Tag Archives: planning

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.

 

 

 

 


NaNoWriMo Prep… or not.

Raise your hand if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year.

Okay, this being the internet (and me not being a creepy webcam-stalker) means that I can’t see you. So I guess commenting would be more appropriate there.*

Yes, it's going to be one of those posts.

Yes, it’s going to be one of those posts.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, NaNoWriMo is an annual event during which writers all over the world (yes, even Antarctica one year) attempt to write 50,000+ words of a novel in one month. This equals 1667 words per day, assuming a steady pace and no days off. You can write the 50,000 in the first week and nothing the rest of the month if you want to. Or leave it all to the last minute, which is… it’s generally not a good plan. Trust me.

I’ve participated every year since 2010, when a (very) rough draft of the then-untitled Bound was my project. And then I lost almost all of it in a software-related mishap, but that’s another story. Since then I’ve won a few, “lost” one (though I don’t think anyone loses as long as you get some words down), and participated in several Camp NaNo sessions. I drafted Torn in 2012 and thoroughly revised it in 2013. It was much better the second time around.

Okay, technically revisions are not allowed by NaNo rules. But I did change/add 50,000 words, so I counted it.

And it looks like this year I might just be a NaNo rebel again. Or maybe not.

See, if all goes well, I’m going to have the first draft of my current project finished by November 1 or shortly thereafter. Even though I blasted past 50,000 words in a private NaNo in October, I can’t count any of those words for the event. So I can’t use that project.

I need to do another editing pass on Torn before it goes to my editor in December. I need to make a few plot and character adjustments to better lead into book 3, plant a few ideas in there to bloom later (being a time traveller is fun!), do a sweep for over-used words and other issues that are going to make editing more expensive. I have to start that ASAP.

And I can’t count it.

During Camp NaNoWriMo, one hour of editing = 1000 words on the progress bar. Not so in November. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think I can take my cheating that far.

This makes it a little difficult to join in on the NaNo prep excitement. I miss it.

So Here’s What I’m Going to Do:

  • I’m going to bust my ass to get Torn finished quickly. I’m going to work every hour I’m at home without the kids. I’ll use NaNo word sprint events and Facebook write-ins to keep me focused, I will get organized before I start, and hopefully I’ll get it done in a week or two.
  • And then I’m going to start something for NaNoWriMo. It’ll be a late start, as I can’t have my attention divided when I’m editing as many people can.** I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I might go back to my as-yet-unpublished vampires***, because I’ve had a lot of fun with that. I might buckle down and flesh out the plot for that gempunk thing I started for a flash fiction challenge. Maybe, if I just want to relax and play with something that will never see the light of day, I’ll get to that erotic ghost story. Why not have fun? I’ve been busting my ass to get the Bound trilogy done. I can’t stop writing, but maybe I can just play for a few weeks.
  • As for pulling off a win… it’s probably not going to happen this year. I have to make editing the priority, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be right in there. I’ll be participating in groups and forums if I find time, cheering my writing buddies on, neglecting the housework. I wish I could say I’ll go to write-ins, but we don’t get those out here.
  • But darn it, I’m going to have fun.

And then after that it’ll be just chilling and relaxing and…

*accepts note from disembodied hand*

Wait, no. After that it’ll be biting my nails while Torn is with my editor, then surviving enjoying Christmas, then the stress and pressure to get the edits done so that I can get it out to second-round readers and get proofreading done and formatting and figuring out promotional stuff and planning a party and uploading for pre-order–

Deep breaths.

So November should be a cakewalk compared to January and February is what I’m really saying.

It’s a good thing I like my readers. 🙂

For more on my experiences with NaNoWriMo and why it’s the only reason I ever wrote more than three chapters of a novel, see this post. I talk a lot about perfectionism there… we’ll have to revisit the topic some time.

If you’re participating, drop your username in the comments or just go ahead and add me as a buddy.

If not, we can still be buddies.

*Do you guys SEE how well my brain is working today? I know. It’s bonkers.

**I don’t hate you. I’m just jealous.

***Resurrection is the working title of the first novella, Sanctuary is the 1/3 finished second one. I’m starting to notice a theme…


A Round of Words Goals, Vandaleyes edition

Round one of “A Round of Words in 80 Days” started on Monday. I meant to do my goals post on Sunday, but we were away. Better late than never, right?

No WIPpet Wednesday post from me today. All I’ve been doing is reading over a manuscript, trying to figure out edits, so there’s no new writing to share. I haven’t been getting much done recently. The kids were home for two weeks, and we’re now on their third day of no school when they should have been back. It’s not the weather; skies are clear here, and the roads are fine. Temperatures aren’t even that bad right now. But our part of the province (as in, the entire island portion) is having something of a power crisis, and all schools are closed to conserve.

Long story.

So here we are, still at home, still together 24/7. We’re getting a little bored. There are books to read, of course. The kids and I are almost through Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and they’re enjoying it. There are new toys, but even they lose their appeal after a while, and Ike has perfected his “annoy everyone while also playing with new toys” technique. In light of this, today seemed like a good day to break out my new self-adhesive googly eyes and vandaleyes some stuff around the house.

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Oh, eos, you so cute!

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I’d look like that, too.

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I am Aslan, hear me google.

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…you get the idea. It kept us busy for a while, anyway.

So here’s hoping that school schedules and power supplies get back to normal soon, and I get a chance to get back to work!

ROW80 Goals, Round 1 – 2014

Round one runs from January 6 to… some time in March, I guess.

Writing goals:

  • Edit Bound, get it ready to go for editing by February 10 (I know, that sounds like cleaning the house before the cleaners come. Just trying to save myself some money and get as much educational value out of this as I can). Spend 2.5 hours per day on this while it’s the main focus.
  • Work on short stories, unrelated projects while that’s away. 1.5 hours’ work per day, or 1000 new words.
  • Outline book 3 of this trilogy

Reading Goals:

  • Read ARC I received recently and review for February 10
  • Read over another friend’s book for him
  • read one novel and one non-fiction book per month (more if possible, this is the minimum goal)

Personal Goals:

  • Put phone away when kids are around (no Twitter, Facebook, etc. when I should be spending in-person time with family), block Twitter and Facebook during writing time.
  • Once my back can handle it, exercise four times per week (walk dog when it’s nice out, Pilates when it’s not.)
  • Make short, prioritized to do list every evening before bed
  • Make weekly meal plan and shop accordingly to try to eat better (and save money by not eating out/wasting food)
  • Prepare everything we need for taxes so I can get that in as soon as AJ gets his forms from work.
  • Talk to my dad (who’s a finances-and-tax type guy) about what I need to keep track of for business purposes
  • Get out to visit my parents once they’re settled in Corner Brook
  • Get a chiropractor
  • Plan our garden (you really can’t plant here before June, but we can plan!)

I guess that’s enough for one round.

Who else is doing ROW80 this round? Either way, what are your plans for the near future? And what do you think I should stick googly eyes on next?


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