Category Archives: Productivity Experiment

What About the Symphony?

I wasn’t going to post today, but I ran across an idea in my morning reading (quoted in Thrive by Arianna Huffington) that made me think–and that I thought might be helpful for others, as well.

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole point of it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

-Alan Watts

Quite the idea to process while I was going over my plans for the day, setting my goals, and generally trying to take steps to improve my life. Does this mean we should let go with the idea of improving ourselves, our circumstances, our productivity (*cough*), or our lives?

I don’t think so. But it’s a great reminder to look at why I’m setting the goals I am, why I’m creating new habits, and why I’m putting so much damned work into making my days work for me instead of letting them slip away.

Because, as with so much of life, it’s about balance.

I don’t have a boss. Nobody’s going to fire me if I’m unproductive in the short term. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to let a day go by and feel like I’ve wasted it (especially if I’m in a bad place with social media or other things that seem enjoyable, but really add nothing to my life). That’s why I need a to do list, why I set my top three priorities for the day, why I get my work done before I play.

On the other hand, it’s also far too easy to buy into the self-improvement hype that says you can do anything and everything if only you believe in yourself… which really means you’re falling short if you’re not doing, having, and being it all (and posting it on Instagram, obviously). To focus so much on what we should be doing to better our lives that we never actually stop to reflect on how far we’ve come or to enjoy the benefits of all this improvement.

I mean, so many things that I do don’t seem like parts of a symphony. I meditate, but I often find the process uncomfortable. I work so hard on my writing that the fun bit where I’m making up stories for my own enjoyment is dwarfed by the analysis, the problem solving, the revisions, the editing, the learning about writing craft–things that can be rewarding in the end, but are often stressful in the moment (and don’t even get me started on marketing, bookkeeping, or taxes). I don’t enjoy telling my kids to get off their tablets and enduring their grumbling, and I don’t enjoy getting them to clean up after themselves when it would really be easier and less stressful to do it myself. I don’t enjoy cooking or cleaning at all. And playing with my schedule and tracking results was rather tedious.

Why not let it go?

Because though I don’t always enjoy this stuff in the moment, it improves my quality of life in general.

Meditation is helping me stay in the moment and is helping me distance myself from emotions and physical pain that might otherwise consume me. Improving my writing means a better experience for my readers, and it offers me immense satisfaction in knowing that I’m learning and growing (and all that other crap makes it possible for me to keep writing, because income to cover editing costs is rather essential). The effort I put into making my kids do things they don’t like is helping them establish habits that will help them (and me) in the long run. Cooking puts food on the table, and while I don’t like cleaning, I do like a clean house.

And as for improving my productivity, I’m happier when I’m getting stuff done, and everyone in this house is happier when I’m not stressed about deadlines that crept up while I was procrastinating. I like knowing that I’m doing my best.

…And none of that is me disagreeing with the quote. It’s why this idea is so important.

Because I do get caught up in it. I feel at times like every minute has to be well spent on working toward a goal or doing something productive. I tend to become unduly absorbed in improving my life.

At times I need to be reminded to stop and smell the damn roses. To appreciate the “fog happiness” that my work offers if only I take time to step away from the stresses and appreciate it.

To actually live the life I’m working so hard at.

Who I am and what I’m doing right now are important and worth enjoying all on their own. This moment and this day aren’t just steps toward some end goal, and what I’ve got now is pretty damned amazing.

Not every day has to be perfect. Blah days and down days and unproductive days are normal and fine. But taken as a whole, there’s a whole lot to appreciate, even in darker times.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to get to where I am, and my life is immensely more satisfying than it was five years ago. I’ll keep working on improving what I can as needs arise.

But this morning, I added that quote to my bullet journal. I put it on the January “memories” page, on the back of my habit tracker and directly opposite the spot where I note my accomplishments for the month.

