No. 104 | By Christine Carron
No. I’m not talking about writing nekkid. I am talking, however, about something that you might find equally surprising: scheduling buffers into your writing plans. Or alternatively, to stop over scheduling yourself. To be clear, from a project management perspective, if you're fully booking all your available time, then you're over scheduled.
The utility of a buffer is a project management truth that can be hard to grasp and even harder to trust, especially considering the full throttle culture we live in. Even if you're not totally gung-ho about Elon Musk's hardcore management philosophy, a part of you still may worry that I'm promoting laziness by suggesting you give yourself leeway when planning and scheduling your writing work.
To which I would respond that (a) buffers have nothing to do with laziness. Using a buffer is a smart, effective work management technique that helps create consistent progress. And (b) I’m the kind of project manager who wants you to create a sustainable writing practice that builds your confidence and helps you get your writing done. So let’s dive right into some of the benefits of writing in the (a.k.a with ) buff.
To determine how much buff you need to build into your writing plans at any given time assumes that you’ve considered questions such as:
Let’s say we have two writers. Noel Newbie is a beginning writer and a widower with three children, all under the age of eight. He has allocated two hours a day to write. Noel wants to make chapter outlines, is not clear what that entails, but hopes he can get three chapters outlined a day. He's not confident in this estimate but is still kind of set on this 3-per day goal. Noel is able to switch his focus quickly—he does his writing after he gets the kids to bed—and other than normal life, single-dad busyness, no other major life events will be messing with his writing time.
Polly Published has published three books that have sold well. Like Noel, she plans to make chapter outlines, knows exactly what that means for her, and has booked a weeklong writing retreat to dedicate time to this goal. Indeed, she intends to get her entire fourth novel outlined during that week. She is confident she can do this because she has already spent a lot of time thinking and brainstorming the story. Plus, she will have no other responsibilities as all meals are provided by the retreat center. She also plans to unplug from work and “real life” so she can focus with zero distractions.
If you were project managing Noel and Polly for the week, who would you coach to build in more buffer into their schedule?
If it were me managing them, I would definitely suggest to Noel that he build in comparatively more buffer into his schedule—AND that he be very careful and not compare his progress to Polly’s in general and in particular during her retreat week.
With its clarifying power, a buffer is a tool you can use to both align with and rock the particular realities of your writing life.
When you gain the clarity required to make an assessment about how much buffer you need, you'll end up with a more realistic plan. A more realistic plan means a greater possibility you will get done what you set out to do. When you get more done, you get more done boosts, surges of motivation that build momentum and confidence.
Let’s consider two more writers. Striver Stan doesn’t really plan his time or his writing work. He just wants to get done “as much as he can" all the time. Even though he makes solid progress in a week, let's say on average a good five hours of progress, he and his Inner Critic are constantly disappointed because they think he should have done more. Stan often feels frustrated and demotivated about his writing, and over time he gets less and less done.
Clear-eyed Callie, on the other hand, knows she has only three hours on Saturday mornings to work on her writing each week. She’s a graduate of the Jam Experience, so knows how to plan her work and to use a buffer. She has a clear set of tasks each Saturday and generally leaves herself ~20% buffer in her plan. Over time she has gotten better at estimating her capacity and her tasks, so even on the days she misses her goals, she knows she is making strong, solid progress.
The combination of Stan’s vagueness around his time and goals leaves him feeling down about his progress. His frustration will continue to cut his confidence, while Callie’s grounded-in-reality and buffer-protected planning will continue to boost hers, no matter that her actual progress is slower than Stan's, at least in the beginning.
With its confidence-boosting power, a buffer is a tool that will help you claim and celebrate the writing progress you make, which will positively impact your motivation and productivity.
No plan is ever perfect. I say that with twenty-five years of project management experience. If you think you will be the one who can make a perfect plan for your writing that will go to schedule with no deviation . . . okay.
If you want to join me in reality, then the invitation today is to plan your writing using smart, thoughtful buffers. Imagine an elastic pulled taut. That is a plan with no buffers. Put any more pressure on it and it will snap, which can cause mindset challenges (frustration, disappointment) and open the door for Inner Critic attacks. If the elastic is loose and flexible, however, it can take more stress and disturbances without breaking. Equilibrium for the win!
Adding a buffer doesn't preclude you from stretching on occasion and surging into a cycle of intensity, like Polly Published is doing in the example above during her intensive writing retreat. A buffer will, however, help you protect your elasticity. Your elasticity is your resilience—that bounce I wrote about a few weeks back. Using a buffer to manage your capacity, your rhythm, and your expectations of yourself allows you to take charge of your writing adventure in a sustainable way.
With its resilience-building power, a buffer is a tool that will help you to avoid burnout and to reset to "I've got this!" no matter what.
When you use buffers, you build breathing room, spaciousness, into your writing practice. It is a Grace week on the Goodjelly Blog, which is a perfect week to share this post. In the Goodjelly Moves framework, Grace is the energy of receiving, allowing, trusting. It definitely takes a leap of Grace to trust that by planning less work you will actually get more work done.
Yet such is the power (and grace) of writing in the buff. You've got this!