Mind Taffy

If it’s constantly on your mind, it’s probably not getting done!

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!

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7 Responses to Mind Taffy

  1. Christian says:

    Jesus was big on action for similar reasons.

  2. Yes! That’s the point….He wants to be realized, not just to be thought about – even rightly! The distance between what we can imagine and what we can actually do can get so great that it paralyzes us – in creative tasks and in building virtue.

  3. Don Mulcare says:

    Thank you for sharing.

    Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges (16 November 1863 – 26 July 1948), O.P., in his book: The Intellectual Life, mentioned the bed-side note pad as the means of capturing stray nocturnal thoughts. He lived in a less frantic time and place, so he may not have experienced the pace of modern life.

    The imagination prompts us to both creativity and entropy. The frantic life-style also increases entropy, but at the expense of creativity. Regimentation can control entropy while it stifles creativity. Your scheduling of a contemplative half-day sounds like a workable means to give creativity its head and a calm environment in which to romp. I wonder if creativity responds on schedule or should it be allowed to appear when it is ready?

    Like those stray thoughts in the middle of the night that will drop into the subconscious without a trace, our dreams, so vivid when they dance through our minds, escape into the shadows upon waking. If we can catch a thought or two on our note pads, how can we pin down those dreams that might inspire us in our creative efforts?

    Thanks again!

  4. I love Sertillanges’ book! I’m always recommending it….creativity, in my experience, doesn’t respond too well to scheduling, and yet the discipline of having to wait to develop creative ‘seeds’ that seem to crop up willy-nilly really helps overall realization of creative ideas. To have quiet time in a large block is a must for me, yet a lot of my writing occurs in unplanned moments….some of them in the middle of the night, but others in the middle of conferences, for instance, when I’ve had the whole time blocked off for non-writing activity, but then it really has lots of little holes in it that are perfect for jottings. One hard discipline for me is to not write down a poem (all other ideas are best noted), but to make myself allow it to live within and develop in my whole being first, before being written….writing a poem immediately has sometimes flattened it….it needs to be lived in for a while first!

  5. Don Mulcare says:

    Would writing out the poem interfere with creativity? Is there a risk that while the poem incubates within you, you may become so distracted by the demands of your busy life that some aspect of poem is lost? Just as the note pad on the night stand preserves a moment of enlightenment, would the rough written form of the poem not also protect your creation?

    Perhaps it is more true of prose than poetry that a rough draft serves as a framework to which the finished elements of a work can be attached?

    Thank you for sharing your additional ideas and your fondness for Dom Sertillanges.

  6. There’s EVERY risk that distraction will mean the loss of a poem!!! I’ve lost many that way, and notes on the pad have helped me keep a good many more through times I couldn’t let them incubate. But it really has been an important discipline for me to, sometimes, stay present enough to a single poem that it grows up and becomes itself within me before I write! Thank you for your interest.

  7. Don Mulcare says:

    It’s sad to lose part of a poem or even the whole poem. I write very little poetry, but it may take years to complete a simple piece. Its accidents change but its essence finally emerges from the sketchy drafts. I don’t trust myself to not sketch it out on paper (actually in a Word document) so that I have something to come back to.

    This may work if you have to ration your creative moments. The draft awaits you. Meanwhile you can incubate the piece and when time allows you can upgrade the draft.

    I’ve labored with an attention deficit. At some point it was easier to focus the day dreams on creative projects, occasionally recording the ideas until there was time to redraft them.

    It’s interesting to read the Letters of J. J. R. Tolkien to see how little time he had to work on his projects.

    Wishing you the tranquility to let you hatch your projects.

    God bless,

    Don