I Can Do Anything For Fifteen Minutes

Yesterday, I got home from my weekly critique session with N, and noticed that I was ahead of schedule. We’d started early, because we had to finish early, because N needed to be home when the window guy came to see what he could do about one of the windows in casa N. The actual numbers on the clock didn’t register with me, because N and I focused on the pages in front of us, and, as usual, had a productive meeting. Then Mr. N showed to retrieve N, and drop me home. That’s when I noticed what had felt different all morning. I was ahead of schedule. For someone who loves planning, this is both cause for celebration and mild alarm.

What am I going to do with all this extra time? Granted, the extra time amounted to a whopping thirty minutes, and I would be lying if I said that my use of that time did not include Sims Free Play, and posting a picture of Skye to Instagram. No regrets. I am not going to pretend, either, that I remember exactly where it was that I read an article on the habits of productive people, but what stuck with me was the efficient use of time, so I’m going with that for today’s topic.

I’ve always liked to have things in order. Older family members can attest that I had a love of putting things in boxes from the day I discovered fine motor skills, as well as my leaving folded and scribbled-upon pieces of paper all over the house. When asked about said papers, I always identified them as “books,” and that I was the author. This may have been a sign of things to come.  A once-upon-a-time friend introduced me to Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and her concept of one-inch picture frames. Pretty much the same thing as the old joke about eating an elephant one bite at a time. In other words, tree, not forest. Focus on one small thing at a time, and the rest can wait their turns.

When, sometime in the recent, unspecified past, I read that article on productive people, I noticed I’m already doing some of the things right, which is encouraging. Regular morning routine? Check. Keeping a paper notebook? Check plus plus plus plus plus, infinity (well, not quite, but I do love my notebooks, and use a lot of them.) Keeping a daily schedule? Check, but there’s more. This article talked not only about keeping an hourly schedule, but breaking those hours into fifteen minute chunks. Hmm.

This is the point where the writer who loves to plan squints at the pages of the dot grid planner spread in front of her. I already have my day broken down into one hour units, and there happen to be four rows of dots in each hour, which corresponds to four fifteen minute units. This is also the point where there is a whispered voiceover from K.A. Mitchell (okay, maybe not whisper in this case) and one of her previous workshops, on writer’s block.  “I can do anything for fifteen minutes,” that voiceover says, and it’s true.

Fifteen minutes fit very nicely into one-inch picture frames, from where I’m sitting, so what if I tried breaking those hours into quarter hours? Hmm. This may be worth a shot. Not that I’m going to micromanage my day into precise fifteen minute blocks, but, on days when getting into the groove needs a little help, or things haven’t quite gelled in the ol’ writerbrain, fifteen minutes is a manageable chunk. Pen on paper or fingers on keys for fifteen minutes, then we can do something else. Sure, I don’t always want to stop at the end of the fifteen minutes, and I don’t have to stop; there’s no law on that.

The other thing that stood out to me about this article was the practice of touching a task once. I stink at this task.  This one is going to take some work, but, again, fifteen minutes for email, and then I am done? That, I can do. This also encompasses the practice of assigning certain tasks to certain times and leaving them the heck alone when it isn’t their turn. This one may also take some practice, but that’s okay. I like structure.

There’s one more habit, as well, that stuck in my mind, which tells me I may remember more about this article than I think I did, and that’s assigning the most important task to an uninterrupted two hour chunk in the morning. For me, this would be the WIPs. Add pages to the second draft of Her Last First Kiss, and move A Heart Most Errant toward being ready for beta readers. I’m waiting on Melva’s pages for the start of Drama King, so my work on that book can go grab a cup of tea and wait until it hears its name called.

Put stuff on the pages. That’s all I need to focus on at a particular time. Not Must Get Career Back In Motion, not eve Write The Whole Book, but right here, right now, do this one thing. As my writer friend, H, says, it’s just riffing. For fifteen minutes? I can do that, easy.


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