The question most frequently asked of me during interviews and at the end of book talks, lectures, and the like is some variation of "How do you get so much done?"
It's sort of an impossible question to answer, because the actual answer could fill the pages of a book.
At some point it might.
But still, I try to answer the question by explaining my approach to life, my motivations, and offering a few productivity tips that are meant to be emblematic of the hundreds that remain unmentioned for the sake of time and sanity.
Mostly, my answers come down to one precept:
Don't waste time.
But that's not terribly helpful to people who can't see what that means. "Don't waste time" comes in many forms, but yesterday might be a good example of this precept.
Sunday was a busy day for me. I rose from bed at 4:45 AM. After getting dressed, I fed the cats and sat down to write a blog post. When that was finished, I read and revised a chapter of a future novel and finished off a magazine pitch. Then I made breakfast for the kids before leaving at 6:00 AM to play golf.
While making breakfast and on the way to golf, I listened to Springfield Confidential, a memoir by Mike Reiss about his years writing for The Simpsons.
I stepped off the golf course at 8:55 and drove to my friend's house, where I helped move furniture until 9:30. Then I returned home. I clean up my kids' breakfast dishes, showered, and changed clothing.
I had 15 minutes before leaving the house with the family for the Coventry Farmer's Market, so I sat down and edited the second segment of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast episode that dropped this morning. Then it was off to the market for a couple hours of fun with Elysha and the kids. We sat on hay bales, eating breakfast sandwiches and Italian ices while listening to a band play songs by Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, and Michael Jackson. Then we walked the market, buying flowers and saying hello to vendors we know before leaving.
On the way home, we listened to music. Answered Charlie's existential question on the nature of heaven. Debated the greatest vocalist of all time. Discussed the innocuous nature of the band Foreigner. Decided to learn the lyrics to Crosby, Stills, and Nash "Southern Cross."
When we returned home from the market, I had another 45 minutes before I needed to leave for Miss Porter's for camper orientation. For the next week, I'll be teaching a storytelling workshop to 28 girls from around the world. During those 45 minutes, I edited another segment of the podcast and decided on a story idea for a Moth StorySLAM on Monday.
On the way to Miss Porter's School, I worked on that story, which I had started working on about a year ago but had never finished. I spoke the story aloud as I drove.
For the next two hours, girls arrived at Miss Porter's and registered for camp. I met my counselors, chatted with folks from last year's camp, and answered parent questions. At the same time, I had my laptop set up by the squash courts, When not needed, I was editing the podcast and preparing a follow-up email for the workshop participants who I taught on Saturday in Boston.
At 4:00, I addressed the parents and campers, talking about the week we had planned. I took some questions, finalized some details, and left. I drove 30 minutes to a friend's house where I met Elysha and the kids for a barbecue. On the way to the barbecue, I worked on my story, finding arc and the transition sentences I would need.
I enjoyed a barbecue with friends before driving another 20 minutes for ice cream at Rich Farm. I listened to Springfield Confidential on the way since I was in a separate car.
After ice cream, I drove the 45 minutes home, listening and finishing Springfield Confidential. When I arrived home, I fed the cats and finished editing the podcast and scheduled it to publish at midnight. Sitting beside Elysha, I answered email and read through the magazine pitch once more. I dragged the trash and recycling to the curb. Then I went to bed around 11:00 PM.
That was a full day. A round of golf with friends. A visit to a farmer's market with my family. A barbecue and ice cream with friends and faimily. Moving furniture. Orientation at Miss Porters School.
It was busy, but I spent a lot of time with my family and friends, and since I carry my golf bag on my back, managed some exercise as well.
Actually, the moving of furniture was the real workout of the day.
But in between all of it, I edited a podcast. Wrote a blog post. Wrote a magazine pitch. Revised the chapter of a novel. Finished listening to an audiobook. Planned a story for The Moth. There wasn't much time to accomplish these things. Most of them were completed in the spaces of my day. Between activities. At the beginning of the day. At the end of the day.
Truthfully, it wasn't a terribly productive day in terms of writing, storytelling and the like. Most of my time was occupied by other pursuits. But in between, when time could have been wasted, I got some stuff done.
I also didn't watch TV. I didn't scroll through social media. I didn't arrive home and putter around the house. I maximized the spaces of my day.
Spaces we all have. Everyday.
This is how I get so much done. There are also an enormous number of routines and strategies that I use to maximize my time. Other stuff, too. A book's worth of stuff.
But this is a good start.