Category Archives: Home Life

Godawful Early Schedule Results (Week 4 and Overall)

The one thing I can say about last week is that it happened.

It wasn’t a great one in terms of work hours. Monday was Thanksgiving, so I worked a bit in the early morning and then did nothing more for the rest of the day. Nothing work-related, at least. A migraine hit that evening (after I’d said I was thankful for not having one… that’ll learn me), and I was dealing with them off and on all week. I lost all of Wednesday to one.

But you know what? It happens. It’s a thing I’m prepared for, or that I at least should be by now. It’s nothing worth whining about, especially when things could be so much worse.

And there’s a bright side.

The hours I did work were pretty darned good. I was productive during work hours. After I decided to go ahead and try outlining my scenes in even more depth than I usually do, figuring out the little turning points and conclusions in bullet form instead of in the flow of trying to actually write the scene, my hourly word count crept up to 1600 or even 1700 wph (it’s usually closer to 1200 on a decent day).

Now, I haven’t done the math on whether this is actually more efficient. After all, that planning takes time, and that needs to be added to the time I’m actually spending writing the scene. In fact, it probably takes a little more this way.

But it feels less frustrating and wasteful, and that’s important for keeping me motivated. And it saves me from scenes that wander around too much before getting to the point, which means I might save time in revisions. So that’s cool.

Whatever keeps me going is good at this point.

Good lesson.

ALSO…

This makes 4 weeks of the Godawful Early Schedule. I’ve done my best to get up at 5:30 in the morning, to work for 90 minutes before the kids get up and then again for a few hours after they’re out the door. It’s time to look at my conclusions.

  • Getting some work done before breakfast/before anyone else gets up and I have to be a responsible adult is TOTALLY A GOOD IDEA. I absolutely want to continue with this. Knowing that I’ve accomplished something even if I have stuff going on later (or everything goes off the rails) is such a boost to my day. And having afternoons free means I have time for things like meeting people for coffee… or letting my schedule flip itself upside down if I need to take the morning off instead for an appointment.

BUT.

  • I miss my old morning routine. I want to make this morning work session a part of it, not a substitution for it. Meditation, planning my day, stretching, and reading are all important, too, and help me feel grounded and prepared for whatever comes later. So I need to get back to that.
  • 5:30 is just too early for me. Even after 4 weeks I’m still finding that my alarm clock is yanking me out of dreams instead of light sleep (never mind the fact that I don’t like having to go to bed at exactly the same time as my kids… or before them). 90 minutes of work focus is turning out to be a bit much to ask of my brain before food, caffeine, meds, etc. I thought I needed that big stretch of time, but as it turns out, 60 minutes is almost as good in terms of word count.

So here’s the next big plan:

  • wake up at 6:00. Drink water. Meditate 10 minutes.
  • work on planning/drafting new pen name project for 60 minutes in two 25-minute sprints with a 5-minute break between and at the end (aim for 1500 words). Get up, do floor exercises/stretches on breaks. Make notes for tomorrow’s writing session. Start making tea/coffee.
  • get kids up at 7:30, go through that whole routine (including eating breakfast).
  • After the kids are gone, take care of exercise* by either walking the dog or doing yoga depending on the weather. And shower, because ew.
  • work on Phoenix revisions from 10:00-noon, working in 25-minute sprints again.
  • After lunch, take care of pen name publication/promo concerns for no more than one hour, then relax, read, go for a walk, rest, or whatever I need to do to recharge.
  • And then the kids come home and I do the houseworks and makes the suppers and hangs out with the family peoples and all that jazz (try to find time for fun stuff… I’m still working on finding a hobby). Bed around 10:00.

So that’s the goal for the next few weeks. The ideal. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve had a hard time juggling multiple projects in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to to it, especially when I’ve got a couple of natural breaks in my day. Two projects and then an hour for business stuff should be manageable.

We’ve got a few weeks left in October, and I’m going to try to make the most of them.

And then it’ll be November *gasp*. And that means NaNoWriMo *double gasp*. At that point I’ll have to either get my words-per-hour higher in those early morning sessions or make up extra on the weekends (when I’ll have to add sessions anyway… I’m currently not writing on weekends at all). That, or get these revisions off my desk so I can focus entirely on drafting.

Such tension. Such excitement.

