Monthly Archives: November 2017

Productivity Experiment: The Next Challenges

Okay. So.

I’m still working on my schedule. I doubt I’ll ever settle on just one thing that will work for me forever. Life and its demands are always changing, and so is the time available for my work.

Here’s what I started working on last week:  Batching most of my chores on Saturdays and just doing necessary maintenance during the week (sweeping, dishes, litter boxes, cooking, etc) to see if I can free up time during my prime focus hours on weekdays (afternoon for me, which apparently makes me an oddball) to get more writing work done.

So far, so good. Working in the afternoon is SO much better for me than trying to wrangle my brain into anything like focus in the morning. Whether that’s because of my weird biological rhythms, the fact that I have a far easier time settling into deep creative work when I don’t have the groceries-dishes-walk the dog-phone calls-emails-newsletters-laundry on my mind, or some combination of the two, I find I can start work and stay focused far more easily if I start after lunch.

And amazingly, the children are surviving if I pause to say hello when they get home and keep working until about four.

This is the total opposite of what I was trying before, I know. As of right now, my mornings are for meditation, planning, reading…

And not doing NaNoWriMo. My other lesson from the past few weeks is that I really can’t divide my focus effectively between two projects, and I need to prioritize the revisions that have to be to my Big Bad Editor in January.

But time is only one factor in productivity, and I’ve started focusing more on the other two that you sometimes read about in productivity books: energy and attention. Because scheduling my day and finding time to work is fantastic, but doesn’t mean much if I’m too tired to do the work (hello, early mornings!) or I can’t get my brain to settle down and do the work even when I have the time scheduled.

There are a lot of factors that affect both of these, and we don’t have time here to go into everything. It seems like most productivity books are a little short on them, too; their focus is usually on how to find or make time, not on how to make sure you’re able to use it when you get there (The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey is one nice exception that deals with energy and attention more than time).

Sometimes it feels like exhaustion and distraction just aren’t issues for high achievers… but we know that’s not true, right?

I’ve already started making some changes* in areas that might help:

  • Meditation. I’ve been meditating almost every morning for a little more than a month now using the HeadSpace app in the hopes that I can train my mind to remain in the present moment, choose my focus, be a little more mindful, learn to let go of distractions, and maybe act a little less like a raccoon chasing every shiny thing that pops up. It could happen.
  • Diet. Not going on one, so to speak, but changing what I eat. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was starting the Whole30 program, and so far I’m sticking with it. I hope that eating better (especially cutting out added sugar) will help regulate my energy levels and prevent the fuzziness I get when my blood sugar crashes, as well as (fingers crossed!) figuring out whether there’s anything in my diet that’s inducing or worsening the migraines that keep me from working so often. I’ll post an update on how it’s going later this week. Spoiler: I’m so conflicted.
  • Sleep. This is why I’m shifting back to working later in the day, at least temporarily. I need to aim for eight hours of sleep per night, and the only way I can get that if I’m waking up at 5:30 in the morning is if I go to bed before my kids. Now, I like an early bedtime, don’t get me wrong. Somehow over the years I’ve changed myself into a morning person. It’s weird, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it, but there you go. But I also like tucking my kids in and being rested. Eight hours is the goal. Ten to six. And I’m aiming to keep it consistent, even on weekends.
  • Exercise. This isn’t new for me. I’ve been walking almost every day (weather permitting) for several years now, and it’s done amazing things for my mental health. This winter I’m going to substitute yoga on days that are too cold to go out to see if it helps with the low energy and winter blahs that accompany the season.

So far, the changes have been positive. I feel good eating the way I am, though it’s hard (and not at all for the reasons I anticipated). Meditation is really difficult some days, and the results are hard to measure. But I am learning to settle in, at least some of the time, and to observe my thoughts without letting them carry me away. I feel good about where it’s taking me.

I’ve got a few other things I’m working on, but I’m not exactly sure where they fit. Slightly less concrete things. Attitudes. Mindsets. Intentions. Accountability. Respecting my limitations.

Those can wait, though, for when I get this other stuff under control.

For now, I’ll be reporting back on some things that are a lot harder to measure than my time use. I’ll be keeping track of the hours I work, but more importantly I’ll be making notes on how much I’m struggling to start work (often my biggest challenge), how well I’m staying on various tasks, and what times of day I hit energy slumps.

Exciting stuff, right?

Do you find that time, energy, or focus is your biggest productivity obstacle? Some combination of the three? Let me know in the comments!


 

*Full disclosure: I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder a little over a year ago (I’m not hyperactive, which is probably why no one ever spotted it). I want to note it here because my medication might come up when I discuss energy and focus, and I want to make sure we’re all on the same page if I’m talking about my results in gaining energy or shifting my ability to focus.

