Tag Archives: family

The Problem with Productivity

Remember when I said I’d like to see information on productivity for those of us whose lives don’t look like the typical career-oriented person? Well…

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I’ll admit it. Planning and productivity are kind of a hobby for me. I have a planning system that works for me, but I still have a hard time resisting the allure of a new paper planner that promises to guide me in using my time better. And reading about productivity, brain science, and psychology are as entertaining for me as a good novel. It’s fascinating, and it leaves me feeling like the world is full of nothing but potential for reaching my loftiest goals.

I’m very aware that planning does not necessarily equal follow-through. There’s a danger of spending a whole lot of time researching/planning and none actually doing the parts that require work and sacrifice. But all told, this little hobby has done great things for me.

But as I noted in my last post, I have trouble connecting with a lot of advice.

In my reading, I’ve noticed that the subjects held up as examples don’t tend to have lives that look like mine. They’re men (mostly) whose lives revolve around a cycle of work and restoration. Even when it’s acknowledged that they have kids, there’s little indication that it affects their schedules or flexibility in a major way. I often see few women, and fewer who are balancing work with primary responsibility for a home and family*. Fewer still who are also dealing with mental or physical health challenges that can stop productivity in its tracks or whose lives otherwise include factors outside of the standard work/life balance.

And that’s actually fine. We all like to read about the massive successes, the people who organize and use every hour for peak effectiveness. The people who win wars, make half a million dollars a quarter, write multiple bestsellers every year. Of course we do. It’s fascinating. Inspiring, even, and that’s a valid reason to study them. I’m absolutely not complaining that no one follows someone exactly like me around with a stopwatch and a fMRI machine to study her brain waves, and I know stories like “Gina needed two hours to settle down to work and then wrote 1000 words before the school called to say little Jimmy was puking in the coat closet” ain’t gonna make for a productivity bestseller.

But what does it look like when people with different obstacles (or just making different choices) try to follow their example? Our stories don’t show up on those pages, but they’re ones I’m interested in reading.

I have factors in my life that affect my potential productivity. I don’t consider them all negatives by any means. Quite frankly, my life rocks my socks most of the time, even if I get frustrated by the amount of work I’d like to do but can’t/don’t. Some of them are generally negative, but even then I can often see a bright side.

Things like working only during school hours because me being available when the kids are home makes things run more smoothly around here (and because I find it less stressful to not have the office door closed when everyone is home). Being the primary caregiver for kids and the person ultimately responsible for most aspects of running a household (which I know I’m privileged to be able to do, but I find all of it mentally exhausting). Migraines that can limit my productivity to some degree for two weeks out of every month. Limited physical and mental energy. Issues relating to the ADD** I’ve dealt with my whole life but was only recently diagnosed with.

There are other factors that affect my productivity, but you get the idea. I don’t look at these as excuses for not getting things done, but variables to play with as I work toward doing what I want with my life. I also have a lot of advantages. I’ve been a SAHM since our second child was born (full disclosure: this was because I’m not qualified to do any job that would cover the cost of daycare), and this offered me a bit of flexibility when I started my work as an author. I’m naturally inquisitive and can learn quickly if something really catches my interest. I’ve only got a high school education (plus one year of university), but it was a good one. I’ve got a fantastic doctor helping me out. My family supports me. I’m my own boss, which is both a positive (unlimited sick days!) and a negative (nobody cares if I don’t get my work done!). Everyone’s life is a unique mix of challenge and opportunity.

And this can make it hard to get on board with a lot of the suggestions in productivity books. Reading them can actually be a little disheartening. I don’t have the resources I’d need to hire a nanny*** even if I wanted to. I can’t take off for a sabbatical/reading week/focused writing retreat just because It’s Good For My Career. Napping in the middle of the day probably isn’t going to happen, and my other responsibilities aren’t going to get out of the way so I can work during my biological prime time (which starts about 30 minutes before school ends). I have a lot of trouble switching gears, especially once I get really focused on a task, so playing Tetris with my schedule and fitting work in 20 minute bursts around other responsibilities hasn’t worked for me so far.

But like I said, I’ve learned a lot from my interest in productivity. The key isn’t trying to follow exactly in anyone else’s footsteps, but taking a few steps back and asking how an idea might be changed, adapted, turned on its head, mangled, or shifted to look like something I can use.

My time is limited. My focus is often crap (and when I do get into a really focused state, my schedule often limits how long I can stay there). But in 2010 I started writing. In 2014 I published my first book. Since then I’ve published five more (ranging from 53,000 to 192,000 words) and am happy to say that writing is, for now, my job. That’s not a lot of books by many people’s standards, but for me it’s a dream come true. I run a business, and even if I don’t do a great job of it and generally feel like I’m falling behind and always seem to be playing catch-up, I’m making it work.

