Goalless

This article in the Harvard Business Review is brilliant, and I think it solidifies for me what was bugging me about the productivity methods I’d been using.

I work in IT support. I don’t really have “projects” in the usual business sense. My job is to be interrupted all day, dealing with things as they come up. In my off time, I’m an indie science thriller author, which means again I have no fixed deadlines, no publisher breathing down my neck for the latest draft.

And yet, I was setting deadlines for myself and getting discouraged when things came up and I didn’t hit them. And discouragement turned to guilt, which turned to resentment. I’ve been avoiding my current writing project for a couple of weeks now, promising myself I’d get back to it after the holidays. Only, I know that’s not the real reason.

The real reason I’ve been avoiding writing fiction is that I feel guilty I’m not further along than I am. Only, that’s ridiculous. I’m resentful of a deadline I myself set based on an arbitrary projection. I’m literally mad at me.

The article recommends that instead of fixed, measurable and time-limited goals, we instead set “areas of focus” for ourselves. Personally, I’ve always hated that phrase, because I never really understood what it meant. It’s too vague, even though vague is kind of what we’re going for here. What he means by “areas of focus” is “ways you intend to spend your time.” Because time is really the resource we’re trying to manage.

Writers have a phrase, “butt in chair.” If you spend enough time with your butt in the chair, making the clackity noise on the keyboard, the book will materialize. If you don’t get the book written, it’s usually because you didn’t spend enough time with your butt in the chair. And the article suggests that you define up to five (any more than that and you get diminishing returns because you’re not focused) activities that contribute to what you want to achieve. Don’t focus on the destination. Be present in the journey. Sounds a little Buddhist, and I think it just might be what I’ve been missing.

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