If you’re like me, you struggle to carve out time to write…you wish you could uncomplicate life and get more done.
Good news! I have business coach and online business manager Kari Roberts on the show to help us think through simple systems that can unlock our writing productivity and creativity.
“It’s like you’re on a treadmill,” she says. “You’re running in place, but you’re not going anywhere. So you’re not really getting anything done.”
Sound familiar? Kari knows our struggles and offers solutions. She says, “You might need to strategize or systematize other things so that you can make the space that you need to do the writing.”
Kari Roberts is a business coach and online business manager for creative small business owners. She helps them figure out time management and systems that allow them to grow their business while still having enough time and energy for work, business, and home life. Her business advice has been featured on VoyageATL Magazine, The Rising Tide Society, The Speak to Scale Podcast, Creative at Heart Conference and more.
Kari is the host of Finding Freedom with Simple Systems Podcast and the creator and host of Overwhelmed to Organized the Summit. When she isn’t being a “serial helper” through one of her businesses she enjoys watching sports with her husband, walking in the park with her 2 dogs, listening to podcasts, sampling tasty bourbons, and catching up on reality TV.
Her approach to creating systems? “I like to go in and try to find: What’s the simplest way. If we’re trying to get X done, what’s the simplest way to get to X. It may not be the fancy thing. It may not be with the shiny object. But if we can condense it and make it simple, then that can free up your time and free up your mental space so that you can get other things done.”
Listen to the interview and you’ll learn principles that may transform your approach to writing…and life.
- Kari Roberts’ website
- Kari on Instagram
- Finding Freedom with Simple Systems Podcast
- Get your very own copy of Kari’s Time-Blocking Schedule: HERE
- Simple Systems Setup course
ANN KROEKER, WRITING COACH
Episode 239 Transcript
How Simple Systems Can Unlock Your Writing Productivity: Interview with Kari Roberts
Ann Kroeker (00:03): It’s so hard to find time for writing, isn’t it? It’s hard to do all the things a writer needs to do these days. If only if only we had a simple system that we could set up to make the rest of our creative life flourish…I have business coach and online business manager Kari Roberts here today to help us think through simple systems we can set up to increase our writing productivity. I’m Ann Kroeker, writing coach. If you’re new here, welcome. If you’re a regular, welcome back. I’m sharing my best tips and training–skills and strategies—to help you improve your craft, pursue publishing, and achieve your writing goals. Be sure to subscribe for more content.
Ann Kroeker (00:44): From time to time I invite guests on. So you can learn from their wisdom, like today’s guest, Kari Roberts. Kari is a business coach and an online business manager for creative, small business owners. She helps them figure out time management and systems so that they’re freed up to have enough time for work business and home life. Kari is the host of her own podcast, Finding Freedom with Simple Systems. And today she’s going to talk about that as it applies to writing productivity. Kari, thank you for being with us today.
Kari Roberts (01:13): Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Ann Kroeker (01:16): I am so intrigued by this whole idea that writers who are always pressed for time and always longing for productivity, how simple systems might be the way that they can unlock and unleash that. So first, I read your bio and it tells us quite a bit about you, but I would love you to explain maybe just in simple terms, what you do, how you serve people.
Kari Roberts (01:40): Okay. In the simple simplest terms as possible, I help coaches and creatives and consultants really quiet the noise and find a simple path to success. So if you think about it, your business can be extremely chaotic. It can be very noisy. I’ve had a client say it’s like my house is on fire in the background, and nobody knows. And I come in with my strategic mind, as your strategic partner, and kind of quiet the noise, put out the fires, help, strategize, and prioritize what has to get done and how it gets done so that you can enjoy your business. And then also enjoy the life that you’re creating with the business.
Ann Kroeker (02:21): Kari, that sounds like a dream come true. Seriously. That’s amazing. “Quiet the noise.” So as writers, I’m thinking about productivity, but you’re reframing the whole thing by helping them figure out how to put out the fires so they can focus on their work. And I think you’re showing me some other benefits that we can get from starting to think about the systems in our life…
Kari Roberts (02:49): Right? Yeah. Systems can be very loud. If where you going to stick with the noise metaphor, systems can be very loud. And sometimes we don’t get things done because we’re too busy. It’s like you’re on a treadmill. You’re running in place, but you’re not going anywhere. So you’re not really getting anything done. So if you can start finding ways to systematize certain things in your business, now we’re going to get into how they could potentially systematize and get strategies for writing, but you might need to strategize or systematize other things so that you can make the space that you need to do the writing.
