Batten Down the Hatches. The Squirrels and Pigeons Have Taken Over.

But we’re going to finish this post series.

I said we would talk about the things I do to help myself get something productive done during a work day. And I will. But first, I want to be completely honest.

I have days when none of it works.

This week, for example. I’m having a rough time because it’s a bad week for migraine symptoms like brain fog and confusion, and it’s a bad week for inattention. Blame hormones, blame the moon, it happens every month. And it costs me massively in productivity. On Monday I couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t string a coherent sentence together. Tuesday I kind of made up for it with almost 6,000 words in revisions. Wednesday was a write-off again. And today I’m struggling through the fog. Part of the problem is that I need a new scene, and my brain isn’t capable of putting one together. It’s a whole different ballgame from rewrites.

But we’re not here to talk about brain fog (though if you want to know how I deal with that, I’ll put my new video at the bottom of this post). We’re here to talk about the good days. Days when I can get things done in theory, but my pigeon-filled brain is scattered and I’m distracted by everything from an election I can’t even participate in to squirrels to “hey, I haven’t had poutine all week, is 10 AM too early?”

And again, please know that I am not good at following my own advice. At best I might manage to use a few of these tips and get some stuff done and feel guilty for not doing more.

We all do the best we can, right? And hope the little habits build into big success.

Here we go.

  1. Plan my day the night before.

I do this in my bullet journal pretty consistently. I don’t handle surprises well, and need to know what’s coming. Also, being able to look at my page, see what’s planned, and get into it is way more streamlined than trying to figure it out before coffee and then deciding to aim low. Some people might be fine with just writing down their top three goals for their work day, knowing they’ll remember other stuff. I, on the other hand, plan it all out. What my kids are doing. Who has gym tomorrow. Whose laundry needs to get done. Check-boxes for feeding the dogs twice, taking my medication, taking my vitamins, checking the mail. What scene I need to plan. What I need to do after that. What I need to plan for the next day.

When I know I’m going to be scattered (like this week), I’ll go so far as to create an ideal hourly breakdown of what I should be doing. I never achieve it, but it removes the need to decide what I should be doing, and that reduces my anxiety a whole lot.

2.  Leave social media alone.

I was doing SO well with this for a while, and it made a huge difference. I stopped using my phone as an alarm clock so I wouldn’t be tempted to check it first thing in the morning. And I still do that. It charges downstairs overnight. But though I find I’m far more productive if I don’t check facebook, email, etc. until after work, I’m a bit addicted. I get twitchy if I don’t check. My brain craves the distraction even though I know I’m not missing anything important (sorry, friends). I try every morning to leave it alone, and I usually fail. But it does work when I succeed. I’m more focused and more productive if I’m not waiting for people to respond to something I posted.

I do have a better option. I have a morning routine that involves meditation, reading, breakfast, and stretching before the kids get up. It’s lovely, and my brain never lets me stick to it. Work in progress, right?

3. Music.

I know most people recommend classical music for focus, and that does help me sometimes. But if I’m drafting, I actually find that I need something loud and heavy, complete with lyrics. It’s like my brain needs stimulation that it can drown out, and somehow that lets me focus on work. This is not a tip that will work for everyone, but if you’re not finding that ambient/classical/whatever is working for you, why not give it a shot? I’ve been enjoying Google Play’s Top Charts > Metal. Not my favourite genre, but maybe that’s why I can tune it out.

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Someitmes I get this weird feeling like Sum 41 has a new album out.

4. Timed sprints.

Sometimes the idea of just sitting and working is overwhelming. Breaking the day into short work sprints is sometimes the only way I can get started. A goal of 4,000 words can seem huge if I’m staring at a blank screen, but I can make myself write for 25 minutes. And if even that seems overwhelming on a bad day, I make it ten. Or five. But once I get the words started, they usually want to keep coming. This works best for me in the draft stage, but I have used focus sprints to get me going on edits, brainstorming, etc. Not much luck so far using them on things like taxes and emails, but maybe that will come.

