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#137 Writing, Procrastination & Getting Things Done, with Geoff McDonald

In the last 13 years, Geoff McDonald has read 550 books and written sixty plus Book Rapper ebooks, as well as over 1000 blog posts. And now he’s launching two books on the same day, Done and Project Done.

McDonald has always been prolific, great with ideas and creativity, but not so strong at execution. It wasn’t until he bought a new laptop computer that he realised the untapped potential of all that creativity, and the problems he had with not finishing his various projects. Whilst copying over files he found 25 unfinished books.

I was like, “Oh, my God, how much of my time?” You know what’s going on, that if I’d finished even half of them life would have been different. I’d had a whole bunch of products I’d know I’d be known for, a whole bunch of my ideas, and in that moment, I realized my life had been about building this body of work. And I haven’t actually finished half my body of work. Heaven forbid, had a lightning bolt come down and zapped me on the head in a moment I would have had nothing to show. I would have had a whole bunch of unfinished stuff to show for my life.

In this episode, we discuss the following:

  • why we’re where we are with our creative projects
  • how to improve our motivation
  • the importance of adjusting our goals
  • redesigning our environment for maximum productivity
  • how to triage our priorities
  • developing our inner drive
  • making change stick
  • and much more…

You can find out more about McDonald and getting things done here.

Read Full Transcript

Mel: We’re going to spend the next half hour or so talking books and publishing. I’d like to welcome Geoff McDonald. Hi Jeff.

Geoff: Hi, Mel. Great to be on your show.

Mel: Geoff has written a book called Done: Why You Fail To Finish Your Projects and What To Do About It. Everyone who knows me knows exactly why I’ve got Geoff on. He’s read 550 books in the last 30 years, written 60 plus books under the guise of book report which we’ll talk about shortly. He’s got 1000 posts and over100 podcast episodes. And that’s just in his spare time because he’s also a Public Ppeaker. He’s an ideas architect and the list goes on.

Mel: Let’s start with your current project, Project Done. Help us out, Geoff. We’re writers and some of us are perhaps bits of procrastinators. It’s what attracted me to your book in the first place because I believe you had that problem yourself, even though your list doesn’t show it.

Geoff: I can point to that list of all these things well done but I’m probably closer to you than you think, and I think it’s an interesting one that there’s probably a little tipping point there. Basically, I did my strength profile a while back and I realised I had almost no strength around the execution stuff. And pretty much that summed up what I’d been doing. Not finishing.

A few years ago, I bought a new laptop computer. I previously had a desktop that had this really big hard drive on it. When I got the laptop, it had a really small hard drive on it, so I couldn’t just press the button to copy all the files. I had to manually sort through them. I found an old book file. I had spent a lot of time on that one, but I never finished it, and this went on and on.

It turned out there were 25 unfinished books and they weren’t just headline blind folder. There were l50 to 100, 150 pages on each of these books. I was like “oh, my God, how much of my time?” You know what’s going on, that if I’d finished even half of them life would have been different. I’d had a whole bunch of products I’d know I’d be known for, a whole bunch of my ideas, and in that moment, I realized my life had been about building this body of work. And I haven’t actually finished half my body of work. Heaven forbid, had a lightning bolt come down and zapped me on the head in a moment I would have had nothing to show. I would have had a whole bunch of unfinished stuff to show for my life.

I’d done a lot of writing and a lot of effort, but I actually didn’t finish anything, so I realized I needed to fix this or at least address it. And that’s where Done came from. There’s a lot of the stuff out there on productivity that really suits someone that’s more sequential. If you follow undisputedly that’s perfect for you. You just need to know that sort of approach – write your list and then tick them off. But I found I couldn’t do that. I got bored really quickly and I think it’s the same for a lot of creative people. I think a lot of writers are like this. It’s like, you say one thing and I’ll go up on three different tangents and that makes it really hard to finish a book. I’m always generating the ideas but not able to bring them back so it’s that divergent thinking, convergent thinking piece.

I had to research how I could get things done and that’s what the book became. It was like, “How do I get projects done?” And that’s what it’s like for people who don’t get traditional projects done.

Mel: It might keep you that way as well because now everybody Geoff and I are soul mates.

But the first half of that I’m not in my head going this is me. This is now I’ve spent 20 years living in mining towns writing novels writing essays writing articles and they’re all sitting around here. I think I counted up everything that my daughter and I have made to this point is something like 130 products. What about you.