Ann Kroeker (03:28): Oh, that’s a great point. And I look forward to hearing more about that. I’ve, I’ve tried to do that in my life and actually, you and I have met a few times and you have given me some great ideas that I’ve been able to implement. I’m hoping that some of those things might work for some of our listeners as well. Let’s just get into this a little bit about how can, does this open up time? Is that maybe part of it? So we’ve got the noise. Maybe I’m mixing up metaphors here, but you know, there’s noise. And you said something that intrigues me—I guess I’m asking a lot of questions all at once here—Let’s just simplify. You said some systems can be noisy. Does that mean that they need to be simplified? Or you need a different system? Tell me more what you meant by that.
Kari Roberts (04:16): Yeah, so definitely things in our business can be noisy. Systems can be noisy. You and I have talked, then there is a lot of talk about CRMs and then there’s the planner community. And they want to write things down and invest in all of these tech tools and writing tools. And sometimes that can bulk up the system and add more layers to it than what actually needs to be done. So I like to go in and try to find: What’s the simplest way. If we’re trying to get X done, what’s the simplest way to get to X. It may not be the fancy thing. It may not be with the shiny object. But if we can condense it and make it simple, then that can free up your time and free up your mental space so that you can get other things done.
Kari Roberts (05:04): We’re not really stretching time per se, but just being really intentional and strategic with how you’re spending your time. So social media: With the coaches and the consultants that I work with, social media is a really big time suck. And I’m sure your listeners have social media accounts and it can be a big time suck. You see people doing the Reels and pointing and dancing and going live and making the carousels and all that. And we might feel like, “I need to be doing that too.” So you might, as an example, you might spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to do a Reel, try to figure out how to point and dance on cue, trying to figure out how to make those Reels. That’s work. But then if we look at what’s working in your business, you know, just showing up in a Facebook group, answering people’s questions for you, might be how you’re converting people.
Kari Roberts (05:58): So if that’s what’s converting people—if that’s turning someone into one of your customers—then the singing and the dancing and the pointing and everything else that might be on another platform is not using your time well. I’m not saying there’s not a place for it all, because there’s definitely a place for it all. But if you’re dealing with overwhelm, sometimes we need to take a step back and see what’s working and kind of take away what’s not working so we can focus on what is working.
And so if you’re converting in Facebook groups, but you’re spending hours trying to make Instagram work for you…if we just put a pin in Instagram, now those hours you were putting in Instagram? Now you can put those hours towards something else. You can put those hours towards digging more into Facebook since that’s where it’s working for you—or working on a new project or writing your book or something. Or just having more downtime for you and your family. So that’s the way that I approach things when people are overwhelmed. Ultimately, it’s a business. And if you’re writing a book or you’re coaching someone or whatever the case may be, businesses need to generate income in order for them to be successful. So we need to see what are your revenue-generating tasks and go from there—as opposed to, “I want to do everything because everybody’s telling me everything is needed.”
Ann Kroeker (07:19): That’s so good. Some writers may just be sort of waking up to the possibility that what they’re doing is ultimately a business. Even if they’re not generating that revenue right away, people who want to write a book, maybe early in the process that they don’t quite see any numbers yet. But I love this forward-thinking approach and this high-level approach that you’re giving us. What I’m hearing is: Start there. Start with: what is producing results, what is creating conversions, right? Okay. So you said, for example, if you get into a Facebook group and you’re interacting and you’re getting more people on your email list, then why are you spending so much time trying to figure out a Reel and fighting so hard to make that happen. Any tips on how they can determine if something’s working or not?
