Process Development

I talk a lot about writing process.  Writing fiction (or most things, for that matter) is a very difficult task with many parts and many stages.  In order to do it efficiently and effectively (with the goal of being a professional who can actually turn a profit on the effort), it’s helpful to know what processes works for you.  I used to tell my writing students that the goal of trying out different processes was to help them work smarter, so in the end they spend less effort for greater output.  They really liked the less effort part.  In truth, so do I.

The problem is, finding and creating an effective process takes a lot of hard, hard work.  I spend many years weeping and wailing and gnashing my teeth over my writing.  Tasks that take me a few hours now took weeks or months then.  But as I persisted, the process became easier.  I developed a groove, discovered discipline, fine tuned the steps, and strengthened my mental muscles.  Because of the processes I have developed, writing is much, much easier and faster for me now than it used to be.

This is true of other things, too.  Communication and mediation between two people requires practice and process.  When we first got married, Drew and I spent a lot of time hammering out disagreements.  At times it was frustrating.  At times I was impatient.  The effort it took to make (sometimes simple) decisions was exhausting.  But I took comfort in the knowledge that the difficultly wasn’t caused by the decision at hand.  It was caused by our lack of communication process.  We didn’t know how we went about disagreeing or making decisions together.  And so we had to have a long conversation where we figured it out, and then another long conversation on its tail where we talked about what went wrong in the process of the argument, and how we could do it better next time.  We don’t have those conversations very much anymore, because we’ve developed a rhythm.  Like with writing, the energy to maintain that rhythm is insignificant compared to the energy it took to create the process. 

I’m currently learning a new process for business accounting.  Sandra kindly came over and talked me through the capabilities of my new Quickbooks program.  At first I was confused, but as I’ve poked at it, I realize that I now understand the basic functions of the program.  I’ve begun entering 21 months of backlog, which is giving me practice at making the program go.  I can see how it’s better than my old process; it connects the dots automatically that I have previously been connecting all by hand.  I’ve made a process list for what I anticipate I’ll have to do each month to keep the accounting going.

Unless I’m very far off, I predict it’s only going to take me one hour per month to maintain the system.  But in order to set up the system I’m estimating 40-80 hours of work.  It’s not just that I have to type in all the backlog.  It’s that I don’t understand the process yet, so for each step I have to search for the right functions, make errors, erase the errors, search some more, find the function, troubleshoot the function, and then identify the next step.  

I’m frustrated and I’m scared.  I don’t want to take on such a huge burden.  It feels like I’m going to be struggling with it forever.  But I’ve felt that way about things in the past that are now easy for me.  And right now I have the space in my life for creation of process.  Right now the process I was using before is still sufficient, but it isn’t scalable for the kind of business growth we’re hoping to see.  If I wait until the very hour we need a more complicated process, I’ll end up having to learn it in a rush, adding time-crunch stress to my already stressful learning.  Better to adapt early and avoid future conflict. 

Because eventually energy used to create this process will become enery used to maintain it.  And then the excess energy will spill out and be sucked up by other tasks.  What is now hard will one day be easy.  I just have to develop the process, and learn the rhythm. 

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    That’s how I’ve been feeling at my new job–everything that seemed to take minutes for the person I replaced seems to take me forever. But I find as I do the tasks over and over, I’m figuring it out and can actually do them without referring to my cheat sheet (thankfully, the person who did this job before me left an amazing notebook full of detailed directions). But that’s how I feel about my energy, too–and I’m looking forward to that feeling of excess energy again!

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