December 5th, 2012


Productivity and Procrastination

Tonight is my last children's choir class until the new year, and while I love the kids dearly, this comes with great relief. I don't even have to do serious lesson plans for tonight because we're mostly rehearsing for our song on Sunday morning, and then since one of the preschool choir teachers is going to be out, we're combining classes and will just do a Christmas carol singalong. I figure the kids are going to be wired and hyper anyway, and since it will be nearly a month before we meet again, there's no point in starting something new or really teaching anything. Spending the last half of class just singing should be the best option.

I've talked myself out of today's errands because I think I have enough going on that I don't need to stress myself out further. I didn't get much accomplished yesterday, aside from some housework and bookkeeping. I don't even know where the day went.

And that meant I read with great interest a couple of articles from Lifehacker on productivity that started going around my friends on Facebook. I'm always looking for new ways to make myself more productive, even if I know that number one on the list would be getting off the Internet and working. My most productive day ever was the day my ISP had a national outage. I guess what I need is tips and tricks for making myself get off the Internet and work.

So, first, I was rather reassured by the article about how many of the productivity "givens" turn out to be untrue. I particularly like the one about how getting up early doesn't necessarily make you any more productive, unless you're a morning person. There's a weird societal pressure about mornings that I don't get even if I find myself acting according to it. Some of my most productive writing ever comes when I do late-night marathons -- make a pot of tea and sit down to write starting around 8 or 9 and then write until past midnight. There are no distractions then -- nothing on TV, nothing new being posted to any Internet discussions I have going on -- and I can lose myself in a book. I used to do that on Friday nights back when I had a regular job and was writing in my spare time. I caught myself thinking the other day that I ought to do that in January, since Haven will be over for the season and Grimm won't be back until February or March, so my Fridays will be open for a while. And then I had the forehead-slapping "duh!" moment of realizing that the reason I had to do that on Fridays back then was that on weekdays I had to get up and go to work in the morning. Now, the writing is my work. There's generally no reason why I can't do late-night marathons almost any night. And yet I feel guilty for sleeping until ten on a weekday, even if I was up until past one writing eight thousand words. Getting that one productivity myth out of my head would probably improve my productivity dramatically because it would allow me to work in the way that best suits me. I accomplish more of the work that matters to me by working late and sleeping late, so I shouldn't feel guilty. A mix of schedule is probably best, since on days when I have business-type work to do, I get more done if I get an early start on the day.

Which brings up the next interesting article, on creating your own productivity style by mixing items from various methods. I think I've tried all of the methods they list, with varying degrees of success. Some things stuck. Some didn't. I tried the 43 folders thing, but it seems I don't have enough going on to require that much of a futures file, so it never became a habit. Maybe I should re-do it to only have the monthly folders and then maybe an early-month and mid-month folder. I tried the break it down into lists and keep it all in a notebook thing, and that was moderately successful. The problem with applying it to my work is that my to-do list often involves something like "write a novel." Breaking it down may mean "write a chapter," but it's hard to even plan that much because it depends on how the work goes. That led to my current stopwatch routine because I can track how much time I actually spend writing. I set up some incentives when I reached certain milestones, except I never actually carry through on the incentives, so I'm not sure how effective that is.

Really, procrastination is my biggest problem. I'll even put off the things I want to do (like all my incentives for working a certain amount of time). Once I get started, I'm fine. It can just take me hours to get started. That may be why the late-night marathons work for me -- all the excuses are gone and there's nothing left to do but write, and once I've started, I can keep going.

This is one thing I'll have to get better at. When I was writing for a publisher that wanted one book a year, there was no point in killing myself. If I end up going more the independent route, you get success there with volume and frequency, plus you have to juggle the business side of things and my usual all-or-nothing habit when I'm writing won't work. I'm still working on developing the perfect productivity system for myself. Letting people be wrong on the Internet without pointing out the error of their ways might be a good start.