I’ve managed it by making other people’s ideas work for me, and I know there’s more I can do with that.

So I’m not going to sit here and moan about why I can’t use everything I’ve learned.

Pfft.

No. What I’m going to do is an experiment.

While I was reading Rest (see previous post), I decided that I was going to try some of the ideas presented there and in other books, but I was going to try to fit them into my life instead of demanding that my life get out of my way.

And that to keep me accountable for sticking to the changes I was experimenting with and for tracking the results, I was going to post about it here.

For the next two weeks I’ll be working my regular schedule from last year (and trying to get back into routine after an August that didn’t include many solid work days), and I’ll post about the rules I’ll be playing by during the experiment. Then we’ll get to the good stuff: trying a major schedule change or two, then playing with other ideas to see what clicks.

For now, here’s my goal:

To experiment with productivity hacks and lifestyle changes in order to find a DAILY and WEEKLY ROUTINE that allows me to reach my personal best focus and productivity without leaving me burned out or forcing me to neglect my health, home, family, or the time I need to rest and pursue other interests.

Obviously it’s not a perfect or typical productivity experiment. My goal isn’t to maximize work productivity and squeeze every drop of get-er-done out of every hour of the day. It’s not to find a way to work 50 or 90-hour weeks with kids at home, and it’s not to find a way to publish six books this year and hit a bestseller list while I’m at it (though those are all awesome goals if they make your personal motor run). It’s to figure out how to manage my attention and energy during my limited work hours to make the most of them, to stop wasting time, and to stop feeling guilty about the things I’m not doing during those hours.

…and to stop feeling guilty about not working more. There’s a lot of guilt. That needs to go, too.

My goals, my methods, and my results aren’t going to be a roadmap for anyone else to become more productive. Even if you also happen to be a writer with kids, we’ve all got different challenges, advantages, and ideas of what a good life looks like. My stumbling blocks might even look like someone else’s dream life, and I’ll seem like a jerk for not appreciating them. But I hope my posts will present an example of adapting ideas about productivity to fit a life that doesn’t necessarily look like the ones in the books I get those ideas from. Along the way I’ll share my thoughts and ideas I’ve picked up from the books I’m reading, topics related to my productivity quest, and insights I run into. And my results will be focused on real work, not on hours spent on this project. You’ll see my hours, my word counts, my plans, my successes, and my slip-ups.

If that sounds like something you’d like to follow along with, stick around. It might be interesting, and I hope it’s going to be a lot of fun.

(And if you have any ideas you’d like to suggest/questions about what I’m doing, or want to point me toward a resource you’ve found helpful, feel free to comment any time!)


 

*That’s not to say there aren’t books out there with a different perspective. I’m reading (and will review) I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam, which looks at women with careers and kids. The focus is still on people who make $100,000+ per year and have things like daycare and nannies and business trips, but there are people out there looking at how parents are making things work for them, and that’s pretty cool.

**Yes, I know. It’s ADHD. I have a non-hyperactive subtype that’s common (and commonly undiagnosed) in women, and much of the reading I do about it refers to it simply as ADD. Doing so feels easier for me than clarifying the particulars of what I deal with, so that’s what I’m going with here.

***One of the books I’ve read on managing ADD (written for women) suggested hiring a babysitter so you could focus on getting the dishes done. Sounds swell, but again, not so practical for most of us.

 

 

 


Writer’s Guilt

(Dedicated, with love, to all of my passionate, creative friends, and my NaNoWriMo buddies who will be neglecting… well, everything this month)

I wonder…

If I weren’t a writer, would my children have fresh-baked cookies and beautifully decorated cupcakes to take to school on holidays, instead of whatever I could throw together at the last minute?

Would the laundry always be done, folded, and actually put away? Would the floors shine? Would every meal be made from scratch, would they be planned three weeks in advance and would nothing come from the freezer except for the lasagna I made and thoughtfully socked away for busy nights?

Would I have time to exercise for an hour a day, pilates and yoga and cardio, oh my?

Would I be more involved at the kids’ school?

Perhaps.

It’s quite distracting having these characters and random bits of dialogue floating around in my head. This thing that I do, that hurts me when I do it and hurts worse when I don’t, but that brings such joy when it all goes right… well, it takes up a lot of time, doesn’t it?

Time I could use for cleaning, for brushing, for scrubbing, for running, for ironing, for cooking, for planning and organizing and being the perfect wife and mom.

I must be a selfish person to want this time for my work. I must be a waste of space. I must not care, or want to give all of myself to my family.

But here’s the thing:

If I weren’t a writer, I would be a mess inside.

