The Thrift Diving Podcast

How to Start Finishing Projects! w/Guest Charles Gilkey - #2

February 05, 2021 Serena Appiah Season 1 Episode 2
The Thrift Diving Podcast
How to Start Finishing Projects! w/Guest Charles Gilkey - #2
The Thrift Diving Podcast
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Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Charles Gilkey, author of Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done gives us creative souls some sound tips and tricks to start finishing our projects!

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Let’s Connect!

Serena: [00:00:00] He's the CEO and founder of productive flourishing. He's a former army officer philosopher and a business and executive coach. And he's a speaker who helps professional creatives leaders and change makers to take meaningful action on the work that matters. And we're going to talk a lot about that. He's the author of a book that I was so excited to receive in the mail. It's called Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. And this is a nine-step method for helping people to identify their best work and find supporters of that work and navigate multiple projects because that's what we do as creative people and overcome those challenges.

And he also wrote another book in 2012 called the small business lifecycle. And you can find him over on his podcast, The Productive Flourishing Podcast, where he will dive behind the scenes to talk to people and find out how to thrive as a creative person who is actually making a difference in the world.

He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, and I am so happy to welcome Charles. Gilkey. I don't have any applause, so I will applause. 

Charles: [00:00:59] I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me. 

Serena: [00:01:01] So I was explaining earlier before we started, before we really started to get in here, that when I first heard about your book, I had to talk to you because I know that there's a lot of productivity books out there and you know, this thrift diving is not really a productivity channel or podcast, but a lot of what we do is about being productive when we're doing projects, DIY projects.

And there was something different about your book, where you specifically were talking about creative people. I'd never heard anybody, in a productivity book, talk about creatives. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, this book is for me and my audience.” So, I wanted to know, tell me why you framed your book in this kind of way, where you're specifically talking to creative people, but it's really a book that could be applicable to any niche, but you focused on creative people. Why, why creative people. 

Charles: [00:01:52] I think creative people have some unique challenges. And one of those unique challenges is too many ideas, not enough time. And so, there are some people who we don't understand it as much. I'm not trying to make them less than, but like, they're good with getting up, going to work, kind of doing the work and then going home and not really necessarily being as exasperated and creatively constipated as we can be as creative folks.

Serena: [00:02:14] I love that term creatively constipated. 

Charles: [00:02:17] And so when I started thinking about, you know, what the right to book for and who my audience is for, it's for those of us who just really do show up.  I was joking when I was given a book talk about that is like, before we have coffee, we already have seven ideas and then we get the coffee and then it's up to 32 and we haven't even started anything for the day, right?

Right. So that leads into all sorts of challenges for us. One of which is we start a lot of things. But don't finish it, and that can lead to, um, what I mentioned creative constipation at a certain point, we start, um, getting super toxic and destroying ourselves in a way, because as creative people, we're either creating or we're destroying.

And if you're not putting out that work, if you're not doing the creative stuff that really makes you come alive, you'll start destroying the things around you, your relationships, your resources, and finally, the stories that you tell yourself about yourself. Yeah. And so that's really what I wanted to say is like, “Yo, we got a problem here.”

And the way we need to go about doing it is different or solving that problem is different than if we were, say, a manager at a fortune 500 company, that's got a lot of incoming and playing rebound, not trying to say managers can't be creative, but it's a different context. 

Serena: [00:03:28] Now, one thing that I liked in your book that you talked about is it's not--and I can't quote you here--but you talked about the difference between an idea and a project. And you said everything is a project because in my mind, as a DIYer, I think, well, a project is when I'm painting a piece of furniture, I'm building something, that's a project. And I'm not thinking of all the other things that I do as projects, but it's all project.

So how did you come up with that understanding that really everything we do as a project? 

Charles: [00:03:55] Well, it's really one of those things where, um, if it takes time, energy, and attention, it's a project. Right? Ideas don't take time, energy, and attention. And we don't do ideas. We do projects. And unfortunately, what I noticed is that we're really inconsistent about how we think about work and projects in the different domains of our life.

And so a lot of times people have these really great skills for getting stuff done when applied to their economic work. So, their jobs or business, you know, anything that pulls in money. But when they look at the work of their lives, the personal work, the creative work, the play work, they don't apply those same skills.

They don't apply those same ways of deciding about it. And so, what ends up happening is we end up prioritizing, scheduling, and doing the economic work. And trying to find space in the leftovers for the work of our lives. And so, what I wanted to do is put it all on deck and say, look, it's all projects.

Now, which of those projects do you need to do to build the bridge to the life you want to be in? Because there are some projects that do that and others that don't, and if you're continually doing work that's not pushing you towards the life you want to live and the work you want to do, then it's time to pick some different projects because that's what projects will do for you.