If anyone else is doing NaNoWriMo this year, you can add me as a friend. I’m KittySparkes on the site . I probably won’t be on there a whole lot, but I’ll check messages.

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Gratuitous Halloween decor picture.

 

 


*I typed that as “exerscuse.” I make a lot of those.

 

 

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The Sticky Stuff

I’ve tried a lot of productivity methods and planners that didn’t work out for me. Here are a few things that have helped. None of them work perfectly or keep me on track all of the time, but they’ve made a huge difference nonetheless. If you have questions or would like to see a separate post on any of them, please let me know!

  • Goal setting. Even if I don’t always hit my deadlines, knowing what I want to accomplish and how/when I intend to get there is the biggest idea that’s helped me in my work. I set goals for finishing books, set 90 day goals for work and home projects, and choose my top three goals for every week and every day.
  • Prioritizing. This connects to those top three daily tasks. By writing down what I’d want to accomplish even if nothing else got done, I remind myself what my priorities are and how I should be spending my time.
  • Weekly planning. Having a nice quality planner that I can decorate (or not) as the mood strikes me makes me want to use it. And taking time on Sundays to get a bird’s eye view of the week ahead helps prevent surprises and crises along the way because I know what’s coming and what I need to accommodate for. I plan meals for the week, too, so I’m not running to the store/scrambling to figure out what to eat/saying “screw it, let’s get McDonald’s” too often.
  • My bullet journal. I’ve tried other daily and weekly planners, and use a pre-printed weekly planner for family stuff. But for my personal needs, nothing beats a blank dot-grid notebook. It holds my long-term goals, project notes, ideas, reference pages for everything from school schedules to clothing sizes, weekly review notes, reading lists, brain dumps, reading notes, monthly/weekly/daily plans… it’s my brain on paper, basically, allowing me to externalize a lot of the things that I’d otherwise forget or be distracted by as I tried to juggle them all in my mind. My daily pages have space for my top 3 tasks, a reminder of the larger goals I’m working toward, to do list (with unfinished tasks migrated to the next day so I don’t lose them), my desired vs actual schedule, notes, and gratitude lists. Weeks include the meal plan, grocery list, goals, a look at next week’s events, and “to do” items I want to transfer to my days. And if I need it to do something else for me, I just create a new page for it or change my week/day’s layout.
  • Figuring out where analogue and digital work best for me. Planning apps, whether it’s iCal for scheduling or Scapple for brainstorming, just don’t work for me. I plan and brainstorm best with a pen in hand and pages I can flip back through, make charts on, doodle all over, and connect with on a physical level. I find that for me electronic notes seem to get lost or forgotten easily, and I find it harder to see connections between unrelated items in separate electronic documents than I do when they’re on physical pages. I remember things better when I mark them down in my own handwriting, and just reading them back in that format often jogs additional ideas that weren’t quite there yet when I made the note. BUT. I don’t draft on paper. Trying to do so drives me batty. I need to type so my hands have a chance of keeping up with my brain, so I can rework sentences as I’m writing them (just part of my personal process), and so I can easily search for previous scenes and information (GOD BLESS SCRIVENER xo). I plan my scenes on paper, then write them on my laptop. (Note: when I keep a journal, it’s on paper. And quickly turns into a bit of a scrapbook stuffed with movie tickets, candy bar wrappers, and movie tickets. It’s hard to do that in an app. I should get back to it some day…)21886923_10155476411810325_826380582_o
  • Limiting social media time and access. Social media is a problem for me. I can lose hours scrolling and clicking on Buzzfeed lists only to discover later that I gained nothing from that time except maybe a headache from staring at the screen, but the temptation to “just take a quick look” can be unbearable. I mean, come on. There are Ten Things I Don’t Know About David Hasselhoff’s Bellybutton? Click. It goes beyond simple willpower and self-control, and I’m aware that it’s not healthy. I try not to carry my phone around with me. I removed the Facebook app from my phone to make access at least a little less convenient. And I try not to let myself post until my work is done for the day, as the temptation to check for notifications is far worse after I do. Social media can be great if you like what you get out of it. For me, the costs aren’t worth the rewards on most sites, so I’m limiting my time. Side note: I am reading SO MUCH MORE now that scrolling’s not an option! Still in kind of a fiction slump, but good HEAVENS am I finding some interesting non-fiction…and none of it about the Hoff’s navel.
  • Daily exercise, ideally outdoors. I realized the importance of this several years ago. It has a huge impact on my mood and mental health as well as my physical condition. Taking forty minutes or an hour out of the day seems counter-productive in terms of getting work done, but I’m not bringing my best self to the office if I don’t get physical activity and fresh air into my day. It’s also a great time to let my mind wander–and if I don’t get that, I feel like a shaken-up soda bottle that’ll explode at any second. I need the release valve.

