Have you ever known a writer who seems to have been blessed with a 36 hour day based on their productivity? Do you wonder how they do it? Is it magic? Do they possess something us mere mortals lack? How about the writer who, despite having a pretty flexible schedule, cannot seem to produce any substantial work? We label it “blocked” and that may be true, but I believe some of those blocks may be of our own creation.
I would wager that the first person has mastered the magic of time management while the latter struggles with it. Of course, I’m not insensitive to personal challenges – small children at home, demands of other jobs, attention challenges, etc, but hopefully, one or more of these strategies will help you to wrangle all those cats into some semblance of order and productivity.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, (see last week’s blog post) here is a handy-dandy bullet list of some of the tools I find helpful in wrangling all of my cats, er, projects:
Make a list of your goals. As mentioned previously, my goal is to produce a novella every quarter this year. (That’s a lie. My real goal is to produce a finished novel every quarter, but that seems grandiose, so I’ll just call it a novella for now. Really what that means is I’ll be editing two completed novels, finish writing the third novel, and write one complete novel to fill out a small town murder mystery series.) It helps if your goals are within your power and not reliant upon someone else. For example, the goal: “I will get an agent” is dependent upon someone else, however, the goal, “I will submit queries to my top ten favorite agents” – completely within your power.
Allot a time frame for completion of your goals using simple math. I know, I know, we’re mostly humanities majors, but it is simple math. You take the projects you want to complete, divide the number of parts (or pages) by the number of days in which you have to complete the task and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much work you need to do each day to reach your goal. For my first quarter, when I did the math, I had thirty-five chapters to edit and thirty-five business days (until the end of February) in which to do it. That will give me a month to refine, format, and promote the book.
Change your architecture to meet those goals. Have trouble starting a task? Maybe it’s that you have not designed your architecture to help with the whole “start your engines” process. The architectural changes might be big or small changes. For example, I hate exercising, but doing it on the regular required a simple architectural change. I realized that I don’t actually hate exercise. I hate going out in the cold to exercise. So I found a second-hand treadmill and moved it into my office. During the thick of the pandemic, I had to make a big architectural change in the form of my office. I took over a storage shed on the corner of our property, tricked it out, and no more problem getting distracted from the business of writing. (I’ve promised more on this transformation later, and I promise, I will, but, yep, later.)
Journal. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that. As mentioned in earlier posts, I journal daily, all-day-long. It sits to the left of my computer, follows me back and forth from office to house, hangs out beside my favorite chair, and goes to bed on my bedside table. In it, I keep a simple “to-do” list of daily tasks based on that simple math. I keep a monthly “to-do” list based on the quarterly goals that I’ve listed. On Wednesday, I wrote the outline for this Friday’s blog post into my journal with a list of keywords and possible images. (I think I wrote it at around 3 a.m.) I’ve added sections to my journal/calendar to include blog post ideas, art ideas, writing ideas, and social media statistics. If I need to see how something is performing, I can just look back in my journal. I check my quarterly goals regularly to make sure I’m on track and I often add to them. For help in designing your journal, may I suggest www.bulletjournal.com? There, author Ryder Carroll has designed a brilliant system for organizing your life through journaling. I suppose I use a sort of hybrid version of the bullet journal. I cannot seem to keep up with an index, so I just stick little washi tape bookmarks at the beginning of every month. I will add color coded washi tape tabs as I add to the “blog ideas” and the “pen and ink ideas.”
Check off tasks completed. Make sure you’re acknowledging to yourself what you’ve accomplished. It’s easy, at the end of the day, to forget the multitude of tiny tasks accomplished that could be over-shadowed by the one big task you did not finish. Yesterday, I set a writing goal to edit one chapter. I edited two! Today, I haven’t completed my chapter edits. I think I will, but if not, I noted that I did it yesterday, so I’m still on target.
Adjust and repeat. Are you three days into the quarter and already behind? S’alright. Breathe. Re-do the math. You’ll have to work harder tomorrow to catch up, so think of ways you can adjust your architecture to hit your daily goals toward reaching your quarterly goals. Your adjustment may be that you had an unrealistic goal in hoping to finish the book in three months. It’s okay. Adjust your quarterly goals. Has something unexpected come up? Don’t sweat it. Just adjust, recalculate, and do a check-in on your goals regularly.
Celebrate and reward yourself! It’s the end of the first week (second week really, but I started late, and did the math accordingly) and today I am celebrating 1) my second blog post of the year, complete with keywords, 2) images that are vaguely apropos, 3) completion of a home renovation project – I painted and installed some eclectic stair spindles in our new media room, 4) assembled a LoveSac Sofa (trust me, not a small task, but worth it) 5) added Google Adsense to my blog to better track traffic sources, (although I’ve no idea where the ads are yet) 6) as of Tuesday, I had completed the outline notes on each of the 35 chapters of DEATH OF A SERIAL HUSBAND, the first book in my small southern town murder mystery series (shameless plug) and today, I’m three chapters in with the edits, 7) I organized the hall closet that kept trying to kill me, 8) I posted a short reel to Pinterest – first one I’ve done and I need to perfect it, but it shows the stair spindles I installed. (Ignore the nails sitting out at a wonky angle) 9) nearly finished a pen and ink drawing, 10) plowed through laundry tasks, 11) repaired a lamp for my mother-in-law, 12) drew the design for my next renovation project (moving and installing built-in bookshelves in the “library” and curating the books on those shelves – see drawing above), and 13) making loaded baked potato casserole for another family. Those are just the high-lights, the things that I needed to remind myself to do by putting them down in my journal. I celebrated this week’s accomplishments by treating myself to a new book. I’m reading a children’s book, Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata. Oh yeah! I can check off that item in my journal under the heading, “books read.”
It sounds compulsive. It is, isn’t it? But it gives structure to my day, ensures that I’m always learning, making, and writing. Here’s to your own successes and productivity! If everything else falls by the wayside, if you find at the end of the week you haven’t hit some of your goals, or any of your goals, don’t sweat it. “Make Art! Read a Book!” – you can’t go wrong by investing in yourself and adding to the beauty of the world. That, my friend, is magic.