Category Archives: Time Management

The Procrastinator

Thea here, confessing I’m a world class procrastinator. I am distracted at the drop of a syllable, generally by bright and glittery things — like the tv screen.. I don’t know how I get things done.

I only know I have this interior war everyday about what NEEDS to be done, which is: do I write vs do I clean, and since writing is so much fun and I feel so guilty, I lean toward cleaning. But then, cleaning is such a chore and takes me away from writing … so I find reasons to avoid doing that.

Generally, when I’m on deadline, I can with good conscience clear the decks and drive everyone nuts in service of my finishing The Book. I recognize that this is NOt a healthy work habit. I’ve been analyzing my incessant complaints about how I never have time to do anything.

My Mom always used to ask, who’s stopping you?

There’s a rock hard question to stop you in your tracks. How do you explain to a not-writer? The dishes are piling up. The laundry needs to be done. I have to write. Mom would then say, so — load the dishwasher, do the laundry and write.

She just didn’t understand.

I need that time not to do dishes, laundry, writing. And I haven’t read a book in months. I watch too much tv. I’ve become an expert at manipulating my husband and son into the kitchen to make dinner. The day doesn’t have enough hours for me to avoid chores and writing.

Right now, I’m working on revisions for Beyond the Night, the long-awaited sequel to The Darkest Heart.. I promise you, I’m doing them in a timely manner. After I watch Kathie Lee and Hoda. After I procrastinate a couple of hours over this post … By noon. After lunch. Promise.

Anyone else a procrastinator? What’s your excuse?

Thea Devine is the author of over two dozen erotic historical and contemporary romances. Beyond the Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart will be a September 2014 eBook release from Pocket Star.

Funk-ytown

Hey, all. Suze here. Are you digging the new Scribes format? Personally, I love it!

th[1]So I’ve been in a bit of a funk for a couple of weeks now. I’ve got a very long to-do list, and a number of things on it are time critical (including an April 1 deadline to turn in book 2 to Berkley!). Yet I find myself procrastinating on even the simplest of tasks. Really, Suze? You can’t even pick up the phone and make an appointment for a desperately-needed haircut and color? (Okay, I promise to do that as soon as I finish this post)

Is it the weather? We’ve got a couple of feet of snow on the ground here in New England. I’ve never minded the snow or the cold (other than my heating bill), always thought it was beautiful. And since I’m fortunate enough to have a healthy husband and teenaged son, I haven’t had to shovel a single flake this year. But now that I’m working at home, some days I realize at dinnertime that I haven’t even left the house. Not good. Maybe I just need some sun. I vow to get some today, even if it’s not on the Aegean Beach where I’d like to be.

Anyway, my experience with funks is that there are two ways to get out of them. One, you can wait it out. If you’re not clinically depressed and you don’t have some chemical imbalance going on, they do go away eventually. (If you suspect your funk might have some physical origins, do see a health practitioner. Don’t mess around with this stuff, please)

Second, you can de-funk yourself. It’s gonna take some effort to get over the initial hump, but you can do it. Here are my methods for defunkification:

1. Get up a little earlier. If you find that you’re hitting the snooze button too many times, you’re going to be behind all day. I know it’s hard to leave a warm bed in the wintertime, but you can make it easier for yourself by keeping a warm robe and slippers near the bed to make transitioning easier. If you like your coffee first thing in the morning, like I do, set up the coffeepot the night before. If your machine has a timer, even better! It’ll be ready for you when you get to the kitchen, and the aroma may help you roll out of bed. Trust me on this one: you can accomplish a lot first thing in the morning in only an extra fifteen or twenty minutes.

2. Make sure basic housekeeping is under control. Now, everybody has to decide for herself what basic housekeeping is. For me, as long as the beds are made, the dishes are done, and the laundry is more or less caught up, I can live with some dust until I can squeeze in a few minutes with the Swiffer. Other people may have higher housekeeping standards. So determine what the absolute minimum is you need for your mental health, and make sure those things get done. In that extra fifteen or twenty minutes in the morning, you can easily throw in a load of laundry and empty the dishwasher. Most things take less time than you think they do.

