Sunday, November 30, 2008

InaDWriMo - Final Update

Well, I haven't really made any significant progress on writing since my last update. My writing time on Monday and Tuesday was taken up by incorporating the revisions my PI suggested, making some changes of my own, and cleaning up some missing citations. Then I took the day off on Wednesday. I spent the morning with Thing 2 - she hasn't been getting much mommy time lately. Then we picked up Thing 1 - she had an early dismissal. We had lunch, then stopped by the grocery store for a few last minute purchases.

Then I cooked. It was great! I actually enjoy cooking the Thanksgiving spread, so I do look forward to this time of year. The rest of the weekend, I spent enjoying my family, and taking Thing 1 to some extracurricular activities. I finished off the weekend by making turkey soup. Yum! But I digress. The best thing about this holiday weekend is that I don't feel like I'm "Not Serious" because I didn't work my ass off through the long weekend. I'm happy with the progress I have made on my writing, and I actually feel quite confident that I will have my manuscript finished very soon. I have a new appreciation for the fact that successful goal setting is one of the keys I need to achieve that elusive balance between work and the rest of my life.

Let me get more specific. I usually have several short term goals (things I can get done in a day) on my agenda and a couple of longer term goals (things that take several months of sustained effort to get done) sort of organizing and generating the short term goals. But I seem to keep having problems with the medium term goals - those things that take more than a day to finish, but yet are not on the same scale as the longer term goals. And it seems that I have more and more of those types of tasks as I progress in my training. I put them on my to-do list and then try to hack away at them each day. This leaves me feeling like I am flailing and makes it hard for me to see if I am making progress. Sometimes I try to break the medium length tasks into parts I can handle in one day. But that has varying degrees of success - I don't really have enough experience with some of these tasks to be accurate in my breakdown, so I get frustrated when one day I can easily finish what I plan and the next I don't even come close. I have also tried to estimate how long each chunk of the task will take and set deadlines for those. But it's so demoralizing to not meet those deadlines. So I need another option that fits the nature of these bigger tasks I will increasingly need to take on.

I suspect that many people in the training stages struggle with this issue, and I also suspect that it is one of the things that drives many people to work longer days that they'd like. Many days this month I have found myself approaching my scheduled leaving time wishing I didn't need to leave JUST THEN because I would have liked to finish what I was working on. And yet, I didn't really know how much longer it would take to finish what I was doing. Argh! Luckily, my sense of commitment to my kids won out every time, and I left work anyway.

But what can I do to give myself the feeling of progress that I need without also giving myself a lot of opportunities to feel like a failure? Well, though I resisted adding a progress bar for InaDWriMo to my blog, it looks like this may be a way to help myself break through the mid-size task blues. I didn't really use it as much as I could have, since I skipped several updates, but I had my own paper-based version on my desk, and it helped a lot. I also started using a sort of rolling to-do list, where I put what I thought I could do in a couple of days on a sticky, and didn't worry if I didn't complete everything in one day. But I didn't try to plan the whole week in one go. It sure felt good to crumple up the sticky every day or two and hang up a new one. I also started adding the little things I need to do for the family - phone calls, checks to mail, and forms to fill out. It turned out to be easier to fit those into my day if they were right there on my list. It's not a perfect system, yet, by far, but I am beginning to create a system for myself that actually works, and that I might be able to stick with. I think I am actually happier about my progress on this front than I am about the fact that I achieved 60% of the goals I set for myself this month.

So, I am wondering - have any of you readers struggled with scheduling and motivation for medium sized tasks? And do any of you have any suggestions for me?


Brigindo said...

I'm big on To Do lists. I can't really function without one. They tend to be very long and yes they are rolling. I put short-term and medium -term goals on there. If a medium-term goal isn't getting a lot of attention I add a colon and then list a short-term goal for it. That usually gets me back on track.

What helps me with leaving work unfinished actually comes from a writing tip I picked up but I think it works for research as well. I've heard you should stop writing before you've written all you can. Stop while it is still exciting and ideas are still flowing (it takes a while to get the timing right) and you'll want to pick it back up again the next day.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Yeah, task-planning can be tricky, and no single method works best for everyone. Sounds like you've got something that's working for you.

I have a dry-erase board at my desk, and in one area I used a sharpie to mark off boxes for each day of the week. Then each Friday, I take ten minutes to think about the upcoming week, write down tasks, goals, specifics, seminars--whatever I think I'll need to do--in the appropriate boxes.

That way, if I have a medium-length task, I can either write down the small goals each day, or just the deadline of the task. Either way, having it up where I can't ignore it is good. And wiping things off the board feels great!

EcoGeoFemme said...

I like to set goals for the week because that has a lot of flexibility. I can see what I want to do and break it down each day, but if something unexpected comes up the goals aren't necessarily shot. I feel really bad if I set daily goals and don't meet them. It kills my morale.

I exchange weekly goals/progress emails with another blogger which is extremely helpful. It gives me accountability to someone who is impartial and not judgmental but who generally offers positive words about my success. Plus it forces me to think through my goals and plan a reasonable amount of work. If I set goals for myself, I tend to make them too high. I do better when I know I have to email someone to say whether or not I did everything I said I would do.