My May Morning Routine Challenge

It’s 3 months since I went freelance, and I’ve been recording a video diary almost every week to document how things are going, which I’ve been sending out to subscribers of the CMC newsletter.

However a few weeks ago the videos stopped (as any subscribers will have noticed). I had a lot of great feedback such as this from Margaret Pinard of Taste Life Twice on Facebook:

“Just got the latest installment of Ditch the Day Job Diaries, and particularly enjoyed the gardening clips (frog! goat!) and the community feel behind Freelance Fridays. And I love that quote about over and underestimating what you can do- will have to mull that one over… thanks for the great content, Milo!”

But I also got some feedback saying that there wasn’t enough info about how I was structuring my day, finding work etc. This gave me pause for thought, as if I’m bothering people once a week with a new video, I want it to be as useful as possible for them. And as fun as it was to film myself cycling to the local beach as I did in episode 8 below, perhaps it was a tad self-indulgent!

Structure? What Structure?

Now I can’t really talk about the work I’m doing for clients in detail, but I can talk about how I’m structuring my day, right?

The problem though was that I wasn’t structuring my day, at all. I’ve already written about how being productive in the morning isn’t my strong point, even when I was working full-time. Well let’s just say that leaving your job doesn’t miraculously make your bad habits disappear – in fact, for more it made them worse!

I’d quite been enjoying lying in and waking up in a a leisurely fashion, and staying up late watching daft films starring Nicholas Cage and Jason Statham on Netflix. Yes I was getting work done for clients whenever necessary, but I wasn’t taking my own creative goals forward. By the time my wife Mel got home from a full day’s work, I’d achieved very little.

Phase 1: Adjustment Bureau

After 3 months I’m the first to admit that although I’ve had enough to keep me going, the work isn’t exactly flooding in. Luckily I have a bit of a safety net for the first year but if 3 months can fly by that quickly, then it won’t be long before I’m looking back thinking ‘what happened to the last 12 months?’ and wishing I’d used the time more wisely (as I scour the bins in the alleyway behind the local Chinese takeaway for scraps of food and a slight glimmer of hope from a discarded fortune cookie).

I’m now seeing that first three months as a natural period of adjustment. After 10 years of working in the civil service I was somewhat institutionalised to the daily grind of sitting in an office all day, and I had also been diagnosed with chronic stress during the last year because of trying to juggle so many different things in my life and general unhappiness with my work. I needed some recovery time.

But I also came to realise that if I kept up my slovenly lifestyle, things weren’t going to get any better any time soon, which is why I’ve designated the next 3 months (including May) “Phase 2″.

Phase 2: This Time It’s Serious

In this phase I’m determined to finally establish some better habits, and this time failure is not an option. Now I’ve often read about how to do this, and people I respect like Leo Babauta and Michael Nobbs, amongst many others, advise starting small. Most people fail, they say, because they try to take on too many new habits and behaviours at once.

It’s true – I know this because I’ve done it time and time again – set out with good intentions to get up early, go to the gym, write every day etc etc but after a week or sometimes only a few days, it all comes crashing down again because it’s not realistic.

The sad truth is by the time you hit my age (34), or even a lot younger than that, your bad habits are deeply ingrained. It takes a lot to change them. This infographic shows just what’s involved in the process, and it looks so complicated that it puts you off even trying:

Source: lifehacker.com via Milo on Pinterest

 

So in the interest of keeping things as simple as possible, I’ve decided to commit to two specific things for the month of May:

1. Get up at 7:30am at the latest (Mon-Fri)

2. Write 1000 words in 25 minutes (preferably first thing in the morning)

And that’s it! If I can stick to these two positive habits in May then I hope to add more over the next few months. I’m using a great website called Chains.cc to help myself stick to this plan. For this week only, you can watch a brand new episode of The Ditch the Day Job Diaries below which goes into more detail about this (episodes are usually only for subscribers).

Creative Accountability & The Clear-Minded Copywriter 

I’m also having fortnightly accountability calls on Skype with Fabian of The Friendly Anarchist. Again, it took us a few weeks to get into our stride, but now we seem to have hit on an excellent system where we commit to specific weekly tasks and send each other the proof that they’ve been done. If we fail, we have to give money to the hateful right-wing organisation the BNP, which is one of the best motivations not to fail I’ve ever discovered. So that is definitely helping in terms of taking things forward with my own creative stuff.

And I’m making much more of an effort to find and apply for new work, including setting up a portfolio site called The Clear-Minded Copywriter, which I hope to add to and improve over the next few weeks.  I’m hoping that if by the end of the 3 months this effort will have paid off – either way that will be the time for a review to see how things are going and what I need to do differently.

If you’d like to see how my morning routine challenge for May is going, I’ll provide updates in the next episode of the Ditch the Day Job Diaries. Sign up to receive new episodes each week plus access to all of the videos so far in the series!

