How do you push through when you feel overwhelmed by a big writing project or by so much workload that you don’t know where to start? This is the chronic state of modern life—stuff comes at us faster than we can manage. I’m probably like you, dealing with this every dang day. Through my years in leadership positions, I’ve learned a lot the hard way and some advanced techniques from mentors. So I want to share the best of what works for me in my professional work as a biographer.

[Disclaimer: This article refers to some books that have helped me, which include Amazon affiliate links. This means I earn a small commission if you buy oe. Thanks! It all helps keep the lights on].

First, some backstory

When I was 27, I had just finished my MBA, and my brothers recruited me back to the family business as CEO. I was competent in some ways but in waaaaaay over my head in others. I remember commiserating with a friend about how nobody teaches you two things in business school: how to handle interpersonal issues, and how to deal with the deluge that hits your desk. How do you process all the papers and requests? That friend then recommended the workflow Bible, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. That book made a tremendous difference, and I’ve read it four times in twenty years. But my workload still got out of hand this past spring. 

It became painfully clear that my business had outgrown my systems. An important project was dying on the vine, and my inbox felt like a black hole. Email has especially pained me because I genuinely care about readers and enjoy responding when people drop me a note. But I was losing more ground each day. I realized I needed to reinstate habits I had let slide and level up with new ones. 

The “Getting Things Done” method

One step was to re-read Getting Things Done and do a major sweep of my office. I needed to get everything back to “zero” and bring back the discipline of a weekly review to keep them empty. Another habit to start back up was David Allen’s “two-minute rule,” where you do every item immediately if it takes less than two minutes. 

As a result of these efforts, my physical “in pile” is completely empty, and my work email has finally reached zero. That doesn’t mean all the tasks are done or that I responded to every message (heavens no!). My “next action” lists are long; I have a bunch of phone calls to make, and some emails are too old to reply to personally. But now everything has a place, and weekly reviews have kept the inboxes tidy. 

These steps have done wonders to alleviate stress. Getting to zero frees my head space for creative work and removes the gnawing worry that forgotten tasks lurk like snakes in unkempt weeds.

Three takeaways from Getting Things Done: 

  1. Clear everything from your head: Go through all collection bins and catalog every open loop. 
  2. Do each “less-than-two-minute” item immediately.
  3. Do the mental work of deciding the next small action on every item. Get in the habit of recording “next actions” on lists and not nebulous project reminders. This takes discipline. 

Remember, the only out is through

One of the mindsets I often repeat to myself when I face a steep climb is, “The only way out is through.” This means mindfully choosing ONE task by deciding all the others that will NOT get done during this stretch. Then I put my head down and only look up once that one task is all the way to the end of the row. Then, it’s imperative to shift to the next promptly. Before long, there is more progress than I thought possible. No whining, stalling, or bargaining. Just march straight through the middle. Also, while I was beavering away, I read What to Say When You Talk To Your Self by Dr. Shad Helmstetter. This book did a meanignful reset of my self-talk. 

Sharpen the saw

Do you remember Steven Covey’s story in his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? I’m paraphrasing from memory, but a guy is hacking away at a tree, wasting tremendous energy using a dull saw. He refuses to stop and sharpen the saw because he is too busy laboring on the tree. That was me this spring. So, after meeting a big publishing deadline, I paused to fix some root-cause issues. 

Automate

One of the game changers has been learning new tech tools that now automate repetitive tasks in my office. The question is, “Is this a one-off, or will it repeat?” For tasks that will come up again, I stop, look for ways to automate and write an SOP. I’ve done a lot of this through the years, but it was time for a fresh batch of improvements. 

These new automations already save me between five and ten hours weekly. I am now using a combination of macros, automations with Zapier, email sequences, enhanced transcription tools, and AI-assisted project management. 

I recorded a short video at RootsTech this year about how generative AI is the next transformative technology for family history. This clip includes a fun history of other game-changers we have seen over the decades. 

Major in the Majors

To be fair, my life wasn’t a complete disaster. I had intentionally made a hard tradeoff to focus on big writing projects and ignore a lot of minutiae. It paid off. Two full books were finished, and they both found traditional publishers. Creative Insecurity will debut on December 10, distributed by Simon & Schuster. And this week, I signed a publishing contract for another. I’ll fill you in on that one soon. These milestones wouldn’t have happened if I had “majored in the minors,” as my co-author Jim Sweeney says. Instead, I chose to “major in the majors” by accepting some chaos in other areas. 

Related article: Create a stop-doing list

Restore broken commitments

But what do you do when you set an ambitious goal and then break that commitment to yourself or someone else? It is so important to acknowledge it, set things right, and recommit. This is what I call “the commitment formula,” and I have written about it before. 

Read this article here: Are you avoiding something with productive procrastination? https://evalogue.life/procrastination/

A few related announcements: 

On August 10, I am doing a live Zoom workshop entitled “Organize Big Projects,” especially for life story writers, personal historians, and genealogists. Enrollment is open now, and I’d love to have you join me. 

This September, I will teach the principles outlined here and more during an extended workshop for the Association of Professional Genealogists. This will be at the virtual Professional Management Conference (PMC) on Wednesday, September 18. 

Bibliography: 

Rhonda Lauritzen is a professional biographer with multiple published books and a regular speaker at conferences. She has an MBA from the University of Utah and served as CEO of her family business, working alongside six brothers. Her writing journey began with her parents’ family business saga, and in 2016, she founded Evalogue.Life. Since then, Rhonda has professionally told the stories of families, cities, and nonprofits. She believes that when you tell your story, it changes the ending. Her next book will be distributed by Simon & Schuster December 10, 2024: Creative Insecurity: Lean Into the Unknown and Unleash Your Inner Misfit.

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