Friday, January 07, 2011

How to Get Things Done

Ever have a bunch of things on your plate and don't know where to start? Do you really do the hardest or most important things first (as gurus advise), or try to get the easy ones out of the way to clear the space for them, or baby yourself with the fun and distracting things because it's too painful to face anything else? Or maybe you approach life as Alison confesses she does:
“For me, the answer to the question ‘When do you write?’ is easy: I write when I’m avoiding some other important task. For example, this essay is being written on April 23, and my taxes are not yet done. I also write when the bathroom needs cleaning, when the garden needs weeding, or when I’m skipping an important meeting...

“The best place to write, I’ve discovered, is parking lots. The parking lot of the gym is exceptionally good. I can avoid working out and begin a poem at the same time.” (Alison Luterman, “The Secret of My Success,” The Sun, Nov. 2003)
Ah yes, that sounds familiar. My January newsletter is done, 10 days before I intend to send it. Email, Facebook, Twitter, and even this blog seem to get attention that my scary research project of the moment may not receive, especially if it involves unrequited phone calls.

Real and meaningful deadlines and the sense that people are watching help a great deal. But often I don't have that kind of support. Missions Catalyst, with its weekly pub date and waiting audience, always always gets done; I think we've missed two issues in the last five years and only because of tech problems.

What about you? What helps you get things done?


Scott Fields said...

I'm with you--few things motivate the sloth to action better than a public deadline. (I've spent many a Saturday night up until the wee hours preparing a class for Sunday morning.)

The added problem for writers is that half the work we do is inside our heads--so we can field the "legitimate" excuse that during those times when we seem to be most idle, we're actually hard at work on the next essay or blog post or chapter. As long as we can safely internalize, it's that much harder to get us to externalize. But then . . . what's the point of being a writer, if you keep it all inside. . . ?

- Scott

Marti said...

That's another reason I like public speaking - it comes with deadlines and audiences. Happily, writing and teaching go so well together we may never have to choose between 'em.

But soaking up data, stories, or atmosphere - or thinking about what one has soaked up - shoot, it does get difficult to decide what counts as working on something and what does not.

@ngie said...

The second paragraph of the quote made me laugh out loud. I can just picture a lady in gym clothes in the twilight of early dawn dreading getting out of her car. Then inspiration hits and she sits comfy and happy in her car writing, and writing. Love it!

Marti said...

@ngie: It is a good picture, isn't it? Hope your own writing is going well these days!

Megan Noel said...

if i don't do chores when I first get home from work they won't get done. And the less time I get alone, the less down time, the less I do chores at all. Not just because I don't have time, but because I don't have that sort of foundation to work from.

Marti said...

Meg: I find one of my best chore times is right when I get up in the morning. No good for, say, vacuuming, as Deb is generally not up yet. But stuff like dishes.

It is good for us and good for the world that we become students of ourselves!