Because it’s easy to note the good stuff without really stopping to go, “Yes, I did a thing that improved my life. I did a favour for Future Me, and she’s going to be thrilled about it. I helped make someone else’s life better. I did something I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. I improved a relationship even though it felt awkward in the moment. I changed my world in some way.”

It’s easy for me to just jump into the next goal, to not stop to listen and enjoy the symphony as it plays, and to become unduly absorbed in the improvements as though there’s some end goal I’m racing for.

This moment, right now, even with all of its stresses and problems, is what I dreamed of just a few years ago. There’s no guarantee anything will last forever. Every symphony ends. I’m glad to have been reminded to appreciate mine while it lasts.

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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.


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:

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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.


Productivity Experiment Update

Hey, all! Short update today, as I’m busy preparing a post for tomorrow featuring an awesome cover reveal.

There’s nothing huge to report from last week, anyway. Lots of planning for NaNoWriMo (I still have to do my scene-by-scene outline… one day is enough time for that, right?), lots of proofreading and preparing for my pen name’s upcoming book release. I didn’t get any of the revisions done that I had planned on my own work, though. I think three projects on the go at one time is just too much for my poor brain to handle right now, even if they’re in three separate phases of the process. I got my meditation time in every morning, which means today was day 21 of my streak for that. And I got my planning done for Whole30 week one and tried to ease myself into it a bit so it’ll be less of a shock later this week when my body’s not getting the sugar it craves every day.

It’s gonna be harrrrrrd.

I’m still getting up at 6 to do my meditation and some work before the kids get up, and still trying to make sure I have some down-time before the kids come home (though I’m generally not really sure where that time goes, so I might reconsider my schedule again soon to make things flow more naturally for me).

And that’s about it. The plan for this week is to keep getting up early and do my NaNoWriMo drafting in that early hour+ (might need to go back to 5:30 this month to fit it all in), then get back to my revisions later on as soon as all of this publication stuff is wrapped up.*

I’ll be back tomorrow with that cover reveal! EEP!


*If I can’t fit three projects in every day, it seems to make sense to invest as much as I can into getting this stuff off my desk ASAP so I can get back to other work. It means I’m stressing a bit about those overdue revisions, and I have to hope I can keep myself from letting publication issues drag on to take up all of the available time before November 7, but it’s the best I’ve got for now.


Revised Early Schedule Week 1 Results

These post titles are getting so boring. And confusing. They need better names.

Let’s call this one “Cordelia.”

So as it turns out, waking up at 6:00 is better than dragging my butt out of bed at 5:30. And (surprising no one) I still have trouble getting up when the alarm goes off.

Or to be more precise, I have trouble not with the getting up so much as with the not hitting snooze and getting back under the covers for cozy snoozy this-is-the-best-part-of-my-day time.

I know. That’s sad. But it really is the best. Like, to the point where I’m considering setting the alarm for 5:30 again just so I can hit the snooze three times in rapid succession and buy myself a sweet half-hour in that magical land where my brain gives not a single rodent’s heinie about productivity.

Or reality.

*sigh* I’m happy just thinking about it.

What was I saying?

Right. Anyway, it was a pretty okay week. Nothing earth-shattering in terms of productivity, but I did the best I could. I think. Mostly.

  • I tracked 14 hours of work, which included some planning on a new book for NaNoWriMo, planning and starting revisions on my YA project, inputting fixes on the book I recently sent to beta readers, getting cover art almost done for my pen name’s next book, and updating the autoresponder messages people get when they sign up for pen name’s newsletter (which I actually hadn’t done since before the first book in her series came out. Whoopsie doodle.)
  • I mostly worked on the couch this week and not at my desk, and I’m not even a little bit sorry about it. It was amazing. And cozy. Coziness is wonderful.
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And it makes Jack very happy.

