I’ve been thinking quite a bit, lately, about how I work; or, as the case may be, sometimes don’t work.
Sure, I get plenty of things done. I always finish tasks at my day job, and I’ve done a weekly podcast for 4 years without missing an episode. I do a monthly fiction show, with a behind-the-scenes look at each story in between main releases. That all comes to roughly 75 fully-produced podcasts a year. That’s a lot of work and time. (I’ve put 60 – 80 hours into a couple episodes of Not about Lumberjacks.)
But as focused as I am in completing things, Facebook recently reminded me that it’s been two years since I printed the first draft of my current novel.
And while I’m back to making that draft readable, it’s not lost on me that much of the problem is a fragmented mind.
A Mind in Pieces
Productivity often comes up on the weekly podcast I do with a friend. We believe that multitasking is a myth — that the majority of people who multitask don’t do it well. My friend and I stack work (focusing on only one thing at a time until it’s done), but still…I’m not doing the best work I can be doing, simply because I still have a lot of stacks in the way.
While I may focus on one thing at a time, I still move from task to task all day long…even through the weekends. I can only speak for myself, but to do the best writing I can do, I need to have my mind mostly focused on writing.
Here’s what happens, instead…
My day job work, by default, is a fragmented thing. If I turn off email and instant messaging, people stop by my desk. If I turn those things off on the days I work from home, people wonder if I’m doing any work at all. There are meetings that don’t apply at all to me, and lots of email to chase.
Busy work, but not deep work.
So this happens: I begin focusing on a task in the office and…an instant message pops up. After that interruption, why not do a sweep through a social network? Then: back to work…almost focused, and…someone stops by my desk. More interruptions; why not reward myself with checking blogs or something else when that’s done?
It’s easy to say, “Well, just get back to work,” but even a slight interruption has a way of killing momentum. And with so many interruptions, before focus fully returns, there’s always another disruption on its way.
It would be easy to say, “That’s just how work is done these days,” and there’s even truth to it. But during those moments of interruption, I used to be far more likely to stop and think about story ideas and commit them to a notebook…rather than see what people are talking about online.
At home, I look at the weekends and feel fortunate that I’m not as busy as many people I know running around.
But I’m still busy.
There are podcasts to make, edit, and release. The weekly show has become a last-minute thing, ensuring the end of my weekend is spent rushing to record…when I should be relaxing and looking at the week ahead. Beginning-of-the-week mornings are spent editing and releasing shows…so sometimes, it’s the middle of the week before I really focus on writing without thinking of other things to do. (And by then, it’s time to begin thinking about the next show.)
To be clear, I enjoy Men in Gorilla Suits and Not about Lumberjacks. At the same time, I’ve not finished a substantial piece of writing since I started podcasting.
The solution, of course, is simple:
- Step away from things online. (I’ve done it before…and many times after that first go-around).
- Cut back on (or eliminate) podcasting.
- Say no to things that are not related to what I need to finish this book.
- Focus on the book and little else.
Now, to just do those things…