for my house. It was the first time I would run anything longer than 100 meters, and the pain in my limbs and tears that wouldn’t stop falling because of the air in my eyes were the easier parts. The hard part was coming 8th, the last qualifying position. I hated it, hated that I had lost, so from then on I trained for that race every year. Each year, I improved and moved up the ranks just a little bit. By my fourth year (SS1) I won first place.  I was looking forward to defending my title in the next year, but alas, the games did not hold; there were even fewer sports outings that year – we only ever trained when we had an event – so my training all but stopped.

With my final year came what would be my last Inter-house sports games. Since final year students were taking exams, we weren’t allowed to join in early morning training until a few days to the actual games. Yet, somehow, my house expected that I would win the 1500 meters race, and boasted about it quite a lot to the annoyance of other hopefuls; I was the reigning champion, after all.

The long distance races usually took place on the Heat, along with other qualifier events. So when heat day came, I got on the track to the shouts and cheers of my adoring housemates…

…and fell on my face before the start of the second lap.

I actually fell! Out of breath, face down, cramping legs etcetera. I remember not believing it, not believing that after reigning supreme, I would loose the very last time I ran the 1500 meters race. But the truth was, deep down, I knew why I couldn’t have won. I had stopped training. For far too long. I had lost my endurance.

Now, what does this have to with anything?

In the past weeks, I’ve written about being intentional and getting queues, but the truth is by now, everything that used to compete for your energy and time is back in full swing doing just that; maybe you’ve even fallen off the wagon because of them and skipped a few days working on your goals. This is okay. The way forward is to keep building endurance.

“But how do I build endurance when I can’t even get consistent?” You may ask.

Well, the only way to build endurance is to endure; to keep pushing and keep trying to do those things you set out to do day after day. Fighting hard to get yourself committed to your plan is part of the process. The key is to not stop.

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do, remember?”

-Gregory Peck

When I trained for that race, it wasn’t like I had any form of a training schedule. To be honest, I really only trained in the second term (or when we had a sports outing) which was when our Inter-house sports games held, but we almost always trained from the first week of school. This gave me a month plus of prep to get in shape for the games. And maybe if I had stayed true to the first-week-in-January-and-occasional-sport-outing training schedule in my 5th year, I may have been able to defend the 1500 meters title in my final year.

Everything you want to get good at is like building a muscle. At first, it will be painful (read stressful, inconvenient, downright impossible), but the only way to get used to the pain is to keep at it till you don’t feel the pain anymore. So, though it may seem like everything you set out to do wants to do you in, don’t stop. Keep building your endurance, day in day out – even after the days you fall – and slowly, but surely, you’ll become a champion at keeping up with your goals.

Until next time, endure.

 

Get a Queue

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By now, you’ve read a million and one things about New Year’s resolutions. It’s everywhere around you, and it’s probably going to be everywhere well into February. You’ve heard a lot of views on how to approach (or not approach) them, or even how New Year’s resolutions are really just a waste of time, yadda, yadda.

Maybe you believe in resolutions – and click on the link to every related post, trying to find that one that resonates with your brand of person – or maybe you’re the anti-resolution type, and groan at the sight of yet another link telling you how to make them. Either way, you have to have some sort of plan on how you’re approaching your life this year, and this plan is going to need some work to work.

Last week, I wrote about being intentional, and the summary of that post was: Why do you want to do what you want to do? Period. The whole point of intentionally exploring the motivations behind your goals or resolutions is to figure out why they are important, and if they should be on your list at all (you can catch up on that post here).

If you’re all caught up, and you have all your “whys” in order, it’s time to start doing! It’s time to go back to your newly improved to-do-list-clipart-2plan and start to follow it, diligently.

But where do you start?

If you have a simple plan, then this question is not really a problem. But if you have a plan with a lot of goals, your project – a year is technically one big project to me – can feel pretty overwhelming. Hence, as with every large, long-term project you have to break down your plan into smaller tasks.

