It’s that time in January. You know, the time when the shiny newness of the year is wearing off, when all those resolutions seem annoying. Or too much work. Or inconvenient. Or impossible.
We’ve all done it: made a resolution (or many) and one by one, dropped them along the side of the path like litter.
I started making New Years resolutions as kid: “This year, I will keep my room clean.” “This year I will save half my allowance every month so I can buy …” whatever it was I thought I wanted. I made lists, very detailed. I made posters, all decorated with stars and princesses. (I really liked princess. And witches… And warrior queens…I digress. Ahem.)
Sometimes I lasted a few months. Sometimes a few weeks. Sometimes it took mere hours before I was shamefacedly dropping resolutions like balled up gum wrappers. You know, when you’ve crammed five packs of Bubble Yum, bought with your not-saved allowance, in your mouth at the same time…
It’s almost like the very act of making the resolution dooms the good intention, as if there are anti-resolution gremlins hiding out there, only activated when they hear the word “resolution,” who gleefully sneak into your brain and suck out all your willpower. (Yes, they are related to the gremlins who take your keys, wait until you’ve frantically searched the entire house, then deposit them, when your back is turned, in some terribly obvious place. They laugh while you swear.)
Tricking the Gremlins
So this year, I decided to trick the gremlins – I made no New Years resolutions. Nope. Not one.
Now, I set goals, I made plans. But I never once even let myself THINK of them as resolutions. Prompted by a verbal kick in the pants, delivered in a wonderful style by Delilah Dawson on Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds blog (which I highly recommend, as long as you’re ok with seriously — hilariously — Not. Safe. For. Work. Or Children. Or your grandmother, unless she’s a former marine.) Ahem! Starting over. Prompted by this verbal kick in the pants, I came up with what I’m calling 3 Things.
Three things a day to do.
Not five. Not ten. Not a “list.”
Usually, I have lists, and sub-lists, and linked lists. I have apps and reminders and calendars. I’ve been known to write my to-dos on my hand in Sharpie, which is a great example for my students, sigh. But I don’t need a list that devolves to things like “See House list,” or “See School list” because I’ve run out of room on whatever sadly deficient piece of paper I’m writing on
Just three things.
It goes like this: Write draft blog post. Go over book 1 ending for pacing. Check out Google Plus.
Or: Add 1000 words to book 1. (Yes, that counts as three things because it’s three times as important. What? It makes sense to me.)
Now in reality, there is usually the School 3, and the Writing 3, because I can’t ignore the day job, and it wouldn’t be fair to my students if I did.
But the beauty of this (I hesitate to call it a system, because it’s simpler than that, and it’s humble, and wouldn’t like all the notoriety or pressure of being a system), is that not only does it make the dreaded to-do list seem attainable (which leads to actually doing it, which leads to feelings of success, which is motivation to do it again…) but it keeps things contained.
I’m the person who will let the to-do list expand to and beyond any reasonable time frame. I’ve been known to spend seventeen hours on ONE class presentation, that was one day’s worth of lecture for one class – and I had three classes to prep. I’m the person who turned a few character sketches into 200,000 words of Monstrosity (which is a topic for a future post.) I’m the person who let a student asking if I’d like to have a Pearl Harbor survivor come talk to my class (are you kidding me? Heck, yeah!) morph into a college wide visit from seven of them with special escorts, TV coverage, and a state senator descending to shower them with awards (all around worth-it, but wow was that exhausting).
I don’t need help making to-do lists; I need help keeping them from turning into The Project That Ate The World.
Some days, it’s been School 3, Writing 3, and Home/Personal 3, and yes, on those days, sometimes something doesn’t get done. But I find that I just put that left-out thing (and so far, it’s not been more than one) on the next day’s list and do it then.
And if I finish up, say, revising the Crusades presentation for class, and think, ah, I need to edit the Medieval Piety presentation – I look at my Three Things; if it’s not on there, then it can wait for another day.
Mostly, the important things ARE getting done, and for an avoidant, procrastinating, monster-project creating walking mess like me, that’s awesome. Better yet, I don’t feel that awful pressure of so many undone things that usually depresses me to the point of accomplishing nothing.
In the first two weeks of the quarter, usually completely eaten up by the class-prep leviathan, I managed to prep my classes, actually grade assignments and hand them back! (praise all the gods that be), AND work out my revision scene map, novel structure, and character arcs for the big revision I’m starting on Book 1. Big projects that, written out in detail as I’d usually do, would normally have intimidated me back into huddling on the couch reading someone else’s book.
A Success Opiate?
I’ve been derailed a few days this week by a lovely three-day migraine, and didn’t accomplish many of the Writing 3 (day job, y’know is paying the bills – er, mostly, and well, having 45 people staring at you, waiting for you to tell them something they didn’t know, is an immediate kind of pressure), but I didn’t feel the usual debilitating guilt.
Today the headache faded (it snowed, which was apparently what I needed), and today I picked myself back up, and am doing my Three Things (of which this post is one).
In Rachel Aron’s great book 2,000 to 10,000: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love (which is definitely a topic for another post!) she talks about how upping your daily word count like she had was like “taking some kind of weird success opiate” and it was addicting.
So far, that’s how Three Things is for me.
I don’t need detailed lists. I don’t need fancy apps (although, god knows I have them). I just need a small tablet, and a pen to write my Three Things.
And, so far, the gremlins are staying away. smile
Anybody else have a strategy that’s working for getting productive?