Accomplishing a Goal vs. Completing Your To-Do List


How do you spend your writing days?

Leo at Zen Habits offers up this guest post on his blog from Collis Ta’eed on productivity. Thanks to Darren Rowse of ProBlogger for the link!) As a true-blue Pinay, I have may days — hell, my weeks — of uncomfortable non-productiveness. You know, the days where you start out thinking that an episode of Flight of the Conchords sounds like an awfully good way to start off the morning, and then five hours later you realize that not only have you seen half of the first season, you’ve also somehow managed to find your way to YouTube and watched all their concert videos. Twice.

Uhm, not that I’ve ever done that, of course.

My schedule generally looks something like this:

5:30 — Wake up.

6:00 — Get up.

6:15 — Drive B. to work.

6:30 — Either run or do yoga, depending on the day.

7:30 — Breakfast

8:00 — Check out email, feeds. Lately, this has been taking longer and longer, but I’m working on learning how to skim through my bulging Google Reader account to really digest only those that’s really critical to my work. (Note to bloggers out there who don’t offer their full feeds: Stop it. Get off your high horse and offer the entire feed on your RSS. Seriously, you’re missing the point of RSS, people. Getting only a partial feed on half my accounts means that I end up having to open up two dozen or so windows just to be able to read the rest of your damn self-important post on your Web site. I theoretically understand why you do it [want to track the metrics on your blog more accurately, want to avoid scrapers, etc.], but honestly, it just serves to annoy people. Plus, trust me, people will find a way to scrape your blog no matter what you do. So you might as well make it easy on people to find and enjoy your content. Right now I’m in the process of unsubscribing to any sites that don’t offer full feeds.)

10:00-10:30 — Leave the house and head to cafe. My favorite local cafe has become Cups Coffee House, run by the local Hospice. They have the best coffee and the cheapest cafe au lait at $1.50. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the most laptop-friendly tables, but it’ll do, and the Victorian home is gorgeous.

10:30-12:00 — Write. Follow-up with editors on assignments, queries.

12:30 — Lunch. Usually a sandwich.

1:00 — Write and research some more. Transcribe any interviews.

5:00 — Pick up B. at work and head home.

6:00 — Crash on couch and watch a little TV.

7:00-9:00 — Make and eat dinner. Clean up.

9:00 — Get ready for bed. Read some more, asleep by 10 or 10:30.

Now, looking at that schedule, I think, Well, that sounds pretty humane. Unfortunately, half the time I end up having to do non-work-related tasks like housekeeping chores (mostly happens when I’m working at home and the laundry pile beckons), or spending way too long reading the newspaper, or scouring or for cool new stuff. I have a day planner that’s always filled with assignments, but only half are ever completed as scheduled. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but as my goal for this year is to enable me to work full-time from home and pull in a five-figure income (I’m flexible on the goal, as it’s my first full year attempting this without the cushion of a steady day job), I think I really need to step up the activity.

Collis has some great points on this post, and I intend to read it again and again to glean inspiration as I continue my quest to strip the non-essentials from my schedule. Right now I’m still doing research for the novel and now have several assignments to complete. For the moment my goal is to do the following towards the fulfillment of those tasks:

  • Write all my assignments and their due dates on the white board next to my desk. It’s a pretty small board, not much bigger than a world atlas, but I plan to get a bigger one in the next month.
  • Limit my RSS reading to one hour a day. I get a lot of my ideas from reading other people’s blogs, but I need to streamline the process so that I can actually do something about those ideas other than store them away in my Google Notebook.
  • Write at least a page in my novel a day. This is going to be tough, but I’m starting to get a better handle on some of the trickier aspects of the story, namely, the relationship between my protagonist and a secondary female character (who appears to be becoming a primary character). Still, as NaNoWriMo proved to me, I don’t necessarily have to know every single angle of my story before I start to write. If I were to continue down that hopeless path, I’d never write a single damn word.
  • Limit social activities. This is another toughie. I’m not an especially gregarious person, but I do crave social contact with others at times. As a person basically running a start-up business, however, as well as a personal life, I really need to limit social activities for the time being. It helps me to go to a coffee shop and work, as the anonymous presence of others around me helps to alleviate some of the feelings of isolation that comes from working at home. Also, scheduling monthly lunches or coffees with friends helps as well. Trying to cram an active social life into a writing business — especially in its start-up phase — is just asking for trouble.
  • Maintain a solid exercise regimen. As I constantly remind myself, the physical activity I do several times a week actually gives me tons more energy to pursue my work activities. I can’t derail it again and again, as the small time savings by eschewing exercise is nothing compared to the enormous physical and emotional benefits I derive from them.
  • Block out specific times each day to “batch-process” repetitive tasks. I’m still working on this one. Email, feed reading, making phone calls, and various other administrative tasks take up a big chunk of my day, but I’m working on delegating very specific periods of time for them so that I’m not constantly interrupting myself — and my train of thought and momentum — to address them.

