Multi-tasking vs. multi-focusing & finding joy in the hard work: an interview with Emilie Wapnick

Hello there! How’s your November going so far? I gotta tell ya, I’m getting whipped into shape and I am loving it. If you’re going to jump on one last class/course this year, make it the Morning Whip – you’ll thank me later!

Today I’m bringing you an interview with Emilie Wapnick, multipotentialite blogger & professional multi-tasker extraordinaire. She’s pretty much amazing!

(Interview is 15 minutes, 33 seconds.)

Interview with Emilie Wapnick of Puttylike


She uses a nice moleskine to keep track of her ideas – a backburner list.

She also schedules in “scanning time” during a day – when she doesn’t need to focus on priorities or a specific project & she can dabble, explore, and play with ideas. This keeps her from getting distracted during the rest of the day.

When she reaches the end of a moleskine, she goes back and looks through her ideas to see if there’s anything she wants to carry forward to the next notebook.

She distinguishes between scanning mode & focused mode – for her, there’s a huge distinction between multi-tasking and multi-focusing. Multi-focusing is when you’re focused on one thing, even for a very short period of time, and then you switch your focus later – this is how she makes progress on all of her projects.

The joy comes from doing the work – not so much the results. If you can find joy in the hard work, the trenches, the hustling, that’s where you’ll get the pleasure and that helps prevent overwhelm. Don’t think about the big things while you’re trying to work – if you can have a specific time to think about the big vision to stay + keep inspired, it’ll keep you going without getting overwhelmed.

Don’t take on too much! Be aware of your limits & don’t overbook yourself.

When writing down to-do lists, focus on the big items or group items together so that you don’t have a huge-looking list that causes stress + overwhelm.

The sooner you can go from an inspiring ritual to working, the better off you’ll be!

You can see more of Emilie at Puttylike, and be sure to check out her book Renaissance Business! (affiliate link, because I’ve read & loved it.)

Don’t let your projects die: give ’em space to thrive

Let’s say you want to grow a plant. You pick a big ol’ tropical plant, bordering on four feet tall…and then you plant it in a pot that’s six inches across, and expect it to grow well there.

Sound likely?

No, it doesn’t, does it? However, that’s how many people treat new ideas and projects – they start trying to grow them, without giving them any space first. When you want to create something new, you need to actively and intentionally create a space and a structure for it. In other words, you need to decide how, where, and when you’re going to work on this project. And here’s the key: you need to do this before you start working on it.


Usually, deciding where this project will be worked on is easy enough – it’ll probably be the same space where you do the rest of your work. Make sure that that’s a good fit, though, as our workspaces have a huge impact on our actual work itself. One example from Making Ideas Happen, which you might remember from last week’s post, is that a study showed that smaller, more confined spaces helped people focus and get their work done, whereas wider, more open spaces with higher ceilings tended to be great for brainstorming. Interestingly, you can get roughly the same results by manipulating your perception of the space, even if the space itself isn’t changed any. Optical illusions, anyone?

Another good idea is to designate a specific space for keeping track of your progress on this project and collecting any notes or ideas you might have. Whether it’s a physical notebook or a notebook on Springpad, having a dedicated place to keep track of everything makes it much easier to re-find that brilliant idea you had or that note you took down when reading a relevant book.


Depending on how well you work within a schedule, you might do anything from setting aside a specific chunk of time to having a full day of the week to work on it.

One thing to consider is that creative work tends to be best when done in larger chunks of time (three hours or so). Think about it: if you take 15 minutes to get into a flow state working on a project, then you’ll only get 45 minutes of flow-state work done on that project if you’ve set aside an hour for it. And then, the next time you come back to it, it’ll take you another 15 minutes to get back into that state. To minimize the time cost of switching tasks, work in the largest possible amount of time you can. (While, of course, still scheduling in short breaks every 45-60 minutes to get something to drink or take a stretch.)

If you’re having trouble finding the time for this project, try tracking your time for a few days (RescueTime can help, if you want to get a really accurate view) and seeing if you have any large time leaks that you could eliminate to streamline things. You might also see if there’s any daily activities that need replaced. For example, consider your current routines – see if you’re wasting time on any unnecessary systems that were put in place for a reason, but have now lost their purpose. If you used to use the first hour of your day to plan the rest of your day, which was necessary two months ago, but now you’re only using 15 minutes of that hour to plan your day and the rest is going to puttering around in email, then you can use that time elsewhere.

