by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

In Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Reaching Your Most Important Goals (which I review here), Michael Hyatt references Brene Brown about using regret as a way to move forward. This is a post about regret.

Four years ago I finished a project that I had been working on for eight years. I edited 500 pages of a translated book, and it was so relieving and rewarding to see that project come to fruition. The book was long, the editing tedious, and in those eight years, the original author of the book (Pope Shenouda III) passed away.

But it did not have to take eight years to edit this book.

I could have finished it before getting married. I could have finished it before having my first child. I could have finished it before having my second child. But now that it is done and published,  I will share the lessons I have learned from this project, and what finally motivated me to finish it.

Lesson 1: When committing to a project, carve out the time to do it. I often listed this project as a task to get done on a day or a week, but I didn’t block out the time in my schedule for it. If I had allotted simply 30 minutes a day to work on it from the beginning, it would have been done in

 two years, not eight. Because I did not do so, the task was done in fits and spurts – I would get 30 pages done in one sitting, then go back to it five months later, after putting it on the back burner to more urgent tasks. This is a lesson in discipline, project management, and time management. This free ebook, How to Work for Yourself, shares some good ideas for how to carve out those needed minutes and hours. Time Management Mama: Making Use of the Margins to Pursue Your Passionswritten by two women who carved out their own big projects in the margins, shares even more from the perspective of balancing young motherhood. I wish I had read both books eight years ago.

Lesson 2: I work better when I work with other people. Editing is a solitary and tedious job. It takes time and concentration, and usually involves me and a computer, or piece of paper and a pen. However, when I joined a translation committee, and there were others who were now checking the sections I edited against the original language, I moved more quickly. It became a team effort, and my teammates were reviewing sections of the book faster than I was editing them – which motivated me to finish more quickly. This means that I should figure out a way to make future projects also team efforts – even when they don’t seem so at first. Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies Quiz” indicates my dominant tendency is an “obliger.”  According to Rubin, “Obligers respond readily to outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations. In other words, they work hard not to let other people down, but they often let themselves down.” She writes more about this in her new book, The Four Tendencies.

Lesson 3: I work well with deadlines. Consistent with my “obliger” tendency, the final push for me to get this done was when the publisher started pressing for the final manuscript, and the translator started holding me accountable. The pressure was on, but because it had taken me so long, I still had to balance this task with responsibilities I did not have when I first started. The lesson for me on future projects that don’t have external deadlines is to create them – perhaps by finding a community to hold me accountable to a deadline I have set, or by vowing not to move on to a new, more exciting project till I finish the one I’m working on now.

Lesson 4: DO and DON’T Multitask. Current productivity wisdom now shows that multitasking does not help us get more work done in less time. This TED-Ed episode on time management explains why.  Our brains do not function well toggling back and forth between different tasks and interruptions. Each shift causes the mind to “refresh” to figure out where it left off, leading not just to tasks taking longer but also to physical exhaustion. With the hard publishing deadline approaching, finishing the work on the book became my singular focus. Every free moment outside of work and mothering was devoted to the task, and I got more done over a few months than I had over several years. However, certain kinds of multitasking can help accomplish goals if the two tasks use different parts of the brain. I learned that listening to instrumental music helps me focus on tasks such as writing and editing, listening to podcasts and music with words help me accomplish tasks like organizing and housework, and doing needlework like crochet helps me focus on listening to conversations and lectures.

I am working on finishing a new, major project, that has taken half the time to finish despite being even more difficult than editing a 500 page translation. The four lessons above have helped me get much further along than my earlier strategies, despite also being a project being done in the margins outside of work and family life.

How has regret propelled you forward to accomplishing goals or making changes?

My giveaway for a copy of Your Best Year Ever is still running. To enter the giveaway, subscribe to my email newsletter and make a comment below on how regret has propelled you forward. The giveaway closes on January 12th, 11:59 pm, EST. US and Canada addresses only, please.


Some of the links above are affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase via those links, I will receive a small commission for referring you at no extra cost to you. You are under no obligation to purchase the items through my links, but if you do, you will be helping support the cost of running this blog and providing you with the writing and reviews you enjoy. Your support is much appreciated!