Showing posts with label time management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label time management. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 30

When Life Strikes: Writing through the Unexpected

When Life Strikes: Writing through the Unexpected

Today I want to talk about what to do when life derails your plans.

Life derailed me yesterday! I planned to work on my book in the morning, visit my dentist in the early afternoon, write a blog post and publish it before dinner.

Well. At least I had a productive morning before everything fell apart. It turns out my dentist moved his office across town without telling me! Good to know.

SO. What to do? I made a slightly panicked phone call and a sympathetic receptionist pushed my appointment forward an hour. Great!

Not so much. It would have been great but it took me an HOUR AND A HALF to walk to the new location and then I had to wait for another hour!!

That’s a lot of lost writing time! I had to accept I wasn’t going to be able to write and publish my blog post. It was too complex, too long. I wouldn’t be able to complete it in time.

Which got me thinking about, first, how writers can try to plan for downtown in order to minimize the disruption and, second, how to minimize damage after something throws our meticulously arranged schedules into disarray.

3 Strategies to Help You Stay on Track When Your Schedule Is Thrown to the Dogs

Here’s how I try and plan for disaster.

1. Do not panic! Breathe. Remind yourself that life happens.

Some folks are optimists, others are pessimists. Optimists might he happier but pessimists are seldom surprised.

Still, life happens. Disruption occurs. It's okay. Really. You'll get through it. Realize that you'll look back on this in a few hours or a few days and be able to shrug it off.

It may seem corny or odd, but I highly recommend practicing some sort of relaxation technique such as meditation, a technique you can call on in times of high stress. It helps.

2. In the morning make a list.

2a. Write down the most important thing you want to accomplish today. 

If there’s something that absolutely MUST get done, then there’s no thinking involved, just write it down. I like to draw a little box beside the item so I can tick it off when I’ve accomplished it. There’s something fulfilling about seeing a ticked box, but that might just be me!

2b. Write down the second most important thing you want to accomplish today, then stop. 

Don’t write down anything else. Or, if you like (I find it can help ease anxiety) you can write down everything you’d like to get done today BUT make sure this list is distinct from your ‘must-do’ list.

The things you MUST do today are the first and second tasks you wrote down. That’s it. BUT if something unexpected comes up and destroys your carefully planned schedule, you already know the single most important thing you need to accomplish. Don’t worry about the second most important, let that go.

2c. Always work on the most important item first. 

I know that’s so obvious it seems silly to write it down, but still. It’s important. The first item on your list is the most important so make that your priority.

Sometimes I’ll complete tasks on my list quickly, in which case I make a new list. (But that rarely happens!)

A word of warning: Sometimes a task will be complex. In this case it’s important to break it down into smaller bits, each of which can be completed in a few hours. For instance, writing a book is a huge task that becomes doable when broken down into smaller bits.

3. Pad your schedule.

If you think a task will take you 30 minutes to accomplish, schedule 45. Even if you get through the task in 30 minutes there’s going to be other tasks that will take twice as long. Also—as I found out yesterday—one’s best laid plans are often completely derailed.

I should have given myself more of a margin for error. If I had I would have completed a rough draft of my post BEFORE I left for the dentist and would have suffered only a minor delay. So! Lesson learnt (hopefully).

The idea is that your day will have been successful and productive even if you only get that most important thing accomplished.

That’s it for today. I’d love to hear your strategies for avoiding and recovering from disaster!

Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending Dan Wells’ book, “I am not a serial killer.” His other books are terrific too, Wells is a wonderful writer and I love, love, LOVE the podcast he co-hosts with Mary Robinette Kowal and Brandon Sanderson: Writing Excuses.

From the blurb:
John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He's spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He's obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn't want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he's written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don't demand or expect the empathy he's unable to offer. Perhaps that's what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there's something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat---and to appreciate what that difference means.

Saturday, December 17

6 Ways to Squeeze More Hours Into Your Day

6 Ways to Squeeze More Hours Into Your Day

Lately I’ve been especially pressed for time. I want to publish the non-fiction book I blogged during NaNoWriMo and I’d like to do this by January 1st. I think that’s completely doable if I can find enough time to put in the hours needed.

