Tuesday, 6 September 2016

On the Writing of Lists... by Cecilia Busby

One of the things about being a writer, and working from home, is that there is no one managing your time or telling you what to do when. This can be a delight, but it can also lead to feeling just a bit overburdened with the need to manage yourself. There are times when there just seem to be too many things requiring your attention. Times when it's hard to keep track of all the fronts on which you are attempting to advance (or, more realistically, just keep from getting impossibly behind). Times when it's easy to get so overwhelmed that all you really want to do is go back to bed...

These are the times when I tend to find myself reaching for a pen and paper and announcing:

I need a list!

Writing things down seems to calm my frenzied brain slightly. Firstly, it is just inherently soothing writing thing down. Secondly, it makes me feel as if I've actually begun on each of the tasks - just writing them has made them a little bit more concrete. Thirdly, it calms the bit of my brain that's trying to make sure I remember them all and don't miss important deadlines - if they're written down, they can't be forgotten.

All well and good - and generally very useful.


There is a downside to lists, and it's that I tend to ADD TOO MANY THINGS.

A list generally starts quite modest and useful. For example:

1. Put bins out
2. Buy milk
3. Phone school re bus timetable
4. Email agent about rewrite

But it has a tendency to rapidly get out of hand, as more and more Useful and Important Things occur to me. Thus:

5. Write 'Comment is Free' article on author event fees and send to Guardian
6. Think about new website design ideas
7. Read teetering pile of books by bed 

And then it just gets worse:

8. Put contents of wardrobe on ebay and buy proper clothes
9. Draft new book
10. Paint and decorate entire house

Not Achieving The Things On My List can rapidly become another source of stress, entirely negating the good stuff about having organised a list.

When this happens, I have found a good strategy is not to eschew lists altogether, but to change the kind of list I write. A very good antidote to the failure to keep up with the 'To Do' list is to have a 'Done' list.

Done lists are brilliant. By definition, everything on them has been achieved already. You can in fact award yourself an instant Well Done Rosette the minute you finish writing them.

The best thing about 'Done' lists though, is that they are the very opposite of 'To Do' lists. The more you sit there, the more you think of things you have achieved, and the more concrete and bounded those things become. At the tail end of a 'Done' list I mght find myself writing things like:

22. Brushed my hair this morning
23. Had a really nice piece of toast for breakfast
24. Rescued a spider from the bath

Equally, I can sometimes find some quite big and important things ending up on my 'Done' list, things I'd never dream of putting on a 'To Do' list but which perhaps explain why I don't always get the 'To Do' list, well, Done. Things like:

25. Talked to (daughter) about her worries re school 
26. Made her some hot chocolate and watched Poldark together

Sometimes a 'Done' list can overlap slightly with another useful exercise that helps when I am feeling overwhelmed, which is a kind of version of 'count your blessings' and involves patting myself gently on the back for the many things I have actually achieved over the last few years. It's easy to forget them, and only look forward to the things I haven't managed to do!

So, having knocked off 'Write ABBA blog', I am now moving on to the next item on today's deliberately modest list, which is 'Have a nice cup of tea'...

Happy list-making!

Cecilia Busby writes humorous fantasy adventures for ages 7-12 as C.J. Busby. Her latest book, The Amber Crown, was published last year by Templar.



"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)

"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)


Penny Dolan said...

Hope you enjoyed that tea, Celia! Loved this - a good start of September post!

Writing lists certainly calms my mind, and breaking down a big task into a list makes it feel manageable - or so I've read, although "do a bit of reading" probably wasn't on my list at the time.

Lynne Benton said...

Oh how I agree, Celia! I LOVE making lists, though like you I often put down far too many things to be done. I have a notebook in which I put "Jobs for the week", under which I write all the things I know I ought to do that week, or at least fairly soon, and then on the opposite page I write "Jobs for the day", which is slightly shorter but more immediate. And when I can tick some of those off I feel really good. (I must admit I sometimes add jobs I have already done, so I can start with a tick!) I update my "Jobs for the Day" every day, and the other list once a week. Some of the things on "Jobs for the week" do get transferred from week to week, admittedly, but by the time they've been there for a month or so I generally heave a sigh and get down to them at last - unless of course by then I've decided they are no longer necessary, or they can be put off indefinitely (like spring cleaning!).
Now the next job on my "Today" list is Finish my Abba blog and schedule it...

Susan Price said...

Celia, while reading the first part of your blog, I was wondering how you'd managed to gain access to my brain. Especially the parts about feeling overwhelmed.

I never saw myself as a list-maker. It seemed far too plodding and orderly - but you're right. Lists are wonderful and essential. When overwhelmed by a tide of Things To Be Done in completely different areas of your life, when you don't know where to start, a list helps you to prioritise and find the best way through it all.

Which reminds me - I must add 'check car tyres etc' to my list. Which also includes: Dig garden, plant bulbs, lag exterior pipe, shop, write articles, write blogs...

Emma Barnes said...

I identify with this SO MUCH. Linda Strachan wrote a great post recently with her method for keeping a "To Do" list which I'm going to try...although at the moment it's still on my "To Do" list. https://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/living-on-edge-or-organised-chaos-linda.html

Jay Williams said...

The concept of a Done list charms me - I often do chores that I'd forgotten to include on my To Do list and feel aggrieved they 'don't count' in some way.
Done lists are a stroke of genius

C.J.Busby said...

Glad you all related to it. And your list, Susan, illustrates my point perfectly!! I definitely recommend a Done list to run alongside your many other intended tasks... :-)