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    I have extra motivation to get out. This is the face that follows me EVERYWHERE until he gets his walk.

  • Having a routine. This isn’t important for everyone, but as it turns out, it is for me. A routine means I’m working consistently, not waiting on inspiration or a time when I feel like working (which honestly never happens). It also means I’m not using my mental energy and willpower on deciding what to do next. I know what to expect and what to prepare for. I know where my brain needs to be focused, so even when it’s difficult I’m a little less inclined to give up and do something easier. It also helps me remember to do routine tasks that I might otherwise forget, like feeding the dog (right after he goes out in the morning) or watering my plants (Tuesdays, with apologies to those who died in my pre-routine days). Summer vacation was a great reminder for me of two things: how great my kids are, and how desperately I need the routine that school provides for all of us. That said, I’ve learned that scheduling every hour of every day also doesn’t work for me. It’s too much pressure, and I instinctively fight against it. It works for a lot of people, though, so don’t write it off if you haven’t tried it.
  • Working in my office. Interruptions are my kryptonite. I can’t wrangle my brain into a focused state if I anticipate visitors, deliveries, or people talking to me when I’m trying to put ideas on paper. Like, it’s insane how my mind clutches its pearls and reaches for the smelling salts at the idea of distractions…. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s because it takes me so long to get into that focused state that my brain knows it’s wasting its energy if it fights that good fight only to have to start over because MOM WHAT ARE WE HAVING FOR SUPPER*. Not so stupid after all, maybe, even if it doesn’t help me much when I have 30 minutes to work and can’t get anything done. In either case, once I do get focused, I become quite irritable if I’m interrupted for any reason. So the best plan for me is to stick a Do Not Disturb sign on the office door and close that door, physically marking a separate time and space for focus.**
  • Writing down distractions as they pop up. Whether they go into my bullet journal or onto a post-it note, I write down every idea that threatens to derail me. Need to call the school about that thing? Write it down, do it later. Missed a birthday? Whoopsie-doodle, better make a note to get in touch with them later. Forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer? It’ll still be there when this work sprint is over. Writing it all down means it’s not taking up memory/mental processing space, and putting it somewhere visible takes away the worry that I’ll forget it. And if it’s a fun idea, I can use it as a reward and take care of it on my next break. WOOHOO LAUNDRY YASSSSS!
  • Sorting out my values. This is a huge, ongoing thing for me, but it’s making a difference in how I do everything. It’s easy to accept other people’s definitions of success and ideas of what a good life looks like, but if they don’t align with your personal values, they’re going to lead you to making choices that either don’t motivate you or make you miserable. Making a six-figure income is a pretty standard definition of success, and you can find loads of books, podcasts, and advice on how to do that as an author… but for me it would require changes in my life that I’m not ready to make. You can also find a lot of books/podcasts/posts on how to crank out more stories, faster. A fine goal, but what excites me is immersing myself in my stories and characters in ways I can’t manage if I’m rushing them out the door. I can’t have both at the moment, so for now I choose to go deep instead of wide. Hitting the NYT bestseller list is an amazing achievement, but it requires investment of money and promotion time that I’m choosing to spend on other things. My values and needs aren’t better or worse than anyone’s who chooses those other goals. As long as we’re both excited by what we’re doing and not hurting anyone in the process, we’re both successful. But if I chased their goals or they felt forced into my idea of a balanced life, we’d be miserable. Taking time to make a conscious choice about this has alleviated a lot of stress for me. It’s something I’ll have to keep coming back to (I’ll likely want to focus more on commercial success after the kids are out of the house, or maybe travel and new experiences will become a new value), but knowing what I want right now makes it easier to say no to things that don’t align with those values. And I hope that in the long run it will help me stop comparing my achievements to other people’s. (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is a great place to start looking at this if you want a fun, irreverent read that contains a ton of f-bombs and a lot of interesting ideas about pain, choices, and values. The audiobook version is excellent, too, though NSFW.)
  • Getting enough sleep. It’s not always good sleep, but I aim for 7.5 to 8 hours in bed a night. I limit caffeine intake after about 2:00 in the afternoon and try to stay off my computer/phone/tablet for an hour before bed***. I’ve had some bad experiences with non-restorative sleep and with loss of sleep time because of work or babies. I have no intention of going back to that kind of exhaustion if I can avoid it. My brain might screw up a lot on a good day, but it’s nothing compared to days when I’m sleep deprived. I’m having trouble with sleep quality these days, but at least I can try to control the quantity.

