Monday, January 24, 2011

Taming That To Do List

If you’re like me, you no doubt had lots of plans and goals (not resolutions!) for this year. And if you are like me, you may already be feeling a teensy bit overwhelmed by all that you want to accomplish. My year’s to do list looks something like this:

Write 2nd #medievalFrenchteenassassinbook
Revise 1st #medievalFrenchteenassassinbook
Redesign and relaunch website
Promote 4th Theodosia book (pubs April 2011)
Promote 4th Nathaniel Fludd book (pubs April 2011)
Create Marketing plan for above
Attend agency retreat (Austin, TX, April)
Teach one day session at SB Writer’s Conference (June)
RWA Nationals
SCBWI Nationals?? (August)
Attend first World Fantasy Con in San Diego (October)
Write weekly entry for Shrinking Violets
Write weekly entry for GeekMoms
Write entries for my own blog
Participate in Enchanted Inkpot
Write entries for Theodosia blog
Comment more on other people’s blogs

That doesn’t even count the big personal To Do items like:
Do my taxes
College search for son
Get son settled in said college
De-clutter house of twenty years worth accumulated crap

So where do I even start? If I think of all that I have to do, I immediately feel fragmented and overwhelmed.

As introverts, our energy for this stuff is finite and we have to use it wisely so that we gain maximum benefits without draining our battering to the emergency levels. How do we do that?

And that’s when I realized that my word for the year really does need to be TRUST rather than confidence. Not only do I need to trust in myself a lot more than I do, but I need to trust that I will be able to get to what needs to be done.

Even so, when I look at that To Do list, I have to dig deep to find that trust. Trust that I can get to everything, trust that the things I don’t get to won’t really matter in the end, that if I just keep washing my bowl and washing it the best way I know how, that will be enough.
But trust isn’t much help in prioritizing.

True prioritizing has to come from a deep, centered place and takes more than a cost benefit analysis. We have to understand on the deepest level what our life and career goals are.

At this point in my life, my priorities are:

  1. My family (But they are all very independent and (mostly) on their own now, so require much less of me.)
  2. My health (Which seems so obvious but I am willing to bet I am not the only woman here who has put that on the back burner for far too long.
  3. Writing (Although sometimes, quite honestly, writing comes before health, which I need to work on.)

Looking at those two lists side by side, another word I almost chose for 2011 kept floating around in my head: nourish. I got to thinking about trusting and nourishing almost being a complete directive on their own.

But to reach our dreams, and find the energy to tend to the business side of our dreams, something more was required. Perseverance.

Suddenly I had a To Do List Triage Protocol in place; a veritable Holy Trinity of words to use as my guiding principles as I pursue all that I want to do this year. By asking how the items on my To Do List help me achieve my goals by building trust, nourishing, or helping me persevere when it is required, voila! My priorities suddenly became much clearer. I was able to identify those tasks that are most central to my life/professional goals.

The unpleasant truth is, there are lots of tasks that simply have to be on our To Do list so we may continue to do what we love. And that’s where the word persevere comes in. If you are a published writer, a lot of those To Dos probably pertain to the business side of things. But here’s the kicker: YOU get to decide precisely which business things those entail. It could be blogging, Twitter, compiling a massive mailing list for postcard mailings upon the publication of your next book, putting together kick @ss brochures for school visits, teaching at a conference, whatever you are comfortable with.

Remember that no one can do it all, and no one really expects you to. (And if they do, send them over to see me and we’ll have a heart-to-heart wherein I will set them straight.) You will be the most effective in those promotional or marketing activities you actually enjoy or, barring that, can find a way to hate less. ☺

So now it’s your turn. Can you spend some time developing a To Do List Triage Protocol? I can personally recommend the three word approach. It’s totally freed me up. AND, if you share your ideas with us, I will enter you in the drawing to win a signed copy of THE LATTE REBELLION by our very own Sarah Stevenson! (Not even introverts can resist that offer!)


Heather Hellmann said...

My writing goals are: start querying in the spring, and finish my second novel. My life goal is to get hired as a teacher.

Becky Levine said...

It's so hard to put that Health priority in front of the Writing one, but if I want to keep writing forever... yeah, okay! :)

Kenda Turner said...

Your idea of a word triage intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try. Here're my words and, like you, I hope to draw inspiration from them as I face my never-ending to-do lists: Aim, Grow, Courage. Thanks for giving food for thought!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I recently did an exercise along these lines, except what I did was list the activities on which I spend my time. I put them in 2 columns: activities that make me happy; activities that don't make me happy (but which I was doing because I thought I should). I've already started doing more of the former and less of the latter.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Excellent,Heather. Being so clear on your goals makes them just that much more reachable.

Becky, excellent point about the necessity of putting health before writing if one wants to write forever. Hadn't thought of it quite that way before. Duh.

So glad you like the idea of the three words, Kenda, and I really like the ones you've chosen.

Wow Jenn, such a simple concept, but so huge. I might have to try that, too. I love the idea of doing more of what I love and a lot (LOT) less of what I don't.

Sherrie Petersen said...

I like Jenn's idea too. Of course, I say this as I sit next to a frightening pile of laundry that isn't going to put itself away...and somehow I don't think I can ignore it even though it would definitely NOT be on the "things I love to do" list :)

Angela said...

Great post! Just stopping by to let you know I gave you an award on my blog:

R.L. LaFevers said...

LOL, Sherrie! Yeah, laundry absolutely DOES belong on the not like list.

