Getting Shit Done

I try to average a minimum of two thousand words a day, or the time equivalent if I’m editing. It takes me roughly an hour to do fifteen hundred words, so if I work on a rough draft for an hour and make notes about whatever I am about to write or just wrote for another twenty, I’ve probably got two thousand words.

I try to do roughly ninety minutes editing daily, if I’m in that phase.

And that’s just the novel I’m working on. I’ve got a whole canon worked out, genre hopping and blending from obscure fields to common. It’s just a matter of living long enough to write it all.

You can probably add to that another five hundred to two thousand words in random shit, short stories, comic books or blog posts as well, plus a full time job, because I’m apparently insane.

Naturally, that requires a great deal of organization and motivation.

I use a sort of easy GTD method, mostly because I need flexibility to live how I want to live. I don’t mind doing four thousand words plus working eight hours in a day, but every day?

Fuck that shit. A method of organization is intended to help you live your life while still meeting your goals and obligations, not to be your master and you its slave.

And I’ve felt that way about my methods in the past, for certain.

I keep lists because David Allen is right. Trying to keep it all floating in your head makes you crazy and less effective. If it’s out of your head, somewhere you can check and see it and be reminded of it, then that’s your total obligation – check your lists to see what you could or should be doing right now.

I refuse to live or die by them, however. With the exception of the time spent working on the canon novels, absolutely none of my tasks are time or day dependent. The goal is to touch each project at least a little each day, to keep it moving forward. There are items that are time dependent (doctor’s appointments, birthdays, that kind of thing), but I work it with the explicit knowledge that all of it can be chucked at any time if a better way to peace can be found.

Sometimes, you just need a day to recharge and do nothing. Sometimes, those are the best days.

For me to do all the things I’ve laid out for myself, three primary things are required.

First, I have to live long enough to do them. That makes health a priority where it certainly hasn’t been in the past. Three of my four grandparents lived to their mid-nineties. One died only a few years older than me, of heart problems.

I have three siblings. I don’t want to be the one that dies early, though given our various habits and the state of our individual health, I’d be the odds on favourite, I’m sure.

Secondly, I need to be organized. If I have to guess what’s coming next or rethink the whole thing to figure out what I should be doing every time I complete a task, there’s no way I could be as productive as I can be. If I had to remember and rewrite a story’s outline in my head every time I finish a chapter, I’d spend forever doing nothing but and it would come out a mess.

If it’s all written out, I just need to check what comes next in the story and put it on paper.

Finally, I need focus. None of this matters if I can’t live my life with deliberate and conscious awareness of what it is that I’m doing, what I want to do and what needs to happen to get what I want.

If I’m spending all my time thinking about frustrations at the office or putting myself down for not being good enough, I’m not going to be able to focus enough to put out quality work.

And if it sounds like I’m trying to convince myself, that’s because I am. I have to fight inertia every day to get myself to keep going, to do the things I have to do if I want to have any shot at getting what I want, and still I fail, often enough to feel ashamed of it.

Every day is a struggle, but so far, I’ve been able to mostly keep up. Someday, I might not, and at that point, I hope I have the wherewithal to change, and not just give up.

Because I’ve given up far too often in the past, hit the reset button and gone on a bender of depression and self-doubt. So far, I’ve been able to get back on the horse, but usually, at square one instead of further down the line. Someday, I might not be able to, so I need methods that help me remain focused, and ways to keep myself from falling into the traps I’ve fallen into too many times in the past.

Some self-help books help with that. I may get teased at times for some of the stuff I read, but even the bad stuff has value. We can learn from it, learn how to identify shysters, con men and poseurs. We can learn what hypocrisy looks like. We can learn what not to do. What not to be.

Nothing is absolute. Even the worst of us have things they can teach us. Even the best of us have flaws to try and overcome. We’re in a period where we seem to be demanding flawlessness at every corner, but that’s not the nature of humanity. What we should be demanding is personal responsibility for one’s actions, and signs of growth to show we are learning, so we can be better in the future.

That’s hard to do when one’s life is total chaos and the mind is unfocused and undisciplined.

Of course, chaos has value as well. Like simplicity and complexity, order and chaos are so deeply intertwined as to be virtually indistinguishable lovers, locked in a dance so profoundly intimate as to be almost holy.

That’s what this methodology is intended to allow. To implement just enough order as needed to grab hold of all this chaos and turn it into something beautiful, for release into the world. To use techniques simple enough not to require all our attention, in order to harness the complexity of our lives and allow us to flow through them with as little friction and as much passion and creativity and learning and engagement as we can muster.

Not to fix an absolute path, but just to whirl in the right direction, in a dance and a song, instead of just being swept along, trying to hold in place.

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