4. Writing down distractions.

This is one I came up with myself, though I’m sure I’m not the first to do it. I keep a stack of post-it notes on my desk. When a distraction pops up (gotta check facebook, crap I forgot to change the filter in the Brita, I really need to get those last Christmas decorations put away, better call about that appointment I’ve been putting off…), I write it on a post-it and stick it to the wall. Right where I can see it. Does that sound weird? It works for me. See, if I just write it down and put it aside, it will keep bugging me because my brain is all WHAT IF WE FORGET?!! But if it’s visible, it’s acknowledged. It’s a thing I’m saying I will get to, and it loses some of its power as a distraction. Then, after my word sprint is done, I’ll pick one quick thing and do it. Kind of a reward (though social media is a dangerous one).


5. Just get started.

I waste more time at the beginning of my day than any other. Maybe I’d be better off if I could just get out of bed, make coffee, and work, but my day starts with other stuff. Get the kids up, make breakfast, make lunches, yadda yadda… I’m primed for distraction before I sit at my desk, and then it’s hard to get any kind of focus. But if I can turn off the baddistractions (leave the phone upstairs, close browsers) and get into the good ones (music and putting those notes in view), I might find my flow.

So there we go. On an ideal day, I would get up early and not touch my phone. I would do my perfect morning routine to focus and inspire me, have a coffee and a healthy breakfast, enjoy time with my kids, send them off to school, and slip into my office to get straight to work. On rare days when that has worked for me, I’ve had amazing results.

So why can’t I do it every day? Ask my brain. I have no idea. I don’t choose to do less than me best, man. But I accept that I am a work in progress. And every morning I have another chance to try again.

Any tips to add? Thoughts on productivity that work for you? I’d love to hear them!

Here’s that video, if anyone wants it. It’s long. I couldn’t brain, so there are awkward pauses and stalled sentences… You can see why writing r hard on these days, but this is how I cope.


Flash Sale! Bestselling YA Fantasy, Romance, and more!

I’m celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving with a sale!

Well… not really. I’m actually celebrating the fact that I was invited to do a joint sale with some other fabulous authors. But either way, here we are!

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If you missed the sale in September, this will be your last chance for quite a while to grab Bound for 99 cents. It’s a great time to start the bestselling YA Fantasy trilogy if you haven’t already, to surprise a friend with a gift via Amazon (did you know you can send an ebook as a gift from .com? Pretty nifty!), or to share this post or image wherever you please.

But the sale ends tomorrow!

If you’re seeing this post tonight (Sunday, October 9), come on by the facebook party where we’re celebrating the sale. Plenty of books to check out and authors to meet! Here’s the link. I have no idea what anyone else has planned, but I’ll be doing a few ebook giveaways and some fun stuff during my time slot.

See you there!

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No Squirrels Today

Actually, the squirrels are abundant. The biggest distraction I dealt with today was actually a TV show. One I watched the first season of last night (not hard when there are only eight episodes at 20 minutes each) and then had to watch most of  with my husband again today before he went to work.

Had to. Not optional. Had to.*

Anyway… We were going to be talking about my work habits today, but obviously I’m in no position to talk about those. And I’m a bit busy for it. In spite of all of the time I continue to waste and today’s flat-out failure, I am busy drafting book one for my pen name project series. And I really shouldn’t be taking too much time for blogging.

I mean, bless the handful of you who actually read these posts, but this site ain’t paying any bills, you know?😉

But I can’t leave you with nothing. So here are a few photos from a recent autumn morning in Newfoundland. A magical morning of mist and fog and frost. Like… THE BEST morning. Pictures don’t do it justice. You can click the photos to enlarge.

No filters, of course.

Enjoy!

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*The show, for anyone who’s curious, is Galavant. I don’t enjoy TV most of the time, but this one is just delightful. Music and humor and anachronism and witty dialogue and more humor and beautiful people and more music. Love it.

It’s on Netflix. So good.


