Breaking Tasks into Time Pieces

When I’m pressed for time, I sometimes put writing off, even though it’s one of my favorite things to do. So over these last few weeks, I decided to do what I do when I’m convinced I have no time to garden in my yard. Like, “I can’t weed right now, I’ve got to take make dinner soon and the perennial garden is a mess. I need more time on another day to clean it up.” I trick myself. I promise myself that I’m only going to work for a set amount of time: half-hour, hour, hour and a half, whatever. This gives me a hard stop in my head. I promise myself a small, attainable goal that I can reach. I give myself an out. If I just weed one-sixth of the perennial bed, and the rest is still a mess, that’s okay. It’s what I promised myself.

This works. I always do at least the originally allotted amount of time. More often than not,  I go beyond the allotted time. A half-hour passes and I’m on a roll. I’m into it. I’m cleaning up the weeds and seeing bare dirt and I want push on. I want to make at least half the border look good, then I’ll go in. And that is what I do. I’m not going to say, “And then I cleaned up the entire border and I’m awesome!” I do just the second, slightly bigger goal and that’s it.

You’d be surprised what can be accomplished in an hour. (I know this from working as a professional gardener on the clock.) Sometimes an entire area can be cleaned up. Sometimes not. The p0int is you gave yourself a limit and you achieved something within it. It’s not quite so overwhelming anymore. It’s in pieces. It’s downright manageable. And often, because it was simpler and more doable than you thought, you end up inspired to do more the next day.

Writing is a bit different. You have to psychologically be in a quiet space. It’s harder to transition into. But I find, even if it’s opening a file I’ve already written and tweaking it, that if I try, something good gets accomplished. Even a little something. And then I’m able to have the words in my head later, it’s on my mind again for ideas. I get back into living in the story. Then I’m more apt to say to myself, “OK, you have an hour before lunch, let’s just dive in and start typing. See what happens.” It’s almost the National Novel Writing Month approach. Just do it! Don’t procrastinate because it won’t be good. Just dive in and see what happens. I finally bought in to that approach this last November. What happened was I finished  the draft of a bad, clunky novel. But I accomplished that at least. Now my goal is to revise it whenever I have a free half-hour, hour, or longer here and there.

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