This has been quite a month. Since May 1st, here are the projects I have been working on, and some of the stuff I have done, in no particular order.
- Finishing and publishing the first three instalments of my Swordsman’s Quick Guide series.
- Working on a complete rewrite of Veni Vadi Vici.
- Installing a new kitchen in our apartment
- Moving back into our apartment after the plumbing work.
- Working on the Liechtenauer expansion pack for Audatia.
- Preparing my Realities of Steel presentation for Ropecon.
- Attending Ropecon for three days, mostly playtesting Audatia, and giving the presentation.
All of this in addition to the usual:
- Teaching at the Salle
- Running the school, organising seminars etc.
- Writing this blog
- And maintaining at least acceptable competence as parent and spouse.
So, as you may imagine, I’ve been a bit busy. But I do not multi-task. So you might very well ask, how do I manage all this?
The short answer is “I don’t”. I let some things slide. Email and social media are the first to go; some poor folk waited two weeks for a reply to some queries. And it’s been a while since my last post, no?
The longer answer is, “prioritise, and do things bit by bit.”
I also delegate where possible.
Let me enlarge on this a bit.
Every project is broken down into tasks. You cannot possibly fit a kitchen. It's too much. So instead one day I laid the floor. On another I painted the ceiling. On another I sanded the worktops. On another I fitted the handles. On any given day, I have only one task. So, today might be the day for sanding down the kitchen surfaces. Or writing a blog post. Or working on Veni Vadi Vici. I start with that, and keep going until I need to stop, or until I finish a given milestone: first draft written; three more chapters proofread; surfaces oiled, whatever.
Then I start on the next project, or lie on the sofa and watch TV, or whatever else I actually feel like, because the day’s work is done. I don’t always get to choose which task is next; those with hard deadlines (like preparing a presentation for an agreed date) go before those with soft ones (finish the Veni Vadi Vici rewrite), but wherever possible, I wake up in the morning with only one work thing to do that day.
Quite often, a task I have built up in my mind as huge and difficult gets done in minutes instead of hours; but my wife will tell you that I have a terrible habit of thinking something will only take an hour or two, and it takes days instead. That’s also sort of part of the system; by underestimating the difficulty of the project I increase the likelihood that I will actually commit to it; once the commitment is there, the task will be done, just not necessarily on schedule. (I hear my Audatia supporters grinding their teeth… the Liechtenauer Expansion is a year late, and it’s my fault for underestimating the time).
I only ever work at 80% capacity or better. If I find that a task is dragging, that I can’t get into the flow with it, then I switch to something I can flow into. So up to a point, my subconscious chooses my tasks for me, and this is a skill I have deliberately developed over many years; I have trained my instinct to tell me what I should be doing. I often don’t know when I wake up in the morning what I will be working on that day. But then I find a particular file open on the computer, or I find myself assembling a tool kit in my head, and just go with it. Dammit, I do use my feelings, Ben!*
I wanted my series out and off my desk this month, as a matter of urgency. So I put that first, and duly published on May 8th. In that week, if (for example) my wife asked me something about the kitchen, I’d say “I don’t care”. Or somesuch. Because right then the only thing I did care about was the series. The major kitchen project was not the one thing I was doing right then.
Task switching has only one useful function: it can be used as a way of productive procrastination, or a rest. If I get tired typing: great, time to put up the shelves in my study. If I’m exhausted from fitting the kitchen: perfect time to run errands. This goes further: I never work late at night. Because with enough rest, food and sleep, I can get twice as much done the next day. Really, it is so much better to work 10 hours at 100% than it is to work 20 hours at 50%.
If I ever am stuck for which task to prioritise, I use a pencil and paper and write down everything that’s pressing. Usually the one on the top of the list is the one I should be working on that day. Also, projects that are likely to make money take precedence over those that cost money. [One corollary to that; when paying bills in a time of cash shortage, I prioritise them according to their impact on the creditor's cashflow. Freelancers get paid before big companies, big companies before governments.]
One trick that I find helps with managing tasks of different sizes, is get one or two of the small ones done first. For example, when I was fitting out my wife’s walk-in wardrobe, I also needed the same toolkit for putting up a shelf in the loo. I did the shelf first, because it got it off my plate, and gave me a feeling of “I’ve actually accomplished something today”, which I could ride on through the tedium of laying floor, drilling 8000 holes for shelving etc. through the rest of the day. If I had left it as something to do after the wardrobe, I would have been too tired to bother with it.some stuff done. Tiles, painting, tidy up the dishwasher, still to do.
So right now, there are many large tasks waiting, but I also got the balcony table trimmed down a bit, something I’ve been meaning to do for seven years. Having the necessary tools here for the kitchen made resizing the table a small task, easily done in an hour or two.
Delegation is hard, especially on a tight budget when you can’t just hire someone. (I got a lot of help from my friend and student Henry on fitting the kitchen; he did much of the actual fitting on the weekend I was at Ropecon, for example.) But one thing I have delegated a lot of is food-making. My wife and I are way busy, and the kitchen appliances aren’t connected yet (long story), so we have been eating out a lot, delegating the cooking and clean up. It’s not the cheapest or best option, but an ok compromise. But I am so looking forward to getting to play with the gorgeous new induction hob and steam oven…
So, my system in brief, is something like this:
2) Do only one thing at a time.
3) Only work at efficient rates.
4) Leave things of low priority undone
5) Delegate where possible
And one last thing. When a project is not going well, or I find myself stuck or about to take short cuts, I envision a student, and teach them how to do it. While doing the kitchen surfaces, I was running into serious fatigue-related problems, but did not want to switch tasks, so I decided to take my imaginary student, and create a video for her. This is perhaps the worst how-to video in history, because it was not really made for the watcher; it was made because having the video running gave me access to greater reserves of patience. And I threw it up online on the off-chance that somebody somewhere might find it useful, but basically unedited, because I’m too damn busy right now to carefully craft a how-to-sand-and-oil-kitchen-worktops video. It’s not on my to-do list.
* Readers who do not get this reference seriously need to go watch the original Star Wars movie. Right now.