That’s about it, I guess. Some of it’s practical, some of it’s a bit more ephemeral, but it all works for me. And these are things I won’t be changing during this experiment (unless I have to to test something else out).

I should note that none of this turns me into a productivity machine. No matter how well I plan and prioritize my day, my brain will try to keep me away from writing, and making myself focus will be at best frustrating and at worst painful. I will likely never find a trick, a drug, an idea, or a coach that can turn me into an eight-hours-and-ten-thousand-words-a-day writer.

But at least I’m going into battle prepared, and I’m getting a lot more done than I used to.

If you’ve got thoughts on what helps you get stuff done, go ahead and leave them in the comments! We’ll take a deeper look at what’s happened since I cut down on social media in a future post, plus anything else that seems relevant to the experiment.

Next week: The results of week one of the Godawful Early Schedule. Dun-dun-DUNNNNNNN…


 

*Answer: It doesn’t matter, just eat it.

**I haven’t always had an office door I could close. Before we moved to this house two years ago, I didn’t. I tried working at a desk in the living room, but you can imagine how that went. I ended up constructing a makeshift office space in the basement out of stacks of plastic storage bins, boxes, and pet carriers, with a sheet strung up for the door and my upstairs desk hauled down to serve me there. It wasn’t paradise, but for the first time I had my own space. It made a real difference.

***I’m running into a problem with this now that I’ve figured out how to borrow library ebooks. I’m like a kid in a candy store, reading a lot… but I can’t transfer most titles from the app to my Kindle Paperwhite, so I’m actually reading from a tablet before bed some nights. CURSE YOU, CANDY STORE.

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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.


Calendar Squirrel

You know I was just waiting to use that song title.

I love my love my love my love my calendar squir–

Sorry.

It’s time to talk planners, and this is one topic that I absolutely can focus on. So much, in fact, that we’re gonna cut this one in half so your eyes don’t glaze over. Both helpful. Promise.

(Before we start, I just want to state that this is my thing. I don’t buy expensive shoes or purses. Or sunglasses. Or boats. Or designer cats. Or wine. I don’t go to movies or clubs. We all have our hobbies, and hopefully all spend within our means on them. You can TOTALLY be a planner dork with a $10 planner from Walmart. Or you can be me. Both are cool.)

So where to begin? I was never a planner growing up. Fact is, I probably couldn’t find an agenda book in the mess that was my school desk, even if I had such a thing. I tried to use them in high school, but it seemed like a waste of time. I left everything to the last minute anyway, and I didn’t really want to do my math homework, so…

Yeah. Planners didn’t seem to be my thing, even as I got older.

Not paper. Not electronic. None of it. If I remembered to note a doctor’s appointment on the wall calendar instead of losing the little card with the time on it, I congratulated myself. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I remembered my kids’ due dates.

That changed. And the change has improved my life immeasurably.

It started when someone–I don’t know who, but someone–posted a link to a promotional video for Kikki K planners showing how they could be decorated and personalized. This seemed like a ridiculously expensive product at the time, but I was entranced. See, I’ve always been fascinated by people who ARE organized. I have nothing against making grand plans and shooting high, and seeing people break that down into organized chunks and crossing things off is just… well, there’s a reason we use the term “planner porn” for a whole lot of YouTube videos.

I started watching more videos. People were posting “plan with me” videos and comparing  different planners and talking pros and cons and THEY WERE USING STICKERS AND WASHI TAPE, GUYS.