Romancing the Rock EXPOsed… Exposed

I know. I should have posted this last week, right after the event, but better late than never, right?

For anyone who’s as late as I am to the party: As I mentioned in a post here and on my YouTube channel, I was involved in my first live event as a professional author last weekend. Like, LAST last weekend. That’s right. I’ve never done so much as a book signing or a reading at the library. This was a first for me.

And I was… well, I was a bit nervous, as you’ll recall from the video I posted here the day before the event. I don’t like having to mingle or make small talk, and all of that pales in comparison to how much I hate having to talk about my work or (heaven forbid) SELL IT TO SOMEONE.

And yet I agreed to this.

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But the event was good. We had 13 authors from Newfoundland, mostly dealing in romance of one sort or another, under the lovely roof of Magnum & Steins in downtown St. John’s. We each had a table in one room where anyone could come in, talk to the authors, and buy some signed books.

We also had the option to pay $10 for access to readings by several of the group’s authors and four panel sessions on writing and publishing.

And we had a great turn-out. This was the group’s first event, and it went very well. The people who attended the panel I did with Candace Osmond on self-publishing had lots of questions that we were happy to answer, and it sounds like the other sessions were just as great.

Here’s my video recap of the day and my reactions to it. And below that is the link to the CBC story where I WAS ON TV GUYS WHY DID THEY DO THAT.

Here’s the CBC story.

Kind of nifty. ^_^


Squirrels Will Be Squirrels

…unless I can keep them in line.

Confession: I wrote the first four posts in this series on one of my fits of inspiration and hyper-focus. Just wrote ’em out while I had the interest. And now I have no idea what I was supposed to be doing here.

This is where notebooks come in handy, right? Looks like we were going to talk about habits/routines and how I use them to tame the squirrels… or rather, to get things done even when the thought-pigeons in my head are on a rampage.

Which is every day. Basically.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this one is that I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s a really interesting book, one of those that I picked up from the library on a whim because it seemed like a tame pigeon, something I could get interested in and focused on for a few days. Really cool stuff about how our brains form habits, WHY they do so, and how we can use them to our advantage.

I’ll confess that I’m not much good at forming or breaking good habits. I’ll get into one for a few weeks and think it’s stuck, and then it’s gone again. We could take meditation as a recent example. I was in the habit of doing it every morning for 5-10 minutes, either on my own or (far better for me) with a guided program like HeadSpace or Buddhify (both available in the apple app store and possibly elsewhere). It was good. I wasn’t good AT it, and never felt like I was making progress, but it was a good exercise.

And then I lost the thread. I gave into the temptation to pick up my phone and check Facebook before I meditated, and that threw everything off one day.

And the next.

I’m really good at bad habits.

But it’s something that I’m working on, and there are habits and routines that really work for me. The key seems to be having the right cue. One that I absolutely can’t miss.

Sometimes having the task written in my bullet journal is enough. I have a section every day dedicated to a whole bunch of habits that I’ll forget about otherwise. If I complete them, I get the satisfaction of checking them off. If I don’t, I get reminded every time I look at that page.

(I used to have these habits on the weekly spread, but didn’t look there enough. Daily is so much better for me. Trial and error.)

Does it always work? Nope. I might look at my page in the morning, see that the kids need their vitamins, and then totally blank on that until I see it again after they’ve left for school. But it is slowly becoming a habit.

And I do still put things off. I write the litter box down every day, but it probably gets done every other day.

Sorry, cats.

But still. It beats waiting for the stench to become unbearable.

This way, the only thing I really have to remember is to check my bullet journal several times a day. And I’ve accepted my scatterbrain tendencies enough that I’m willing to accept that I need to do that. So it works.

Other habits have outside cues, and I’m really trying to develop those more. For example: Every morning, I have to let Jack out to pee. It’s not always first thing in the morning, but it does happen some time between 6:30 when I get up and 8:30 when I take the kids to school. I let him out, turn around, see his dish, and feed him his breakfast.

