Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Being More Effective-The conclusion: Break everything up in small easily attainable tasks

Where were you in the summer of 1997? I was at Camp Dietler. I spent the summer as the shooting sports director. The job required me to load shotgun shells most of the day and in the afternoon, I taught kids how to shoot a shotgun. A shotgun. I've never been very good at shooting a shotgun. In fact, my staff used to joke that I could not hit the broad side of a barn even if I was inside.

The job also took me to Camp Tracy to get a certification. The certification process, as you might well imagine, was pretty intensive and definitely challenging. I mean, after all, you don't want just anyone teaching kids to shoot guns, do you? I went through the NRA certification program. Now, before I lose one half of you or the other half or both, hear what I have to say. The NRA has the best safety and training programs available. The NRA believes in gun safety and they believe that everyone should learn how to use a gun and use it safely. I found the training program inspiring. I also found it to have qualities that transferred over into the rest of life. Of all the merits of the training program I still use these two items:

1) Whatever you do and whatever you teach and to whom you teach it, you must always, always, always use positive language. In the teaching of shotgun shooting, for instance, I may say: “It's okay, you anticipated the shot.” That is a much better statement than: “You flinched.” In everything you do in life, would it not be refreshing if everything everyone said was deliberate and positive? I'm an emotional person and my language has never been polished, so this advice resonates with me even to this day.

2) What I learned as a shooting sports instructor certified by the NRA is this: break everything up into small easily understandable parts. When faced with the task of teaching somebody a difficult or complex or multi-stepped skill (or sets of skills) it is best to break it down into many small parts. This way, a person can learn in steps and master those steps and eventually succeed on the whole. I have always used this philosophy in my daily existence. In my situation, substitute the words task or skill to job or goals.

In the situation of being a writer, or in the case of these last several weeks of my blog posts, being an effective writer, small easily attainable tasks are much better than doing it all at once. For me, I realize that so much of what I do as a writer does not really involve writing at all. Researching markets, submitting work, and then promoting that work isn't what I wanted when I started writing all those years ago. I think there are a lot of writers in my position. I think there are a lot of writers who write short stories or novels or poetry and never try for publication. Perhaps they think a publisher will come to them. Who knows?

What I know is this: in the last several weeks, I have written more than usual, I have submitted dozens of stories and I've already got a few publications coming in 2017. I have stayed organized and I have made lists with many smaller easily attainable goals.

This is how I did it. I took all of the work that is publishable and put it in one file. I took all the work that may be publishable after rewriting and polishing and I stuck in another pile. I made a third pile of work that should never be put in an unsolicited submission. I put the third pile, by far the largest, as far away from me as possible. Instead of having a few hundred short stories I now had about 80. Manageable.

I decided that there is no task other than actually writing something that I could do for long periods of time. So, the social media chores (LinkedIn, Blogging, and my magazine), I do in small bits. Researching new markets, I do that in small bits. Because I could do either of those activities for a good ten or twelve hours on any given day and then I don't want to do it again for months. Reading articles and looking for opportunities happen mostly online anymore. Again, ten hours of this and then I won't do it again.

Small parts: look for two possible markets. Read two articles. Small tasks for all the social media chores. Then turn off the computer and drink some coffee and write in the old composition notebook. Then, repeat the process. This process is focusing my attention on one specific activity at a time and for a shorter duration of time. Instead of turning on the computer and opening up all the windows for all the tasks at once and being scattered, I'm just doing one thing at a time. And in doing so, I feel a sense of accomplishment just scratching off things from the list. Over the period of a few hours or a few days or a few weeks, I am astounded at how much got done. You don't need the NRA's training to do this.

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