Have I mentioned that my interests shift a lot? I’ll have a burning interest for a few months or a year, and then it will fizzle out or be replaced by something else. Usually art or craft related. Well, I was due for a new one, and MAN did this tickle my fancy. Pretty paper and a chance at maybe getting my shit together?

Count me in!

I weighed my options and decided what I liked. Honestly, buying an Erin Condren planner felt like buying a house. I got my first one at a slight discount*, but normally these puppies are fifty+ bucks a pop (plus insane shipping rates to Canada). But I tried getting creative with my crappy planner, and it didn’t work for me. What can I say? I’m a paper snob. I thought that if I had a good planner, if I found other people who used them and decorated them and made the whole planner thing seem appealing, it would totally be worth the cost.

Was it an impulse purchase? A little, if you can still count it as impulsive if I stewed for a few weeks, tried alternatives, and made sure we could spare the cash. But when that box came in the mail, I was as happy as any of the people in their unboxing videos. And unlike most impulse purchases, it held my interest and became more valuable the longer I owned it.

Oh, I stunk at the decorating at first. Like, really stunk. And it was hard not being able to buy all of the stickers and doodads that people used in their videos. But it was FUN. And, more importantly, I used it. Suddenly I was writing down appointments and not losing them. I was breaking my day into morning, afternoon, and evening chunks, and I was getting things done because I wanted to be able to check them off.

You can joke that small things amuse small minds. I say it all the time. But I quickly learned that accomplishing things, even small ones, is extremely satisfying. Tiny tasks, when I had the energy for them, became more satisfying when I could watch them stack up over the course of the day.

I checked it off when I did the dishes, and it became a habit. I wrote it down when I finished writing a chapter of Sworn. I checked it off when I wrangled the kids into the tub. Check, check, check.

Does that mean I was suddenly on top of everything and my house was spotless and my work days flowed beautifully? I think you know me better than that. Of course I forgot to write things down. Of course I said, “I’ll remember that later” and didn’t. Of course I did write things down and then didn’t have the energy or focus to actually do them. Of course I still didn’t have enough time for work because children and home and CAN’T FRIGGING FOCUS.

But I was building a habit. I was learning that organization didn’t have to be boring. I was getting enough negative feedback from myself when I had to copy tasks from one week to another that it was motivation to just do it already.

Was that worth $50, or whatever I paid for it? Hell yes.

It worked well. It really did. I decorated my pages until they felt like MINE, until they were something I felt like I wanted to look at many times a day. This was really important if I didn’t want this to fizzle out like my other interests.

It saved my sanity when I had to organize buying a house and moving. Because guys? I can’t remember ANYTHING on my own. If it’s not written down, I might as well have never heard it. I learned to use my planner for school events, holding on to tickets and notes (in the handy back pockets), scheduling work time, keeping track of my husband’s schedule, paying bills, planning meals, tracking exercise, noting who I needed to email, keeping a TBR list… everything. For the first time, I felt like I was controlling my days more than they were controlling me.

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The week before a move is hell, but at least it was fun to look at.

Planning time on Sundays became something akin to a spa day for my brain. Lay it all out. Put it in boxes. See how it fits together. Notice that Friday is busy, so maybe try to get this and that done by Thursday so Friday doesn’t turn into a disaster. Put a sticker on it.

Put another sticker on it. Have some fun.

Feel in control. Relax.

But I got frustrated with the spiral-bound format. I wanted to have more note pages. I wanted a binder that would allow me to have adjustable note sections. My eyes wandered. My heart strayed.

I looked at those Kikki K binders again, and this time decided to shoot higher. For me, the ultimate treat was a Filofax Malden in ochre leather with horizontal Inkwell A5 inserts. And yes, I can recite that in my sleep. What a beast. What a beauty. She stole my heart, and my Erin Condren was demoted to a quiet life in the dining room, holding onto the family’s affairs while the Filofax took over as Work Central. Note sections for production, publication, and promotion. A spot to record paperback sales (my old, non-planner self would have been SO SCREWED come GST time without this). And in the front my planner, on this thick, buttery, GORGEOUS paper with colourful weeks and goal-setting pages.