Since I’m sure many of you are in the same boat—perhaps you want to turn your NaNoWriMo treasures into an awesome first draft—I thought I’d share some of the time management tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years.

1. Focus

What is the one thing you want to accomplish today? Not the three things or even the two things, but the one thing.

Ask yourself, what would, could, you do today that will get you closer to your goal? What is the one thing that, even if you didn’t get anything else done, you would have a sense of accomplishment if you completed it?

What I do is make a to-do list at the beginning of each day. Each task is something that can be done in less than 4 hours. Then I go through the list and make one item on that list a priority.

How does one choose the one task? I like to mark all my tasks as being either important (for accomplishing my goal) or urgent (there’s a ticking clock). Any task that is both important and urgent I star. If only one task is both important and urgent then I’ve got my one task! If there are more than one I decide between them. But, as with Highlander, (think Sean Connery) “There can be only one!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

I picked up this tip from The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

2. Be specific

If the one thing you want to accomplish today is to publish your next book then, if it’s written, edited, proofed, you’ve obtained cover art, and so on, great! That’s doable. However if your next book isn’t written yet then that’s a goal that can’t be accomplished in four hours or less! So it needs to be broken up into bits that can be accomplished in a reasonable about of time. (The amount of time that works for me is four hours or less, but you may well be different.)

Generally speaking, the more specific a detail is the clearer it is what is required to complete the task. When it’s obvious how to complete a task then, more often than not, it can be accomplished quickly.

Let me give you an example. Say that you want to write one short story a week. That’s your goal. Now let’s break down the task into manageable bits.

Task 01: Determine how many words your short story will be. 

Before I begin a writing project I like to know approximately how many words long I want it to be. To determine this ...

Task 02: Choose 5 short stories that are in the genre you want to write in and that you personally love.

Task 03: Determine the length of each of these five short stories.

I let the length of these stories guide me in deciding how long I want my short story to be.

Task 04: Divide the number of words you want to write by the number of words you can write in an hour to yield the number of hours it will take you to write your Zero Draft.

Task 05: Determine how many hours a day you can set aside for writing. Compare this number to the number of hours per day you’d have to write if you wanted to publish one short story a week and adjust the number of words in the short story until you have a fit. Now all that’s left to do is to mark off a block of time in your favorite scheduling program (I use the MacOS Calendar app).

That’s it! Don’t give up if you fall behind. Over time you’ll get a better feel for the number of words you can write per hour.

It’s the same process for anything. Say you want to sell your car. Break the task down. Where are you going to list it? Craigslist? Your local newspaper? How much should you charge? Look up how much similar cards are being sold for. And so on. By breaking the large task up into small manageable bits, each of which can realistically be done in a day, even tasks that seem impossible get done.

3. Be realistic.

Avoid setting unrealistic goals. If you don’t meet a goal then it becomes much easier to let the next one fly on by.

4. Don’t let failure stop you.

Someone one said, the only way you can fail is if you stop trying. Your first attempt might fail, as might your second, third, fourth, and so on, but as long as you don’t give up, as long as you keep trying, you haven’t failed. You’ve just learnt a lot about what doesn’t work!

Never give up trying to accomplish your goal. Instead change how you’re trying to accomplish it. Approach it from another path, another direction. Or perhaps make the goal more specific or perhaps more general.

The only way to ensure failure is to give up.

5. Don’t multitask.

Do one task at a time giving your full attention to that task. I like to set a timer. I’ll give myself 50 minutes to work on one task, take a 10 minute break, then go back to work. After two work periods like this I’ll take a 30 minute break. Rinse and repeat.

6. Know thyself

Start recording the amount of time it takes to complete each task. Before I did this I really didn’t know how long it would take me to do various things. This made scheduling must more difficult than it needed to be!

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I want to recommend one of my favorite books in the world, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss. From the blurb: “Like mistletoe, candy canes, and caroling, the Grinch is a mainstay of the holidays, and his story is the perfect gift for young and old.”

If you’d rather watch the movie—watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a Christmas tradition in my family for many years!—here’s the link: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the movie.

