Monday, July 15, 2013

Organization: Your Fragmented Life by Randy Ingermanson

I found this article by Randy Ingermanson, a very good writer, and a very good teacher of writing, and a really smart guy. I struggle with trying to put my life together. I think we all do. He just happens to have some good advice about it, so with his permission, I present a recent article from his e-zine.

 Organization: Your Fragmented Life

So your life is fragmented beyond belief, right?

You need to research foods they ate in the 1880s in
France for your novel.

And the repair guy is coming at 10 AM to fix the busted
washing machine.

And you have a blog that needs feeding.

There's a storm coming and it might be time to clear
the gunk out of the rain gutters before they overflow.

Did you remember to sign up for that writing conference
that's going to have that agent you've been mooning

The cat is way overdue to be spayed and she's acting
much too friendly with your teddy bear.

You haven't Facebooked in ages and you're not sure it
matters anymore because you hate it anyway.

Your boss wants that report on his desk tomorrow.

You're supposed to be writing your novel.

All of the above, and more, is on your plate for today.
Most of these tasks have been festering on your plate
for days or weeks already. You hate your plate. You
want all those tasks to just go away. They're all
important. Quick -- which do you do first?

Does any of this sound remotely familiar?

Good, you're human. If your life isn't fragmented, you
might be a robot. Or God. Or deceased.

So how do you deal with it all?

I can't tell you how you SHOULD deal with it all. But I
can tell you how I deal with it. If it sounds like it
might work for you, then try it.

There are really three basic steps here:

* Keep lists for the main Big Chunks of your life. All
tasks go on a list for one of your Big Chunks, or else
they go on the Miscellaneous list.

* Every day, pick a few of the Big Chunk lists to work
on. Assign a priority for each list for the day. Set a
fixed amount of time that you're going to work
exclusively on each list, when you'll be totally
focused on that list.

* When it's time to work on a given list, work on that
for the assigned amount of time and then stop. Ignore
all interruptions if you possibly can.

Does this work? Yes, it works for me. It might work for
you too. Let's see how it plays out in real life:

Today, I have a boatload of things to get done. A lot
more than I could possibly do in one day. All of them
are important.

They fall into four Big Chunks, and for today, I put
them in this order:

1) My novel. I'm proofing it for publication. Yay!

2) My business. I've got a ton of small tasks and one
big task. 

3) This e-zine. I've got three articles to write in the
next few days, plus editing.

4) A giveaway campaign on Goodreads that I just
started, and which I need to check up on.

Each of these Big Chunks has a bunch of tasks that all
need to get done. So on each list, I've got the tasks
in the rough order I want to do them.

This morning when I looked at my lists, it was pretty
overwhelming. That's normal. I can't remember when my
lists didn't look overwhelming. Yours look overwhelming
too. That doesn't mean we need to be overwhelmed.

What we need is focus.

When I started work this morning, I assigned myself 90
minutes to work on the novel, 60 minutes to work on my
business, 90 minutes to work on this e-zine, and 60
minutes to deal with the Goodreads campaign.

That works out to 5 hours total, which in my experience
is a good day's work, because there is also email to be
answered, small breaks to be taken, water to be drunk,
exercise to be had, cats to be coddled, and crises to
be managed.

The little things never go away, but you manage them by
wedging them into the cracks between the Big Chunks in
your day.

The point is that 5 hours of my day is scheduled for
the Big Chunks in my life.

I began with Big Chunk #1 -- working on my novel. I had
only 90 minutes assigned to it, which meant there was
no time to mess around. I dived right in and got
cranking. 90 minutes goes fast.

When my 90 minutes were up, I was on a roll and didn't
want to stop. So I kept on going until I reached 160
minutes. That was cheating, but my novel was my top
priority for the day, so I wanted to run with it. I'm
happy to cheat on behalf of the high priority things in
my life.

I felt pretty good when I finished, so I took a break
and did some e-mail. Not all of it, but enough to knock
down the in-box a bit. That burned 15 minutes.

Then I moved into Big Chunk #2, my business work. There
is an infinite amount of work on that plate, but I had
budgeted only 60 minutes for the day. Which meant there
was no time to mess around. I took the most important
task, which really NEEDS to be done today, and started

There were some interruptions. Urgent phone calls from
my boss which I really can't ignore. That happens. But
I was pretty focused anyway, because I really wanted to
get this one task done. It took two full hours. I had
only one hour budgeted, but when you're halfway
through, you really don't want to stop. So I got it

Fact is, there are a dozen other important tasks I need
to do for my business. I did only one. But I finished
it. I could whine about the other eleven left undone,
or I could be happy about the one that I did. I'll take
the one. Some days, I don't get even one done. That's
just reality.

I'm right now working on Big Chunk #3, this e-zine. I
have 90 minutes budgeted for this, AND I have a crisis
to deal with from my boss which I have set aside to
ferment for a bit.

My theory on crises is you either kill them right away
or let them take their turn with all the other crises
in the world. This one is going to take its turn. I
just don't think I can solve it today, so why should I
let it interfere with the Big Chunks in my life? No
reason to do that. Not going to.

I have three articles for my e-zine I'd love to write
today. Not going to happen in the 90 minutes I have
budgeted. I'll be doing very well to get this one done
in that amount of time.

But in fact, the first draft is almost done. I'm pretty
focused right now. I've given myself permission to be
focused for this 90 minute block.

After the 90 minutes are up, I'll need to go check the
mail. And deal with the e-mail that's reproducing in my
in-box. And pay obeisance to the cat, who has not been
fed in two whole hours. And think about my boss-induced

I don't know if I'll get to the Goodreads task list
today. It would be wonderful if I do, but the fact is
that it was #4 on my list of Big Chunks.

On different days, I choose different Big Chunks. My
life has several Big Chunks. Probably six or seven of
them. On any given day, I can generally get something
significant done on three or possibly four of them.

That's my life.

I bet yours is similar.

I bet yours is totally out of control.

Just like mine.

You will never get your life under control, if by
"control" you mean that all your lists are finished.

Not going to happen until you die. Because things
keeping adding themselves to your lists. Crises happen.
Cats select you to be their humble servant.

Yikes, my friend is Skyping me right now. I'll allow
myself a couple of quick responses to be polite. Got to
stay focused on what I'm doing.

Every day you can budget time on the Big Chunks of your
life. 60 minutes for this. 90 minutes for that. If you
get some actual work done, one or more tasks crossed
off the list, on each of three Big Chunks every day,
well that's progress.

Yes, we all want to get it all done.

No, none of us are ever going to do it.

Sure, your life is fragmented beyond all belief. But
you can defrag it a bit, right now, today, tomorrow,
and forever. By budgeting time for the Big Chunks.

What are your Big Chunks for today? (I'm hoping that
working on your novel is one of those Big Chunks, but
it probably can't be everyday.)

Which Big Chunk is most important for today? (On a good
day, your most important Big Chunk might be your novel,
but it probably won't be every day.)

How much time can you realistically spend on each of
your Big Chunks? (Remember that the little pieces of
life are going to intrude, so the time you spend on
your Big Chunks is not going to be 100% of your day.)

Now go work on the first Big Chunk for the time
allotted. Ignore all interruptions if you possibly can,
until the time is up. Then deal with the interruptions,
the crises, the incidental e-mail for a few minutes.

Then on to the next Big Chunk, and the next.

For me, three Big Chunks is a good day, and four is

Divide and conquer. It worked for Julius Caesar. It can
work for you.

One Big Chunk at a time.
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 32,000 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

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing
and get a free 5-Day Course by e-mail in How To Publish
a Novel.


Randy Ingermanson 
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine 

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