Blog Writing: the Neverending War of Time, Organisation, Priorisiting, and Managing Expectations

Writing seems like an endless journey of organisation and reorganisation these days. It’s too easy to say that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and in fact this would be untrue. What matters is the organisation of time, prioritising my blog, and managing my own expectations. 

Organising Time

Faced with the resumption of university, I can now take an intelligent guess as to where a lot of my time is going to be used up for the next few months. It’s easy to take an instinctive reaction and retreat from writing, but I did that before, and I reckon I paid a price for it. In fact, my last retreat had nothing to do with university. Becoming overly focused on a NaNoWriMo project, I ended up finding my time being all spent on that, even after November, and simply decided to ignore my blog. There was no particular reason why that should happen, but I figured I wouldn’t have time to write the blog. Without testing the hypothesis, I simply stopped. Now, months later, and I’m still struggling to reorganise everything to get back into a regular habit of writing each day.

Time is finite, which is fortunate, because you know how much there is going to be. Time is also, conveniently, organised for us, into 24 hour blocks to make days, and 7 days in a week (well, in Western society anyway). Assuming one is sleeping an average amount of eight hours a day, that leaves 16 waking hours each day to do something. 16. I should be able to fit something in there. I won’t reflect too much on this topic of time right now – I’m actually going to cover it later in the week. The point I’m making here is that if you know there are a fixed number of hours in a day, you have structure as to how you organise your daily writing.

For me, this means considering where my free slots of activity are. These are generally points where I’m not working on something. I should be able to find spare time in there to write a blog post. 

Managing Expectations

Another thing to consider is how much I write. I did a quick check of Chuck Windig’s excellent blog Terribleminds. One blog post, that didn’t seem particularly lengthy, was about 250 words. Another was 1000 words, and that was a lengthy piece about healthcare in the US (good reason to write longer). Even so, 1000 words is not particularly epic in the grand scheme of things – maybe 40-50 minutes of straight writing. 

The point I’m making here is that it isn’t necessary to write lengthy polemics for every blog post, so I shouldn’t set the bar that high. Do I really need to write hundreds and hundreds of words, if just a few paragraphs will do? I know I’ve started on subjects and become dismayed that they only fill a few blocks of text. In retrospect, I should fixate less on the length and more the breadth of the subject matter (…now there’s a double entendre I realise, but I’m sure you get my point).

Prioritising my Blog

So, my new approach is to plan out the subjects ahead of time, create the draft articles with a few notes for basic structure, and then complete over the course of the week. A single spurt of text, and a re-write, shouldn’t require a great deal of time, and by managing my expectations of my work (i.e. How long it needs to be), it should still allow for me to complete the other stuff that needs doing (like studying for example).

I already go to a writers group each week, so that provides for fiction writing time. With some reorganisation at a weekend, I can do similar then, interspersing with my university studies. It should be a nice counterbalance to my academia to have some fictional writing highways to travel. 

I won’t deny, I’ve been here before. I am a perennial planner and re-planner – called procrastination in some quarters – and this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to restructure my writing strategy. On the other hand, I reckon I’ve become better about this stuff these days than I used to. I’ve always reflected on how, at work, my day is well organised and work completed on time. Somehow I have yet to bridge that gap between work place efficiency and general efficiency in my life. They shouldn’t be that different in honesty.

It’s about getting into the habit of writing. Like exercise, making it a daily ritual. This week I have four more subjects planned to cover the other week days. The key will be creating five new ones in time for next week. Small steps, but they’ve got to be made.

The Curse of Being Organised at Work, or Facing Up To Leadership Errors

I’m going on record as saying ‘WTF?’

Seriously, what happened? 

Yesterday was all terrible rush…tired…too much work…Monday’s. Today was…bored out of my skull. The very antithesis of yesterday.

It’s not that I don’t have work to do – I was still able to build up a task list, and it wasn’t all done by the end of the day. It’s just that I do thrive on having a challenge. The work I had to do today was not the most stimulating. It’s that crappy administrative work that lays untouched for weeks or months that sooner or later need completing, but no one’s that bothered if it waits. It certainly doesn’t keep me fulfilled, like I’ve completed a big piece of work. It’s just stuff.

What’s worse, is that I know my team are busy. There’s a lot of work out there, and they’re all beavering away. So it occurred to me that perhaps I’ve got this wrong. Maybe I need to reassess how I evaluate my team’s workload. You see, I’m often busy with the normal routine of work, so it fits in with everyone else sense of daily pressures. Right now though, I feel like my camouflage has been lifted, and I’m a sitting duck exposed.

I like to think I’m organised. I keep my inbox empty, placing emails in their correct folder, flagging the ones that need follow up work. The casework waiting approval is zero. No major deadlines are waiting. The most critical cases are waiting for key tasks to be completed; it’s not that they’re just waiting there to be written up. 

