Time Management: Mastering the Ultimate Skill
by MF Wahl Views: 388
Our lives are hectic. Although many of us would love to spend all day every day writing, for most of us that’s a pipe dream. Family, work, and life obligations grow more quickly than weeds, and can easily strangle our often hard-to-find writing time. Without an idea on how to manage our time efficiently our great ideas can be left in the dust for weeks or even years.
Deborah Griggs, a.k.a. D.Kat, has the “been there, done that” T-shirt of having a busy life. She’s raised a daughter, taught at college, lived in the United States and Germany, battled leukemia, and somehow still managed to write five novels, piles of poetry, and even a dissertation. Not only does she seem to be able to do everything, she seems to be able to do it well. If we all took a page from her book we might be able to get a little more writing done.
MF Wahl: Please tell us about yourself. Who are you? What do you do?
D.Kat: I have to laugh at the question of “who am I?” What I do is easier. If I look at my activities of production, I’d say these were divided between teaching and writing. At university I taught writing, drama, literature, film, communication, and pop culture. I’ve been writing through most of my life. After that, I would say that I “do” living, pretty much like other people. I spend time being by myself and with others. I spend time with my daughter; converse with my family and friends. I have a very large extended family, and keeping track of all of them takes up some of my “doing” as well.
Most people I know would probably say I’m a headcase, but I don’t think the label is pejorative for either them or me. I accept my obsessive dedication to any project or idea at hand and the compulsive need to research almost anything at all, just for the hell of it. I don’t believe this behaviour to be a problem as long as I can rein it in when absolutely necessary. I think the most we can give to others are little splinters of our inner lives…perhaps the reason that I don’t mind sharing as much of myself as will rise to the surface. There’s so much hidden that one needn’t worry about being completely known.
MF: You seem to have your fingers in so many pies, and unlike most people in that situation, none of your pies seem to be the worse for wear. How are you able to manage your time and prioritize writing?
D.Kat: The short answer would be that I am careful about the projects I take on and that I am in tune with myself. The diversity of projects must create a balance between necessity and desire, between the different kinds of activities that I can perform and like to do. When I feel imaginative, I’ll work on first drafts; when I’m stuck there, I may edit. I don’t force myself to do a specific task if I have no affinity for it at that time—unless I’m forced to, which is less often than one might think if one doesn’t procrastinate. When my students said, “I do my best work under pressure,” I answered, “I’m pretty sure that’s because you do your work only under pressure.”
MF: We’ve all heard the old adage “work smarter, not harder”. Is there any truth to this, and if so, how does one do this?
D.Kat: The first thing that occurs to me here is the use of TM (transcendental meditation) to increase work productivity in the US. Quite seriously, I think the instrumentalization of healthy mindfulness to improve corporate productivity is typical of many “work smarter” programmes. It’s like treating for symptoms rather than the cause of an illness. The lists of “tips for better living” just boggle my mind because I think they veer people away from what I believe to be central to getting things done: finding and accepting an authentic self and then doing only work that is meaningful. I don’t mean, for example, that I should expect to be able to spend all my time writing because that’s the thing I find meaningful. When raising my daughter, meaningful work was teaching her to be self-sufficient, reading with her, taking walks, cleaning floors, or cooking. If I need money to live, the most menial work has meaning. Knowing myself means accepting what I need to do as well as what I desire to do as being equally significant and potentially satisfying tasks.
MF: Tell us how you spend the first and last hours of your day.
D.Kat: If I have a writing project at hand, I spend the first hours on that. It’s my best time for concentration. Poetry often wakes me up at three or four in the morning. Fiction is different. I have to set a schedule for the marathon that is a book.
MF: How often do you get a chance to read books?
D.Kat: I read every day. I used to read a couple of novels a week but when I was doing my dissertation (finished in 2013) I was reading philosophy. For me, reading philosophy means reading slowly and deeply. I put fiction on hold and was writing mostly poetry during that time.
MF: Do you often find yourself skipping meals so you can fit in more time to write?
D.Kat: I find myself skipping meals when I get immersed in almost any project or activity.
MF: Do you outsource any responsibilities to help you find more time (i.e. take-out food, house cleaner, dog walker, etc…).
D.Kat: Not really. I find that the tasks of everyday life are important, even vital, to connectedness to our “animal” selves and to the world that is most likely the subject of our writing.
MF: What is your workflow like when you’re writing? Give us an idea of a typical workday for you.
D.Kat: When I was teaching full time and raising our daughter and writing, I would get up at six, get my kid off to school, write for a few hours in the morning, then do classwork until she got home from school. Then I would spend time with her, often cooking and stuff; or, when she was busy with friends, reading or doing classwork, depending on the workflow from school that I could not completely control, like grading final exams.
MF: How do you maintain focus? What’s your advice to do so?
D.Kat: That is harder to answer. I have always had focus, but I do use specific places to do specific types of work. I joined a co-working space to get out of the house three times a week. I never do my own writing (fiction/poetry) there, but freelance work (creating the curriculum, translating, writing contracted pieces). I know that I like to work in places with white noise. If I feel isolated at home, I go to a café to give myself the physical feeling of social contact. If I feel distracted elsewhere, I go home. I have never had a problem turning off phones, ignoring messages, or even leaving the door unanswered. If I’m working, they can wait.
MF: Many of us get sucked into social media. Are Facebook, Twitter, or any other sites a part of your life?
D.Kat: I do Facebook because it saves me a lot of time. I can have conversations asynchronously, when I feel like it. I choose my contacts carefully. They are all alumni of my PhD programme, friends (or occasionally friends of friends) with similar interests, or my family.
MF: Do you believe in multitasking? (When making your “pies”, do you make them one at a time, or all the flavours at once?)
D.Kat: When a computer multitasks it is not doing two or more things at once. As the processor goes through its revolutions, it devotes different cycles to different tasks, thus making use of, say, server, device, or program response time to do something else “while waiting”. In this sense, absolutely. I put in the wash and then work. Hang it up and then work. Doing this helps me move around every 30–40 minutes, which is good for the back and neck.
MF: How important is caffeine to you?
D.Kat: Vital. I can give up my beloved beer in a heartbeat, but my morning coffee is a luxury I wouldn’t give up freely. I drink very strong espresso in the morning and then don’t drink any more during the day.
MF: When and how do you relax and turn it all off? Is it important for productivity to take breaks or is it better to work through the hard times?
D.Kat: This depends on the cause of the need for a break, my state of mind and body, and my assessment of need. I’m obsessive. I try to use that for good and not for evil.
MF: Thank you to Deborah for sharing your time management tips. Many of us are required to work a day job to support our authoring habit. It’s an inspiration to see another author successfully balance her life, job, and writing. Although not everyone may have the obsessive drive Deborah has it’s good to know that the juggling act is possible. Perhaps the most important piece of advice to take from all this is not to try to do it all at once. Although those that accomplish much may seem to be a cloud of activity, inside the storm we see that they still do everything one thing at a time. As Deborah mentioned, it’s worth throwing in a load of laundry while your write, or otherwise allowing yourself to automate daily life around your writing schedule. By devoting different cycles to different tasks and organizing ourselves we can all find a little more time to write. If you’re interested in learning more about D.Kat and her writing please visit her website.