Last but not least, make sure that the time you’re planning to work on this project is during your peak productivity times of the day.


Once you have the where and the when taken care of, the how of working on the project usually solves itself. After all, you know what your objectives are for this project, right? (Right?) If not, set aside some time to pick out your first and foremost objective with this project, and then your secondary objectives (usually 3-5) as well.

In The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry suggests phrasing these in questions – for example, when he and his team were developing an online collaboration tool for teams, they had questions like “What are the key functions teams need to collaborate on?” and “How can team members share inspiration for projects?” Using this technique gives you something to focus on immediately when starting the project, outlines your priorities, and makes it easier to start gaining momentum.

One roadblock that you might run into is focus and lack thereof. Without focus, you can’t get good work done, but finding and keeping your focus can be ever-more-difficult in this era of constant connection.

The easiest approach is a preventative one. If you keep the distractions from happening in the first place, you don’t have to worry about having the willpower to ignore them. If you must work in a browser window, use only one tab, or use an extension like Controlled Multi-Tab Browsing to keep your tab limit low. You can also use a browser extension to block distracting websites during certain hours (goodbye, Twitter!) – here’s one for Firefox, one for Chrome, and one for Safari. If you have writing work to do and don’t have to work in a browser, then OmmWriter is the program for you – zero distractions, zen backgrounds, what more could you want?

These digital structurings are meant to compliment physical preventions. Close your office door, have earplugs or headphones if you have noisy neighbors or people doing lawn work outside – you get the picture.

The process of laying out where, when, and how you’re going to work on your latest project might seem superficial or too simple, but it has a huge effect on the amount of work you’ll get done. Instead of having to figure out each day or week where you’ll fit it in, you’ve already consciously carved out a space for it in your life – which makes it a lot easier to work on, which makes it a lot likelier to get shipped.

How a blanket fort can make you more productive

You’ve heard me talk about how your workspace affects your work before – this isn’t the first time you’ve heard it from me. (Unless you’re new around here, in which case, hi! Nice to meet you.) But I bet you didn’t think it extended to blanket forts, didya?

Let me explain a bit. In Making Ideas Happen (one of the books I rave about every time I get a chance), a study is mentioned, the results of which are really fascinating and have some obvious uses for designing your workspace. The study showed that smaller, more confined spaces with lower ceilings help people focus and get work done without getting distracted. Meanwhile, open spaces with high ceilings are great for brainstorming and loose, free thinking. And, possibly the most interesting part of all: changing a person’s perception of the space is just as effective as changing the space itself.

(This is where I get geeky-excited and have to calm myself down before proceeding. I love this stuff!

…Okay, I’m done.)

What this means for you…

…is that, knowing this, you can change the way you perceive a space to create the effect you want – to help you focus on writing your book, or to brainstorm a solution to your latest problem. Or, if you want, you can change the space you’re working in to achieve that effect. No, I’m not suggesting you have two offices. There are lots of other ways – see below.

Ways this could work:

  • Need to brainstorm, or find a solution to a problem? Create some objectives to get them first & foremost in your mind. Hint: Try wording these as questions; for example, instead of saying “I need to rework my services so that they fits my customers’ needs better”, say “What are my customers’ needs? Where are my services currently meeting them? Where are they not meeting them? How can I get more of the first, and less of the second?” Once you’ve got your objectives, hit the town! There are probably all kinds of places that meet the “open + high ceilings” requirements (museums, art galleries, hotel lobbies, libraries, a coffee shop inside a book store) that aren’t going to care if you wander in with a notebook and park yourself for a while. Not only are you changing your environment, which tends to remove stuckness, you’re actively choosing a new environment that suits your needs at this moment.
  • Need to focus on one project, and knock it out of the ballpark? This is where the blanket forts come in. Seriously – make a blanket fort. (You’ll need to make sure the lighting’s good, I suppose.) Or get standing screens and set them up around where you’re working. Wear ear plugs. Experiment with various ways of essentially creating a cocoon, a safe space, for you to be separated from everything else – leaving only you, your focus, and your work.
  • Need to know how you can use this in everyday life, when switching back & forth between focusing and brainstorming? The best way to do this is to create a container for each of these functions in your work. What this looks like is deciding when you’ll work on each of these things, and separating them out. For example: in a given day, you’re going to do brainstorming, idea generation, & problem solving on project X, and also work in a more focused fashion on project Y and Z. You set aside two hours in the morning, after your morning routine, to brainstorm on project X – before you do this, you open the blinds + windows in your workspace to give it an added feeling of space. After your two hours of brainstorming on project X, you shut your laptop or turn off your monitor and go get some lunch. When you come back to your workspace, you close the windows (you might want to leave the blinds open: we tend to function better in places with lots of natural light) and move those standing screens you have sitting in the corner to around your desk. Or make your blanket fort. Voila! Focus-space created. And then you get down to work.