That’s not a conscious decision. That’s a habit. If I don’t do it then, if I override the habit and move the laundry over instead, the poor guy will not eat until supper time.

…And we can’t have that.

So I stick with it no matter what.

I’d love to say that seeing clutter around is a trigger for me to clean up, or that feeding Jack is in turn a trigger to put that laundry in, but it isn’t yet. I’m trying to get into the “if it will take less than a minute, do it now” mindset, but there’s always something else to grab my attention that’s so much more interesting than carrying a sweater upstairs. And even if I do start to sweep up the dog hair from the floor, odds are I’ll get distracted half-way through by another small task and do that before I grab the dustpan. It becomes an endless chain of unfinished tasks.

Progress is so slow, guys. But it’s happening.

Other things I’m doing to try to help me through the day:

Routines. I’m really fighting to try to get my brain to accept a standard routine. Some weeks it goes well, and it really pays off in terms of later productivity and me feeling like I have a solid start on the day. But no matter how great the rewards, I seem to keep slipping out of it. So I fight on. And it is getting better. I haven’t left packing lunches to the very last second once yet this school year! I mean, it’s only September, but still.

I’m going to keep trying for up-meditate-tea-breakfast-read-get boys up-make lunches before I pick up my phone. It’s a solid routine. I just need to make it a habit.

Preparation. If I have everything I need for a task, I’m less likely to get sidetracked when I go searching for it. Cleaning the bathroom? I’d better have the toilet cleaner, wipes, Windex, paper towels, and mop handy before I begin. It’s one less chance for squirrels to sneak in.

Making tasks appealing. Going back to my stationery snob tendencies here for a second, I’ll give you an example. For weeks I’ve been meaning to write down all of my notes on my new book series in one place, but kept putting it off. I had a notebook ready, but… well, it was fine, but not appealing. Not something that was a pleasure to write in. So yesterday I grabbed the Leuchtthurm1917 I won in an Instagram contest and started working. The paper is nice, and better yet, the pages lie flat so I don’t have to fight with them. I’m excited to use it. So I am. Same goes for buying laundry detergent I love the smell of (God bless Gain Apple Mango Tango) and making my office a place I want to spend time in. I reward myself with a wee spritz of a nice-yet-economical perfume when I’m focusing on work in my office.

So that’s kind of my take on routines and habits. My pigeons are still fluttering, but the more automatic I can make my actions, the less those foolish birds bother me while I’m making things happen.

Okay. I think next time we’re supposed to talk about my work time. That’s trickier. I’m struggling hard with that right now. But talking about it might help someone, so off we’ll go next week.

If I remember to draft it.😉


Run the World (Squirrels)

Okay, I’m not quite prepared for world domination. But I am running things in my private kingdom (queendom?) better than I used to, and that’s something.

We’ve been talking about organization and how I’m getting in control of my flighty brain (Intro post, exercise, planners, if you need to catch up or refer back). On Monday I said that I’d finally found a planner that seemed to be working for me on every level.

If you follow me on Instagram, this is no mystery. I post a lot of pictures of my bullet journal. A lot of people do (check out #bulletjournal over there if you don’t believe me). They range from perfectly minimalist daily to-do lists to beautiful, hand-painted and gorgeously lettered spreads.

And this is possible because at its most basic, a bullet journal is a notebook that you make into whatever you need it to be.

There are no rules, but there is a system. Developed by Ryder… something (Sorry. I hear all about The Church of Ryder* all the time, but I’m bad with names), it’s a rapid-logging system to keep track of your planner stuff. Check out bulletjournal.com for the basics.

You’ve got your key in the front (a list of the notations that you use), your index (for logging what you’ve used your pages for), and then your “collections.” These could be your plans for the month, a page of quotes, your daily tasks, or literally anything else you want to draw or write in there. Want a collection where you track which episodes of The Golden Girls you’ve watched? Have at it. Want to throw weekly spreads into the mix? I do it, and so do lots of other people. Want to try out a different format for those planning pages, use a whole page for one day, or just cram a week onto one page and save paper? YOU GO FOR IT, SWEETIE.

