How I get Things Done: Managing my Actions

“Your mind is for getting ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen

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Creative people struggle to get things done. They just do. I’ve always felt a little bit embarrassed about the fact that I write down every freaking last thing I need to do during the day in a cheap notebook and give myself a check mark or a tiny colorful sticker when I complete the task.

But, I’m currently reading The Art of Getting Things Done, and I’m feeling a whole lot more confident about my way of reminding and encouraging myself to get things done. The book is a national best-selling book by productivity consultant David Allen. It was published in 2001 and updated in 2015, and it’s a staple of productivity enthusiasts everywhere. He believes the key to managing all your stuff (for writers, think, writing projects) is managing your actions. His Getting Things Done system, often call GTD, is based on a simple fact: The more information bouncing around inside your head, the harder it is to decide what needs attention. As a result, you spend more time thinking about your tasks than actually doing them.

Allen said, “What you do with your time, what you do with information and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities—these are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources. The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real issue is how we manage actions.”

The key to managing our writing ‘stuff’ is managing our actions

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For us writers, this is key: our success depends on how we manage actions. So, fellow writers, “How are you managing your actions?”

Allen said, “In training and coaching thousands of professionals, I have found that lack of time is not the major issue for them (though they themselves may think it is): the real problem is a clack of clarity and a definition about what the project really is, and what the associated next-action steps required are” (p. 19).

Do you know what your next-action steps are?

For something to be an action step, we have to be able to do something.
Writing is not just the writing, it’s all the associated tasks that go along with it: finding markets for our work, doing the research, maybe calling or emailing someone for an interview or for information, drafting, editing. So for writers, some examples of next actions steps might be:

1. Find three magazines that print the kind of article I want to write.
2. Call Deborah for quote for article
2. Outline article

Be clear about the things you have to do

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I’m currently writing a magazine article. I could write down in my bullet journal, “Work on article,” but, when you think about that seriously, it’s not actionable. “Write introduction,” is actionable. As noted above, email Deborah for a quote is actionable. For me, today’s note is: 15 minutes on article. That is actionable; then, the next question is “what is the next action?” If I don’t finish the draft today, tomorrow the action will remain: 15 minutes on article. Eventually the next action will be: proofreading and mail article.

When you define what the next action (it doesn’t need to be a BIG action) that you can take on a writing project, you have something to do. Jeff Goins, over at goinswriter.com calls it a “bias towards action” and says we need to develop it.

Find an Organization System that works for you

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You’ll be better equipped to undertake focused thinking about your writing when your tools for the actions you need to take are part of your daily organizational style.

There are lots of productivity systems and methods out there, and while some people worship one method or another, the best way to use a system that works best for your needs, not to strictly adhere to “rules.” If you want to get things done without compromising your creativity or productivity, you need a productivity system. And it needs to work. Just pick a system and use it. If it doesn’t work well for you, try another one.

The Truth About Writing Motivation

The truth about those motivational articles and books that say you can find inspiration anytime and anywhere: They lie. They are written by a collective of cranky motivational “experts” who have devised ways to keep the rest of us in perpetual uncertainty, frustration, discontent, and torture.

I think they meet every Thursday at noon.

And they wear berets.

A Writerly Life: Brenda Ueland

“Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first,–at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, lighthearted and generous to everyone else.”
— Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write

The Lexicon Practice

Some days I write and the words flow easily. Then, all of a sudden, I’ll hit a bump and run out of words.

No writer should be without a supply of Very Good Words.

So, I’ve started a lexicon practice. A Lexicon Practice is where you put actual time – regular time – into collecting words and phrases.

Leonardo da Vinci did it. James Joyce did it. Mary Oliver does it. Priscilla Long does it. She says, “The writers of deep and beautiful works spend real time gathering words”.

I have a small bound and sewn blank book that I put words in. I haven’t gotten far with it, but this small book is where I record words that strike my fancy. Words I want to savor. Words I want to own.

Dorothea Brande said, “Be on the alert to find appropriate words wherever you read.”

My Lexicon holds new words and old words that please me. It is part of my resource base as a writer.

If you don’t have a Lexicon, consider starting one today. Get a small notebook and start gathering words. Don’t ignore or diminish the power words have to make your writing work.

A Writerly Life: Robin McKinley

“One of the biggest, and possibly the biggest, obstacle to becoming a writer… is learning to live with the fact that the wonderful story in your head is infinitely better, truer, more moving, more fascinating, more perceptive, than anything you’re going to manage to get down on paper. (And if you ever think otherwise, then you’ve turned into an arrogant self-satisfied prat, and should look for another job or another avocation or another weekend activity.) So you have to learn to live with the fact that you’re never going to write well enough. Of course that’s what keeps you trying — trying as hard as you can — which is a good thing.”

—Robin McKinley (author of fantasy and children’s books; winner of the Newbery Medal)

A Writerly Life: Elif Shafak

“Male writers are thought of as ‘writers’ first and then ‘men’. As for female writers, they are first ‘female’ and only then ‘writers’.” ― Elif Shafak

You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play

What’s your passion?

I want to write more. Let me streamline that a bit: I want to write more, send more of my work to an editor and/or agent, get published more, and make more money. You probably want something similar (that’s why you’re reading this, right?)

Now, I could ask myself, why aren’t I? However, a more interesting question that I’m pondering is, What pain am I willing to put up with in my life to work on my passion?

The pain is:
* the early mornings or late nights spend writing,
* the hours spent writing when I *should* be doing something else,
* the tough conversations about why I don’t have time to do ____ because I’m writing,
* the days that are so full that i have no mental energy left over at the end of the day to write,
* the fear that I’ll never make a “living wage” as a writer.

But you can’t win if you don’t play.

So, ask yourself, what pain are you willing to put up with in order to write?