Monday, January 23, 2017

Don't Be an Almoster

By Andrea Merrell

In my last post, we talked about setting small, bite-sized goals that we want to accomplish this year. Last week, Cindy Sproles reminded us to complete the writing we set out to do: “Laying it to the side for when you think the time is right, does not ingrain integrity or the success of completing a task. Finish the work, even if it’s tiny bits at a time.

To help with this concept, allow me to share a tip I learned years ago. While once applied only to household tasks, this little tidbit now helps me with my daily writing and editing.

“Don’t be an almoster!” The lady who made this emphatic statement looked at each person in the room as if she'd been peeking in our windows. Then she added, “Pick it up—don’t pass it up.” When she elaborated on her points, I had to admit the truth: I can easily be an almoster (and a procrastinator).

When cleaning house, doing laundry, and attending to everyday chores, my tendency is to go into a room to put something away, spot another task begging to be done, and abandon my initial project (or even forget the reason I came into the room in the first place). This can happen several times throughout the day.

The result? I’m almost finished with the laundry … almost finished vacuuming … almost finished paying the bills … Besides, I’ve passed by a variety of objects, promising myself to pick them up the next time around.

Do you get the picture? Can you relate?

Even though I learned this principle over thirty years ago, it's always stayed with me. Now, I find myself applying it to my life as a writer and editor.

There are many reasons we don’t complete our projects: time, illness, stress, family obligations, distractions … life. But sometimes it's simply because we try to multi-task and flit from one thing to another. This can mean we’re almost finished with next week’s blog post, almost finished with the article that’s due in a couple of days, and almost finished with our most current novel. 

Almost … but not quite.

If you find you’re always busy but not accomplishing your goals, try setting aside some quality time—even it's only fifteen minutes—to focus on one task. The next time you sit down, go back and finish that one task before you move to another. Give it your full attention. Don’t check your e-mail, Tweet, or visit your Facebook page until you finish. Concentrate and get the job done. You can derive a lot of satisfaction crossing an item off your to-do list.

I once heard a teaching on the “tyranny of the urgent.” We could call it the proverbial squeaky wheel that gets the oil. Sometimes the urgent screams for our immediate attention and causes us to lose sight of all the important matters we need to attend to. When we have a full plate, we need to take the time to prioritize. There will always be tasks we enjoy more than others, but when we consistently put them first, the others get pushed to the back of the shelf.

This year, I challenge you (as well as myself) to complete that special project you've been putting off. Finish your novel. Read the book that’s been lying on your nightstand. Send that e-mail or thank-you card (the one that's way overdue). Make that phone call you’ve been putting off. Update your blog or website. Get involved in a critique group. Start putting money aside for a writers' conference. You'll be so glad you did.

What's the one thing you’re almost finished with that needs to be completed? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


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