On Deadlines and Accountability

More than anything I’ve ever done in my life, working on the Lithmeria project has taught me about how I handle the surprisingly difficult task of getting shit done. I’ve been the Head Builder for Lithmeria for longer than it took me to complete law school or college, for longer than any paid job I’ve ever held, and for longer than I’ve ever focused on writing one particular book. Heck, I’ve been working on Lithmeria for longer than I’ve ever had an active domain name (though not web presence: I’ve been around livejournal for a long time now, though I rarely post there, just comment).

There have been dark periods in my productivity, of course. That week I spent in the hospital, the summer I spent studying for the Bar Exam, those awful four months when my internet connection consisted of something boosted from across the driveway and was split between three routers. But other than the very beginning of the project, when everything was shiny and new and exciting, I’ve never been as productive as I am now… and the reason why has taught me something about myself.

I’m not trying to say I’m not self-motivated: you don’t get admitted to law school, even a relatively low-tier law school, before you can drink without a certain degree of get ‘er done inherent to your makeup. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am significantly more like to do something if I:

  1. Commit to a deadline.
  2. Commit to reporting my progress on a regular basis to someone:
    • – whose opinion I value
      – who is invested in what I’m doing
      – who will not accept excuses
  3. Am forced to break the project into small chunks.

Most of that seems self-evident on the face of it, and yet as I sit here having been up since dawn, it occurs to me that despite the best efforts of English teachers to teach us the importance of breaking papers and projects into easy chunks where we have to report the steps, it’s taken Lithmeria to really ram this home, because this process is so rare in my experience.

Let’s take those essays — high school or college — for instance. I can’t think of a single time when I ever ran into trouble procrastinating them to the last minute, and I can think of a few times when I got screwed over for finishing them too soon, whether because the professor changed the parameters or because I felt betrayed when the deadline got pushed back to accommodate others.

Now let’s take writing a novel. It’s easy to say “I’ll report every word I write, and the act of recording and reporting will make it easier to write 250/500/750 words every day!” and National Novel Writing Month has, I think, unequivocally proved that this method works for a lot of people. But (and again I stress) for me, I find that the inherent artificiality lets me make excuses, because I don’t know those people and I’m not accountable to them. It’s all well and good to say that the only person you’re ever accountable to yourself, but it’s just not true. I care a hell of a lot more about letting other people down than I do about letting myself down — by this point, I’m used to it. I’ve developed coping mechanisms for it, even.

It’s so much easier to write because someone else desperately wants that next chapter than it is to write because you know that at that amorphous point sometime in the future — or even that particular point in the future that you’ve arbitrarily or based on your productivity picked — you’ll be able to, what, shop around and then get rejected?

Some people find that they can’t get work done with a lot of distractions. Social situations, games, chatrooms, phone calls, friends “nagging” — these all lead to reduced productivity, frustration that leads to being turned off a project, or just distraction. For me, it’s invigorating. Knowing that people are, in xyz number of hours or days (weeks and months just aren’t enough pressure, and give me too long to work up excuses) going to clamour for some sign that I’ve accomplished something, or even just the knowledge, off to the side, that someone cares, is what I need to shove my nose against that grindstone.

It’s funny that it took me until now to really articulate that to myself.

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