 

Introducing: Share Your Wares Sundays (& free Four for Feb PDF)

So here at long last is the promised downloadable PDF featuring the work of some of our Four for Feb creative talents. Yep, just right click on the below link and select ‘save as’ to download and it’s all yours. Or just click and you’ll be able to view it in your browser.

Four for Feb – File Under Finished

(featuring Blythe Robertson, Kim Manley Ort, Melissa Davies, Aunty Emily, BaldbossPaul MacLeod and a couple of others).

Introducing: Share Your Wares Sundays

Now although the Spring-clean Your Routine challenge is all about stopping doing things that are no longer a good use of your time, I know that a lot of readers of this blog are still doing great work each and every week. And that’s why I thought ‘Share your Wares Sundays’ would be a good idea – so that you can let other people see what you’ve been up to during the week on the Clear-Minded Creative Facebook page.

Whaddya mean, “Wares”?

Now the word ‘wares’ usually refers to ‘goods for sale’ but I thought it fit here because

(1) it rhymes with shares

and (2) I want to encourage you to value your creative outputs and maybe even consider selling them in future.

The most important thing for now though is to share them and let other people see them, so if you’ve done something creative this week, feel free to post it. There is only one rule:

Rule 1: You must have completed it during the 7 days prior to the Sunday you post it. Note that it doesn’t matter when you started it, it could have been five years ago for all I care, but it has to have been completed during the past 7 days.

That’s it! Hopefully there will be something you create this week that you’ll be up for sharing next Sunday :)

P.s. a note on this blog’s schedule

I’ve not been sticking to the schedule of posting Mondays and Thursdays as religiously as I did at the beginning because I’ve had extra freelance work on and it’s keeping me extremely busy, plus in two months I get married and there is a lot of stuff to do for that. Also I’m thinking it might get a bit dull and I’ve got a few different ideas I’d like to try out in the next few weeks.

So apologies if you notice a variation in the days I post over the next wee while. If I can settle into a workable pattern I might change the schedule permanently, in which case I’ll let you know.

Spring-Clean Your Routine

Spring Cleaning by √oхέƒx™

Congratulations to everyone who completed the Four for Feb challenge (the downloadable PDF memorabilia thingy will be posted soon), and even if you didn’t quite make it but managed to do something creative during the month, it’s a great achievement. Why? Because NONE OF US HAVE ENOUGH TIME.

The demands on our time and attention only increase as we get older and our lives become more complex (unless you’re already retired or independently wealthy  in which case congratulations!).

Most of us work full-time. Some of us do extra freelance or other creative work on top of that. Some people have children, some are in long-term relationships. Most have daily, weekly and monthly chores to get done. Some people have people to care for, or their own illnesses and other issues and problems to deal with.

And most of us like to have a bit of a social life and have fun every now and again to0. It’s important t0 get some downtime,  to properly rest and relax. And we like to keep up with what’s going on in the world, through a variety of sources, the news, blogs, magazines, TV.

So for most of us, are lives are already full. We have packed our days to capacity with endless activities, and I for one find it overwhelming at times.

So the next challenge I’m suggesting is one where you sit down and actually work out how you can free up some space in your schedule.

Leo Babauta, one of the most successful bloggers on the planet, wrote a brilliant post about how you need to create time to make serious changes in your life. This is what I did for myself when I gave up writing about local music and recording my monthly podcasts, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed doing, because I knew they were not sustainable activities in the long run because neither earned me any money.

Does that mean I won’t do things for free that I enjoy in the future? Not at all. But by giving up those things I was able to get experience doing other things, and spend some time working out what I wanted to do next, and actually earn some money doing other freelance writing/web work. Last year I also missed out on blogging for a few months, and didn’t socialise very much, all because I was focused on trying to get work I enjoyed.

So you do need to prioritise and decide what’s most important to focus on. Seth Godin’s book The Dip is all about the difficult period in any project or activity when your enthusiasm wanes, difficulty levels increase and you need a lot of self-discipline just to continue. His point is that in some cases it’s extremely important to get through the dip to the other side, but in some cases it’s not worth it because they are dead-ends. You need to decide which of your activities is which, and stop the ones that are getting you nowhere.

But even then, you might struggle to find any free time, because you lack the basic awareness of how you’re behaving throughout the day. I know I can be in denial sometimes about my procrastination, but spending an hour reading blogs when I could be writing my own is probably not the best use of that one hour each day that I can keep free to myself. Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours is all about this topic, and she suggests tracking how you’re spending your time. You can download a free time management spreadsheet from her site which will help you do this.

