Culture

The Workmonster is Winning

Yeah, this week it seems like the workmonster is winning.

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Not the authors of this column.

This is Charlie, and I think Sarah will have some additions but we’re both late and we know it — and it’s because the workmonster goes untamed, at least this week. Sarah can tell her own story — although I know it includes unexpected veterinary emergencies and backed up plumbing — but in my case, it’s in the way that projects spawn projects.

Here’s where it stands for me: I did a lot of thinking about this, about which more anon, starting from my observation that I have ideas lots faster than I can execute them. (This is, I’m sure, something the PJ Editors can tell you — I’ve got several promised articles dangling.) Part of the solution is clearly to do something to keep that under control, not by stopping the ideas, but by capturing them in a way that lets me come back and pick and choose later without losing the original inspiration.

A second and equally vital thing is to keep the daily little tasks and steps under control — all the little to-dos that either grow out of a bigger project, or just come up in ordinary life.

The inspiration that both Sarah and I have been drawing on in trying to get these things under control is David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. This is a good book, although not a great one — I find it difficult to work through it without skipping. I’ve noticed this with other self-help books — they spend a lot of time convincing me that there is a problem and telling me anecdotes and endorsements. In general, if I’m reading a book on “getting things done” you can pretty much bet that I’m already concerned with getting things done, and while it’s nice to know that other people have been successful getting things done, there’s a black-swan problem: as with a diet book, they only include people whose Lives Have Been Utterly Changed. What about people who aren’t complete and total successes, what are their problems?

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Yes, the workmonster is the result of an abnormal brain.

There are a couple of essentials to Getting Things Done, though. First off, you get all the ideas and to-dos and projects off your mind by getting them on paper.

Second, you sort through them. GTD proposes a workflow for this. If you were to ask Google for the GTD workflow, you would get an amazing number of articles and images, some of them of astonishing colorful complexity.

My immediate reaction to all of these is “Oh my Gods life’s too complicated already!”

Well, okay, baby steps. First thing, I gave up on computer-based tools. I’ve got enough learning-curve problems as it is; changing my work habits is hard. And I’ve tried them all, from free to expensive. Maybe someday I’ll write one.

Instead, I got out a steno pad. I use the graph-paper ones Staples sells. I have one that I try to keep with me all the time; when I have an idea, or identify something I need to do, I write it down. Longhand. When I no longer need it, I scratch it out with a line.

Aside. I’m a computer nerd, why don’t I use a laptop or an iPad or an iPhone? There are plenty of reasons, but the biggest one is this: I’m a fast typist. If I use a real keyboard, I have to find a place to sit down and use it; if I use the virtual keyboard, then I have to type on the screen and frankly trying to type that way is like walking through knee-deep mud. Knee-deep sticky mud.

I also got a bunch of file folders. I actually got a lot of colorful ones, which seems like a good idea for separating things except I can never seem to remember that color means what, so screw it. I have ideas that get captured in my steno pad for projects that I’m not going to do right away. I write a page or two, freewriting, of whatever occurs to me about the project on plain old paper. I label the file folder, I put the paper in it, and I put the file folder into my pile of projects.

So then, when I find myself at the “what do I do now?” stage, I go back through the steno pad and look it over.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten this week: I’ve got piles of projects, I’ve got a pretty good idea of which ones I’m trying to do right now, and I’m still doing stuff 16 hours a day.

When your week looks like this, the workmonster is the least of your problems.

When your week looks like this, the workmonster is the least of your problems.

This is Sarah. All I’m going to say is that I want Charlie’s week. I know he had a bad one in terms of keeping the workmonster in its place, because when we tried to trade messages, he was working till all hours, sleeping at odd times… It was just weird.

Me? We started on Monday with car issues.  Not my car, but two other cars in the family.  What this meant in practicality was that while the guys were dealing with their cars, I was phone-coordinating things.

Then came Wednesday and I had to arrange to have leech treatment done on the hematoma on the oldest cat’s ear. It’s a long story, but because she’s a cardiac patient and feisty that was the thing we finally came to.  It took time to coordinate, and even so I must have crossed lines with the vet because I was supposed to go and take pictures, so I could do an article about it.  Didn’t happen.  They called at odd times, and–  Anyway, Miranda-cat is still there till Monday.  This is a four-day treatment.  I’ll let you know how it went.

Thursday shall be known as “the day of the plumber” — we’ll just say that.  Between fixing the issue and the issues it caused it was a full time on-my-feet job from 11 am till late in the evening when I sort of folded.

Yesterday I thought I’d do my usual quick clean (I try to do a deep-clean once a month, but in between I just run from attic to ground floor very fast doing the essentials in putting-away-dust-vacuuming-scrubbing bathrooms.  It usually takes me 2 hours.  Except… during the day of the plumber, one of the cats must have got into something.  There was — pardon me, there is no delicate way to describe this — liquid poop dried all over the floor.  From one of the littler boxes, it trailed out, then was all over.  This was in the attic, which we use for storage, and — like any cat who doesn’t feel well — he’d gone into little hidden places amid boxes and… yeah.  THAT and the subsequent bleach-and-pinesol floor scrubbing (twice) took four hours, by itself.  The rest of my cleaning went slower too, because I was tired (and vaguely grossed out.)  So… nothing got done.

Somehow through all this I kept up with my blog and posts here, but I’m not even sure how.  The workmonster got driven out by a bigger demon.

Right now, I’m going in search of caffeine, and then I’m going to work on my long-overdue novel. If I’m up to it tonight, I’ll do the first post of a series on covers.  We’ll see.

Someone on a blog I co-write for said that he never stops writing (fiction) but uses it as a refuge against the bad times.  I completely understand/have done this.  However, when the bad times involve phones, cats and plumbing, I’d need to have an extra body to keep up with work.

Now the tornado (fingers crossed) has passed, let me get the workmonster from under the sofa.  Maybe he’ll be a little cowed this week.

One minus against me is that I will not be able to take a day off this week.  There is no possible way.  I slept late today and that must count for my weekend.