Week One Baseline Results


One week down.

One week of tracking (almost) every hour, working the bugs out of my tracking system, and getting back into the swing of things as school started.

I’ve gone from just colour coding my time use to combining that with a line in my notebook where I can record what I was actually doing during that time. Does “work” mean drafting a story, emailing a potential new editor, or making plans to sit on a panel at an upcoming event? Does home/family time mean homework, cooking, or going out for a birthday supper? And what did I do during that mysterious “personal” time? What about times when I’m doing two things at once, or those activities that don’t fit neatly into one category?

So notes are good. And I gave up on attempting to measure my focus. Instead, I’m making notes. How hard was it to start work? To become immersed in reading? How irritated did I get when distractions popped up? When did I feel tempted to procrastinate?

I’ve also decided to have my weeks run Saturday to Friday, which will allow me to look at results and write blog posts on Saturdays.

The results:

No major surprises so far, which I guess is good. The first two weeks are just to figure out  how well things are working before I start changing stuff.

As expected, the fact that I’m paying close attention to how I’m spending my time means that I’m wasting less of it than I did on this schedule last year–Thursday’s post will look at that schedule and how it usually pans out. I’m acutely aware of the time I’m spending avoiding the day’s work, so I’m fighting harder against procrastination. I’m also less likely to let myself off the hook when I do it.

So yes, that makes this schedule look more effective than it really is. It also shows that time tracking, while it’s a huge pain in the ass, does lead to more effective use of my time.

Monday and Tuesday weren’t work days. Monday was labour day and Tuesday was an admin day for both the kids’ schools AND my older son’s birthday. I generally went with the flow, checking everything off my to do list but not according to a strict schedule. The only work I did involved taxes (so stressful).

I drafted several blog posts on Monday and noted how easily I became absorbed in the task. My fiction writing is almost always a struggle for me, especially at the beginning of the day… and I think I know why. We’ll talk about aversive tasks in another post, and why it’s writing a book is so deceptively hard to stick with. On the surface, writing a blog post and writing a chapter look similar. Experience tells me they are not.*

My energy was good those two days, and fairly consistent until it started dropping in the evening. Light tasks, lots of reading, and few focus-intensive aversive tasks led to everything running pretty smoothly.

Wednesday was the first day of school. Back to packing lunches. New teachers, a new school for one of the kids. Much excitement. Also back to work for me. Thursday and Friday also offered, in theory, typical work days. No appointments, no errands that couldn’t wait until later. This means that in theory I had 5.5 hours to do what I needed.

It worked out to 3, 2.5, and 3 hours of actual work.

The first hour after the kids are gone (by this schedule) is for dog walking and shifting gears to get into work mode. I take an hour for lunch, partly because I don’t plan my lunches ahead and partly because decompressing is nice. So 3 hours of solid work really isn’t bad.

But I learned or remembered a few things.

  • Writing exhausts me. The human brain burns an insane amount of energy for its size, and mine is firing on every possible cylinder when I’m writing. I love this job, but it’s not easy for me. My scenes are planned in advance, but the paragraph-to-paragraph choices about word selection, character  movements and motivations, dialogue flow, and building tension require a lot of decision making. On another level I’m already assessing elements that will need to change in revisions, planning ahead for that and making notes. More importantly, I’m constantly fighting to keep my brain on task when it’s tempted to wander, take a break, or do anything that might offer the rewarding feeling of completing a task. Which means…
  • I am DONE by 6:00 PM on writing days. I can get through homework (another aversive task for everyone involved), housework, and making supper just in time to pass out in my food.** Much as I’d like to try running in the evenings or picking up a hobby, Zombie Kate is having none of it***. There’s obviously also no question of trying the “split shift” thing where people fit in another hour or two of work after supper. I can get a little energy boost if I fit in a catnap, which means I managed to bake cookies one evening and I’ve been reading with the kids before bed. So that’s something, even if it doesn’t really get me through the whole evening.
  • Attempting to start work makes me wonder whether I’m insane. I like my job. I love my stories and my characters. I cannot settle down to work like (I think) an adult should be able to during work hours. My mind scrambles for distractions, and it requires a ton of willpower to write them down and set them aside for later. I know what I should do. I know what I want to do, what feels like my purpose. I know I have limited time to do it. And I still feel like I’m ramming my head into a glass wall when I try to get there. (“Butt in chair, fingers on keys” might be a great productivity tip, but it’s not always that simple.)
  • Replying to a chat message, checking email, or posting on Instagram before work time are recipes for disaster. Just the possibility of responses is a massive distraction. Lesson learned.
  • Working outdoors in the afternoon is actually, surprisingly, okay. I feel more distracted, but when I look at my hourly word count it’s no worse than morning hours spent in my office. Plus, fresh air is nice. Thanks for giving me That Look and guilting me into it, dogs.
  • My attempts to break my social media/phone addiction are paying off. I’ll save that for another post, since we’re running long here. But I’m pleased.

So there were bumps and hiccups, but none of them were really surprising. And overall I think I did well this week. I generally used the work hours available to me. When a headache hit on Friday around noon, I fought the temptation to take the afternoon off and opted for a coffee, painkillers, and a catnap instead, and I got another 1300 words written before school ended.

I’m not getting as many work hours in as I’d like, but I’m doing what I can. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz reminds the reader to always do your best. That means not doing less than your best, but also not expecting yourself to do more.

I’m doing my best.

One more baseline week, and then we see how I can make changes that will give me the time and energy I need to make my best more productive.

TOTAL HOURS WORKED:  9 (1 business, 8 writing)

HOME LIFE: tasks completed, no one starved, hosted a sleepover, but too tired to function well between 6 and 10 p.m.

PERSONAL: Morning routine rocks my socks. Lunch date with husband was good, but probably doesn’t make up for the whole zombie thing. Read I Know How She Does It and started re-read of The Happiness Project. No fiction reading. Watched Baywatch. It was hilarious. Walked the dog 6 days, hit at least 10K steps 3 days (and 9K one other).


*this is part of the reason this project has to fall under Personal and not Work for me. If I let my brain think for a second that doing this is a valid way to use my work hours, I’ll never get my draft finished.

**Yes, this is with reasonable caffeine intake early in the day, eight hours’ sleep, multivitamins, daily exercise, and whatever healthy-ish food I can force myself to eat when I’m on a medication that makes food ew. I just burn out.

***Speaking properly is an issue. I tried to say “sausage pasta” the other night and the best my brain could do was “passage.” So close.

**** This looks high, given my usual 1K/hour average. I was occasionally able to edit parts of scenes from a scrapped draft of this book, which boosted my average. From here on out it should be almost all straight drafting.





About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with five cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. www.katesparkes.com www.tanithfrost.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

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