Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Race Against Time

Writing Thinking Things Done is probably the hardest project I have ever undertaken in my entire life.  Not because the writing itself is difficult, or because of my ridiculously ambitious goals for the book.  But rather, because the project itself has forced me to confront so many of my own challenges around deadlines, time management, and above all, patience.

(And all that was just during the first four chapters!)

At the same time, this has been also the single most rewarding project I've ever undertaken, even if I never make a penny off it.  Heck, I've slain so many inner demons these last few months, I should get a guest spot on Buffy The Vampire Slayer!

I've beaten my carpal tunnel syndrome, and especially my fear of it.  And during the writing so far, I've lost over 27 pounds, staying on a more ambitious diet and exercise regimen for two months than I've ever lasted two weeks on before.

But the biggest challenge of all was facing down my old enemy, time.

I first came up with the idea for the book in late June, and launched the website for it in July, with a few videos.  Then the project languished a while, as I tried to drum up some marketing partnerships to do a product launch for the book. 

I told myself that I could write the book in maybe a month or so, but that it was important to have the marketing ball rolling before I started on it.  But all the while, I felt the time ticking slowly away, and with it, my finances.

My contract with OSAF was due to end in November, but I cut back my hours anyway, to spend more time on the marketing, and on planning the book itself.

The pressure was building, and I was increasingly afraid that I was going to end up having a bunch of people ready to promote the book, but not have there be a book yet for them to promote!

It was a vicious cycle, because I'd keep moving the deadline to deal with the lack of partners, and going slow on the partners because of the lack of a book.  I began worrying about what kind of reputation I was going to create, both with my customers and my partners!

And I've spent most of my life trying to avoid slow-motion project disasters like that, ever since a school project that went south around the fourth grade or so. 

Usually what would happen, is that I'd start something ambitious, discover that it wasn't going as quickly as I needed it to, and then start rapidly lowering my standards to try to make the deadline!  But I also usually wouldn't lower my standards fast enough, or make enough adjustments to my approach, until I was in way over my head.

And even if I managed to squeak out a passable result by the deadline, I'd never feel good about my efforts or the results.

This time, though, I was determined to stick to a promise I made myself last year, when I vowed to never force myself to do anything ever again, but to always seek first to understand my resistance.

So, when I got freaked out about how things were going, I didn't throw my goals out the window or panic.  I took the time -- however much I had to -- to find out what the hell was broken in my mind, that was keeping me from making progress.

And, more often than not, the thing that was keeping me from working was some form of time or deadline fear.

Because, as I say in my books: "what pushes you forward, holds you back."  The very thing you think should be a motivator for you to do something, inevitably makes it harder to do instead!

And at this point, I've lost track of exactly how many time-related fears and beliefs I had, that I had to get rid of these last few months.  Some originated in fears that I would disappoint my parents when I was a child.

Others were things like a belief that if something takes a long time, that automatically makes it hard or difficult.  (That one was keeping me from doing longer workouts, as well as making me frustrated when the writing went too slowly.)

I also had to deal with a compulsion to "be the best", that made it hard to rationally view my goals for the book, or how much time I should allot to writing it.

And, when carpal tunnel struck and kept me away from the keyboard for weeks on end, I had to deal with the fear that there was nothing I could do about it, and fears of pain and discomfort with the exercises I needed to do to fix it.

I dealt with the fear that I would disappoint my father by not living up to his standard of "practice what you preach".  After all, if what I had to say in my book was so good, how long it took me so long to write it?

And when I began to struggle a bit with holding a multi-chapter piece together, trying to figure out how to keep the flow of the writing together, while creating larger themes and structures, I even managed to change my persistent thought of, "I don't know how to do this," into "I'm learning how to do this."

But after all of that, the biggest thing by far, was a fear I never even suspected I had.

Earlier this week, I had just managed to get my act together well enough to edit together a smooth-flowing chapter 2 and 3, and I was making a little bit of progress on chapter 4.  But the time pressure was getting to me again.

I'm planning to take printed copies of the book with me to a workshop in late January.  In order to do that, I need to have the book not only written, but also fully laid out and formatted by January 12th.  The book's current plan called for 16 chapters...  and I'd been working on those first three chapters for more than three weeks.  The math was not looking very good.

Fortunately by now, my wife has been on the receiving end of enough coaching and mind-hacking from me, to be able to help me a bit with my issues.  Heck, just having her listen helps, as it's easier to hear the flaws in my own thinking if I say them out loud.

But she's also good at "pushing my buttons", i.e., figuring out emotionally volatile things to say.

I know, you wouldn't normally expect that to be a good thing, but the way my techniques work, you use emotionally-charged stimuli as before-and-after tests.  If you can successfully make your reaction to something go away, you know you've successfully changed the underlying belief or thought process.

So there we were, "pushing my buttons" about how embarassed I'd be to show up at the workshop without any books, or if I didn't finish the book for another six months, and various other nightmare scenarios.  It was a pretty good experience, in that I did manage to get rid of some residual fears-of-shame that were a factor in the time pressure.

I felt better, but only for another day or so.  When chapter 4 still wasn't done, after almost 3 days work on it, I felt frustrated at how slowly things were going.

