Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Using To-Do Lists To Slow Down

Last week I introduced the idea of trying to eliminate multi-tasking as a way to slow down our work and actually become more productive. Anne Marie O'Connor's article, Why You Should Be Single-Tasking, Not Multitasking & How To Make The Switch provides four suggestions on how to do that. I'm going to combine three of them that I think can be helpful for writers into two blog posts. Today, people, we will cover to-do lists and prioritizing.

To-Do Lists

I am a big fan of to-do lists. Big fan. In fact, when  I'm done here, I have to work on
My modified bullet journal/to-do list
my to-do list for this week, my preferred unit of time for planning.

Writers have more control over our to-do lists than people who work in traditional situations do. We may be bound by priorities (see below) and we may have day jobs that we have to factor in. But, otherwise, for our work we have more control than people who have daily supervisors or hourly appointments to maintain.

In terms of slowing down: If something unplanned comes up, particularly something from someone else, and you can avoid doing it, avoid it. Stick to the to-do list. Many time management people will tell you to delegate whatever you can. For many writers that just isn't an option. We don't have anyone to delegate pop-up tasks to.

So avoid what you can by planning to do it another time. Put the new thing on tomorrow's to-do list or next week's or however you organize your to-dos. Particularly if you're trying to work on a long-term project, you don't want to keep going off-task to fight every short-term fire that can be taken care of another time. 

Going off task because of new tasks, increases the workload, and contributes to a feeling of being rushed and overwhelmed. None of which is going to have a good impact on productivity. So if you can slow down by putting something on another to-do list, do it.

How Do Writers Prioritize?

You're going to want to prioritize your to-do list, if only in terms of what you put on it. Be specific with your priorities, so that you know exactly what you plan to do. "Write" is more of a subject than a prioritized item on a to-do list.

To-do list priorities to consider:
  • Your goals and objectives. You will recall, I'm sure, that in addition to being a fan of to-do lists, I am a fan of goals and objectives. A big fan. You've created them, because they are things you plan/need to do. You should always be checking to make sure that objectives toward your goals are part of your to-do list.
  • Deadlines. Deadlines from editors or agents, if you have someone waiting for work. Those will be a top priority.
  • Submission dates. Some agents and publications will open for submissions for a specific period of time. If you have someone/something like that you're interested in submitting to, keep track of the dates and whether you need to be doing anymore work on your manuscript in order to submit.
  • Objective deadlines for major projects/goals. Got a big writing project you're doing on spec with no agent or editor involvement? You can create your own deadlines for it by breaking it down into the objectives you need to do in order to meet the goal of getting the project written. Those objectives can then become items on your to-do list. I'm talking things like research and even breaking that down still further into different types of research. Character development. Outlining, if you do that. Planning scenes, something I'm getting into. Then after you have an outline or scene list, items on the outline or individual scenes can become priorities that you place on your to-do list.
Presumably everything on your to-do list is some kind of priority. If you stick to working on those items, and only those items, you have a chance of keeping yourself from becoming overwhelmed and having to hurry because yourself trying to do things that just aren't necessary right now. This could be a big step toward slowing down.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Slowing Down By Eliminating Multitasking

For a few years now, I've wondered if slowing down could actually make us more productive.  I considered this question in:

Recently I stumbled upon Why You Should Be Single-Tasking, Not Multitasking & How To Make The Switch by Anne Marie O'Connor. She actually includes some strategies for staying with a single task. They look to me as if some of them could help with the slower work I'd like to be doing. Over the coming weeks, I'll address how they could apply specifically to writers.

The Multitasking Issue

O'Connor isn't the first person to suggest eliminating multi-tasking in order to improve productivity. The issue with multitasking is that it doesn't actually exist. Humans can't do two things at the same time, they're just switching, even if only psychologically, back and forth between tasks or thoughts. O'Connor sites research going back twenty years (meaning this isn't new news) that suggests multitasking actually slows people down. "...multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time." More recent information supports the idea that multitasking shouldn't be your first time management choice. (And, yes, I did notice that one of the people quoted in this article is named Gauthier.)

A simple example--Do you do other things while you're watching TV? Write blog posts, letters, journal entries? Catch up on social media? Picture yourself on your couch, with your TV in front of you and whatever other thing you're doing on your lap. Are your eyes on the TV all the time you're working on something else? Are your eyes on your laptap or phone all the time you're watching TV? No, you're switching back and forth.

And that's what happens when you think you're doing any kind of multitasking. You're not doing two things at the same time, you're switching back and forth between tasks.

 Multitasking Vs. Multipliers 

The time and productivity difficulties created by multitasking can be illustrated when comparing it to using multipliers.

With multitasking you believe you're doing more than one task at a time, but in reality you are just quickly switching from one to another. This means that at various points you're in the midst of multiple tasks, at various points you have multiple tasks uncompleted and hanging over your head. Getting a sense of rush, pressure, and overwhelm? I am.