3. Do you know what you’re making for lunch and dinner? I’ll assume you don’t need to plan out your breakfast since most people eat more or less the same foods (oatmeal, cold cereal, egg, smoothie). But especially if you work outside the house or have school-age kids, you need to think about lunch. And dinner. This is actually a step best performed the night before so you have less to do in the morning. Make a loose meal plan and try to stick to it. You don’t want to come home from work in a panic, staring at unidentifiable frozen lumps in the freezer and hoping for a turkey dinner with all the fixin’s to magically appear.

If you’re just getting started on your defunkification, it’s perfectly acceptable to plan to order a pizza or support your local grinder or Chinese take-out shop for dinner. You need some time to get things rolling and you may need to shop for groceries once your loose meal plan for the week is made.

4. Take a shower. Casey touched on this recently in her post on working from home. Shampoo, shave, moisturize, and put on some clean clothes (you know, the laundry you did?) and you’ll feel ready to take on the world.  Being IN a funk doesn’t mean you have to SMELL funky.

5. Make a list. Yeah, I’m an inveterate list-maker. I don’t always DO the stuff on my lists, though, and that’s where I start to get into trouble. I have both a paper list for daily stuff and virtual sticky notes on my computer screen for longer term stuff, like future writing projects, and things like investigating a new cable provider and shopping for a new stove.  But in that extra few minutes in the morning, or while you’re enjoying your first cup of coffee, take some time and look at your list. Determine which of those things is most important that you get done that day.

I recommend adding a couple of less critical tasks to your must-do list (such as making that hair appointment) and, if the tasks require only five or ten minutes, do them first. That’s right, NOT in order of priority or importance. Because the satisfaction of accomplishing even a five minute task (and making a hair appointment is more like a one minute task!) and crossing it off the list gives you confidence and momentum.  And those are the keys to breaking the funk-cycle.

6. Determine the little things that are driving you crazy and add them to your list in a different section. Example: my sock and scarf drawer is a huge, jumbled mess, resulting in my not being able to find the items I want. Or the plastic storage container cupboard is out of control, and avalanches every time the door is opened. See if you can take a few minutes a day to work on these small, nagging things (maybe while you’re waiting for your significant other to get out of the shower, or while dinner is in the oven). Fixing small problems like this is another great way to start feeling good about yourself and your capabilities.

7. Do something for somebody else. No, I don’t mean take on a bunch of extra responsibilities like volunteering to organize and run your town’s winter carnival–that’s the last thing you need right now! But reach out to a friend who’s in a bigger funk than you are. Bake some banana bread and take a loaf over to your elderly neighbor. Drop five bucks into the donation can the school kids are shaking outside the grocery store. Get outside of your own head and think about somebody else. Guaranteed to make you feel better!

8. Finally, eat healthy food (order yourself something healthy along with the take-out, above!) and get a bit of exercise. Seriously, nothing makes you feel better than putting nutritious food into your body and doing something as simple as taking a walk around the block (or around the mall, if the weather is bad). So veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats like those found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish, lean proteins, and lots of water. And a walk. Keep repeating to yourself that it’s not that hard. It’s not that hard. And eventually, it won’t be.

How about you? When you find yourself slipping into a funk, what are your methods for getting out?

 

monkey logo final

Using Time Blocks To Get Stuff Done by J Monkeys

Hiddey Ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  Since I have declared 2014 the year in which I shall get stuff done, I’m trying a new system to accomplish that.  As you may all be tired of reading by now, I’ve been working very hard these last few years to achieve Balance, with the capitol B.

Somehow, I’m a dabbler who is hard-wired to turn all energy to one thing at a time.  It doesn’t make any sense, I know.  But it boils down to me not accomplishing my goals when nothing is holding me back but myself.  So, the procrastination-fest that was 2013 has ended and a new era has dawned.  This definitely requires a new time management system.  I’m awesome at time management games like Diner Dash, Parking Dash, and Garden Dash – really any of the Dashes.  Surely I can find a time management system to apply to my life that will help me get stuff done.

Here’s what I’ve been doing the last two weeks and it seems to be working.  During the course of any given week I need to:

  • do things that people are actively willing to pay me to do (aka the day jobs),
  • write the things that will allow me to quit the day jobs,
  • eat healthy things and visit the gym a couple of times so that I can live long enough to enjoy quitting the day jobs,
  • and occasionally do some kind of housework so that Mr. Wonderful won’t arrive home from his much-longer-hours day job and wonder what it is I do all day. 