Kari Roberts (08:10): Yeah. If you have been doing this, I would say for 90 days or more, you should be able to look back and see, using whatever your metric is. It may not be revenue. It may be people on your email list. It may be engaged people in your community. It might be people that are showing up in different ways—however people are interacting with you and your content. And where are those people finding you? And it’s just where you really have to look back and say, “Okay, what’s working?” And then if you don’t know, then this might be a really good time to just pull up a piece of paper or a spreadsheet, keep it really basic. And then just keep track of where are these people finding you? And it’s not something that you need to do daily. It might be something you just kind of do a couple of minutes once a week or a couple minutes once a month, but try to tabulate where are people coming to see you?
Kari Roberts (09:05): And then if you’re newer, let’s say you haven’t really been at this 90 days. Then I would say, go for what you’re most comfortable with. Because the important thing about social media now—I’m not a social media expert, just to put that out there; that’s my disclaimer—but we can’t forget the social in social media. And so many people do. Since it is a social platform, if you choose what you’re most interested in—if you’re beginning—then that means you’re going to show up more authentically and you’re probably will get better results. So you might love Twitter. Well, that’s where you should start. You might love Instagram. If so, that’s where you should start. You might love Facebook. If so, that’s where you start. So there’s no right or wrong place to start.
Kari Roberts (09:57): But I would say pick something. Pick the platform that you’re most comfortable with and then start paying attention. Is it working when I’m showing up, when I’m posting here, when I’m doing the Instagram Lives or the Reels or whatever are people doing? What do I want them to do? Which might be engaging, following, commenting, purchasing, or who knows what? Are people doing that? And I would give it at least 90 days—at the minimum 90 days. And then if people aren’t doing that, but you still really love Twitter or Facebook, then you might want to stay there because that’s where you like to be. But then we might need to start tweaking how you’re showing up and how you’re interacting with those people to see if we can get them to come back around. So there’s no hard and fast rule, but if you already have a little bit of information, just look back and see what’s working. And then if you’re new, just start where you’re most comfortable.
Ann Kroeker (10:55): That is extremely helpful because some people are just getting started. There’s a woman named Annie F Downs, and she says, “Chase the fun.” So that’s one path—to go where you’re enjoying yourself. But if you have the 90-days’ worth of data, you can look at it to see what’s working. And then once you do, now you have this information. The second thing I heard you say was, “Now it’s time to look at facts.” And “I want to accomplish X” (and I love this phrase) “What’s the simplest way to accomplish X?” Let’s say they look at the data or they’re doing the fun thing. And now they have data. They’ve done it for 90 days and they had this information. Now, what would be the next stage of working toward discerning What X will be? How do they make that decision? Is that a kind of a system, a high-level system too?
Kari Roberts (11:46): I don’t know if that’s a system. I think that’s where we’re really thinking a little bit more like a business. What would you need? What metric would you need to track so that you can say this is working? Like I said, it may not necessarily be revenue, especially if someone is newer and you might not have finished that book and you might not have a product to sell. It might be getting people on your list or tracking your engagement percentage or seeing how long someone is following your posts. There are a variety of things you could be tracking, but you should be tracking something that has a number attached to it. That way you can say, “Okay, six months from now, did the number get bigger or smaller?” And if the number got smaller, that might mean we need to tweak some things. If the number got bigger, then we might say, “Hey, we’re moving in the right direction!”
Ann Kroeker (12:39): So now let’s think about the idea of systems—and I’m that talking about your simple systems approach. You talked about social media as a time suck, but once you figure out what’s working, is there a system that simplifies it or are there other areas that we should look at our lives to determine this is a great place to incorporate a system?
Kari Roberts (13:06): I have a course called “Simple System Set-Up,” and I believe that we do have systems around pretty much everything. And my argument to that is I bet when you go to the grocery store, you probably drive the same car. You probably drive the same way. You probably park in the same general section of the parking lot. You probably go in…for me, I know I always go to the right. I go to the deli, I go to the bakery and then I swing back around to all the grocery aisles. I get the dairy and the cold products. And then I head out. So I kind of do a circle. I bet you have some sort of way. And so my personal definition of a system is something that you do that has a routine that you do repetitively.
