Monday, March 11, 2013

Open wide and take it one bite at a time

I skipped blogging the last couple weeks while I endured exhaustive literary exploration and journeyed to the far corners of the globe conducting tireless research for my next two novels.

In other words, I was in Kauai visiting my parents, hanging with my brother & his fiancée, and celebrating my gentleman friend's 40th birthday.

For the record, I am working on two books set on the lovely garden isle, and I did spend vacation time exchanging phone calls, emails, and text messages with my agent. Though I can't yet share the reasons for all the urgent correspondence, suffice it to say my plate is quite full at the moment. Not a bad problem for an author to have.

But of course, I'm not just an author. As we made the 3.5 hour drive home from the airport, traveling through a mountain blizzard following an all-night flight from Hawaii, I realized with dread that I had to report to the day job the following morning.

I adore being the Communications and Public Relations Manager for my city's tourism bureau, which frequently involves sipping beer with journalists on the Bend Ale Trail and spending afternoons snowshoeing or kayaking so I can blog about my adventures. I love what I do, both as an author and a part-time day jobber.

But as I sat there the next morning in my office, jet-lagged and exhausted with a sunburn that caused me to scratch myself inappropriately more often than normal, I stared at my overflowing email inbox and tried not to cry. Hundreds of unread messages glowed on the screen, their bold, black font like an evil email sneer. I scrolled down the page, hoping most of them were messages I could ignore about donuts in the break room week-old snow reports.

There were no donuts, stale or otherwise. And I was faced with the daunting task of tackling that overflowing inbox, along with the blinking light on my voicemail and the pile of mail lurking on a corner of my desk and a plethora of meetings on my calendar and my boss hovering in the doorway saying, "When you have a minute...."

The buzzing sensation in my brain was not unlike the one I've experienced as an author faced with an impossible deadline or a daunting set of revisions (though it's a different kind of buzzing than what's generated by the device beside my bed, which is where I seriously wished to be as I stared down my task list and wondered where the hell to start).

One of many lessons I'm forced to learn over and over as an author, a day jobber, and as someone hoping to maintain a home that doesn't appear as though a small nuclear weapon was detonated in my living room is the importance of tackling daunting tasks in small, manageable chunks. It's like that age-old question, "How do you eat an elepahant?"

One bite at a time.

And so, I dug in. Which is the way every success story starts, whether you're writing a book or shoveling dog doo in the backyard. I've learned the hard way that if I allow myself to dwell on the big picture – ohmygod, a WHOLE BOOK?! A task list longer than Ron Jeremy's beef bayonet? – I will expend more energy fretting than I would actually getting shit done.

In the case of the day job, that meant prioritizing the email inbox and tackling the time-sensitive tasks first, tending to media requests for photos and making sure all our social media channels were updated with engaging content. Fortified by that small sense of accomplishment (not to mention three cups of strong black tea) I moved on to the voicemail, then the less urgent email, pausing every now and then to pee and respond to requests from colleagues (occasionally at the same time).

Am I all caught up? I wish I could say yes, just like I wish I could say I spent last night writing the synopsis I promised my agent instead of rolling around naked. OK, that's a lie. I totally don't wish that last one.

Still, I've learned to be patient with myself, and to accept the fact that no sane person (or insane person, for that matter) can accomplish everything at once, regardless of the task. If you know someone who can, send him or her my way and I'll supply all necessary tea and AA batteries.

How do you approach daunting tasks and overflowing inboxes? Please share!

I'll be busy shaking Kauai sand out of my undies.


Mary said...

I totally know what you mean. I'm swamped by work deadlines at the moment -- our entire yearbook is due in a week and the next edition of our school newspaper in two plus I'm writing and blogging and still trying to have a life (it IS St. Patrick's Day soon & I've got to get my green on)... For me, I couldn't get through it if I didn't have my handy-dandy To-Do list. Right now, it's about five pages long but there's something SOOO satisfying about crossing things off it. Makes me feel like I'm getting shit done, you know?

Patty Blount said...

Same here! Plus, I have a husband who frequently forgets that just because I'm sitting down, it doesn't mean I'm not working.

THis is why I'm a dedicated plotter. I plot scenes. I write whenever I have a moment. When I see a scene on my list that's minor, I can write that during a lunch hour and save the angst-y scenes for the weekend.

Patrick Alan said...

The correct answer is - Don't eat elephants. They don't appreciate it.

Claire Dawn said...

Needed this reminder. As I try to stay in Japan, I'm trying to learn every ounce of the Japanese language before August. It's a daunting task. One that even my 10-hour a day study-holic tendencies may not be enough to conquer. But at the end of the day, I can either keep freaking out or I can keep studying.
Or I could do like I'm doing and keep at a little bit of both. Sigh.

Unknown said...

I tend to fuzz out on the big picture and work my way down the list while pretending I'm a mindless drone. Otherwise, it's anxiety attack city and no one enjoys a melt-down, least of all me.

Sounds like you had lots of fun researching and playing in Kauai. Good luck with that sand! :)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I can definitely relate to this post, because I'm working on my dissertation (which is basically a book, except it's a book that probably no one but other scholars will read), and I definitely feel overwhelmed. It doesn't help that I'm under a lot of pressure to turn in a new draft sooner rather than later; I'm worried that if it isn't good enough I won't be able to stay in graduate school. But like you, I try to focus on the small tasks, because if I keep thinking of everything I still have to do I just feel really tired and stressed out. And I take occasional breaks when I can, because otherwise if I work for long stretches of time without any breaks I get even more tired and stressed out.

Juvenal2010 said...

NW - dissertation is worse! Ya gotta tell the truth (most of the time) and it represents the keys to the club. Since all the profs had to get raked over the coals - so do you.
Hang in there - and, in less it is VERY cutting edge stuff, my suggestion is never to read it again!
OK - tongue is out of my cheek - When I was working on mine I thought about making up official ABD diplomas - one could make a fortune...