A toy wizard in a tall pointed cap dances on a wet rock in a glowing fantasy world.

Time-box man

Many moons ago, my boss would call me “time-box man.” It was meant affectionately, but not quite kindly, i.e. it was teasing me about a behaviour I was meant to perceive as undesirable.

(This boss, by the way, was generally one of the all-time great bosses, who went well out of their way to help grow me and my career, with lasting impact in both cases.)

The behaviour in question was: I would set specific chunks of time, often literally in my calendar, to accomplish specific tasks. During those chunks, I would work on the thing, and not any of the other things that (inevitably) come up during the course of a working day, working week, or working month. I could also commit with near-perfect fidelity to an end-point for any given task, since I had the chunk mapped out and was pretty consistent at completing those obligations in the time I’d allowed myself.

That’s why I was Time-box Man.

It’s a branding that’s stuck surprisingly well in my psyche, along with its passively negative connotation. In the interests of digging out and interrogating the stories I cling to for reasons long forgotten, however, I was thinking about it this week and realized pretty quickly that there is absolutely nothing I would brand as negative about the behaviour I’ve described above.

I suppose in retrospect my boss may have been indirectly expressing their frustration with the fact that I was baldly resisting something that used to be on the ascendant in workplace culture, which was the simple premise of multitasking. A premise about which, I think we can all say with a 2024 perspective, “fuck that.”

I doubt multitasking was ever a particularly good idea, even when it was popular; it feels a lot more like one of those bullshit premises “they” sell you (such as “everyone should work in an office together because it improves productivity and collaboration”) that is ultimately more about backdooring the behaviours they actually want than achieving the goals they say they want.

In the case of multitasking, I’d wager it’s about stoking the persistent sense of workplace thrum, and/or making sure that all of one’s subordinates are instantaneously responsive to messages, requests, new problems, and idle thoughts, regardless of how important they are, so that leaders feel like they’re on top of their teams.

I betcha if you did the numbers, you’d determine that the “multitasking” fad ravaged workplace productivity by a solid -40%. (If you add the additional -40% lost to putting everyone in an office together, it’s no wonder nothing ever gets done!)

In my writing life in the last six months, it’s been Time-box Man’s turn to be on the ascendant. Astonishing absolutely no one, creative productivity and multitasking mix like napalm and loose dynamite.

When I’m trying to build out a thing — whether it’s a chapter or an outline or a scene or whatever — I really can’t be thinking about a different creative project at the same time, let alone responding to emails or other distractions. I’ve also found that bearing down on a particular creative project at the expense of any of the others requires a period of on-ramping and off-ramping to settle my intentions and find my focus; I can’t easily pivot to something else in mid-stream without a lot of cost (losing time, losing intentions, forgetting the great idea I just had, etc.).

This is a day-to-day process (because I am right now finishing off a teleplay and a novel, and actively drafting a different TV concept and a different novel) but where it really gets hairy is when someone drops in who wants to talk about a thing we were working on five years ago (meaning I have to “find it” again, mentally) or worse, when I come up with something brand-spanking-new which wants to eat all of my REM cycles because it’s just so cool (which is what happened to me this week, with a brand-new spec screenplay idea that I am dying to write).

I guess I can see why my old boss would have been frustrated, because Time-box Man stands at the gates of both of these scenarios and doesn’t let anyone in; at least, not until the next available time box.

One of the trades I made myself when pursuing this creative career was that I was going to drill down on these four projects specifically, and get them “done.” If I can’t do that — if I keep drifting off to some other region of my creative dreamland at the expense of the harder parts of the work — then I can’t really say that I’m “doing this” at all, can I?

Bendis Items 3/2/24

ITEM!: In case you missed it, I was in a short film!

ITEM!: “Can Every Girl See The Swirling Void?” by Vera Blossom is short, stunning, and makes my organs ache.

ITEM!: “Need For Chaos.” Explains everything. ‘Nuff said.

ITEM!: It was “my face is a kintsugi that did it for me. (Written by one of my colleagues in the Open Heart Sangha!)

ITEM!: Meanwhile, Rebecca Wood!

ITEM!: Sometimes I really hate Scaachi Koul, by which I mean I wish she really liked me.