Serena: [00:05:09] So you in the book, you described that as like your best work, right? Like those projects that when I think of my best work, I think of projects where it doesn't even matter how long I've been doing it, I feel energized when I do it. I'm excited about it. I can't wait to tell people, "Look what I did!"

And sometimes we don't get that time to do that. In fact, I'll tell you a little story. I started working with a business manager he's part of my family and we sat down, he said, what are your short-term goals? What are your long-term goals?

So, we came up with those and then he said, okay, now we have to schedule it. I'm like, ummmm, okay. And so, he held me to that and you talk about that in your book if there's things that you want to do, that's part of your best work, those things that make you feel alive, you have to schedule them.

But I find that to be very hard. So how do, how do you help people overcome that, that roadblock of being able to put their best work on their schedule? How do you do that? 

Charles: [00:06:07] So first off, let's talk about what it is about our best work that makes it harder than some of the other work, right. And unfortunately, the more something matters to you, the more you'll thrash with it.

And thrashing is that sort of emotional metalwork, that research, all this sort of flailing you'll do around the project that actually doesn't push the project forward. And we do that with our best work, because it really matters to us. Like, we don't have a, you know, a big story about taking out the trash or doing the laundry.

We either do it or we don't do it. Um, we don't have a story about taking the trash out. It doesn't matter that much, but there are some types of work that we have so closely tied to our identity that it's success or failure really does matter to us. And so, if we try something and it doesn't work, who are we?

What does that say about myself? You've been telling yourself for years you're going to write a book or you're going to build a couch, or you're going to do those types of things. And then if you do it and you don't know how to do it, or it turns out like crap, like who are you as a person? And so, it matters so much more to us.

And so, there's this sort of paradox here. We most want to do it, at the same time, that it's the thing that scares us the most. 

Serena: [00:07:17] Yes. 

Charles: [00:07:19] So that's sort of the place where we get stuck. Now, I'm going to pause here because it's not just the fear of failure that gets us stuck with our best work.

It's actually the fear of success as well, because we tell ourselves all sorts of "no win" scenarios about winning. So, there are four general types. One is successful, wreck my relationships. If you really dive into it and it blows up on you and you really love it, that there's going to be people around you to get mad at you.

Maybe you won't be the partner or the parent or the son or the daughter, or the friend that you used to be. And we don't want to give that up. 

So that's one. Two is, there's success versus virtue or success versus integrity. Like we have so many stories about nice guys finishing last and rich people being scumbags.

You know, real artists not being able to make money. We think that if we end up in a position where we were being successful with something, that we've done so at the cost of our integrity and character, so we don't want to do that. 

The third is what if we set us so high bar for ourselves that we can't do it again. And that's a far fall from where we were back down to the bottom. Maybe we're just lucky. 

And then the fourth one is success will come at the cost of our health, through burnout, through mental suffering, through different types of things. What we do is, the more we can get immersed in our best work and it sort of consumes us in that way, the more we start to worry about the downsides of success, and we pull back and we go for this gray mediocrity, that's neither winning, nor failing, because we don't want to fail and that's normal, but we also don't want to succeed, because we don't want to be bitten by all the dragons that come with success.

So we just shoot for the middle. And we end up emotionally stunted that way. 

Serena: [00:09:02] And what about those people who are, like, you mentioned it in your book about the naysayers and I have, and I just have to admit, I've got a naysayer who lives in my home called husband. And a lot of times he is the naysayer whenever I want to do a DIY project, especially one that goes outside of what I've never done before, which I would really say is my best work. Challenging myself. He's the one who will tell me that's not going to work. Why don't you hire someone? You don't know how to do that. He's laughed at me when I've said I wanted it to do certain things.

So how do we go about getting somebody who, especially as someone that's our spouse or best friend who's living with us or close to us, to understand what our best work is and to support us and not just kick us down because this is what we're trying to do? 

Charles: [00:09:51] So I've got good news and bad news for you.

Serena: [00:09:54] Let's do the good news first. 

Charles: [00:09:56] The good news is your easiest strategy is actually to avoid talking about your projects with them. Right? 

Serena: [00:10:02] That's so hard to do, especially at home. You're excited about it. You're like, "Hey look what I am trying to do." And they're like, "Yeah, that's not going to work."

Charles: [00:10:11] It might be that he's actually more of a derailer than a naysayer. Right. And I would put him in the derailer category because he actually does love you and does want you to be successful and happy. It's just your approach, his approach to helping you is not helpful. Right. And so it's not, it's not quite a naysayers in the sense of naysayers are much more on the haters, going to hate side of things, where they're just going to shoot you down because they don't like you, or they don't like to work, or they've got a personal vendetta to be the arbiter of things that should be done and should not be done. So I don't think your husband's a naysayer. I actually think he's a derailer.

