How to Use “The Immersive Approach” to Make Big Progress on a Project

How to Use “The Immersive Approach” to Make Big Progress on a Project

Written by Claire Nyles Suer

Topics: Productivity

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!

Your Turn

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!

Want some help with your multipotentialite career/business/life? Get the support you need to build a life around ALL your interests:

Claire NylesClaire Nyles Suer (she/they) is an editor, writer, designer, and community builder. They are the Director of the LGBTQ Community Center in their city, and are working on their first novel (which includes disgruntled millennials and pirates). They also like hiking, facilitating workshops, organizing systems, designing logos, and playing the ukulele. They’re all about empowering people by helping them communicate and connect – to ideas and to other folks.

21 Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    Last January I set a goal to publish 100 journals on Amazon. Most of my income is publishing royalties and I had about a month off of school, so I dove in. I “only” managed to put out 75 books, but my income has doubled and I don’t regret missing the mark. I’m an all-or-nothing girl. I plan to do this again in May (after my huge 50-person Trash-the-dress party in Las Vegas

  2. Susan Nunn says:

    I know what you are about to read below sounds like sheer confusion, but it is my path through chaos.

    Immersion has become my best friend. Being one with many ‘coals in the fire’ and trying to keep them all burning just right, balance has become my middle name. After all, if one coal gets too hot, it burns itself out. (Not What I Want.) I discovered I had to immerse myself in order to get the deep work done. It works. Focus among the chaos.

    I care for my 91 year old father, and my two aging canines (Harry, a black lab, and Ellie, our Golden Retriever.) As Dad’s health began to deteriorate last year, I stepped back from working outside the home selling teas at the Boise Public Market and wholesale, etc. This put me into a new spiral of trying to make enough money to live on. I write (have four books going at this time), I edit others’ manuscripts, I teach online classes, I am a tea purveyor and have switched to selling only online (with websites etc has been very challenging.) And, I am a Feng Shui Consultant.

    So, how am I able to immerse with so much going on and with so many interruptions? I got up one day and felt the stress of all of these projects not getting anywhere. I now take one at a time and give it its due – get into it and bring it up to date: I am just finishing copy editing two novels and one self help book which all three are going to the publishers sometime this week, (just for sanity’s sake, I did not have these scheduled to all be finishing at once, but when dealing with other authors the timelines get skewed.) So, as these fade away and off the books, my next project is coming into focus: this week and through the end of the year I am laying out all the classes I have that have to be brought up to date, and open and advertised. This project will go to the end of December. As my interest in one is tailing off, I need to start thinking of the next.

    And, while doing these, I try to stop around 4:00 pm, then I take care of my tea orders, or blending, etc or whatever else pops up. The reading and editing has become a nighttime project when the house is totally quiet. I just try to make these things work, as Dad and his care will always be my first priority.

    This works, but without the deep immersion on one project at a time, it drives my crazy. And like was mentioned in this article, by the time I am finishing up one, my heart is already moving towards another. Wishing you all peace amidst the chaos. Susan

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Totally hear you, Susan! (Publishing deadlines never stay where they’re supposed to, do they? :) ) Glad you find this approach helpful and it’s working for you.

  3. Morgan C Siem says:

    Great post, and much appreciated. Yes, I personally rely on the immersion approach to make headway on major projects in my life. This article was a great reminder that that’s what I need to schedule and plan for myself in the coming months.

    I learned this about myself when I wanted to learn documentary filmmaking. I had the option to take a class that was one night a week. I had the option to take a class that was online and self-paced. I had the option to learn from peers as they were available. But none of that worked. What worked was when I set aside a full 8 days and enrolled in an immersive program that went from dawn to the wee-hours day after day for 8 days. For those 8 days, I lived the program and the material. I set everything else aside for those 8 days. It was magic! I came out with a new skillset and new excitement about using it. It also really helped that I was in a program so I was being held accountable to show up (and I’d paid tuition!).

