Friday, October 8, 2010

Staying on Top of it All

114413351638 I was volunteering Wednesday night for a church program my daughter is involved in. I was supposed to help a couple other ladies cook dinner for about sixty kids and ten adults.

This meant my working in an industrial kitchen at the church…with an industrial dishwasher, huge gas oven and massive cookware, etc. I was flummoxed just looking at the equipment.

The lady in charge of the kitchen came in. She was in a tremendous hurry and giving quick instructions before she rushed off to help with another part of the program.

She started giving me instructions: “So it’s nacho night. The chips can go in the plastic green bowls there. Shredded cheese in eight Styrofoam bowls—one for each table. Same with the salsa. The shredded lettuce is in the fridge…you’ll want it to sit out for a little while to thaw out a bit—the fridge runs cold. The meat is pre-cooked and pre-seasoned…you’ll just need to put it in boiling water at 6:10 to warm. I’d put the pot on that burner there. Scissors to open the bags are in that drawer over there. The middle school kids should set the tables, but you’ll want to check in thirty minutes to see if they have. Tongs for the lettuce are on the opposite wall in drawers. And please make sure you’re serving the food in the dining hall at 6:45 for the kids to sing a thank you song to you….”

There was much more that she was saying, but I was already looking at her with panic. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I know you need to leave, but I’m going to have to ask you to repeat all that—I need to write it down.” This absolutely stopped her cold, then she laughed. “Wow! I don’t think I’ve seen anyone have to do that before.”

But—I know the memory that I’m dealing with. It’s NOT good. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m juggling so much that I don’t even have room in my head for it all anymore. If I don’t write it down, then it’s gone for good.

How do writers navigate through their days with all they have to juggle? I really don’t know. I have to do the same thing every day in order to keep it straight—and write myself reminders, too.

Here are some ways I juggle to-do tasks:

Twitter—I skim my Google Reader (now I’m up to 1450 blogs…how did this happen?) once or twice a day when I have a minute. If I don’t have a minute, I make a few minutes in the early afternoon. I click on all the posts that look especially helpful. Later in the day, before supper, I load the posts into SocialOomph to post over a 14-16 hour period. First thing in the morning each morning, I make sure Twitter is set to load. At lunch, I check for @ messages and DMs to respond to. There are usually plenty.

Facebook—I check it usually once or twice a day. I’m usually more interested in seeing what everyone else is doing than in posting status updates, but I’m trying to do better.

Unfortunately, I have three Facebook accounts—my professional one under my own name (Elizabeth Spann Craig Author), Riley has one (Riley Adams is my alter-ego/pen name), and then I have a personal one….because I’d rather not have pictures of me at age 12 or old sorority photos end up on my professional Facebook account.

Emails—I skim them in the morning when I first get up to make sure there’s nothing I really need to act on. Then I check them again at lunch to respond. I’ll check again in the late afternoon. Other than that, I try not to check.

Calendar—I write everything on it. It looks like a crazy person’s calendar—various appointments, story ideas, fragments of grocery lists, reminders about the kids’ school picture days…but the important thing is that I check the calendar every night before I go to bed and again when I get up in the morning. Bad things happen if I don’t.

Writing—I’ve changed my schedule a little so that I write directly after I come back from driving the carpools to school. I write until I’ve reached my goal.

If I don’t reach my goal because something comes up, I go on to Plan B—I assign another time during the day to write. And I write on the go whenever I see I’ll have some dead time while waiting on something.

If that doesn’t work? I move on to Plan C—writing at night. I’m never wild about writing at night, but I can do it if I need to.

Stuff that tends to stress me out that I’ve learned not to do:

I’ve learned not to try to squeeze too much stuff in right before I need to leave the house to go somewhere. I’m Type A so I mistakenly think that I’ll be SO much more on top of things if I use that 15 minutes before I need to leave the house to schedule Twitter or to write my blog post for the next day, etc. But no—it usually just serves to make me lose track of time or to hurry too much as I’m leaving.

I’ve also learned that I can multi-task some things…but I can’t multi-task others. Some tasks I juggle better than others and some need my undivided attention and focus.

I’ve learned not to prematurely cross something off my list as completed. This is something I’ve been doing more and more of lately—take the laundry, for instance. I’ve been absentminded enough to cross the laundry off my to-do list after I stick it in the washer. No, Elizabeth. The laundry is actually not done until it’s hanging back up where it’s supposed to be after coming out of the dryer. I do the same thing sometimes with emails that require action—yes, I did email the person back. But I can’t cross that off my to-do list until the action they need me to do is completed.

How do you keep everything straight and juggle it all? Tips are welcomed! :)