Summer reading...a seasonal joy. Today we begin a discussion of one of my summer reading books, Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. Glei is the editor-in-chief for a website called 99U, which tries to provide a " "missing curriculum" for making ideas happen." 99U is related to another website, Behance, a "platform to showcase and discover photography, graphic design, illustration, and fashion." Thank you for that, Wikipedia, because while I could get the gist of what was going on at Behance, I like to have things written out for me, and I couldn't find a clear statement of purpose at the Behance site.
Okay, back to Manage Your Day-to-Day: Neither this book, nor 99U, deal specifically with writers. However, they do both deal with "creatives" and share a premise that the creative world tends to focus on idea generation, not so much on idea execution. Manage Your Day-to-Day is a series of short essays by and interviews with people working in creative fields. All the chapters deal with idea execution. Glei says in her preface, "Our goal was to come at the problems and struggles of...work from as many angles as possible."
What do we need to execute ideas? We need to manage time. Over the past year and a half, we have been coming at the problems and struggles of managing time from as many angles as possible here at Original Content. Some of the ideas in Manage Your Day-to-Day are angles we can try to apply to time.
For instance, in the essay Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine Mark McGuinness talks about "reactive work," work that involves "responding to incoming demands and answering questions framed by other people." Reactive work, he says, takes time away from creative work.
Now, I believe McGuinness is writing primarily about people working in traditional offices or within organizations in which they are expected to interact regularly with other employees, report to others, and/or have others report to them. Interaction is hugely time consuming and tends to snowball into more work. Most writers work by themselves. Little interaction, little reactive work. Right?
But how much time are we truly spending on creative work these days? Promoting ourselves and specific works and long-term marketing in general cuts into creative work. Marketing and promotion has become our reactive work. We publish a book, and we have to react to that with contacting sites and bloggers to whom we must react still more, if they react to us. A RFP for a conference workshop arrives, we react to it. An inquiry comes in regarding an appearance at a school, we react to it. Last week I happened to see a write-up on a literary journal. I dropped everything and reacted to it by doing a quick revision of a short story and submitting it. As reactive work goes, that's not bad, but it wasn't the creative work I was expecting to do that day.
McGuinness says, "The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities..."
Blocking off a chunk of time could mean saving a unit or two every day for creative work. Another way to block time is to think of a week as a unit and saving the early part of it for the creative work and letting the reactive stuff wait. I've been suffering from reactive marketing creep, myself, and found that I was going weeks and months without real writing because so much time was going into promoting Saving the Planet & Stuff. I've started trying to limit Mondays and Tuesdays to writing and Fridays for marketing.
There are two issues to consider here: One is putting creative work before reactive work, of course, but the other is to first train yourself to identify reactive vs. creative work. If what we're doing is reactive, should it be our top priority?
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