Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: time management

I am not Anne Bean, either.

photo of the Goddard College grounds

Pictured: a magical land where I got a lot of things done. (Goddard College)

My wonderful former advisor from Goddard College, Susan Kim, wrote an article on the alumni blog about deadlines. Susan Kim is a New York City television writer, playwright, teacher, and more. She has a zillion fascinating and important irons in the fire at any given time. And she gave me considered, wonderful feedback on the 30-page packets of material I’d send her in like two days. Considering that she was doing this for me and six other students over the course of a weekend along with her other jobs…color me impressed. Perhaps I have put her on a bit of a time management pedestal in my brain…

So in this essay, “Putting the Dead in Deadlines,” she refers to me:

Are you as crushed by time (or more specifically, the lack of it) as I am? From their process letters, 99% of my advisees seems to be or has been… and the 1% who wasn’t was probably Anne Bean, a graphic novelist who graduated from the program a few years ago. Formidably organized, she had created a color-coded flowchart that mapped out every minute she had to read, write, and fulfill her degree requirements; and by sticking to it, she managed to sail through the program like she was piloting a luge.

I am not Anne Bean.

Aheheh. Heh.

Honestly? I am not Anne Bean, either.

Let me take you back to my elementary school years. I went to a Montessori school, which had the following system regarding late assignments: your late assignment was recorded on the Late List. If you accumulated more than two late assignments, you had to stay in during mid-day recess and work on them. I averaged six to eight late assignments, and rarely went to recess. This may have been an instinctive defense against playground bullying, but that’s another story for another day. Point is: time is incredibly difficult for me. I wouldn’t say that I’m not crushed by time. I just write down the nature of the crushing.

The flowchart Susan refers to is my Anal Retentive Spreadsheet (or ARS if you will) that I use to record my time. I have used the spreadsheet on and off since I learned about it from Wendy Call in 2010 or so. When I use it, things generally go well for me. All I do is record, in 15 minute increments, when I have done useful things in a variety of categories (writing, paid freelance work, unpaid freelance work, admin stuff, etc). I can see where I’ve been putting my efforts, where I need to spend hours, and whether or not I’ve done enough self-care lately. (Damn right self-care is on my chart.) I also use Asana, which is project management software, for both my own work and my work with Minor Arcana Press.

AND YET.

When I read Susan’s essay this morning, I was both touched and wracked by impostor syndrome. Oh gods, I thought, I’ve fooled them all. They think I’m this basically organized person who doesn’t binge-watch Netflix instead of blogging and pitches to appropriate markets every Wednesday and generates new work on a clockwork schedule. Instead, I haven’t even started my ARS for October and after binge-watching like four episodes of a TV show that I have already seen, I have spent my day face-rolling over my own keyboard in a futile attempt to craft a decent pitch for various feminist pop culture magazines, while simultaneously second-guessing if this is even the best use of my time. My day has been a melodrama written by time management’s evil twin.

But then I remember the voice of my other Goddard advisor, Rachel Pollack. One time we talked about the concept of the authentic self. “I’m not sure why people put so much emphasis on the authentic self,” she said. “Why not consider what the fraud self has to teach?”

Even if my luge-piloting hyper-organized writing persona is a fraud self, I’m pretty into her. I want to glean her wisdom once more. Susan Kim continues her essay talking about the reality of there never being enough time, about bouncing back and forth between the screaming deadlines and chipping away at the work until it’s done. “As writers, all we can really hope to do each day is generate pages,” she concludes.

I think that’s why I’ve had a growing sense of unease the last month or so: I have been so caught up in minutiae that I have not been generating pages. My graphic design jobs have been waning and my desire to be, say, writing pop culture criticism for feminist magazines has been waxing. The urge to generate pages is strong. My level of organization right now is all over the dang place. And I oscillate between trying to reclaim the systems of organizations and writing in furtive bursts.

So reading Susan’s essay this morning, as much as it made me have a moment of flailing guilt for not somehow controlling time and space with my mind, was pretty darn reassuring. It was a reminder to get off the loop-de-loop of time struggle and calm down. Focus on the pages. When I have meaningful deadlines (like, say, a grad school program…cough) I tend to work really well. Deadlines give me strength (sorry, Douglas Adams). I still have my fraud self’s luge, all I have to do is build a track. Quantify the crushing of time. And if I manage to generate pages, call it a good day.

Wilderness, Stars, and Productivity

I didn’t post last week because I didn’t think to schedule a post in advance, and I was in the woods. I went backpacking with my Dad in the North Cascades, the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

2015-07-15 08.35.20There’s something really satisfying about getting out of cell phone range. Perhaps it’s that being disconnected from the Internet is such a rarity these days. I love the Internet, I love connection between people and the communities that can be built when the Internet’s not too busy being horrible to itself. But it’s still a hubbub of voices that, once in a while, should be silent.

