Picking Your Top Task for the Month: Creative Self-Publishing Podcast with Orna Ross and Howard Lovy

On the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, ALLi Director Orna Ross and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy discuss how to choose your top task for the month. Indie authors wear three different hats: maker, manager, and marketeer. But within those categories, it’s best to pick your priorities each month. Orna explains how to do that.

The Creative Self-Publishing podcast stream is sponsored by Orna Ross’s guidebook: Creative Self-Publishing. You can purchase the book at selfpublishingAdvice.org/creative. ALLI members receive the ebook edition, and all ALLi guidebooks, free.

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Listen to the Podcast: Picking Your Top Task for the Month

On the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, Orna Ross and @Howard_Lovy discuss how to choose your top task for the month as a maker, manager, and marketer of your creative work. Click To Tweet

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Show Notes

About the Hosts

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website:  http://www.ornaross.com

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn, and Twitter.

Read the Transcripts: Picking Your Top Task for the Month

Howard Lovy: Joining me now is Orna Ross. Hello, Orna, how are you?

Orna Ross: Hi, Howard, I’m very well. How are you?

Howard Lovy: Oh, I’m good. As you know, I have many different parallel careers going on between my book editing business, my podcast work for ALLi, and my creative work as an author. So, I’m going to take careful notes during today’s session as we talk about planning, and that begins with choosing a top task for the month.

Orna Ross: That’s right. Yeah. So, last time we spoke, we looked at various creative planning principles for authors that I outline in the planning workbooks and in Creative Self-Publishing, the book that a lot of ALLi members have read and worked from in some ways, and I wanted to just develop that a little bit more, really about taking the next step that you have to take.

So I, as regular listeners to this particular podcast will know, it’s all about planning your way towards where you want to go rather than becoming overwhelmed by all the different tasks that we have to do as author publishers.

So, one of the core principles, and we spoke about the 10 different principles last time, and they can be divided up into what I cut and think of as task principles and money principles. So, we’re not going to look at the money principles in this part, I’m going to be looking at the top task principle, which those who listened last time will remember that it’s about always being aware of what your top task is at any time.

So right at this moment, you should note to yourself, whether you are actually working on it or not, each of us who’s using this planning program will know, my top task right now is…

And we will know this for our manager, we’ll know this for our maker, and we know this for our marketeer. So, for the benefit of those who don’t listen in or who haven’t listened in before, that is to say that as an author publisher, you can divide yourself like that around your writing tasks and your publishing tasks, but the integrated creative business that we talk about is best divided in three, which is the maker, who does the products, the creation of the words and the books. The manager who looks after the processes, the pace at which you work, the profits that come in from it, and the marketeer who looks after the sales and marketing aspects and promotion of the work.

So, by understanding, first of all, what your top task is for each of them, already you’ve cut through a huge amount of possible overwhelm and confusion.

Howard Lovy: So, you’re not talking about necessarily one top task, but maybe three top tasks that fall under these three categories?

Orna Ross: Exactly, and then at any one time you’ll have the hat you’re wearing, which is the maker, the manager, or the marketeer, because in the moment, of course, you can only be working on one top task, the one you’re actually working on.

So, you have an awareness of what your top tasks are for the week, for the month, for the year, for the day that you’re working in, but in any particular moment you realize, okay, this is the maker task, this is the marketeer task, this is the manager task. And that’s how it pans out in the actual doing it.

Howard Lovy: Okay, so let’s take this one by one. How do you choose what’s most important in all three of those categories?

Orna Ross: So, this is about getting those different principles we spoke about last week contained in the task. So, we spoke about, particularly for this in terms of making the decision, as you raise it, is the important but not urgent.

So, we spoke about the fact that what’s important is rarely what’s more urgent, and particularly for the writer in you, but also the publisher. Everybody else has the idea of what you should be doing, but you are the person who actually knows what’s most important to you. So, folding that away into the top task principle is really important.

Similarly, the idea of integrating the business will come into it. So, if you have been giving undue weight to one, you know, if you’ve been wearing one hat a lot more often than you have been wearing the other, and you recognize the fact that you haven’t actually done your marketing tasks for the week or month, that may then become the most important thing, for example.