Kari Roberts (13:58): And those are systems that we have. Or you might be side hustling and you have a nine to five, I bet you have a way that you go to work. And I bet you, if your car needs gas, you probably have a certain gas station that you prefer to frequent. You know? And so with business, or if you’re working on a new project and you’re at the beginning stages of business, there’s so much going on that we can spend a lot of time—and I’m speaking from experience—we spend so much time trying to do everything. We forget the beauty or the power of having a system behind it. So I personally think that you can systematize almost everything. And in my Simple Systems Set Up course, we talk about a framework called the WHAM framework. The first step is figuring out Where you can have a system.
Kari Roberts (14:46): And then we go through a process to figure out How you narrow down to choose which one it is. And then the third step is we write down the Actions. And then we Measure it. So that’s the four-piece way to create a system. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. Like I said, it could be on a piece of paper, you could jazz it up and put it in Asana or Trello or whatever, but it’s not the tool that makes the system work for you. It’s having that system in place. And without getting too far into it, just keeping it more general, I usually say that whatever you’re spending or wasting the most amount of time on is probably where you should go to systematize first. Because when you get that chunk of time back, that’s going to have the most impact on you.
Ann Kroeker (15:34): What a great way to filter. You said so many things. You said you have a great claim: You can systemize almost anything. And we have these routines, and that anything that we’re on a routine—in a repetitive way—that would be an easy thing to look at and figure out how to systematize it in a smarter way using your WHAM method. I love that, by the way. Nice acronym.
Kari Roberts: Thank you.
Ann Kroeker: But so much going on in our business that it’s easy to just get overwhelmed and be like: Where do I focus? What do I do next? I think overwhelm is a big word. I hear among all kinds of people, but the writers I work with, they’re overwhelmed. They’re exhausted. They don’t know where to focus.
Kari Roberts (16:24): Yeah. And so it’s like a horse. I like analogies. You know the horse, when he’s in training or racing, they put the blinders on, right, so he can’t see what’s going on to the left or the right. He’s just focused on his lane. And so I think that’s what we should do as entrepreneurs. And it’s hard because we get influenced from so many places—especially if you’re like you and I, and you enjoy consuming content and reading books and listening to podcasts, then we’re getting inundated with so many thoughts. And sometimes it’s hard to remove what we need, versus what we’re being told. And so I think: Put those blinders on and focus on what works for you. So I used the example of systematizing social media, but what you might really need is to create a system—to create some quiet space—to write your book, right?
Kari Roberts (17:20): So everybody’s need is going to be different, but once you figure out what the need is, then you’ve got to kind of put those blinders on and say, “Yes, she’s got a great point about Facebook. And she’s doing amazing things over here on Clubhouse, but what I need to work on is here.” And that’s how you really can manage that overwhelm. It’s not really allowing yourself—it’s way easier said than done, but—it’s not allowing yourself to be swayed. Like that horse. The horse is in his lane. You might check that out: “Oh, that’s really interesting…I like that point.” But you don’t let that veer you off from your course. You still stay in your lane.
Ann Kroeker (17:59): That’s a really good analogy. I can totally picture it, because I think that does combat the shiny object syndrome, where, “Oh, that looks so tempting, but … hey, what I’ve got is working, so I’m going to stick with what I’m doing.” You touched on something really early on in our conversation that I’d like to ask about. You said some of these systems might not be directly related to our obvious business-y task. For our writers, it might be the writing and the platform-building, or if they’re working on a book proposal or something like that, there might be other things they might look at and see if there’s a way to systemize it. Can you tell me more about that? Are you thinking domestic tasks? Stuff at home?
Kari Roberts (18:39): For me personally, because I was side hustling for many years, a big thing that I had to kind of systematize, if you will, was that as an employee I would get to work three to four to five minutes late, but I knew I was going to stay five or 10 minutes late on the back end. And I just figured it all kind of come out in the wash. But when I really started growing my side business, those five to 10 mattered. I live in Metro Atlanta. So those five to 10 minutes of working late might take 20 extra minutes to get home because of traffic, which didn’t matter that much then, but when I was spending time after work on my business, that 20 or 30 minutes, day after day, added up.
Kari Roberts (19:23): So one of the things I had to really be good about was: How do I get my behind out the door on time so that I can get to work and leave on time so that I can get home on time so I can have that space to work on my business? So there was no change in my business or how it was operating in my business, but it was like the rest of my life. I had to make some adjustments so that I can make time for the business.