For instance, if you wanted to build a house, you would have to grade and prepare, construct the foundation, make the frame, install roofing, etc. You wouldn’t try to build the entire house all at once, rather, you’d take it step by step, finishing each section before moving on to the next.

In the same vein, you can’t work on all of your goals at the same time. If you try to do this, you’ll burn out before you can even say February. So you have to pace yourself, and a good principle to apply here is to get a queue.

What is this queue? This is simply a list of the most important projects (read goals) you will like to complete in a specified time, say a month, or a maybe a quarter (remember, goals must be time bound). The idea is to create a tiny world of focus from the chaos that is your grand plan, so try to keep this list under five items.

You determine how best to go about creating and working through your queue, but to start you can follow the 3-step process below.

  1. Of the numerous (or few) things you have on your main plan, pick your top two, three, four or five, and set them aside as the primary focus for your specified duration…You can also pick just one.
  2. Plan to finish 50% of what you have on that queue before you add any new items to it.
  3. After 50% of the queue is done, add new items to replace the one (or ones) you’ve knocked off.

Every time you complete the cycle (if you’re diligent about it), you will have achieved at least one goal.

An advantage of this method is accountability; you can’t add to the focus queue until you finish something; therefore you must finish. Another advantage is that you are able to celebrate small victories, and achievement breeds motivation and motivation brings about more achievement. Kind of cool, isn’t it? Well then, why don’t you go forth and make yourself a queue today?

“I’ve set personal limits now. If I start five personal projects, I’m not starting a sixth till I’m done with at least one of the five.”

-Anietie Brendan (@anibrendan)

Be Intentional

“Guard your time fiercely. Be generous with it, but be intentional about it.”

– David Duchemin

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In Nigeria, it is some time past 11:00 am on the 2nd of January, which means we are now approximately 34 hours into the new year.

In a few minutes it will be 35 hours, and then 48 hours, and then 72 hours, and pretty soon it will be an entire week. We all know what happens from there; a month, two months, the first quarter, the half year mark, looking forward to long holidays (if you’re a student), another school year in September, the last quarter, November, and then, of course, December.

Just like that, the year will be gone.

Take a minute to ponder this: Wherever you are, you have spent 34 (plus or minus) hours that are now gone, counted and done. Maybe you spent this time with family and loved ones, maybe you spent it partying, maybe you spent it in bed, maybe you spent it praying, maybe you spent it doing a combination of all of these things, or maybe you spent it doing none of them at all. The point is, regardless of how you spent the time, it is gone.

So how intentional were you about the last 34 (plus or minus) hours?

Were you simply going with the flow, taking each hour as it came? Did you start to check off those long resolution lists the moment the clock struck midnight on the 1st? Have you started taking a look at those goals and planning for steps to achieve them?

My advice? Hold up..for only a few minutes.

Being intentional goes beyond just setting goals and resolutions. Rather, it is deliberately making an effort to do things that fall in line with results you want to see. It is having a reason, an intent for every action.

It is discovering your “why”.

And then aligning your goals to be in sync with this why.

So maybe you have made a bunch resolutions, or set a list of goals, and you even have a well thought out plan to go with them. I urge you to take a few minutes to look into these goals, and for each of them ask yourself why. Why do you want to learn this skill? Why do you want to change your job? Why do you want to spend time doing this? Why, why, why?

Growth can be hard, and so the goals you set can seem hard as well, but in finding your reasons, your motivations will become clear and your goals will carry meaning. You will find that your actions transcend being mere activities that simply take time, to intentional steps you want to invest time in, and so taking these steps will become easier because you know why.

You know you are not wasting your time.

My biggest lesson from the past year was acknowledging how fast time flies. Every second, minute and hour that passes will never be gotten back, so don’t waste time on things that don’t matter.

As you begin this year, I wish you joy every day, the best in everything, but most of all the grace to be intentional.

Happy New Year!