Friday, 31 March 2017

Productivity - A Cautionary Tale

An ordinary morning, on an ordinary working day. I am seated at my desk, waiting for that vital first cup of coffee to activate my brain enough that I will be able to get dressed and take my dog out. 

This is Emily. Isn't she divine?
I check Facebook. Spam, spam, Trump, vaguebook post from drama queen, baby pictures, deerhounds, wolfhounds, cats. The usual. And then I see the Facebook Memories post. 

I can never resist these. I ALWAYS click on See More Memories. I can't resist revisiting past joys, and mourning again over the sad things. It's mostly about books I've read, and medical sagas with sick animals. But this morning I came across something I posted on this day one year ago. I'm going to quote it here:

For all those who don't believe in the magic of a daily wordcount - I'm approaching the finish line with my new book. Still on track to finish next month, despite having taken a week out to work on something else. In fact, had I not done that, I might have finished it this month. Why is this interesting? Because I only started this book on 11 January.
Track your wordcount, people! It really works!

So far so good, right? Why wasn't I misty-eyed with pride and happiness as I looked back on this moment? I suspect those of you who've been writing for a while will know.

Because a year later, that first draft still remains unfinished. 

What went wrong, you ask? You may well ask. I had set myself a daily wordcount goal, and I KEPT to that goal. In 2016 I wrote 211,725 words. That should have been several full-length novels finished. But instead, despite achieving well on the task level, I was completely undisciplined on the project level. I frittered away my effort switching randomly between things. Let's see where the time went.

I wrote most of that novel, four long stories, seven short stories, two and a half novellas, parts of several other stories, and some material for the new edition of Grammar Without Tears. I also did revisions on my historical novel. That and a single novella was all I published last year. I kept dropping what I was working on to start something new, and generally behaved in a grasshopperish manner, with the result that I finished almost nothing. As far as my project goals went, I attempted twenty-five things and accomplished six of them.

This hopping from one thing to another is the death of achievement. I think my experience last year demonstrates this. If I'd carried on like this when I was in paid employment, I'd have been out of a job.

What I Did About It

I'd already been aware of my productivity defects before the beginning of this year, and as one of my CPD courses this summer was The No Excuse Zone*, I started the year with a more disciplined approach and what I hope is a realistic plan. I have six things I want to accomplish this year, as follows:

  1. New edition of Grammar Without Tears
  2. Companion volume to Grammar Without Tears
  3. Two long stories or perhaps novellas
  4. Two short stories.

The project plan calls for all of these things to be finished and ready for submission or publication, and the companion volume is the only one I'm aiming actually to publish this year. So far, most of it is drafted, so I think I can do it. Of course, this means I've had to leave on the back burner a whole host of things that are also drafted, and partly drafted, but I'll get to those next year. IF I finish all my goals, I'll be able to work on something else. This gives me a little incentive to keep going, now that all the fun part of the year's project is pretty well over.

I realise that I can't tout this solution as a proven method, but twenty years in I.T. tell me it's got as good a chance of success as anything I can think of. My gut feeling tells me I need to finish this novel, and that novel (I've got two at about 80% drafted), but twenty years of experience is screaming at me not to listen to it. Time will tell if I'm right or not.

* The No Excuse Zone is a terrific resource for project planning, at a very reasonable price - at the time of writing it is actually free, and you are asked to pay afterwards what you think it was worth. You can find it here: NO EXCUSE ZONE.

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