See what I mean? There are so many ways you can use this information to have a huge impact on your work. So often, we feel like we don’t have a whole lot of control over when we can focus & get work done, and when we can’t, and it comes down to nothing but a battle of willpower (which, btw, is most certainly a finite resource). But there’s an easier way – there’s always an easier way. Give it a try & let me know what you think.

What if:

What if there was one thing you could do – one effort – that could

  • decrease rates of HIV/AIDS
  • decrease hunger
  • decrease poverty
  • decrease illiteracy
  • and get more funds circulating in the developing world?
Wouldn’t that be nice?

The good news is: there is.

Why the Girl Effect?

Because: less than two cents of every international aid dollar is directed towards girls.

Because: pregnancy is the leading cause of death for 15-18 year old girls. And girls with no schooling end up married younger; and girls who marry younger are more likely to be involved in an abusive marriage.

Because: when women and girls earn income, they turn around and put 90% of that income back into their families and communities.

What can you do, right now?

Spread the word – share the videos, or the 10 Actions poster. Write a post on your own blog. Talk it up! Most people don’t know about the Girl Effect or what they can do to help. And of course, there’s always donating, which you can do here or by texting GIRL to 50555 (within the US) to donate $10 to the Girl Effect.

It’s possible that “we can make a difference” is one of the most cliched phrases in the history of cliched phrases. But it’s true. We can make a difference, to a girl and to her family and her village and her world. So let’s do it.

Your to-do list is not evil: here’s why

Minimalist productivity advice is all the rage. Kill your goals, for example. While you’re at it, kill your to do list; it’s holding you back, not moving you forward. It’s too hard to manage. It’s destroying your focus. Blah blah blah. You’ve heard it, I’m sure.

Most of the crimes that this simple tool is charged with have nothing to do with the tool itself, but everything to do with how you use it. Now, if throwing your to-do list to the wind works for you, then fabulous. Keep doing it, darlin’. However, if your current to do list habits are not-so-hot, but you know the idea of shredding it entirely would be a terrible one – keep reading.

Why your to-do list isn’t killing your productivity:

  • Let’s face it, the whole “if it’s important, you’ll remember it” idea is…nice in theory but not so much in practice. At least for most of us, myself included. If I don’t have a list of my appointments and tasks for the day in front of my face while I’m working (literally, it hangs over my desk), I find myself wandering aimlessly throughout my workday with nothing to guide me and way too much to distract me. Unless you’re working in an environment with absolutely no means of distracting yourself, it’s far too easy to get off track and waste hours at a time.
  • Size matters. If you start each day looking at an exhaustive 20 item task list, then your to do list isn’t killing your productivity, the size of it is. A list like that will leave you overwhelmed with no idea which item to start on next after you finish one, and even if you finish ten tasks (quite a lot of work!) you’re only halfway through your list. This in turn leads to a distinct lack of feeling accomplished, which then affects your motivation and momentum.

Here’s my proposition: to do lists aren’t inherently a bad idea. However, like many things, the way they’re traditionally approached leads to suckage. The solution: revamp the way you approach, create, and use your lists.

The foundations for a fabulous list:

