Life Sentences, Day 114: Beat the Clock

January 23rd, 2011

How do you manage your time?  I need suggestions.

At the moment, on a daily basis I am supposed to be:

Writing Pulped as my primary responsibility;

Doing at least an hour of warm-up each day on Muther’s Day, which is the next Junior, and The Fear Artist, the fifth Poke;

Proofreading Incinerator (the fourth Simeon Grist) to put it online;

Trying to promote the e-books, especially Crashed (and trying to find a way to use the Edgar nomination to boost sales);

Cranking out this blog;

Answering comments from this blog and general e-mail (I’m 126 e-mails behind);

Living some kind of life.

So the problems are (a) I’m trying to do too much; and (b) I can’t manage my time for shit.

On an average day, I’m lucky to get 1000 words on Pulped, handle some of the e-mail, do a little work on either Muther’s Day or The Fear Artist, and maybe get a run in. Incinerator is just languishing, and the e-book sales have actually dropped since the nomination.

I drift from project to project; halfway through a sentence in Pulped I’ll think of someone who might have an idea about promoting Crashed, so I’m e-mailing, then seeing a couple of e-mails I can answer quickly, then thinking of something for Muther’s Day and opening that folder, and then, an hour later, I’m back to Pulped.

In the end, I don’t finish much of anything and I’m exhausted because I’ve frittered away so much energy shifting from focus to focus.

I’m beginning to think I should rent an office with no Internet connectivity and no telephones.  Just a coffee pot, a wall outlet for my computer, and a big clock.  And maybe a door that locks from outside and someone to come and open it when my six to eight hours are done.

The thing I love best about Asia is that I have nothing in the whole world to do but write.  I don’t have to make meals, clean house, talk on the phone, be social in person. The coffee houses I prefer to work in don’t have wi-fi.  I get up, shower, walk somewhere for breakfast, come back and shower again, and then tote the computer down to the car that waits for me all day long.  Choose a coffee house, get there around 11 AM, and tell the driver to come back at seven.

Bingo: 3000 words on a good day and 2000 on a bad one.

Ideas, anyone?  Just don’t suggest going to Asia.  I’d go today if I could.

11 Responses to “Life Sentences, Day 114: Beat the Clock”

  1. EverettK Says:

    I am not you, so it’s hard to know what to suggest, I can only speak from my experience.

    When I’m working on a project, that project is pretty much all I work on. If I let something else distract (which does occasionally happen), it pretty much sucks up the entire day or two or three. It’s one or the other for me. I can do small-time multitasking on creative things, or big-time multitasking on small things, but I’ve never been able to successfully to big-time multitasking on creative things. Just doesn’t work for me.

    You said: Doing at least an hour of warm-up each day on Muther’s Day, which is the next Junior, and The Fear Artist, the fifth Poke;

    Again, I don’t know your work processes well enough to really be able to comment constructively, but this seems to me to be asking for trouble. It would seem to be far more efficient to put those two projects on the shelf (or in the drawer, or in the computer file) and leave them there until you’ve finished the first draft (at least) of PULPED. Then, put PULPED into the drawer for its 6-8 weeks cooling off and pull out EITHER the Junior or the Poke but NOT both. One at a time.

    But your mileage may vary…

  2. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Can you bring a little Asia to Santa Monica? Just sayin’

  3. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    I sounds like you are too good a multi-tasker for your own good! I have similar challenges and one thing that has worked for me is to try to schedule all my social media/blogging/answering interview questions/publicity for Friday mornings and stick to that as much as possible.

    In your case, you have several writing projects with deadlines going at once, so you may need to give each one its own timeslot and try to stick to it (not easy I know, because the right side of your brain may refuse to cooperate and we have to pay attention when inspiration strikes!) Also – taking a mid-afternoon break – even a nap – can work wonders in regaining concentration.

    If I feel myself getting distracted by emails, I go to a coffee house – telling myself sternly that I will be there to write for a minimum of 2 hours and during that time I will give the project my undivided attention. I have not gone so far as to tell the barrista to smack me upside the head if she sees me checking my e-mail, but I will if I have to!

    Since today is Sunday – I get to do anything I want – and your blog post caught my eye. I’m reading The Queen of Patpong and enjoying it tremendously!

  4. Peg Brantley Says:

    When you said you couldn’t manage your time for shit, I laughed. The I-get-it laugh. Left to my own devices it’s pretty much a crapshoot whether anything significant gets accomplished at days end.

    And as Everett so wisely said, we have to find our own schtick. And um, I’ve never been in the kind of rushing limey light you’re sitting in the middle of at the moment.

    The best thing for me to do is block out time on my iCal. Including time for emails and FB and whatever. Including time for walking on my treadmil and eating breakfast. EVERYTHING. Well, almost. *wink* And the smartest thing I do is give myself a 2 hour period I call Slush Time every single day during which I can do whatever I want. Write. Read. Watch a movie. If I don’t do that I could tend to get grumpy and rebellious.