Your strategies are mostly the same though, right? Because it kind of goes to, well, I did talk about some different strategies in the book, but part of it is thinking about, okay, communicating with him that there may be ways in which you need to be communicated with that are more supportive and to agree, like, do you want me to be happy? Do you want me to be successful? Do you want me to have some creative joy in my life? 

Serena: [00:11:07] Do you want this house to look amazing? 

Charles: [00:11:09] Do you want this house to look amazing? Right. Okay. We agree on those goals. Now, how we're communicating about this needs to change because we're not in alignment on that side of things. There are different ways that you can request communication changes. It's like, you know what, maybe before you start shooting it down, maybe you give me three reasons of why it can work. Are three things you like about it first. So at least get some positive feedback and then you don't just seem to be the voice of no, every time I want to do something, because that creates unnecessary tension. You have to be really clear about requesting specific types of behavior then holding him to that. Now, if they won't follow that, then that's where you start avoiding it. And it's kind of goes to this sort of scorpion frog story. I'll just say I can be really brief about this.

It's a parable, obviously. A scorpion is sitting on side of a lake, he sees frog and he wants to go across the lake. Scorpion's like, "Hey, frog, please take me across the lake. I need to get on the other side. Frog's like, "I'm not taking you across, like you're going to sting me. It's not a good idea. No, I'm not going to do it."

Scorpion finally convinces and argues and finally Frog relents. "Fine. Come on. I'll take you across the lake." Halfway across the lake, Scorpion stings Frog, boom. And as they're both drowning, Frog looks at Scorpion and says, "Why did you sting me? And Scorpion goes, " I'm a scorpion. It's in my nature to sting."

Okay. So, I'm an eternal optimist for change in people. I just don't know when people are going to change. And their rate to change might not match your need for change. In this case, I just have to say like, if you've got a naysayer or you've got a derailer, you might have that sort of scorpion thing. Don't be the frog.

And so that's the very best thing you can do in this scenario because expecting other people to change so that you can do the work that you need to do is a very contentious and long and hard way to do the work you'd most want to do. And so, yes, I know it might be hard not to be excited with them, but at this point in your communication patterns, behaviors, he's not the right venue.

He's not the right cheerleader. And yaysayer for you. And so that might be where you have a friend that you call at the end of the day, and you guys have a cheerleading pack to where it's like, whenever you have a good idea, you call him or her. And like, Hey, I got an idea. No, that's right. And I go, they do all that kind of whatnot.

And you get that need to socially process your excitement out of you, but it doesn't have to be held by the partner in your house that creates the unnecessary tension.

Serena: [00:13:45] I like that. One thing that we've done with Thrift Diving is we've built this community of people who are those cheerleaders. For example, we do something probably a few times every year, we do something called 30 day room makeover challenges, and we actually do it all together. We say, “Hey, we're going to pick one room in our house. We're going to declutter, decorate whatever we need to do. But we have 30 days, we have that timeline.”

We've got a Facebook group where we actually pull everybody together. We're posting process pictures, and I would think this is what you call your success pack. Is that what you call a success pack? Because we have this community of people who are the cheerleaders. So, is that what your success pack is and how you'd think of it in your book?

It can be. What I would say is, so your success pack is a group of yaysayers that you put around your projects, and more generally you put around your life and it consists of four different kinds of yaysayer. There are guides, which are your Yoda's, Dumbledores, Gandalf's sort of guide you on the path, but they're not involved in the project with you and your guides give you eyes in that they see the world differently than you do, and they can help show you what's actually there that you often can't see yourself. 

Two are the second group is your peers and your peers are the people that are sort of shoulder to shoulder with you, that may advise on the project, may not have the level of vision that your guided to do, but they're the phone-a-friends that you can call like, Hey, I don't know what I'm doing. Can you help me out? Have you tried this before? Your peers give you their brains. Your supporters give you hands. They're the people in the project with you doing stuff, moving stuff around with you. 

And lastly, the beneficiaries are the people who give you the heart of the project, because they're the people who will benefit from the project and will keep you in it.

And so, I encourage people to put three to five people in each category around a certain project. And so yes, you might have in that group, you might have a combination of peers and supporters, depending upon what they're doing. You might also have beneficiaries because if they're seeing the cool stuff you're making and they're loving it and they're getting those delights and they're getting inspiration, then it might inspire them to do something on their own.

