PDX Pioneer To WDS Gameplan - Doug Neill - the graphic recorder - the year of conquering resistance

The Year of Conquering Resistance: Three Months In

Three months ago I declared that 2014 would be The Year of Conquering Resistance. I shared that this year my primary goal is to push through those moments of doubt when I lack confidence or motivation in order to get to the work that is important to me.

We’re now about a quarter of the way through 2014, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at my progress so far. Here’s what I’ve noticed: the last three months have been about routines and habits; the next three months will be about deadlines and getting shit done.

The Last Three Months: Habits and Routines

As I look back at the last three months, I can see that they were about forming and solidifying the habits that I put in place to help me fight resistance. As I mentioned in my 2013 review, my biggest struggle last year was relying too much on inspiration to get work done. This year I’ve been overcoming that overdependence on inspiration by showing up to the same place at the same time every day and getting to work no matter how I feel. That habit has been monumental in helping me to make daily progress in my work.

The New Routine

Here’s what my current daily routine (Monday through Friday) looks like:

6:30  Wake up
6:30 – 7:15  Shower, eat breakfast, coffee cup #1 while I read the paper
7:15 – 7:30 Coffee cup #2 while I connect with folks on Twitter
7:30 – 8:00 Morning pages (stream of consciousness journaling)
8:00 – 9:00(ish) Inbox zero (work through all emails)
9:00 – 9:15 Meditation
9:15 – 11:00 The most important task or two of the day
11:00 – 12:00 Lunch
12:00 – 3:00 Work
3:00 – 5:00 Exercise
5:00 – 6:30 Work
6:30 – 7:30 Dinner
7:30 – 9:30 Social time / reading / light work
10:00 Bed

If you compare this routine to the one I followed just three months ago, you’ll notice some differences.

First of all, it’s much more structured – my afternoons are more planned out than they used to be.

My morning routine is a bit different as well. I now use my second cup of coffee as a time to hop on Twitter, follow a few interesting leads, and start/carry on conversations via that platform. That social activity, even in its digital form, is a good way for me to start the day, especially considering that I work in the isolation of a home office. To limit the time I spend on Twitter, I’ve got a built-in trigger: once I finish that second cup of coffee, I log off and move on to the next part of my day.

Another difference in my morning routine is the activity that comes right after my morning pages: inbox zero. By ‘inbox zero’ I mean that I work through all unread emails, responding to the ones that need responding and deleting the ones I know I won’t need to look back on. I’ve heard a lot of folks advise against checking email first thing in the morning, but for me it’s working great. The key is that it’s the only time during the day that I check my email. It feels incredibly good to get to 9:00 am and know that I don’t need to look at my email again until the next day. It clears my mind and gives me momentum as I move on to my own work.

To help me transition from tackling the tasks that come my way via email to the deeper dive into my own work, I have developed a meditation practice that follows the clearing of my inbox. I use that time to focus on my breathing, to slow down my thoughts, and to pay attention to what’s going on in my body. It’s a way to both come down after the “hair on fire minus one” mode that I’m in while responding to email and also refocus as I prepare to dig into my own work.

Two other new things that show up in this routine: exercise and sleep. Those two habits are becoming non-negotiable for me – exercise every day and 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Those two habits help everything else fall into place. The prospect of the occasional all-nighter or late-night work session now hold zero appeal to me. I’m in this build-your-own-career thing for the long haul, and I know that those two habits are the ones that will keep me happy and healthy over the years.

The Calendar

Back in January I mentioned that one method I’ve been using for accountability is a simple calendar. Each date is either left blank (zero resistance conquered), crossed out with an ‘x’ (partial conquering of resistance) or blacked out entirely (full conquering of resistance). Those categories are somewhat subjective, but at the end of each day it’s usually pretty clear what type of day it was. Here’s how January, February, and March looked:

The First Three Months Calendar - Doug Neill - the graphic recorder - the year of conquering resistance

The Breakdown: zero/partial/full

Jan: 3/14/14
Feb: 4/7/17
Mar: 4/7/20

You’ll notice that in February and March I did a much better job than in January. In addition to getting my routine figured out in that first month of the year, there’s another reason for that jump in productivity: a newer, narrower focus.