That’s it! I would love it if you shared your time saving tips and tricks. :-)

I’ll talk to you again on Monday. Until next time, good writing!

Monday, May 19

4 Time Management Tips For Writers

4 Time Management Tips For Writers
Have you ever sat down to write and gotten up hours later ... and accomplished nothing?

I have.

Where does the time go? Yes, spending time on social media can be a time sink but--for myself at least--I think most of the time the problem is as simple as not being focused.

1. Be prepared.

The first step to getting things done is to know what it is you want to do.

The day before yesterday I sat down and wrote close to 5,000 words in three hours. I know there are oodles of folks who could do more with less, but I was pretty happy!

The next day I got next to nothing done. 

Why? What was the difference? 

On my productive day I focused. I knew what I wanted to write. I had mapped out the structure. On my unproductive day I didn't take the time to prepare; to figure out in advance exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

Think of all the time you could save if you never again had to stop and puzzle: Now, what was it I had to do?

How I apply this:

I need to make a list of the writing related tasks that:

a. Must be done today.
b. I would like to get done today.
c. I need to do at some point.

If a task needs to get done by a particular date I write down that date. (I find Google Tasks is great for this!)

Writing Lists

I've already talked about general-things-I-need-to-get-done lists, but now I'd like to talk about writing-related lists. (See: Time Management Tips For Writers.)

Elizabeth Spann Craig gives examples of lists she uses in her article Tips for Writing in Short Blocks of Time:

“5 ways to describe my protagonist,” 
“7 ways to describe the main setting,” 
“5 potential subplots involving secondary characters,”  
“5 possible endings for this book,” 
“7 ways my protagonist can grow,” 
“5 things my protagonist fears more than anything,”  
“my protagonist’s biggest goals”…you get the idea. [The quotations are all from ESC's article, Tips]

2. Find the place and time that works best for you.

I think it's a great idea to keep a writing log. You can do this with a program or just go Old School and enter the data into a spreadsheet program like Excel--or even a textfile! 

When I did this I used the following categories:

- Place (home office, couch, coffee shop, park, and so on)
- Date
- Day of the week
- Time started writing
- Time finished writing
- Number of words written

After a few weeks you'll be able to see where and when are the best times and places for you to write.

3. Every sliver of time counts.

Here's the power of lists. 

Remember those lists we talked about in the first step, "Be prepared?" Let's say you're standing in line at the market; the fellow in front of you is trying to buy something the cashier never knew existed and a bevy of tall, gangly, teenagers are scouring the shelves trying to figure out what it is and how much it costs.

So--if you decide to remain in line--you've got 10 minutes or so of nothing much to do. This doesn't have to be dead time. Pull out a list!

Here's the list I would work on: Come up with names for five characters in your WIP.

When I begin a story--this is true for my zero draft--I don't want to halt the creative flow by trying to puzzle out names, so I use whatever comes to mind or call them by their role. But, eventually, all my characters have to end up with names, names that suit their personalities.

If I'm stuck in line at a checkout, I'll look around at the contents of the shopping carts around me. If I saw a jar of Bick's pickles (my favorite) I might be inspired to name one of my pseudo-people "Bickerson" or "Bickers" or "Bicksly," and so on.

Another way I come up with names while waiting in line is by picking up a magazine and looking at the credits section. Often a name written there will suggest an idea. If not, then I might start combining part of one name with a part of another. For example, if I saw the name, "Edward Robinson," and "Jeremy Hall" I might write down, "Robin Hall" which might suggest the name "Hallingsworth," and so on.

You get the idea. Do whatever works for you.

4. Reward yourself.

This is a step I think folks skip all too often. We let the cares of the day, the hour, the minute, carry us away and it is effortless to let oneself be swept up in them, and swept away.

But when you accomplish something significant--even if it's just that you did everything on your to-do-list for the day--celebrate!

For myself, sometimes this celebration is as humdrum as getting up from my chair, stretching, and taking a walk among the unfamiliar and somewhat shocking abundance of colorful plants in our newly established community gardens.

