Hiding and Other Writing Tactics

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

People who know me well -- an introvert with a mostly academic work background -- might be surprised to hear that I am about to purchase a book on project management. Why? Because the happy coincidence of  time pressure and rediscovering Scott Berkun's blog (after recently encountering his very good essay on "How to Detect Bullshit") have helped me realize how many similarities there are between management and the mostly solitary pursuit of writing.

Berkun's blog recently featured an excerpt from his book How to Make Things Happen that offers the following advice on being firm about priorities:

One side effect of having priorities is how often you have to say no. It's one of the smallest words in the English language, yet many people have trouble saying it. The problem is that if you can't say no, you can't have priorities. The universe is a large place, but your priority 1 list should be very small. Therefore, most of what people in the world (or on your team) might think are great ideas will end up not matching the goals of the project. It doesn't mean their ideas are bad; it just means their ideas won't contribute to this particular project. So, a fundamental law of the PM universe is this: if you can't say no, you can't manage a project. [bold added]
I barely consider myself a writer and can already think of at least three occasions that not using that word has come back to haunt me. The excerpt is long, but well worth reading, and contains other advice. One tip that made me smile, because it's already a favorite time management tactic of mine is the following:
Hide. If you are behind on work and need blocks of time to get caught up, become invisible. On occasion, I've staked out a conference room (in a neighboring building) and told only the people who really might need me where I was. I caught up on email, specs, employee evaluations, or anything important that wasn't getting done, without being interrupted. For smaller orgs, working from home or a coffee shop can have the same effect (wireless makes this easy these days). I always encouraged my reports to do this whenever they felt it necessary. Uninterrupted time can be hard for PMs to find, so if you can't find it, you have to make it. [bold in original]
Both the new tactic and the old, as applied to writing, fall under a more general standing order I have, of protecting my writing time. I am grateful to Berkun for teaching me what I have learned so far already, and look forward to reading the rest of his book.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

Sometimes, I schedule a meeting with my lab bench.

Bill Brown said...

That's a great book. If you're interested in the subject at all, his book Confessions of a Public Speaker is easily the best book on the subject I've ever read. And I've read half a dozen or more of them.

Gus Van Horn said...


During grad school, I went so far as to buy a Matlab license -- not cheap, then -- so I could work at home sometimes, the interruptions could sometimes be so bad.


Thanks for your appraisal of Berkun's book as well as for the additional recommendation.