  • I did yoga twice, walked Jack almost every day, and meditated for 10 minutes all seven days of the week.
  • I did homework with the kids, shrink-wrapped all of the windows on the main floor of the house (with mixed success, but I hope it will help a little with the heating bills this winter), and once again did not let anyone starve. I think.
  • I flipped my work hours to the afternoon two days this week when mornings were getting too crazy for me to feel like I could reasonably fit work in before lunch, and my work felt much easier and more flow-y. Afternoons are actually a much better time for me to work, but come with the disadvantages of it being a lot harder to stop when I need to (and me being kind of irritable about it, TBH) and not allowing me to recharge and switch gears before the kids come home. But for my next schedule experiment, I might try doing that more regularly. You never know if you don’t try, right?

Maybe after Halloween.

Which means NaNoWriMo.

Annnnnd I’m also looking at doing the Whole30 program for November. As in the eating-whole-foods-with-lots-of-veggies-and-meat-but-no-grains-dairy-added-sugar-or-alcohol thing. I’m not exactly the queen of willpower, but I might be able to do it. I want to see whether changing my eating habits could lessen the frequency of my migraines and help with my energy levels. Now, if it turns out that dairy is contributing to my acne or bread is causing brain fog, I might decide it would have been better not to know. I mean, don’t tell my husband, but I’m only with him because I found out I couldn’t legally marry a cheese croissant. This would be unthinkable.

But I think I owe it to myself to find out. And just imagine how entertaining my blog posts will be when I’m detoxing from my sugar addiction and I hate EVERYTHING!

Yaaaaaay!

What the heck is wrong with me. Seriously.

Plan for next week: Stick to modified early schedule. Continue NaNo planning during early morning hours, continue Phoenix revisions later in the morning, do pen name publication stuff in the early afternoon, then try to make time to recharge before the offspring invade the premises.*

 


* My children, not the band. And the fact that Monday and Tuesday are both P.D. days (no school) should make this week an interesting one.

 


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.

 

 


Godawful Early Schedule Week 3 Results

Not my wordiest week. To be fair, though, I did lose two days.

We (my family) left home on Thursday evening to head in to St. John’s. Weird timing for a trip, I know. But when one of your favourite authors/a great friend/an amazing person is in town, you make the trip. I got to see Krista Walsh again, and this time I got to show her  a little bit of Newfoundland.

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Totally worth missing a day of work for.

Two, actually. I spent Thursday packing and checking little tasks off my to do list rather than writing. So that’s two days I didn’t add anything to my draft.

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Worth it.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were split days. I drafted early in the morning, then did other work after the boys went to school.

Monday and Tuesday were all about the book that came back from my editor on the weekend. On Monday I did a quick pass accepting or rejecting the little changes my editor had made to fix sentence or paragraph flow (mostly accepting… she’s good at what she does) and dealing with minor fixes. On Tuesday I went through and did the bigger fixes that required deeper thought: looking at places where something had seemed wonky to her, where I needed to re-think blocking in a fight or bring a character in who had sort of disappeared from a group scene, questions about whether someone’s hand was inside or outside of someone else’s clothing.

And that was actually it. I usually plan on post-editor edits taking a lot longer than two days, but this time everything went smoothly.*

So on Wednesday I used my later-morning time to draft the back cover copy for that book, get the ball rolling on cover art, and format the book so I could send it to beta readers.

As for the early morning drafting, I had great mornings on Monday and Tuesday, even if it was hard to get started. Up at 5:30, writing by 6:00. More than 1,500 words Monday, almost 1,900 Tuesday. By Wednesday, though, I was already feeling burned out (after those big mornings and pushing myself to get through my edits). I slept in until 6:20 and only wrote for half an hour.

Strong starts to the week + burning out by the end seems to be a pattern for me. Actually, it’s the pattern of a lot of days, too. I think I’m scared of not using the energy when I have it because I don’t trust it (or the available time) will be there later if I try to pace myself early on. That might be something to look at in future weeks.

For now, the goal is to keep going with this early morning writing schedule. I’ll still be using early mornings for drafting, and then later mornings will be either for more drafting or for taking care of all the things I still need to do for pen name this month (post-beta fixes, cover art, proofreading in ebook and paperback, planning the next book for NaNoWriMo, figuring out promotional stuff).

