Are You Ready to Get Started?

planning-your-dreams

It’s almost the time of year when we sit back on the couch and reflect on the past year’s doings. Did you tick mark all the goals you wanted to accomplish in 2016? No. Don’t worry about it. You’re in good company.

The past is best left in the past. Let’s take another look at your unfinished goals list. Are they all boring home projects or do you have something special among the list? A childhood dream perhaps? Or a chance at a new career?

Pick the one you’re most passionate about. Can’t decide on just one? Here’s a check list to help:

  • Does your heart beat a little faster when you think about it?
  • Are you anxious to wake up and get started on the goal?
  • Is this something you can see yourself doing for at least a year?

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, then Bingo! You have a winner. Hold on now. Don’t just dive in. Take a breath. If you want this endeavor to be successful, then you should do a little planning first.

Planning 101 – Step 1: Determine What Success Looks Like

You’ve got a goal in mind. Now put on your visualization hat and let your mind wander. Imagine what the goal looks like when you’re done. What must your goal (object, process or career) look, feel, sound like? Are you happy with what you’ve decided?

Write down the criteria you’ve imagined and pin it up on the wall or get high-tech and put it on your mobile device. Keep the criteria in mind as you make decisions along the path to achieving your goal.

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What Can You Learn from Your Last Creative Project?

Learning from our past successes and/or mistakes is critical for growth. Doing more of “what we did right” and less of “what we did wrong” makes a difference in our road to success.

In the project management world, the team holds a “Lessons Learned” session. We talk through the positives and the negatives. Each item is documented for future projects. The negative items are further explored to find ways to mitigate these flaming wrecks before they happen.

Here are a few ways you can do your own “Lessons Learned” for your creative projects:

Be as objective as you can: Pour a glass of wine or grab a handful of chocolate. Your intent in doing the lessons learned is to be better next time

Gather the folks you worked with on the project. Be respectful of their time (especially if you worked with an independent editor. It might not be the best idea to contact a publisher’s editor. You don’t want to ruin your chances for next time.) and don’t push. If they can’t meet with you, then ask them if they’d be willing to express their views via email

Write every thought down (whether you agree with it or not). You can sort them later

Step away from the list and take time to mull things over. Try not to be down on yourself for the negatives. This is a learning tool.

Take action. Hold on tight to the positives and make a plan to correct the negatives.

Remember though – you may not be able to “fix” everything the next go around. It’s a journey.

Road Trip Project Manager Style

First – I want to wish you a Happy Belated Project Management Day in Denver. It was on April 29th. That’s okay. I didn’t get you anything either.

I spent our special day at the Denver Convention Center (home of the Big Blue Bear) attending the 18th Annual Rocky Mountain Project Management Symposium along with 1500 + of my fellow Project Managers. Big Kudos and a Thank You to PMI Mile Hi Chapter for doing a phenomenal job putting this symposium together!

A special note to my fellow authors and other creative folks who are wondering what possible benefit they could glean from this post. Substitute the term “Team” or “Team Mate” with “Reader”, “Film Enthusiast”, “Patron of the Arts” or “Customer.”

Each time I attend a conference or symposium, I discover a common theme(s) I’m supposed to take away from the event. I’d like to share two of these themes or lessons with you, because I believe they impact all of us.

Theme the First: Observing my reactions to interactions with team mates and preparing for the next generation entering the workforce

Our morning keynote speaker, the very funny Connie Podesta, kicked things off with an enlightening session about personality types. She was spot on in my case. I’m one of those “heads down” and “get it done” type folks who absolutely hates small talk. Thinking about the interactions I’ve had with my own team, I realize we have each personality type she defined. It is my responsibility, as the Lead Project Manager on our program, to build a cohesive team structure. Sometimes you just have to look up from your work and interact with people (groan). Note: For more information about Connie Podesta, check out her website.

Building and maintaining team relationships can be difficult. One of the key challenges for a Project Manager is communicating effectively with a multi-generational team. Baby Boomers think differently than Gen Xers (my generation). Gen Yers or Millennials come from a different digital world. Now Gen Zers are about to enter the workforce. In her workshop “Gen Z and Beyond: The Trends that Will Shape the Workforce of Tomorrow”, Aileen Ellis from AME Group Inc. explains this generation is made up of the first true Digital Natives. Communicating and engaging them in our mission goals will require a different approach. Don’t worry. You can do it! Start by having a conversation with your new Gen Zer team mate.

Theme the Second: Seeing Myself as a Service Product

Imagine the anthem “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf booms out of the conference room speakers. The unmistakable roar of a Harley Davidson Motorcycle thunders against the walls as the door flies open. Riding on a beautiful motorcycle is our keynote speaker, Clyde Fessler. Recognize the name? If you’re a Harley fan you do. He is one of the marketing gurus behind the dramatic turnaround of Harley Davidson. It was fascinating to listen how his creative thinking helped this beloved brand not only survive, but thrive. NOTE: Check out Clyde Fessler’s website and drool over the Harleys a bit.