So I have to think, how is it the work seems less busy for me, but not for my team? I could take the easy way out, and say it’s an organisation thing. For sure, there are some tips and tricks I could pass on, and I have done in the past, but ultimately I think it’s a cop out. In fact, I worry that it’s victim blaming. You see ‘frontline’ workers, particularly caseworkers in child protection, have significant pressures heaped on them. They’re typically at the lower end of the pay scale, but the collective responsibility is much higher. Large organisations, particularly government departments operating on an outmoded neo-liberal economic basis, lose sight of the very real complexities their workers face. In other words, it’s not a system catered for efficiency. 

So now, seeing that the work my team hasn’t diminished, even as mine has, I feel compelled to reassess what I’m missing as a team leader. Am I providing all the available time and ability to help my workers out? I don’t necessarily mean completing tasks for them – I dislike this as it infantilises and people can become dependent on that sort of thing. What I mean is providing the space for them to complete their tasks. Help relieve their pressures.

For example, do they have clear case direction? A lot of times I’ve seen workers (in different locations) put off particular cases simply because they haven’t received any clear direction. Many government organisations operate a command-and-control style leadership process (ironic for a profession of mainly social workers), and so workers have a habit of waiting until given specific instruction. Sometimes leaders can fall into the trap of thinking clear direction has been given, or even forgetting to give any direction at all. Regular supervision can help minimise this, but for some case matters they simply progress nowhere, in a kind of indecisive stasis. The more rigid the hierarchy, the more pronounced the problem.

So in this instance, is it an opportunity for a wider dialogue with workers? Not just asking them how they are going, but clarifying that they know where there are going with each case? Is it about encouraging them to re-assess where they are? 

I can also examine collective approaches. Sometimes, everyone in a team is busy, and assumes everyone else is, so they don’t ask for help, and put off undertaking home visits, meeting clients etc. Again, I wouldn’t seek to complete those tasks myself, but rather examine how, as a team, we are organised. I can encourage a team dialogue – what is everybody doing today, tomorrow, next week? Are we able to re-organise our calendars to accomodate each other?

This is about active engagement with the team. I could just sit back and wait. Feel that I’m on top of my work, and in so doing I’m making myself available for my team when they do start to send work through for approval, or when a crisis hits. This is passive availability – it’s good to have, but it doesn’t engage with the needs of the team. In fact, it could grow resentment because it might be quite apparent I have little to do, and looks like I’m not helping.

I’ve already cautioned against helping with specific tasks, because I don’t want to infantilise, and it’s also inefficient. If I was helping with specific tasks, it would be like being an extra worker,  but I can only be in one place at a time like that. As a team leader I need to be available for everyone, and be in a position to prioritise as critical issues crop up (and this being Child Protection, they will). 

So having little to do is not the self-congratulatory slap-on-the-back it might seem. Assuming there’s a lack of ability in the team to organise can be destructive, because such a perception ignores the wider complexities of workload and how organisations are structured (and so becomes victim blaming). It leads to an uncomfortable question – am I not so busy because I have been ignoring pressing, underlying, issues in my team? Critical reflection can be difficult sometimes; facing up to errors and mistakes can be uncomfortable. This is an opportunity to correct particular team wide issues, and help my team by being present in the moment to help them, and facing up to challenges I might have decided to file long ago, when I really should have tackled them head on.

Time, but time; the difference between professional and personal time management 

Why is my spare time management so woefully inadequate compared to my professional day-job organisation? 

I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about organising work, time management etc. and the difficulties people have in general organisation. We also work in the social work sphere, an area of work renowned for lack of resources and work pressures. I understand the struggle, and training is woefully inadequate in these areas of planning, organisation and timekeeping.

I’ve prided myself on my ability to organise my work and effective time management. It wasn’t easy getting to that point. As a case worker I struggled for a long time to get organised, being sucked into the death spiral of child protection casework anarchy. Eventually though, I got to a point where I finally got on track, and this grew and developed as I moved into middle management. Now I feel firmly in control, even in crisis.

With personal projects though, I am a little more scattered. The most succes I had recently was with my NaNoWriMo, and that was at he expense of everything else. In terms of actual projects, the one project at a time approach is good, but I have a range of interests and a range of mediums. It sometimes seems more than can be possibly managed. I imagine I am managing my projects quite well sometimes, and perhaps it’s a case of setting the bar too high with unrealistic expectations.

I feel I need to rethink my priorities and about how to manage them. Some aspects, like photography, have been woefully neglected. I have some impending personal changes as well, including university and moving house, so some allowance will have to be made.

