Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chains and Timers

by Cathy Pickens

How do I manage my time?  After spending years reading every book possible on organizing myself and my time, buying all manner of organizational “aids,” and even being hired as a consultant to tell other people how to manage their time, I can tell you how I manage my time:

Not well.

To juggle a full-time job along with my writing and writing-related stuff, I’m frequently grateful I married my husband late in life. He already knew how to feed himself. I have no children, no pets, and no houseplants.  No living thing relies upon me for sustenance.  (Of course, if I had been responsible for another life form and if something had gone wrong and I’d been charged with neglect, would I have had time in prison to write? Hmmm.)

I’m basically no help for all those who have others relying on them for care.

Even with what, to others, could look like acres of free time and freedom, I still wrestle with getting things done, especially writing, because my creativity manifests itself most strongly as I create ways to avoid writing. If you want to see some clean, neat closets and drawers, come to my house when I’m supposed to be writing.

I can make time to write, but then find myself wasting it because, given the time, nothing but fears rush in.  After eight books, what do I fear?  That the next one won't be as good as I want it to be. They never are that good.  And because I know it'll be hard work.

So I must sometimes drive myself to my work, even though I love it.

I know I’m not alone (although I look as though I am, in the photo).  True, there are those who gush on about how they love writing, how they spend every waking minute writing, how … Just shut up.  You’re either lying or you’re crazy.  Admit it.

I’m not alone.  In a column for the Charlotte Observer, Doug Robarchek once wrote about a man who wanted to be a writer.  As I remember the story, the would-be writer was visited by an angel, who offered to take him to Writer Heaven and Writer Hell, so he could see what he was getting into. 

The visit to Writer Hell was terrifying: writers chained to their desks, hunkered over endless work, sweating blood, screaming in anguish. 

“This is horrifying!  Oh, my!  Take me to Writer Heaven!"

“Sure,” said the angel, and in a twinkling, the would-be writer was looking over another scene: writers chained to their desks, hunkered over endless work, sweating blood, screaming in anguish.

“This is dreadful!  It looks just like Writer Hell!  What’s the difference?”

“Here in Writer Heaven, the writers are published.”

Any creative work is difficult and messy.  Which brings me to the time management tip I return to most often: the BIC method, I call it—Butt In Chair.  There’s no help for it.  You must take your pen in hand and get started.

Mark out time, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day.  You can write a 250-word page in longhand in 15 minutes.  At that rate, you can draft a book in less than a year.

Fifteen-minute spurts work for other difficult tasks, too.  The Fly Lady advocates tackling your housework by setting a timer and working for 15 minutes.  The whole point, of course, is seeing what you can accomplish in that time will make you set the timer again.  So if you let yourself write for 15 minutes, you’ll want to stretch it out to 30 minutes.  Before long, you’re on a roll.

When all else fails, I go for the chain-myself-to-my-desk method.  Only I rarely sit at a desk, and a chain would mar the wood.  So I go to a cafe that doesn’t mind if I sit there after the morning rush.  I get breakfast and a giant glass of iced tea.  And I make myself sit there until I get to work.  And I can’t go to the bathroom until I’ve done something productive.  A full bladder can really get me focused.

So pick your favorite tips for chaining yourself to your work or decide what you can get done in 15 minutes.  And don’t tell me you LOVE your work each and every day and you don’t even have to treat yourself to a gingerbread bagel or go to the bathroom.  You’re just making the rest of us feel bad.


Kody said...

Interesting, I'm lucky that with my hectic life I still have time to make a couple blog posts and sit back and watch some Television.

P.s. Just found your blog and I'm liking it so far! :-) said...

Now I don't feel so guilty. I've been flagellating myself because I'm retired and have no excuse for not producing the daily 500 words. Going to a cafe or coffee shop does help, doesn't it. Almost like going to work, punching a time clock. said...

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