  • Have one list. One. That’s it. You do not need a separate list for every aspect of your life. You lead one life, so have one list.
  • Keep it short. If it can’t fit on a post-it note (written in normal writing, not minuscule etching), then it’s too long. A good way to force yourself into the habit of short daily task lists is using a planner with only a small amount of space for each day. Planners with a full 5″x7″ page for each day? Woah nelly – that’s a disaster waiting to happen for most folks. Ruthlessly edit your tasks and learn to say no, leaving time only for the most important + effective activities. Also, if you have to move a task more than once, get rid of it. You obviously don’t want to do it anyways.
  • Separate tasks from reminders from appointments. There’s a lot of different definitions for a “task”, but here’s how I define it: anything that requires substantial mental and/or physical energy and a time period longer than 15 minutes. Take out the kitty litter? That’s a reminder, not a task. Write a blog post? That’s a task. You need to separate your reminders from your tasks from your appointments (which are essentially time-specific tasks). I don’t care if you color-code them, underline them, or use glitter, but they’re not the same thing and should be treated accordingly. Your tasks need to be done during your peak hours, and depending on the nature of your appointments, they do too. (Client call? Yes, definitely. Doctor’s appointment? Notsomuch.) The reminder items, however, can be done whenever you have the time/energy.
  • Set your bigger goals first. You can even start with your yearly or monthly goals, but for the purposes of this post, let’s stick with weekly. At the beginning of the week, pick 2-4 goals – the main things you want to get done this week. The best way to think of these is that they might not be the only things you’re planning on doing this week, but if they were all you got done, you’d be okay with that. Break each of those goals down into the smaller tasks that need to get done to make the goal happen. This creates your master task list for the week. Then you can parcel the tasks out among your days, depending on factors like what days you run errands, or the days when you have lots of appointments (days like that are a good time for smaller or less intense tasks, not so much for deep diving creative work & brainstorming).

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen! The ingredients to creating a benign and – dare I say it? – utterly useful to do list. Now, go forth and get shit done.

How to reboot your day in six steps

This is another vintage post, this time from Wicked Whimsy, tweaked & rewritten just for you. New posts resuming next Thursday!

Every now and then, we all have one of those days. You wake up feeling icky – not sick, just sort of a lingering malaise that you can’t quite shake. Something caused by nightmares or a kink in your neck or a headache. And then when you start to tackle your to-do list for the day, it feels like you’re swimming through molasses. In January. With cement shoes. In short: no bueno.

Next time you  have a day like this, step back for a moment, and pause. Breathe. And then, reboot your day. Start over with a clean slate, consciously and intentionally, and see where this new day takes you. Here’s some tips:

  1. Stop what you’re doing. Especially if it’s making you more frustrated. Just stop. Turn it off, walk away from it for a while, physically remove it from your sight if it will make you calm down more. If you were working on a computer, turn off the monitor or shut your laptop.
  2. Eat something. Without any distractions, preferably in silence or listening to some of your “happy” music. Low blood sugar can make you cranky and sluggish (ask me how I know!), not to mention give you a wicked case of brain fog. And all too often, we rush ourselves through meals, thinking about what we should be doing or where we should be or watching television instead of focusing on the food. I wouldn’t suggest eating anything too sugary, because that’ll just cause another blood sugar crash before too long – try something like oatmeal or peanut butter on toast. Eat it slowly, in peace, and just focus on the food in front of you and how it tastes, without worrying about anything else.
  3. Take a walk or do yoga. Both of these activities are relaxing and will help get your blood flowing + fresh oxygen to your brain. Sometimes, getting out of the physical space you’re in is a necessary step to changing your current mood.
  4. Do something simple & easy that already needed to be done. This gives you a feeling of accomplishment, however tiny, and helps get you out of that “this day is worthless” rut. A few of the things I do are unloading and reloading the dishwasher, or decluttering my desk. You might clean something or organize something – as long as it genuinely needs to be done, it’s good!
  5. 5-10 minutes of meditation/quiet. Or however long you feel comfortable doing so, even if it’s just for a moment. You might just sit and listen to a calming song in silence, or write a quick list of all the things you’re grateful for. It does us all good to say “thank you” every once in a while.
  6. Resume working with a clear head, a peaceful heart, and the feeling that this day won’t be a waste after all!

Take a nap?

If this works for you, go ahead and do it. I have mixed results with napping, sometimes waking up totally refreshed and sometimes waking up with a thumping headache. But there’s been studies out the wazoo that say naps are freakin’ fabulous, so don’t feel guilty about it if you choose to do so.

And there you have it – one fresh new day for you to do whatever you wish with! Doesn’t that feel delicious? The only thing left is to make sure you put it to good use!

How the scarcity mindset hurts your creativity

Because of my foot injury, I haven’t been able to spend as long at the work desk as I normally do (gotta keep it iced & elevated, baybee!). Hence, vintage post today (and probably a few more times before the end of the month!); this was originally published in March at FeelGooder. Enjoy! 

