There are many ways to get things done. Given the nature of our work, productivity is crucial for editors; many of us grapple with multiple projects in fluid, distraction-filled environments. The passage of time and how to manage it has preoccupied me since the arrival of my daughter, as I’ve struggled to get things done when it feels like time has sped up.
For ages, I prided myself on being a good multitasker. Throughout university, I impressed with my ability to simultaneously write papers, do laundry, paint my nails and chat online. The tendency to multitask has been ingrained in us, and it’s certainly become expected in today’s working world. Job ads seek out candidates with the “proven ability to multitask”; we’d be hard-pressed to find an ad looking for a monotasker. For my own work, I’ve explored different ways of tackling my to-do lists. I purchased David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but couldn’t justify buying a label maker to get organized. I tried the Pomodoro Technique, but didn’t like my time broken into small pieces.
At a certain point in my career, I started to resent the dizziness I felt after a day of whizzing through many things at once. I accomplished a lot each day, but didn’t feel I’d devoted any thoughtful attention to anything. I started reading about minimalism and its encouragement of monotasking, and made an effort to do focused work on single things. I settled into a system of using the Wunderlist app to create checklists, enjoying the satisfying “whoosh” that rewarded me when I finished something. I did quick things first, and adopted my own version of Twain’s alleged suggestion to “eat the frog,” prioritizing any unsavoury tasks. Doing one thing at a time was something that I embraced until my daughter appeared.
As a new parent, it quickly became clear that I had no hope of starting and completing one thing at a time. I had to reframe my thinking and figure out how I could get everything done, or risk being left with a naked, dirty, hungry baby (and self!). It made sense to start cleaning my teeth before putting bottles on the stove, and move on to sort half a basket of laundry, toothbrush still in mouth. I didn’t just have to adjust to doing a lot of things at once. I had to learn to leave things half done, sometimes for days, and to be okay with it. This didn’t sit well with my checklist-hungry mentality.
I’m adapting to this new life where days melt away, and I’ve tried, where possible, to go back to my focused monotasking. I’ve accepted that things will get done in a different way and often without the focused attention they might deserve. One thing that makes the editing craft so interesting is the wealth of different approaches we have. I would welcome any secrets on how best to get things done, from multitasking wizards and focused monotaskers alike.
Previous post from Marianne Grier: Learning Baby Talk
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