Women in their Prime often have important projects to complete. In the latter 1/3 of life, we are concerned about leaving a legacy, contributing to our profession and to society, and caring for our families, which often span several generations. We have dreams that might have been postponed during our middle years, and now we desire to accomplish those things that are deeply important to us. And, at this time of life, it can be hard to marshal the energy to achieve audacious goals.
Do you have a big project staring you in the face? Are you at a loss as to how to get started, how to persevere, and/or how to sustain your energy enough to finish it? Do you feel resistance to getting started? For both my coaching clients and myself, this dilemma is especially bothersome when you are involved in big projects that are important but not urgent – the goals that will make a difference in the long term but don’t have a pressing deadline. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls these BHAGs: Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. So many times, we get mired in time wasters and mental gremlins that slow our advancement towards personal audacious goals that we really desire and then we don’t know how to structure our work for best progress.
I was at such a point several months ago. I was writing a business book to help market my services, and I was stuck. Really stuck. I found myself using all the usual procrastination and distraction techniques: Instead of working on the book, I spent way too much time on social media and Candy Crush, I allowed my email and other important-but-not-urgent things to be my first priority. I allowed mental gremlins, those critical voices inside my head, to grab my ankles and slow me down: “Who are you to write this book? How can you set yourself up as an expert? Do you really have enough experience to do this? You need a PhD to publish in this area!”
I am an executive coach, so I naturally tried taking a dose of my own medicine. I hired a coach; in fact, I hired two of them to help me get the book completed! I made a little progress here and there, but nothing to carry me over the finish line. In retrospect, my failure to thrive had nothing to do with these coaches, but with me and my mental state. I finally joined a book writing bootcamp, and in seven weeks, had completed my 188 page book, including a preliminary layout attempt.
What was it that propelled me to finish this important-but-not-urgent project?
Simon Sinek says it best in the title of his book, Start with Why. Why are you doing this project? If it’s just to make more money, expect more procrastination. Instead, dig deeper and ask yourself, what is the long term, altruistic goal that I’m trying to accomplish? Women in their prime especially need to understand the deeper purpose to achieve audacious goals.
You can start finding your purpose by asking, What really motivates me to want to do this? Then, take the answer that comes to you and ask why several times until you get to the most important reason. For example, I wanted to write the book to market my business. Here’s the first why: Why do I want to market my business? My answer: To attract more customers. The second why: Why do I want to attract more customers? Answer: To impact more companies. The third why: Why do I want to impact more companies? Then it hit me! Duh! To increase the number of people who are excited to go to work on Monday morning! That is my company’s purpose statement, but I hadn’t kept it top of mind at all. I had forgotten to start with why, and once I remembered it, the book started flowing.
Note to company leaders: Even if you articulate your purpose statement, unless you refer to it in everything you do, it will be forgotten.
Rick Carson’s aptly named book, Taming Your Gremlin, describes the gremlin in your head as the negative mental chatter we stream through our minds on a regular basis. Often this voice holds us back from achieving the BHAGs we desire. The best process is to talk back to your gremlins. Write down the negative messages your internal voices are saying and offer a different view.
Big projects often flounder for a lack of expert resources. Do not try to be Atlas, the Titan from Greek mythology who holds up the sky on his shoulders, and go it alone. Gather a support system around you. I hired a small number of coaches, some who had more knowledge and experience in self-publishing books and others were there to help me tame my mental gremlins. My support system also included several friends, my husband and grown children, who gave me moral support and celebrated the milestones with me.
Make sure you have inspiring people on your support team. One coach made me list my successes since our last call and repeatedly praised me for accomplishing them. This was very motivational to me.
My dad always taught me that to do a job right, you need the right tools. Make sure you have the tools you need to get the job done, and the knowledge to use them. For me, the tools were advanced features in Microsoft Word, such as formatting, indexing and pagination; and Amazon’s online book publishing arm, CreateSpace.com. I needed to learn how to use all these tools to get to the finish line. Often, women in the prime years need to learn the latest technology, if only to save time and energy for more important tasks.
Intellectual work taxes your energy and focus, as much as physical work does. It is important to use the human body’s natural energy cycles to make optimal progress on your project. I’ve written before in Prime Women about the Pomodoro Technique, in which you work for 25 minutes without distractions, then take a 5 minute break to do something different. This method is highly recommended to get you unstuck, because when you have severe writer’s block (or any other kind of block), you can easily talk yourself into working for only 25 minutes. “I’ll just do one Pomodoro,” I’d say to myself, “And then I’ll see if I want to continue.” It’s psychological self-trickery, but it works.
After I got some momentum going, I found that I preferred to write for 90 minutes and then take a break, following the advice in Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy’s article entitled Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time. When using either Pomodoros or the 90-minute sprint, the important thing is to time yourself and absolutely, positively make yourself take a break when the timer goes off.
I used the advice above in writing this article! Use these proven techniques, and you’ll achieve your BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals!)