    I often find myself wishing I had an instructor looking over my shoulder for my immersions, checking that I’m staying on task.

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Ah nice!! That class sounds awesome! Classes like that are a great example, and I agree– paid tuition and an instructor checking up are surefire accountability measures, haha!

  4. Jutta Nedden says:

    Thank you very much, great article! I need to write a text for 50 illustrations before Christmas – the ideal project to try your approach.

  5. Suchot says:

    Love this idea. I have thought about doing a writing retreat at some point (it’s probably not going to happen right now with a toddler). I write poetry but do get pulled in by my many other interests. I’m interested in the idea of going somewhere beautiful for a week or a month and just concentrating on poetry.

  6. Doug says:

    I just recently came up with this approach myself, though more on a one-project-per-day basis. It worked great for a couple days, then I got tangled up in a mundane task that had to be done.

    I am eager to apply it again. It can be a great way to get my energy up by charging in on a project, knowing I won’t have to be jumping around in fits and starts on a whole list of todo’s.

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      That’s a super awesome way to apply this, Doug. I aspire to get to that point where some of my work is less every-day so I don’t have to stop in the middle of one project to answer time-sensitive emails for another! Good luck!!

  7. Ginger says:

    These are some wonderful ideas and just what I needed to hear/read to get me going again. I’m in the middle of writing a first draft for a Non-Fiction book and i keep stalling and getting distracted by everything else. I have people rooting for me that really want to read this book too so that’s lit a fire under me too. I’m fortunate enough for now to have a lot of extra time to write and I don’t want to squander it. I’ll definitely be putting some of these methods into practice.

  8. Great article! I am doing Nanowrimo this year and so far so good – half of the month in and I am 31 thousand words in. I love this idea, and I can’t wait to apply this in the new year to some of the projects I want to work on. Bring on the giant Pomodoro!!!!! :)

  9. Victor says:

    I’ve found that serial immersions work pretty well for me. Dab here, dab there means I spend all of my time in transition instead of making progress, never in anything long enough for The Flow to arrive. Engineering work projects require 60-70 hours per week and travel, followed by a month of writing (and neglected house/yard work), followed by acting or directing, followed by a month of ceramic sculpture. I guess if you can get to Flow quicker, then a different schedule could work for you.

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Right? The ton of transitions in my day is a total time-eater for me, too, Victor. Glad you found a system that works well for you!!

  10. Gabriela says:

    I have done Nanowrimo twice. It was great and even though it was immersive for a month, I still had time to take care of my kids and do other things. I haven’t successfully done a day long “thon”, as I have too many other committments that I can’t set aside for even a day. It makes me think maybe I just need to simplify but so many of the things I love doing… I am a multipod every day.
    Doing something in an immersive way sound lovely to me… I will have to look back at this article again another day when I have some free space to think about it..

    Great ideas

  11. Danai says:

    You caught me on action! Among many others, on December 2th I’m having exams on Japanese language but it happens to have a year less of preparation for this level and I’m quite nervous. As I decide to dive in a rought schedule of studying grammar, vocabulary, kanji writting etc. until then, I’m receiving your article and it feels like “tapping my shoulder” (as we do to encourage someone here in Greece)! I don’t know if it gonna work but thank you anyway for the timing and the feeling of “I’m not alone”…

  12. Timo says:

    Hi,

    I love the Idea of diving in a Projekt for 24 h! Ore even longer, …. We will soon try this on our Projekt which we pich right now (One of my three jobs is carpenter, so we decided to bring out a newer Version of an Safari Chair from the 1920s,) ….so we are pretty good, but still a lot of work in front of us. So many things to do ( building the website, which I do, making the Photos, which I do, making an imagefilm, which I do, and becoming a Company, which I and my Buddy run! So we need to dive in that.

    But we will kick the Projekt to a new level with this 24 hwork- progress, I guess.

    thx for sharing!

    Greetings from Germany, u are all wonderful!! sorry for my poor English, …. ;-)

    By
    Timo

Leave a Comment