Not a typical week by any means, but a fun one. Check out the Inkwell press site linked above if you want to see what they look like without the stickers. 🙂

Those goal pages were a big selling point for me. Right after the paper quality, which really is drool-worthy. I think I mentioned that I’m big on dreaming and making big plans, and anything that helps make those a reality is going to make me a happy camper.

I don’t focus well in my mind. But laying it out on paper helps so much. It doesn’t tame my pigeons, but it sticks them in a holding cage for a while.

Processed with Snapseed.

Dat mission board.

And it has been wonderful. The major drawback has been its size and weight. It’s fine for leaving on my desk, but I needed something I could carry with me everywhere. Because the more I learned the benefits of writing some things down, the more I understood what I could do if I could write everything down. If I could basically transfer my flighty brain onto paper, I could remember things. I could sort through big problems. I could be in control.

I tried using a smaller planner as a wallet. It was good, but not quite what I wanted. It was great to have on the go when I needed to make appointments… as long as I kept both planners updated at all times. And that was a little beyond me some days. And I never pulled it out to make notes like I wanted to. Still too bulky.

I asked for a Day Designer planner for my birthday to try it out. It was lovely. I discovered the joys of writing out not just tasks, but priorities, my top three of the day. But it was still massive, and still had no notes pages. Not quite the planner peace I wanted. (It has hourly lines on each day’s page, so I’m now planning to use it as a time use/energy tracker for weeks when I do that).

I did find an answer. Something completely different and totally unexpected that allowed me to put everything I wanted in one sleek, compact, fits-in-my-purse package that almost never leaves my side. Ever.

Future planning. Monthly planning. Weekly planning. Daily planning. Project pages. TBR list. Meal planning. Blog ideas. Instagram challenge tracking. Vacation memories. Goal setting. Random ideas. Space for doodles when the mood strikes. Inspirational quotes.

Planner peace.

Oh, the Filofax is still going strong as my command centre for family stuff and permanent notes for work that I don’t need to have on hand all the time (contacts, sales, ISBNs etc.). Those buttery leather covers aren’t leaving me any time soon.

But on Friday, we’ll talk about what’s become my brain on paper.

For now.

QUICK NOTE! I’m going to be at Krista Walsh’s release party for Death at Peony House tomorrow night (September 20, link here). You’ll want to check this one out, as it’s book one of a fantastic new urban fantasy series by an author I love. I’ll be giving away some ebooks and a paperback copy of Into Elurien.

I’ll update here when I know what time I’m on, but come on out for as much of the party as you can. Should be a good time. 🙂

*Stick around for the conclusion. But if you’re in the market for an EC planner, my referral link will get you a few bucks off when you create an account. Click here for that.

 

 

 

 


SQIRREL!

It’s been more than a year and a half since I did a few posts about trying to get my easily-distracted mind under control. I’ve fallen off the wagon and climbed back on more times than I can count, struggled with my overactive imagination (not in a way that’s good for a writer, unfortunately), and fought to hold onto focus while I’m working.

This summer I gave up the fight for a while, acknowledging that having the kids home is just too much of a distraction for me, and the stress of trying to work when my brain doesn’t want to co-operate was only compounding my frustration and distraction.

But overall, I’ve been making progress. And I thought that over the next few weeks I’d offer some of the tips and tricks that have helped me get a little more organized.

I’m not completely organized. And I’m anything but optimally productive. But the fact is that my brain throws up a lot of obstacles, and I’ve had to learn how to deal with them. I mean, in spite of my inability to focus much of the time (or my brain’s stubborn determination to focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time), I’ve published three massive books and a few smaller ones in a little over two years. Good ones, too.

That’s not nothing.

And if my experiences can help any of you, I want to put the information out there.

For today, we’ll kick things off with a quick description of what it’s like in my head. Because for some of you, this is all going to seem really basic or totally unnecessary. Maybe you can remember what you need to get done in a day without writing everything down and strictly prioritizing tasks so you won’t get distracted by shiny things. Maybe you don’t naturally forget minor things like picking your kids up from school because you FINALLY got in a writing groove. Maybe you don’t forget what you went upstairs for ten times a day, and you’re totally capable of organizing a three year-old’s birthday party without becoming overwhelmed and wanting to cancel.

