Tag Archives: productivity

Godawful Early Schedule Results (Week 4 and Overall)

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

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

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

And there’s a bright side.

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

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

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

Whatever keeps me going is good at this point.

Good lesson.

ALSO…

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

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

BUT.

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

So here’s the next big plan:

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

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

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

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

Such tension. Such excitement.

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

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Gratuitous Halloween decor picture.

 

 


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

 

 

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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.


Productivity Experiment Week 2 Baseline Results

Yeeeeeah.

Welp.

It was a week. That is a thing I can say about it.

I mean, it wasn’t all a bad week. It was a pretty reasonable baseline measurement week, actually. Between Monday and Friday I only managed to work 12 hours (mostly writing hours), but I added 12,829 words to my manuscript.

Not as many as I want to be adding per week. Not as many as some people add per day. But that’s not the point. Progress is progress, and I did my best every day.

I averaged about 3 hours’ work on days I was working… which did not include Thursday. Thursday was one of those days I mentioned needing to be prepared for. A migraine and back pain teamed up to leave me in a painkiller-and-brain-fog stupor, which in turn left me lying on the couch watching Roseanne all day.

I got the box set for Christmas. It is most excellent.

I watched more TV on that one day than I usually do in a week. I don’t feel bad about that. It’s not like I could work. So Thursday was a write-off.

And that’s kind of how things go. Sometimes my best is the 4780 words I wrote on Tuesday. Sometimes it’s trying not to feel guilty about taking a sick day.

So between that and my struggles with trying to get started on work in the morning (or like… any time), trying to fit yoga with my husband into our schedule, and having a regular school week to deal with, things were pretty normal around here. Score one for the baseline measurement!

And I got other stuff done. People got fed. No one was crushed under a pile of clutter or choked to death on litter box fumes. A kid had a friend over. I worked on a sample edit with a potential new editor and made last-minute plans to do a panel at Atlanti-Con. I helped with homework. I watched a movie. I waked my dog, and I found time to read. Stuff. Lots of stuff.

Judging by my notes from the past two weeks and my memory of how things worked last year, I’m calling this the baseline against which I’ll be measuring future results:

  • Work hours: 15
  • Words per writing hour average: 1200
  • Sleep: 8-8.5 hours per night
  • Energy: generally low, crash by 6:00 on weeknights

So what does wrapping the baseline weeks up mean?

It means that this week, I start the Godawful Early Schedule.

I’m more excited about it than that name implies. Yes, it’s going to be crazy hard to get up an hour earlier than I do now to fit in 90 minutes of work before I wake the kids up. I’m used to getting up early-ish, but I’m not exactly energetic or what you’d call mentally present in the morning. I may cry. I might not word good.

But if I can make it work?

If I can make it work, I could get a good chunk of my work for the day done before anyone has any reason to interrupt me. I could be alone with my work when I’ve just rolled out of dreams, before distractions have a chance to get to me. I could let ideas filter in the back of my mind while I get the kids up and out, and maybe have new ideas when I get back to writing. Or I could continue drafting in the morning and do edits later, using that natural schedule break to split my day and still finishing my work day by 12:30.

I could have afternoons free for napping so I won’t crash so hard at supper time, or to get a walk in to help me shift gears before home and family time. Maybe I’ll be able to enjoy my evenings instead of watching the clock to see if it’s bedtime yet.

That’d be cool.

We’ll see how it goes. My big plans might not pan out, but there’s always a chance.

(This Thursday’s post is going to take a look at the productivity tips and tricks that are already working for me, which will conclude this series of experiment intro posts. After that, I’ll post reviews of some productivity books, talk a bit about writing/being my own boss and productivity, and of course posting updates on the experiment. Let me know if you have questions/topics you’d like to see covered!

…Assuming I don’t fall down the stairs in a sleep-deprived stupor some early morning and find myself unable to post. It’s not unpossible.*)


 

*Unpossible is a perfectly cromulent word.


The Productivity Road Test

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So, what’s this great experiment going to look like, anyway?

My brain had more than a few ideas.

(Fun fact: I have a lot of trouble focusing on writing and business tasks, especially when I’m trying to get the ball rolling every day. But show me a bright, shiny idea for a new interest or project and it’s like a switch has flipped in my brain that turns me into a mega-focused idea generation machine. If only I could use my powers for good instead of procrastination…)

I wrote down a lot of those ideas, discarded a few, and wrangled a bunch of them into what I’m calling phase one of the experiment. The whole thing is ridiculously unscientific, of course. The fact that I’m tracking my time and focusing on productivity will no doubt offer a false boost to my focus and productivity. My sample size is moi. I can’t control other variables that might affect outcomes when I’m testing an idea because this is life, and life is messy.

But I can plan, I can implement, I can track, and dammit, I can take notes.

And I can make some rules to keep my rebellious mind in line (maybe):

  • Give ideas a fair shot, including time to adapt to changes and to account for health/hormone fluctuations. Unless something presents a clear danger to my health or well-being (or anyone else’s), stick it out.

  • I will not try illegal drugs, questionable supplements, crazy diets, etc.

  • Work productivity will ideally not interfere with home and family responsibilities or my ability to take time to (attempt to) relax. Short-term scheduling experiments may impact the hours I spend available to my family, but should not get in the way of commitments I’ve decided are a priority (like helping with homework/projects, taking time to walk the dog, cooking supper, packing lunches, spending time hanging out with my husband, listening to the kids talk about their interests*, etc.)