2015-07-15 13.11.39It’s a lot like the stars, really, except opposite. In the front country, the stars are quiet. From Seattle on a good clear night, you can make out major constellations; everything else is blocked out by light pollution. In back country, in the North Cascades, the major constellations are almost drowned out by the volume of other stars. The full arc of the Milky Way becomes visible. Two of the nights I was out I got up in the middle of the night, to look at the stars. Both nights I saw a satellite moving in its measured way across the sky, a reminder of the connection to the rest of the world. I could look down the knife edge of the galaxy and think about what I was seeing, a giant cross section of the unimaginably enormous place that is in turn an unimaginably small place in the whole of the universe.

 

Anyway, all that’s to say that I enjoyed not having the Internet for five days. I didn’t miss social media at all. It’s the sort of thing that I use and enjoy, but it becomes a way of mentally treading water. A way to avoid doing anything, and yet still feeling productive.

 

Productivity is a funny thing. A corporate buzzword, is it a quantitative measure of the amount of work you do, or is it a qualitative matter of how much work you think you’ve done? Because those two don’t always match up, particularly as a freelancer. My tendency is to always feel like I’ve done little, even when I have accomplished much. An offshoot of impostor syndrome, perhaps? Thankfully, the same organizational tools that keep me doing anything are the ones that keep me honest–remind met that I have, in fact, been productive. While I don’t do eight hours of productive work per day (I usually do 4-6 hours, in all brutal honesty), I didn’t use all eight of the hours of my business day productively when I was an office assistant, either. A lot of my days were frittered away by little distractions. Now at least I can be honest about when I’m distracted and when I’m productive. At this point I use two systems to keep track of myself: a to-do list in the form of project management software called Asana (free! online! good!), and a spreadsheet to keep track of my time based on one Wendy Call introduced me to years ago. These are my spider-web strands that I catch time with.

 

The wilderness is very simple: much of your day is involved with meeting your basic needs and getting from one point on a topo map to another point on a topo map. Front country gets complicated. The stars go quiet and the buzz of to-do lists, projects, work, and social media start up again. But the lovely thing is, we’ve got both.

You Always Hurt the Ones You Love

Or, some thoughts on time management.

I am thinking about times in my life when I’ve worked my ass off. Times when I’ve been pulling ridiculously long days and (mostly) enjoying it. Most of those times involved one or more of the following: 1. college, 2. a theater production, and/or 3. a writing project with an immanent deadline. The last time I’ve worked really hard and gotten a lot done was probably last November, during NaNoWriMo. Before that, it was working to get the dang novel edited and out the door in 2009. In both cases, I had an outside force working to motivate me. Even though they were both my projects, having an outside agency (other WriMos and the NaNoMeter of how many words I’d written, a self-publishing company) was vital to my success.

It rankles me that I work so much harder for other people than for myself. I think of all the times in college when fearing the wrath of a scary professor or the shame of late assignments was all that kept me going. I wasn’t always motivated out of Maslow’s Highest Tier in the Hierarchy of Needs…nah, much of the time I was motivated by fear or guilt…I worked out of “safety” needs rather than “self-actualization.”

Why is that? Why do we need to be motivated by fear to get really important personal stuff done? Why do we give our time so freely to others but struggle in giving it to ourselves? I’m not even talking about a ubiquitous “We”, I’m talking about me as a female in American society. I am programmed to respond to others before myself, which is a noble quality that will not get my novels written. I am programmed to deal quickly with things that are urgent, which is a useful quality that will not get my novels written.

I had a time-management class with the brilliant Wendy Call, who talked about to-do lists. To-do lists, she argued, are more or less crap. If you have a list of items, you will first do what is urgent, not necessarily what’s important. Better to have goals, she said. Better to think about concrete goals that you can do, like upping a word count or sending out a given number of manuscripts. What this said to me was, Best not to make my writing life an option. Make it a requirement. Get it done. And if it takes Write or Die to do it sometimes, well, I’m not sure that matters.

Some people hate this mindset. Some people I’ve talked to can’t stand the thought of forcing writing ever. Writing must be spontaneous to be any good, they say. Writing comes from a higher source, and you are a channel. You must wait to be in the mood, Inspired. Think about the word inspiration. It means breathing. Breathing is something that you do all the time, but becomes a powerful tool when made conscious. Likewise, I think that writing is something that is most powerful when made conscious, but really should be done ALL THE TIME. That spiritual source of writing is a radio station; it’s always on, you’ve just gotta tune in. So it’s not that I am a soulless unspiritual writing-forcer, it’s that I don’t think I want to wait around for inspiration to strike me. I want to keep the pump primed so that on the days when it does come, when I am writing out of a place of self-actualization, I can have a greater outpouring. If I write every day, then the blank page isn’t so scary, and sometimes I go to the mountain of Inspiration instead of waiting for it to come to me.

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