If this is the case, congratulations. You’re definitely not me.*

If you were me, here’s how it would be:

Let’s imagine that every one of your thoughts is a pigeon. Every item on your mental to-do list, every upcoming event and thing you need to do to get ready for it, every memory and anxiety and interest and idea… all pigeons. Many people’s pigeons seem fairly well-behaved. Trained pigeons, maybe. Easy to catch when you need them, not too hard to hold onto. Pretty tame. If a pigeon needs attention, these people can grab them, do what needs to be done, and release the bird back into the room where the others are contentedly roosting and cooing, waiting their turns.

My pigeons… they’re not so tame. My pigeons are flying everywhere. Inconsequential pigeons flap around demanding attention. I’ll grab one and start working with it, and suddenly another one will be flapping around my head. The pigeons I know I should be catching stubbornly refuse to let me get close to them. Their feathers are getting ratty, my hair is full of pigeon poop, and we’re all exhausted. But they won’t give in. Between their wily ways and all of the other pigeons who are begging for me to catch them instead, it’s a real battle to grab onto that pigeon that I HAVE to catch.

Maybe that pigeon is the story I’m supposed to be writing. Maybe she’s planning suppers for the week. Maybe she’s something as small as finishing one bit of housework before moving on to another.

It’s usually easier to jump from demanding pigeon to demanding pigeon than to keep fighting for the flighty-yet-important ones, but I can win the battle sometimes. And if I can catch the right bird, things can go well. I might be able to hang on.

I might be able to get into the story and get some good work in.

(Sometimes I’ll even be surprised by an easy pigeon I can hang onto and pay attention to for hours or days. Not usually a USEFUL pigeon… but I’m sure my extensive knowledge of medical oddities and homesteading will come in useful some day, right?)

In any case, at some point another pigeon will need my attention. The kids will need to be picked up from school, even if I’ve only been in my writing groove for 20 minutes after struggling three hours to get there. Maybe I have to make supper after I’ve FINALLY tuned the world out and got into reading a book.

At those times it’s hard to change gears. To catch another pigeon. And it hurts, because my pigeons are so frigging NUTS that I know that as soon as I release one it will flutter off, and it won’t return willingly when I need it again.

Does that make sense? Can you see why I’m mentally exhausted by 4:00 every day? I mean, they’re only pigeons, but chasing them down is hard work, and breathing in feather dust is hard on the lungs.

There was a time when all of this meant I let things go when they were too hard. I didn’t finish stories because they were too squirmy and got away. My house was a certifiable disaster area because the little tasks of housework were too much to keep up with. I missed meetings and appointments and shifts because I wasn’t paying attention and I FORGOT. We were eating out too much because planning a meal AND having all of the ingredients on hand was completely beyond my mental capabilities.

Between depression and my focus issues, my life looked pretty screwed up. And the worst part of it was that I thought I was just scatterbrained and lazy, and no one knew how hard I was trying to be NOT LIKE THAT. How it hurt to feel doomed to failure.

Things are better now. Over the past few years I’ve learned to get into a routine, organize my day, and use tools that guide me through it. Basically, I’ve equipped myself with gadgets to help me manage my pigeons. Thick gloves to protect me from the scratchers, maybe, or a stepladder to help me reach the ones in the rafters. Binoculars to help me spot the ones I should be catching.

My pigeons are still frigging NUTS. But as I learn to deal with them more efficiently, they’re at least looking a little cleaner, and I have less poop in my hair.

My house isn’t perfect, but it’s getting cleaned regularly. My family almost always has clean clothes when they need them. A year after we moved into this house, we’re actually unpacked. I’ve learned to save money. And yeah, I’ve got a few books out, though turning my creative outlet into a career has brought a whole new set of problem pigeons.

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at the following areas:

*Physical changes I’ve made that are helping me focus better (exercise and nutrition… kind of)

*planning (what I’ve tried and finding my planner peace)

*using cues and habits to keep me from forgetting things when I get hyper-focused on what’s going on in my head

*specific techniques that help me get work done when I sit at my desk

*…and something that I’m not able to discuss yet, but we’ll get there.

I hope you’ll join me, and that you’ll find a few shiny things to help you in your own organizational or creative life. These posts will have pictures, too, and

HAHAHA THERE’S A SQUIRREL** OUTSIDE AND HE’S…

*ahem*

Anyway. I’ll see you on Friday when we kick things off… unless that pigeon escapes and I can’t catch him in time.

