Action has a clarity about it that cuts through the fog of daydreaming. I’ve noticed that vague dreaming about ideas is helpful to a point, and then becomes quite stressful as I attempt to hold more and more action steps in my mind. These need to be acted upon – released into the world of reality – to clear out my imagination. But no one has time to act on every idea (at least, not if they have as many as I do!). David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done helped me deal with that conundrum.
Action, for me, is (per Allen’s coaching) now easy to accomplish. I can ACT by releasing an idea into a reliable project management system that has taken me years to develop and is continuously being upgraded (much improved since reading Allen’s book!). My system includes my calendar, my files, my routines and habits. I’ll talk more about it from time to time, and welcome questions. The most important point Allen makes is that I must be able to trust my system, or I won’t be able to let go of all that my mind is chewing on.
I’ve written about my system here, and in this column will focus more on the way it relates to writing and other creative tasks.
The fundamental unit to be managed is the Idea…the 3 a.m. recollection that next Thursday is someone’s birthday; the in-the-car aha moment that puts you at risk of having a wreck; the overheard snatch of conversation you want to add to your story; the crafts and books-to-read-someday and recipes-to-try and somebody-should-make-this new widget ideas. All this great material threatens to be lost forever, or to sap your mental holding tank unless you have a place to put it! Thus, I have a bedside notepad, a daily routine of filing away notes from my in-purse notebook, a file for project ideas and for each writing project, monthly files for to-dos that are not current, and information files for all the things I can’t bear to let go of, but which don’t require action in the near future.
If a to-do can be accomplished in one step, on the calendar goes that action. If a series of steps is required, it’s a Project, and gets its own file with a Next Actions list. Action #1 goes on the calendar, and until it’s done, the project sits in its file, not all over my desk. A creative project may have action steps like these: Block Half Day for Contemplation of Idea; Get Feedback from So-and-So; Verify All Footnotes; Fill In Fact Blanks; Proof Punctuation and Section Styles; or Register for Pitch Session at CWG Online Conference. If I have a little time, I might flip through the project folders to find a ‘Next Action’ that seems to fit the amount of time I have and the mood I’m in. It’s good to have various ‘plates spinning’ so that small bits of time can be put to good use. It’s very helpful to have huge projects broken up into action steps, and makes the whole thing seem less daunting. Write Book is a pretty big mountain, but 1. Draft summary 2. Outline chapters 3. Organize files of material by chapter 4. Type 5. Proof 6. Request critique, etc…. is less intimidating.
If organization is an issue for you, I’d like to hear about your struggles and write more on this topic. Maybe your act is already together and I need to interview you!