Geoff: I’m very excited to hear. I believe there are seven rules to getting through some of this stuff. I’m not the only one out there who does this stuff. and it’s not to see what people say, “oh if you’re not publishing, not doing this, it’s fear,” but it absolutely nothing to do with fear. It’s because you’ve found another shiny object in your plan. Pretty much the simpler strategy that I’ve got that worked for me was to break things down into smaller chunks.

When I looked at the book so clearly I’ve written a few books but there was all these other things that I didn’t finish and mission with all the books, I realised I basically have the attention span of about a week. So, if I have a project that’s going to last a week, I don’t actually have to create a project plan for it. I can stay on track mentally for it. But when it gets past a week that’s when I’m likely to get distracted by a whole bunch of stuff and I need to put a plan into place.

Mel: Life has its ups and downs and things happen where you can’t finish things, but I do think that a lot of us suffer from that same problem. Some projects get lost a little and doesn’t take very much to put us off track does it?

Geoff: That’s why I think we need to break it down. Some people can stick on a project forever. They’re like chugging diesel engines and chug away, whereas I’m a sprinter. I go for a short sprint and then I stop, and I take a break. But the problem with that approach is when I take a break and come back, I’m usually as you’ve suggested or maybe something else over there. Let’s go over there and I just get distracted and I start something new, which is a strength around creativity and innovation not a strength around execution.

Mel: I tried to do that Strength Profile, but I think it costs a few dollars to do it.

Geoff: The one I get is the Gallop Strength Finder which is about $15, and you can buy one in I think in Marcus Buckingham’s books. Have a look at them and you get the free test with the book.

Mel: It’s interesting everybody and I’m sure we’ve all done one, working out what our strengths are and things like that. I come in very strongly as an ideas’ person but I never finish anything. I’ve always said that I need I need a manager. My business partner (Sam) has exactly the same brain as me so we have a lovely time with our ideas but nothing actually happens in our business.

Now I want to talk about your Book Rapper series because this is something that we as creatives can really take advantage of. Geoff, they’re all good books for us – we’re talking business books here – and then we’ll move into the writing books. You have written a series of guides that will take us a night to read.

Geoff: They can be read in about half an hour, maybe forty minutes tops. Where it started was one day I was sitting there doing some client work and I think it was probably a Wednesday or something and I was just like I have this pile of books that I want to read. And I thought, “Oh, I’m going to read this book.” And I went and sat there on the couch and I picked up the book and I thought well did you feel it was something I should be doing the client book.

And then I made a deal with myself. It’s like if I can get paid to read the books then I can read a book during the week. Otherwise, I’ve got to read the books either in the evening or on the weekend. And that’s where Book Rapper came from.

 Book Rapper essentially is like a book summary service except I don’t literally summarize the books. I rewrite them in a different way and organize the material. Sometimes it’s quite close to the book. Sometimes it’s a little bit different to the books but basically instead of taking four to six hours to read a business book it was like having you read this in about half an hour and that’s what they were designed to do.

And what came out of that was not only I had to read the books in a systematic sort of way and I was already reading the book and I was already taking notes. When it first started, I produced better notes and that’s when people said, you should sell this, and I thought okay, I’ll have a crack at selling it. And it went from there.

The basic idea was I drew a lot of diagrams. My original career was as an architect. I’m always sketching and diagramming and modelling and doing diagrams of things and that’s where book wrapper really was. A limited amount of words but also some pictures and diagrams about what are the key concepts in the book. And the idea was that they were all on horizontal force shapes that you should be able to hold up the sheet. And just by looking at it you should roughly be able to get the core idea is and then if you want to you can read. So if you picked up the issue it might be 10 or 12 or 14 pages long. You should be able to scan it just like I got it. Scanned got it scanned got it. So you can actually get the ideas very quickly. But then you can also read. Three words on it and get a deeper thing. And then if you wanted more you can obviously go to the book. So I was looking at that sort of layering around ideas.


About the author, Melinda

I'm an authorpreneur, English teacher and podcaster who dreams of a life on the road full of adventures and handsome heroes, whilst making squizillions of dollars in book sales to pay for my chocolate fix. In the real world, I write novels and non-fiction, and offer my expert advice via online courses (as soon as I make them) and writing retreats (as soon as I organise them).

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