Friday, September 3, 2010

Just Say No (to meetings)

My friend Dan Milstein and I were talking about work and time and meetings, he recommended this essay by Paul Graham, Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule.  Here's a bit from the start:

Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.

When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

I love the way he lays out the two kinds of time.  I bump into this a  lot when dealing with the outside world--there seem to be an infinite number of opportunities for meetings.  At first, it doesn't seem that hard to squeeze one in here or there.  After all, I'm working from home.  I can spare an hour or two here or there.  And I'm social (which is why I'll never leave theatre for good).  And I'm bad at saying No.

But they add up.  And as Graham points out, it's not just the hour of the meeting time that gets consumed, but a good chunk of what was going to be productive time (there's travel and prep time and just distraction time).  My day is already pretty short during the school year (8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.), and work time is extremely scarce during the summer.

I'm facing a fall with a lot of commitments, both writing-wise and organizational, and I'm going to have to find a way to clear time enough for actually making stuff.  Here are the organizations that I am involved with at the moment:
  • StageSource (I'm a board member and on a major committee at the moment)
  • Theatre Community Benevolent Fund (I'm a board member)
  • The 200 Foot Garden (running it)
  • Brookline Special Education Parent Advisory Council (I'm co-chair for the coming year. LOTS of meetings)
  • Rhombus  (my playwrights' group--run by all 6 of us)
  • My fiction writer's group
  • Bountiful Brookline (I'm on the steering committee, but haven't been to many meetings lately)
  • The Playwright Online Submission Binge (run it, but it's not that much work most of the time, and no meetings)
Plus I do some occasional freelance writing work for a company, some web work for pay (mostly for friends), I have two kids to shepherd, two other gardens to tend, I'm in the Huntington Playwriting Fellows program, there's the condo association, the neighborhood association (I'm no longer in charge of that), White People Challenging Racism (I'm not teaching anymore, mostly just updating a web site from time to time), and I have a nagging feeling that there is more.  Which is a little scary.

When I'm smart and feeling particularly disciplined, I try to reserve most mornings for writing and not even turn on my e-mail until noon (this is VERY hard for me).  I'm going to have to start swimming my way back towards that habit this fall (it'll take a while), because I have a novel (or two) to revise for my agent, a new novel to write, a play to revise, and a new draft of a play to finish.

I'm a pretty good juggler (both literally and figuratively), but the lists above are definitely giving me a serious challenge.  Finding a way to stay fully engaged in my writing as well as in my community is something I struggle with all the time.  Sometimes it's more than I can figure out how to handle.  (I'm a little scared about this fall.)  Graham's essay helped me understand where the most uncomfortable conflicts arise--around the space that's needed for creation--both the writing and reading and just plain thinking.  I'm pretty good at making some writing time, since it still feels like I'm in motion, but the reading and thinking is just as important, and I need to make more of an effort to force myself to sit still and quietly sometimes.

Sooner or later I'm going to have to learn how to just say no.  (At least to meetings.)  But I might be a slow learner.

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