Or--a less healthy alternative--I'll get another coffee. (grin)

What do you do to keep your writing schedule on track?

Good writing!

Photo credit: "L1410411" by Savara under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, December 20

Time Management Tips For Writers

Keeping up with my writing during the holidays has been, in a word, maddening! Another word would be: impossible.

Sometimes I feel like giving in and wading into the sea of social media and losing myself in LOL Cats and miscellaneous weird, and weirdly entertaining, facts. (Did you know that Google bought eight companies working on robotic technology in the last eight months?)

But Elizabeth Spann Craig has saved me from that fate with her post, "Tips for Writing in Short Blocks of Time." 

I know I often say, "Folks, this post is a must read," but, honestly, if you've ever wondered how some writers can turn out three or four books a year while working in 20 or 30 minute sprints (and, believe me, I have!) Elizabeth's post is one you'll want to read.

I've given you a link to Elizabeth Craig's original article, but here are the points that resonated with me and that now hang above my desk:

Two Time Management Rules For Writers

Rule 1

"You have to actively look for these pockets of time or else they disappear while we check email on our cell phones."

Rule 2

"You have to be prepared for writing…with writing materials and your writing mindset."

How To Prepare

Elizabeth Craig doesn't leave us hanging, she gives practical--helpful!--advice about how to prepare for these writing jags:

Ways to prepare for any size block of writing time:

1. Prepare an outline

"Have an outline or a mini-outline (for that writing day only and what you want to accomplish with the upcoming scene [...])."

"Either have a full outline or at least know what you want to write for the day (a mini-outline) and a brief summary of where you left off the day before."

2. Create a list of writing tasks

"Maintain a to-do list of writing-related tasks to accomplish. Mine may have anything from 'brainstorm more character names/last names' to 'write descriptions of Lulu’s house' to 'research Destroying Angel mushrooms'.”

I have an errand to run in a few minutes time so I've just jotted down a few things I need to accomplish today because I just know I'm going to have at least 5 minutes in a long lineup. Why not be productive rather than bored? (Or, even worse, bored and grumpy because I haven't written. Bah humbug!)

3. Make your outline and your lists ACCESSIBLE

Lists and outlines are great but they won't do us much good if we can't access them when we can snatch a few minutes of time for ourselves. Like, for instance, while waiting in line at the supermarket.

Elizabeth Craig writes:

"Make sure your writing to-do list is available to you for the shortest periods of free time that you might encounter.  I like to upload mine to my online calendar so it’s on my phone if I need it. You could also upload it to SkyDrive or Google Drive. Or just copy that sheet of paper and keep copies in your car or laptop bag or purse."

I use Dropbox. These days everything I write, or need to remember, gets saved to Dropbox or iCloud. For the first time in ... forever! ... I'm not panicked at the loss of my journal or iPad or laptop. (Though, don't misunderstand, I'd miss them! But, unlike my work, they can be replaced.)

4. The magic of lists

If you only have five minutes to do something, have several lists on hand that need populating.

As an example, Elizabeth gives the headings of lists she might work on:

“5 ways to describe my protagonist,” 
“7 ways to describe the main setting,” 
“5 potential subplots involving secondary characters,”  
“5 possible endings for this book,” 
“7 ways my protagonist can grow,” 
“5 things my protagonist fears more than anything,”  
“my protagonist’s biggest goals”…you get the idea.

When I read this part of Elizabeth Spann's post a light went off. I've been re-(re-re-re-) reading Donald Maass' marvellous (I-can't-recommend-it-highly-enough) book: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, focusing on the questions he asks at the end of each chapter. 

I'm going to make a list of all Maass' questions relevant to my character and try to answer them in whatever odd moments I have during the day.

Stalled? Here's Elizabeth's tip:

"If you’re stalling and don’t want to write the next scene:  Skip the next scene and go on to the following one… the idea is to keep pushing through.  Or make a list of ways to approach the scene and pick the best one from the list in your short block of writing time."

Tomorrow I'm going to spend a few minutes getting organized so that I'll have something writing related to do when five, or ten, or fifteen minutes unexpectedly opens up.

