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Listmania

[1] It is Monday morning and I’ve just pulled together my lists. The first is a task list for this week, written in four different colors of neon ink on a blackboard.  There is a book club on Tuesday, this blog plus another to write, some revisions on a project in process, and the rehabilitation walking and swimming for an injured knee.  I love the colors of the pens and I like feeling like there is a way to handle all the tasks coming my way.

There is also a task list for the day. I keep tablets of colored, lined Post-It notes for the daily lists.  Today’s is orange.  I highlighted “blog for WU” in pink.  I am also to walk the dog, read aloud some of the work I’m doing, and make notes.  Also, make a list of things left to be done on this particular project before I can send it to a reader.  After some thought, this one goes to the top.

Before I went out to walk (list position #2), I spent twenty minutes on the Task List for the Book, breaking it into three sub-lists (checking it off the main list). This morning, after walking Jack 1.3 miles (check), I broke the Task List into steps for the week, Monday through Friday, and printed it out.  (check)

Obsessive-Compulsive you say?  Perhaps.  If I look to my right I see a list about the marketing plan for How To Bake a Perfect Life taped to the hutch on my desk so I don’t forget  (I see that I have missed a deadline on it, already—“flesh out the plan and schedule by Sept. 15,” highlighted in pink).  On my left is a grid of things that my assistant needs for me to do, and on a small dry erase board propped up against the wall is a list of healthy living goals.

No wonder, I think, looking at all of this, that I feel crazed sometimes!  But the truth is, I have a classic artistic personality, heavy on the right brain, far less on the left.  It’s the same quality that made my family tease me about being a flake, when in fact, I am very intelligent and capable.  The right brain leaning makes me appear to be ditzy when I’ve had to spend too much time talking or being out in the world; it makes me scattered when am overwhelmed.  (Both ditzy and scattered are wont to appear at conferences.) Maybe some of you are familiar with some of these feelings and reactions.

Thus my lists and agendas.  They give me a way to manage the sense of overwhelm. If I don’t make lists, I’m trying to address five tasks at once, popping up to finish this, start that, juggling like a very bad clown.  Nothing gets accomplished.

Despite our love of the idea of multitasking, the fact is, we really only do one thing at a time.  When I focus completely on a single task, it will be done with far more efficiency and quality. Most writers are blessed with quick, sharp, wildly curious minds that run at very high speeds.  By directing focus, it’s possible for those great minds to get a huge amount accomplished.

Another trick I learned from my uncle (the psychologist) is to work in blocks of 90 minutes.  When I come back with that fresh cup of coffee, I’ll set the timer for 90 minutes and work only with that single task until the timer dings.

(Does it all sound dreadfully simplistic, my right-brained, genius friends? The more you think so, the more I suggest you try it.)

Lists are the method I’ve found to give myself structure.  It has just gone 10 am, and I have now accomplished 4 items on my list.  That gives me time to take a little break, make a fresh cup of coffee and switch gears to the main task of the day, which is that big writing task.   The left brain is happy and feels in control, so the right brain is free to come out dancing.

Are you a right or left brained person? Do you make lists to create order?  Maybe you have other tricks or techniques—please share them!

About Barbara O'Neal [2]

Barbara O'Neal [3] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [4], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [5].