Culture

How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Perhaps there is a reason that every magical adventure starts with a clear separation.  You have to pass through the portal.

Perhaps there is a reason that every magical adventure starts with a clear separation. You have to pass through the portal.

Organizing Your Creative Life in 13 Weeks: Week 5

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.  

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks
Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists
Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water
Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 
Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters
Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

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Before you ask, no, my marriage is not in trouble and no separation is contemplated, though the lessons of this week do have to do with my marriage. In fact they have to do with our 28th anniversary, which we celebrated last weekend by going away for three days together at a hotel.

Yes, I can see all of you wrinkling your noses and getting ready to scream TMI. But it’s not. It relates to both writing and organization.

Since both of us are writers, we decided to make this – besides some time together without our kids, cats and household duties – a writing weekend.

This is something we used to do way back when, by getting a joint babysitter for our children and our best friends’ children, collecting all the kids in their house and all the writers in ours, and spending three days in concentrated writing, broken only by dinner out. In the last one of those Rebecca and Alan Lickiss and Dan and I held, we each wrote an average of twenty thousand words after revision.

So I knew that worked when you had the synergy of several writers together and working. What I didn’t know was that it could also work when it was just the two of us. It seems particularly unlikely that it would have any real effect since at this point our children are 22 and 18 and so rarely require that we stop them drawing on walls or even taking apart our electronics to see how they work. The cats are a little more trouble, particularly the one who is going through an excessively clingy phase, but surely – surely – going away and just writing isn’t that much of an improvement?

Okay.  So, our hotel looked nothing like this, but it was magical anyway.

Okay. So, our hotel looked nothing like this, but it was magical anyway.

I was wrong. It is an enormous improvement. In the weekend away (evening of Friday, all day Saturday save for about four hours for dinner and a long walk together, and half day Sunday interrupted by church) I did work that normally takes me a full week.

What was the difference?

I think it was the separation of tasks. We were in a place, set aside just to do this. I couldn’t check political blogs, or wander off to do a load of laundry. Though the boys don’t interrupt us that much, there is still a difference between their coming every other hour, to ask a question, to tell us they’re leaving, to ask if they should start dinner or whatever the myriad distractions of family life, and their not coming in at all.

Most of all, though, I think it was being in a different place, and one we’d clearly designated as a place of work.

Sometimes you can achieve the same by simply setting time aside and forcing yourself into a “now I just work on this” mode. That is the concept behind No Plot, No Problem, A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty.

Such self-challenges work, too, but in my case I think I am so set in my continuous-interruption mode of writing that the change of scene and a place where meals and housekeeping was provided really helped get in the mood to work.

The reverse of this coin is that I found when I erase some separations that I normally make between tasks, I’m going to end up in a lot more stress, despite using the Getting Things Done Method and the Pomodoro Technique. I will also completely manage to negate the distressing effects of a weekend away which even a working weekend has.

One of the ways I cope with my blog-a-day thing is to try to write all the blog posts on the weekend, then post them scheduled for every morning.

I can see a way to improve my creative production.  And no, I'm NOT wearing that outfit, either.

I can see a way to improve my creative production. And no, I’m NOT wearing that outfit, either.

This is a method that evolved when I was going to be out of blog-range for a few days, but which I found created much less pressure. It’s very hard to sit down to write your ten thousand (or more) words of fiction when you start the day with two thousand words of non-fiction.

Also, the pressure of rolling out of bed and having to think of a theme for a blog is enough to disturb my sleep the night before.

So for the last couple of weeks, I’d been taking Saturday afternoon, writing five blogs and requesting a guest post. Since I put in a chapter for a novel on Friday, this leaves me covered for the week.

Last weekend, since we were away and I was concentrating on editing Witchfinder I didn’t do that. This has made this week a lot more stressful and less productive.

So the lessons learned:

  • Making separate times to perform just one task – like blogging – helps with the fatigue of an every day post.
  • Separate times and separate places also help when it’s a task requiring a high degree of concentration, like editing a novel that was written a chapter a week for my blog.
  • In fact, that last one can help so much that I’ll go so far as to say that while you can’t make extra time, you can buy it: two nights at the hotel bought me a week’s worth of work.

Now, if we can find enough money to do this twice a month, I might actually have time for everything I need to do!

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images courtesy shutterstock / Atelier Sommerland /  Oxa