I think you can have all three in that group, but I just want people to be specific about what role they're playing, um, on that project so that, um, they can drive forward. And I'll pause here because when I talk about this, most people’s first thought is how do I get more guides? Because they have all the resources, they have the people, they have the money, they have the vision.

And I want people to be thinking, how can I get in closer relationship with my beneficiaries? Because your beneficiaries are actually the ones who are going to keep you in the project in two ways. One when you're cognitively stuck and you don't know where to build X or Y, and you don't know what to do, you can go to the people you're building it for and say, which of these do you like better? Which one solves your problem? Or which one would you want me to build? Super easy to do, simple, to do not easy, simple to do when you're emotionally stuck, they're the people that will keep you back in the project, because you know that if you don't finish that project, they're worse off in a way they didn't get the delight you were trying to build, or they didn't get the solution you were trying to solve for.

And so both of those are super critical. So again, don't think about the Sage on the Hill and what they have, because they're going to tell you something like, be yourself, do what you love. They're going to say something that, that sounds like a fortune cookie statement, that ends up being very true and useful, but it's your beneficiaries that are going to be the ones that are most likely to keep you in the project and help you get through some of the worst parts of it.

And you know what I think of doing projects around the home, and sometimes you might be doing projects for kids. You're doing projects for your living room. The beneficiary really is your family. You know, you're creating this amazing, beautiful home that if you've got young kids or maybe your kids are gone, but you've got grandkids coming, whoever. Just yourself, you can be living by yourself. You're creating this oasis, and so you are your beneficiary because you're getting to walk home or walk into the door every day and see this beautiful home. I just think it's great what you've done. One thing that really interests me and I just had to laugh a little bit because you have this rule, it's called the five-project rule.

You have to explain this because as creatives, you know how easy it is to take on multiple projects. You wouldn't believe how many people-- you know, my audience, we love thrift stores. We love buying things from thrift stores and roadside. We rescue things and it's not uncommon to find a stack of furniture in the garage.

Now I've learned I don't stack furniture at all, but that's what we do. We have all these projects. How do you go about choosing which projects, how many projects and navigating what to direct your attention on? 

Charles: [00:18:35] Great. The long way of saying the five projects rule is no more than five active projects per time perspective.

And so, I'll started at the end because it makes more sense. I think we all intuitively know the difference between a chunk of work that we can do in two hours versus a project that's going to take us a week. So, like a week sized project. Versus month sized project versus a quarter sized project.

Serena: [00:19:00] Right.  Can I interrupt really quick? We don't know. What if we think that we could get a project done in a week, but it's turning into a month-long project? 

Charles: [00:19:10] I'm going to pause there because I think what we do is when we think about a specific project, we think about it in isolation from everything else we've got going on. It might be true that putting together that chair would take you a week if you just focused entirely that week on that chair. However, you might have six other chairs and doodads that you're working on, right, that you're not committing to just that. And so I think even though we might see that something is taking longer and you know, the thing was with DIY most creative projects, like there's a certain length of time we think it's going to take, and then there's a certain amount of time that it's going to take.

And it tends to be a factor of three for a lot of us. Like it takes three times as long to do it, but I was still saying that I think most people, when they're planning-- well, here's what I'll say on this one. The less often you do something, the more likely your estimate is going to be off.

If you've never rehabbed a chair before it's going to take you longer than you think. And so that's a general rule that I tell people if it's a new thing, um, think how long you think it should take and then just multiply by three. You're probably going to be right. So that would be the first thing I say.

So again, when we're not doing our projects enough and we're not building that competency of doing them enough, we actually fall out of practice. And that's one of the reasons projects take longer because we might pick up that chair and rehab a chair and then not do another chair for another nine months and have to refigure it out all out.

Whereas if we just made, you know, a chair a month for nine months, we'd get pretty fast at doing that and we'd be able well to estimate better. I will admit that our planning factors are still off, or it can be off. And I think it's still true, maybe not for the two-hour thing, because I think we can get super confused about that.

But I think we still know the difference between a week-long project or a project we think should take a week and a project we think should take a month to do. An example here, and I'll stick with chairs and tables, because that's about as far as making goes for me. We know that making a full set of table and four chairs, if you focus on it and you just stick with it, that's probably a month sized project, right? Whereas making one chair might be a week size project, it, depending upon what it is. We kind of can know that difference between the two and that's where the five projects rule starts to kick in.

Because when you're thinking about what I'm going to do for this month, you don't have to think about all the things at once. You can think in terms of month sized projects and say, "Okay, one of the projects I want to do this month is to finish that table set. One project down. I also have some projects from work that you can either think of those projects individually, or you can say, you know what? I work full time. I'm not going to think too much about that. I know that three of my project slots are taken from work. Okay, so now I'm up to four and then it leaves you one other thing to do remember anything that takes time, energy, and attention is a project. Getting married, getting divorced, getting the kids off the couch, dating, all of those types of things can count as projects.

