Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Essentialism And Choice--For Writers

I was very enthusiastic about Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown when I began reading it, because I was connecting it to minimalism, a philosophy I am fond of and committed to. Now that I have  finished the book, I've found it to be less about helping to define what the few essentials in our work should be and how to stick with them and more about time management. That's fine if you haven't done a lot of reading on time management already.  And as so often happens with time management writing, it is addressed to people in work situations that provide some privilege that most writers don't have. In fact, the one appendix in the book is directed to people in leadership positions. 

The first section of this book Essence will probably be the most helpful to those  writers struggling with a variety of time issues who hope to find a way to do less but better as McKeown writes. Over the coming weeks, I'll pull out of the rest of the book those things I think we writers can use and how we can use them.

Right now my plan is to address:

Choosing What Is Essential

McKeown suggests that before we choose what is essential to us, we first explore. We can do that through:
  • escaping (making ourselves unavailable), 
  • looking (to see what really matters), 
  • playing (embracing our inner child), 
  • sleeping (because rest is important), 
  • and selecting (after creating high criteria). 
This section, as do all the sections, uses a lot of case studies involving real life people who are almost to a person executives often in higher positions that give them power and privilege. One in this section was particularly noteworthy, because he was able to take a couple of years off from work to recover from what overwork had done to him physically. He and the family spent one of those years in France.

 McKeown says that our best asset is ourselves, but I write for people whose best asset is their time. We don't have much of it. 

People who are working full time jobs, maybe driving delivery trucks or running cash registers or standing in front of a classroom or answering phones or having toddlers screaming "I want Daddy" at them most of the day and have families and have extended families and have to deal with basic life needs like laundry and meals and then are writing just do not have the luxury to explore to determine what is essential to them. Just when is that supposed to happen?

Exploring Your Experience To Determine What Is Essential

Instead of taking new time to explore by way of escaping from others and embracing our inner children (who are very, very overrated, imho), we can try exploring our experience, time we've already used, to make choices about what is essential to us.

  • In looking at writing we've already done (completed or not), are we aware of specific problems we should be working on? Have we had feedback from writers' groups or workshops that suggest we should be choosing improving some particular aspect of our writing as essential?
  • If we're published, have we been more successful with one kind of writing than another? Should we be making that more essential? On the Medium platform, for instance, I do much better with humor pieces about children/parents than humor pieces about lifestyle. I'm considering making child/parent humor more essential in the future. 
  • McKeown writes about normative conformity, doing what a group expects of us. Ten or fifteen years ago, many writers felt pressure to start blogs. A lot of writers don't enjoy this kind of short, nonfiction writing and had a trouble maintaining the blogs they started. Eventually there were more writer blogs than there were readers for them, and between lack of readership, the dislike of writing posts in the first place, and time pressures, we eventually started seeing a lot of abandoned blogs. The attempt to conform to a norm became a negative in a very visible way. Look at what you're doing for social media and try to determine how much of it you feel forced to do and how much is actually working for you. The good can become essential, and you can let the rest go.
  • Normative conformity is also a factor in networking. How many writing-related events do you attend because you feel you should because other writers say you will make work connections there? How often has that actually happened for you? If it has happened a lot, then going to conferences is probably essential to you. If it hasn't, you can consider being a lot more selective about which ones you attend. Does the conference you're considering right now include workshop content that addresses what you actually do for writing? Who is teaching the workshops you're thinking about attending? Are you talking a conference close enough that you can just go for a day, so you don't have to spend enormous amounts of time planning for what a family is going to do while you're gone longer or take a lot of time off from a day job? 

You can see how thoughtfully choosing what is essential can both free up time and make better use of the time we do have.

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