With multipliers, instead of switching among different tasks, you're working on only one task at a time. But that one task addresses more than one goal. You'll get more than one benefit from the one task. A quick and recent example is my effort last week to write a 53-word piece of flash fiction. That one task resulted in:
  • material to read at a workshop I'm attending
  • material to submit to a contest
  • material for a blog post (two, since I'm using it for part of this post, too)
  • material on eating/food, something I've been wanting to write about for a while
You can see how much more effort I would have had to have made and pressure I would have been under if I had been trying to switch between four different tasks to get four different results.

Coming Next Week


Next week I'll begin discussing some of Anne Marie O'Connor's suggestions for eliminating multitasking from your work life, how they can relate specifically to writers, and how this might slow down work while making us more productive. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

John Lewis And "March"

Congressman John Lewis has died at age 80. So today I'm going to reprint an Original Content post from this past February about his very fine graphic memoir, March, Book One. Try to get hold of a copy. And you can always continue with the other two volumes in this series about his life.

I finally read March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Ayden, and Nate Powell. I've been hearing about it for years. This is definitely a case of a book being worth the buzz.

March is a graphic memoir of John Lewis, the long-time U.S. Representative from Georgia's fifth congressional district who has also been part of the civil rights movement for decades. Lewis has a compelling story, but it's a story that is also extremely well told in this book. The frame used--Lewis is telling his story to children on Barack Obama's Inauguration Day--is marvelous. And Lewis's influences are carefully established, all the way back into childhood. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, as they should in a graphic work. And when there is narrative in the boxes, it's in Lewis's voice. He's the narrator telling the story.

The book is well done and informative. It's a book for young readers, but also a quick read for adults, including not-very-well-informed ones like myself, about the mid-twentieth century civil rights movement. Hmm. An adult I know may get this for his birthday.

March is the first of three volumes about John Lewis. Oh, this won the Coretta Scott King Book Award, which I mentioned here a few weeks ago.  The third book in the series was the first graphic work to win the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Just sayin'.

Be sure to read about Andrew Ayden, who wrote March with Lewis. How the two of them came up with the idea for a graphic memoir is interesting, too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: A Real Life Time Management Experience That May Not Be That Helpful

My primary work goal today was to write a 53-word story about a shell-shaped noodle. That's how I got caught in my bathrobe out in my deck garden reading about food writing when a delivery truck pulled into my driveway. I had to duck behind the gas grill.

That was a half-hour ago. I now have my 53 words on the conchiglie and can get dressed.

This, people, is what we call staying on task. Also, since I got a blog post out of it, milking an experience for all it is worth, known, too, as a multiplier

July Childlit Book Releases

Well, July 7 was one of those days in publishing. In fact, the whole month of July seems packed. All these authors are limited in what they can do to publicize their releases because of the pandemic. And, as always, these are just books I've noticed through social media. Many more have published.

July 7 Coop Knows the Scoop, Taryn Souders, Sourcebooks 

July 7 Burn Our Bodies Down, Rory Power, Penguin Random House

July 7 First Day Critter Jitters, Jory John, Liz Climo illustrator, Dial/Penguin Random House

July 7 Dress Coded, Carrie Firestone, G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Random House 

July 7 Kerry and the Knight of the Forest, Andi Watson, Random House Graphic/Penguin Random House 

July 7 Kiki's Delivery Service, Eiko Kadono, Emily Balistrieri translator, Delacorte/Penguin Random House

July 7 Cookie and Broccoli: Ready for School!, Bob McMahon, Dial/Penguin Random House

July 7 Dinosaur Lady, Linda Skeers, Marta Alvarez Miguens illustrator, Sourcebooks

July 7 Ghost Hunter's Daughter, Dan Poblocki, Scholastic

July 7 True Hauntings, Deadly Disasters, Dinah Williams, Scholastic

July 7 Hard Wired, Len Vlahos, Bloomsbury 

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: How Temporal Landmarks--And Goals And Objectives--Could Help You This Year

Last Thursday, July 2, was the mid-year point, which I'm sure is a relief to many. An official mid-point to a year is what's known as a temporal landmark. Temporal landmarks create fresh start opportunities. "The first half of the year is done! For the rest of the year, I'm going to do A!" Or "For the next quarter of the year, I'm going to do B!" Pick your own unit of time to go forth. As well as your own A and B.

I had planned to check in with my goals and objectives for 2020 at the end of each month, also temporal landmarks. I think I got distracted from that even before this pandemic thing started. Reaching the mid-year temporal landmark, however, jolted my memory. So I took a look at what I had managed to do and considered what I wanted to focus on for the rest of this very, very unique year.

Goal 1. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as completed short-form work. I've done 27 submissions of both book-length and short-form work in 2020 to date. I've had one acceptance, resulting in the publication of Fears That We May Cease To Be at The Blue Nib Literary Magazine website.

This next month or two I'm focusing on objectives for this goal that involve submitting a seasonal essay and buckling down on agent/publisher research. 