You know, if you need to really kick off a new exercise routine, you're having a diet, or you want to go on that trip to Spain. All of those are projects. It might be like, okay, I got my work projects. I'm going to finish the table set. And I'm going to go to Spain for a week. That's really the simplicity of the rule.

And you don't necessarily, at that point in time, have to go down and start thinking like each week, what am I going to do? Because then when you're thinking about what you need to do this week, and you say, okay, what were my five projects for the month? 

Serena: [00:22:49] It helps you to focus. 

Yeah. If those were my five projects for this month, this week, what are the week-sized chunks that I can do to push those projects forward? And then you do that same process and the challenge that so many people will face with this, it's not a conceptually hard thing to do. It's emotionally hard because you have to decide at the beginning what you're not going to do. 

Yes. You talked a little bit about discipline. You said that knowing what to work on and what not to work on is really about discipline. Can you talk more about that discipline? Yeah, I liked that a lot. 

Charles: [00:23:29] Here's what I'll say on this one. The reality is if you commit to 17 projects, you're going to do three to five of those projects. That's why it's the five projects rules cause doing this for a decade and some change and doing a lot of research on this, most of us don't do more than five significant projects at different time horizons. A good week where we get five significant projects done and that's like a win week for most of us. So we're not going to do more than that anyways. Latching on to 19 different projects that you're thinking about doing, it's just going to give you more fodder to beat yourself up on the backside, more regret, more frustration, more cognitive and emotional labor that you put on stuff that's not going forward. So that pain is going to be somewhere around the project, somewhere around the idea. My suggestion is that we put the pain up front and then when we make progress on it in the week, but like, "You know what, yeah, I wasn't able to do all those other things, but I got that done. I built the chair. There's a chair where there used to be wood or there's a chair that I can sit on where there used to be some janky thing that I got from the thrift store."

Serena: [00:24:34] But how do you move forward, for example, when you first start a project, I know for myself, I'm super excited about it. I keep working on it and then towards the end, like a good example-- I put some new vinyl flooring. This is my basement office, put some new vinyl flooring. It looked great. I ran into a problem with water still coming into the basement. So I had to take up a few of the tiles. It's been, Charles, 10 months and there are still tiles laying over here, there's just a bare spot. And I have not been able to bring myself to stop working on other things and go finish that. So how do you get through that last 10% of really finishing, putting the baseboards on, saying, "Okay. Stamp of approval, this is done." How do you get through that, that last 10%?

Charles: [00:25:22] So the five projects rule can help if you follow it, because if we were being disciplined with it, it goes back to that. And you say, you know what? I can't take on a new project until I finished the floor. But you've gone through the fun part of the project. And you've just got that little leftover over there, probably in a corner that there's no pain, there's no real pain about that corner. 

Serena: [00:25:43] And so sometimes I don't even notice that it's there. I just walked by and I'm like, "Oh, look at those tiles that have been sitting there for 10 months." 

Yeah. That's the difficult part where there's no pain. You're going to be challenged because the projects that are right in front of you the joy of doing those, you feel some pain if you don't get to do those.

Charles: [00:26:01] Right. And so that's, we have to reallocate some of the pain so that either--one hack here, and people won't like this one--but is to rearrange your office so that it does annoy you enough to finish it. 

Serena: [00:26:14] Ooh, I like that. Like, where I have to angle my desk, so I have to look over there and see that this spot is--or invite people over. I think one of the biggest things to get people motivated, especially with doing projects in the home --not wanting that sense of embarrassment is knowing that there's people coming over, especially during holidays, birthday parties, you know, when there's this external force that, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to be mortified if someone sees that my floor is jacked up, I need to get that done!" 

So is there a way that we could inject some sort of external things like that so that we can have that moment--  

Charles: [00:26:51] Absolutely. I call them catalytic moments, right. Catalytic moments are what we have to do.

So, I'm a public speaker and I'm also a creative person and I'll sit on an idea for three years before I do anything with it. But I know that if I actually want to get it out, sometimes I just have to schedule a speech or a talk where I have to talk about that thing. Because I'm not going to show up and be like, "I don't know what I'm talking about."

And it's going to force the compression and make me squeeze it out. It's a catalytic moment. In your case, having people over, it'd be a catalytic moment. Another thing you can do is you can recruit your success pack here. The challenge that you have probably with the tile thing is that it had a beneficiary of one, which is you, right.

You're at a point with the project where you're actually okay with it being undone. 

