Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stop the glorification of busy

Last week, I hustled into the building for my day job  running late   with wet hair   sloshing lukewarm tea all over myself   professionally-attired, five minutes early, and ready to begin my workday.

That's when I spotted this tacked to my boss's office door:

"Is this new?" I asked the boss, pointing at it as he passed me en route to  the refrigerator   the bathroom   an important meeting.

"It's actually been there a few weeks."

You could take that as a commentary on my poor observation skills, but I prefer to see it as a positive sign that my boss rarely has his door closed, which makes it less likely I'd notice anything tacked to it. There may be a coupon for a year's worth of free wine tucked below his nameplate, and I'd never notice.

That's a lie. I always notice free wine, but that's not the point of this post. My point is that the sign resonated with me, and not in a, "hey, my boss is telling me to slack off" sorta way.

On the contrary, our entire team works very hard. We all have packed schedules, and I can guarantee no one has ever uttered the phrase, "I'm bored" in our building.

But there's a difference between working hard for the sake of a goal, and working hard for the sake of impressing someone. There's a difference between being a good employee and being a martyr. There's a difference between being productive and being busy.

The latter was on my mind this past Monday in particular. Since I work part-time for the day job, Mondays are my day to stay home and focus on author stuff. When I'm in the middle of a manuscript like I am right now, I become neurotically focused on building word count. If I don't write at least 4,000 new words on a Monday afternoon, I feel like slamming my head in the garage door.

But this particular Monday was not a word-adding day, and I knew that up front. I'd had a hardcore brainstorming session with one of my critique partners, and I knew heading into Monday that it was a day for finessing, tweaking, and weaving delicate little plot threads together. A vital task? Absolutely. Crucial to making progress with the story? Of course.

But not something that was going to boost my overall word count by much.

I knew this Monday morning, and by the end of the day, I'd made a lot of really great strides with my plot. But when I looked at my word count, I still felt glum.

Then I wanted to slam my head in the garage door again, because seriously – WTF?

I need a copy of my boss's sign for my home office. I need to remind myself that "progress" doesn't look the same every single time. I need to do a better job accepting a certain flexibility in the tools I use to gauge success. Sometimes, moving forward requires moving backward, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I'm guessing I'm not alone in my constant need to remind myself of these things. Do you have an urge to be busy? Do you sometimes gauge your own success based on arbitrary measurements instead of less-tangible forms of progress? Please share!

I'll be  fleshing out this character arc   developing a new subplot  writing blog posts to support my marketing plan  sitting on the sofa thinking. It might be about writing, or it might just be dirty thoughts.

And that's OK.


Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

I get caught up in the word count thing, too. Yesterday I wrote a scene that turned out so good, I loved it. Word count 994. Of course, my thought was ONLY 994 words. It seemed like so much more.

Mary said...

Oh, I love that! My students have the "glorification of busy" down--99.9% of it in the "I'm faking working while I'm really talking to seven different people via Google Chat" kind of way.

I tend to have garage door moments when I don't get enough crossed off the to-do list each day (and, yes, that does include word count!). Eyes on the prize and all that. But, sometimes, a moment to sit and reflect or watch the sunset or see how long it takes to chug a pint of beer is all good, too.


Love the quote. Thanks for sharing. Ummm, gives me something to think about. I need to go now and check out your books. The covers are great.
Blessings, Barb

Unknown said...

I'm a bit caught up in my word count, because I have a deadline, but I'm the first to say--story comes first. If you don't have a decent story, your words count for nothing! There are so many different types of "work" that go into making a novel. Some look better than others, but combined, they make a good book. Some of the most important parts of a story come before a word is even written. And recovery time is vital as well. Sometimes, we just need to sit on the couch and veg, in order to let our minds relax and recover from a busy time. If we don't, we'll become burned out, and no good to anyone or to our stories.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I'd say that being a neurotic workaholic definitely makes me feel the urge to stay busy. I get restless if an entire day passes and I haven't gotten any (or enough) work done. I have started taking a little more time for myself lately. But only a little. :)

Julie Glover said...

I needed this post, Tawna! I'm struggling right now with a rewrite, changing POV along the way, and the progress is slower than I would like. Some hours I am writing, but really only in my brain as I kick around ideas and plot changes to make everything click right. Thanks for the reminder!

Amy said...

I've had several conversations about this very topic in the last week - funny the way things go eh? Working incredibly long hours and always juggling numerous balls (enjoy) might look impressive, but I'm so much more impressed by someone who can stand up for themselves, organise their time carefully, brutally even, and say, "No, I'm not signing up for yet another thing because my sanity/space/art is important." It takes real maturity and self-knowledge to put aside time to yourself, to put aside what others think of you, to put aside guilt, to say, "I'm not that important. You can all cope just fine without me. I'm going to go have a nap."

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Yes! Once in a while, you just need a day like that, where you tie up loose ends. It's still productive.

Lisa Ahn said...

"I need to remind myself that "progress" doesn't look the same every single time." I love that line. I struggle with this a lot -- both with teaching and writing. I tend to set high goals and bust myself for not reaching them. Great post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am a writing teacher and I am CONSTANTLY trying to get that message through to people! I see so many writers on the edge of burnout and it worries me.

Thank you so much for saying this. We all need to hear it.

"Too busy" is a societal epidemic which leads straight to family breakdown and bad health. We need to love ourselves more than our word count

sandra tyler said...

I feel liucky I don't have to work now, though with kids my days aren'ts free even when they're in school. So I try to get that writing time 2 hours in the morning. Then I'm slamming my head into the garage door.

Amy Miller said...

I love this! Fun to read and so true.