And that’s why I love this thing. It’s streamlined and small and goes everywhere with me. It allows me to plan as far ahead as I want and to cram as many random pages in there as I needed to. By having my monthly and weekly pages and then just going one day at a time, I can put notes where they belong chronologically and then log them in the index so I can find them later.

And you can use any notebook you want! Right now I’m using a black moleskine hardcover notebook with grid paper, and the next one I have lined up to use is the very popular Leuchtturm1917 with dot grid paper. But when I was first testing out this system to see if it might work for me, I used lined paper notebooks I’d bought at Chapters (and I’m still using a similar system in those books for story notes, as they tuck so nicely into my Filofax). And they were fine. Use a spiral-bound composition book. Use a dollar store pocket-sized notebook with puppies on the cover. Your call. It will work.

So today we can take a quick look at how I use my bullet journal to organize my life, and if you have any questions, go right ahead and ask. I do recommend checking out the official site for the basics, and looking at all of the amazing bullet journalists on Instagram. You don’t have to make it pretty, but it sure is nice to look at.🙂


The index gives you a pretty good idea of what I put in here (continues on the next page). Everything from planning books to gift ideas to daily planning. Some of these are things that looked cool but didn’t work out for me, like the mood and social media trackers. But that’s another nice aspect of this. Try something and don’t like it? Lesson learned. Just turn the page and leave it behind. You’re not stuck with anything that’s not good for you.


Sometimes my daily pages are a full page (usually), sometimes just half. Sometimes they have fancy headers and doodles, sometimes they’re basic lists. It changes to suit me, which is great (this one was while I was in the hospital with one of my kiddos this summer, doing some hard thinking about my stress levels and stalled productivity while he napped. And my journal accommodated that beautifully).


Welcoming a new month is a bit of a tradition for a lot of people. I liked it because I got to practice some doodles that @therevisionguide posted on Instagram, so I’ll probably do it again. Imagine the possibilities for Halloween and Christmas!🙂


And here’s a look at a weekly page. This collection isn’t part of the original bullet journal system, but I need a weekly view for planning ahead in a little more detail than my monthly page allows for.

There are a ton of other pages in there, of course. I’ve been using this book for a month and a half and I’m on page 122. Some people can make one of these last a year by just putting a few items down as needed for each day. So flexible.

So how does this look for me in practice? How does it help me stay on track?

At the beginning of each month I look back at my Future Log page, where I’ll have any big events or appointments that I’ve scheduled listed. I’ll make my monthly page (which could look like a wall calendar or could have the dates on lines so I can just list things as needed. I prefer the former, myself, though it’s not the official system way to do it). And I’ll transfer items from the Future Log to the Monthly page. Then I’ll add other things, like  pay days, regular due dates for bills, and anything else that comes up for the month. I also use that page as a spot to set my goals and intentions for the month (jut my top three goals, nothing overwhelming, just to keep me focused. For example, in September they’re back to school, the sale on Bound, and the Romancing the Rock EXPOsed author event I’m doing this weekend). I’m experimenting with things like a bill tracker there so I can make sure I haven’t missed anything. And I’ll leave space to note down important things for next month (changes I want to try in my collections, date I need to get back to my doctor about a thing, etc).

Every Sunday I make the next week’s weekly spread, like the one up there ^. This could be one page or two, depending on whose style I thought it would be fun to try this week. I always have boxes for each day’s events and day-specific tasks, a meal planner for the week, room for the grocery list that flows from that, a weekly habit tracker, and “next week.” This gives me a bird’s eye view of the upcoming week, shows me where I might run into trouble (deadline looming when my husband is away and one of the kids has a project due? Might need to set aside some other tasks for now…). This page is a lot like the ones in my Erin Condren and Inkwell Press planners, and very valuable to me.