Serena: [00:27:33] Don't say that I never want to admit that's the truth. My husband doesn't like that. He's like, when are you going to finish this floor? I'm like, Oh, I'm going to get to it. 

Yeah.  But we have different tools that we can use for you. For instance, you have a community. Imagine that you say, "Look, guys, I'm going to finish this by October the 31st, I'm going to publicly commit to doing it. And I have to show you a picture on October 31 of whatever state that it's in. For some people, that would be enough. I can't just renege on it. I can't show up and be the DIY person that can't finish the project. 

We do actually have to induce some, for lack of better words, pain or some frustration. Otherwise, the things that are right in front of you that sounds super fun. that sound like that puzzle that you just want to solve, you're going to go there because that's where the ice cream is. And there's no longer any ice cream in the tile project. Right. You're always sort of looking between this last bit that I don't want to do. I don't really care versus it gets more ice cream. 


Charles: [00:28:32] So how do we change that balance, such that it's, you have to eat the broccoli as it were. I think that's sort started the challenge and that's why I think it's a good idea for you no longer to stack furniture and things like that, because it allows you to put stuff away where you don't see it. And then that creates a sort of thing out of sight, out of mind. 

Serena: [00:28:50] It creates a lot of anxiety, too. Just knowing that when you do go into that garage or to that spare room where things are stacked up, it creates this anxiety of, "Oh my gosh. I don't know what to do. I have too much stuff and I don't know where to start. I don't know which one to start on.” 

Charles: [00:29:04] Yeah.  You've seen it. I've seen it. People will avoid entire sections of their house that they've got cluttered with stuff. They just don't even want to go there because they just know that it's there. And my point is that emotional drain has a real cost because that's energy; that's zapping other parts of your life. That energy of avoidance is tied to the creative constipation. But once you start pushing some of those projects you get inspired and you get some momentum on your side. 

Serena: [00:29:31] It feels really good when you start tackling those things. And when you tell yourself, "You know what? It's okay. I don't have to do all that. " Like you said, I'm picking these five that I'm going to focus on, but I like that when you talk about the five projects, they don't have to be, for example, five different chairs.

The fact that you started a health program--for example, I've started running again every morning, three miles. It really has been my project and tracking what I eat. Just trying to make better choices and get enough vitamins and nutrients.

So, the way you explain it, I see that that is a project that I took on. And I didn't realize that was a project. I wasn't calling it that, but it’s taking my time and attention and focus. And now I've got four other projects that I can focus on. Five is the max, right? You don't have to accept five every, month or quarter or whatever.  Can you just focus on one? Do you see people often just focusing on one project? 

Charles: [00:30:23] Yeah, so it's no more than five, right? Absolutely you can focus on one, you can focus on two. What I tend to encourage people to do, especially if you have a job, is to think like three work projects and two life projects. Just looking at how much time in your attention a full-time job can take from you.

And at work, you can figure out what your three projects are at work. Just as a sidebar, if you want to get ahead at work, having the discipline to pick three significant projects that align with your bosses priorities and getting them done every week will put you ahead in three to six months.

You'll be one of the star performers if you just did that. But back on point here. The other thing that I want to add in there is if you're grieving or you're recovering from a car accident, or you've got a chronic illness, you can think about it one of two ways. It either counts as a project, or it takes a project slot.

Serena: [00:31:15] Oh, wow. 

Charles: [00:31:16] It's taken that time, energy, attention, and life force that you might apply to other things. The reason I say going through a divorce as a project, as it might actually be two. It might be the logistics of the divorce, but it also might be the grieving and loss and sort of the emotional stuff that happens in a divorce.

It might just be you're getting through that and going to work. And that's life right now and that's completely okay. You don't have to stack other things on top of that. So yeah, you absolutely can do it. You might just go through a period where you recognize either because of where you are emotionally, or maybe it's a season of the year, for instance, we're in my ascending season.

I get super creative in the fall and winter and the summer, I'm not. So, in the summer I snatch a couple of blocks, and say I've got a couple of projects slots. During the summer quarter, I get three projects, because that's the most that I'm going to do anyways. 

I don't get five in the winter. I push the limits a bit more. You don't have to focus on that many, but what you have to look at is when you look at sort of your current life in your current work, and your best life and your best work, there's a gap between there. And if you're really trying to fill that gap, it takes certain types of projects to do it.

If you're okay at a certain point, and that's not the focus, or maybe you want to take a break, then absolutely. You can focus on fewer projects. And sometimes again--grieving, injury, illness. You might not have that many to start with. 