I might be able to get this draft of my project (we’ll call it Phoenix here for clarity, though it doesn’t have a title) finished by the end of the week. I’m really hoping that boosts my motivation to keep going. I can feel myself getting lazy even though my deadlines are quite critical at this point.

Hours worked: 12 (3 writing, 5.5 editing, 3.5 other work-related tasks)

Words written: 4,000

Pages edited: two passes on 90K word book (no read-through, just editorial fixes)

Other stuff:

  • cover copy for Atonement written
  • cover art in progress
  • Atonement sent to beta readers
  • family stuff (trip to St. John’s, curriculum night at school, making salt crystals at home because that was a cool thing that happened at school)
  • exercised most days

Not too shabby, really.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, CANADA!

 


 

*The time it takes to do these edits and fixes also depends on what kind of edits I’m getting. My pen name Urban Fantasy stuff isn’t receiving the same kind of deep substantive edits that I’ll be getting on my current project when it goes to my other editor. That one could involve massive rewrites after I get the book back. Every book in the Bound trilogy needed big revisions and edits after that editor got his claws into them. Lots of work, but they’re far better books for it. And I learn a lot every time.

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Godawful Early Schedule, Week 2 (Results)

Hours worked: 13.5

Words written: 10,858

Week two of the Godawful Early Schedule is in the bag.

How did it go?

Not too shabby, actually. No, I didn’t get up at 5:30 every morning, so I guess that’s technically a fail. But I was always up by six, and did at least some writing before breakfast every day from Monday to Friday. I lost most of my work day on Wednesday thanks to a doctor’s appointment, but still got some work done earlier in the day. I got at least some exercise every day, and once again nobody starved or turned homework in late.

(Side note: I also learned this week that I’m anemic, so I’m hoping iron supplements will help my energy levels climb in the near future. If productivity is about managing time, attention, and energy, I could sure use the boost in that last area.)

I learned a few valuable lessons this week.

  • I need to be better about scheduling specific times for tasks that I’m doing with other people, as I often lose a lot of potentially productive time while I’m waiting. Uncertainty is not good for my productivity, especially if that means anticipating an interruption.
  • I need to schedule short breaks during my early morning writing time, even if I don’t want to stop to take them. I have a tendency to want to work for an hour straight, which is fine until I then need to stop for 15 minutes and only had 90 minutes to begin with (and then don’t want to get back into it for just 15 more). Things might work better if I do  three 25-minute sprints with 5 minute breaks between so I’m not wasting that time at the end.
  • I was sick a few days this week, but I learned that while feeling like crap lowers my motivation, I can still get words out. Even if it means I take my laptop up to the couch instead of working at my desk, even if it means I don’t get quite as many words per hour… progress is still progress. Feeling like I can’t work does not necessarily equal actually nor being able to work.*

So there we go. I still need to work on actually getting out of bed at 5:30. So that’s one goal.

And there’s going to be a big change in the work I’m doing. Edits on Pen Name Book Three came back from my wonderful editor on Saturday, which means I’m going to be dividing my work hours this week. Drafting before the boys get up, editing after they go to school, and getting cover art going… some time. One day, two projects. I’m generally not great at switching gears, but it’s the only way to get both done. And who knows? Maybe having less time to work on each will force me to use my time more efficiently.

There’s only one way to find out.

 


*Self-care note: I do not make myself work if I’m really sick. If I’ve got a migraine that’s bad enough that I can’t string a sentence together (or that will be aggravated by looking at the computer screen for too long), if my mind or body really need me to rest and recover, I don’t push it. I’m not interested in burning out. The lesson here is that “I was sick last night and still feel kinda crappy today” isn’t a good reason to call in sick. I might just need to go easy on myself, instead.


Godawful Early Schedule Week One

Well, friends, not much about this week’s attempts to get up early surprised me.

