Throughout my professional life as an editor and writer, I have always had to manage multiple projects simultaneously. I can’t remember ever being able to single-mindedly concentrate on one project to the exclusion of everything else. Even when one project is consuming more time than others because of a looming deadline, I always have to keep in mind all the others that require some kind of attention.
I’ve never been one of those writers with a room set aside only for writing who disciplines herself to stay in the room for a defined amount of time and write something every day. Instead, the habit and necessity of managing multiple deadlines and being able to squeeze in a few minutes here and there started many years ago when I was mostly a stay-at-home mom trying to bring in a little extra income. I have clear memories from years ago of the incongruity of sitting at my dining room table writing about peace (perhaps with a cat sitting on my papers and watching my pen move – see above photo from 1983) while Dana and Derek and their friends were running around me and sometimes arguing loudly with each other. It wasn’t always very peaceful!
These days, there is still a cat getting in the way, albeit a different one, but the kids are no longer around. (Well, sometimes there are grandchildren!) I rarely sit at a desk or table and actually write anything by hand, having long ago switched to the computer. I’m supposed to be mostly retired, but it often doesn’t feel that way when I’m in the middle of a typical “week-in-the-life” of a multi-tasker.
Take last week, for example:
My major goal for the week was to finalize the copy, design and layout for the Summer 2013 edition of Shalom! The previous week, the design software I use had crashed repeatedly, so I was more than ready to get this edition out of my hands. I was almost finished but one article had still not arrived, despite the fact that the original deadline had been July 20. I e-mailed the author for at least the third time last Sunday, explaining that if I did not receive the article by Tuesday morning, I would have to go ahead without it. Sure enough, it arrived at almost literally the last minute (Tuesday afternoon not morning), and I edited and inserted it into the summer edition. Finally, after going back and forth by e-mail a couple times with a new editorial committee member who offered proofreading services, I was able to send the file to the printer late Thursday afternoon.
Of course, just as one issue goes off to the press, there is the next one to plan. And I have to update the mailing list so it’s ready when this issue is printed. And I need to organize a virtual meeting of my new editorial committee (and find one more member). And, and, and. . . . Shalom! is always in the back of my mind, even when the most urgent current deadline has passed.
In the meantime, the August 2013 edition of Brethren in Christ History and Life is at the printer and I had a hard-copy proof I needed to review, approve and snail-mail back to Kansas before final printing. I also sent another reminder to the responsible parties that the mailing list needs to be updated and e-mailed to Kansas very soon so the journal can be mailed when it is printed. And, the next Historical Society newsletter is behind schedule as I wait for someone to send me copy. Seems like I’m always waiting for someone – one of the major occupational hazards of being an editor.
I also spent two days in the office last week for my part-time job, where there are always deadlines for the next edition of something, and where I also depend on others to be able to do my job. I’m the communications person, but it’s hard to communicate when people don’t send you the information, or a communique is awaiting approval from the higher-ups before publication, or someone doesn’t respond to your repeated e-mails and/or phone calls. For the monthly news updates, I often joke that I’ll make up stuff if no one sends me anything. It’s only partly a joke, because I often do fill in gaps with info I find that I think might be useful to readers. After 21 years, it’s a blessing to know enough to be able to do that!
In between Shalom!, the Historical Society journal, and my part-time job, there was other stuff clamoring for attention too:
- I weighed the pros and cons of accepting an invitation to speak at a conference this fall. Pros: topic I’m interested in and care about; opportunity to do some more writing. Biggest con: finding the time to prepare the presentation. I eventually said yes, hoping this won’t be another time when I say to myself later on, “What was I thinking?”
- Even as I said yes to this invitation, I’m trying to figure out how to gracefully extract myself from something else I’ve been doing for a long time. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem right to agree to do something new when I’m already busy; on the other hand, it feels like I should be able to choose what I want to do and stop doing things that have begun to feel burdensome.
- I kept thinking about a major article that has been lying on my desk for a long time. It will require significant editing – actually more like rewriting – before it’s ready to publish later this year. I keep procrastinating because I know the task will be difficult. It’s easy to keep procrastinating because there are always so many other things I can do instead. Maybe this will be the week I tackle it?
- When an agenda arrived for the next meeting of a board I’m on, I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t yet written up the minutes from the last one, so I took a quick time-out from everything else and did that.
- And then there’s this blog. There is no deadline except the self-imposed one, and I’m not responsible to anyone but myself for it. I jump-started the blog back in April with my “thirty-day discipline” because I had been wanting to do more of my own writing. I like writing and it’s great to have an outlet. However, blogging can become one more “task” to fit in with everything else.
I know I’m not unique as a “multi-tasker.” Many people, perhaps especially women who manage careers and their families, are skilled at doing more than one thing at a time. I’m not even unique as a multi-tasking mostly-retired person. I hear all the time about older people seeming busier in retirement than they were before. That’s good – it proves that older people aren’t relegated to rocking chairs because they’re no longer useful. Most of the time, I like being busy and I like the variety of projects I’m involved in because there’s little opportunity for boredom. Sometimes, however, I fear that my brain will explode because it can’t manage to remember one more detail; sometimes I find myself wishing I could stop doing something but I don’t know how or I don’t have the courage to “just say no.”
I saw a plaque the other day when I was out and about: “Do one thing every day that makes you happy.” The saying really struck a nerve: Do all the things I fill my days with make me happy? Am I too busy to do something every day that makes me happy? What, in fact, makes me happy? Is my happiness as important as the saying suggests? More questions to ponder as I get busy with this week’s tasks!