Or in terms of what needs to be let go, we spoke about the letting go principle. So, doing that test for yourself against whether it is actually something that needs to be done now or whether it should be deferred, whether it is something that can be delegated to somebody else, and that’s something we’ll talk about in a moment specifically around teams and tools, or whether it is something that should just be deleted.

So, when it comes to setting the top task of the month, the week, the day, always running it through that filter of, is this actually essential?

Because there are so many things, and I’m not talking about the distractions even, where you wind up, you know, you go onto the internet to look something up from a research perspective, and an hour later you’re still circling around the internet. I’m talking about things that you think need to be done, but actually sometimes are best not done, either let go or deferred, or whatever.

So, in order to make these kinds of decisions easier and to hone the mind, if you like, and hone the program and hone the method, there are a series of planners that you can actually download. Patrons can download them on selfpublishingadvice.org/planning, and for non-patrons, they’re laid out in a monthly mapping planner, which is available for sale.

What they do is they actually call on you to write down, and make those choices, and pick out what is actually, in terms of the intentions that you have set for the year, the month, the week, whatever, to choose those tasks and see what does actually come up on top.

Another way to approach it, and I’ve spoken before about how lists don’t work for the author publisher, for most of us. Some of us can get by with lists, but generally speaking, we’ve too many things, like you’re talking about the different aspects of the job, and there are too many things going on and too many conflicting tasks so that if we have a list and we’re doggedly working through it and we haven’t prioritized, it’s a problem.

So, a list can be a great starting point, and from there we can begin to extract, what is the top task, what is the priority, what is important, and what is urgent, and distinguish those two from each other.

Howard Lovy: Can you give any concrete examples from your own life or from your own career in terms of what you’re prioritizing as a maker, manager and marketeer?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So today is possibly a good example because I have two people who are waiting for non-fiction articles from me. One follow up on our Author Income Survey at ALLi and another one which is more connected to my own historical fiction writing, and this is urgent, these people are waiting for this. One of them has already sent me the email last Friday, and the other one I know is also waiting, and these are urgent in that sense.

So, when I came in this morning, my head was full of those, but I knew it was more important for me to actually get stuck in and begin to work on the novel that I’m finishing.

So, the novel would very easily have slipped into the background, but I began the day with that. It means that I now have a shorter amount of time, and I had another priority to do this podcast, because if you and I don’t do this today, then the podcast doesn’t go out on Sunday, and that’s a whole hole in the schedule. So, those kinds of things, some things are non-negotiable and that was both important and urgent.

But I now have much less time to do those two shorter non-fiction pieces, but they’ll be done. They will happen, and that’s born out of experience. I know that these things will happen, and maybe they don’t get quite as much attention as they would’ve got, but the task expands to fill the amount of time that’s available.

So, if I’d had the few hours that I spent this morning working on the fiction as well as the couple of hours I will spend this evening finishing them off, they would’ve filled the entire time, is my point and I wouldn’t have worked on the novel today. Whereas I got almost 2000 words out this morning working on the novel. So, that’s just a small example and that happens a lot.

Howard Lovy: I don’t know if you separate your ALLi work as sort of your day job and your writing as your separate creative work. Do you separate it out like that? Like for example, my day job, I consider it to be my book editing business and also my ALLi work, and then my creative work, my novel writing, is something that happens. I’m making it more important, but that’s the only part of the indie publishing career that I have.

I think a lot of people juggle their day jobs with their creative jobs. Are you combining them a little bit?

Orna Ross: No, I do also think of my ALLi job as the day job and I think of my writing and publishing though, and it gets even more confusing for me because I also create books within ALLi too. So, sometimes that becomes the creative project that I’m working on. The Creative Self-Publishing book itself was the writing project at one time. Right now, it’s fiction. So, yeah, I do separate them out in that way in my mind, and I do always have to bring the writing to the forefront of the day, but sometimes the publishing tasks for fiction or whatever will go into the afternoon and a more creative task for ALLi might find its way into the morning.