Ann Kroeker (19:51): Right. And you mentioned that it’s not about the gadget, the platform. It’s not necessarily the platform that makes things simple. It’s about a holistic approach to looking at the whole of your life and saying, “Wow, wait a minute. I need those 20 minutes. I’m going to rearrange my life.” It’s that grocery store analogy. “What am I doing in a system that’s not working very well?” So I think that’s what I’m processing right now: it’s the fact that I might have a system that’s a really bad system that’s just not serving me. Is that what you’re saying?
Kari Roberts (20:27): Exactly. Yep. And then it’s like, “How can we tweak that so that it does work for you” And something else that’s one of my core values that I don’t want to miss out on saying is: integrity. We have to have integrity, especially if you’re a side hustler or you’re just starting out with your writing and it’s alongside a full-time responsibility. It might be raising children. It might be working. It might be anything, and we have to have integrity. Once you see those pockets of time that you can take to work on your book or you find those tasks that could be done, and you’re saying, “Okay, Tuesday at 7:00 PM, I’m going to get it done,” you have to have integrity with that. You have to have integrity with the boundaries that you set forth. Because if you don’t follow through on your boundaries, then you’re right back where you started and then you’re still going to be overwhelmed because now you didn’t get the thing done—but now you feel guilty because you didn’t follow through. You didn’t make good on your promise to yourself.
Ann Kroeker (21:30): You say don’t waste time. You open up the 20 minutes and then you waste the 20 minutes.
Kari Roberts (21:34): Yeah. And that’s why I do use the social media as an example, because as I am so guilty of scrolling on Instagram, so it’s like, “Oh, I’m going to go on Instagram for 20 minutes, for fun.” And it’s 45 minutes later, when I’ve got to finish a proposal for a client, but then I really needed to start cooking dinner, too.
Ann Kroeker (21:52): That is a friendly warning to use what you open up. Use the systems to serve in an efficient way so that you actually move toward your goals. So when it comes to writing, can you think of a hypothetical situation where a writer—and you do a fair amount of at least content creation, but maybe you don’t think of yourself as a writer…you’re probably writing all the time. But imagine yourself in the shoes of a writer who, let’s say, they are working on a major project. We’ll just say it’s a book, although a listener might be listening and think, “I don’t write books!” But let’s just say they are working on a book or they had to put together a book proposal. Meanwhile, they do want to do fun things with their writing, too,
Ann Kroeker (22:39): and use social media. Where do they apply all your principles that you just explained? Where do they look to start saying, “Okay, I’ve got the metrics. I got the information. It looks like I’m seeing conversions here.” Maybe they need to look at their schedule to see something there that can help them. They have to make that decision you were saying: they’re deciding what to spend the time on and where to find the time? Tell me a little bit more about that. How do they untangle it all?
Kari Roberts (23:19): The project is the book, right?
Ann Kroeker: Right.
Kari Roberts: The example is the book and they’ve got to get this proposal done. I’ve never written a book. I read, but I’ve never written a book. So what I would say is … you probably have a deadline, right?
Ann Kroeker: Usually, yes.
Kari Roberts: So you have a deadline. And so we know we need to get this much done. And books are according to words, like 10,000 words, 20,000 words, right? So we need to get 10,000 words done in six months. Does that sound realistic?
Ann Kroeker: Let’s go with that.
Kari Roberts: Let’s go with that. Okay. Let’s say 12,000 words in six months. Because that’s easier math. That’s roughly 2000 words a month. So I don’t know how many chapters that will be. Let’s stick with words. So that’s 2000 words a month and let’s say, you know, when you sit down, you can bang out 500 words at a time.
Kari Roberts (24:16):
So that will be six sessions of 500 words per month. Yeah. For six months to get you to the 12,000 words by the deadline. So you need six pockets of time in a month period to get those in each time you’re doing 500 words, then you might not be able to do the fun stuff while you’re doing that, right? Depending on what your other obligations are. Are you working full-time? Are you raising children? Are you taking care of a loved one? Do you have ADD and you don’t want to overwhelm yourself? There are so many variables. But if we say the goal is this project, and it’s 12,000 words, then that’s what we have to make as the priority. Right? So that’s what I would say: Find those six pockets where you can write the 500 words.
