Discover more from Michelle Elisabeth Varghese
How Charlie Gilkey Helped Me Redefine Productivity
“Not Michelle, she’s not a doer”
My body stiffened, my breath paused. I forced a smile as my sister laughed and made this off handed comment to our friend.
Unknowingly, she voiced my biggest insecurity out loud.
When I left my job at the end of 2020, I planned to replicate my 40 hour work week from the corporate world and focus all my energy on my own creative projects.
While my weekends were dedicated to working on my podcast with my sister, my weekdays had a different cadence. I’d wake up late in the morning, meander around my parent’s apartment, help my dad figure out the password for his three facebook profiles, and go down endless rabbit holes on the web.
These tasks didn’t seem “productive” to me and I was disappointed in myself. I often found myself googling things like, “what’s the difference between unemployed and self employed?”
At this low point, I found Charlie Gilkey.
In my binge of the podcast SPARKED, I came across an episode where the host, Jonathan Fields, brought Gilkey on to advise a woman who had called in frustrated. She felt she inherently wasn’t motivated, yet also had a desire to pursue a million different projects.
My ears perked up. Something started to click.
I listened to all the episodes with Gilkey on SPARKED and then moved on to his book, Start Finishing. I had no idea then that in a couple months, I’d be commended for my work ethic.
Charlie Gilkey gave me the framework to turn my life around and finally start pursuing my dreams.
Life in Projects
A key idea Gilkey introduces in Start Finishing is that your life is made up of “projects”.
A project is anything that takes up your time and/or energy. My traditional idea of a project was a full time job. When I quit, I thought I only had one project left, my podcast.
However, Gilkey also includes personal projects. For me, this expanded to include moving across the country, traveling, adjusting to life with my parents and decompressing after leaving my stressful job.
What's crazy is before reading Start Finishing, I hadn't considered how all my priorities were using up my energy and mental bandwidth. Now that I do, the book has completely changed my perspective on productivity.
Looking back, I have more compassion for myself. I defined myself by my “work” but that picture was an incomplete look at how I was using my time and energy. Plus, I was constantly adding more items to my long list of projects without closing the loop on other ones.
Looking forward, I knew I had to start prioritizing the projects I wanted to move ahead on. Gilkey gave me the tools for that as well.
In Start Finishing, Gilkey has an exercise where you make a list of every project you could ever want to accomplish in your life.
For me, I want to visit Tokyo, Cartagena, and Sydney. Be at every wedding, bachelorette party, and play aunty to all the babies my friends have had since the pandemic.
At some point, I want to visit my parent’s hometown in Kerala, India. Before I go, it would be nice to learn my parent’s mother language, Malayalam. I’d also like to find my future husband by then so he can meet my family.
My Libby app has a backlog of 15 books on hold.
I’m thinking of moving again. Charlotte seems nice. Santa Fe is cool. Maybe back to Austin.
I’d like to become a writer.
My hand stopped writing before my dreams ran out. If I live to 100, maybe I can accomplish everything.
Gilkey anticipated this. The next step was to X out everything but the most important three projects.
My heart ached a bit for the trips that wouldn’t happen. The babies’ birthdays I would miss. The useful skills I wouldn’t learn.
At the same time, I felt free. Free of the “shoulds” that were dancing around my brain.
Even though I wanted to travel the world, be the perfect friend and daughter, and find my life partner, I realized right now, these are not my priorities.
My writing, my podcasting, and a side hustle that makes money are at the top of my current list.
Gilkey’s exercise helped me do something I hadn’t done in a while: start finishing.
Write of Passage
My journey through Write of Passage, a writing course I’m finishing as this is published, is the culmination of my learnings from Start Finishing.
I made a plan to prioritize the class without compromising my podcast. Organizing a “Podcast Palooza,” I worked with my sister to prerecord all of our episodes for October.
Anything that didn’t fit in my top three projects got cut. I said no to visiting a friend in Seattle, a birthday party in Cabo, and a houseboat vacation on Lake Shasta.
Eliminating distractions, and flagging the writing class as a priority, I felt the freedom to dedicate myself to the course. Going into the class, my main goal was to publish every week and kick start a writing habit. With this essay, I’ve accomplished that goal.
Overall, I’ve been so proud of my contribution to the course. I had the chance to attend nearly all optional mentor sessions, provide feedback to my peers on their writing and receive help from mentors and students alike. I even got a shout out early on for my contribution.
The best part though was when my sister commented on how proud she was to see how much work I was putting in.
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