Here’s the thing about creativity: it’s all in your head. Even if you say there’s something outside of you that gives you ideas, they still end up in your head. And the thing about something in your head is this: your worldview, thoughts, and opinions will greatly affect it, and how it’s brought into the world.

Nowhere does this show as clearly as in the way we treat our ideas. People apply the scarcity mindset to their ideas and end up hoarding them. “No!,” they cry. “That’s my idea, you can’t have it.” Or, often heard from bloggers: “I think I should use my best ideas for my site instead of guest posts.”

Ideas are intangible things, completely without form and thus without limit. And, of course, they are abundant. They’re everywhere—how many ideas do you have in a random week? Okay, they’re not necessarily good ideas, but they’re ideas nonetheless.

Now think about how you treat your ideas when you’re influenced by the scarcity mindset. You hoard them or save an idea for later, when you can do justice to it. You don’t tell anyone about your latest idea, whether for fear of them ridiculing you, or fear of them stealing it. You wind up believing, consciously or not, that there exists only a finite number of ideas—more importantly, there’s only a finite number of good ideas—and so you treat them as if there will never be enough to go around. Big mistake.

When you treat your ideas this way, you set up creative blocks. Instead of treasuring the ideas you do have, you’re worrying about where the next one will come from. Instead of using them (and of course, ideas love to be put into action), you’re letting them get dusty on a shelf somewhere. Eventually, the part of you that creates ideas, that pulls them out of the ether—whether you believe that’s your subconscious, a higher self, or a daemon—will start to think you obviously don’t value them if you treat them so, and then the ideas dry up. They cease to come to you, and when they do come, it’s only with much effort.

Here’s a novel idea: instead of hoarding your ideas, use them relentlessly. They don’t have to be used in public, if you’re shy about them or not sure they’re that good—but use them somehow. Test them out, play with them, put them into action.

This sends a message to yourself that yes, these ideas will get used, yes, you do value them, yes, send more, please and thank you! Even if you’re only writing the ideas down and keeping track of them in a swipe file—and that’s all you do with that idea for now—that sends a little signal that you’re willing to act on the idea.

The less ideas you work on, the less ideas you have. So get crackin’!

What to do when life punches you in the gut

On August 14th, a bright & sunny day, I was crossing the street and I turned my ankle. I fell on my foot funny. It hurt, a lot.

It continued to hurt. The swelling didn’t really go down, even days later. After some prompting, we went to the doctor. The verdict: my foot was broken. (An avulsion fracture of the fifth metatarsal. In case you’re curious.)

I didn’t want to go to the doctor. We don’t have health insurance, and we’d just experienced our second-most hellish move ever (the first being when we moved down to Austin from Missouri), which seriously sapped our finances. And I most certainly did not want my foot to be broken.

I can’t do yoga. I can’t cross my legs to meditate. I can only barely, very clumsily, ride a bike, and we just went carless (and there’s not a bus stop in the immediate vicinity, which means we’ve been racking up car2go fees for lack of an alternative). Walking up stairs is an small ordeal (and we just moved to an apartment on the second floor; no elevators). My walking cast is bulky and heavy and slow and hard to move around in small spaces and generally, a big pain in the ass.

I don’t consider myself a stranger to pain; after all, I’ve had my nose pierced (and then subsequently almost ripped it out on accident), I’ve sat under a tattoo needle for two or three hours straight, and then there was last year when I was sick and in almost constant pain. Quite frankly, though? This sucks. It’s not always incredibly painful, but it always hurts. It’s messing with my sleep, which then messes with everything else; I have less energy, I’m more prone to mood swings, and I’m perpetually thatmuch closer to getting upset for a silly reason. The news that we were out of the ingredients for my nightly hot cocoa brought me to tears earlier this week.

Last but not least, it pisses me off that I need help from anyone. I’m like my mom, I can’t even enjoy being waited on; I’m just annoyed that I can’t do it myself.

Sometimes, life punches you in the gut.

You find out your significant other cheated on you or lied to you big time, you’re worried your marriage is falling apart, your marriage actually does fall apart and then you have to deal with the aftermath.

You get in a car wreck. Your child gets sick. Your parent gets sick. Your grandparent dies. Natural disaster strikes. Disaster, in general, decides to stop lurking around the corner and strikes.

Sometimes, more than one of these happens at once. I get it. I’ve been there. This whole year has been a rollercoaster of high highs and low lows – and I know I’m not the only one that’s been on that rollercoaster, not by a long shot.

