Time management and marmalade

That was a rejected title for a short story of mine once, but it is now used in our family to describe the impossible circle-squaring of what you really want to do versus what needs to be done this instant.

marmaladeWe love marmalade. We make buckets of the stuff every January. But it takes ages, and you have to decide to do that instead of something else. Distant economics lessons tell me that’s called opportunity cost: what you choose to give up in order to do something now. The opportunity cost of me writing this blog is another couple of paragraphs of my novel. Or drafting a poem. Or twiddling with a script. Or making coffee. Endless stuff to do! We choose what to do moment by moment, half-realising there are different paths spiraling away from us at every choice but not encouraging them by devoting any conscious brainpower to them. That way lies madness, or at least cold beverages.

I used to work with an extrovert Australian in a merchant bank in the City. She taught me two important working maxims. Firstly, you need three trays on your desk (to appreciate the full flavour of this next bit, you have to say it to yourself in a broad Australian accent): “in”, “out” and “too bloody hard”. There are many things that end up in the TBH pile. It’s a bit like Purgatory for paperwork, but things generally get saved or damned in the end. The second bit of advice changed my desk for ever: always do your filing in the first twenty minutes of the day. First, not last. Then it’s out of the way and you have a clear desk (and head) to get on with the hard stuff.

So, years and two children later, I try to apply these lessons. Now I have three days when my younger is with her childminder and the elder is at school. Six hours, if I’m lucky, of solitary time, now the blessed builders have gone after ten months. When I’m awake, technically, and can concentrate.

Mondays are Newsjack sketch submission day (a BBC Radio comedy show that accepts unsolicited topical material). The current series is half-way through, and the deadline for comedy sketches is noon on Mondays. I spend the first bit of the morning tweaking what I’ve been drafting, seeing if it makes me giggle, and sending it in. Nothing’s yet been accepted, but I can feel myself getting better with every go at it. Tick.

Then it’s the novel. I am so nearly finished I could weep, but loud builders, procrastination and a nocturnal toddler have stretched this out. Now I have a deadline of an editing course in a couple of weeks, I have to get it done. It’s next on my list after posting this.

My poems come and go as they please: I can never tell when one is on the way. Every now and then I submit to magazines and competitions, some of which come up. That is the background pulse: it’s a lot slower than topical comedy.

I have absolutely forbidden myself to look at the ironing pile, the laundry mountain or dirty bits of the house on these three precious days. I am allowed to look after the chickens and sheep, and stroke the cats. It’s taken me a long time to give myself permission to let other things slide: finally, the opportunity cost of writing is ok for me to pay.

So, not to divert myself much longer from the looming novel ending, blog posts are quick and dirty at the moment. You can only hope for more polished gems later on. Be not afraid of the Too Bloody Hard, and do the things you hate first. Eat toast and marmalade. And remember to collect your children. I have to set an alarm for that, or my head is somewhere else entirely.