Friday, March 12, 2010

Some Thoughts on Getting Stuff Done

Spring made a showing in these parts this week, and it's about damned time.  My cave has become small and crowded and I've been restless.  And grumpy.  Yes.

But I've nearly finished a new book project -- a zine I've been putting together for the past couple weeks.  Details to come. [update: this project got sidelined after much consternation.  I'll probably have another go at it this summer.]

* * * * *

A few weeks ago I posted a review of sorts of Seth Godin's latest book, Linchpin, in which I suggested that the business ideas he expressed in it were surprisingly compatible with unschooling (though I don't know his  position on unschooling, or if he even has one).  I've long felt that way about his writing, which is one reason I read his blog.  Yes, it's a marketing blog, and that framing gets in my way sometimes, but if you approach his stuff without any preconceptions you'll find he's really writing about living deep and well and fully and on purpose.  All stuff I'm into in a big way.

Anyway, there's a part in Linchpin where he writes about how he gets so much done (a dozen books at last count) and he reveals his secret is doing just one thing at a time.

Yeah, okay, as revelations go it's not exactly Earth-shattering, but still.  

One thing.

Reader, I'll be the first to say, just one thing is not my style.  I'm a three-to-five projects at a time kind of gal.  But you know, sometimes it's good to reconsider one's style.  So for the past several months I've been trying out a different style and working on just one thing -- mostly -- for the duration of the month. With deadlines.  Real ones.

In January I made an art bra for a charity auction.  In February I painted canvases for a show that went up March 1st.  This month I created the zine.

And I'm hooked.  As in, convinced.

Here's why: this one-thing-at-a-time idea eliminates that debilitating sense I often have of never finishing anything.  It's a false sense, since in reality I finish all kinds of  stuff, but it's also true in that I never get to rest in that moment of completion because I'm always juggling other things that aren't finished.  And since some of those things might never be finished -- because I don't give myself the time to either finish them or make a well-considered decision to let them go -- I'm in a perpetual state of incompletion on all fronts.

Which is exhausting.  As you probably know, given that we all tend to do the juggling thing.

Now I know that, in an existential sense, life itself -- Big Life -- is just one long perpetual state of incompletion. I get that. But creative projects are not so much Big Life as they are life's brain-children.  Heart-children.  Soul-children.  They have a gestation period, and then they need to be birthed.  And the ones that just get transferred from one year's "stuff I want to do" list to the next tend to drain off the very life force that's needed to get them out into the world.  

If you know me at all, you know I'm not into getting stuff done just to be getting stuff done. Productivity in and of itself is overrated.  It's factory-thinking.  I'm not a factory.  But creating the stuff I really want to create?  That kind of productivity matters.  So I try to choose my projects with care.  And given my propensity to juggle, the forms they take -- the books, the canvases -- can occupy space in my head for a very long time.  The zine, for example, has been on my list since last summer.

Had I not assigned it its own month, with a hard deadline -- a shipping date, Godin would call it -- it could well have remained on my list through next summer.  Or forever.

Instead, it's in print.  And I get to have my moment of completion before I launch into the next thing.  And that, dear Reader; seems to be making all the difference in the world.

That, and Spring.

Anyway, this is a long way around to saying that most of the energy it takes to juggle a bunch of projects goes into the juggling, not into the projects.  And while it makes me feel like I have a lot going on, having a bunch of balls in the air turns out to be far less satisfying -- and far more stressful -- than standing on the pitcher's mound and delivering one ball into the catcher's mitt at a time.  And then another one.  And then another one.  And then the inning is over, and I can sit in the dugout for a bit and watch the crows in the outfield before getting up and doing it again.

And yes, that's a baseball analogy, in honor of Spring Training.

And Spring.

And crows.


  1. As a Gemini (at least that's my excuse), I, too, have many projects on the go at once. Well, maybe it's out of necessity too, given the lack of staff around here. But I've take the same message from Linchpin. Still perfecting it. And still trying to sort out what's "resistance" and what's true gestation of projects. Looking forward to the birth of your zine, by the way.

  2. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is coming out with new work and writes about this idea of gestation. I read of it on Jen Louden's site (, where she juxtaposes Estes with Godin's idea of "shipping." Food for thought.

  3. I can relate to this post a lot. I read Barbara Sher's book Refuse to Choose which has some very good ideas for a person who doesn't organize well. Plenty of her ideas go in directions I'm pretty sure I won't go but there's enough there to help me. And one of those ideas is definitely about concentrating and devoting big blocks of time to each thing.

    But I get bored with my projects or I hit a wall and need to switch, so Sher's book has some ideas about how to go about doing that. Whew. I need that. For instance, I started gardening, which I've never done all by myself and I've hit the wall pretty early in the game. I like it that I'm not doing my usual "hitting myself over the head" about it but just putting it aside in favor of one of the other many many many projects I want to do. :)

    I used to mourn these things (stillbirths in your lingo) all the time but now I realize that some ideas just have a longer gestation and need more percolating.



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