Kari Roberts (25:17): Put that on your calendar first. Honestly, I would say put that on your calendar first and then prioritize family second, if you have a family. Because you want your loved ones to still love you, even when you’re working through this process. And then the fun stuff is just going to have to be … like, you may not actually be able to schedule that, but the fun stuff isn’t going to move you towards your goal of writing the book. But writing the book will. Does that help?
Ann Kroeker (25:46): It’s so good! You said so many excellent things. Some of it was practical: You’ve got a deadline, you’ve got to meet the deadline, break it down into chunks, schedule the chunks. It’s super practical. But you slipped in there that little sweet realization that your loved ones, if you are in a family situation, you got to somehow work together. They need to provide that support for you, too. And so there needs to be communication there and you need to have fun. There’s so much good in that. That’s what I’m seeing is that part of these systems may be about time management or time blocking and you have a gift for our readers that they can sign up for … right?
Kari Roberts (26:28): I have my time-blocking template. The original version was only for side hustlers. And I had a template for if you worked in the evenings, a template for if you worked on the weekend, and a template that was “create your own,” or “choose your own adventure.” And there was time for things like, if you go to church, if you exercise, family time, work and business. But as I work with more entrepreneurs that are more part-time or full-time, I just felt like that time blocking template wasn’t serving everybody. So what I did is I revamped it and I actually have a little bit more information to explain what is time-blocking and how you can use it in your life. And then there are three different templates. One is if you work about 24 hours a week in your business, 32 hours a week in your business, or 40 hours a week in your business.
Kari Roberts (27:22): And that one is only for business and that prioritizes according to administrative tasks, growth tasks, client work. And then I still make sure we have time for exercise and then time to eat lunch, because sometimes people are home all day and they forget to eat. If you wanted the original version for side hustlers, it’s embedded in the newer version. They can just sign up for the one and have access to both, but I try to make it as flexible as possible. And I like to do time blocking in one- to three-hour blocks. I don’t believe that you should block a whole day or a whole afternoon. In my personal life, I operate in one-hour blocks. That’s how I get stuff done. Like, after we do this interview, I know I’m going to be able to veg out for 20 or 30 minutes before my next task. That’s what works for me. And so I encourage your readers and listeners to have a little bit of self-awareness. Have an idea of what works for you. Then give yourself the freedom and the permission to know whatever you get from me, it can be adjusted. If you really like to work in four-hour blocks, you can take the same concepts and adjust it. But at the same time, if you’d like to work in 30-minute increments, you can do the same thing as well.
Ann Kroeker (28:38): What I really love about this whole approach to time blocking and time—I don’t know if you’d call it management. Maybe management is the wrong term. I’m not sure, but—I love how you’ve you’re acknowledging the fact that our lives are mingled with our work. We’re whole people that need to address and not neglect certain things while we’re moving toward goals. And I also love your sense of limits. Writing or working within a chunk of time deserves a break before you re-engage with whatever the next thing is, whether it’s more of the same or a different task. I’ve found the same thing, Kari. I do a lot of content review in my coaching work, and when I’m spending time with something, especially a bigger project, I have found that I naturally can’t go much more than an hour without looking up at the very least or better yet, getting up and walking around. It actually helps refresh my brain. And even if I go straight back into that same project, my brain is refreshed or reoriented, and I’ve physically moved around a little bit and then I can come back to it.
Kari Roberts (29:45): Know what? I want to share something about that. It’s so interesting. And I’m going to go off on a tangent for a little bit, but I think a lot of the pressure we put on ourselves as home-based entrepreneurs, whether you’re full-time or not, is this whole concept of working eight hours. I mean, after you take out sleeping and eating, eight hours is a pretty significant chunk of our day. And research has shown on the corporate side that an employee—a good employee that works eight hours a day—is only doing about four hours of billable time. Because you take out the snack breaks, you take out chatting at the water cooler, you take out the extended lunch. You take out, “I need a break. I’m going to go walk the hallway.” I used to work at a hospital and so people would walk outside, you know, something happens and I need to get a breath of fresh air.
