Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Time Management

All right, so I've been procrastinating -- I'll cop to that. [duck] But I was wandering around on a blog I don't visit very often and found a good series of articles on time management.

Colleen Doran is a comic artist/writer who's had more excitement in her professional life so far than anyone deserves, and in fact had more excitement in her pro life before she was twenty than anyone deserves. The work she's best known for is a comic called A Distant Soil and if you like SF/Fantasy blends with excellent writing, gorgeous art and beautifully drawn men (OK, she does really nice women too) it's well worth checking out.

But recently in her blog she reposted a series of five articles she wrote on time management for an online magazine a few years ago, now with updates and additional commentary. The article series is here (the link goes to the post with parts four and five; links to the first three parts are at the top) and I recommend it highly. Note that although they were written for an audience in the comics industry, she refers to creative workers in general and I found most of what she said quite relevant to writing alone.

Some bits which particularly struck me:

Writer’s Block is nothing but a creator’s special brand of procrastination.

Umm, yeah. I'm a great procrastinator; it's one of my more finely honed skills. :/

Lose only one hour of time per day to disorganization (and that is a conservative, average estimate most time management gurus agree on) and you’ve lost 365 hours of work per year.

I don't have all that much paperwork to organize yet, but once I have contracts and tax forms and royalty statements to keep track of, I can see this happening. I already lose books, articles and web bookmarks, some of which relate to story ideas, contests, or other writing opportunities. Thinking about how to get better organized now is probably a good idea.

On time is NEVER good enough. ... Schedule every project as if you have days and, if possible, weeks less time than you actually have. ... You could have a family emergency or financial crises that will distract you. Pages could get lost. The cat could drop a hairball on your script. You never know. Last month I was bitten by a brown recluse spider on my drawing arm. There was no way to prepare for that!

Again, I'm an expert procrastinator. Writing for fiction fests and exchanges has made me a lot better at working to deadline but I have a feeling it's going to be a while before I learn to habitually shoot for early. I know she's right, though, about things coming up. Last time I missed a deadline was when my mother got sick and I went to take care of her for about a week past the deadline, then when I got home from that I got on another plane the very next day to go to the World Science Fiction Convention with my husband. I very often [cough] get stories in at the stroke of deadline and it usually works but when something goes sproing, you're hosed. :/ Definitely have to work on building some padding into the schedule.

If you want to be a part time creator, you will likely get part time results.

I stared at this one for a bit. I'm sure it's true but I don't know that I'm able to commit to forty hours a week of working on fiction (or anything else, either.) Even factoring in research and plot development and babbling my way through dead ends and searching out markets and getting things formatted properly and sent out, and learning to write synopses when I get back to novels, I don't know if I can do that for forty hours a week. Which sounds really lame but there you go, I'm trying to be realistic. If I could make a forty hour/week committment I'd have a regular job, so.... I think I'll have to keep this flexible, while keeping my goals in mind.

When it comes to managing your time, your best friends can be your worst enemies. Establish boundaries. Set strict limits for who, what, where and when will enter your studio and take up your time.

This one actually made me feel sort of happy to be a hermit. [rueful smile] I have only one friend in southern California and if I see him once a year that's a lot. My next nearest close friends are about four hundred miles away, so I don't have to worry about people dropping in. I never thought of this as a positive sort of thing before but I guess it is. I can go weeks without ever walking through the front door and I guess that's a feature rather than a bug when it comes to having time to get things done.

I am, however, very glad I don't have any friends like this one woman Colleen talks about. It'd make me rip the phone out of the wall. :/

Boundaries don’t make you a bad friend. Violating them does.


Consider ANY OTHER JOB IN THE WORLD where buddies would be encouraged to just drop in and hang out. There isn’t one. But few respect the boundaries creators set on their time, because they don’t think that we have real jobs.

As I said, I don't have this problem myself, but I can see this happening for folks who are (any) more gregarious than I am. It does, however, strike me as a pretty decent conflict for a story. [ponder]

Clutter is a kind of visual noise. It is distracting and demoralizing. It will impede your ability to work. An inability to find important documents or file effectively will eat into your work time. Think of that seven hours a week that you are probably wasting struggling with your clutter right now.

