Lowering stress is one reason I transitioned from practicing law full-time to writing full-time. But the path to a successful independent author business is less clearly defined than the one for building a law practice.
As a result of that lack of clarity, my list of things to do (or that I “should” be doing) sometimes seems endless.
Which is why I've been writing about a step I learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. That step is to write down next to each task on your calendar what your purpose is in doing it.
This is my fourth and the last article on the topic.
But it might be the most important one because stress has so much to do with our happiness and health.
Not Knowing What Works
The more articles I read, podcasts I listen to, and authors I talk to the more possible paths to success (or lack thereof) I find.
Unfortunately, a strategy that works for one author might not work for me.
For example, if a romance author who publishes a book a month earns a lot of royalties by running Amazon ads, that doesn't mean my new mystery/suspense series will benefit from the same approach. Not only is it a different genre, I've only written 2 novels in the series so far. In addition, right now I'm still aspiring to publish a novel every six months, let alone one per month.
To add to the difficulty of deciding whether to adopt another author's strategy, it's not always easy to tell how well a particular book or set of books is selling.
A book that ranks in the Top 5,000 on Amazon regularly is probably selling well on that platform. A different book that rarely ranks above 40,000 on Amazon might, however, be earning its author more money.
If the book is sold on multiple platforms in addition to Amazon (such as Kobo and Apple), and in multiple formats (paperback, hardback, e-book, audiobook), and the Top 5,000 book is sold only for Kindle, the lower-ranked booked may earn more money overall.
Because of these differences, comparing ourselves to another author won't always help us figure out which tasks will help us.
Comparison Shopping For Less Stress
As I wrote about last week, noting the purpose of each task when you add it to your calendar helps eliminate unnecessary tasks. Taking the unnecessary items off the To Do list helps with stress management right there.
But it also lowers stress in another way.
By adding a purpose, we are grouping the tasks in a logical way. Now instead of choosing 2 or 3 tasks to do in an afternoon out of a list of 50 that serve multiple purposes, we're choosing among the smaller number of tasks all intended to accomplish the same purpose.
(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t add any cost to the buyer.)
That makes it a lot easier to compare one task to another and decide which one is most worth doing.
To use a shopping analogy, I'm deciding which fruit to buy among a handful of oranges, apples, and pears rather than which food to buy from the whole grocery store.
What Works Best
Let's say my purpose in writing this article about stress management is to encourage readers to buy my most recent nonfiction release, Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. (While I'm happy if you check it out, that's not the purpose. My goal is to connect with other writers by providing useful content.) Once I define that purpose I can now compare to everything else on my task list that might increase sales of that book.
Based on how much time or money each task would cost, I can decide which is the most worth doing.
For instance, if it takes me three hours to write an article, it might make more sense to instead run a sale on the book and spend an extra $35 advertising it.
Which one I choose will depend in part on whether I have more time than money, what I enjoy doing, and whether the article (or the ad) might serve more than one purpose.
An added plus of comparing similar tasks is that it's easier to decide afterward which was more effective. In the beginning, I might try both of the above approaches on different weeks. I can then compare the sales of the book and decide which task resulted in more sales.
When I didn't group tasks by purpose, I was less likely to check my results–because often I didn't know what I'd been aiming for.
Knowing When To Stop Working
To bring this article back to feeling less stress, comparing similar tasks helps me choose which ones to do, but that's not the only benefit. It also helps me feel I have accomplished something when I complete each item on my list.
Before, no matter how much I did or how many items I crossed off, I always ended the day feeling uncertain whether I had moved toward my goals or not. That question often led me to do just one more thing.
Or, if I did stop working for the day, I kept thinking I should have done something more.
Now when I finish the items I've put into my calendar, I feel that my day is finished. I'm more able to relax and so have less stress.
That's because even if each task doesn't turn out to move me toward my goal, I know how to evaluate whether it was helpful or not. So at least in the future I'll be able to choose more valuable tasks.
Eventually, everything on my calendar will help me reach my goals.
That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about a podcast I recently discovered. It's not about writing, but it nonetheless could help you figure out by example what's working and not as you start your novel —