Friday, October 03, 2008

Taming the Vicious To Do List

Oh personal assistant, where art though? My Muse is refusing to help me this time, so I'm sitting here wrestling with my To Do list alone. It feels like everything is urgent, important, dire if not done today, and demanding my undivided attention. Or else!

Of course that can't be true, so when I'm feeling like my to do list is chasing me around the house with bared fangs as I plead for mercy, I play The Sims. No, wait... that's escape. I must focus on this list and get it under control.

Time management is my biggest publishing challenge, even more than cash flow. There is simply not enough time in one day to get everything done. Managing the press, editing manuscripts, developing projects, blogging, fulfilling orders and keeping up with correspondence is a full days work. Plus I'm a mom, which has its own set of responsibilities. Oh yeah, and then laundry, which is NEVER done... but we won't go there right now.

To get my To Do list back on a leash, I refer to the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. You've probably heard the hype around his book, but I'm telling you, it is a sanity saver.

First, I just write everything down in one long list:

-Finish Revising Manuscript
-Finish First Draft of Play for D
- Read Jody's new manuscript
- Read new submission
- Edit chapter from V
- Revise full length play
- Third Quarter Receipts and Inventory
- Pay Royalties
- Finish Cover Designs
- Create Promotional Materials

The list keeps going but these are the highlights.

Next, I get out another, large piece of paper and break it into four areas. These areas are called

Urgent and Important
Urgent and Not Important
Not Urgent, but Important
Not Urgent and Not Important

Then I take some time to really evaluate each task. At first, everything will seem Urgent, but if you step back and think about what you need to do, you'll realize you probably have more time to get things done than you realized.

I figure out what is Urgent and Important by deciding what needs to be done TODAY, or within a few days. What has the biggest, looming deadline? Finishing the revision of my book so it can go to the copy editor by Monday is an urgent task that takes priority over everything else. The next Urgent task is helping the designer get the cover done this weekend. I put those two in the Urgent and Important box. Don't fill the box up with too many tasks or you're letting the To Do list off its leash again.

The next box is Important and Not Urgent. The play I'm writing for D can go there. Once the other two tasks in Urgent and Important are complete, I'll move D's play to Urgent status. I'll also add V's revisions and Jody's book to this Not Urgent box.

I have to look at that word "Important." Of course, everything is important and needs to be done, but perhaps some of those things can take less priority. As much as I love working on my full length play, it isn't Important right now. So I'll put this in the Not Important and Not Urgent box. I'll put Quarter Three bookkeeping in here as well. Of course this is important, but once the other "Important" tasks are done, I'll move both of these up into the Important box.

Just because you label something as Not Important or Not Urgent doesn't mean it stays there and never gets done. Everything gets moved around.

What about the new submission? That will have to wait in the Not Urgent and Not Important Box for now. Preparing the new promotion? I'd better add that to Not Urgent but Important.

As for the Not Important but Urgent Box, that's where I put things like laundry, groceries, vacuum floor, water plants and clean the fish tank.

After putting tasks in little boxes my To Do list doesn't seem so blood thirsty and I am able to focus on the task at hand. Which means I should stop blogging and get back to work revising my book.

For more excellent ideas on time management and achieving your life's purpose, read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I used to think it was a bunch of self-help hooey, too. But once I actually read the book and started using the exercises, I saw an immediate change in my life. For example, I started Medusa's Muse.

No comments: