#NaNoWriMo: Cracking the WIP

Morning, guys; how’d that Thanksgiving writing go? Eat a little too much or not enough?

Me? Oh, I’m writing this WHILE running on the elliptical, if that tells you how much I need to get done today (and how much deliciousness I shoved in my brown-sugar-n-squash hole yesterday).

*wastes five minutes trying to get a shot of himself and laptop on elliptical, while running, using the cell phone he’s also listening to music on… and crashes his phone*

Dammit, there goes my music. Hang on. This ain’t working.

*finishes workout*

*has shower*

*walks dogs*

*gets locked out of room*

*sits down, corrects all the typos in the first part of the post, and proceeds*

Okay. Right then. All that nonsense in the gym gave me an idea for the post today. Let’s talk about:

The Lie of Multi-tasking.

Here’s the basic Lie of Multi-tasking:

“It works.”

Allow me to offer a counter argument:

“Sod off; no it doesn’t.”

“Time Management” is the sort of catch-phrase that makes people nod along when it’s mentioned and roll their eyes when no one’s looking. Books like First Things First and Getting Things Done are often quoted, rarely read, and even more rarely put into use. (Or, if they are, become a ritual of masturbatory to-list-maintenance that doesn’t actually accomplish anything, but which looks really good. Productivity Porn, is what it is.)

Now, I read both books because I put together a class on Time Management and my audience (a lot blue-collar guys in management roles) needed to get better at it but were never going to take the time to read a couple books and boil all that stuff down to something they could use. The end result of all that research was a two-hour class during which the students get a blank pocket notebook and a double-sided business card on which I printed the entire ‘manual’ for the class.

Let me see if I can boil it down for you even further, because none of us have time to read a couple books right now, either.

Most of that class focuses on Doing, because we suck at Doing. Between people interrupting us and babbling away with no provocation, reminders from our email and calendar, our phones, Twitter, IM clients, facebook, Tumblr, new readers, and… you know… a life, it’s just hard to block out some uninterrupted time and then actually use it for whatever task it was intended to be used for.

So we try to do two things at the same time.

Proof that I am not that smart sometimes.
Proof that I am not that smart sometimes.

You know: Write while visiting with family. Write while making lunch. Write while… anything. While running on the elliptical, maybe.

I’m mentioned in at least one other post this month that there are very few activities during which I’ll multi-task; I think the list includes “folding laundry” and “watching a TV show” and then ends. Pretty much anything in my life that I think is important enough to do, I think is important enough to get my full attention — when that doesn’t happen, the end result of the two ‘intermixed’ activities usually sucks.

I mean… yeah, if I tell you “I’m going to try to write a blog post while running on the elliptical”, it doesn’t take a genius to say “dude, that’s going to suck, and both things will suck as a result”. (Yes, I know: I didn’t figure it out until I tried it, but I’m not that smart sometimes.)

Let me propose this theory: every single activity you try to mix with some other activity will suck just as bad as “typing on the elliptical”, but you may not notice it right away.

I sort of forgot that rule — I did a lot of juggling yesterday so I could sneak off down to my sister’s laundry room and get some writing done (sitting on her dryer with my netbook up on a workbench next to it), and it left me with the false impression that I could juggle things even more tightly — that I could actually do something while doing something else at the same time. The efficiency!

Again, I’m not too smart sometimes.

We’ve got a four days left on this NaNoWriMo project of ours. Thanksgiving was fun, but the time for family/writing juggling is done. It’s time to Crack the WIP.

That means focus.

So, here’s a few rules I (try to) follow to help me DO during those times I have allocated for Doing.

1. Focus on one task at a time.

  • Think of the schedule for my day on Tuesday; the focus on a single task doesn’t have to go on for hours at a time. If you get on a writing streak, sure, but it doesn’t have to be that way. 30 minute sprints. 20 minutes? Sure. Whatever works.
  • Eliminate all distractions. Shut off Twitter, Gmail, YIM, AIM, GTalk. Close your door, if you can. Make sure the cat, dog, kids, spouse, and coworkers are all are fed.
  • Don’t multi-task, and don’t let yourself get interrupted.

2. Seriously, don’t #*$#ing Multitask.

Multitasking: the fine art of avoiding two things you don’t want to do by working on both of them simultaneously.

The supposed efficiency of multitasking is an illusion — it hurts your productivity, increases the chance of error, and generally makes the end product of your work suck more than it should. Don’t do it.

The human brain is amazing in many many ways, but it positively sucks at concentrating on two things at once. As soon as you try, you can guarantee you’ll miss something important.

3. Control Who Has Access to You

Stop and think about something for a second: who has unrestricted access to you at virtually any time?

Ask yourself, seriously, because it says a lot about who you are.

I set my GTalk Status as Busy most of the time because I know that there are very few people who will be comfortable sending me an instant message anyway (provided they feel they have a good reason). Here’s a happy (non-) coincidence: the people that know me well enough to ignore that message are the people on my All Access list.

4. No one else gives a crap if you Finish.


No they don’t.

Not even him. Not her either. No one.

Not even me; I’m distracting you RIGHT NOW with this post.

You are the only person who cares about getting your story done, and the only way to make that happen is to viciously (perhaps anti-socially) defend the blocks of time you set up to write.

You must do this. You must be cruel. Crack the WIP. Make everyone obey.

Even you.

Get back to work.

Have fun.

Much love to Rowan Larke, who coined the phrase “Crack the WIP” on Twitter a few days ago, and graciously gave me permission to use it here.