David Farland's Kick in the Pants: Being Prolific

This post, by David Farland, originally appeared on his site on 2/12/13.

Sometimes when people look at a writer who produces a lot, they make exclamations like, “Wow, how do you get so much done? You’re amazing! How did you get to be so prolific?”
-Kami M McArthur

Sometimes when people look at a writer who produces a lot, they make exclamations like, “Wow, how do you get so much done? You’re amazing! How did you get to be so prolific?”

Of course, as a writer, I don’t feel prolific, especially lately. I never think of myself in those terms. I do think about how to be more productive—almost every day. It started when I was young. So today I’m going to revisit some lessons from my youth.

As a child, I began working in the fields at age four, and at that time, I picked as many strawberries and beans as any other child—practically none. But my mother encouraged me to set goals for the day. She would say, “Why don’t you see if you can pick 100 pounds of beans today.” I tried it a few times and usually reached my goal by noon. (We’d start at about 7:00 A.M.) But after I reached my goal, I slacked off and played with the other kids in the fields.

When I was seven, I met an old woman who supplemented her income by picking fruits and vegetables. She was the most productive worker in the fields. On a regular day, she would harvest between 300 and 400 pounds of beans. So I got to wondering, “How does she do it?”

I began working in the row next to her one morning, determined to keep up. I found, first of all, that she kept her focus on the beans. She wasn’t watching other people or talking.

She noticed my interest and gave me a lesson. First, when reaching down to grab some beans, she would brush back the leaves from the bean stalks, exposing any beans that were hidden. So she hunted while harvesting. In short, she was multi-tasking. I soon discovered that I had only been picking about 3/4 of the beans available to me.

She also kept grabbing at beans until her hands were completely full, never pulling them free until she a got a good haul to drop into her bean bucket. In other words, I recognized that she was trying to make each movement count.
Of course she had to sit a certain way, squatting on her bean bucket with her legs spread wide enough so that she could put the beans in. She had to lean forward and stretch far enough to maximize her range. Then she would harvest two or three bushes at a time by working her way from the bottom to the top, then move the bucket three feet, harvest from bottom to top, and so on.

Moving this way hurt. The rim of the bean bucket would cut into her legs. The stretching made her back ache, and the fast labor meant that she constantly had sweat stinging her eyes. I asked her how to handle that, and her answer was simple, “Just ignore it, and keep on movin’.”

She worked relentlessly. While the kids nearby were throwing beans at each other, or singing, or taking water breaks, she was still working. She didn’t set goals to “work fifteen minutes,” she set goals to “finish the next three rows” before she would take a break.

Read the rest of the post on David Farland’s site.

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