So, like you say, there’s this constant kind of juggling, and that’s why I needed a planning program because I was constantly feeling that I was chasing myself, and no matter how much I did, I was still feeling I hadn’t done enough, and that’s the danger when you just rely on lists, I think. When you don’t have an actual planning program, which allows for a sense of accomplishment as well as, it’s not just the to-do list, but it’s also the, ‘I have done’ list, it’s the ‘I have done’ aspect of the planning program, I think is every bit as important as what remains to be done. That’s really important.

So, I think the word juggling you used is an important one. When things are being juggled well, there’s this kind of sense almost of, how is this happening?

Howard Lovy: It looks effortless, yeah.

Orna Ross: It looks effortless, exactly. But it isn’t, it’s practice that makes it work, and it’s the same when we juggle in such a way that we are actually keeping an integrated creative business going, and we’re seeing a money flow coming in, and our money flow going out is directed in a good way and it doesn’t feel like leakage. That’s when you’ve got that integrated creative business where all the balls are in the air and they’re all moving.

Howard Lovy: Now you mentioned coming up with a top task for the month. Now, a month is a very long time. Is that length of time necessary for an individual top task?

Orna Ross: No. So, the idea is that the task is timed to the amount of time that you’re allocating to it. So, there are planners for the quarter. There is an annual planner for the year, and we usually do an annual planning workshop at the start of the year, and then that breaks down into four quarters. The four quarters break down into a month, and then the month breaks down into a week, the week breaks down into the day, and the day breaks down into, however long you wanted to break it down into.

The idea is that the task is set to the amount of time. So, your task for the month, to answer your question, let’s say your maker task might be to edit 25,000 words. I’m talking about self-edit, your own work, or it might be to produce 10,000 words. I’m just pulling these figures out of the top of my hat. Or as a maker task because we talk about book production as publishers, not just word production, it might be something to do with getting the book actually finished, proofed and out the door.

You might have a month’s worth of tasks in getting the editing work done, and then your response to the edits, and then actually putting it together, and then the final proof of the printed copy, or whatever it might be.

Howard Lovy: So, within that then you can break it up into individual, weekly, even daily goals?

Orna Ross: Exactly. What happens at the beginning of the week is we have a Facebook group where you come to the Facebook group, and you set your tasks for that week wearing the three hats.

So, the idea is that you’re constantly keeping the three of them in the air so that you’re not just focusing on Maker, or whichever one you tend to focus on. Some people are great at doing the marketing tasks, but they haven’t got the next book on the way, or whatever it might be. The idea is that you’re keeping the three of them in balance, so you’re setting a top task, and this is back to the theme of what we’re talking about here today. It’s about setting that top task for each of these.

And if you’re finding that you’re not making any progress, back to that principle of deferring or deleting or releasing, the letting go. If you’re not getting there, if you’re constantly deferring something but it is important and it remains important and it isn’t something that is to be deferred, then you need to either improve the tools or you need to get somebody else to help you, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at in this Friday’s workshop, very much around the team and the tools that are needed in order for your task to be done.

Howard Lovy: So, I was going to say, my top goal or top task this month, at least in my creative work, I’m getting feedback from beta readers, and my goal is to finish my final draft of my novel during the month of May. So, on May 1st, yesterday, I said “go” and so my goal is that by June 1st I’ll have the final draft done. No matter what. In addition to everything else I have going on in other aspects of my career, in my life, everything else, this one thing will be done.

Orna Ross: Yeah, which is fantastic, and this is a maker task, and this is a month-sized task. So, you have set yourself, either subconsciously or consciously, you’ve decided a month is long enough for you to integrate the feedback that you’ve received.

So, what we would do within the planning program there is look at four weeks, not just look at today, and feel, okay, there is the mountain, I’m going to bite a bit of the mountain today and I’ll bite another bit tomorrow, it will be just to take that moment to look ahead, to list out the various feedback that you have received, to look at it and assign it in terms of what is most important so that the biggest things get done first, and the smaller things get done towards the end of the month so that you don’t find, for example, you are integrating some piece of feedback now that ultimately doesn’t work well with something else that’s coming in.

So, you take the time to actually look at these. There’s a difference between a goal, which is, get this done by the end of the month, and the tasks which will make our goal happen, and that’s where understanding the top task for today.

