Writing + an effortless life = attainable goal??

This afternoon I followed an EC Sheedy tweet to Leo Babauta’s blog about an effortless life. I’m sceptical of effortless, but I could handle easier,  and when EC posts words of wisdom I generally check it out because she’s – well, wise.

I was entranced by Babauta’s blog, and impressed by the power of synchronicity. Last week I posted a blog entitled Necessary Lies, Steven Covey, and this writer here and on PenWarriors.com, discussing my recent productivity struggles, which mirrored a pattern described in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I mentioned in the blog, I felt an immediate change in energy and productivity when I tried applying Covey’s  Habit 3: “First Things First”

After a productive week applying First-Things-First I’m looking around for wisdom on how to keep my new #1 task free of other members of the numbers tribe (2, 3, 4, 5 … to 3,458 of my should-do’s)

Enter EC Sheedy –> Leo Babauta

Babauta’s post announces that he’s about to publish a new book, The Effortless Life, but while I’m waiting for the book, he has a few tips.

The first tip is beautiful in its simplicity – Babauta describes it as counterintuitive: Do Less

Less = More? Maybe this is the new math that I missed being punished with – I was too early and my kids too late for that educational debacle.

Babauta explains: “I … believe in doing the important things. Do less, and you’ll force yourself to choose between what’s just busywork, and what really matters. Life then becomes effortless, as you accomplish big things while being less busy.”

My writer’s logic likes this a lot. I know that when I have a word limit on a story and I’m forced to write shorter, I usually feel the result is more powerful than the longer version. I get where Babauta is coming from. I don’t know if I’m going to act on his tip #1, but I’m certainly going to think about it.

If my mental (or, lately, written) to-do list has half a dozen urgent things on it – what if I cut that down to 2 and forbid myself from doing the others?

I get twitchy just thinking about it, but maybe “getting twitchy” is a signal that I should think about it. Or maybe, as Star Treck’s Bones once said about Spock, “(S)He’s not firing on all thrusters.”

Babauta’s seven tips are definitely worth reading. the author says his book should be out soon and I’ll be watching for it. I want to read more about Babauta’s Zen-ish take on productivity through simplicity.

I don’t have much practice with simplicity. When a new idea or project wanders across my path, I tend to behave like one of my miniature Australian Shepherds, sniffing after the shiny new thing and failing to resist the urge to herd it!

Necessary Lies, Steven Covey, and this writer…

This blog first appeared at PenWarriors.com

The novel I’m now working on – Truth to Tell (TTT) – has surpassed all my other books by having the longest gestation period on record. I conceived of the idea over two years ago when I wrote a couple of scenes, then stalled and put it aside to work on other priorities. Months later I picked the project up again and realized that I had a good character, but the story needed work.

I brainstormed TTT at a Red Door retreat with with the PenWarriors, and came up with a story that seemed fine–but I didn’t touch it again for months. When I did finally return to TTT, I realized my heroine needed a completely different story – and finally the story caught fire for me.

OK, now we’re cooking!

Part of the problem has been that in my other life as a university faculty member, I’d become involved in a long-term project that took most of my writing energy. A continuing stream of time-sensitive tasks had exhausted my creative energy.

On August 1st I started a 1-year research and program development sabbatical, which should mean that I have time for both R&D AND writing. My husband and I decided to take this chance to tour some parts of North America we’ve wanted to see, complete with my books and computer but away from my telephone so that I can focus on both the R&D and my writing.

It worked pretty well during August. I finished and published a new short story, The Broken Gate, and formulated a plan for the last few chapters of TTT. September I devoted to R&D tasks and getting started on our trip. October–

Hmm. October wasn’t looking so good last Friday when I tried to set some goals for the next week. They looked something like this:

  1. Read and critique a story for a writer friend
  2. Write four modules for the course under development
  3. Write this blog
  4. Get back to TTT

Once again, I realized, my writing had fallen to the back of the queue. When would I get time to finish TTT?

The horrifying thing was that back in mid-August when I was working on the book, I came up with a new title that was a much better fit – and I’d forgotten what it was!

I feared TTT would never get the attention it needed, but items 1, 2, and 3 were time-sensitive commitments that mattered. There was ALWAYS something urgent to get in the way.

Staring at the list I’d written, I could see that I’d fallen into the time management mess Steven Covey talked about in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where long-term projects of importance get pushed to the back of the queue because they are not as urgent as more short term and often less important tasks.

The trouble was, back when I read 7 Habits, I didn’t have a time management problem, but I certainly do now! I get a lot done, but things that are very important to me get neglected – like TTT, the book whose new name I can’t remember

First things first, says Covey’s 3rd Habit. If I don’t put long-term-core-value things that reflect my purpose and values first, they’ll never get done.

The solution: turn the task upside down. So, last Friday I rewrote the list of this week’s goals:

  1. Every day, first spend half an hour on TTT. Use a timer.
  2. Read and critique the story
  3. Complete one module for the university program each day
  4. Write the blog for Monday

Almost magically, my task list became manageable.

When would I get TTT written? First thing every day.

I’m on day 4 now and I’m amazed – it’s working! I get up early and walk the dogs with my husband, then happily settle in to work on TTT (this is my time!) – which, my Scrivener file tells me, is now tentatively retitled Necessary Lies. I give myself an hour, because 30 minutes felt too rushed. Then I make a cup of coffee and start working on R&D – I’ve completed two modules in four days, slower than my goal, but I should be able to get the targeted 4 done this week.

I read and critiqued the story Friday evening – great story. I enjoyed it. Now here I am Monday doing the blog. I just realized I’m one day late on that, because this is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I got Sunday and Monday mixed up.

I’m in touch with my book, I’m getting other tasks done, and afternoons and evenings I still have time for some sightseeing and other odds and ends – like posting character name searches from my 60,000 name database to my Twitter feed. A habit doesn’t get formed in only four days, but I’m committed – and not to a mental institution!

First things first. This week the system works for me.

I’ve got my A-I-C (a-ah-butt in chair) and it’s fun. Necessary Lies is alive for me and I don’t feel guilty about the other stuff. I realize that my time management has been suffering from “first things last” for a long time. This feels like a miracle!

Vanessa

Check out the free sample of my short story, The Broken Gate
 from Amazon.com
This story will also be appearing in the upcoming PenWarriors anthology of short stories, It Happens at Midnight