More likely than not, part of the reason you went into business for yourself is because you wanted to be self-sufficient. You didn’t want to rely on anyone else for having fulfilling work to do, having pride in your work, or your income. And while that tenacity has served you well in other places, it’s likely that here it’s going to bite you in the ass. I get stubbornness, I do. But…

You’ve got to be kind to yourself.

And when you’re stressed out and angry and upset and frustrated and just trying to hold it together at any given moment, being kind to yourself is probably not very high on your list of priorities. That path leads to burnout and collapse.

You have to be able to open up to someone. You need to talk about it. Preferably, someone who isn’t going to judge you if you cry and yell and rage, because judgement is the last thing you need right now.

You need to not work as hard as you normally do, and stop kicking yourself about not getting enough work done. Take the day off. Make your office hours shorter.

Go outside, soak up some sun. Eat something nourishing – if not nourishing, then at least yummy. Smell the flowers and the sun and/or the autumn leaves (depending on where you’re at). Watch your favorite movie – the one with the happy ending. Hell, go find a funny cat video on Youtube and make yourself laugh for a few minutes.

(This is just as much me writing to myself, as it is me writing to you, by the way.)

If this is you right now:

Big hugs. Sending you love and mental chocolate from somewhere else in the trenches. You’re not alone.

If this isn’t you right now:

Think of a time when it was you. Remember if you were kind to yourself, or not, and how that affected things. No judging – just noticing. What will you do differently next time, if anything?

We all need support. That’s one of the reasons I’m so big on systems; the best systems are supportive. In fact, I consider that a key marker of a good system: it makes it as easy as possible for you to take care of yourself. With that in mind, what do you do to support yourself? How do you make sure you get the support you need?

My Secret Productivity Tool: 7 Accountability Tips

For the first guest post ever at Let’s Radiate, I wanted something awesome. So when Melissa offered to write a guest post for me – you know I said yes! Without further ado, I’ll let her take it away…

Here’s a conundrum: I’m an artist in many disciplines, but left to my own devices, sometimes days, weeks, even months or years will go by without my doing the very passions that make me happiest!

In the past year, however, I’ve been more productive and prolific than in the previous decade.

My secret?


It’s truly amazing what happens when you’re held accountable for something. One of my mantras has always been, “In my world, if it doesn’t have a deadline, it doesn’t get done.” And indeed, anything that I have to do for a client gets done, no questions asked.

But the “just for me” stuff? Since it rarely comes with built-in deadlines, I’ve had to figure out how to create my own.

Here are 7 ways to build accountability into your life that have worked for me:

1) Take a class

Classes can be fun, of course, and great for learning new things. But in addition to that, fear of looking like a fool can be a powerful motivator. When I started playing guitar, I spent the first few months learning from a book and tape set. When I finally signed up for a guitar class I found myself practicing much more consistently. After all, I had just a week to get up to speed on the two songs we learned last week, and I didn’t want to be the “worst” one in the class!

2) Create a recurring deadline (ideally with a feedback loop)

One way that I keep myself making art is with my not-quite-daily ArtSpark newsletter, which sends out a new piece of art (almost) every weekday. Though I left myself an “out” by naming it the “not-quite-daily ArtSpark,” in fact, I’ve never missed a day. I know my subscribers expect their weekday “hit” of art, and the emails I get from them energize me to keep me playing in my studio!

3) Get an accountability partner

My friends, M and S, have a pact that they will meet at the gym every morning. Part of the deal is that, if either one is not going to make it, she will NOT let the other one know. M has even started calling S when she’s on her way to the gym. Knowing the other partner is waiting for her gets them both out of bed.

You can do the same thing with anything that’s important to you. A scheduled phone call can be a great pre-studio-time check-in. If you know your partner is about to spend an hour working in her studio, you’re much more likely to actually get to work in yours!

4) Create a mastermind group

A mastermind group is basically a whole group of accountability partners, all keeping each other accountable, helping brainstorm, offering support and advice where needed. It can be focused on a particular theme, and the guidelines are up to the particular group members. I’ve been in a few mastermind groups, and they can be fantastic for accountability.

However, be advised that informal masterminds started by friends do have a tendency to dissolve into chat sessions. Remember, to be effective, a mastermind group needs to stay focused on the goal of helping each other be productive!

