“This is all so overwhelming.”
An author friend says those words every time I talk to her, whether we’re discussing her goals, her publication timeline, or her to-do list for the next week. I think most authors can identify with her feeling of drowning in their unfinished tasks, worrying what tomorrow will hold for their careers and sanity. I do.
I was in particularly dire straights last summer when I came across business psychologist Tony Crabbe, author of Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much. He described that hamster-on-the-wheel mental state that can consume our days. He outlined a simple technique that’s helped me get off the mental whirligig and back to getting stuff done.
Schedule your worry.
The fancy term is stimulus control. It’s simply postponing our anxiety until we can deal with it intentionally. If you lose your way while hiking, you’re told to sit down until you’re calm so you don’t disorient yourself further. Scheduling your worry is the same concept.
Crabbe highlights the research of Ad Kerkhoff, a professor of clinical psychology at Vrije University, Amsterdam: “Kerkhof suggests we should actively and deliberately worry, just not all the time. Instead, we should set aside a couple slots in the day, fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening, as our ‘worry time.’”
A simple technique to manage your worry:
1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. List your concerns.
3. Think about them.
4. At the end of fifteen minutes, stop worrying.
It sounds too simple to be effective, but it works for me. When an unfinished task pops into my head and I feel chest-clenching stomach-rolling worry, I take a deep breath and promise myself I’ll focus on it later. Then, I actually do focus on it during my 15-minute worry time.
“As Tom Borkovec, professor of psychology at Penn State, says, ‘When we’re engaged in worry, it doesn’t really help us for someone to tell us to stop worrying … If you tell someone to postpone it for a while, we are able to actually do that.’” —Tony Crabbe, Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much.
Lower the volume on worry.
If you’re postponing your worry, how do you quiet the anxiety until you’re ready for your fifteen minutes of scheduled worry time?
In Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott, award-winning author and creative writing instructor, encourages us to silence the screaming voices in our heads:
“Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want — won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.”In this post: What author Anne Lamont says about managing the negative voices in our heads. #85K90 Click To Tweet
We can paraphrase this for the 60-Day Prep cycle:
Turn the volume down on worry, and get back to your author goal list, your comp title research, and/or your audience development plan. Or, simply, focus on one task per day so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
When I go into my fifteen minutes of worry, I let the walls drop and fears start pouring onto the page. If it starts to feel like too much, I look for a little perspective.
“First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” – Dale CarnegieFeeling stressed? Worried? Ask yourself: What's the worst that can happen? @KristiAutin #85K90 #amwriting Click To Tweet
Beginning Dale Carnegie’s practice was a game changer for me. Suddenly a problem that gave me nightmares and stomach pains didn’t seem so dire. Recognizing my own resilience put the power in my hands. I didn’t have to be a thrall to my to-do list.
One of my clients has the sanest approach to publicity and marketing I’ve ever heard: “It’s not life or death.” The monthly newsletter is going out a few hours later than we’d hoped. So what? If we have to save one piece of promotion until next month because of time or cost, no one is going to be hurt.
It’s amazing how perspective can motivate us, give us the freedom to enjoy our work, and treat ourselves with a little more mercy.
Make a plan.
Once I’ve listed my worries, let my emotions run for fifteen minutes, and faced the worst-case scenario, I develop a clear mind to solve the problem.
Crabbe writes that many of his clients find it helpful to make a plan once or twice a day to solve the problems, often at the start of the day or at the end of the day. I don’t recommend doing this right before bed. Instead, I do it before I leave my desk at the end of the work day.
If you’re overwhelmed at any point in the 60-Day Prep or 60-Day Publish cycles, take a deep breath then schedule 15 minutes of “worry time.” Spend the other 23 hours and 45 minutes making your writing dream a reality.
Additional Helpful Resources During the 60-Day Prep
- 60 “Things To Do” Before Publishing 60 Tasks in 60 Days. One 60-Day Prep item added every day with additional resources in the 60-Day Edit Forum.
- Prep for Publishing: Know Your Author Goals Benefits of having author goals. Are you a career or hobby writer? How to define success. A word about awards and bestseller lists. Planning for the future.
- Prep for Publishing: Know Your Comparable Titles 8 Benefits of Knowing Your Comparable Titles. Common Objections to Finding Comp Titles. 11 Resources for Finding Comp Titles. 11 Resources to Record About Your Comp Titles. Comparable Titles Worksheet.
- Publishing Your First Book? Know Your Audience Audience information you’ll need to publish and market your book. Audience needs, wants, and desires. 21 Audience-specific Descriptors to Consider. 7 Sources of Audience Data.
About Kristi Tuck Austin
Kristi Tuck Austin waded New York City sewers, ran from trains, and slid through a water pipe to the Harlem River while researching her novels. She’s celebrated Thanksgiving in the Paris catacombs, hiking, crawling, wading (again), and dining by candlelight. In her daily life, which is dry and above ground, she’s founder of Tuck Austin Associates, a literary and media services company that helps authors connect with readers.
Did you know?
Kristi Tuck Austin answers reader-submitted questions about publishing, marketing, and the writing life in a once-monthly email delivered to her subscribers. It’s a Dear Abby for authors. Join the discussion at http://eepurl.com/cX1Li9.
As a member of the 85K Writing Challenge Editorial Board, Kristi Tuck Austin is a weekly contributor to the site during the 60-Day Prep cycle. Enjoy Kristi’s posts every Thursday throughout August and September. Connect with Kristi in our Forum and on Kristi Tuck Austin’s Member Profile Page on the 85K Writing Challenge. She’d love to discuss ways to schedule your worry!