Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

I’m delighted to have Laura Vanderkam as my guest today.  She’s the author of several books, including 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and writes the blog, She puts a new spin on your perspective of time.

Busy? 4 Steps to Dreaming Big
by Laura Vanderkam

The pace of life slows a wee bit in summer. Many of us take a break from our usual lives  for a week or two, and vacations offer some time for contemplating big questions (albeit not much time, if you’ve got kids in tow).

One thing to contemplate? Long term projects. What would you like to be doing, personally or professionally, in a few years?

Four years ago, in the summer of 2007, I felt the urge to write another book. Broadly, I knew I wanted it to be about the changing ways parents were spending their time. But there were problems: I had no particular platform to write about that topic. My last book hadn’t sold well. Adding to the complexity? I’d had my first child in May, and much of the cultural ambient noise tells mothers that there’s just no time to raise a family and continue in your current work — let alone take on a big, speculative project.

Of course, since I was researching time use, I soon learned there’s more to the story than the usual time-crunch narrative. But broadly, I still think it’s an important question, one I’ve been contemplating again as I’ve started work on a novel this summer: How do you find time for big, speculative projects in the middle of a full life? How do you engineer a career breakthrough when most minutes already seem spoken for?

Here are a few strategies:

Know your hours. If you haven’t already kept a time log, I really recommend it (you can see some of mine here and here). If you’ve got a lot going on, it’s easy to believe that you have no time for new projects, but I have yet to see a time log where that’s the case. Perhaps time can be redeployed. I don’t have a whole lot of creative energy left at night after the kids go to bed, so I’ve been trying to go to bed earlier, and then I get up early to run, thus freeing up time I was exercising during the workday for speculative writing. As a bonus, running during the wee hours is a nice, meditative way to start the day — one that puts me in a creative mood.

Dare to be disciplined. I recently interviewed Camille Noe Pagán, author of The Art of Forgetting, for a BNET column. To keep herself motivated while writing an 80,000 word novel, she made a chart that had 80 “1k” entries on it. As she wrote another 1000 words, she would cross one of them off. I’ve been trying to do something similar. My daily to-do list features “1000 words” as an entry, and — just like a doctor’s appointment or turning in a column on time — it has to get done.

Silence your inner critic. Feedback is awesome, and I am incredibly grateful to all the beta-readers of All The Money In The World (hitting stores in March!) for their time and occasionally bracing opinions. But while feedback is useful later, the early stages of a speculative project are not the time for compulsive weeding. Try a lot of things and see what works. More than half of those 1000 words a day are going to wind up on the cutting room floor. So what? You don’t see professional musicians out there selling audio files from the 4 hours of practice they do every morning.

Daydream. A lot. Fundamentally, big speculative projects require you to believe that your dreams are as important as anyone else’s. You can ask people for help. You can renegotiate family roles. You can invest resources in making these desires happen. And sometimes, the daydreams themselves will pull you through rough patches. Selling what became 168 Hours took about 18 months after I got the idea. At some point in there, during yet another book proposal iteration, I fixated on an image in my head of my book displayed across a book store’s shelves. It was a motivational picture, and one that I was fortunate enough to later experience in real life when I got off a plane in O’Hare and  saw multiple cheery yellow copies beaming out from the airport bookstore at the world.

What big speculative project would you like to take on? Spend some time this summer thinking about it, and then plan time for that project into your weeks. Of course, it may not work and eventually you may decide to change your goals. But long-term, time invested in work we truly care about tends to pay off. If it matters to you, you have the time for it.

Check out Laura Vanderkam‘s new book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think  and you can also learn more on her blog

Take the self-love challenge and get my book, How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways for free at And you can post your loving acts HERE to reinforce your intention to love yourself. Read my 31 Days of Self-Love Posts HERE.

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