Back in January, Wendy posted a piece about the Planner Pad – a system that helps the user organize her time and keep track of the all the events we juggle on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. The Planner Pad sounded so good, I bought one – and I love it. It really does help me keep track of and prioritize what it is I need to get done.
But keeping track of things to do is only half the equation, and for the past few years, I’ve also been keeping track of what I’ve actually done. I didn’t want just to cross things off the “to do” list, as if task-completion were the entire purpose of life. I wanted to see how I really spent my time, track what it was I did accomplish – since what I manage to do is not always what I set out to do. So I started keeping a second calendar.
This second calendar has a blank space for each day, and each day I note what I worked on, with whom I spoke with and/or exchanged emails, what I read, and how many miles I drove for business. I also often note what I did for exercise.
There are scientific studies that prove journaling is an effective tool for achieving weight-loss. I offer only anecdotal evidence for the use of journaling to boost productivity here: what I notice is that journaling helps me achieve consistent productivity as a writer.
I note what time I arrive at my desk, and I keep a retrospective log of what I worked on, including how much time I spend writing fiction or essays, marketing and/or reading. I note information of anyone I’ve contacted about marketing or pitching a story, and I track my submissions and invoices, too. This is not the only place I keep this information, but it is a handy back-up. I also note all my work-related miles, which is very handy come tax time.
This record keeping has taught me a few key lessons:
1) Writing is slow work. Some days, this is humbling: A project I allocated only two mornings to complete takes me a week. Correlating my prospective and retrospective calendars teaches me how better to estimate the time really needed for a job. It also helps me understand why I didn’t get to all the other things I’d planned to that week.
2) Writing is slow work. It takes me years to write a novel. Literally. But as Lisa said so well in her recent post, it’s a matter of breaking huge projects into smaller sections. With my retrospective work log, I can see that I am making steady progress. Eventually, it all adds up.
3) Writing is slow work. With my calendar, I can also see that consistent effort combined with persistence pays off. Seeing the value of consistency helps me return to my desk daily, pick up the thread of a story, and keep telling it.
Writing is slow work – yes – especially when viewed as a day-to-day effort. But as seen through the pages of a retrospective calendar, it’s possible to get a better view of how many words you’ve put on the page in the course of a month, a quarter, a year. And sometimes, it’s not just a matter of words on a page, but time daydreaming at your desk, pulling characters, dialog and plots from thin air. So I show up at my desk every day – and I have the documentation to prove it.
Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com