Dealing with time itself: How Finishing School helps

During the twelve years from 2001 to 2013 when I was writing the daily “Since You Asked” advice column for, I had a 3pm deadline every day.

That was great. I knew the one thing I had to do and I could handle that. Like the writer Rafael Alvarez said to me once, “Every day, I have to catch one fish.” That was my situation. Every day, I had one thing to do: Write a column. For a writer like me, that was bliss. A staff writing job is great. My whole life can revolve around one creative act.

But then I lost that job.

The world was no longer cooperating with my creative needs, giving me exactly the setting I needed to produce my best work.

What can I do? The problem isn’t me. I’m fine! The problem is the world. The world is the problem. I can’t change the world. All I can do is cope with the world. To do that, I need a simple method I can follow, imperfectly at times, over the course of a lifetime.

That is why I invented Finishing School. It helps creative people like me schedule time and define tasks in a way that works for them.

Finishing School isn’t for everyone. The excellent time management methods already out there work just fine for many people.

Not for you and me, though. Time management doesn’t really work for us. I’m not sure why. It may be that we crave the interesting and time management is not interesting, whereas the process we use in Finishing School actually is interesting–to us, anyway. To me and the others who use it, the process is motivating and pleasant. We do not get down on ourselves about our failings to be completely logical and regular. We allow for the natural tendency to veer off; we congratulate each other on being creative and irregular, and we celebrate our natural tendencies to veer off; we recognize that this is part of the priceless gift we have of being creative.

But we also recognize that this part of ourselves, this creative quirk, this temperamental difference, can also prevent us from finishing our work and bringing it out to the world. For that reason, we have the Finishing School method that keeps us on track.

But duh. It doesn’t always work the way you hope it will.

Today, for instance, I had made a plan with my Finishing School buddy to sit down here at my desk at 9 a.m. and work out a schedule for the week, and then work on the selection from the novel that I plan to send to agents this week.

Did I mention I’m living in Italy?

I like to start the day with a walk and then come home to write. But returning home after looking out over the gorgeous Val di Chio, coming up Corso Italia here in Castiglion Fiorentino I came to Piazza del Municipio and there was the monthly mercato, the flea market filled with fascinating things. And there, the first booth I saw, were two chairs and a desk, and we have been talking about getting two small chairs for the bedroom, and a desk for my downstairs office. They were really cheap–at least by San Francisco standards. The chairs were €25 apiece and the desk was €17. Plus they had jeans and knicknacks, and across from their booth was a table where a man was selling Italian books about artists. I already had the Alberto Bruni book but he had a book about local ceramicist and painter  Tommaso Musarra. So one thing led to another and I showed Norma the chairs and so we bought them and took them home and then went to Bar Maro for pastries and coffee. I had a cornetto con arancia, a pastry with orange marmalade inside, and te nero, black tea. Then we had to walk down Corso Italia to get the International New York Times and Norma had to charge her cell phone at the Tabaccheria, and there were more doodads and paintings to look at, and one painting really caught my eye. So we bought the newspaper and then went to charge Norma’s phone and on the way back the man with the painting that caught my eye stopped us in the street and began extolling the virtues of the painting and the artist, Gino Tassinari (1920-2001), and he wanted €60 so I started to walk up the street and then it went down to €50 and I really loved this painting so I bought it. And then my allowance was spent, except for buying the book about Tommaso Musarra for €3.

And then we came home.

After having such fun out in the air in our beautiful town, when I thought of settling down to look at my calendar and make a schedule, I felt awful. Dreary. Nah. Don’t wanna. I really didn’t want to do it. So I picked a fight with my wife instead. I’m so mature. That was really fun, fighting about where to hang the pictures.

But I kid. The point is that personal motivational styles have a profound influence on how we get tasks done. I really did not want to sit down and make out a schedule.

So I compromised. I wrote this blog post. And the first thing I did, while writing this blog post, was think about the song “Time is On My Side” by the Rolling Stones, and so I had to listen to that song, and then it segued into “Wild Horses,” which, if you’ve ever actually read the lyrics while listening to the song, you realize it’s really quite sad and interesting …

You can see how much I’m getting done. It’s a wonder the book got written at all. But Danelle and I used the Finishing School method every week to stay on track. And that’s how we got it done.