“I find having a mortgage to be a great motivator to keep on working.”
Mo Willems

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

everything's in the details, god, the devil, everything
Wed 2014-08-27 23:50:04 (in context)

Excellent. I now have five drabbles ready to go. Tomorrow's goal is to write two or three more. Specklit allows a maximum of ten to be submitted at a time. I'll be happy just to submit another portfolio of eight.

So I've been meaning to blog about my new genius innovation in Successfully Getting Work Done. It's amazing. It's upped my game by like 150% and I have never felt so productive. Here it is. You ready? Check this out:

Daily scheduling.

I know, right? Seems kind of obvious. But until last week, I'd been actively resisting the idea of scheduling my day with any assertive specificity.

To be fair, I'd thought I was already being specific enough. I'd have the goal of five hours of writing on a work day, and I'd have my spreadsheet for keeping track of those hours divided into categories like "fiction" and "content writing" and so forth. While scribbling my way through my morning pages, I'd often worked out which specific tasks I need to work on in a given day: "For Boulder Writing Examiner, that review of Rogers's Word Work that I've been meaning to do," or, "For short fiction today I need to do a final revision on those two drabbles in progress and come up with their 'About the story' snippets."

But I hadn't been holding myself to doing these tasks at specific times during the day looming before me. I didn't trust myself to do it. I didn't trust my day to let me do it. And I didn't trust myself, if, having planned to begin my work at 10:00, I were to find my day delayed by an hour due to unexpected household administrivia muscling into my morning, not to just give up on the whole day and go back to sleep. One of my glitches is, once I get attached to "the shape of the day" as planned, I'm terribly dependent on the day going as planned. If circumstances beyond my control change those plans, I go into a low-level panic. A glitch, like I said, but I didn't want to set myself up for that kind of stressy neurotic crisis.

So instead I'd just had this vague idea of "These things need to get done, and I have all day to get them done in." Which reduced the pressure. I wasn't relying on starting at 10 quite as much. Which meant that if my working day got pushed back to 11, instead of tossing out the whole day as "Nothing's going to get done on time, there won't be enough time, why bother?" I just sort of shrugged and thought, "One hour late. No big deal. There's lots of hours left in the day."

Except that "one hour late, no big deal" can often stretch to "four hours late, no big deal," and so on, until it hits algebraic impossibility. Which is to say, the point at which I realize that 24:00 minus Y < X, where Y is the time of day and X is the amount of hours remaining in my daily five.

So I gave in and tried hammering out a schedule during my morning pages. It would be a very specific schedule, with each task assigned to a particular hour of the day. I'd plan when my lunch break would be, too. I was determined to give myself a lunch break. And I'd take into account when I'd have to stop to get ready for derby practice, if it was a derby practice day.

As a result, two important things happened in my favor:

  1. The algebra got worked out right up front rather than on the back end when it was too late.
  2. I had my lunch break to look forward to!

The effect of front-loading the time calculations was this: That "predicted shape of day" attachment of mine got proactive. Instead of "OMG things changed on me now nothing's going to go right," my mindset was more like, "If you want things to go as planned, you have to put down that sudoku--yes, even if you're not done with it yet--and get to work now." And so I did.

And the effect of having my lunch break to look forward to was this: I didn't feel crushed by the weight of the day ahead of me. Before, I'd cringe thinking about the long hours, all achingly draggy five of them, of drudgery that wouldn't end until it was time to go to my evening obligations (usually roller derby practice), and the realization that I'd never get any significant length of obligation-free time all day just sat on top of me like a lump of despair. But defining my schedule every morning allowed me to divvy up the work day into two or three chunks separated by playtime and meals (and, yes, roller derby), and that in turn made me excited about every stage of the day, the work as well as the play (as well as the skating).

It's hard to explain, harder still to justify. My brain is like a toddler who wants everything just so and is prepared to scream itself blue if someone tells it "no." But specific hour-by-hour planning of my day ahead enables me to appease that toddler in healthy ways. And as it turns out, simply knowing how long everything will take me and having a starting plan for where to slot each task makes me much more able to absorb the unexpected and juke around obstacles productively.

I can still have off days. Today was one of them. But even my off days are better than they used to be. They're near misses instead of total abject failures. I can still be proud of what I accomplish on a near-miss day. (Look! Two more drabbles ready to go! And a book review!)

It's no big shock that specificity works for me. I am the checklist queen. I am notorious for overthinking things. But it sometimes surprises me how well it works, and how many more aspects of my daily life could stand to be improved by it.