This post was first published in March 2018
It is Wednesday when I write this and I am rather anxious. Decided to go back to work tomorrow but haven’t heard anything from them yet and I could not get through either. Nervous, scared…..
Managed to write a German blog post but for the English one I get back to Mr Ingermanson’s brilliant newsletter that I suggest all of you writers out there subscribe to because there is so much more helpful material in it than I ever publish with his permission 🙂 :
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!
The big things in life are usually a marathon: Buying a house. Raising kids. Writing a novel.
You finish a marathon the hard way, one step at a time. There aren’t any short cuts. You just show up every day and do what needs doing and one day it’s done. In recent months, I’ve talked in this column about the extraordinary power of habits to tackle these big things.
The small things in life are often quick. Pay the Visa bill. Change the oil. Write a blog post. You can do them in five minutes, or fifteen, or an hour. Pow. Done.
You do the small things during the cracks in the day.
The Middle Zone
But there’s a middle zone of tasks that aren’t exactly marathons but aren’t exactly a five-minute thing either. They’re the kind of thing that would take all or most of the day. Cleaning out the garage. Zapping the moss growing on the roof. Setting up a web site.
These are too small to justify creating a habit to tackle the job. But they’re too big to fit into the cracks in the day.
These are the kind of things that sit on my To-Do List, festering for weeks. Or months. Or years. Maybe you know the feeling.
Beating the Middle Zone
So how do you tackle these middling kind of tasks that just never seem to get done?
You do it with a “sprint.”
A sprint is when you reserve a whole day to tackle just one thing.
You basically tell yourself, “If I get nothing else done today, I’m going to get that terrible task done.” Then you do it.
I remember a bit more than a year ago, I decided that the garage absolutely must be cleaned out. It was getting too horrible for words. So I declared one Saturday a sprint day. My wife and I started about 9 AM. We took everything out of the garage. We junked the junk. We cleaned the dirty stuff. We decided on a rational scheme for where everything was going to go. Then we put it all back in. We were done by 1 PM. Four hours of concentrated effort, and we knocked off a task that had been getting worse for maybe five or six years. The garage looked good when it was done, and it still looks pretty good now.
That’s the magical power of a sprint.
How To Execute on a Sprint
Sounds great in theory, right? So how do you execute a sprint?
- First, you have to make the decision that you’re going to tackle this problem at the next opportunity. Make a commitment that you are definitely going to do a sprint and beat this task into submission. At this stage, you don’t have to know exactly when you’re going to do it. You just commit to doing it when there’s a good opportunity. Put it on your To-Do List to “Find a date to do this sprint.”
- Second, you have to pick the date for the sprint and reserve it on your calendar. Good days for sprinting don’t come along often. Most of my sprints happen on a weekend. Occasionally I’ll do one on a holiday. And yes, I know it’s painful to take precious weekend time or holiday time to do dull work. I don’t like to do it, and I bet you don’t either. So I wouldn’t recommend doing a sprint at every possible opportunity. But when you’ve already made a commitment to do the sprint, all you have to do is check your calendar for a good sprint day in the near future and then reserve that day.
- Third, just do it. Grit your teeth and do the thing you committed to do, the thing you scheduled for a certain day.
Notice that step 3 is the easiest of the three steps. The hardest is step 1. That’s the reason that I shaved it down to the irreducible minimum, because it’s hard to commit. Once you’ve committed, it’s not so hard to actually find a slot on the calendar. And once you’ve put that terrible task on your calendar with a firm commitment to do it on that exact day, actually doing it is not so awful. My experience is that if I think it’s going to take the whole day, it often takes half a day.
It’s a good feeling to knock a task off your To-Do List that has been there for months or years. A really good feeling.
Is there a terrible task on your list that’s been sitting there for months, mocking you? If not, you’re an amazing human being and I admire you greatly. Or else you’re a bare-faced liar.
But let’s say you do have one of these terrible tasks. Do you really want to do it, or is it just there because you think it should be there? If you really don’t care about it, then cross it off your list because you’re never going to do it. Admit that you don’t care.
If you really want to do it, if getting that terrible task is in line with your personal values, then make a commitment to do it. Put a task on your To-Do List that says, “I commit to doing this task. Assign a sprint day on my calendar.”
Next, before this week is over, schedule the sprint day. Look at your calendar. Make a decision. Mark that day in.
When the sprint day comes, no weaseling out. Do the terrible task. Cross it off your list.
Celebrate. You did something good.
Fellow Blogger writing about Organisation:
A Gentlewoman and Scholar: Organisation