Exciting, right?

The potential benefits of getting up a bit earlier and getting some work done are unquestionable. The house is quiet. The kids are still asleep. It’s work time when I don’t feel like I’m supposed to be doing anything else.

Best of all, it’s work that’s done before life has a chance to throw curveballs at me. On Tuesday I had a dentist appointment and a whole bunch of errands to run in the morning, and then a migraine hit in the afternoon and I ended up spending several hours zoned out in a dark bedroom.

But before that, I wrote 1441 words. I’d only worked an hour (I’d let myself rest in bed an extra half hour before I got up because of that threatening headache), but I got words written on a day that would have been a total write-off on my old schedule. 1441 words isn’t a lot. It’s not a scene. With the way this book is going, it’s not even most of a scene. But it’s PROGRESS, and it’s a day when I didn’t totally lose momentum.

Of course, getting up at 5:30 hasn’t been easy. I only make it out of bed because my alarm clock isn’t within arm’s reach and I have to stand up to shut it off. And then I just kind of stand there, swaying on my feet, staring into the darkness, trying to remember who I am and why this little black box is yelling at me.

Oh, right. Brayn make werds nao. Kay.

Even on Friday, after 8.5 hours of sleep, I had trouble getting up. I was only actually up at 5:30 two days last week (5:45 on Monday as I started shifting back, 6:00 on Tuesday and Friday when I got up, had a big drink of water, and attempted to shake headaches). But I expected this to be hard, so that’s okay. I’ll get there.

Getting to work in the early morning has been a challenge, especially on the few days when I’ve let myself pick up a book to read while the kettle was boiling. Note to self: Don’t give distractions, even positive ones, an inch. They’ll take your whole morning. Even without that, my usual tendencies seem to be in high gear even if my brain’s not totally on yet. Procrastination and wasted time are real dangers*. And when I do start, I feel slow and dopey. But words are coming out. So that’s a win.

Also not surprising: Evening exhaustion. But given the fact that I regularly crash at 6 PM anyway and migraine weeks are always worse, I’m not putting this in the con column yet. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring.

One unexpected result: On mornings when I did manage to work 90 minutes in the early morning, I didn’t get many more words than I did on 60 minute mornings (at least, not as many as I should given my usual words-per-hour average). Over the next few weeks I’ll watch to see whether that changes–and if not, I’ll look at letting myself sleep until 6 and working for an hour, instead. But I said I’d give this schedule a month. Anything could happen.

Total hours worked: 22.2 (including writing, scene planning, and several hours brainstorming my way out of plot and character problems)

Total words added to manuscript: 11,467

Note: Friday was a write-off, so to speak. Post-migraine wooziness kept me from writing early in the morning, and then a neighbour offered to take me out to see a good spot for berry picking. One simply does not refuse an offer like this.

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Nature’s candy. Seriously.

So obviously getting up early isn’t some magic bullet that will instantly rocket me to writing half a book in a week. It’s not doing anything to help me overcome the “nope” that regularly keeps me from getting stuff done, and working first thing in the morning doesn’t seem to provide any momentum to keep me going later. And that’s okay. This is all about baby steps.

On to Godawful Early week two.


*It’s so weird. I can perfectly visualize what I want my work hours to look like. What I’d like to get done, how I want my brain to switch gears smoothly so I can do the thing that I know I should do and want to do. I know how good I’ll feel if I get it done. I can see this other version of myself making tea in the morning, stretching out those sore back muscles, appreciating the quiet, lighting a scented candle, cracking her knuckles, and getting back to what’s shaping up to be an amazing book. But it’s like I’m watching her through a window, and real me over here on this side just doesn’t do the things. Like someone’s got a halter on my brain and is pulling its head off course every time I try to do the things, directing me toward things I don’t want or need to do at this moment. I fight, but it hurts. Frustrating thing, this. And exhausting.


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.

    21894966_10155475852070325_1932274789_o

    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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