Time Management sounds like a great idea, and it is, but I’ve discovered there’s another powerful force at play, which must be operating for Time Management to work.
In the beginning of April I checked my Goals for the year and was disappointed. Despite my word count being down by a couple of hundred each week, I still did not have anything substantial to show. By mid-April, all I had was a couple of unfinished short stories, three first chapters for my current work-in-progress, plenty of notes for the ideas folder and a monumental mess of papers to be filed from many on-line courses. This was not on the plan for April. I was way off track with my goals and could not work out a way to pull it back.
FACT: There’s only 24 hours in a day.
FACT: I am always running out of time.
FACT: I spend more time preparing to work than doing any work.
It had to stop.
I live by my yearly, monthly and weekly goals. I love nothing better than to sit down and write up “The Plan” and, I’m an expert. On January 2 of any given year, my yearly goals always look good – maybe a tad over ambitious, but achievable, if I put the time in and work on them. This I try to do – try being the operative word. I’m always trying, but not achieving what I know to be achievable. So, after a couple of frustrating weeks, I conclude –
FACT: It’s not happening.
FACT: I lose time by not committing.
FACT: I need to resolve to commit.
How? I decided to check out a few time management websites. Another afternoon was lost googling and checking out these websites. There are plenty about, all giving the same advice and I knew I didn’t need them. Something else was at play here. Each day I showed up at my desk at the appointed time, with my current story, but still nothing substantial to show. I felt as though I was pottering on the sidelines, and still not playing in the main game – unless it excited me.
When I thought about it, a few things were constant. I kept one eye on the clock and as soon as the appointed hour was up, I moved onto the next item on the list. It worked well, I was in a routine, on a roll of some sort, but still not happy with the finished product. Everything I worked on was ‘touched up’, added to, or re-edited over and over. The real business of writing, of moving the story forward came in small portions, with nothing substantial happening, apart from a few pages each week.
Then an uncomfortable and hidden truth struck me.
FACT: I show up physically.
FACT: My mind is all over the place.
FACT: I need to concentrate.
The process of learning to concentrate is not easy. I have found some simple techniques which work. Training my brain is a constant work-in-progress, and will be so, until concentrating becomes a habit. Now:
- I tell my mind another five minutes when things get difficult. I find this gets me over a difficult patch;
- When my mind starts to wander I do two things: write down the issue and deal with it later; or tell my mind to STOP and get back to work;
- When I can’t get past a difficult issue and want to see it out – I let my eyes wander around the room, out the window and then re-focus on the page and I see it with new eyes – it works!
- Bribery – not when all else fails, but when something must be finished I promise myself, at the end of that session, a treat.
I’ve learned that there is more to time management than turning up and ticking off the items on the ‘to-do’ list. It takes effort to keep my mind focused on one page at a time. I now focus one page at a time and am no longer looking at the bigger picture of my story – I have that slotted for later in the day. Right now, I’m concentrating on the matter at hand, at this page, on this blog and am fully engaged.