Ummm, yeah. :/ I don't struggle all that much with my clutter; I mostly submit to it. I want that book but it's one of the 3/4 of our library that isn't on shelves because we don't have enough shelves nor room to put up more. It's in a pile somewhere or maybe in a box, so I'll find it later. I know I had a magazine with an article on how the human body reacts in sub-freezing water and I've got this story idea, but I have no idea where the mag is and just the thought of hunting for it feels exhausting, so I don't. That sort of thing. That's bad, I know, and shovelling the place out would make it much easier to get things done, as well as just making the place more pleasant to live in. :(

Because I still have more books than I can reasonably store, my simple rule is ten books must go out for every book I take in.

Oh, man, I don't have anywhere near that kind of discipline! :D Neither does my husband. We're both packrats and books are the one biggest weakness both of us have. Any de-cluttering scheme I came up with would have to involve keeping all our books, less the twenty or so which are duplicates I mean to get rid of anyway.

My other big weakness is craft supplies, although that comes and goes in waves, and I haven't had a wave hit in quite a while. [crossed fingers] I do a lot of different kinds of needlework, though, and I can go several years without particularly wanting to, say, work on my needle lace, or do any beadwork, or knit, or work on that free-form cross stitch piece. But when I want to, I really want to, and it's good when everything I need is right there waiting for me patiently. Assuming I can find it, of course. :P

I suppose procrastination is different for everyone, but for me, procrastination is more about performance anxiety than anything else.

Humm. That's part of it, yes. [ponder] I was just talking with WrittenWyrdd over at her blog about how I'm much more likely to get into a flailing logjam on projects I feel very strongly about than on projects which feel more like something casual and just sort of fun to do. That's exactly what it feels like -- I start worrying that I won't do proper justice to this project which means so much to me and my brain clogs up. :/ And when a project -- anything, not just writing -- goes past a certain point of discomfort I start avoiding it, not even wanting to think about it. This is where I developed my talent for pounding out decent copy, whether fiction or a paper for school or whatever, at the last minute. It works beautifully, except when it doesn't. (To be fair to myself, it works beautifully about eighty percent of the time. I've gotten As on term papers and take-home essay exams which were done in the twenty or so hours before the time they were due, and great comments on stories which were similarly banged out at the last minute. My subconscious does wonderful work for me, most of the time. It's that other twenty percent that's the problem.) One more thing to work on; I'll group that in with building padding into my schedule.

Colleen has a couple of interesting exercises for dealing with performance anxiety-induced procrastination. I'm not sure the first one would work for me (I don't even own a typewriter anymore) but the second has some possibilities, especially if I sat at the computer and wrote it out while thinking, instead of just imagining it. Check them out and see if they'd work for you.

Learn to turn tasks over to others. If you’re a control freak like me, even letting someone else vacuum your floor is a major issue. If you’re not, this advice will not be any problem for you.

Had to laugh here -- anyone who wants to come vacuum my rugs is more than welcome. I'll have a key made for you. :D

Anyway, this is a really good set of articles and they translate very well to writing. Definitely a lot of advice worth considering there.



Charles Gramlich said...

I agree with some things, disagree with others. Suggesting that people actually get rid of books is actually bad advice. Every time I've ever gotten rid of a book I've found later that I needed to refer to it for something or other. Maybe it's not so much of an issue for non-writers.

As for wasted hours, I don't waste as many as a lot of folks do, but I waste more than enough. Sometimes, though, you "need" to waste a bit of time here and there. It helps keep you sane.

I always plan my projects as if I have less time than I really do as well. That's some good advice.

Angie said...

Every time I've ever gotten rid of a book I've found later that I needed to refer to it for something or other.

I wouldn't say every time in my case -- sometimes I just know I'm not going to want to read this novel again, especially if I've tried two or three times and couldn't ever get past Chapter Four -- but most of the time yes, especially with nonfiction. I really can't imagine setting a numerical goal for getting rid of books, lack of space notwithstanding. [shudder]

There are some things in there that wouldn't work for me either, like weeding out your books, but there was enough of value that I thought it was worth pimping a bit. And different things work for different people so I figured maybe something I wouldn't want to try would be just perfect for someone else.

She says elsewhere that her own social life is fine and she's the only proper judge of that. I get the impression she does take time off here and there and does other things, just not as much as someone else might want to. That's something each person probably has to find their own level on.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder almost ten years ago and there are times when I simply can't do anything productive and sometimes not anything at all; I just have to deal with that. I know a standard forty-hour work week is a lot more than I can commit to but I need to figure out what I can do, even if it's only on the average.

Sometimes, though, you "need" to waste a bit of time here and there. It helps keep you sane.

Definitely. [nod] And not only that, but you have to experience things or eventually the writing well will run dry. Reading omniverously helps a lot but you have to actually do something besides writing and writing-related activities every now and then -- like tossing some fresh genes in the pool to prevent your fictional offspring from degrading. :)

I got the impression, though, that what she meant by wasting time was more like watching TV during time when you'd planned to be working, or letting your friends drag you out to eat when you'd planned to work and didn't really want to go anyway. I think if one had the sort of friends who would do that repeatedly (or call -- did you read the bit about that woman who'd keep her on the phone for hours and hours regularly?) that it could become a significant problem. She had a good point that people wouldn't do that if you had an office job; a creator's work time should get the same respect. It's one thing if you make the decision yourself to take an afternoon off, and another thing if you let other people pressure you into cutting off chunks of your work time to go socialize.

Maybe the whole point is to figure out what you want to do and what your goals are, and figure out what you need in the way of relaxation and non-writing activity and a social life and all, then balance it all together. Finding a balance which works for you and fulfills as many of your needs and goals as possible is probably the trick of it. [ponder]


Charles Gramlich said...

Good response. I'm lucky in that I don't tend to want to do a lot of social things, although I love to get out and walk in the country.

Even books that I don't plan to read again I keep because I might refer to them for negative reasons, as in how "not" to write a particular passage. I finally bought a book back that I sold a year ago because of just that. I really hated the book, but realized when I wanted to talk about why that I needed it for reference purposes

Bernita said...

Articles like that always make me feel so guilty...

Angie said...

Charles -- I used to walk. These days I limp. :/ I miss walking but my knee is demanding a lot of babying these days. It's getting better, but very slowly. [sigh]

I've definitely run into a few of those books :) but I tend to keep them because they're funny. There was this one Harlequin Historical which was pretty awful but had the funniest scene in it -- the Guy had run afoul of smugglers and been staked out on the beach to await the incoming tide and drown, alas. The Girl found him and was trying to untie him from the stakes but her weak little girl-fingers couldn't budge the knots. She was babbling on and on about how much s he loved him and how she'd have him free in a moment, then once she'd figured out that wasn't going to work she was all sobby and heartfelt with the "Oh, my love, I will stay here and die with you!" thing. The entire time he's trying to get a word in edgewise and she's assuming he wants her to flee and save herself and keeps interrupting him to cry that she won't. Finally he gets her to shut up for three seconds and tells her he's got a knife in his pocket. :P

It's a hysterical scene but I'm not sure the writer meant it to be. I kept it just for that, though, for a good laugh and a shining example of how not to write a mortal-danger scene in a romance. :D

Bernita -- Oh, me too, definitely. [nodnod] Sometimes I need that, though. The territory between a realistic limitation and a lame excuse is a spectrum and one needs to find the point on the spectrum where one's own circumstances lie. It's easy to start sliding toward the lame excuse end, though, and giving it a good hard think can help peg it back where it belongs.

For example, if I see a writing opportunity -- say I come across an anthology with a deadline at the end of the month -- and I decide I don't have time to write a 30K word story in the next four weeks because I have two other stories due at that time and a critique obligation I've taken on and and more stories I need to read before awards voting closes on the fifteenth, then that's probably a realistic estimate of my limitations.

On the other hand, if my thoughts are more a vague, "No, I don't have much free time these days so I couldn't write another story that quickly," when in fact I'm spending several hours a day watching cooking shows on TV, then that could be more of a lame excuse and I need to take a look at my goals and priorities.

Articles like this one can get me to take a more concrete, line-item look at what I'm doing and how much productive time I really have, or really could have if I sorted some things out. As Charles and I were saying above, there's a lot of YMMV here but I thought it was valuable enough to share. :)


writtenwyrdd said...

To paraphrase: I will get rid of my books when they pry them from my cold, dead fingers!

But I have always considered procrastination as a means by which I give myself an excuse to not confront the Inner Editor.

Cool that we are cross-posting now. ;)

Angie said...

WW -- That's about right, definitely. :D I could deal with thinning out pretty much anything else but the library is sacrosanct.

Procrastination has always been a multi-faceted way of life for me [facepalm] but I'm working on it. :)


writtenwyrdd said...

Well, I must confess that the art supplies are sacred and holy objects that won't be thrown out either. I moved them across country with me and left behind most everything else-- including about half the books. At a buck a pound it added up, and that was the cheapest rate I found.

Which is why I won't get rid of the books ever again. I'll cull the awful ones but that's it.

speaking of wasting time, I just bought the newest Sims2 add on. Squee! Gonna waste time for sure now!