At the beginning of this year I talked about a number of projects that I was excited about working on throughout 2014: weekly sketchnotes added to this site, the development of The Sketchnote Skill Builder, the development of The Educator’s Guide to Sketchnoting, writing regularly on a whole new site, creating newspaper blackout art, and picking back up the Revolutionary Learning project. All of those projects still interest me, but I realized that in pursuing all of them I wasn’t giving any of them the attention they needed to be done well.

So starting in February I rededicated myself to sketchnoting and illustration projects alone for the remainder of the year. Once I made that decision, my life was suddenly simplified, and my productivity (not to mention my ability to conquer resistance) jumped up dramatically because of it.

The Next Three Months: Deadlines and Getting Shit Done

A few weeks ago I attended a small gathering of amazing people in Portland, Oregon. That gathering was called Pioneer Nation, and it has had as big of an impact on my life as the 2013 World Domination Summit (held in the same city and put on by the same folks). Pioneer Nation was a gathering of ‘solopreneurs’ – folks that have started or are starting independent businesses that merge their passions and their talents into a career. I volunteered at the event, but was still able to learn from the content of the talks and workshops, and be inspired by the many attendees I got to meet.

Thanks to the content and the community at Pioneer Nation, a number of things started falling into place regarding where I want to go with sketchnoting and the community that I want to serve with my work. I was so jazzed right after the event that I made some big plans, put some deadlines on those plans, and then made a public commitment to see them through:

PDX Pioneer To WDS Gameplan - Doug Neill - the graphic recorder - the year of conquering resistance

It just so happens that the span of time between Pioneer Nation and WDS 2014 is almost exactly three months – the next quarter of my year of conquering resistance. With my routines and habits in place, I’m ready for some deadlines. Here’s what I’ll be busting out in these next three months:

The Sketchnote Skill Builder

This is the one that’s been on my mind most over the past year. I’ve got the momentum. I’ve got the support. I’ll be publishing The Sketchnote Skill Builder in June of this year.

Verbal To Visual

This is a brand new project that materialized during Pioneer Nation – a podcast to teach people the skill of sketchnoting and chat with folks doing interesting work all along the spectrum of idea-sharing from verbal to visual. I’ve fallen in love with podcasts over the last year, and I’m excited to launch my own. Verbal To Visual will go live by the end of this month.

A Trail of Life

Ever since I started doing daily drawings last summer, I’ve played around with the idea of compiling those drawings into an illustrated journal. In the next three months I’ll be publishing the first issue of what might turn into an illustrated journal series which I am titling A Trail Of Life (new website on the way!). The first issue will include drawings from June through August of 2013, and within that illustrated journal I’ll be writing about my life during that time period. That June was the month that I quit my part time job and jumped off the cliff into the world of entrepreneurship. I’m still waiting to see if I can fly.


I’ve also got a number of illustrations at various stages of completion. The new illustrations are based on my daily drawings. Those drawings are often rough and unpolished, but sometimes they end up capturing a setting or an experience in a way that might appeal to someone other than myself. I’m in the process of turning some of those drawings into prints to sell via my Etsy site. I’ll be releasing a dozen of those in the next three months.

Time To Do The Work

So that’s what the next three months will look like. Lots of work. Lots of finishing.

I’m doing my best to both share my process but also give myself enough time to dig into the work itself. The focus, as it was at the beginning of this year, is to take it day by day. It’s still about those habits and routines; now there is just a bit of added pressure because of the deadlines I’ve set for myself. If I fail to meet them I owe a buddy of mine a beer. When I do meet them he’ll owe me one.

If you’re going to be in Portland for WDS 2014, maybe you’ll join us to celebrate the things that you will have accomplished by then as well.

Here’s to conquering resistance.


To get new sketchnotes and illustrations delivered right to your inbox,

sign up for The Verbal To Visual Newsletter.