Basically it boils down to me being a full-time mom and housewife, part-time employee,  part-time writer, and part-time human with other stuff to do/interests.

I have derived my new time management system from my never ending love of Hugh Grant.  He was in a movie called About A Boy in which he lives off a trust fund and doesn’t work.  He breaks his day up into 30 minute units to stay busy.  Well, click here, I’ll let Hugh explain it. 

hugh grant about a boyThose short, 30-minute units don’t work for me.  I need something bigger.  I’ve broken my day into roughly two 3-hour blocks and three 1-hour mini blocks.  Once I get the twins on the school bus at 8:15, I have time to shower and eat a healthy breakfast, maybe check FB/email whilst chewing.  Then from 9:00 to noon, I have my first 3-hour block.  Ideally, this is used as writing time because I’m at my most productive and creative during that block.  But if day job #1 demands the morning block, then so be it.  I try to mix up what demand get’s this best block.

From noon to 1:00, I have lunch, plan dinner and do some kind of housework.  Move the laundry along, empty/fill/run the dishwasher, tidy something.  Then I have my second block, which depending on the day of the week is either 2 or 3 hours long.  I focus on the thing I didn’t do in the morning block – either day job #1 or writing. 

Then I’m off to day job #2, I pick the kids up between 5:30 and 6:00, and do the night routine.  Cook/eat dinner, put the kids to bed, read with my darling niece over the phone, and collapse in an exhausted heap. 

By 8:00 pm, I’m drained of all energy and creativity.  I know, you are all playing your tiny little finger violins at me now, aren’t you.  I have many writer friends who work 40 hours outside the home, have commutes to navigate, have kids, are much better housekeepers than I am and still manage to write faster/with more dedication than me.  But I have come to accept that I have no interest in trying to become Supermom anymore.  I’ve tried and failed.  I’m ready to try something else and succeed.

And as a dieting tip, putting myself to bed immediately after the kids go is a great way not to snack after dinner.  In fact, I think there is a book calling my name as I type.  But this new blocking system has worked pretty well the last two weeks.  I have been writing and I’m excited/energized about the project.  My employers are happy, and I even made it to the gym this week.  Sadly, I haven’t gotten my volunteer PTO commitments up to date, but there is always next week.

The best part is, I feel pretty balanced.  I touched on everything this week, with larger amounts of time dedicated to the things I think are the most important.  I’m looking forward to applying the blocks to next week.  I’m using a paper calendar and blocking time off every day so that I know that it’s available to do the stuff I need to do.

How do you manage your day?  Or does your day manage you?  Are you getting the most out of your time or do you need to change it up?

Tough Love

Hello, Scribes Readers, PJ Sharon here, and today I’m talking about tough love. This is the time of year that many of us are setting goals, working on business plans, re-evaluating our marketing strategies and generally attempting to lasso and tame this wild thing we call the “writer’s life”. Even with the best of intentions, most of the resolutions we make fall by the wayside and our ambitious goal setting can make us feel overwhelmed rather than hopeful for the new year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love goal setting, and my plate is as full of to-do’s as it ever has been, but instead of sharing my lofty aspirations with you all, I’d rather discuss how we go about sticking to our plan and meeting those goals. You’ve probably read a ton of blogs on goal setting, with such advice as making them manageable, measurable, and achievable. Great advice, for sure. But for today, I’d like to offer some coaching advice from an expert–no, not me.

Jillian Michaels (2013_06_02 01_59_31 UTC)My girl, Jillian Michaels, is one of the best motivators I’ve ever come across. I don’t often watch The Biggest Loser, but I know from personal experience that her training methods are effective. Through her 90 Day Body Revolution DVD set–which I bought last year around this time in hopes of shedding the weight I’d gained living the writer’s life–I was able to drop twenty-five pounds in about five months. Yes, I had to eat healthier and the workouts are brutal, but they’re only thirty minutes a day, five days a week…a small price to pay for a strong, healthy body, in my opinion. I figured I could do anything for thirty minutes a day and I knew the pay-off would be worth it. I reminded myself that I was worth it!

