So I know what I was supposed to get done last month. And I know what I actually got done last month. And of course, there’s a little space between what was done and what was not done — okay, there might have been an entire atmosphere between done and not done.
But this month I’m hoping to close that space, even if it’s by a hair. I can think of a few writers who do this by keeping meticulous track of their word counts, submissions, and minutes spent writing on elaborate spreadsheets. As a result, these writers are extremely prolific and doing quite well for themselves.
Does that mean you have to be a data-crunching spreadsheet whiz to be prolific and successful? Oh, God, I hope not. You’ve seen my idea of a pie chart.
Perhaps one day I will join the ranks of the Spreadsheet Kings — you can’t deny their results — but in the meantime, I’m going to go with a simpler method: paying close attention.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but in this day and age, is that such a bad thing? At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, it just seems to me that it’s the rule rather than the exception that people don’t really listen to each other, they don’t pay attention to what they’re doing, and as a result, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
I am often guilty of this. I look up stunned at 3:00 in the morning, wondering how I blew two hours on the Net without anything to show for it. Or I spend half an hour of the baby’s nap rustling up some grub, only to wake her up as I try to sneak back to my desk to eat. I used to spend a lot of time journaling about what I needed to do and how I was going to do it, eating up a lot of valuable creative time. And I still sit down in front of the computer too many times without a clear idea of what I’m going to work on. That little bad habit wastes a lot of time just getting started.
I know my experiences are not unique. The Internet is this generation’s boob tube, and that’s not likely to change. And many of us sit down to write when we can, not necessarily when we’re at our creative peak of the day.
I’m not suggesting that you disconnect your DSL or quit your day job because it interferes with your creative flow schedule. A girl’s gotta eat, right?
No, I’m suggesting something much more simple. Just pay attention to what you’re doing.
Here’s what I’ve been trying:
1. I answer emails every few days instead of every day.
2. I make sure we’re stocked with snacks, particularly peanut-butter-filled pretzel nuggets. Those keep me anchored to my computer.
3. My creative energy is at its highest in the morning, so I try to work on new fiction then. But if I manage to get up after the baby’s gone to sleep, I try to focus on tasks that require less creative energy, like prepping and formatting manuscripts for submission, researching markets, and blogging.
4. I had to limit image searches for the blog — which I do so enjoy — to 15 minutes. If I haven’t found the “perfect” picture by then, then I go sans image. It doesn’t make sense to spend two hours browsing deviantART for a pic to accompany a blog post when I can write 2,000 words of new fiction.
5. I gave up detailed journaling, in which I spent hours daydreaming. Instead, I keep a work journal, and spend no more than 15 minutes to set out the tasks I have to focus on for the day.
6. I always felt that I needed a significant block of time to settle into a project. There’s really no such thing when you’re raising a baby. So I’ve learned to break projects down into little steps and utilize those slivers of time throughout the day to fit those in.
7. I check my favorite blogs every few days, as they don’t tend to be updated every day anyway.
It’s not much, but it’s a beginning. And I feel like I’m seeing results from these changes. Eventually, I’d like to start keeping track of the actual time I spend working and exploit that data for even better results. But for now, just paying attention to the things that trip me up over and over again is a good start.
Finally, although the focus of this post is about productivity and identifying and curbing bad habits, don’t lose sight of what’s most important: spinning a good tale. We’re here to tell our stories to the world. Don’t hold back. We are all waiting to see what you’ve got for us. So tell us a good story.