I would have dreams left untended, worlds left uncreated, voices left unheard and choices unmade.

I would do my best to look happy on the outside, but the world inside of me would die. Without this perfect space for my imagination to play, it would wither, and crumble.

And all of that extra time? I’d probably use it to stretch out on the couch and watch daytime TV. I might take up drinking as a hobby to quiet those voices. You never know.

I would resent every cupcake I baked, instead of taking on classroom challenges with joy when I actually manage to remember them. I’m not the type who sees housework as a blessing, who feels fulfilled by a clean home. When I write, I can do these things without hating them, because they’re not my job.

If I weren’t a writer, I would feel like a servant.

And if things got really bad, I’d go back to what I used to be before I started writing, before I let my imagination soar, before I discovered a community of people who share my dream, before I was able to cut back on the antidepressants.

Before I started walking the dog every day, because damn it, I’m worth taking care of.

I would be less than what I am. Less happy. Less confident in my skills and what I can accomplish. Less fulfilled. Less balanced. Less friendly and cheerful and encouraging. There would be less of me, and less to give to my family and my world.

I am a better wife and a better mom for having something in my life that lifts me up and challenges me, even if it hurts and disappoints and distracts and frustrates me sometimes.

So yes, there are dirty dishes in the sink once in a while. Maybe my kids take peanut-free candy to school on Halloween instead of prettily-decorated, Pinterest-inspired bags of home-baked goodies.

When I feel like I’m being selfish for taking this time, for writing these words and imagining these worlds, I will remember:

This is who I am. This is what makes me whole, and this is how I give my family more of myself.

I’m not being selfish. I’m being the best possible version of me.

—–

(PS- I feel like I should add that there is nothing wrong with being a person, male or female, who feels fulfilled by keeping a clean home, who finds creative outlets in decorating and cooking, who takes pride in sending those cupcakes to school. I admire that. Most days, I wish I could be like you. It’s just not me, and I’m done feeling guilty for not being perfect according to standards that don’t fit me. Much love to you all, whether you agree with these words or not. <3)


WIPpet Wednesday 4/17- Cousins

Well, well, well! Welcome to wonderful WIPpet Wednesday, where we wish to… not bother you with nutty alliterations. Not familiar with the rules? Just post a passage from your progressively perfecting… wonderful writing… arrgh!

*sips coffee*

…that relates to the date in some way. Don’t forget to check out the other offerings for today and feel free to join in! It’s super fun. Thank you to K.L. Schwengel, as always, for hosting.

Seventeen lines (on my new, wider computer screen– whee!) from chapter 5, so much earlier in the story than some of the others I’ve posted. For those just joining us, Aquila is a rather unusual eagle.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to continue re-writes. Those horses ain’t going to steal themselves…

I was still asleep early on my fourth day at Stone Ridge when someone slammed open the door to my rooms, thundered across the wood floor into my bedroom and sailed through the air, landing on top of me with a loud cry of, “get up, get up, get up!”

I grabbed the heavy feather pillow from under my head and used it to whack the intruder several times before she shrieked and bounced back onto the floor. I groaned when she ripped the blankets off of the bed and flopped down beside me, out of breath and laughing. “Come on, sleepyface,” she said, grinning. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”

I glared at my cousin and tried to look angry. “’Lecia, I wouldn’t be happy to see Prince Charming himself if he woke me up by jumping on me.”

Felicia considered that for a moment, then started giggling. “That might not be so bad, you know.”

“Filth,” I muttered, and grinned back at her. That was the problem with Felicia; she was always so damned happy and funny that I couldn’t stay mad at her, even when I wanted to.

She rolled over and stared at me with a mock-serious expression. “We have much to discuss. But first, get thine self to a washing chamber and clean thy teeth. Thou art offending my delicate sensibilities.”

“Says the girl who smells like the horse that brought here here,” I replied, and rolled out of bed before she could smack me. I hurried through the sitting room, but saw no sign of Aquila. I couldn’t blame him for disappearing when that strange, noisy person burst in. I leaned out the window and came face-to-beak with him sitting in the cherry tree. “Sorry,” I whispered. He didn’t look impressed.

Felicia was looking at the books on my shelf when I returned. She took a seat in an armchair with her legs crossed under her, and I sat on the floor with my back to her. “I met Robert,” I said. “He seems nice.”

“I know. I’m not here to talk about him. Yet.” Felicia pulled a brush out of her bag and went to work on my hair. She’d treated me like a doll since the first time she came to visit me at Stone Ridge, and I almost never complained. It was relaxing.

“I thought not.” I’d known as soon as I saw her why she was there. I might have temporarily forgotten about the letters, but my mother hadn’t. She’d sent someone to remind me.


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