A few months ago, I applied for a writing job that appeared in the WritersWeekly.com newletter. I was hired under the caveat that I would devote at least 20 hours a week to the project until it was completed, which was projected to be twelve weeks.
I know 20 hours a week might not seem like a lot to some people, but I have five kids, a father-in-law in poor health, and several regular writing gigs to which I’ve already committed.
I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to meet the 20-hour-a-week requirement, but I really wanted to take the job. I decided just to go for it.
That first week was tough. I stayed up late and even cut short a date night with my husband in order to squeeze in the 20 hours.
I thought it would get easier, but getting in those 20 hours was a struggle every week. For the duration of the project, I watched almost no TV and hardly logged into social media at all.
It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I logged in my 20 hours every week of the project.
I enjoyed the job – and the extra money – but I was relieved when the project was completed. “I feel like I have so much free time now,” I told my husband.
“Why don’t you spend those 20 hours each week working on your novel?” Eric asked. “I mean, you’re already used to those hours being committed to a writing project. Why not use that time to further your dream?”
My mouth dropped open. I’ve always known my husband was a smart man, but this idea was absolute genius. Except that it didn’t work.
When I stayed up late to squeeze in those 20 hours each week for the project, I was working for someone else. I had a boss and there would have been a consequence if I hadn’t met my commitment. But somehow, keeping a commitment to myself didn’t weigh on me as heavily. In fact, I had no trouble ignoring it altogether. And the only consequence was my own disappointment.
“I need help,” I told Eric. “I can’t stick with my 20-hour-a-week commitment unless I have a boss to hold me accountable. I’m commitment phobic, but only when the commitment I make is to myself.”
Eric laughed. “Then make the commitment to me. I’ll even place a bet on it.”
We worked out some accountability measures, including a high-stakes Friday night date. If I completed my 20 hours that week, I got to choose the restaurant and the movie. If I didn’t keep my commitment, he got to choose and I was destined to sit through two hours of car chases and gun battles.
Eric is holding me accountable. He keeps tabs on my progress and offers to help out with the kids or the house when I’m falling behind. (Even though that means he’ll be sitting through yet another romantic comedy on Friday night.)
And so far, it’s working. My writing project wrapped up three weeks ago now, and I’ve used those extra 20 hours to work on my novel for two of the three weeks. Using this strategy, I’ve gotten more done in the last three weeks than in the previous three months.
It hasn’t been easy. I’m still skipping out on TV and social media in order to squeeze in my 20 hours. But if I was willing to make sacrifices for a job, I should be willing to make at least that many sacrifices to achieve my own goals.
As a freelance writer, I work for myself. But as it turns out, I focus better when I work for someone else. If you find that, like me, you struggle with commitment phobia, share your writing goals with someone who will hold you accountable, and help you keep your commitments.
Diane Stark is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. Her work has been published in 20+ Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She loves to write about the important things in life: her family and her faith. Diane can be reached at DianeStark19@yahoo.com.