Considering the ways Mr. Fessler made the Harley brand an endearing and enduring part of American culture, I began to realize the importance of branding my product: Project Management and Leadership. What do I stand for? Quality. Professional Ethics. Strong Leadership. Creative Thinking.

What about you? What is your professional brand?

Are Your Platform Building Efforts Working?

The Internet is full of helpful advice on building your author platform. Create a website. Jump on Social Media. Get out there and do a virtual book tour or cover reveal. Great ideas, but how do you know if they’re working? Or are you just wasting your money?

Baseline is a project management term defined as “a starting point for comparison.” One of the first steps a project manager takes when starting a new effort is determining the “current state” of the “thing” they have been assigned to improve. It could be anything from a software system to a marketing campaign.

The next step (after meeting with her team and her clients) is to determine what the “future state” of this “thing” looks like. For example: The project manager is handed an A-frame cabin kit (baseline). It’s pretty boring and too small (current state). Her client wants a wrap around patio and two bedrooms added (future state). Oh yeah. And the client wants it completed in six months (time frame).

Let’s take it from an author’s point of view. You’ve just signed a contract to publish your first book (hooray!), but your publisher told you to beef up your website. Oh boy. You’re not a web developer. What now?

Baseline. Baseline. Baseline.

You’ll definitely put effort into the new design whether you pay someone or DIY. Hopefully, you’ve chosen a web hosting service that offers analytic tools. They’ll tell you how many (unique and returning) visitors have visited your site and how long they’ve stayed. These two data elements are a great place to start.

Example: Current State

Sally Author’s current website gets 10 visitors per week and they stay an average of 12 seconds.

Example: Future State

Sally Author wants her website to get 10,000 visitors per week and they should stay five minutes.

Reality Check: I’m all for dreaming big, but this is Sally’s first book and her last name isn’t Kardashian. It’s more effective to take baby steps with a set (and realistic) time frame.

Better: Sally Author wants her website to get 100 visitors per week and they should stay 30 seconds. She wants to reach this goal within the next three months.

Sally has set her goals with a realistic time frame. Now she can do the research on how to achieve those goals. After the three months are up, Sally can check her results against the baseline to determine what worked and what didn’t.

Last piece of advice: If you can’t baseline something and/or can’t gather data on the effort’s effectiveness, then you are most likely wasting valuable time and money.

Habits are Habitual

My cat crushed his yearly vet check up last week. The vet lifted him off the scales, kitty grabbed it and threw it off the counter like a boss. Grrrr! The vet was all smiles and told me kitty has now reached his perfect weight. After struggling since 2008 to get rid of that pesky extra pound, we finally made it! My geriatric dog, Buddy, has also reached is ideal weight. What changed over this year? I feed them the same amount. We’ve kept to our walking routine though Buddy has slowed down and his distance has shortened (he’s well over 90 in human years). So what changed?

KittyMonster

ME! My eating habits and the way I think about food has changed. What I didn’t realize until this vet visit was just how much my habits – good and bad – impact my pets.

This new revelation got me thinking about my role as a leader. Attitude is also habit. We’ve all seen how infectious a negative person’s attitude can be to a team. It spreads faster than the flu. Whispered gossip and petty bickering between team members will derail a project faster than any risk. If allowed to run wild, the team’s chance of successfully reaching project goals severely decreases.

The leader’s attitude can make or break a project.

Runners

I’ll be honest. Leader is one of the toughest roles I have to play in life. Nothing irritates me more than a negative team member who uses passive-aggressive behavior to spread drama and negativity. I’ve seen this taken to the extreme. One person was so entrenched in her spiteful behavior, she was willing to actively work on destroying a program rather than allow others to be successful. This person was finally removed. The simple change turned the team around and they were successful.

One powerful secret weapon I use as a leader is my habitual positive attitude. Being positive allows your mind to remain open to new ideas and opinions. Most folks would rather follow a leader who exudes positive thoughts and encouragement. They shy away from the old grump who insists on continuing down the same comfortable, but unproductive path.

Remember: Being positive isn’t always easy. Everybody has their bad days. If you work at staying positive and being an encourager to your team, it will eventually become a useful habit. Promoting a positive environment results in increased productivity and more job satisfaction for you and your team.

Choke the Yabut Frog

We’ve all known a friend or co-worker who had half a dozen excuses as to why suggested solutions to their problems wouldn’t work. They laid their problem at your feet. You’d listen patiently and then give suggestions. They’d say “Yeah But…” to each and everyone. I call these folks “Yabut Frogs.” Some people just like to roll in their own garbage. They don’t want their problems to be solved. Not sure if their motivation for this behavior is sympathy or attention (shrugs). Don’t care. I’m too busy choking my own internal Yabut Frog.