And unfortunately, I hate to be the bearer of bad news and bearer of reality in that way, but the best thing we can do is be more compassionate to ourselves and more realistic about we're going to be able to do, because all of that extra "commitment juice" that we apply to ideas and projects we're not going to do just rebounds back on us in negative stories about ourselves, [and creates] frustration and creative constipation. 

Serena: [00:33:06] Yes. I think the idea of just focusing on those five projects gives you permission to say, “I can't take one anymore. These are the only things that I'm going to focus on.” I liked that you broke it down--three work projects and two personal projects.

Now, really quick, before we wrap this up, how do people go about scheduling that time? You had mentioned, some people know that some things may take two hours, some things may take a week. Knowing that it's going to be a larger or smaller project, how do you actually get that on your schedule and hold yourself accountable to actually doing it? Because that's the hard part, too. 

Charles: [00:33:44] That's the hard part.  In the book, I talk about block planning, which is a different way of thinking about your days and weeks. There are four different types of blocks. There are focus blocks, which are 90-to-120-minute blocks of time where you can actually dive into a project and get some things done.

In the DIY context, it might be where you actually get the tools out, you get the materials out and you're actually going to work on that thing for a little bit. That is super hard to do it in a smaller slice of time, because by the time you get everything out, you're putting it back up. You hit three strokes on it, and you're done and that's unsatisfying.

Focus blocks in the context of what we're talking about are again, 90-to-120-minutes at a time where you can just focus on that project. Now, what I will say is during that focus block, you can go to the bathroom, you can get more tea or coffee and things like that, but you're not switching from project or to--you're not bumping from your computer to the chair, to the computer, to the chair and ended up in that sort of back and forth.

So, focus blocks--one. 

Two are social blocks, which are the times in which you're your best version of human. And you want to be interacting with people. Those tend to be 90 to 120 minutes long. And again, even though most people schedule meetings for an hour, we know there's 15 minutes of prep on the front side tends to be 15 minutes on the backside.

And if you're not thinking about that, you'll get to the end of week and you'll have a slew of emails and slew of notes that you need to take and you can't remember it. So it gets away from you. So again, the general pattern here that I'm encouraging people to do is to put some of that at the beginning of it, so you don't have to deal with the pain of it in the backside. 

Third are admin blocks, which are 30 minutes to hour-long blocks where you just focus on the administrivia. It might be you shopping on Amazon to get your tools, or it could be that phone call that you need to make.

Serena: [00:35:25] Could that be like just researching the project?

Charles: [00:35:29] It could be if it's quick research, yes. If it's deep research that goes into focus block. And so like, if you're really trying to understand a new blueprint or a new thing like that, I would actually probably put that in a focus block. Because otherwise if you take it too quickly--and I've done this before--where you're just like, "Okay, got it. I know how to do that." And then you'd jump into, and you're like, Wait a second. I don't have the screws and the thing that I need, and then I'm running back and forth to the store. It would've been better if I'd actually printed it out. Made a list of what I needed, checked to make sure that I had what I needed and then jumped into it, versus, three trips to the hardware store. Not that I've ever done that….

And then the fourth is recovery blocks. So this could be meditation, yoga, running, eating, sleeping, whatever you need to do to recharge your body because the other three kinds of blocks are energy-expending blocks, you put out energy. Recovery blocks or energy revitalizing or rejuvenating blocks.

Serena: [00:36:27] And how much time should we spend on the recovery blocks? 

Charles: [00:36:30] It's really variable. It depends on what you need to do. For instance, it could be that you've got a Peloton in your house and you can ride for 40 minutes. That's it. It could be that you need to do 20 minutes to stretch in, or maybe you want to roll around with the dogs for 15, 20 minutes to refill your energy and things like that.

It's variable. And I don't really care what it is. Some people go do CrossFit, which for me, would be energy-expending, but for them, it's rejuvenating. So, I'm not going to say what it is, but you know what recovers you are, what rejuvenates, and you know what doesn't. The reason I set that up that way is because it's going to come down to how many focus blocks you have per week in the end of the day.

Because you know that if you've got to make a chair and--again, go back to the chair--but it's going to take you maybe three or four focus blocks. You either have that on your schedule or you don't. And if you don't have it on your schedule, you're not going to finish the chair. It's as simple as that.

Serena: [00:37:24] Right. I'm learning that.

Charles: [00:37:26] How do we do it? Well, you look at those projects that you decided you were going to do this week, and you look at your blocks that you have available and say, “Okay, I've got this many blocks. How am I going to invest in those different projects and spin those blocks to get those projects done?”

And if you get to a point to where you're like, “Honestly, I'm rolling into the week. I either don't have focus blocks because my schedule looks like Swiss cheese” or they're all taken up, you're not going to work on that project that week. You're just not. 