Goal 2. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories.  I didn't actually address the objectives I created for this goal. Instead,
  • I wrote two humor pieces. After submitting them to a number of places, I experimented with publishing at Medium with Well, How Many Masks Have You Made? I have plans to continue that experiment in the coming months, and you just know a blog post will turn up about that at some point.
  • I'm signed up for a six-week flash writing distance workshop that begins tomorrow night. Again, you can expect to hear about that.
During the six weeks I'll be taking part in the workshop, I will concentrate on all things flash--writing and reading. That, my friends, is a new objective, since I had no idea this workshop was coming up back in December when I was creating my goals and objectives for 2020.

Goal 3. Work on the 365 story project.  I've done absolutely nothing on this.

However, one of my objectives for this goal was "Focus on this as short-form writing."  I may be able to integrate the 365 story project into my flash study this summer.

Goal 4. Work on YA thriller that could become an adult thriller. I actually did a great deal more on this than I planned to.
  • I have the most extensive blueprint/outline (an actual objective) I've ever had for a book project
  • I've done well with developing Character 3 (another objective)
  • I'm good with theme (still another objective)
  • I've actually written nearly three chapters.
This is going on the back burner for the next six weeks, while I work on flash. I will, however, try to keep up with some reading on history I've been doing in relation to this book (This was not an objective for this year, but I've done quite a bit with it.), as well as adding to that blueprint. 

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding.
  • I've switched from maintaining a calendar of Connecticut author/illustrator appearances (because there aren't any) to doing a couple of posts a month supporting new books publishing during the pandemic.
  • I was actually registered for the NESCBWI spring conference (an objective), which, of course, was cancelled.
  • I've taken part in a few local NESCBWI Zoom gatherings.
  • I'm attending a Zoom workshop for the next six Wednesday nights.
  • I've been promoting Original Content on social media. 
Goal 6. Stay On Top Of Upcoming Known Events Easy. There are none. Or are there? I could actually be doing more with the objectives for this goal.
  • Do more planning for the year/particular months. I could try to plan work projects for each month, as I have for the rest of July into August. (In fact, I will have more to say about this at some point.)
  • Check in with goals at the end of each month. Yeah, I could make a point of doing that. Look what checking in at the mid-point of the year has done for my planning.
  • Expect the end of the year to be a disaster. Some family members have already started discussing the impact of the pandemic on the holidays. It could actually have a...calming effect. We must keep our minds open.
 Goal 7. Continue collecting material and ideas for an adult scifi project, far in my future. Ha, ha, ha. Interesting story. And I'll tell it here at OC soon.

So, what is the takeaway here after you've read this post all about Gail, Gail, Gail? Looking at your goals and objectives for the year (and you do have them, right?) could be a very good use of time. You may find that you've done more than you thought you had, which is always encouraging.  And you can use your goals and objectives to help you make the best use of the rest of the year.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Me And Mother Jones, We've Got A Thing Going On

Until this spring, all I knew about Mother Jones was that it was the name of a magazine I'd never read and didn't know anything about, though I can tell you now that it does investigative journalism. Then this spring,  I was reading A People's History of the United States, and the author, Howard Zinn, starts in about "Mother Mary Jones, a seventy-five-year-old white-haired woman who was organizer for the United Mine Workers of America," I thought, Aha! That can't be a coincidence. And it wasn't. The magazine was, indeed, named for Mary Jones, known as "Mother" during her later activist years.

Stick With Me, Folks. There's A Mother Jones Childlit Connection Coming

A couple of months after reading A People's History, I'm reading the March/April issue of The Horn Book and what do I see but a review of Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter! The book deals with an incident that appears in both the AFL-CIO bio of Jones and the Mother Jones magazine material about her in which Mother Jones organized child workers in a march from Philadephia to President Theodore Roosevelt's home in Oyster Bay, New York.

Two Points

  • I love it when something new to me repeats in my life, the way Mother Jones did in the Zinn book and this picture book review. I'm sure I've written about this before here. And I'm guessing there is a word to describe this experience. Not deja vu, since that deals with the experience of feeling you've been somewhere before or lived an experience before. Perhaps the Germans have a word for this, since they are quite good at coming up with words for odd experiences.
  • Though I have not read Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children, the set up for this book sounds like a classic way of introducing children to a historical figure we wouldn't necessarily expect them to connect with. The author finds something about the subject children should be attracted to, in this case, other children. That aspect of the book reminds me of Susanna Reich's Minette's Feast, in which child readers are introduced to Julia Child by way of her cat. 


Oh, And Since We're Discussing Introducing The Young To Adult Subjects...


A family member who is a middle school librarian brought  A Young People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn with Rebecca Stetoff  to my attention. It's a young adult edition of Zinn's original book. I would not say that this is the only history of the United States a young person, or anyone else, should read, but it certainly will give someone who already knows something about American history something to consider.