REFLECTION: This year, 2011, marks my 25th year in business. To celebrate the occasion, I’ve committed myself to writing and publishing my fifth book. ‘Press Pause…Think Again’ is scheduled for release early this fall. It’s going to be similar in style to its older sister, ‘Press Pause…Press On’ – both of them compilations of the most popular Pause messages.
It’s been nine months since I took my first tentative steps on this project. You’d think I might have given birth by now! However, pulling the material together has been an arduous, circuitous, on again, off again process – even though I’ve been down this path before.
Have you noticed that some projects are like that? Slippery? Tough to get a grip? Expanding in possibility one moment, and shifting direction the next? It wasn’t until last week that the organizing structure for the material finally came into focus. And it wasn’t for lack of effort on my part.
Let me recap, so you’ll know what I mean. Last spring, I reviewed the Pause messages from the last six years – some 300 in total. I earmarked those with potential for another book and ended up with 121 of them. Since I only needed 64 for another volume, my first thought was, “Heh – that’s enough for two books!” And so, overnight, the project doubled in size.
Using post it notes, I grouped the essays into chapters for two books. The grouping did not flow easily. I felt like I was forcing it. And so, I set the project aside for a while.
As I ruminated on the possibilities, I cast around for other ways to organize the material. I also realized that some essays were weaker than others. What to do? Rewrite them? Divvy up the weak and strong across two volumes? Or, perhaps regroup to the original plan and select for one really strong edition instead of two. Are you confused? I was!
I eventually opted for the third approach – one strong volume. I discarded the post it note approach to organizing, and set up a spreadsheet to rank the strength of each of the messages. As I ranked them, I coded them for two different chapter structures. Surprisingly, the top ranked pieces sorted quite readily into both organizing structures; but, as I worked with them, it was clear I preferred one option to the other.
And so, with the final choice of chapter structure clear, the collection of strongest pieces pretty much sorted themselves into a readable, logical order. I was euphoric at the resolution – even though it was a long time coming.
ACTION: Why am I telling you about this? Because I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who struggles with the world of project-dom – swinging from optimism and excitement to overload and frustration and back again. I figure there might be a few lessons to glean from the experience. Here’s what I’ve noted so far.
Projects don’t always unfold in linear order – A to B to C to D. Yet, those unexpected loops and sidesteps aren’t always a waste of time or energy. They might just be what’s needed to bring you to a better resolution in the end.
That said, I will admit nothing beats clarity of purpose from the get go. A clear purpose is especially helpful in staying on track as a project unfolds; because distracting opportunities are sure to arise. I had no intention of creating two books, but at one point, it mistakenly seemed like a waste of resources not to head that way.
You can’t force a good result. Sometimes a resolution takes perking time. When a project feels like it’s unnecessarily tough slogging, it may be time to step away – to let the dust settle and the mind clear.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat. If one tool isn’t doing the job, try another.
Sometimes there can be several equally good ways to go. Trust your instincts to pull you through those points of indecision.
Tossing around problems and possibilities with friends or colleagues can help – whether they know something about your project or not. Fresh eyes and fresh ideas help you see things differently.
In the end, nothing gets accomplished without some serious focused effort. You can’t beat a few solid hours or days of bottom in chair and nose to grindstone.
PS – I’ll keep you posted on book developments as the manuscript moves out of my hands and on to my editor, illustrator and graphic designer.
PS 2 – Good luck with your projects. May you take them in stride and not let them add too much overload to your life.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Trust the process.” – Eric Smith
RESOURCE OF THE WEEK: Here’s an interesting Harvard Business Review blog posting on the power of making time for reflection, and learning from your experience: The Best Way to Use the Last Five Minute of Your Day by Peter Bregman.
READERS WRITE: This section of the Pause e-zine has proven to be so popular over the years, that I am including many reader anecdotes in Press Pause…Think Again. Here’s an opportunity for you to make a contribution if you’re so inclined. I’m still looking for reader experiences on these six themes:
1. Being creative about where and how we work.
2. Strategies for sharing the load with others when they’re busy, too.
3. Being a Beneficial Presence in the lives of others.
4. Clarifying facts before jumping to conclusions.
5. Building in down time between tasks and projects.
6. Choosing significance and quality over quantity.
If you’ve got a story to share, I’d love to hear it.