Serena: [00:37:56] I think it's a very realistic way of looking at projects. Let me give me a real-life example right now I'm working on a total closet makeover. I'm doing built-ins and all of that. In my mind, it's going to take me a week. Well, then I start researching it, I'm like, “This is not going to take me a week!” and I got real about that.

I looked at how many days I had, how many blocks of time I could potentially have. And there was no way I was getting it done. So, I think if you start strategizing it, where you're looking at those blocks of time and, if you're like, Well, I don't really have any blocks of time this week,” you can know upfront, look, this chair is not going to get done. Don't fool yourself, baby. It's not going to happen this week. Maybe next week. 

Charles: [00:38:42] Yeah. And it's okay that it doesn't happen, right? Because you might look at your week and be like, Oh, I've got PTA this week. And then, I'm picking up my mom from the airport. She's staying over the weekend and now that's where your focus blocks went great. That is in alignment with your priorities and values. [There’s] nothing wrong with that. But to assume you're going to do all of that and get to the chair, you're just setting yourself up for failure. And so, to the point with your tile over there, you probably have three or four focus blocks to get that thing done. Just guessing about how big it is. That's just where I would be saying, “Hey Serena, if you actually are in pain about this, where are the focus blocks on your schedule and what are you going to decide not to do so that you can finish that up?”

Serena: [00:39:27] Exactly. That's the discipline. One thing that I liked that you said in your book about closing out a project and doing those after-action reports. I used to work at a job where we worked with military personnel who were going back into education and that's one thing we had to do for all of our projects.

We had to do an after-action report. And I forgot about that until I read it in your book. So can you talk real briefly about that before we wrap it up? What people should do once they are done a project? What are those critical things they have to do to really kind of close this out?

Charles: [00:40:01] Yeah. After action review is exactly what you're saying is you look back over the project. How'd it go? And there are three basic questions you can ask. I give more in the book, but the three basic ones are: What went well? What didn't go well, or what was challenging?  And, What are you going to do differently next time?

If you just ask those three questions about all projects, you end up building this efficiency curve, where it gets faster and faster do projects. And I'm going to be really specific here. Make sure you do them for successful projects, too. A lot of times when projects fall apart, people are like, “Oh, I got to figure out what happened!”

And then they'll go through and they'll do the post-mortem or the AAR [after action report] on it, but they don't take--like, “Man, that was a great project!” What did we do that made it that way? What we ended up doing is so focusing on projects that don't work and not building the efficiency and strength around the things that we've done that make projects work and it ends up upside down.

So it's just a way of looking at it. And honestly, you could finish the chair. Take three minutes, say, “Okay, what did I learn from this one? What worked, what didn't work?” And, “Oh, it turns out that like using this type of drill, but if I would've had this other drill, it would've made my life so much easier” [inaudible]

And so next time you want to do a chair project, part of that chair project might be buying the drill that you need so that it doesn't take you so dang long to get it done.

Serena: [00:41:21] Do you have worksheets on your website where people could actually download some of these, so when they're working on projects, they can plan it better? Where can people find you? 

Charles: [00:41:30] All right. If you're interested in the book, you go to There's also that has worksheets, tools. I'm a big fan of worksheets. My main website, Productive Flourishing has a tab on free planners.

And I think we currently have 12 to 15 that you can just download for free. No email address needed. Just get them, use them because I really want people to be doing more work. We create worksheets and planners whose main job is to channel your creative energy and train that, that, that energy into finished projects.

People who want to finish more projects love them. They come at a cost, though, Serena. You're going to need to choose a fewer number of projects that you're going to finish. And let go of all of this “someday, maybe later, wouldn't it be cool” ideas that just are not going to make the cut in the end.

Serena: [00:42:28] This has been an amazing interview. I'm really hoping that people will watch this and feel like now they have an action plan. They know where to go to get more information. The book is amazing. Can they find you online? Where can they find you on social media? Are you on social media?

Charles: [00:42:43] I am on social media. My main social media that I hang out on is Twitter @CharlieGilkey. If you really want to dive into, I think actually going to the website is the best place to start, because there are so many resources there available for folks that I actually encourage people to check a few out and then ask a few questions and get involved.

We've got a really active community. I would say that would be great pathway, but if you just want to stop by and say hi, I'm on Twitter @CharlieGilkey. 

Serena: We'll definitely be connecting, and I'll have all your links down below in the show notes and in the description so people can find you, but this has been great. So thank you so much. And I look forward to seeing what else you're doing. 

Charles: Yeah. Thanks. Serena and you know, I'd be happy to come on next time too. 

Serena: Definitely. All right. Thank you.