NOTE: I first penned this article in 2005. However, I was thinking about this subject today and decided it might be nice to share it with those who may also be Polychrons AND who are also writers. Might make them feel better about why they approach things differently than some others! ;-)
I'm a Polychron -- and proud of it.
What's a Polychron, you might ask? Well, it has to do with how you use/perceive time. Various cultures, for instance, perceive time in different ways. People from the United States, Germany and Northern Europe/Scandinavia are much more monochronic than, say, people from Latin America, Africa and Mediterranean nations. Here's a brief breakdown of what it means to be Monochronic vs. Polychronic*:
Polychrons (such as myself):
* Do many things at once
* Are highly distractible and subject to interruptions
* Consider time commitments an objective to be achieved, if possible
* Are high-context and already have information
* Are committed to people and human relationships
* Change plans often and easily
* Are more concerned with those who are closely related (family, friends, close business associates) than with privacy
* Borrow and lend things often and easily
* Base promptness on the relationship
* Have strong tendency to build lifetime relationships
Monochrons, on the other hand:
* Do one thing at a time
* Concentrate on the job
* Take time commitments (deadlines, schedules) seriously
* Are low-context and need information
* Are committed to the job
* Adhere religiously to plans
* Are concerned about not disturbing others; follow rules of privacy and consideration
* Show great respect for private property; seldom borrow or lend
* Emphasize promptness
* Are accustomed to short-term relationships
In THE POLYCHRONIC ATTITUDE INDEX: REFINEMENT AND PRELIMINARY CONSUMER MARKETPLACE BEHAVIOR APPLICATIONS (http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~ckaufman/polyattitude.html), Carol Kaufman-Scarborough of Rutgers University School of Business and Jay D. Lindquist of Western Michigan University came up with a handful of hypotheses, including:
Persons who are polychronic (Polychrons) are more likely to*:
a.) reschedule activities in response to demands;
b.) think of other things while doing something;
c.) combine routine tasks to free time for important tasks;
d.) have a flexible schedule; that is, not planning exactly when to do each thing;
e.) want to do several things at a time; i.e., not consider it to be fun to do one thing at a time;
f.) break projects into parts; and
g.) often change from one activity to another during the day.
Some of their findings included:
* Monochronic people want to take one thing at a time, while polychronic people do not think that it is fun at all.
* Polychronic people combine routine tasks in order to create free time for important tasks.
* Monochronics are creatures of habit. They are not flexible and don't feel comfortable with indefinite blocks of time and loosely-planned agendas. Polychronics, on the other hand, thrive on variety, change and spontaneity. They feel constrained by strict limits placed on their behaviors.
* When faced with an indefinite wait, monochronic people are happier watching television. In such situations, Polychrons prefer reading to watching television twice as much as monochrons.
So what does all this have to do with writing, you may ask? Actually, quite a lot. No writer is exactly the same (and neither should they be). Each of us approaches writing in a different way, and if it works for us, then we should stick with that way. For instance, I know writers who specialize in only certain types of writing and they NEVER multitask (and, quite frankly, I wonder how they manage to get anything done that way -- then again, I'm a Polychron and multitasking is my LIFE.)
Writer, know thyself is an appropriate phrase. I know my best way of working, and it's NOT the monochronic way. My approach may be unconventional, but the bottom line is I get the job done. Having a polychronic bent has helped me in freelancing -- at least I believe so. As a freelancer, you must juggle many aspects of the career, including researching, querying, interviewing, marketing and promoting. All of these are important pieces of the whole, and you cannot afford to ignore any of them. I also don't care to limit myself only to certain genres or areas of writing -- I want to write in a variety of areas and I see no reason why I can't accomplish that. In fact, I already have. Thus far, I've had poems, articles, reviews, career profiles, short stories, sidebars, columns and blurbs published. Next month my first co-authored book will hit the shelves. This time next year, my first solo book will be released. Had I stuck to merely penning poems or short stories I would have never been able to expand in this way. But I don't do well running in the same old rut, and as a writer I believe it's important for all of us to stretch and improve our abilities as much as possible -- for our entire lives!