Which leads me to…

5) Join a paid mastermind group

I run group coaching masterminds for small groups of creatives, and it never ceases to amaze me how much progress the members make in the weeks we spend together. Investing money into something has a way of making you take it more seriously, and more than once a new member has said that clicking the “buy” button in itself started a shift in energy.

Frequently the knowledge that they’re going to have to report back on their commitments is the only thing that gets members to push past their Resistance and get to work. And that’s exactly the beauty of accountability!

6) Hire a coach

My own life coach has done wonders for my productivity. I’m a coach myself, and though I prefer the title “Inspirationalist,” the fact is that regardless of the title, what I do is a lot like what a sports coach does for an athlete. There’s a certain amount of “head game” involved – figuring out what motivates a client, for example – plus encouragement and cheering-on. But one of the most powerful things a client gets from a coach is simply someone to hold you accountable.

7) Get a job

Okay, this one may sound counter-intuitive, but when I was offered a volunteer job as a receptionist at my yoga studio two half-hours a week in exchange for classes, I jumped at the opportunity! My initial impetus was to save money on the expensive classes. However, I’ve found the even bigger value to be the fact that I have to be at the studio, so I’m guaranteed to get to at least 2 classes a week, whereas if I paid for classes, I might never show up! (My un-used gym membership is proof of that!)

These are just 7 tips that have worked for me. Have you tried any of these accountability tricks? How have they worked for you? Do you have any others to add? Share them in the comments so we can all benefit!

Melissa Dinwiddie is an artist & inspirationalist, whose super-power is getting YOU sparked, stoked and creating. She writes about creative abundance and following your Bliss(es) at her blog, Living A Creative Life. On September 6, 8 and 13, Melissa and Cory Huff of will be hosting three free, open calls for anyone wanting to thrive and live abundantly with and from their art. Let’s change the conversation about art and business, and bust the “starving artist” mindset! Click here to register.

Sprinting vs. marathon running, and creating your finish lines

The key to productivity, Schwartz says, is to “recognize the power of renewal, and have a finish line.” He claims that “we’ve lost our finish lines.”

via the 99%

In other words: we need to be sprinters, not marathon runners. We need a finish line to keep our work life healthy. A finish line gives you a way and a reason to track your progress, see how far you’ve come, pat yourself on the back, and take a break before sprinting again.

This is one of the reasons I’m so insistent on deciding what “done” means before you even start working on a project. If you don’t decide what done means, it’s too easy to get lost in the intricacies of your work, and then when you do try to decide when you’ll be finished, you’re deciding from the trenches, in the moment, usually without looking at the longer term picture or seeing the project as a whole.

And, of course, when you love you work (like I know you do), you enjoy doing it, so it’s incredibly easy to say “Oh, I’ll just do this one more thing!” Except, it never is that one last thing, there’s another one after it, and one after this. This has two effects:

  1. It never gets done, or it gets done much later than intended. This is part of what Seth Godin calls “thrashing” – we get nervous about putting something out in front of people, so we tweak and fiddle and revise and edit, telling ourselves that we’ll get it done…eventually. But we don’t. Understandable, but not very productive.
  2. You end up burned out and unsatisfied. If you keep moving the finish line – even if it’s just a little bit at a time – the side effect is that you don’t feel like you’re making any progress, and you don’t build any momentum. This is draining. It sucks. Nobody likes feeling like they’re spinning their tires and getting nowhere. Quitting the project entirely and working on something else starts to sound awfully tempting.
If you have “shiny object syndrome” in the middle of a project (whether that’s with additions to this project or a new project entirely), resist the temptation to add something else to your plate & to move your finish line. Instead, store the idea somewhere safe – as per usual, I recommend Springpad – and come back to it in a future iteration of what you’re working on, or use it in a different project entirely.

The need to keep from forcing ourselves into a marathon-mindset is also one of the reasons that I love working with projects so much. If you think of something as a project (even if it’s an ongoing, constant project, like website maintenance or writing or what-have-you), it’s infinitely easier to set milestones and finish lines, to pick an oasis to rest in after your sprint.

With working in projects comes a natural cycle – start, work, finish, rest. It’s the same cycle we see in nature and elsewhere, and it’s arguably the healthiest cycle to mimic in your work life. I’ll discuss in a future post how to help create finish lines with ongoing projects – but, in the meantime, take some time today to sit & think about the finish lines you’re creating (or not creating), and how you can honor them.

What are you working on right now? What’s the finish line? And how will you know when you’ve reached it? 

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