The more prepared I feel, the less anxious I am.
Then each day gets a page, and this is why I like this better than my other planners. Not everyone needs this, but I really do. I’ll set this up the evening before, unless I’m too exhausted.

These are the pages that really corral my pigeons (my flighty thoughts and attention, remember). I’ll pick my top three tasks for the day that I really need to get done. Usually they’re time-sensitive things like appointments, or (more importantly for me) the little steps that I HAVE to get done to help me toward larger goals. My natural inclination is to let these go until the last minute and then panic. But noting them here, I’m more likely to get them done.

What else goes on a typical daily page? Decorations. I might draw a Pokémon I caught with the kids, or a fancy cupcake if we’re celebrating a birthday. I keep a health tracker on every day’s page for the little routines I will absolutely forget if I’m not checking them off (stretching out my back, taking medications and vitamins, etc.). If I’m doing an instagram challenge or really need to share something on social media, I’ll add that. Things to pick up if I go by the store. Errands. Notations of bills I need to pay that day and the confirmation number for the transaction. Chores. Work tasks and goals. On a really busy day I might use some space to make a timed plan of when I need to be ready for things, because I have a horrible sense of how long it takes to get places and do things. If it’s on paper I’m less likely to assume I can spare another 5 minutes.

All day long I’m writing things in and checking them off. And between that I’m GETTING SHIT DONE.

Not everything I feel I should be doing. In many areas of my life, particularly in my creative/work life, I feel like an underachiever. My bedroom is always messy because I never have the mental energy to spare to tackle it after the more public parts of the house are done. I still probably put off the dishes for too long, too often.

But I’m getting there.

 

And between my daily pages, of course, I have EVERYTHING ELSE. Brain dumps for when my pigeons are going nuts and I need to pin them down to see them clearly, or for when a problem seems too huge and I need to break it down. Project notes for when I have story ideas at random times. Party plans. Notes from books I’m reading. New routines I want to try for the morning or after school. Quotes.

My brain on paper, where I can’t lose and forget everything.

Kind of cool.

I can’t recommend this system enough if you have needs like mine. Maybe start smaller if you’re not planning at all now, with a weekly system in a pre-printed planner. I never would have stuck with this if I’d jumped into bullet journaling right away, so I’m so glad I had my other planners to evolve from. They taught me good habits that I’m building on now.

Or heck, just jump right in here. Do what works for you.

Okay, next time (next Friday, I guess)… Oh. I have a note here on that! We’re going to talk about habits and routines. Sounds boring, but they’re so helpful. And then the nitty-gritty of trying to get through a work day.

Whew.

How do you keep track of your plans and thoughts? Is this even an issue for you? Let me know in the comments! And if you have more questions about the bullet journal thing, I’ll do my best to answer those, too.

BONUS:

I’m getting ready for my first big muli-author event (actually, my first live event of any kind that I’m attending specifically as an author). What do you think of this?

*I don’t think anyone literally worships him, but… you know. Celebrity worship. The mother ship. The founding father.


A Party! And Giveaways! AND BOOKS!

(cross-posted from katesparkes.com)

Hi, there!

Quick notice for anyone who may be interested: I’ll be at Krista Walsh’s Facebook party tonight celebrating the release of Death at Peony House, book one in her new Urban Fantasy series with a mystery twist (you can grab the prequel here free today, and check out DaPH here, free with Kindle Unlimited).

Krista will have giveaways, information on the books, and more–including a few guest authors with our own giveaways.

I’ll be offering a signed paperback copy of Into Elurien, a signed cover card, and a bookmark in my big giveaway, plus a few ebooks during my takeover time (open internationally). Drop by to enter, to ask me questions, and to chat about monsters and urban fantasy. I’ll be on at 6 Eastern time, but please come early and stay for the whole party! You won’t want to miss out on Krista’s new series.

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Here’s the link. Click “going” to get notifications in your Facebook feed when the party starts. And I think Krista is having a giveaway for whoever invites the most friends, so be sure to share!

See you there!


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