Most of the above involves basically continuing to do what I now do, but as you probably know, it can be so easy to slip out of good working habits and into bad ones. Still, productivity is key to accomplishing your goals, which is really what’s important. Completing your tasks is one thing, but always remember that the whole point of completing your daily to-do list is to accomplish your goal, whether that’s to finally finish that novel you’ve been writing for months or years, or to see your start-up through from business plan to the grand opening.

10 thoughts on “Accomplishing a Goal vs. Completing Your To-Do List

  1. Hi Marjorie:I finally started using a feed reader to get through the things I want to read each day more quickly. In doing so I found a potential problem with your blog that you may want to address.When setting up Feed Demon and putting your URL in as a subscription, I found that I wasn’t getting any feeds. When looking into the properties further I noticed that your homepage URL is defaulting to a secondary URL with the extension “Journal.html”. This prevented me from getting your feed until I removed the extension. The same thing happens with the bloglist that I added through blogger. When I click on the title, it tells me that it can’t find the blog. I have to click on the individual article title to get it.FYI in case you were not aware. Thanks very much for the tips on RSS and Google Alerts. Very helpful.John

  2. Dear <>John<>, I appreciate your directing that to my attention. Ya know, I actually noticed that a few days ago, but I wasn’t sure if it actually affected anything. Now that you’ve proven otherwise, I’m definitely looking into it. I’ve posted a request on Google’s Help forums, as I can’t seem to figure out how to fix it myself. That could explain why, despite my decent traffic, I’ve no darn subscribers. Duh.Thanks!Cheers,Marjorie

  3. Also, due to the nature of our work, some of us have to run a friends-only (or as I like to think of it, dark or semi-dark) blog and not everything we post should be available for public consumption. This is not necessarily due to security reasons but to control liability. Sure, someone on that friends list can repost the content to a more public forum and really cause trouble but that’s the risk the blogger takes.I don’t care if the world knows that the Wii Fit says I’m as physically capable as a 49-year-old. I do care how my views on specific government bidding processes (without naming names) would be received.

  4. Dear <>John<>, I’m hoping that the header situation has been fixed! Let me know if you’re still having a problem subscribing. Tricky, tricky.<>Vic<>, hello!!! Very weird thing. I was just thinking about you yesterday and wondering what you were up to.I can understand not opening your blog up to the public. I’ve no such tendency towards discretion. 😉 Cheers,Marjorie

  5. Marjorie, your most recent post about Starbucks did not show up on either my feed reader or my bloglist. Something unsavory still seems to be afoot.John

  6. Home again, home again, jiggity jig. The dark side of my blog has all the details (evil grin). I’ll clean them up and email a few to you.I’ve now got your inner french girl syndicated over to Livejournal so I can track it but can’t find a matching RSS/XML feed to syndicate this one.I didn’t know this one existed until I took a break yesterday and started scanning MIFG for updates. My company’s firewall blocks all blog sites now so I have use my mad skillz (cough) and an alternate (but equally secure) means of viewing a number of sites.Gotta go. I’ll check in this afternoon when my coffee-fried brain is done looking at spreadsheets for the day. 🙂

  7. Dear <>John<>, I <>think<> I may <>really<> have figured out the problem. Long story short, I think I may have published the wrong feed address in my settings. With a few blogs under one Feedburner account, I was mixing some of the info up. 🙁 Forgive me! If you don’t mind, would you please unsubscribe and then re-subscribe and let me know if you have any more problems? I have posts scheduled for the next 3 days, so there should be something dropping in your Reader from my blog at least once a day. Thanks so much for pointing all these problems out to me! I knew there was a problem somewhere, as I was getting comments from different people off- and online about my posts but wasn’t seeing ANY traffic on my Analytics.Cheers,Marjorie

  8. Dear <>Vic<>, greetings! Does this mean you’re back in OKC? Yes, please do send me some of your blog posts. Do I have to sign up for a LiveJournal account if I want access to your blog? If anyone can hack into a system to find holes in a firewall, that would be you, mon ami. MIFG was dormant for awhile, but I’m trying to get back into it. I was actually getting great traffic over there, but the responsibilities were starting to get to me. I just had my coffee and am now completely awake. Now I’m scoping for a nice mint biscotti.Hey, are you on Plurk or Twitter? Or do you have better things to do with your time? What about LinkedIn?love,M.

  9. Dear <>John<>, glad to hear it! I was getting so frustrated there but am happy it’s finally resolved.Cheers,Marjorie

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