Centrally though, I think the biggest problem is that I have not yet fully worked out how to market myself. I have yet to find a way to tie together my professional and personal aspirations into something cohesive, so that’s where I need to start. Having diverse interests is good, but it’s about tying them together into something productive, marketable and consistent. Only then will it be easier to organise my time outside of work like I do at work.

Social Work 101

I was brainstorming some ideas yesterday for articles to write. While I’m keen to build a fiction portfolio, I would also like to maintain a professional one too. I’ve got skills and experience (I would like to think), and it seems sensible to make use of them. I suppose there’s also a small practical reason, and that’s writers don’t make a lot of money. Maintaining a professional career is sensible for all sorts of reasons.

I managed a short list of about 30 single or two word ideas. My next plan was to build on these and maybe merge some into workable descriptions. I thought I’d start with a one-liner (25 words or less description of the article) before expanding to a more detailed paragraph.

As it happens, while doing this exercise, I remembered that I had toyed with an idea for a social work book a few years ago, called Social Work 101. The idea was to write 101 tips for aspiring social workers, based on practical issues that arise soon after qualification. Usually the problem being a ‘they didn’t teach us that in our course’ issue.

I couldn’t find the list on computer, but luckily had a hard copy. More ideas basically. I mention this because it reawakens the idea in my mind to develop a book, but it’s also a rich stock of ideas I have ruminated on in the past. For now I’ll focus on articles, and this list gives me more options.

So, getting back to subject, once I’ve developed those paragraphs I can start researching online. It’s possible someone’s written about the topic previously (although social work is not awash with publications), or give me ideas for a new angle. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the ‘Top 10 tips for…’ type of article either.

I could publish the articles myself online, on this blog for example, but that’s not a direction I want to go in. This isn’t about a regular stream of work (I’m paid a good wage for that). This is about a professional project on the side.

I’ll peruse the 101 list to get some more ideas. I’m conscious that I’m more focused on planning activities right now than actually doing them, so I need to move this forward lest I get sucked into eternal planning and no delivery.

Project Planning

You know that saying ‘fingers in lots of pies’, I always think ‘just how big are your hands?’…and ‘I’m not eating one of your pies.’

Well, my fingers need to spread pretty far at the moment (gross).

Shall I start again? I feel grossed out and I’M the blogger.

Projects. I’ve been planning projects. It turns out I have a host of them. In addition to editing my book, I have another book to write. I need to reorganise my photography website AND develop and implement a plan for regular promotion of my work. I’ve got AARGH number of short stories to finish, plus other writing projects etc. There’s painting, which I really want to develop this year. Plus there’s other writing projects. Oh and university, I have university.

I’m also moving house, because nothing promotes effective project work like packing all your belongings into boxes and moving them somewhere just to unpack them again.

I know what you’re thinking – ‘he’s insane, crazy, Donald Trump x10.’

Well it’s possible, but anyone’s welcome to my house so there is that difference.

Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I have managed to develop a pattern of working thanks to my book writing, so I think I’m in s good position to adapt. Realistic goals are needed, taking account of time and personal events (like holiday, which I realise will need some serious early preparation- road trip!). So that’s the work ahead this week, breaking it all down into manageable chunks.

Bring me your pies!

Boredom Lingers

Well this is a thing. I’m bored at work. It’s not that I don’t have work to do. It’s not that I find it unrewarding. It’s simply that I’ve run out of urgent things to do. The things I do need to do are done. Sure, there are things I would like to do to wrap up a few things here and there, but ultimately I have very little to manage at the moment.

Now, I could say that this is the price for excellent skills of planning and organisation. I mean, really, I could, because it is. Zero emails in my Inbox. ZERO! No tasks waiting for completion. Notes up to date. I’ve come into my system the way I left it – on top of my work and riding it like a bron…err, you know what, I’ll just stop at being on top.

I had time to read a short book – Five Go on a Strategy Away Day. Utterly hilarious. I was never a Famous Five person as a kid, but I did read the Secret Seven, so I loved the references to a rivalry between the FF and the SS (in the book, represented as two rival teams in the same company). A great guide to cliche and the despair of ‘team building’ days that seem anything but. 

I reckon I should indulge in the opportunity for some creative work, but the truth is I just don’t feel it. I’m happy riding in the calm. Is this what it feels like? To be on top of your work? I’m used to working at a much more frantic pace, something akin to a crazed hyena on acid (I imagine, having never observed such a thing before).

 I’m not complaining of course, it’s merely an observation. Perhaps if I’m at the same point next week (unlikely as I have booked ALOT of meetings) then perhaps I’ll start to think about prioritising some time.

