Sunday, 14 March 2010

Duty, deadines, determination and discipline

Deadlines. We deal with them all the time. They approach steadily, never by themselves, and we have to hit them before they crash and get us into trouble. I like to imagine them as like the little green aliens in Space Invaders games. The longer you leave them they faster they approach and the more they proliferate. When you've got someone chasing you, or a meeting report with a date and your initial written beside it, you know what you're dealing with. They want it by Friday, you aim to get it there on Thursday night (or if it's me, more likely Saturday morning because unless I'm given strict guidelines, 4a.m. still counts as Friday night).

What about the projects that don't have set deadlines, the ones you can put off for almost ever? How do you make sure that they ever get finished? At the risk of beginning to sound like a Victorian moralist, last time I wrote about duty and now I'm thinking about discipline.

Now I'm cutting myself loose from my biggest client to do my duty, I'm going to have to set my own goals, impose my own some deadlines then make sure that I want to hit them. We can use time management techniques to sort out which ones to do first, or to delegate or ditch entirely. We can get ourselves into good habits. We all have some of those: I wouldn't dream of going out without brushing my teeth or locking the door; I always recycle everything the council take; I even bring my plastic back from my holidays.

But to make things happen, you really have to want to make them happen. Without the determination, it all fades away. Finishing off books, for example, everything that you have on your "wouldn't it be nice..." list. How do we set and stick to our own deadlines when no-one is chasing us, or won't pay us if it doesn't get finished? Now that all my big projects are going to be like that for a year at least, can I be relied on to chase myself up? What's my incentive to keep shooting down the aliens?

It's not so much about the small stuff with me; I procrastinate on a grand scale. I take on to much big stuff, then stretch myself beyond any reasonable limit, filling my screen up with thumping aliens and buzzing about like a bluebottle trying to knock them all out before they invade. (And if you don't know what it's like to play Space Invaders, go here Or even if you do.) In the early 1980s, I did get quite good at Space Invaders, up to 14 screens. You do it by keeping a cool head and a sense of perspective and by wasting loads of time getting good at it. Probably a bad example of discipline.

It's a question of deciding what's important. Then getting on with it. I've got my list (see earlier topics) and I'll make myself a future mood board. (Of which more soon.) From May to July I've got to spend time clearing out old projects that I really will never finish, so that they don't weigh me down with guilt.

Talking of which, if you're anywhere near W13, put 15th May in your diary. I'm having a car boot sale, except in my own front room and just for nice people. I'll be making coffee.

Discipline. Yes. Let's impose a little and bring myself back to the point. From May 2010 to April 2011, the year I've given myself to get things done, I need to get things done. There's definitely going to be some room for slacking about faffing and fiddling, because it's in the faffing and fiddling times that you have your best ideas, as long as you've been taking the time to observe, contemplate, consider and plan. And talking of plans, I've got one, but I'll keep it flexible, because all the best plans should adapt to fit the circumstances.

As stated in many other places on paper and in the ether, I plan to have a building where I can run writing workshops and yoga classes and where people can come for a good creative think, and a decent coffee. So let's see how we get along, shall we?

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