Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life's Interfering With Life

This is the case for how the intrywebs are interfering with my reading that is interfering with my writing. It's a ruminating, rambling post, so you're forewarned.

Granted, all three—writing, reading, interwebbing—are essential to my well-being and satisfaction in life. I couldn't give up any one of them and still lead a content existence.

And yet, for productivity, priority has to be re-examined and re-established.

There are authors out in Romancelandia who do effective and efficient online promotion through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, message loops, emails, and newsletters without being on all the time. They also do in-person appearances at book-signings and conferences and yet manage to write steadily with the same quality of writing. One such rare superwoman is historical romance writer Jo Beverley. I'm fascinated by her! I know for a fact, she has the same (rainy) 24 hours a day I do, even if she's in fab ye olde England and I'm in modern Seattle, and yet look at what she does with her day and look at what I accomplish. (Le Sigh!)

I thrash around with email, Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, LiveJournal. Either I drop it all to read, or I drop surfing and reading to write.

I'm sure there is a right way to surf the intrywebs, which would take less time, but I haven't found it yet, because like shoveling when it's snowing, stuff keeps on coming in continuously. When I've finished one pass, I need another pass and another and another... And then my personal roles in life (mom, chauffeur, chef, washerwoman, dishwasher, and miscellaneous service provider) demand attention, and the reading and writing has to wait for another day.

Then again, I could simply not open the laptop at all and read and read, but at the end of the day, I'd feel like I'm missing all the interesting conversations that have been happening around in Romancelandia while I was offline.

If I don't surf, nor read, then I'll have the glow of accomplishment, but zero entertainment, which is not ideal either. I need all three so that at the end of the day, I'm satisfied I've accomplished something, I've been entertained, and I've exchanged ideas and laughs with friends and acquaintances.

So if Jo Beverley doesn't have more than 24 hours, she must be giving up eating and sleeping to that she can squeeze all that she does in. Well...of course not. So then she must be a subscriber to this paradigm: "Work smarter, not harder."

According to the article "Work Smarter, Not Harder" by Jane McBride Choate in the September 2009 issue of the Romance Writers Report, "[We] writers need to maximize our efforts, our time, and our energy. We don't have the luxury of squandering any of our resources."

In the article, author Melissa Mayhue advises, "Stay organized and set goals and priorities. Be a list person."

Author Amanda Cabot recommends, "Keep track of your time by recording your tasks in a record book for at least two weeks. Take analysis of your productive times."

Choate also suggests, "Think like a lawyer. Keep track of billable hours."

Author Allison Brennan "sets priorities—and then keeps them." She says, "What has helped me in staying offline during my set writing time and then rewarding myself with online time when I hit my daily page goal."

Author Karin Tabke echoes this advice. "The important stuff trumps the less important. Family first, writing second, everything else later."

When tempted to do things other than write, Cabot poses the question, "What is the opportunity cost?" Choate says, "Know the true costs of how you spend your time."

Put this way, the only way to be more productive in the same amount of time is to lay out all that you need to accomplish in a day, group tasks together, prioritize, set times for when what should get done, and decide what falls in the optional bucket that can be done if unexpected extra time shows up in the day.

Another issue at hand is that society is trending heavily towards multitasking. If you're a one-task person, you're way behind the times. By multitasking, I'm not saying walking and chewing gum at the same time. But rather, what author Stephanie Bond does: "writing on an AlphaSmart while running on the treadmill."

However, according to the article "Divided Attention" in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Humans' working-memory capacity—that is, their ability to juggle facts and perform mental operations—is limited to roughly seven units. And that is under optimal conditions. If a person is anxious or fatigued or in the presence of an attractive stranger [hur!], his working-memory capacity will probably degrade." George A. Miller, professor at Princeton, calls this an "information bottleneck." His recommendation is to "chunk information" so you can pack more into each of those seven units.

What this means is concentrating on one task at a time for a longer time so as to achieve more on that task before context-switching, to use a computing operating systems terminology. In effect, minimize distractions while doing a task, otherwise you risk performing sub-optimally at every task. Which leads right back to, schedule it and stick to it.

In a tangential fashion, this advice from Brennan is pure gold for me, "Working from home has to be working at home." Meaning, it doesn't mean that you have extra free time to do every odd job you or your family can think of to squeeze in. It means, exactly as it's written: You. Are. Working. "You have to keep writing time sacred. It's the only way to keep your sanity."

So here are my takeaways from this:
1. Make lists
2. Prioritize
3. Schedule
4. Stick to Schedule
5. Do one task at a time only
6. Guard writing time zealously
7. Know that everything you want to do will not get done

(Interestingly enough, my list has seven items, too. Coincidence? Hindu cosmic lucky number?)

Is this something you struggle with, too? What solutions have you put into place? Is there anything new you learned from here?


SarahT said...

What a timely post! I'm having a similar problem at the moment. I read, I write and I blog. I find it difficult to do all well simultaneously. Depending on how busy I am in my real life, and how well I'm sleeping, at least one of the three suffers. Last month, it was reading. This month, it appears to be writing.

I have no magic solution, I'm afraid. My writing time is first thing in the morning before the kids get up. I try to check my email and Twitter while I'm having my breakfast, then go offline and concentrate on my writing. How productive I am varies. There are days when it simply flows; then there are other days when I struggle to write a couple of hundred words. The most important thing for me is that I "write through" the uninspired phases in the knowledge that my muse will return at some point.

Keira Soleore said...

Sarah, I'm glad this post is helping you to take another look at your day and your writing.

It looks like though that you already have time set aside for writing and you do write in that time (no matter what the results are), so you're well ahead already. What is it that you'd like to do better?

For me, it's a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul and never succeeding at anything and feeling guilty about everything on top of it. Am I trying to do too much? Of course! So today, I'm working on lists, priorities, and putting together a schedule.

SarahT said...

I am the Queen of Lists! If I didn't plan, I would get nothing done.

I honestly don't think I can improve the schedule I have at the moment. I'm not someone who can survive on just a couple of hours sleep, so my method of getting up a couple of hours before the kids is about as good as it's going to get for the next couple of years.

After many years of making unrealistic "To Do" lists, I now try to decide what absolutely has to be done and put that down, plus one or two things I should do but which aren't essential. There's a definite sense of achievement when I can write "Done" next to the various tasks at the end of the day.

Keira Soleore said...

I like the idea of having essentials down and then 1 or 2 things (ONLY!) that can be added on if there's time.

I will not rob myself of sleep, because if I do that, then everything goes badly. That is not to say that I'm not robbed of sleep by outside circumstances (meaning kid, the huzz), but at least from my side I'm not going to do it.

Magdalen said...

Keira -- I was happily reading the post when I came to the suggestion that I "think like a lawyer and keep track of billable hours."


Of all the things I most hated about being a lawyer, keeping track of billable hours was at the top of the list.

But I have nothing to complain about. I don't have children. I don't have a day job. My husband doesn't have a day job (he's making breakfast behind me). So what's my problem? How come I don't get it all done?

(Rhetorical questions. No answers.)

Heidenkind said...

Jo Beverly probably has a secretary, or a promoter who does all those pesky things like schedule appearances and organize intrawebz marketing.

Keira Soleore said...

Magdalen, I find that I work best if there's a schedule. Leave it free form, and I waste time and feel the worse of for it. I get far more things done, when it's predictable and written down. I know this method doesn't work for most people.

Heidenkind, from my previous chats with her online and at workshops, I got the impression she does it all on her own. Unlike Eloisa James, who employs various different people (researcher, secretary & promo, website designer, etc.), JoBev in a one-stop writing machine.