As we’ve seen from many of the Clear-Minded Creative Type interviews so far, a strict routine can be the best way to stick to get creative work done, whether it be managing your projects along with your caffeine intake like Hande Zapsu Watt, or getting up ridiculously early each morning like Thom Chambers. Here it’s impossible not to mention Leo Babauta again as his book The Power of Less talks about setting morning and evening routines which allow you to be creative, or get regular exercise, or even just to get some quiet time to yourself to read a book.

So the challenge for March/April is to “spring-clean your routine” and find at least one regular time-wasting activity that is no longer of value to you and no longer contributes to your goals to eliminate from your life.

In March I suggest you try and become aware of how you’re spending your time. Spring starts on 21st March so see if you can identify by then what you’re going to stop doing and make a plan for how you’re going to do it.

Then in April you can start to establish a new routine to allow you to achieve your creative goals. Imagine how freeing it will be to have that extra space in your life to achieve what you really want. I guarantee you will feel more clear-minded as a result :)

Photo credit: √oхέƒx™ Note: all book links are part of Amazon.com’s affiliate scheme. Because I need the money to buy Apple products.

Four for Feb: The Final Countdown

Ok so today is the last day of February. If you signed up for the Four for Feb challenge, how did you get on?

If you succeeded, well done. If not, I can fully understand, because I struggled this month myself (apart from the four photos I took that you can see here).

In January I had every weekend free, leaving me plenty of time to concentrate on this blog. But in February two of my weekends were taken up with family visits, and I also started doing some extra freelance work.

All this meant that I had great difficulty sticking to the schedule I had set myself, and  last week I didn’t manage to send out a newsletter AT ALL.

So apologies, newsletter subscribers – I’ve let you down, and I’ve let myself down. I could list all my excuses here but really there’s no excuse.

And because you didn’t get a reminder about your Four for Feb projects last week I’ve decided to give everyone a few extra days to complete their projects and send them to me for inclusion in Four for Feb: File Under Finished which is a little downloadable keepsake that I’m in the process of putting together (sneak preview below).

So let me know about your finished Four for Feb projects by midnight on Sunday 6th March and I’ll make sure they’re included! You can either comment below, send me an email or message over Twitter, or post your finished work over on the Facebook group.

In the meantime, stay tuned because next Monday I’ll be suggesting a nice simple challenge for the rest of March which will enable you to make space for future creative projects now that spring (and therefore new beginnings) are just around the corner.

A Clear-Minded Creative Challenge: Four for Feb

There are exactly four weeks in February. With it being a nice short month, it’s the perfect opportunity to set yourself an achievable goal and commit to completing it.

If you have trouble sticking to your goals, it’s important to keep this one as simple as possible. All I’m suggesting you do is commit to taking part in one creative activity each week for the month of February.

It can be as simple as sticking to one blog post a week. Now that might sound laughably easy, but in the past I’ve gone for weeks without updating my personal blog. I committed to updating this blog twice a week in January and although at times it was difficult to fit it in, I’m delighted to have achieved that goal. Of course one month isn’t a long time but it’s a good start and it’s helped my confidence.

Some suggestions

Here are some other ideas for what you could do each week so that by the end of February you have four concrete creative tasks completed:

  • One painting or drawing a week
  • Write one new song each week or spend an hour a week practising a musical instrument
  • One photography project a week (see the 30/30 project for a nice example)
  • half an hour of knitting
  • Write one chapter of a book
  • Write a poem

Obviously the options are endless and you’ll no doubt have your own idea of what you want to focus on. It could even be something that’s not creative in and of itself, but something that helps you get more clear-minded, such as committing to going for a walk somewhere different for an hour a week (the fantastic Bindu Wiles wrote a great post about exploring/aimless wandering on her blog) or it could be learning a new skill to help you fulfil your longer term creative goals.

Set yourself up for success

The whole point is not to over-estimate what you’ll be able to achieve. Keep it very simple so that you’re setting yourself up for success at the end of the month.

Maybe next month you can build on that success but for now you want to make it as foolproof as possible (we all know unexpected events can come up that will stop us achieving what we want).

It’s also important to make this goal something you really want to do, not something you feel you should be doing, or you just won’t have the motivation to complete it.

Let yourself eat cake!

Reward yourself. You know you want to!

Visualise yourself at the end of February having completed your goal. How will you celebrate? Try and come up with a small but satisfying way you can reward yourself, such as going for a nice lunch or buying yourself a new book. Cake is another valid option..

Make the pledge

Here’s a pledge you can print off, sign, and stick on your wall to remind you to do what you’ve planned – or you might prefer to set aside a couple of hours each week in your calendar/add a weekly reminder.

Will you take the challenge?

Let me know in the comments if you’re up for taking part and if so, what you’re going to commit to, even if it’s something you’re already doing regularly (keeping momentum up can be just as hard as starting something new). Feel free to email me with your finished projects and you may even see your work mentioned in the weekly newsletter.