When Your Carefully Constructed Plans Begin to Spill from Your Grasp

Saturday is a wonderful day of polar opposites. It is a day set aside for both relaxation and catching up on projects, both reflective quiet time and the precious chaos of a full day with your offspring.

On this particular Saturday, picture me reorganizing the front closet while trying to understand why four people would need 30 smelly pairs of shoes in the same season. Once we determined which shoes would stay and which would be transferred to bedroom closets, the kids set out to finish the task. Trouble was, my five-year-old boy had bigger goals that morning, like tag, LEGO, and general rowdiness.

When I assured him he could continue playing once his water wear, sandals, and dress shoes were back in his closet, he proceeded to gather all four pairs in his arms and bolt for the bedroom.

Well, attempt to bolt. At first, only a single shoe tumbled to the floor. Then another as he bent to retrieve what he’d lost. Frustration mounted as each rescue attempt sent one or two more shoes bouncing away. To his credit, he didn’t give up. Instead, he scrunched the shoes tight to his chest and inched forward as though his cargo had suddenly gone from neoprene to nitro.

For a boy who has been all systems go since the dawn of his time, watching him grind down to first gear (otherwise known as “Daddy speed”) was extraordinary. I finally saw what he looks like without the blur.

Between chuckles, I couldn’t help noting that if he had decided to make two trips, he would already have been finished. And that’s when I realized how much he looked like me.

Not until he slowed the process and calibrated a new course did he realize his goal. With the hindrance removed, success was only a matter of time. (Resume tag, LEGO, and general rowdiness.)

If you’re older than five, you already know that taking “just enough” actually gets you to your goal faster than taking too much at once. Not necessarily faster than you wanted, but faster than if you had overloaded yourself.

What is more difficult to pinpoint is how much is “just enough”. How much can I bite off without getting chewed up by the process? How much can I take on before I feel I can’t go on?

When it comes to personal pursuits, I’ve taken on too much in the past and dropped it all when I couldn’t keep up with my self-imposed time frame. As a result, I’ve focused on and struggled through a process of trying to discover how much is “just enough”.

But I realized eventually that I’d been asking the wrong question. Achieving goals is partly about how much there is to do, but mostly about how much there is to do in the time allotted.

In other words, how much doesn’t matter as much as how long.

When we take on too much in an effort to finish faster, we become more susceptible to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. Don’t know about you, but I’d rather enjoy the journey.

Yes, we want it now. Yes, we need to keep working toward our goals. But if you’re losing the joy of the pursuit amid the “muchness” of it all–especially to the point of not finishing–you may have taken on too many shoes.

When that happens, it’s time to change the deadline.

Let me clarify: I don’t promote shifting deadlines willy-nilly in a futile attempt at avoiding failure. Rather, when you have the freedom to do so, allow your deadlines to be fluid while you discover your rhythm.

Setting an arbitrary date at the outset of a new or unfamiliar project doesn’t mean that it’s the best course of action. So, while you are discerning and developing your rhythm, don’t let missed deadlines grind you down. Change the date and press on. Once you discover a realistic sense of your time constraints and capabilities, then become more ruthless with your deadlines.

And you might find you still have time to play.

(P.S. If you find you really are overloaded and a simple change in deadlines isn’t enough, this may help.)

Misadventures in Dating

If you were to read through even a single volume of my library of personal notebooks, you would discover quite quickly one of my simple quirks: I date everything I get my hands on.

(I can admit that openly because my wife never reads this blog.)

Before you tweet her, call her or post this on her Facebook page, allow me a clarification. When I write a note, the first thing I do in almost every case is jot the date at the top of the page. There are two grand reasons for this compulsion act:

  1. This immediately breaks the psychological barrier of staring at “The Empty Page”.
  2. This allows me to remember when I wrote it.

In all honesty, the first point doesn’t actually work (ever retraced something a zillion times while you search for the next word?), but lists look better with more than one item.

While updating my life plan tonight, I rediscovered a plan I’d developed for a particular long form writing project … exactly one year ago tonight. The plan was ambitious, but not unattainable. In fact, I distinctly remember adding “buffer time” after already setting out a reasonable timeline.

I was proud of the plan. It was practical, covered every aspect of the project without getting bogged down in details, and provided ample time to ward off all the inevitable obstacles. Yet the projected deadline passed several months ago, and I haven’t written one page.

Urg.

Spirit-crushing failure notwithstanding, this incident holds the promise of actually propelling me forward. Why? Dating, that’s why.

Dating forces us to remember that, ultimately, commitment counts. Your dates will always remind you of your promises. And how long they’ve been waiting for you to keep them.

(This big fail is not a total surprise, considering I had several smaller projects percolating, as well. Since that time, I did manage to complete five other writing projects and am closing in on a sixth. Like it or lump it, the story of my writing life has been about enjoying or pursuing too many options at once.

Apparently, I’m just not ready to commit.)

The irony in this is that during those months of rampant neglect, I developed a sharper commitment to the writing process on the whole. Though spurning that one story, I discarded–okay, challenged–the bad habit of tackling multiple projects simultaneously and resisted the urge to chase the shiny before completing the current.

At least part of that success I owe to the practice of dating. Each date I write warns me to keep my pursuit alive, lest I lose:

  1. my momentum,
  2. my passion, or
  3. “her” trust that I will keep my promise, symbolized by those simple numbers at the top of the very first page.

So despite the ugly reminders that I’m not always Mr. Reliable, I will press on. I’ll keep on dating. In fact, I’d say I’m committed.

Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
—Douglas Adams

courtesy Wikipedia

I encountered a wonderful problem with “When God is No Longer”. I discovered that though my characters might not find the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, they had more to say than my week allowed.

Thanks for your patience. 🙂

The Write Off


I’ve decided to put public form to my personal challenge of writing more frequently.

Thus, the first Write Off begins June 4, 2012. Here’s the plan:

for one week each month, I will submit three different short story introductions (a few paragraphs, at most) on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Once all three are posted, your job is to vote for the one you’d like me to finish (by commenting on any of the posts). I’ll announce the winner the following Monday and will post an excerpt on Friday.

This will be a bit of a fun break for me from my longer-term “real projects”, and I hope you’ll enjoy the results as much as I enjoy the process.

Spread the word — two weeks and ticking!

[polldaddy poll=6249067]

Niggles

Tonight, for the first time in many days, I sat and closed my eyes. Predictably, the first moments were an onslaught of thought, a mishmash of useless questions and information with important to-dos and should-have-dones that never quite saw the light of day. A swirling madhouse in my mind.

But I pressed on.

I refused to address the niggles that gnawed at me, looking to feast on my precious free time. One by one I squashed them mercilessly, spearing them with my deliberate ignorance, until finally … peace.

peace,
that wonderful space

where everything that mattered
a moment ago
is put in its rightful place

peace,
that wonderful choice
to tune out all the clatter
and all that you know
is list’ning for that small voice

And wouldn’t you know, a voice came; a beautiful lilt drifting through the darkness until it reached my ears and shattered my short-lived meditation:

“Hon, why on earth are you sitting in the dark? Is something wrong?”

Oh, well. At least I tried.