I refuse to mention the word Christmas – damn – but on this first day of November, some things do change and the year is canted toward its end. Plus you know that January is for making resolutions, February is for breaking them and March is for admitting that you actually broke them within a day and a half. November has a purpose too and it’s you.
Back in January you were under all this pressure to declare your plans for the year. Nobody’s asking you to do that in November and actually fewer people are asking you to do anything. Depending on your industry, this can be a slow time and that’s typically true of freelance writing. When you do get work in then stuff everything I’m saying to you and go do that. But when you don’t, do this instead.
Look for some new places to pitch your work. A couple of Novembers ago, I made a list of ten companies I quite liked the sound of and only one of them listened to me. But they became a major source of income, they’ve accounted for maybe a third of the money I’ve earned since then. So you can say that my list of ten was rubbish and worthless and pointless, you can say that I should’ve just gone to this lot. I definitely did say repeatedly that this was a rubbish idea as I worked through the list and nothing was happening. But I still remember the moment, sitting in a Costa Coffee, when I hesitated over whether to bother continuing.
I think that nine failures made my approach to the last lot better or at least more practised. I also think that nine failures meant I wasn’t hoping for anything with the tenth and that I therefore had a busy, an un-needy attitude in that approach. I also know that if it had taken a lot of time I wouldn’t have bothered.
Whereas I think it probably took me two hours over the course of a week to compile that list of ten places; I expect that it took me less time than that to approach them all, and it made a huge difference to my productivity for the next two years.
The trouble is that you don’t think you’ve got two hours to spare over this week. Very often you haven’t, but as we head toward the end of 2016, you’re going to find the time. And if you don’t, if you’re so busy that you haven’t got the time, take it anyway. I’m not saying lie to your client or your employer about how you’ve just spent the last two hours, but only because they might hear me.
We’re all unavoidably late for many things – but if you find that you are always late for everything, maybe you need to be looking into it. If other people tend to delay events for you or they just start turning up late too, then maybe you need to seriously look into it.
Time magazine says that your problem could be “rooted in something psychological, like a fear of downtime”. It has nine descriptions of how punctual people manage to be punctual and thereby live happy, fulfilling lives as paragons of virtue, spit.
But the descriptions aren’t of good ideas, such as my favourite one that says punctual folk are “immune to ‘just one more’ thing syndrome”:
You’ll rarely hear a time-conscious person say they need to squeeze in “one more thing” before they leave. That impulse can lead you off track, and suddenly it’s not just one more email—it’s an entire 15 minutes worth of emails.
“Train yourself to recognize that impulse when it happens,” Morgenstern says. “Resist the impulse to do one more thing and just leave.”
“[David] Nicholls, while writing his follow-up to One Day, used a particularly brutal app, Write or Die. Ponder too long over your next word and an ominous red glow descends over the page. Then your text disappears in haphazard fashion: This is what a sntnc lks lk ftr prcrstntng fr 20 scnds.
Nicholls likened it to “writing with a gun to my head”. Unsurprisingly he didn’t produce his best work and decided that two years and 32,000 words of work were to be discarded.”
I know what you’re thinking. He only wrote 32,000 words? In two years? That’s 16,000 a year. It’s 44 words per day. No wonder he wanted an anti-prevarication app.
No wonder it failed too: I can pump out 20 pages of script or 10,000 words of text per day for up to about 6 days in a row. But while they can be surprisingly good – in that when I go back over a manuscript I can’t always tell you what was considered and what was written that quickly – the truth is that it is all considered and it must all be. It takes time to write, time in which you are not writing.
So having an app that threatens you even more than I do just can’t work. However, the full BBC News piece has a lot more to say about beating prevarication and why this is an issue for us more now than ever.
I love this as just a riveting little story but it is also terribly absorbing about productivity and our perception of that too. A New York restaurant has been getting bad reviews that centre on how service there is slow. The owners can’t see what could be causing these – so they looked into it.
We decided to hire a firm to help us solve this mystery, and naturally the first thing they blamed it on was that the employees need more training and that maybe the kitchen staff is just not up to the task of serving that many customers.
Like most restaurants in NYC we have a surveillance system, and unlike today where it’s a digital system, 10 years ago we still used special high capacity tapes to record all activity. At any given time we had 4 special Sony systems recording multiple cameras. We would store the footage for 90 days just in case we need it for something.
The firm we hired suggested we locate some of the older tapes and analyze how the staff behaved 10 years ago versus how they behave now. We went down to our storage room but we couldn’t find any tapes at all.
We did find the recording devices, and luckily for us, each device has 1 tape in it that we simply never removed when we upgraded to the new digital system.
The date stamp on the old footage was Thursday July 1 2004, the restaurant was real busy that day. We loaded up the footage on a large size monitor, and next to it on a separate monitor loaded up the footage of Thursday July 3 2014, the amount of customers where only a bit more than 10 years prior.
You will love what they found and what it means. Now, I’d like to direct you to the original post, an entry on Craigslist, but that’s vanished. This article on Dineability includes the full text plus a little stream of comments afterwards, some of which make you hope aliens never learn how thick we really are.