Three years ago, I found myself committing to something kind of ridiculous.
I’m a writer–but I’d been struggling to finish short, 1000-word articles, and I hadn’t written a word of fiction in the previous three years. I tried to schedule specific times to focus and get stuff on paper, but other things (work duties, social invites, etc.) often called me away. I really wanted to write, but I felt blocked.
So how did I get past my mental blocks? I stopped dipping my toes in, and instead took a dive. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month–the famous challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in just the 30 days of November. I spent October of that year planning and brainstorming, and from November 1st to November 30th I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I crossed the 50,000-word mark on the very last day.
That experience was totally transformative for me–not just as a writer, but also as someone who wants to drive their career experience, rather than smush myself into a series of molds for other people.
Yes, in front of me I had a 95%-finished first draft of a novel (what Anne Lamott calls the necessary “shitty first draft”). But I also had a new sense of confidence about my ability to achieve and to hold myself accountable, even with creative endeavors. Being a published author, for example, was suddenly a number of steps away, instead of a hazy daydream.
Since then, I’ve considered this “make a plan and then take a dive” approach a major asset in my productivity toolbox. Emilie helpfully suggested calling it “The Immersive Approach,” and here I want to share it with you. Let’s get immersed!
Like setting a giant pomodoro timer
The basic concept of this approach isn’t hard to grasp. You set a goal, a time limit, and put your nose to the grindstone for that whole time. You may be familiar with the Pomodoro Technique: decide on a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, and crank through that task without letting your mind wander to other things.
Essentially, the Immersive Approach is the same deal, but on a bigger scale. Instead of 25 minutes, you set aside 24 hours, or a week, or a month, to put in some focused time on a single project. You’ll probably still break down that project into smaller tasks, of course, and you’ll definitely take breaks! (It’s a good idea to continue to eat, sleep, and generally take care of yourself, even if you put aside some of your typical “adulting” activities for this period.)
The key thing is to have a project you’re passionate about, and a support structure to help you make the Immersion effective. Which leads me to…
How to make the immersion approach work for you
The key to success with this approach is putting a bit of planning into it. Here are some steps for you to consider if you want to try it out.
1. Figure out what project you’ll work on, and for how long.
Pick a project that you have a lot of excitement about, but can’t seem to find blocks of time for. This approach is all about creating time and space for you to enter a flow state and boost your progress.
Then figure out a timeline that you can commit to. You could clear your schedule for 24 hours like folks in the Puttytribe do during our Puttythons. You could decide to block out all your free time for a week. Or you could go for a full-on, NaNoWriMo-style month-long commitment.
It’s also helpful to have a few clear goals. It’s not vital– you could just say “I’m going to write until my hand cramps,” or “I’m going to get through as many videos on this online course as I can.” But on any given day, when you’re several hours into the project, your brain will appreciate having something more concrete to hold onto, like: “I told myself I’d write three scenes, and I’ve just got a little further to finish the third one,” or “I’m on video 15 of 20–I’ll stop after 17, that’s pretty close to my goal for today.”
Knowing the end time or end date for the Immersion is crucial, especially if you’re a multipotentialite. At some point, you’re going to start salivating for your other interests! It’s good to know when to see that as a distraction (during the Immersion), and when you’ll get to honor your multipod self and switch gears (when the Immersion is over). Even when taking a dive, you have to find balance and know when you’re coming up for air.
2. Prepare all the logistics ahead of time.
Let other people know what you’re doing, both so that they know that you’ll be busy and so that you can ask them to support you. You may find that publicly (or semi-publicly) committing to something can increase your accountability, and also show you outside support you may not have realized you had!
Plan out meals, laundry, etc., if you can, and ask for help creating time in your schedule. Could someone else run that errand that’s going to be at a time that would break up your immersive flow? Set up a schedule, a tracking system for your goals, and consider planning out your work times & breaks (including what you might do to unwind).
Also, see if you can find community who can do this with you! For me, NaNoWriMo was magical because I knew that thousands of people around the world were writing furiously just like me, and that I could talk to them easily on NaNo’s forums. Maybe one of your friends also wants to do a dive on something. Or join us in the Puttytribe, where besides the Puttythons, there are always groups and forums to find support, and you can even sign up to be matched with an accountability buddy.
3. Do the thing!!
Go ahead– let your toes leave that diving board! Dig in and enjoy! You might have to fight a lot of what Emilie calls Resistance: the negative stuff that makes the stuff we love feel painful. But you got this! Remember why you wanted to set aside all this time and make such careful plans.
Also, remember the beauty of setting up a goal and a time crunch: there’s less time for perfectionism that’ll only slow you down! During NaNoWriMo, I realized that if I wanted to reach the 50,000-word goal, I didn’t have time to revise, only to keep writing. Whatever project you’re working on, try focusing mainly on adding to it, and see if you can work around (rather than through) the small problems that might have bogged you down in the past. You can always “revise” later!
4. When it’s over, give yourself a little recap.
After you cross the endpoint of your Immersion–and take a bit of a break!–broaden your vision again and remember everything else that’s going on in your life. Thank the folks who helped you, clean up your workspace, turn your eyes back to other projects, and make sure you tune back in to your self-care routines, if you put any of those on hold.
But also, take time to reflect on your experience. What got done, and what’s next on this project? Did you reach a flow state? How would you improve the immersion if you ever want to do it again for a similar (or totally dissimilar!) project?
And if you still didn’t make the progress you want, or the time spent didn’t feel like it was helpful to you? That’s okay, too. This approach can be magical, but it isn’t any more perfect than any other productivity tool. Hopefully you can at least be proud of the commitment you made, and can find other ways to tackle this project in the future.
Use it wisely
This approach is best used sparingly and carefully–and it won’t work for everyone. If your job(s) or responsibilities are the type that can’t be put on the back burner for any period of time, this tool is one to save, or to use in small doses: a one-day immersion, or perhaps just a one-afternoon immersion.
But I hope it will help you, especially if you find that chunks of time are hard to come by, or your to-do list is reaching the kind of overwhelming lengths that keep you from making any progress on anything.
Give it a try, and let me know what you think! And don’t forget, if you’re ready for some supportive community in your life, the Puttytribe doors are opening today!
Have you tried an Immersion-style approach before? What worked for you and what didn’t? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments below!