You may be thinking at this point that I’ve no skills at time management, given the sudden loss of posts on this blog.  You’re both wrong and right.  My time management tends to run as follows:

  1. Realize I have seven or eight tasks that need to be accomplished.
  2. List those tasks so that they’re staring me right in the face, and I can’t forget something.
  3. Work down the list until it’s all crossed out.

Fairly simple, yes?  Definitely. But the trick to that list and those tasks and a good portion of completion is to remember that no matter the length of the list, there’s something else going on.  Maybe I was supposed to have movie night with my husband, or maybe I had planned to get to the gym, but I’m the type that if there’s a to-do list and something major on the line (say, my GPA), then that list and I are the best of friends until it’s been properly wiped out.  Do I get my work completed? Yes. Do I get it completed on time? You bet.  Do I get stressed out and mildly wild-eyed because I forget to take a break?

Hoo-boy.

Here’s the trick: If you’ve got a hundred things to do and only half the time you want to do them, you still need to plan a few minutes’ rest in the midst of it all.  You’re no good to anyone if your brain’s gone to mush because all you’ve done for days and days is work without a break.  If you can work for four or five hours, go right ahead, but then take a half hour and watch something goofy.  Or read something that isn’t connected to your workload. Or call a friend.  Multi-tasking is all well and good, but it’s useless if, in the end, you’re more worried and stressed and sleep-deprived than when you started.

Tell you what, I’ll get you going.  Meet Tom Lehrer:

Now, take fifteen minutes, go to YouTube, and look him up.  Watch three videos, then get back to work.  I promise it works.  One of these days, I may take my own good advice.

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This is a movie premise*. It was written for the film that became “Batman Begins.” In no more than 5 pages, it explains to possibly interested executives everything that will happen in the film. The final cut of “Batman Begins” came in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. How is it possible that someone sold the idea of the film to a studio with 5 pages of brief explanation?

Someone got trained, and you can too.

There’s both a screenwriting minor and a screenwriting certificate offered through Missouri State University (my soon-to-be alma mater), and the first class you take in the process is called “Genre Writing for Television and Film.” It will kick your butt. I picked it up as a general media elective to finish the hours in my minor, and I’ve spent the semester alternately interested, entertained, and scared half to death. I’m a good writer. On certain days, I’m a great writer. I am not, however, a premise writer. I’d never done it before (nor had anyone else in the class), and it’s been an uphill climb to learn how to do it right.

I have not, for the record, managed to do it exactly right, yet. I just turned in my second assignment. It was a movie premise (for the first assignment, I did a television premise). It was a romantic comedy idea. I was told it was funny (good!), and then I was told that I needed a third act, a good chunk of world-building, and some more character development. I was also told that I had a good concept that could make a good script, and that I needed to stop writing like an English major (a common complaint amongst Media profs who have taught me Media writing).

Reviewing the notes from the critique, and rereading my premise, I realized that I probably won’t be turning it into a script any time soon. For one, I don’t have the time to take the necessary courses to learn how to write a good script. For another, reading through it again I saw, in a sudden burst of late realization, that my movie premise could easily be the outline for a novel. And not only that, but I knew how everything started and carried on and ended, and thanks to the critique, I knew where I needed to start working on the overall story.

I’ve never outlined a novel. It’s not my style, and the bare, roman numeral outlines I’ve always been told to lay out have always struck me as too bland for something as large-scale and detail-oriented as a novel. But the movie premise formula, the layout and explanation, this is something I can use, and I think it’s something you could use too. If you’ve got something like “Genre Writing” on your campus, and you want to learn to write better, take the class. You’ll get your butt handed to you, but that’s the point. To be a better writer, you have to be ready to be told what you’re doing now isn’t good enough. I will probably not end up writing premises for television or movies, but now I have a way to figure out how to write just about everything else.

*For more premises (as well as scripts), see simplyscripts.com.

When I get bored I look up job openings for tech writers. I also surf craigslist for apartments. I do this because it’s a good idea to know where I can work and what it would cost to live there. For example, an editorial assistant in New York City doesn’t make enough to live alone in Manhattan. If I were going to work there (and since I’m going into book publishing, it’s a viable option), I’d need to live outside of Manhattan, and that would mean a morning commute that would need to be factored into the workday.

I also do these kinds of searches to see what skills I need for various companies. I was looking at job openings at Google (because all those pictures of their offices intrigue me), and they require tech writers with an understanding of various computer languages. I know HTML and some CSS. I understand how to use almost the entirety of the Adobe suite. To work for Google, I’m going to need to know C++ and Python and Java. I know none of these. Luckily, I don’t actually want to work for Google, but knowing what’s required lets me see what I could learn to make me a more well-rounded technical communicator.

The more you know, the more you can do, and the more you can do, the better you’ll get paid. Which means that with the right combination of skills, I could afford an apartment in Manhattan at some point.

The next time you get bored, don’t hit the StumbleUpon button. Pick through the want ads and browse through apartment listings. Take twenty minutes and figure out what it takes in skills and cash to work at a job you want in a city you want. Plan further ahead than a security deposit. Plan far enough ahead that what you have to offer is what’s being looked for in the first place.