Finding a work discipline that works

While reading about the abundant and various ways that acclaimed novelists work — specifically, how they develop the discipline and routine to complete highly individual and creative tasks — I’m encouraged by the fact that there’s not one good way to do anything well.

But can Web workers — or anyone in this age — who handle a myriad of tasks on a regular basis find one way of getting them done and not succumb (too often) to the time- and occasionally mind-killing choices available on the Internet? Lately I’ve been sucked into the maw of distraction and I’m trying to claw my way out.

I’m a big fan of Merlin Mann’s prescription to “Write about what you are passionate about. Find out what your voice is and blog the shit out of it.” Clearly this requires concentration of mind and habit and quite often means, for me, to organize research well in advance and write offline. When I accomplish this, it’s because I adhere to the solid practices I crafted as a print journalist, and this is serving as a very familiar foundation.

Yet as I alternate site-building and management work with writing words under my own name, this juggling act runs counter at times to Douglas Rushkoff’s rule to “Pay as much attention to your process and tools as to your output.” These are plural, and not singular, processes, tools and tasks, and at times it seems they are proliferating beyond my ability to grasp them. The biggest challenge is getting things done without feeling overwhelmed.

In a lightning-paced environment that presents constant disruptions and more opportunities to procrastinate than ever before, I occasionally have trouble resisting the temptation. Twitter, take me away!

No wonder contemporary writers often follow the most extreme measures of their predecessors and close themselves off from the world. I think of the bleak setting of Annie Proulx’ “The Shipping News” and place myself in it, at least for an hour or two.  The sooner to get my mind back to a warmer climate!

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