It’s funny, for some time it felt like I was a lifeboat adrift in a stormy sea. Now I realise, for the lifeboat, you want some energy to keep moving and finally get rescued or get to land. Right now, I’m becalmed. It’s cruisey, but I ain’t no cruise liner.

Shaking off cobwebs

I think I have finally recovered from my holiday. Sleeping is back to normal, regular pattern of work restored. I’m back to blogging.

Before I left for my hols, I had aspirations of completing my novel (first draft). I’m still short the ending, and wouldn’t feel sound retreading the earlier sections without completing the story. I have some benefit of knowing how it will end, at least at this stage in a manner that makes sense with the plot. 

I had high hopes to get this out of the way to free up time for other projects, complete short stories, maybe some professional articles as well. There are some personal priorities coming up – university resuming, probably moving house – that will inevitably draw my attention away. So I really need to bring things to a close. 

I don’t anticipate any NaNoWriMo acts of writing heroism this time. 500 words a day or so should do it. I just need to make sure that gets slotted into my routine, and then I can move onto other things and get a little distance from the novel before starting on the rewrite.

On the face of it this might look a little burdensome, but the truth is it’s a commitment I made to myself last year and it’s ongoing. I’m looking forward to doing all this stuff. The enthusiasm makes it less daunting. Up and at ’em I say!

Like yesterday never happened

Where did Monday go? I feel as though there was a day of activity, but at best seen through a haze of uncertainty. I might have said it was like trying to recollect a night out after being really, really drunk, but there’s no uncomfortable after effect. No hangover, headache, or sense of shame. Monday happened, but I think it happened to other people.

This is, of course, not the case. I do remember very distinctly sections of yesterday, but for the most part I felt more observer than participant. Joints ached, mind muddled; not exactly conducive to effective operation.

Today though, feels better. Slept well, up in good time, body feels relaxed, mind active. 

I guess it was fortunate yesterday was quiet. Then again, maybe that’s why it was so difficult to get in my groove. I don’t work well when there’s less activity. It doesn’t mean I want to be rushed off my feet every moment, but having the hum of activity in the background gives me energy. Helps motivate.

On a slow burning day it might seem like the perfect opportunity to progress some projects. Unfortunately, the slow burning is from me. It’s akin to self motivation, propelling action. Yesterday, though notionally productive, just felt, well, a little bit…meh.

So today I have a bit more vigour. Take the opportunity to kick start Some ideas I have, clear up my slightly pudgy task list. 

It’s also about personal wellbeing. Need to exercise today – my lunchtime routine is horribly lacking. Probably why I’ve been getting more tired than normal. A busy weekend probably contributed – my body has had less time to recover.

I need to get the creative juices flowing. I tried writing last night, but could only manage a few hundred words. Two 25 minute segments should be yielding 1500 words at least, and top up at the weekend. 

So I’m feeling a lot more motivated today is the long and short of it. Here’s hoping it carries through the rest of the week.

Time Management 

Today I am presenting a learning and development session on time keeping and organisation. In the proper spirit of time keeping I actually left for work at a reasonable time, early enough to catch the bus in good order without rushing. When I got to the bus stop I noticed there was a good prospect of the sunrise, just before the sun was coming up. Me being me I pulled out my iPhone to get a shot. I figured I had a spare 10 seconds to get a shot and cross the road before the bus arrived. I made one cursory glance in the direction the bus comes from only to find the fucker was early. No photo, and quick dash across the road.

It’s a useful anecdote. One of the things o intend to talk about in L&D is the importance of routine, and that work does not operate in isolation from the rest of our life. Nipping across the road to grab a photo like that was a break in the routine, because I was trying to give up more time than I had. Yeah the bus was early, but that is hardly unique. 

I like my routine. I like writing this blog on the bus. I like my morning coffee. I like taking the time. That’s another little element of the L&D today – give yourself permission to take the time. 

I had considered different ways of presenting the L&D, including using advice from the Internet, or maybe using a Lynda.com video. In the end, I settled on simply describing how I organise my day and my time. It’s a good bet that most people already have their own ways of organising work, and their own routines, so trying to force that change is going to be less productive. Many of the people at the L&D probably have a good handle on their organisation. The opportunity is to learn from each other. 

If you’re wondering why I use the term Learning and Development ad infinitum instead of the more usual Training, I do have a reason. While I have a few occasional disagreements with my employers, one thing I do like is the (at least theoretical) belief that learning and development is something collective and mutual – everyone learns from each other. Training suggests a regimen that is imposed – a bit like the traditional format of school. It’s less flexible.

So that’s the basics of my plan for the day. I have some other bits and pieces about using Outlook as an organisational tool, but even then I’ll merely highlight it as a particular tool that can help. Hopefully it will all come together.

Coming to the end of my journey. Freo awaits, and on time.