Angie said...

WW -- I honestly don't throw out much of anything [duck] but I suppose there must be something I could get rid of if I really hunted.... I think I'll just have to get a bigger house. [wry smile]

And I'm a Sims addict too! :) I play it in waves, usually sinking all my spare time (plus anything else I can pry out of my schedule) for a few weeks whenever I get a new expansion, although I tend to get them in batches. I got Business, Seasons and Pets all at once, LOL! That was definitely a time sink for a while. I have a Civ4 game going right now, and a Morrowind character I'll get back to eventually.


writtenwyrdd said...

Ohhh, I'm waiting for Spore! There's some online version at www.xspore.com but I don't want to bother figuring out how to load it until I can assure myself it won't screw up my OS.

I haven't reloaded Sims2 after the great hard drive replacement, but I have five days off starting tomorrow. Only some of that will be dedicated to yardwork, painting the doors red, and writing.

writtenwyrdd said...

PS 3 bedroom house, one room dedicated to the painting supplies, block print supplies, beading supplies, fifteen tubs of fabric for quilting, sewing machine, file cabinets, all my tools and house paint,dress clothes, and the hide-a-bed for when I have company. Oh, and a few hundred books. I am considering a house addition just so I can have more room for books.

Okay, so I can have a garage, a downstairs bathroom and a place for all my books.

Angie said...

WW -- I didn't know Spore was out! [facepalm] Oh, man, that's a temptation. I think Saladin's going to have to run his civilization by himself for a while -- thanks for the URL. :D

The husband and I have a three-bedroom condo with a 2.5 car garage (yeah, that looks weird to me too but that's what it is, LOL!) and a bonus room. When we moved in we figured we'd have plenty of storage space. Unfortunately the building has major water issues. :( I spent a frantic afternoon while it rained rearranging the stuff in the garage (which is below grade like a basement) to pull soaked boxes out of the water and get them piled up on higher "ground," with huge waves coming in under the garage door every time someone drove past down the flooded driveway where everyone's garages open out. And the bonus room is likewise below grade and the carpet gets damp whenever it rains, with occasional moisture soaking down the walls too. We don't put anything in there that we care about. :/

When the husband retires we plan to move somewhere cheaper (not difficult -- we're in Southern California so anywhere but the Bay Area and NYC is going to be at least somewhat cheaper) and get a five-bedroom house, after checking for water issues. [wry smile]


writtenwyrdd said...

Come to Maine! Basements usually only flood in Spring!

Seriously (and don't get jealous) I moved from SF to here and got sticker shock at how low prices are in really rural areas. But then, anything looks cheap after San Francisco prices on starter homes!

Angie said...

WW -- Umm, I'm hoping to avoid any sort of flooding whatsoever. [wry smile] Thanks for the suggestion, though? [grin]

I'm from the Bay Area myself (lived in San Jose, Sunnyvale and Cupertino before getting married and moving to Long Beach) so yeah, know all about ridiculous home prices. :P We're looking at a few places but unfortunately I'm spoiled by a great climate. I can't stand really awful heat or humidity (we get that a scant handful of days out of the year here and that's bad enough), don't want to have to deal with a lot of snow, and would rather not have to mess with things freezing and breaking or dying or exploding three or four months out of the year. I love to garden but all my gardening knowledge and "feel" is based on the San Jose area where you can toss seeds at the ground pretty much all year round and have them grow. I'm horribly spoiled for climate, I know, but I'm still hoping we can find a decent compromise that won't cost us every cent we make when we sell the condo. [crossed fingers]


writtenwyrdd said...

YOu don't have to 'splain: I grew up in SJ. And I'll never go back to that pest hole. But there is something nice about big cities and sunshiney weather...

writtenwyrdd said...

" I miss walking but my knee is demanding a lot of babying these days. It's getting better, but very slowly. "

BTW, hang in there. It takes time. I fractured my back and it took three years to be able to do much in the way of bending and physical labor. I could walk, though.

Angie said...

WW -- thanks, I learned that the hard way. :/ After about five days of rest my knee was feeling better, so I started taking short walks for exercise. Bad move -- two days later it was bad again. I left it alone a lot longer this time and I just started walking again a couple of days ago. Short walks, slowly, nowhere near what I was doing a month ago but just a bit at a time. So far so good. [crossed fingers] Three years is kind of scary to think about, but OTOH it's good to know that even after that kind of a long, extended period of healing, it was still progressing.