  5. Debbi Says:

    Basically, I agree with Peg. Compartmentalize. Block out time on your calendar to perform every type of work you need to do that day. Assume it will probably take a bit longer than you think it will.

    Cluster your tasks together, so they can be performed in those blocks of time.

    Take care of quick emails, then ignore the longer ones until later (they can wait).

    Do triage. Do the hard stuff first. Get it over with. For me that’s the administrative and marketing crap. Really. 🙂

    Then after an hour or two of business stuff, just write. Period.

    That’s at least a rough approximation of my day.

    One exception: I usually blog after I’ve worked on my fiction. Not sure why that is, but it’s worked out pretty well.

    If you don’t do every single thing on your list or make your word count, it’s okay. You won’t die or anything. 🙂 You will catch up eventually.

    Just remember the words from the Hitchhiker’s Guide: Don’t Panic! 🙂

  6. Laren Bright Says:

    YOU seem to have some sort of belief that if you want to do something you have to do it. Then, if/when you choose more things to do than are humanly possible, you create pressure on ourself and end up scattered.

    Compartmentalizing works well for some people — doesn’t for me. So, one approach you might consider is to make a list of ALL the projects you think are important. Then each day, pick a couple/few and write them on a list for that day. Then (and here’s the dreaded D word) discipline yourself to work on only those projects that day — plus, of course, whatever comes up from outside that absolutely needs to be dealt with that day.

    You can also be flexible and, if you have, say, Pulped on your list one day and Mothers Day ideas start showing up, change your list. Cross out Pulped & replace it with Mothers Day.

    The bottom line is, if you have a million things going on in your mind, and you allow yourself to do that, then you will keep getting what you’ve got — less productive work done and a bunch of tension at the end of the day.

    But, of course, it’s your choice.

  7. Rachel Brady Says:

  8. Elizabeth Rose Says:

    I’m very bad at time management, so I know a bit about it. Basically I know what I should/could do. Since I don’t know you well, some, none or all of this may apply.

    Offload whatever you can. Particularly the things that publishers should do, but they’ve abdicated so that authors have to spend writing time doing business work. Don’t know the cost of marketing/promoting ebooks compared to what they bring in, but if you can find someone professional to do it whom you can trust and afford, go for it. I’ve seen information on a collective of writers marketing their ebooks together. All are authors who have been traditionally published; the thinking seems to be that readers will recognize quality work. Maybe that would save some time? Don’t know but it might be worth a look; here’s the link:

    Offload the proofreading. Either hire a professional (once again, I don’t know the economics) or get some fans (she said, volunteering) to do it. You would have to spend time teaching/explaining what you need done and how it should be done. Depending on the abilities, computer knowledge, etc. of the people concerned this might use considerable time, but in the long run might be worth it if it saves your writing/living time.

    You know you’re into too much. As Everett said, decide what can be put aside for a bit and do that so you can finish the projects that are most pressing.

    Relax – it doesn’t all have to be done today. Even good stress (like being nominated for an Edgar) takes time and energy to deal with, so you’re not going to have “normal work days” for a while. Debbi and Douglas Adams are right: “DON”T PANIC”.
    (who will happily suggest solutions to everyone’s problems except her own)

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hey, everyone — I’m answering you in depth in the next blog. In the meantime, thanks to all of you, and thanks especially for those who told me to breathe deeply.

    I can’t go to outside proofreaders because two wonderful people have already proofed the book, and the last pass has to be mine. (Even at HarperCollins I reviewed the proofer’s draft when she was done with it. There are ALWAYS MISTAKES. ALWAYS.

    Thanks for the website, Rachel. Useful across the board.

    I promise not to get fretful in public again.

  10. Larissa Says:

    hehe. I had to laugh too because I have the same problem. Being told to compartmentalize and all of that is great advice but hard to follow if you aren’t wired to do it from the beginning. That being said, I have begun to learn how to treat my projects like I treat my house cleaning. I make a to do list of all of the things that I need to do in a day and I go down that list faithfully until things are done. I also put notes to myself about what I consider a “done” status and then mark it off and move on once I reach that point. Regardless of what else is going on because I know I have to get to “x” number of other things in a day.

    It may not work for writing as much as it does for painting or making jewelry say since you sort of need to stick with the roll you’re on but having the list to root me REALLy helps (C:

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Riss, and thanks for both the laugh and the advice. I’m trying the new system, which is essentially to think in terms of one-week work units rather than one day, and assign only one major task to each day, doing them in the order of urgency. So far, so good, although the Edgar nom has created a real blizzard of correspondence and interesting offers of various kinds, all of which require time. We shall see.

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