Sometimes it feels like I’m too busy to write. It’s a painful truth I’m discovering about writing while holding down a day job. Maybe I should grow a pointy beard and join the circus?
The problem we plate spinners have is that there’s always something else to do. In fact, I’ve a confession to make. I went through a period in my career when I measured how important I felt by how busy I was.
That’s not good is it? Instead of focusing on the outcomes I achieved, I was weighing my supposed value by how much I was trying to get done. The trouble is, if you go on like this, it only leads in one direction. And that’s burnout, missed deadlines and radio-active stress levels.
Meet Mr Unperturbed
Instead of blazing away, doing one task after another stop a moment and mop your brow. I know, if you’re under the cosh it feels counter intuitive — bear with me.
I once worked with someone who never stressed. He floated over the surface of the water causing barely a ripple. His boss loved him because he always delivered too. I watched him for a while though slitted eyes. What was this man’s secret — how come he always outperformed the rest of us and looked so darn unperturbed?
Gradually I began to see what he was doing. He used lists. Now, I like spontaneity as much as the next whimsical chap, but trust me, lists have their uses.
Mr Unperturbed had a small pocketbook in his jacket pocket. Each morning he pulled it out and scratched away for two minutes. Then he put it back in his jacket and leant back smugly in his chair, gazing at the rest of us as we ploughed through that morning’s incoming missiles.
It took a while, but eventually I asked him what he was doing each morning while the rest of us got down to work. He said:
I make a list of the 3 most important tasks for the day. I cross them off when they’re done.
It stunned me.
There had to be more to it than that, surely? So I tried it out and what do you know? — it worked. I don’t know who it was that said: ‘If everything’s a priority, then nothing’s a priority,’ but whoever it was deserves a round of applause.
Not everything is equally important — stands to reason, right?
So if at the start of each new day you look at everything you could do and then work out what’s most important, you’ve taken one big step to becoming a more productive person. Even better, take a quick sneak at what you wrote the day before. If you’ve not ticked them off yet, start by adding them to your list of three most important tasks for the day.
Another Guilty Secret
Now, let me tell you another secret. After a few weeks of copying Mr U, I’d accumulated rather a large folder full of papers. The folder contained scraps of paper with scribbled notes, letters, memos and so on. Each one was a potential job that needed doing.
I rather guiltily looked though the pile only to discover sometimes requested actions cancelled or amended. In other cases, the job had evolved into something else and I’d dealt with it on one of my 3MIT (Most Important Task) days.
I quietly pitched most of them into the bin. If I’d tried to get each of them done — I’d have wasted hours.
There was another payoff too. Now when I approached my boss about something he didn’t scowl in anticipation. No, he looked at me as if I was one of his favoured sons. Because, now I was delivering — each day surging ahead by completing the most important tasks I could find.
Too Busy To Write? — Try This
As an inveterate plate spinner, I’m always biting off more things to do which now includes writing books for heaven’s sake. The only way I keep my head above water is by working out which three jobs today need doing most. Then I get them done.
Momentum is a slippery notion with writing. There are already far too many ways to let it slide:
- The plot’s not working.
- A character’s playing up.
- The dialogue’s awful.
- Doubts about your credibility.
At least if you use the 3MIT method, you’ll never have the excuse that your writing’s supplanting something more important. Buy a notebook — start today.
You could even add it to your list.