A couple of weeks ago I attended a program in which Dr. Brad Shuck, a professor with the University of Louisville and a thought-leader in employee engagement, discussed how the cumulative effect could impact organizational culture. What intrigued me was his idea that many of the contributors to employee engagement were little things that managers could do, that, when done consistently day after day, could have a big impact. He discussed that many of these things, like calling employees by name or thanking employees for specific contributions, were little things that were easy to do, yet they were equally easy NOT to do. But, when done consistently, had a huge impact on culture.
While the concept of the cumulative effect and how it impacts employee engagement probably does not have a lot of relevance to you as writers, the cumulative effect when applied to the writing process does.
The cumulative effect is like the snowball, growing larger and gaining speed as it rolls down the snowy slope, giving momentum and leading to flow—that state when the words are effortlessly forming on the page—that state of writing when it actually becomes fun and rewarding.
What are the little things—the things that are easy to do but equally easy NOT to do—that writers can do that add up to a finished book? Here are some ideas to get you started.
Scavenge for five minute blocks of time. You’re sitting at the doctor’s office waiting for your appointment. You’re waiting to pick up the kids or grandkids after school. You don’t really have time to write, or do you? While you might find that your highest writing productivity is gained in one or two hour time blocks, a tenacious approach to using five minute blocks of time can and will move your project ahead. Use five minutes to create an outline for the second half of chapter 3, to make a list of the people you still want to interview for content, to sketch out ideas for your book’s title or subtitle.
Keep your writing muscle exercised. Are you practicing good daily writing habits? Just as a marathon runner trains for the big race each day, writers working on their books need to keep their writing muscles in good shape. Are you writing daily in your journal? Do you have regular blocks of time scheduled on your calendar? Your writing muscles are like any other muscle: if you don’t use it, you lose it!
Put writing blocks on your calendar. I can’t stress this enough. You won’t ever complete your book by putting it on your to-do list, since you typically work your to-do list by focusing on those tasks that are most urgent. While important, your book is unlikely to be urgent (unless you’re speaking next quarter to a big conference and MUST have your book for that event). At the beginning of each week, block off the time you need and then honor that appointment, or reschedule if you must cancel.
Aggressively guard your time. While it might be fun to spend an hour on Facebook, Words with Friends, or puzzling in your black belt Sudoku book, none of those activities will move you closer to completing your book. Just say no. Say no to volunteer assignments that don’t have short-term payback. Say no to extra work that is fun but doesn’t pay. Your time is your most precious commodity when your goal is to finish your book.
Create a master to-do list for the book. What are all the little things you need to do to get your book done? Have you written the introduction or asked your high profile colleague to write the foreword? Have you written the acknowledgements? What are all the little tasks that need to get done for your book? Use this to-do list when you have five minute blocks of time and want to be productive.
Keep notes pads and pens handy. I love to use Composition books that I buy at the dollar store (yes, they’re only a dollar!). I keep them at my desk, in the car, next to the sofa, in my bedside table. You get the idea. Wherever the muse might visit you, be ready to capture her precious ideas.
Use file folders (virtual or physical) to organize ideas. When you see an article, a story, or an idea that fits with your book, place it in the corresponding file folder by chapter. Then, as you’re working on chapter 4, take the chapter 4 folder with you to the doctor’s office or to review in-between appointments.
Take the 30 day challenge. Each of these ideas is easy: easy to do, but equally easy NOT to do. Will you choose to DO them? My challenge for you: in the next 30 days, pick one, small activity, and do it consistently over the next 30 days. You’ll be creating an excellent habit that will reap you cumulative benefits.
This is the new math, when 1 + 1 really can equal 3!