So glad you liked the post, Angela. And thanks for the award! ::off to check it out::

Unknown said...

Since I'm on a "break" - aka in the middle of a writing session - I haven't got time to come up with my Triage Protocol, but love the idea & plan to do it a.s.a.p. Also love Jen's double list exercise - a definite must do, as I have a hard time prioritizing.

Right now? I'm trying to stick to the 1,000 Words a Day Project on two WIPs long enough for it to become a habit. Oh and focusing on my health is definitely a top priority.

CT said...

My to-do list was in the form of a pyramid, but that seemed a bit too rigid. Your ideas are helping me to re-formulate! Thanks! I don't have a trio of words yet. Only one--ask.

Anonymous said...

I actually follow a "Pay yourself first" strategy that I picked up from investing. Instead of putting whatever is left at the end of the month into savings, that money is set aside first. So while I'll drop everything when a family member is sick, hurt or celebrating, I take my most productive hours in the morning and dedicate them to my writing after spend ten minutes to do sit-ups and push-ups. (Even though my weight fluctuates, this stops the saggies and helps maintain muscle mass.) I fill other things during the day.

Elizabeth Loupas said...

I keep one master list where I write everything down, roughly categorized by "work," "home" and "fun," and cross-categorized by "hafta" and "wanna." (This sounds more complicated than it really is.) Then every morning I pick out the day's haftas and a couple of wannas and transfer them to a list widget I have on a sidebar on my computer monitor. Out of sight is indeed out of mind to me, so I need them right in front of me!

I also have a monthly calendar set to load when I turn my computer on--this keeps track of date-related stuff like birthdays and meetings. They also get transferred to the daily list as they come up.

I try to have at least one fun/wanna every day, although some days are better than others in this regard. :)

Anything that gets transferred to the daily list has to be something I can actually get done that day. If the master list has something like "Write novel" (!), the daily list will get "Write the scene in chapter seventeen where blah-blah does blah-blah to blah-blah." Items get crossed off the master when all their parts are complete.

When I try to write it all out it sounds so complicated, but it really isn't! Maybe it's just because I've been doing it this way for so long.

Regina said...

I just remember to breathe. The rest will come at a natural pace. I get things done eventually. I work better under pressure.

Anonymous said...

I never really thought about prioritizing my to do list in terms of life goals. What a great idea. As is Jenn's idea of making lists of what to do and what makes her happy. Instead of resolutions, I opted for New Year reminders and I try to rank items on my list with those in mind. This definitely helps avoid the panicky when-will-I-ever-get-it-all-done feeling. One of my reminders is "it takes as long as it takes."

Tonja said...

What you said about perseverence definitely resonated with me.

I just prioritized my list for the next six months and approached it in terms of resource allocation - like a project manager would in a normal workplace. If you realistically look at the time you have available compared to the time needed for each "project" and are overallocated, you have to start with one or two that are the most important. The rest simply need to be moved to the project list with no guilt.

Obviously, my kids can't go on the wait list....

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I just found your blog, courtesy of CYNSATIONS, and this post so exactly describes my life - right down to having a child looking for college and having to get settled there in the fall! - that I just had to comment. Your advice on prioritizing and many of the suggestions in the comments are wonderful. I'm definitely always trying to do more than I have time for! (Including my new blog which, as you say, is a choice, but kind of a necessary one!) Looking forward to coming back here!

Kenda Turner said...

Just a heads up...I've passed the word along about your great blog--and posted something for you over at my place!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Catie—most excellent that you stayed ‘on task’ and didn’t break to come up with your own protocol! And I agree with the excellent-ness of Jen’s double list.

Wow Carol, a pyramid shaped To Do list. That seems like it would be daunting. And ask is such a great word. I have to constantly remind myself to take that risk—to ask.

YES, Kristin! Yes, yes, yes. Pay yourself first is GOLDEN.

Elizabeth, I will admit your list sounds complicated, but I really love the concept of ‘hafta’ and ‘wanna’. Brilliant. And I have not activated my online calendar yet, maybe that should be something I try to incorporate this year…

Ha. I can’t tell you how often I remind myself to do just that, Regina; breathe.

Angela, I do agree that ranking things on your list is a terrific way to prioritize. And yes, it takes as long as it takes, whether it’s a novel, a blog post, or getting one’s taxes done. ☺

Tonja, yep, treating our own To-Do’s like a project manager is a great way to allocate one’s time and resources. I also once heard someone say that every day, you should pick the three most important things you wanted to get done that day. More than three just increased the odds you wouldn’t get enough accomplished, while three whittled your priorities down to absolutely accomplishable size.

Hey Susanna! So glad you found us! Cynthia is such a great source for kid lit stuff. And how funny that our to-do’s are so similar, especially with the college seeking child. And please do come back when time allows!

Thanks so much, Kenda!

Laura Ruby said...

Thanks for this post, Robin. For years now, my to do list has consisted of one item: make a to-do list. I resisted because if I even thought too long about all I had to do, I got tired and discouraged. (Of course, without a list of priorities, I've been confused and ineffective.)

I finally made one, and it was as horrible as I thought. One thing I did do was split the list up into three categories: writing, marketing/publicity, and teaching/critiquing. Then I circled the most important two things in each category. Since my words for this year are courage and balance (can't think of a third), my writing gets my best brain hours, students get the good hours, and twitter/blogging/blah blah blah gets the good enough hours each day. I've already managed to cross a couple of things off the list, which feels great.

Thanks again for the suggestions and the inspiration!

-- Laura