On getting things done

A friend of mine always teases me about being held hostage when Jess is with me (as opposed to when Jess is with her father), because I answer the phone less and don’t talk as much.

It’s absolutely true, and if said friend were to make an issue of it, my response would be, “Have a nice life.”

I’m pretty sure this is where I get my reputation for not being, you know, touchy-feely. I try to give it a somewhat gentler spin: “When Jess is with her dad, I can spend more time with you!” But frankly my friend is a grown-up person, and she understands that my disabled teenage daughter’s needs trump hers. Period.

So, this is not rocket science. But it is at the core of the question I get asked more than any other: “how do you get so much writing done?” (As many readers know, I also edit full-time and teach in the evenings.)

I get things done by knowing what matters most at any given time, and understanding what it costs to pursue any goal. It’s as easy, and as hard, as that.

I love to vacation at Disney World, and this always require a bit of planning, so I will check out some forums during the planning stages to find out what’s new and if any policies have changed since the last time I went. And invariably someone is making their vacation impossible:

“How can I see all four parks in three days without using park hopper passes, meet characters without spending time in line or money at a character meal, and convince my kids not to pester me for souvenirs? For a family of four, for under $1000, including transportation.”

You can’t.

Most people know this about vacations, but they don’t seem to know it about their lives, and “you can’t” makes them more insane than red flag/bull.

What happens is that nothing gets done, or things get done half-assed, or the right things don’t get done at the right time.

You have to decide. Disney or a vacation for under $1,000. Three parks or the more expensive park hoppers. Standing in line or paying for a character meal.  And please don’t think anyone on an Internet forum can teach you how to convince your kids not to pester you for souvenirs if you don’t already know how.

Those are the choices. You make them and stop dithering. When new information alters the parameters, you can review your choices, but mostly you just get on with it. That means closing doors. It means doing the work when you would rather be doing something else. It means not turning the work into an  opportunity for an existential crisis. It means doing the damned work.

Entire books have been written on how to create to-do lists in order to accomplish things. But the problem isn’t in remembering what to do. The problem isn’t even in knowing what’s important. The problem is in doing it, despite everything else you could be doing, a great deal of which is more fun.

All the to-do lists in the world can’t help you with that.

It would be really nice if I could come up with a sure-fire plan, ten easy steps, to make it possible for anyone to reach their goals and live happily ever after. But I have no idea what those ten easy steps would be. All I know is I write every day, even on the very many days when all I seem to manage is crap. I just keep on working. I don’t stop for fear or pain or doubt or rejection or general insurrection. I even, in fact, kept working when the kitchen stove caught fire, because I had a sentence to finish, but I don’t recommend that.

What I do recommend is working even on those very many days when you don’t feel like it, even when there is no promise of reward, when all you have to make it worthwhile is the process. And if that is not enough, then this is the wrong work to do.

It’s as easy, and as hard, as that.


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