What is your strategy to keep writing--to preserve your writing momentum--through the holidays?

Photo credit: "Spitfire" by Daniel Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution.

Sunday, July 8

Penelope Trunk Discusses Time Management

A few months ago a friend sent me the link to Penelope Trunk's blog and I've been reading it ever since. This is easy to do since Penelope only posts every few days. Her articles are long and rambling, but in the best of ways. They are the kind of posts/stories you don't read so much as fall into. She has the knack of making you feel as though she's speaking right to you and, though I don't agree with everything she says--wouldn't that be boring?--I at least find it interesting.

This morning I realized I hadn't checked her blog in a couple if weeks and was pleasantly surprised to find a few new articles. I love it when she writes something relevant to writers, or that is relevant to me, and since I'm a writer, I hope it'll interest others.

One of the Penelope's new articles was on time management (Time management tips that'll work for your life). It's excellent. I think I like it so much because it's filled with what I think of as common sense. For example, she writes:
Tim Ferriss, (who I have complained about in the past) also, provides the fastest, easiest way to lose weight. He’s a time management guru and he’s extended that to weight loss. You don’t have to spend time at the gym. Instead, you can do stuff like eat in extremely restricted ways and binge one day a week. But how do you do this with a family? What do you tell your kids when you’re eating like a crazy person?
- Time management tips that’ll work for your life
The text I just quoted was written about her first point which was: Experiment in ways that won't risk the sanity of the people around you. Too few people say things like that.

As I read this I thought of some of the nutty things writers do. Sure there's the quasi-normal things like staying up all night to meet a deadline and sitting in front of a computer monitor typing away non-stop on a little keyboard for hours each and every day--I mean, students do this all the time. But we do other things, things like trying to write a novel in a month--whether for NANOWRIMO or not (and I don't meant to bash Nano! I think it's terrific.) But many of the things we do routinely could be said to risk the sanity of those around us.

The rest of Penelope's article is good too, and I'd encourage you to read it for her time management advice, although she does say more about what not to do than how to make it all work, but I'm not sure anyone can do that. I did especially enjoy her post about what it's like to have a film crew come and stay for a few days and film a reality TV show (it's called How to choose a new career).

Well, I'm off to get some grist for my writing mill by visiting a local Farmer's Market. Isn't research great?

I hope the weather is gorgeous where you are and that you can get out to enjoy it. Cheers!

Related articles:
- The secret to making a living as a writer: work for free
- Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments
- Penelope Trunk's Blog

Wednesday, October 5

Eight time management tips for writers

I can always use more tips about how to manage my time! Most of them I already know, but I need reminding.

These tips come by way of Michael Haynes blog.
1. Have a goal. This may not seem like a time management tip at first, but it's an absolutely essential input to any time management planning you are doing for writing. Without having a goal, you don't know how much time you need to meet your goal. Another important input here is some idea of how quickly you compose. Be honest with yourself here. If you say "Oh, I can knock out 2000 words an hour" and that's wishful thinking, then your planning will be off. I would suggest starting with a goal that isn't a huge stretch for you. You can always choose to exceed your goal and/or increase your goal later on. If you set an overly-ambitious goal and don't meet it, you can end up feeling frustrated.

2. Have a way of tracking progress towards your goal. If you're doing a "word count per day" metric like I do, then the Seinfeld Chain which I previously discussed could be perfect for you. This gives you a way to track your progress which is easy and constantly visible. If you're more interested in tracking your overall progress towards a large goal (like completing a novel) then you can use a wordcount tracker. There's a very basic one which you can update by just changing one or two values (for words and target) in a link. The link/image reference

3. Make writing time a part of your schedule. This can be especially helpful if you've got a busy schedule of activities. If there are already a lot of things going on in your day/week, making a point to explicitly carve out some of your time for writing should improve matters. Once you've done that, make sure to commit to following through with using that time for writing. Naturally, every once and a while a true emergency will come up and you'll have to skip a planned writing session. But if you find yourself doing that on a regular basis then you're probably not getting value out of scheduling your writing time.
To read the rest of this excellent article, click here: Eight time management tips for writers