Kari Roberts (30:37): And then just the chatter between coworkers. And when you add all of that up and minus the lunch break, you add all of that up, and they say they’re really only working about four hours out of the day billable time. So I think that those of us that are working at home, we have made ourselves think that you’ve got to work for eight hours or six hours straight. But if you were at the office, you would have probably naturally have taken that hour break. Right? You would have felt the need to stretch. It’s like, “Oh, let me go to the bathroom.” “Oh, let me check my phone. It’s in my locker.” You know, we find little things at work to busy ourselves. But in retrospect, I’m thinking—now I have no way to research it or back it up. But I’m thinking—that’s like our mental capacity of telling us, “Hey, I need a break.” We need it, because we can’t just work. It’s so hard to work for hours on end.
Ann Kroeker (31:37): In writing circles, we talk about flow. We talk about “deep work.” What’s the guy’s name. Is it … I can’t think of his last name, Cal [Newport]. He talks about deep work and how to do that kind of important, creative work that has depth to it … and it does require a focus and time. Do you think these things can go together? I just talked about naturally looking up after an hour—an hour has gone by and my brain told me I needed a break. Am I still able to engage with deep work? This is a big question among writers. I would love to hear you address that.
Kari Roberts (32:21): I’m going to kind of mesh a couple of things together, and this not my zone of genius, but when you’re in flow, you are extremely efficient and you’re working off your natural skills and you can do it for a long period of time because the work is actually replenishing your mental capacity. So if we went off of that, I’ll go ahead and mesh that with zone of genius versus zone of excellence. If you’re really in your zone of genius, I bet you could get in that flow and be in it for awhile, because when you’re technically in your flow, it’s not tiring you out. But so many of us are in our zone of excellence and working in your zone of excellence is mentally fatiguing because the zone of genius is all your natural skills. You don’t really have to work hard at it, but you’re really good at it. Whereas the zone of genius is something that you’ve put a lot of time and effort in. And so you become really good at it, but it’s something that has been a result of a lot of work.
Ann Kroeker (33:33): Okay, let me get this straight. The zone of genius is flowing out of my natural abilities and tendencies. Just the way I’m made. The zone of excellence is something I’ve gotten very good at, but with a lot of training effort and skill building. And what I’m hearing you say is if I’m in my zone of genius, I can probably work longer and easier because it’s efficient—it just flows. And in the zone of excellence, I might be having to hammer pretty hard to get things out. Is that it?
Kari Roberts (33:59): Yes. And I came across the study from Forbes—I actually did a podcast episode on this a few weeks back. Forbes was saying the majority of adults work their life around zone of excellence as opposed to zone of genius.
Ann Kroeker (34:15): I think this will be interesting for us to say, “How much of what I do as a writer flows out of who I am, and how much of my work is flowing out of the things I’ve learned and developed?” Does that mean we shouldn’t do the things in our zone of excellence?
Kari Roberts (34:30): No, it just means you have to just make accommodations. You need to build in those rest breaks. And I think about some writers that I love and to me, it feels like they take forever to write their next book, right? So maybe that’s why it takes so long to write, because it’s tapping into your emotional side, it’s tapping into your psyche, it’s tapping into your creativity, which does sound to be very taxing. So you might need more rest breaks to get it done. I don’t think it fair to say, “Oh, you could just whip this up in three weeks.” Give yourself the time that’s needed. But no, there’s nothing wrong with working in your zone of excellence at all. I’m a trained physical therapist. I’ve been a therapist for 17 years, but I’m curious if being a therapist is my zone of excellence. And then my strategy is what’s really my zone of genius. They go together, because so much of what I learned about time management and prioritization and stuff that we talked about really came from me working in the clinic as an orthopedic therapist. So it’s not saying one is without the other, but I find talking about systems and helping people with their systems is so much easier than it is for when I was learning how to be a physical therapist.
Ann Kroeker (35:58):Fascinating. It causes you to self-reflect and then make accommodations. Maybe make a bigger chunk of time for me to have focused time — break — focused time … versus the person who is in their zone of genius. If I get there, I can probably sustain it for a little bit longer. So then we can kind of accordion-style organize our day, using your tool to help us start to think it through.