To me, time is like taffy -- it can be stretched to accommodate many tasks. As a funny side note, I used to work for city government and a friend/coworker of mine was always amazed how I could manage to go grocery shopping, eat lunch and be back by the time my lunch hour was up. "How do you DO that?" she wondered. It was simple. I made a list of what I needed at the store beforehand (limit your list to X number of items -- and don't put deli items you'll need to wait for) and had it at the ready. I'd go into the store (five-minute drive) and make a quick beeline for the items in aisle order with no double-backing (20 minutes max). Then I ran home, shoved the groceries in their proper places (10 minutes), grabbed a pre-made sandwich or salad, ate in an average of five minutes and drove back to the office (ten minutes, max.) Simple and easy! The key is knowing what you need to get, how long it should take to get it and have pre-made lists and lunch waiting for you.
But back to the taffy pulling as an analogy for manipulating time in reference to the writing life. In the past I tried to put too many tasks in the mix. The past year, I've learned what I call "controlled multitasking." In other words, I look at all the things I want or have been asked to be involved in, then I pare that huge list down to the ESSENTIAL things I can handle at once in order to accomplish all of them. Multitasking doesn't mean you have to do ALL 100 things on your list. If you do, you lose effectiveness. Instead, pare that down to 1/3 and you'll succeed in multitasking WITH THE END GOAL OF GETTING EVERYTHING ON YOUR LIST DONE.
Once you get your list, prioritize it. As an example, right now Sun Signs for Writers is my top priority. Then comes Red Engine Press and The Complete Writer (this includes publisher requests for service AND marketing/PR duties). Then comes any other writing articles and queries (I have several circulating at the moment). Now, there were about five to ten other things that used to be on my list, but for the time being, those are on the backburner. I'm still working on more than one thing, but I've limited the number of things I'm doing in order to gain effectiveness. If I find I need to hone the list a bit more by putting a lower-priority task on the backburner, then I'll do it. The idea here is to remain flexible and to add/subtract tasks as circumstances change/arise. For example, come September once the ms. is off to the publisher, I will move Scribe & Quill back onto my list and up my priority with Red Engine Press since I'll be putting more energy into marketing/promotion AND embarking on a new task -- writing grants.
So yes, while I am a Polychron by nature, I actually do use lists and goal sheets to track what I should be doing and when my deadlines are. These lists are a godsend for me, because my mind is hopping all the time and thoughts become scattered. This is one way I give myself "assignments" and track progress. Nothing is written in stone, however. For instance, when the edits for the ms. come back to me, I'll need to shift my task list yet again and make that a priority (because I have no idea how short a time they'll give me to complete that task.)
The bottom line is this: if you're a writer, it's helpful to obtain some monochronic traits -- such as meeting deadlines (if you plan to KEEP writing for publications!) -- but polychronic traits can come in handy when it comes to remaining flexible and learning to multitask. There ought to be a word for those who straddle both sides of the spectrum...and perhaps there will be some fine day. Freelancers and contract writers have to share traits from both sides. Monochronics need to learn flexibility and polychronics need to learn how to engage in controlled multitasking. Either that, or hire an assistant. (Joke, joke!)
So now I say to my fellow and sister Polychrons, it's all fine and well to have one's fingers in many pies, but you have to be honest with yourself (and others) and learn what your maximum limits are for your time and attentions. Learn to say "no" or "not right now" and stick to it. You don't have to say "yes" to every idea or invitation that comes down the pike. Turning down ideas is a hard thing for many of us to do -- especially me. I'm always fascinated by the sparkly NEW idea begging in my brain. The truth is, you're not saying "no," you're saying "no" for right now. As in, "I'll get to you later, but I must deal with THIS first and finish it." Wisdom is not only knowing when to say "yes" or "no," but when to say them at the proper times.
As a final aside, remember if you're monochronic you aren't going to change others who are polychronic. If you work with them, you'll need to understand why they have a different work style and learn how to interact with them -- and vice versa. For instance, my approach may be unconventional, but in the end I accomplish what I set out to do in my own way. I chafe at babysitters and hand-holders -- and I'm not good at doing either myself. Typically I have a vision or strategy for how I'll accomplish a certain task, and while it may not match the agenda of others, the point is that I'll reach the goal line just as they will by taking a sometimes nontraditional path. If I listened to every *negative* caution I've been given over the years as a writer I would have missed out on countless opportunities (and publication credits!) I've never understood why people fixate on WHY something can't be done right away rather than searching for ways it CAN be done (even if by unconventional means.) It takes less brain power to immediately dismiss an idea than it does to WORK a solution or approach to a problem. Polychronics can assist Monochronics in this way, while Monochronics can teach Polychronics how to become more effective at concentration and time organization. Together, we can help one another succeed. And isn't that what it's all about?
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