Now that I've finished the Bible overview slideshow-to-video project, I've got a little bit of time in between projects and thought I'd try to get few blog posts into the pipeline.
I've been thinking recently about ways of working—different approaches to time and tasks. Sometimes I think the world can be divided into two groups of people: people who think in terms of structures and people who are more unstructured. The structured people are (to stereotype heavily) generally more organised, and tend to think naturally in terms of categories, grids and segments. The unstructured people tend to be more spontaneous: they live in moment (or so it seems to me; I confess I'm in the former camp) and they take things as they come in whatever form they come.
The advantage of being structured is that it allows you to divide and conquer easily, and get quite a lot done in the most efficient way possible. The disadvantage of being structured is that it can result in inflexibility and an inability or unwillingness to change or look at things from a different point of view. (Note a lot of structured people work in bureaucracy. Think Hermes Conrad from Futurama.) It can also result in planning fatigue: sometimes you just get so sick of planning and organising, you let certain things go that perhaps should be more of a priority (e.g. scheduling in things like holidays and time off).
In comparison, unstructured people tend to be good at flexibility and improvisation—changing tacks as the situation demands. Unfortunately, being unstructured also means they tend more towards disorganisation and chaos because that's what they're comfortable with, so to operate differently requires a great deal of effort and thought because it doesn't come naturally. The problem is, being unorganised, unstructured and unplanned usually starts affecting their lives negatively at some point.
Structured people can learn things like flexibility, spontaneity and alternative ways of thinking from unstructured people; unstructured people can learn things like organisation, planning and efficiency from structured people. I'm not saying that being one or the other is any better; it's just that both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Certainly when it comes to getting stuff done, the structured people have the upper hand, and from what I've learned from talking to people who are naturally unstructured, they tend to employ strategies typical of structured people to achieve their goals.
(By the way, if you're more of an unstructured person and you employ unstructured approaches to get stuff done, I'd love to hear how that works for you. From talking to and observing unstructured people, the approaches they take seem to consist of the following:
Because I'm a structured person, those don't really seem like proper approaches to me, but they seem to work for my unstructured friends!)
What sort of strategies do structured people employ? Well, I can't speak for all structured people, but here's what I do:
I keep lists. Lots of them. I used to use Evernote, but then Guan introduced me recently to WorkFlowy, which is a simple lists/text program that aims to help you organise your brain. (It really does. I've been surprised at how much I use it and how well it's become integrated into my life after just one week of use!) I like how you can create, delete, move and even tag items easily, and that you can change the to "Complete" and hide them from sight so that they remain as a record if you ever require them again.
Even after almost three years, I still use this method of day-to-day organisation (which is what I like to call my daily planner). But I also keep other lists—for example,
I usually have some idea of when I'll have what I call “work time” and when I won't. At the moment, it's when Astrid is in childcare or is being babysat, which is at pretty regular times from week to week. So that gives me four or five slots to work with that range in length from three to five hours each.
One of those slots I use for rest. It's usually one the same day, but occasionally I have to move it for whatever reason. I try to make it a priority because it's the only time in my week that I get to do whatever I want guilt-free. I try not to see anyone during that time (remember: introvert) and I usually spend it at home doing not much (“not much” being things like surfing the web, reading books, listening to podcasts, watching TV/DVDs, knitting and occasionally taking a walk). If I don't use my rest time as rest time (for example, this week when I used half of it to work on the Bible overview video), I really feel it for the rest of the week. So even though it seems trivial and something of a luxury, it's actually very important because it acts as the fuel that helps me get through the rest of my week. (Side note: I think that's one of the reasons why God commands us to rest one day in seven.)
(Second side note: I think sometimes a lack of rest can lead to a greater desire to procrastinate. If you haven't rested, your body will keep on wanting to and you probably won't get anything useful done until you do. But it has to be guilt-free rest unencumbered by other commitments, otherwise it's not really worth it! [Mind you, if you just procrastinate for the sake of procrastinating, like Lisa Simpson in “The Book Job”, then it's probably more of a case of you actively choosing to do something than a lack of rest problem, and maybe more external motivators would help you.])
With the other slots, when I work on my daily planner at the beginning of each week, I note what I want to do with that time. I may not actually do it when the time comes, but it helps me to have some sort of objective in mind. I try not to be rigid about it either: obviously if other things come up or Astrid gets sick, that might throw everything out. But then I just reschedule it for another day.
I always have creative projects I want to be working on and some sort of plan for each of them (vague as though it might be). I don't tend to set myself deadlines for them because I don't think I have an accurate view of how fast (or slow) I work. Or if I do set deadlines, they're vague ones because I don't the pressure of any external motivating factors (like print or submission deadlines).
(Mind you, I don't feel like I have a problem with motivation; I want to write, and will usually sit down to do it when I plan to. However, when I do, sometimes I'll engage in procrastinatory activities [like playing Tetris!], but not for the entire time; eventually my brain will kick in and I'll write something—even if it's not much. I think sometimes that perhaps I should do what Susannah Morgan Freeman says in The Busy Mom's Guide to Writing—that is, promise yourself some sort of nice reward for writing [like a new computer or a new piece of writing software or some books on your wishlist]—but I never do. I'm not sure that sort of motivator would actually work any better on me anyway [even if it would be nice to have another reason to buy some more books!])
I work with my strengths and limitations. I know that if I've only had six hours of sleep the night before, I'm probably not going to be very productive and that's okay; I don't beat myself up about that. If I'm sick, I'm probably better off resting. If I haven't slept that much and need something more to get me through the rest of the day, my time is probably better spent napping. I remember that I am only a finite person and that that's the way God made me.
I wish sometimes that I had the luxury of working the way David Mack works (i.e. creative stuff as soon as he wakes and is fresh, and then on emails and administration later in the day when he is more fatigued), and maybe I will one day. But not now: now I make the most of my afternoons and the post-lunch slump.
I try to work with the natural rhythms of the human body, which kind of operates according to 45-minute, 90-minute and three-hour cycles. (Babies tend to have a sleep cycle of 45 minutes, whereas the adult sleep cycle is around 90 minutes.) Tony Schwartz did a very interesting talk on this subject (it goes for 31:11 minutes) in which he basically argues that although time is not a renewable resource (you can't get more of it; everyone has the same amount), energy is, and you can change certain things in your work habits in order to get more of it. So regarding the body's 90-minute cycle: generally you'll be fresher at the beginning of the cycle instead of at the end, so make the most of the beginning, and then at the end, take a rest before embarking on the next one: take a short walk, have something to eat, give yourself a brain break, etc. I don't quite operate so rigidly, but I try to work roughly according to those sort of time periods, or at least remain aware of them.
As I wrote the above, I kept thinking back to the post I wrote about “What I wish I knew about writing when I was in my 20s” (particularly some of the later points where I wrote, “To write, you have to make time to write”) and the one where I reviewed Rachel Power's The Divided Heart: Art and motherhood. Children make writing time much more finite, which means you need stamina and some degree of organisation to make it work. (But on the other hand, limited time may result in better use of that time simply because it is limited and there is no way you can extend it.) However, in my experience, most creative people tend to be unstructured people. So if that's you, what works for you?
A way of funding writing in the future: pitch and idea and get people to support it.
Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.
How to recalibrate the home button on your iPhone.
Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.
Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.