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Marianne Grier

Eating Frogs and the Tomato Technique: The Art of Getting Things Done

Copyright: kubko / 123RF Stock Photo

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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6 Comments on “Eating Frogs and the Tomato Technique: The Art of Getting Things Done”

  • Anita I. Jenkins


    I love this post. I used to call myself a born-again home office worker because I was so thrilled to be self-employed and not having to go to a traditional workplace five days a week. But this choice has its challenges – and time management is a big one.

    • Marianne Grier


      Time management is a huge challenge! I’ve often fallen into the trap of trying to get the quick things done first (anything under two minutes) and found myself, hours later, with lots of little things done but big things left untouched.
      For me, working from home takes a lot of discipline and a lot of honesty with myself about where I tend to get distracted.

  • Rosemary Shipton


    Editing requires concentration, so you need to focus when you’re at your desk. When my children were young, I was quite disciplined about working during nap times; I also traded a few hours every week with three other mothers for play dates and carpooling the children to various activities. Those hours allowed me to keep up my skills and my contacts so that, when the youngest was in school, I was ready to spring right back into action professionally.

    Freelance or contract editing allows you to tailor the hours to suit your life. You can work fifty hours a week or ten, so long as you keep your clients happy. When you’re not at your desk, you can think about the big substantive / stylistic issues as you exercise, cook, or do laundry – then apply your solutions when you’re back before the computer. So long as you’re interested in your project and have its full scope in mind, you can work well for an hour or two as you get the time. Interruptions don’t matter. Well, that’s my experience, anyhow.

    • Marianne Grier


      It’s a great idea to swap time with other parents. And I agree about mulling over bigger issues when doing other tasks. My brain often figures things out in the background when I’m doing things that don’t require much concentration.

      I’ve yet to master working during naptimes but I’ll get there!

  • Carla DeSantis


    Excellent points. It’s always a tricky balance. You are right — when the kids arrive, you have to reorganize your tasks in a whole new way. I remember sorting tasks into “sleep” and “awake” time; i.e., I could unload the dishwasher or fold clothes, for example, while chatting and singing to the little ones, but had to reserve tasks requiring mental focus for naptime or evening while they were asleep. And now that the kids are older and out of the house all day, I still have to prioritize in that way, in that I focus on my editing work when the house is empty and quiet – even if it means leaving dishes in the sink all day — so that I can be present and attend to family and house matters when everyone is home.

    • Marianne Grier


      I suppose I’ve subconsciously divided tasks into “sleep” and “awake” time but never consciously labelled them as such. This is such a helpful suggestion.

      Someday I’ll get used to the dishes in the sink!

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