Tag Archives: productivity

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.


SQIRREL!

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

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

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

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

That’s not nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*ahem*

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

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

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

 


CRUNCH TIME! :D

Yeah, I put a stupid happy face in the title. It seemed fitting.

The past month or so has been weird for me. I finished up post-alpha reader revisions on Into Elurien several weeks before it was scheduled to go to my editor, and she was kind enough to let me send it in so I’d stop picking at it, and in case she could get to it a bit early.

Sue may be a kindred spirit. She gets it.

Anyway, I had another project to work on after I sent that off. A big one. Probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done, in style if not scope or size. It’s a story I’ve been excited about since the idea popped into my head early one morning last year, and I’ve been itching to get to it.

And yet.

This is going to sound horribly unprofessional, especially if you’re familiar with the production styles of other writers, many of whom crank books out in a month, work on two or three books at a time in various states of production, and have no trouble jumping from story to story… but I really hate working on multiple projects.

I just don’t deal well with interruptions. I can’t start working in the morning if I know I’m likely to be interrupted in an hour by Jehovah’s Witnesses*.  I like hours to spread out, get my head into whatever I’m working on… time to procrastinate… I know, it’s a problem. I’m working on it!

My point is, I had a hard time getting momentum on the first draft of The Phoenix Game (working title) when I knew Into Elurien would be coming back before I got through the draft. I like to push through drafts in one go, so the knowledge that I’d be interrupted–even a few weeks down the road–was distracting and demotivating.

So as much as I adore this new book and all of its puzzling challenges, it was actually a relief when I opened my email yesterday to find Into Elurien back safe from edits. I mean, it’s bleeding, but it’s basically cosmetic issues. Big change from my full-length novels, which come back hacked to shreds, requiring a month or more of work to put them back together.

So that’s progress, and I’m excited to get IE done so I can then turn my full attention back to PG and really dig deep into it.

Today I get to return to my beloved Hazel, who’s going to be getting a little character work done to help her story flow well. I get to get reacquainted with Auphel, who’s stealing hearts wherever she goes. And I get to see Zinian again, who’s just… Yeah. It’s getting hard having my heart split between all of my book guys. He’s special. I want one.

What was I saying?

Right. PROGRESS! I’ve got beta readers lined up for the beginning of May. Pre-orders going up May 15. Release day June 15. Parties. Giveaways. Teasers.

And, of course, the cover reveal TOMORROW. AND sending out the newsletter, in which subscribers will meet Zinian for themselves. First excerpt. GAH. Excitement! Flailing!

You can probably tell I’m excited about this book. 😉

Into elurien promo square release month

 

*Yes, they come once a week. They know I’m not converting, but I AM learning a lot about prophecy and beliefs other than my own, which are Totally Useful Things in my line of work. And they’re really nice.


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