Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Priorities and Intrusions

Every Monday, my Outlook reminder dings incessantly to remind me that Monday's are Blog Post Days. Until I finish the task and hit the COMPLETED button, I see and hear a constant memorandum of my Number One Monday work priority. I've established a standard priority for each day of the week--EDITOR/AGENT CONTACT DAY, PROPOSAL REVIEW DAY, CONTRACT PREP DAY, MANUSCRIPT READING DAY--and no matter what else happens on that particular day, I try to give top billing to my Priority du jour.

Without fail, there are always a host of competing tasks fighting to take precedence over my established daily priorities. (The number one offender on most days is the sirens' call of incoming e-mails.) This Priority tug-of-war never ends. I am always arguing with myself as to whether or not the pull of the urgent trumps the importance of my pre-established goals.

Since it is now Tuesday. . .and I'm just now getting around to posting a blog entry. . .you can correctly assume that another priority usurped top billing on my Monday Priority list. I had to attend a funeral yesterday. In this case, there was no debate as to whether the Urgent should overrule my Monday Priority.

Temptations abound for a writer to forgo what should be the immediate, Number One priority for the lure of another, more immediately gratifying task. When she should be researching the historical accuracy of a scene, she might find it much more enjoyable to invite new friends to her Facebook page. When she should be completing the first draft of her story, she may be tempted to rework her first chapter for the umpteenth time before she's ready to move on. Rather than tackling the dirty work of a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, she gives in to the urge to read the Amazon reviews of her last project. I can (sheepishly) testify to the validity of these statements from personal experience. Hence, my steady stream of Outlook reminders to keep me on task.

While I agree with Ecclesiastes 3--that there is a "time for every purpose under heaven...," I am always at odds with knowing just how to discover what and when those times/purposes should be. In times of competing priorities, how do you stay on task? In the barrage of all-good-and-well tasks begging for your time and attentions, what tools do you employ to ensure you've chosen wisely?


Mary Connealy said...

I set a daily goal of words.
1000 words a day. And that's forward progress, too. If I cut a lot of words, then I need to replace them and STILL add 1000 words.

I try to accomplish that without fail five days a week.

I sometimes write more and I try not to beat myself up if I write less. I just start again tomorrow. But growing that WIP is my first priority.

I am so easily lured away by email and blogging and other distractions. I suspect, if I wasn't so busy with that stuff I could be writing 3000 words a day.

Which would mean I could really get a book done fast.
I've tried to raise that level a few times. It used to be 300 words a day and I have switched to 1000, but I can't make 2000 stick, at least for now.

Debby Mayne said...

This is an interesting topic, Susan. With all the enticements--e-mail, blogs, phone calls, TV talk shows, shopping--it's easy to let the day get away without meeting goals. I have to set weekly and daily priorities, or I lose sight of what I have to do.

Like Mary, I have a daily writing goal, only mine is focused on the number of pages rather than word count. I'm also a list-maker, and I put every single thing that's important (writing, teaching, housework, and exercise) on a list that I check off after each task is done. At the end of the day, I'm rewarded by a bunch of crossed-off items that give me a sense of accomplishment. And since I keep this list on the kitchen counter in front of the coffee pot, everyone in my family knows what I've done all day without having to ask.

Candice said...

I use Outlook Reminders. I call them Outlook Nags. There are some days that I think if the alarm rings one more time, I'm going to get the shotgun.

Cara Putman said...

Outlook tasks and reminders are my friends. I also use an excel spreadsheet as my "timecard." I use it to track word count and see if I'm getting done what I need to. Sometimes life interferes, but these tools help me immensely.

CHickey said...

Yay! I'm not alone in my ADD. We should form a club!

Marcia Gruver said...

You guys have great tools! I need to borrow someone's toolbox!

This is a timely post for me, Susan. In the aftermath of illness and a hurricane, I need a wakeup call to get me back to my priorities. Or maybe an Outlook reminder?

1000 words a day? Really. I’d best get to work.

Mary Connealy said...

I have also created a yahoo group with only myself as a member and I only use the calendar. I have my whole LIFE on that thing.
It must be about the same as Outlook Reminders, whatever those are.
I get an email reminding me of what I have to do today. Post here or there, book due, fill out my payroll form at work, dentist. On and on and on.

Becky said...

What do those people do who have gotten really good at ignoring Outlook Reminders? Maybe Mary's emails would be more helpful to me -- though I'd probably ignore those too. Always something more pressing (or fun) to do.

Susan Downs said...

I like the yahoogroup idea, Mary. I may give it a try. . .a group of one. I could be my own fanclub.
So, do you schedule exercise time in on your Yahoo reminders??? I've spent all day many a day wearing my workout clothes in hopes of eventually making it to the treadmill, but I end up just sleeping in them instead.

Marcia, I'm glad to see you're back to work after all your major interruptions. We missed seeing you at ACFW!