Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Staying On Task When You're So Busy Social Distancing

I'm hearing two responses from my writer friends to the social distancing we're going to be doing over the next few weeks. One is that they're going to look at this time at home as an opportunity to get some writing done. Maybe a lot. The other is that recent events have left them unable to concentrate enough to take advantage of this, shall we say, found time.

Here are three things we can do to help us soldier on.

Go Retro And Check In With The News Just Once Or Twice A Day. A Few Times, Tops

We'll begin with a little history lesson: When we had only newspapers, TV, radio, and magazines for the distribution of news, people took this information in at specific times. They might read the paper in the morning or the evening. TV news came in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Radio news came at the top of the hour. News magazines came out weekly. It wasn't possible to spend hour after hour reading and watching news. News sites weren't struggling to fill 24 hours of air time with content back then and thus searching for opinions and analysis from every person who ever worked in any field even remotely connected with, say, infectious disease, or who had been somewhere near a grocery store in the last twenty-four hours. They weren't printing tweets...any tweets, from anybody.

Yes, arguably we knew less, but, arguably, how much do we need to know? In the case of the present pandemic, we've been hearing about it for weeks, if not a couple of months. We've had a lot of time to prepare. Some of us have been social isolating since last week. We've been advised to continue doing so for another fifteen days. Can we expect something to change so dramatically so fast that we need to be checking in with the news all day long?

Choose some times during the day that will be your news times. Check in then. Use the rest of your time for something else.

Get Some Distance From Social Media And Its Misinformation

People are scared now and often angry. They can't get together with their friends to discuss what's happening...except they can. On Facebook. They can get together with their followers on Twitter and I'm sure on other platforms, as well. They can get emotional support for problems in their lives caused by the coronavirus. They can feel better when people they know share their experiences. Cousins can share a laugh over how hard an eighty-something aunt is taking having to stay home. (Yeah, that was Annette, Mary, and me.)

But for many writers, the bulk of our Facebook friends are just that...Facebook friends. They are people we have connected with in order to create a professional network. They are not people we have ever met in person or are geographically near so we ever will. Spending hour after hour picking up and absorbing their fear may not be the healthiest thing we can be doing now, and it certainly isn't the most time and energy efficient.

On top of that, according to Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project
in an interview on NPR last Saturday, some of those stories our Facebook friends and Twitter followers are sharing are what he calls "misinformation." He even talks about a "misinformation ecosystem." "This pandemic has brought out a really clear picture of the kinds of things that tend to circulate in the misinformation ecosystem, generally...," he says. He goes on to add:

"A lot of what we're seeing is actually, you know, what you would call a kind of cheap fake or a low-tech fake, just copied and pasted claims online going viral across platforms...we're seeing just a lot of text-based claims with - this person is in a position of authority, you know? My sister-in-law works with a man who's married to someone at the CDC who says, right? So this sort of second and thirdhand totally anonymous information just gets copied and pasted over and over and over again across these platforms."  

Yes. I have definitely been seeing a lot of that, and it's often alarmist. I wonder if some of this stuff isn't entering the area of urban legend.

So when you're choosing a time to catch up on the news, choose a time to catch up on social media, too. And start skimming your Facebook wall and Twitter stream instead of reading every word, assuming you ever did. Avoid any messages that say things like "You have to read this!" with a link to a story on the coronavirus or the economy or the new world order or anything else that will start you down some kind of reading binge that will suck up your whole morning. Maybe your whole day. Your week. The next month.

Use Done Lists To Get Back On Task Or Help You Stay There

A lot of writers aren't working full-tilt right now, and that's okay. But if you want to ease into work, a done list may be more helpful than a to do list. To do lists often just don't get done at all, but a done list is, well, done. It's a big support psychologically and can be a motivator because it can direct you with what you might want to do next.

My done list for yesterday included yesterday's blog post, some work on the first paragraph of a humor piece, collecting humor pieces from humor blog sites, and reading half of them. Since we had had some sickness in our extended family before everything went south last week with the coronavirus, I felt pretty good about work yesterday. And my direction today, and the next few days, is to stick with small tasks until one becomes interesting enough to keep me working on it.

More interesting than those stories about the nurse from Seattle who said XYZ or another Costco with empty shelves.

A Break From Regularly Scheduled Time Management Tuesdays

I am going to take a break from doing weekly Time Management Tuesdays for a while, because many writers don't need it at the moment. As I said above, they're not working at capacity, anyway, so how they manage their writing time isn't an issue. If there's one thing I don't believe in with time management, it's harassing ourselves and others about it. Making ourselves or others feel bad is guaranteed to cause failures of impulse control.

Additionally, many people are offering all kinds of advice on how to get along during the pandemic. The world doesn't need any more advice. I am striking a blow for no advice.

I have many little irons in the fire I can write about that might actually be entertaining or useful. I'll focus on those for a while.

I'll probably be back with time management at some point, because you all know how obsessive I am. "She's never going to let that go," you're thinking, and I'm sure you're right.


Unknown said...

Good points, all. I need to be better about following my lists. We thought we would get one day back at school, but didn't. Now I just needs to adjust and only check news once a day!

Gail Gauthier said...

Recognizing that we will adjust would also be a big step forward.