But I noticed something that I hadn't before.  I was having the same problems with the writing as I'd been having the week before, when I wasn't doing the full three-phase outline/brainstorm process I'd developed.  I'd developed that process to save time, because until that point, I'd been having trouble keeping my writing both focused on the main points, and linking the points together.

But this week, I'd stopped doing that.  I'd made only the most cursory effort at outlining chapter 4, so my work was meandering again.  "Why," I asked Leslie (mostly rhetorically), "am I not doing what I already know works to speed this process up?"

I don't remember what she said in reply, because my brain had already leapt ahead to the answer:

"Because it's too slow."

Of course, this made no logical sense.  Thoroughly outlining had been saving me time, not slowing me down.  But this was a bug in my brain talking, and by definition, brain-bugs don't make any sense.

But seeing the bug brought forward a heck of a lot of emotional baggage, and an insight into a whole lot of my personality, that previously made no sense to me.

The bug was of the "judgment" variety.  That is, it was an emotional belief linking a behavior with a personal characteristic or quality.  It was also an ideal-belief-reality conflict, meaning that it was a fear of having that quality, manifested as a compulsive ideal to be the opposite of that quality.

In my case, the quality was being "slow", originating in shame and disappointment at losing foot races as a child.  The reversed ideal, therefore, was that I had a compulsive need to be fast.

In retrospect, it was easy to see how I've spent my life obsessing over faster ways to do things - everything from learning as many keyboard shortcuts as possible in every program I use, to always wanting to be the fastest programmer wherever I worked.

And, more to the point, I saw that whenever there was pressure to win or to finish something on time, I tended to be sloppy and less thorough, trying to make up by rushing.

In addition, I could see that a big reason my house-cleaning and exercise projects never went as well as they could, was because I didn't want to spend a lot of time doing "slow" things.  Just thinking about such long-term projects made me uncomfortable.

In fact, thinking about any long-term projects used to make me uncomfortable!

Luckily, "judgment" bugs are ridiculously easy to fix, using the Fourgiveness technique I discovered last October.  This particular one took maybe 30 seconds, if that, to get rid of.

And as soon as I did, I felt a weird sensation in my body.  It was like I could feel myself slowing down...  like my blood pressure was dropping, heart rate slowing, and muscles relaxing.  It was almost as if I'd spent my whole life running on the wrong "clock speed", and now it was finally fixed.

And I began feeling more relaxed than I could ever remember being -- even on holidays and vacations.

It was almost like time had stopped for me.  I had absolutely zero urgency, about the book, or about anything.  For the first time, I began feeling like I was really, truly had all the time in the world.

But I didn't know what to do with it!

Without my compulsive "need for speed", and with no more emotion about the deadline, I had lost all my bearings for organizing my time.  When I tried to decide what to do next, I found myself uncertain and drifting.

But later that evening, I stumbled on the remaining bug: on some level, I believed I needed to make sure that anything I decided to do was "right" or "what I was supposed to do".  Under the time-pressure belief system, what was right was either the fastest way forward, or else a complete halt.

So I took a few minutes to fix this bug, which was just a holdover from childhood, when I either blasted through my schoolwork ahead of the other children, or just sat around waiting for the rest of the class to finish the assignment or test.

Because what the belief didn't take into account, is that I'm a grownup now.  That means, I now get to decide what constitutes "right" and "supposed to"!

And now, since that evening, things have been quite a bit different around here.

Suddenly, it seems as if there are far more hours in the day than there used to be, and a more pleasant life in those hours.  The idea of finishing the remaining 12 chapters in just a few more weeks, doesn't sound quite so implausible any more.

And I find myself more easily able to imagine doing things thoroughly, too.

I've been seeing that, all too often, I've built even small projects up in my mind until they seemed too hard, or too long to be practical or profitable.  When in reality, I could have just started on them, and taken however long they took, in a relaxed and patient manner.

So even though I never realized it, never really felt it, It seems I've been rushing through, all my life.  My slowest speed was "turbo boost" by comparison to now, and yet, I see that I'm probably going to get more done now.  More haste, less speed, I suppose.

Anyway, I just wanted to share all this with you, and give you a little heads-up on when the book's coming out.  The plan is still for me to get the first printed copies in hand in the third week of January, but I'll probably send out an e-book edition to Circle members before then, and also put both the e- and regular editions on sale before then as well.

Also, sometime before January 1, I should have a free preview edition containing the first four chapters, the ones I just finished writing.  I figure that should be enough for somebody to tell whether or not they'll like the rest, especially since I'm using the "rule of thirds".

That is, I'm writing so that roughly one-third of the people who read it will love it and absolutely have to have it, one-third will be offended and hate my guts for having dared to write it, and the other third won't care one way or the other!

(Of course, that's just a theory; in practice, everyone might love it, or hate it.  We'll have to see!)

Anyway, if you want to get the free preview edition, be sure to get on the waiting list right away.  If you previously filled out the long survey I had up on ThinkingThingsDone.com, or if you signed up to get the prequel ("Why Can't I Change?"), you don't need to do anything, because you're already on the waiting list, and you'll get the sample chapters as soon as I release them.