Kari Roberts (36:25): And something else I wanted to add. Because I have multiple clients that I serve … right now, I’m working as an online business manager. There are certain tasks as an online business manager that I really enjoy. That’s super easy. Then there’s other things, they’re a little harder. So I try to sandwich them. So it’s easy tasks for this client and I might be working four or five hours straight, but I’m like, “This is going to take me 30 minutes for her. Ooh, this is going to take me an hour for him.” Then I’m going to come back over to her, do something that’s easy for 45 minutes and I’m going swing around to do something really hard for 20 minutes. So even within that realm, I’m sure writing is a different skillset than editing and proofing. All of those things are different skillsets and they’re all under the umbrella of writing, but one might be easier. One might feel more enjoyable than the other. So I would say: do a push and a pull instead of just forcing yourself to sit there for four or five hours. Go ahead and build in some breaks with some fun stuff if a task is not so great.
Ann Kroeker (37:34): Yeah, that toggling between the harder thing or the thing that’s kind of an energy drain or needs a different kind of brain … yeah. You know us as writers, and you’re absolutely right. The editing brain is a completely different brain. It taps into a different part of us than the creativity of the creator brain that’s needed to actually get the words out and get the ideas down. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but when it comes to low-hanging fruit, if you will—the very first thing to look at—do you have a tip for a writer? You’ve given us a whole plan for how to analyze, but is there any low-hanging fruit we can just take a look at that?
Kari Roberts (38:20): I would say: remember why you’re doing it, and keep that in front of you. I think it was Simon Sinek who says, “It starts with why.” Just remember your “why.” Are you doing this work as a creative outlet and you want it to be enjoyable? Then how you move with this project might be different. Are you doing this because you’re really trying to make a lot of money and be a New York Times bestseller? You might move a little different. So remember why you’re working on this project in the first place, and then let that why guide all of those other decisions that we already talked about.
Ann Kroeker (39:08): Love it. I love it. Kari , how can people get to know you better? And I’m going to put all these things in the show notes too, but when it’s just tell us, in case they’re just driving down the road, they’re ready to go get to.
Kari Roberts (39:20): Sure. First my name is not spelled typical way. It’s K A R I. Instagram is where I hang out, so that’s where I built my company. I’m instagram.com/kari.and.company. My company, and my website is going to be kariandcompany.com.
Ann Kroeker (39:40): Okay, excellent. And we can get your freebie. Is it free? The time management…
Kari Roberts (39:48): The time-blocking template is free. All versions are free. And then there is a tripwire attached to it, which is my time management guide, which a lot of tips that I talked about here are in the guide. And so that is, you can get it for the first 15 minutes. You can purchase it for $9, but you just register for one and it’ll take you to the landing page for the other.
Ann Kroeker (40:08): You’ve given us such an incredible taste of what it would be like to work with Kari Roberts and Company…Kari-and-Company … and they can now dive in and get to know you a little bit better. Thank you for your time. Thank you for investing in writers today.
Kari Roberts (40:22): Oh, thank you! Thank you so much for having me. I hope some of them reach out to me. I’d love to keep the conversation going.
Ann Kroeker (40:26): Now that you’re probably thinking about your zone of excellence versus your zone of genius. And you’re trying to figure out how to create the kind of space in your days to make time for writing. Let me know what kind of action point you’re going to take. How are things going to change as a result of hearing Kari’s great advice? I’d love to hear from you.
This episode is brought to you by “Perfecting Your Pitch,” a training led by literary agent and author Cynthia Ruchti. “Perfecting Your Pitch” is for authors preparing to meet one-on-one with agents or editors so they can enter those sessions with confidence and explain their project with clarity. This $27 masterclass will be held live via Zoom on Thursday, July 8th, 7:00 PM Central / 8:00 PM Eastern, with a replay available. You can also purchase this after the training and watch it on demand. Learn more at annkroeker.com/perfectingyourpitch.
I’m Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach. Thank you for listening.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created with AI technology and lightly proofread; please forgive errors you may find and feel free to let Ann know so she can fix them.