Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Can I Apply The Racing-From-Task-To-Task Method To Writing?

A few years back, some family members from Canada were coming to the U.S. and we were expecting them for a weekend visit. At the time, we had a family member nearby who was terminally ill and another one who had recently been hospitalized and done a few weeks in rehab. I was also pretending I was working through all this. My Canadian cousins, by the way, had recently experienced the death of a very young family member and had a  real need to try to clear their psyches after their months of dealing with illness and loss. (Seriously, can you believe my family? I once went to a funeral for two relatives. Okay, my aunt had had an earlier funeral, so this was icing on the cake for her, but since I'd gone to her earlier service, too, that means I went to two funerals for the same person. You can't make this stuff up. I can't, anyway.)

What does this have to do with time management, you may well ask? Okay, my cousins are arriving late in the afternoon, my house is wrecked, and I'm planning a dinner for multiple local family members to get together with the Canadians because they don't come down here that often. Every public room needed to be cleaned, as well as both bathrooms, the guest room needed to be prepared, and that dinner had to be made. Where to begin?

What was my best plan of attack when I had so many tasks to do and limited time to do them in? Do I work in a logical order, completing one task at a time and then go on to another? What if I end up not being able to do everything working that way? That was a very real possibility. The meal was a priority, of course, but what if I cleaned the living room and dining room and didn't get to the guest room? What if I did the guest room and bathroom and didn't get to the living room, which everyone was going to see?

What I ended up doing was running all day and just doing whatever caught my eye as I raced through the house, cutting in and out of the kitchen to work on the various parts of the meal. And, if memory serves me, everything was just about done when the house guests arrived. I did not prioritize anything. I did not finish one room before moving to another. I just ran and grabbed, ran and vacuumed, ran and dusted, ran and ran and ran, always doing something as I moved.

I learned something significant from this experience: When you have huge numbers of tasks to do, you don't have to be particularly organized about doing them so long as you keep doing them. When there is so very much to do, anything you do is an improvement. So long as you keep working, the number of tasks will go down.

I realized recently that that is what I've been doing since I started back to work at the end of January. I'm not under contract right now, so I don't have a publisher-imposed deadline, which would take priority over any other tasks. Instead, I'm working on: 1. making submissions, 2. sometimes revising old material before making those submissions, 3. revising a book length manuscript--moving it from a children's book to an adult book, 4. creative nonfiction research that will impact both a blog tour I'm taking part in and a totally new book project I'm thinking about, 5. general writing research that will impact several aspects of my work life, 6. some blog changes that are going very slowly, 7. planning for a possible republication of one of my out-of-print books in an e-book format, 8. marketing research and activity, 8. visits with a 5th grade writing group,  9. no doubt other things I've forgotten, and 10. other things that might come up.

Making the decision to focus all my time and energy on any one of those tasks to the exclusion of the others could easily be a serious mistake. Working totally on revising and submitting completed work, for instance, would be a mistake if nothing is accepted. I could have used that time and energy to revise the book-length manuscript. Except that's a gamble, too, because except for a few essays, I've never published anything for adults. Perhaps I should be working on the new project I've been thinking about. But should I be working on new work while I have completed work to sell? Computer Guy and I need to do some research before making a decision about the e-book project. If things fall into place and we go ahead with it, that will be the time for me to be focusing on that. But should I focus everything on that for a while when the time comes, because that's very experimental in terms of what good it will do me professionally? Shouldn't I continue doing other things that are more promising at the same time?

Thus, for the time being I keep managing my time by racing from task to task.

Anyone with experience working like this?

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