Froggie

As I write this post, I’m sitting in another hotel room in the third city I’ve visited within a month’s time. Dusk is falling and frankly, it’s too damn cold to go walking around. Here I sit pondering one of the questions I get asked most frequently at writers conferences.

“How do you kick out so much work?”

It’s a fair question. Based on my earlier statement, you can see I travel for my day job as a project manager. Sometimes I’m on the road far more than others. It depends on the project(s) I manage. Right now I’m juggling three national projects and working on the first book in an epic fantasy series. How do I do it? Well, it comes down to three things (in reverse order):

TimeClock

#3 Be Where You’re At (aka Time Management): One of the best investments I’ve made was taking a course in Time Management. It taught me how to focus on what I was doing in the here and now. In other words, I am present in the moment. I define a goal for the day job or my writing and I focus only on that task during the time I’ve allotted.

Example: I allotted two weeks to complete the edits on the first eight chapters of my epic fantasy. I allotted a few hours each night for the task and committed to have the edits completed before leaving on the trip I’m on now. Goal accomplished.

#2 Lifestyle: I never know when I’ll get the call to hop on an airplane. I also never know what to expect when I get there. It could be a regular work day. I go in at a decent hour and am off by 4:30 local time. Then there are the harry trips. I arrive at the office by 7:00 am and don’t get back to the hotel until 9 or 10 pm. The goals I set for my writing time during these trips are planned in advance.

Don’t let your Yabut Frog start croaking excuses as to why you can’t write! Choke it!

SetGoals

Set reasonable goals: What do I mean by reasonable? Start with something compact like the opening scene of a prologue or finishing edits for the first part of a chapter. If you finish your first goal, then treat yourself. Then move onto the bonus round. Have another goal of something you’d like to accomplish if you have time. Starting an outline for the second book in your series or finishing that rough draft of a short story you’ve been fiddling with.

Personal note: I make sure I finish my first goal, even if I complete it at the gate in the airport on my return trip. However, as much as I love to write, I do take time for fun. A friend of mine is taking me to a local haunt. Will I skip a night of work to visit a pub housed in a building built during the time of the American Revolution? Oh yeah, you bet I will.

#1 Desire: You have to want it bad enough. Yeah. I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it wrong. If you want your dream bad enough, you’ll find the time and the discipline to make it happen. And you will choke your internal Yabut Frog.

I’m going to wrap up with another cliché: “It’s the journey.”

Writing goals are important. Adhering to the time frames to accomplish those goals are equally important. However, it doesn’t matter how many pages you write if you don’t remember to enjoy the journey. Readers are smart. They can tell how much love you’ve put into your work. If you don’t love it, they won’t love it either.  

Not Another Retrospective. Ugh.

HappyNewYear

One of the most important tasks a project manager performs at the end of a project is close-out. The project manager and her team wrap things up neatly before moving on to the next thing. One of the most important tasks within this close-out phase of the project is to conduct a “lessons learned” session with the team and the folks who paid her to complete the project. The group typically sits around a table to talk about what they did right and what they could do better next time. It may not sound like a critical activity, but these lessons learned sessions have covered my back side more than once. I’ve also taken what I’ve learned from one project close out and used it to avoid problems on future endeavors.

And so, here we go on my lessons learned from 2014 as a Writer:

  1. Stay true to my dream. It became clear to me this past year, in order to reach my writing career goals I would have to take risks by Indie Publishing. Thus I became a Hybrid Author. I released two works of Indie fiction in 2014.
    1. Are they represented by a major literary agency? No.
    2. Were they picked up by one of the big houses? No.
    3. Am I pleased with them and proud of my accomplishments. Yes!
    4. Did creating in my art form make me happy? You bet!
  2. Life is like the weather. I can’t control it. The best I can do is prepare for the storms and hold on tight. Oh yeah. And have chocolate on hand
  3. Don’t be too quick to follow the crowd. If I must try new social media trends, make sure I’m actually getting something out of it. Don’t let it become just another time sucker. I’m talking about you, Facebook!
  4. I remembered why I write. It isn’t for the fame. It isn’t for the hope of a fat royalty check. It isn’t for the ego strokes either. I write…scratch that. I tell stories, because that’s what storytellers do. I and others like me have been sharing our imaginations since the beginning. We tell our stories, because the world has, does and always will need to hear them.

These are the lessons I’ve learned from 2014. I’m going to carry them to the next year with me to draw strength from and use for my next new thing. Anything else I can’t use stays in the past. Don’t drag negatives with you. Start fresh from a positive foundation. Each project/ year/ relationship is different. Embrace the difference and enjoy the ride.