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Too Many Irons in the Fire?


We’ve all been there. We’re so busy trying to do too many different things that we can’t do any one thing well. We’re hurried and harried. And, as a result, we tend to get discouraged and are tempted to quit. And it doesn’t help us any whenever someone tells us, “You just have too many irons in the fire!” Tell us something we don’t know!

But there’s a different way of looking at that adage that, if followed, can actually help us accomplish more and avoid many of the nerve-wracking effects of too many irons in the fire at once. We certainly don’t want to be divided in our purpose or focus, but neither do we want our work to be idled if we encounter a problem or experience a delay of some sort while working on a single task.

The solution is to have several tasks waiting for just such a time,

something to which we can shift our efforts when those inevitable problems and delays arise. And for that to happen, we need to have several irons in the fire.

Take my own writing, for example. Sometimes when I’m in the thick of researching an article or book project, I’ll need a particular resource but it’s not available in the library. Either it’s checked out by someone else or I have to order it from the main library downtown or a distant branch library to be delivered to my local library. And that takes time. (Add more time to the delay if it must be ordered through interlibrary loan!) So my work grinds to a halt while I await the book’s delivery. Or, if I’m really desperate and the book is one I would want to keep, I might order it online, but then I still have to wait for delivery.


So do I just sit idly, twiddling my thumbs and fuming about how slow the system works, until the resource arrives? No! I hop onto another project, an iron that has been waiting in the fire for just such a predicament. I begin work on it and thereby suffer no lost time. Rather, I’m doing the “Puritan” thing and “improving” my time! I begin work on another article idea. I edit or proof a manuscript that I had set aside to gain some distance from it. I do research on another topic that I want to develop.

This principle is actually biblical. (That’s, no doubt, where the Puritans got the idea of “improving” their time in the first place!) The phrase redeeming the time is used twice in the New Testament: in Colossians 4:5 (“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time”) and in Ephesians 5:16 (“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”).

Do you want to stay busy? Do you want to avoid the frustrations of delays and problems with your writing projects? Do you want always to see your writing progressing rather than stagnating? Then always have several irons in or near the fire so that when those problems and delays occur, you can pull one of them out, shift your focus a bit, and keep on making productive use of your time. Having many projects at different stages of development helps. One in idea form that needs outlining. One that needs research. Another that needs drafting. A couple that need editing or proofing. And eventually, you’ll have several that need marketing so that they will “find a home” with a publication. And then there’s always the tasks of networking and platform building!

Get those irons in the fire!

What “irons” are in your writer’s fire pit? Share them with us. Maybe other writers will gain encouragement and inspiration from your examples.

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