*Though I should point out that being me is quite fun, in spite of everything.

**Not an exaggeration. I’ve actually had conversations derailed when I saw shiny things. It’s not good.

 


Yep, I’m Still Alive

Is the blog dead because I don’t post, or do I not post because the blog is dead?

Hmmm…

Honestly, I don’t have a lot to post about right now. I’m hard at work on a challenging project that’s kicking my ass, eking out writing time in the mornings when I’m still half-asleep but the house is quiet. I’m struggling though a reading slump and a lot of anxiety and a surprising bout of depression (it sneaks up on you!), and trying to plan our first vacation in three years. For anyone keeping track, this means our first family vacation since I started publishing books, and the first time I’ve taken two weeks away from my writing since well before I got edits back on Bound and morphed into the stressed-out “holy crap I have a job now” writer I am today.*

So this should be interesting. I hope it means I’ll be able to let some ideas flow and take a new approach to problems (and maybe get some brainstorming done on the next part of the story that started with the Bound trilogy), unwind, and enjoy life away from work… but I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do two of those things. So we’ll see. 🙂

In the meantime, I did a short vlog post last week, as it’s hard to do long ones with the kids at home. This one has nothing to do with writing, but does offer my favourite cure for hiccups. Hope it’s helpful to someone. 🙂

*For the record, no, I would not trade it for any other job. I just need to learn how to deal with certain stressors and accept my limitations a bit better. It’ll come.


Writing on Summer Vacation: Day One

7:00 AM – Okay. I said I wanted to start writing at 7:30. But I need a shower… I can do this.

7:05 – I know I said no social media before work, but just a quick check won’t hurt. Huh. A reviewer needs a Kindle copy of Into Elurien. Guess that’s important, since she’s booked a date on the series blog tour. *sniffs self* Shower first.

7:30 – Definitely need to let my hair air-dry today.  Better to look like a frizzy purple buffalo than to spend another 20 minutes doing that (and overheating myself in the process). Speaking of heat, I know I had shorts here somewhere…

7:45 – Excellent. Everyone’s still asleep. *stomach grumbles* Dammit. Okay, invisaligns out, make a shake with greek yogurt to keep me full a bit longer (I hope), drink that and an iced coffee. I miss being able to sit and sip while I work. Brush teeth, invisaligns back in. Snap self in face with tiny elastic. Perfect.

8:05 – Okay. Writing. Annnnnnd the dogs want out. Might as well check Facebook quickly while they OH MY GOODNESS THERE’S A RUNNING APP WHERE YOU PRETEND YOU’RE IN A FANTASY SETTING AND GET TO GO ON QUESTS?!* I must investigate this immediately.

8:15 – Oops, forgot to put the laundry in. Better do that now if it’s going to line-dry today.

8:20 – Guess I should send that email.

8:30 – Annnd one kid is up. He’s pretty self-sufficient. They both are. My brain is a far greater obstacle than my boys are. It still doesn’t want to settle in and get this chapter fixed so I can move on to fresh drafting. Maybe I’ll warm up with a blog post, see if other kid wakes up. Then I can start after breakfast…

8:45 – (Now) This is my brain on trying to work. If you’ve read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, you know about resistance. I get it bad every time I try to start working. My brain is scattered, no matter what I do. Pomodoro sprints, meditation, visualization to get myself excited about writing a scene, planning, not planning…they help, but not much. On days like today, when my brain is fogged up and I’m recovering from Sunday’s migraine and the world seems to be moving around me at confusing speeds, it’s hard to start. I have zero focus. I’m scattered. My head feels like it’s physically stuffed with cotton. Possibly cotton candy.

The pink kind.

So what am I going to do about it?

I’m going to go make breakfast for Thing 2, I’m going to try to forget how much I wish I had a huge cup of coffee at my desk, and I’m going to publish this post, get my ass back here, put some music on, and work.

Maybe I won’t get the two hours in that I wanted today. Maybe I won’t get this scene revised (quite doubtful, actually, given the speed my brain is working at this morning). But I’m going to try. I’m going to prove to myself, to my muse, to my family, and anyone else who’s watching that I’m committed. I am doing this.

And step by tiny, painful step, I’m going to get through this draft.

Wish me luck.

 

 


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