So yes, it is a task to get this finished, but it breaks down. Tasks generally refer to things that are happening in the day or in the week, rather than things that are happening across the month.

So, your month’s goal is to get it all done and then you break it down into the various aspects of the goal that turn into today’s tasks, and then you know what you need to do today, and you’re not carrying around this months’ worth of tasks on your back, like a big oppression. Because the other thing is, while you’re doing all that maker stuff, what’s happening to the managerial stuff of getting the book up and out there, what’s happening to the marketing stuff of, what’s going to need to be set up when the book is done? So, they would also be integrated into that.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, and that’s a big unknown for me, especially the marketing part. In my mind, I’m thinking that will come after I finish the creative part, but I think I need to put on all three hats during the course of the month.

Orna Ross: Yeah, a little bit, because your main task, and this is the thing, your top task is getting this editing work done and getting the feedback in, but also you have set up a whole marketing, I just happen to know this about your book, there is a whole non-fiction marketing element to your work where you have got that set up. It wouldn’t take a lot of time, and this is where you would slip in the tasks that are not the top tasks, because the top tasks tend to be the most demanding ones, the most important ones. Around that you could easily begin to drop a few bits and pieces about the fact that the fiction book is coming. Rather than waiting till the very end, you’d have that then done. That’s an example of something that you could be doing.

The other thing is that, once the production is done and you’ve integrated the edits, there will also be an editor to hire, there will be the design aspects, and so on. So, when you have done your maker task for the day, you might be thinking about covers and designs, or you might be thinking about the distribution, how you’re going to put it out there, how you’re going to format it, and beginning to put a little bit of that in place as well.

Otherwise, everything becomes very linear, and it isn’t as effective, and it isn’t as speedy as when you have the three hats. Also, the manager and marketeer task, and this is a mindset issue, but if you feel oppressed by them, if you feel, I have to do this other thing and go into the tunnel vision for the maker, then you’re missing out on an opportunity whereby marketeer and manager can actually help and guide some of the making work, and can be a bit of a break from it as well.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, you’re right. I have prepared some of my non-fiction audience to hopefully be accepting of my fiction as well.

Orna Ross: I’m sure they will be.

Howard Lovy: So, we’ll see how that works. I know this often becomes a talk about me, but it’s the way I experience your advice. So, how does this affect me?

Orna Ross: Absolutely fine. I think it grounds it, because otherwise it can be very theoretical, and I think that’s very useful for everyone who’s listening actually.

Howard Lovy: Okay. Is there anything else you want to say about top tasks this month or your maker, manager, or marketeer?

Orna Ross: No, except that I do think that final point may have got a little bit lost because it was really something that I wanted to talk about today, was the necessity that if it isn’t working, if you’re just relying on yourself and I’m hearing always from people who are feeling, I’m just not doing the next step, I’m just not getting to the next step. The solution to that may not lie within yourself. It probably doesn’t. It relies within the tools you’re using or the team you have to help you.

So, if you are not making progress, don’t just sit there beating yourself up in resistance, feeling bad. Do actually take an action around team or tools, and you can sign up for the Patron program if you need more support on any aspect of what we’re talking about here, where we can go into depth in and around your own particular situation.

Because a lot of what we talk about, a lot of the advice we get in the self-publishing world is good advice, but there is a necessity both in writing and in publishing to go a bit deeper.

Now if it’s all going along nicely for you, you don’t need to think about that, but if it’s not going along nicely for you, if you’re finding that you’re not making the progress that you want to make, don’t just sit there. Actually draw in a bit of help, and then you can get going again, and once you’re off, you’re off.

But it’s that horrible feeling of being stuck and not knowing what to do next.

Often your top task is at the core of that.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, that’s a feeling none of us wants.

We’ll have a link in our show notes to the Patron program, along with all the other information you need.

Well thank you as always, Orna for your helpful and practical tips on how to incorporate planning as part of our creative business, and I’ll look forward to more in our next episode.

Orna Ross: Thanks so much, Howard. Good luck with the book.

Howard Lovy: Thank you, Orna. Bye.


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