  • Control other variables when possible. I will do my best to take medications consistently, get the same amount of exercise each week, sleep the same number of hours, and not make any huge changes to my diet unless I’m actually testing those changes.

  • Be honest about the process, results, successes, failures, and obstacles that affect outcomes (even if they make me sound like a whiny baby or look like an ass… and I totally will).

  • Post results on the blog once per week. Add other posts when possible on related topics. Write posts on the weekend so procrastiblogging is not an option, and don’t count writing them as productive work time. They’re not, even if they feel like it. This is a hobby that will hopefully support my work. Got it, brain?

  • When possible, cite the sources of ideas and information used in the experiment.

So, how are we going to do this thing?

*cracks knuckles*

It’s going to be pretty low-tech for the most part. One of the “hacks” (ugh, I hate that everything is a hack now) that works for me is limiting the time I spend with my phone in my hand, as it inevitably leads to temptation and distraction from email or social media. I don’t use electronic calendars, time-tracking apps, or to do lists if I can avoid them.

I have a notebook, pens, and markers.

I have a Fitbit.

I have an app to block internet sites while I’m working, though I have honestly never used it and should therefore probably test it separately. So scratch that one.

I have Phone Jail, which is a box where my phone lives when I’m not actively using it or out of the house (and which keeps me from losing my phone, which I do a lot.)

I have my bullet journal, which is also a notebook. But it’s a different notebook, so it’s on the list.

And I’ve got books that are full of ideas.

Here’s how I’m putting them together.

  • I will be tracking how I actually use my time. As I write this, I’m on day one and am already hitting snags (my tendency to float from task to task if I’m not working at the computer means accuracy is difficult even if I track my time in 15-minute increments. And the fact that my Fitbit only lets me set 8 alarms a day means I have to rely on my phone–the one that’s supposed to be in jail–for the rest. Seriously, Fitbit. The heck.) This is where the markers come in. Tasks/activities are colour coded and broken down into categories like work, exercise, personal time, family/home focus, and sleep. I have no doubt I’ll need to mess around with these categories (and find a way to track focus vs. multitasking and minutes spent procrastinating) but it’s a starting point.**
  • I will also be tracking my energy levels every hour to see how changes might affect them.
  • I’ll be noting water, caffeine, food, and exercise in case I need to look back on them later.
  • I have a list of ideas to try out. I also have a list of “nope” ideas I’ve come across, because you just never know when a nope might become a “but what if…”
  • I’ll be noting my hours worked, word or page count (drafting vs editing) and business hours/accomplishments, mood, energy and focus I have left for post-work stuff, and other measures that will help me more judge what’s happening.

All of this is just to help me track the results of my experiments/changes, and it’s really important. I’m a terrible judge of both how I use my time and how long tasks take. My memory of how I’ve used my time is also awful, so I tend to feel unproductive at the end of the day even if I’ve crossed off a whole lot on my list. Stopping to think about it and make accurate notes every hour will force me to look at what I’m really accomplishing instead of what I feel like I’m accomplishing.

Not everything is objectively measurable. If I write 10K words in a day but end up burned out, headachey, and miserable (with my kids starving and the litter box overflowing), I can’t call that a win. That’s why I’m tracking the non-objective stuff, too.

The Plan

Weeks one and two will just be me working the same hours I attempted to work last school year, but with attention to how I’m really spending my time. How long does it take me to actually sit down and work after the clock starts running? What’s getting in the way? What hours are the most productive, assuming I’m focused? I’m not changing anything (except that increased awareness of how I’m spending my time), but seeing what I can do without making any major changes. This schedule frequently felt like it was working for me, so for now it will be the baseline I’ll test other options against to see whether they’re helping or hurting me.

Then I’m going to move on to the one major factor that will actually affect the number of hours I have available for work and personal (ie not home/family) time: My schedule. We’ll get into details on the hows and whys later, but the basic plan is to experiment for four weeks with what I’m calling the Godawful Early Schedule (waking up at 5:30 to get 90 minutes of work in before I need to get the kids up and out, working through the morning after they’re at school, and using afternoons for reading, exercise, and restoration so maybe I’ll actually be awake after supper). The second schedule I’d like to test is the split shift: Working during the day and then attempting to add a few scheduled hours here and there in the evening after everything else is taken care of or on weekends.

(Yes, this is where the blog comes in. It’ll be easier for me to stick to early mornings/justify later hours to myself and my family if it’s For Science But Not Really Science rather than just me kinda trying a thing.)

And then? Then I’ve got an ever-growing list of ideas to try once I’ve settled on a schedule that works for me. Some of them are weird. Some of them make me want to slap myself for even considering them. Some will require big commitments and further changes to my routine. Most are smaller. All will be challenging, but I hope some will be rewarding.

Let’s go.

(In the next few posts we’ll talk about what my current schedule and productivity look like, what I’m working on, and the productivity techniques that have worked for me. Yay, groundwork… ^_^)


*Minecraft. They talk about Minecraft. And other people playing Minecraft. Save me.

**I’m reviewing and posting this on day four, and this has already evolved a lot. We can look at that in another post once I’ve got all the kinks worked out.

 


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.

 

 

 


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.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-11-34-54-am

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.


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