Observation Journal — stalling and stopping

This page of the observation journal is about where my work was stalling and why (also Agatha Christie and guitar).

Double-page spread of observation journal. On left page, 5 things seen, heard, done and a picture. On the right, a hand-written table of thoughts on why I wasn't getting work done.

My position in relation to introspection is fairly well advertised. It’s not what I, personally, enjoy using the observation journal for, and too long a course of it will make me stop keeping a journal at all. However, the journal has been very useful for working out ways to muse over things in ways that are practical for me.

In particular, rough tables suit how I think: I can concentrate on just jotting notes, and then look for patterns, and not write myself into a spiralling pit of angst or ennui.

In this case, I was looking at Where I Was Stalling & Why.

A hand-written table of thoughts on why I wasn't getting work done.

This was in April 2020, so I need to say up-front that this list alone did not fix anything. I still am digging my way out of some stalled projects from last year. However, it taught me a lot about what to avoid. It’s also fascinating to revisit now, where I’m setting up for some new large projects.

Here are the columns:

  • Project list (cunningly mis-named to protect those involved)
  • Quick thoughts on why I might be stalling.
    • Just high-level thoughts on what was going wrong (an unpleasant mixture of inertia and panic).
    • It was good doing this on multiple projects. Occasionally a note on one project would make me realise it applied to another. And once it was done, I could look for patterns. The main patterns were:
      • (Loss of) impetus and (loss of) enjoyment
      • Lack of pressure + competing distractions
      • Guilt + stuck-together-in-door
      • Doubt
  • Ways I could fix those situations.
    • The most magical fixes were, boringly yet thrillingly:
      • Accepting there is no one right task (and therefore no ‘wrong’ choice).
      • Picking anything — why not the first thing on the list?
      • Setting a timer for fifteen (or 30) minutes to concentrate on solving just one of the issues (it worked and the project in question is out). This is the only solution that works for me almost 100% of the time. I’m always wildly irritated that it works.
        (There’s a reason Evaline Ness’ Do You Have The Time, Lydia speaks to me.)
  • Ways I could avoid those situations happening again.
    • These turned out to be mostly same reasons projects catch fire in the first place (see: Observation Journal — giving ideas a push):
      • Acting immediately
      • Using (and surfing) the fun of it
      • Setting aside the time
      • Doing the prep work
Pen sketch of person sitting on steps playing guitar
I only practice the guitar during natural disasters

As an aside, I’ve recently found Charlie Gilkey’s Start Finishing useful on aspects of managing multiple projects. It’s the sort of book I suspect is most useful if you’ve already got a robust understanding of how you manage your work, and of how to approach time management books, and can therefore apply/mine it for specific solutions. I found myself resisting the structure/phrasing of the book itself the whole way through, but it’s also been one of the most useful things I’ve read for a while.

Writing/art exercise

  • Think of a project that you are stalled on (or want to start, or don’t have the skills for, or…). The first one that springs to mind, or else pull it out of a hat.
  • Set a timer for 15 (or 30) minutes.
  • Until the timer goes off, you can either work on the project or stare at the project. But you can’t do anything else. (You might have to consider your definition of “work”. I generally exclude planning and research, unless it’s extremely obvious the lack of that is what is stopping me moving forward — which is rarely the case. Related to which, this pamphlet (Turbocharge Your Writing) is one of the most practically useful writing books I’ve ever read.)
  • The few times this doesn’t push either me or the project forward, it later turns out that staring time was what the project actually required. (This is specific to my experience and how I work, but I hope the worst case of this exercise just means you got 15 minutes quiet thinking time).

2 thoughts on “Observation Journal — stalling and stopping

  1. Pingback: February 2021 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: Observation Journal: Work at Play | Kathleen Jennings

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