I’ve been a little stressed at work lately because there’s a big project due. There’s no firm deadline, but it’s clearly my top priority to finish it, and there’s a lot riding on its successful completion. Yet every day I end up working on secondary tasks, not the big project. They’re easier. And it’s rewarding to cross several concrete items off the to-do list not just inch a millimeter down an enormous task list for a single project. The lower priority projects also have less at stake. The pressure to get the big project right puts a lot of weight on every step of the work.
I feel guilty about avoiding what I should be doing, but not guilty enough to get myself to work on the big project. Compounding the matter–my boss is letting me get away with it. Week after week, the big project is not done, but I settle in with the little stuff. Nothing is said. No pep talks. No earned reprimands. No redirects. No refocusing of my priorities. So this failure is partly a management problem—my boss is a pushover.
I’m betting most of you have guessed the trick–I’m a writer. I am my own boss. And my only staff person. And I am letting myself get away with murder on the job. I know this because I have very different work habits at my day job than I have at my own writing desk.
On the day job, I am efficient, focusing on the highest priority tasks first, even if they are not the most fun. Even if they are tedious. Or difficult. Even if I’m stuck on how to get them done.
At my writing desk, however, I am the queen of spontaneous googling; keeping the inbox empty; tidying unnecessarily; finding more research to do; or exploring ideas for the next project (once this big one is finished). This lackadaisical approach to work is sabotaging my writing career before it even gets started. I need to figure out how to motivate myself; how to stay on task; how to focus. How to stop doing the easiest, most comfortable, or most straightforward tasks first.
As they say, awareness is the first step towards change. What, exactly, needs to change, however is not clear. The problem isn’t ‘me’ per se, or my skills—I can be effective–the day job proves that. What I lack is self-management—how to get myself to do what needs to be done on my own work. I have to become a better self-boss. [Read more…]