I always hate it when celebrities get tummy tucks with their c-sections and act like the baby weight just melted off OMG, and not disclosing the help I’m getting seems like kind of the same thing. I’m not gaining hyper-focus superpowers, I’m not overflowing with energy, and I’m still struggling with creative anxiety and other issues that keep me from working when I want to. But I do feel like my brain is getting support that it needs, which is great. It’s a process, just like anything else. Let me know if you’d like to see posts on that topic. It’s kind of a sensitive one for me (people tend to jump to scream overdiagnosis and French people don’t have ADD when it comes up), but much like depression, I’m happy to talk about it if it might help someone.

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Productivity Experiment, Week… I don’t even know

Yes, I’ve lost track. I’ve also stopped tracking every hour of my day (WOOHOO!) because I feel like the effort is no longer paying off (though I’m so glad I got those insights in the beginning) and because I ran out of pages in my notebook.

So how did last week go?

Weird. It went weird.

For one thing, there was Halloween. That totally happened. And I had a dentist appointment that day. So that on top of helping everyone get into their costumes plus putting mine on (and feeling slightly ridiculous getting dressed up just to answer the door, but WHATEVER) left me less than productive. I did get a bunch of my proofreading done while I was waiting for the doorbell to ring, though, so that’s something.

In fact, I finished my proofread and made my corrections last week, so that pen name book is ready to go tomorrow.

Actually, it’s available now, but tomorrow’s the OFFICIAL release day.

Wednesday was the start of NaNoWriMo, and I started it off with a… what’s the opposite of a bang? Whatever that is. Zero words on day one. Day two netted 1800 words (much better, but not enough to get me caught up), and Friday was another goose-egg because I was way too tired to function early on Friday morning and then there was this thing with waiting to see if a guest was coming over, and… Yeah.

Long story short, I’m sitting just north of 7,000 words and well south of the “YOU SHOULD BE HERE” line on the NaNo site tracker, but it’s definitely not too late for me to catch up.

And I’m hoping that once I get that pen name book off my desk tomorrow (officially), I’ll be better able to focus on the two writing projects that are currently sitting in the corner, staring uncomfortably at me and each other, waiting for the action to start.

It’s awkward.

This morning I made a list of all of the stuff that’s holding me back from using my time well. The issue still isn’t (generally) time, it’s time use. For one thing, when I feel overwhelmed, I freeze and do nothing, which means I need to keep a running list of smaller tasks I can use to get me warmed up. Also, life intrudes on planned work time. Like this morning: I was going to write all day, working on both projects. Then I had a wicked headache this morning and couldn’t do the computer thing, so there went that hour. Then one of the dogs had a sore paw, so I went to the drugstore to get that kinda-sticky bandage stuff to keep him from licking it, and while I was there I got my flu shot, but the paperwork for that took time and then they made me wait for ten minutes to make sure I wasn’t going to die*, and then I decided to get making tonight’s meatballs out of the way since I only had an hour before lunch, and then there was email to send to people who are reviewing the book, and…

Long story short, it’s 1:30 and I’m just about to dive into my NaNo project, which is likely the only thing that I’ll touch today (sorry, revisions).

Part of the problem is that I don’t have the kind of accountability I need to get and stay on task. I hate to say it, but I need a boss. It’s so easy to let myself off the hook when I don’t start work on time. Because OBVIOUSLY I totally understand the things that get in my way. I was there, man. I get it. It’s cool.

IT IS NOT COOL. I need someone to slap my wrist if I’m not at work when I said I would be.** I am clearly not responsible enough to handle myself.

So that’s something to work on. At least I’m gaining some insight into the problems. That’s step one. Step two is figuring out how I can change my schedule and/or my attitudes or ways of thinking to help me overcome those pitfalls.

I’m getting there.

To end on a positive note, I’m about a week into this Whole30 thing where I’m eating good foods and seeing what kind of impact it has on my health. So far, so good. I did not try to murder anyone for their Halloween candy, and I have not starved yet. Food prep and cooking are definitely eating into my time, but I don’t really mind. I actually like the cooking more than I do the eating***, and I’m discovering some very nice new recipes, AND I’m enjoying some great podcasts while my hands are busy.

My family isn’t exactly jumping on board and begging to eat my roasted vegetables, but we’re all surviving.

I may be less positive by next week, when I’ll likely be sick to death of both eggs and cooking. In the meantime, though, breakfasts are becoming far more interesting than they usually are:

Screenshot 2017-11-06 12.56.35

Thanks for stopping by! Let me know in the comments what you’re up to this week and how your Halloween went!

 


*I may have misunderstood the exact reasoning behind these instructions.

**the fact that my work doesn’t produce immediate feedback and that there’s no direct correlation between hours worked and money paid is a real pain in my ass, too, motivationally speaking.

***This has nothing to do with my food or cooking skills. I’m on a medication that makes food generally “ew,” so I really have to tempt myself to eat. The food is really good.


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