As a personal trainer myself, I quickly learned to appreciate Jillian’s tough love approach. Even when I want to swear at the TV, her passion and positive messages of encouragement continue to push me through every workout. Statements like, “Do your best,” “Just try one,” “Don’t you quit on me–don’t you quit on yourself,” “I know you can do this,” “Dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had,” and my favorite, “Focus on the why–why are you doing this?” She lists the common reasons why people want to be more fit, such as better health, longevity, skinny jeans, and sex with the light on, but the bottom line is that we all have a “why” when it comes to being driven toward a goal. If you focus on the “why”, you will tolerate any amount of torturous “how”.

Last week’s guest, Amy Denim, author of THE COFFEE BREAK BUSINESS PLAN for WRITERS, talked about creating a muse statement, a positive affirmation that sums up who you are and what you want for your writing career. (Here’s the link to the post if you missed it). I highly recommend that you start your new year by doing just that, and when you’re writing that statement, think about your “why”. Why do you write? What do you want to accomplish in your writing career? Why do you want it? How important is it to you? And what are you willing to do to get it?

Today’s Unlocked Secret: When you start to feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand or are questioning if the time and work you’re investing in your writing life is worth it, read your muse statement and remember your “why”. Then, dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had, and tackle that next goal.

What motivates you to keep going when the going gets tough?pen

Top 10 signs of Writer Burnout

It’s coming up on eight years that I’ve been writing toward publication (averaging 40 hours per week above and beyond my 30 hour per week day job). I recently moved my Massage Therapy business closer to home and have had to work at building a new clientele (since my day job is still supporting my writing life). I also just celebrated my two year Indie Publishing anniversary in September (sometimes logging as many as 80 hours per week between writing and marketing). I’m not ashamed to say that these past six months have been a struggle to keep all the balls in the air that are required to run two businesses, stay healthy and fit, and keep my generally happy disposition. PJ Sharon here, and today, I’m talking about BURN OUT. STRESS

Whether you’re already published (indie or otherwise), or you’re working toward publication, this writing life is not easy, is seldom glamorous, and let’s face it, is anything but a healthy lifestyle. We sit too much, work into the wee hours, turn more often to chocolate than celery sticks, and our to-do lists make Santa’s naughty and nice scroll look like a grocery list. It’s no wonder there is such a high incidence of burn out among writers. But how does one know when enough is enough? And what do we do about it?

Here are the TOP TEN signs you may be suffering from burn out (according to me):

1) You spend an entire weekend watching re-runs of The Walking Dead marathon for the third time and call it “research”.

2) You spend more time standing in a hot shower “thinking” about your story than writing it.

3) You would rather be in a dentists chair or at a gynecological exam than preparing for another blog hop.

4) The word “marketing” becomes synonymous with “kill me now”.

5) When you take a rare night off and go to dinner with your spouse, your to-do list spills onto your napkin and you start adding notes to the palm of your hand so you won’t forget to add to your list when you get home.

6) You swear at your computer in a disgusted rage as your inbox populates itself with the 400 e-mails that come through daily.

7) When the word “deadline” gives you that sinking sense of doom that immediately makes you want to procrastinate.

8)  You would rather clean the toilet, vacuum, or wash dishes than work on revisions, update your website, or plan your next marketing strategy.

9) You feel so overwhelmed that you want to quit your job, quit writing, and move to Costa Rica to sell pottery on the beach (or some other idyllic life that is not your own, because everyone seems happier and saner than you).

10) You’re exhausted when you go to bed, and equally as exhausted when you wake up, and you’re not sure if you care whether it’s a Monday or a Friday.

Please forgive me for making light of an all too common and serious condition. Chronic burn out can lead to physical, mental and emotional health problems and genuine signs of burn out should not be ignored.

So what’s a crazy writer supposed to do?

1) Find a good therapist. I’m serious. A good counselor can help you put things into perspective (when you’ve clearly lost it and are convinced the world will end if you miss a deadline), support you without judgment, and assist you in discovering coping strategies that your addled brain cannot come up with on its own. Sometimes, even medication can help. I tend to lean toward the natural approach, but if someone’s got a pill that can improve my patience with the new Windows 8.1 upgrade, I’d consider taking it.

2) Let go. Just let go! If you’re in the writing business for the long haul, pacing yourself is key. None of us can do it all and do it all well, all the time. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! So instead of beating yourself up or making yourself crazy, decide what is most important to you. Creative success, peace of mind, and happiness, or business success and constantly feeling like you’re losing yourself to the work? When all else fails, go back to what you loved in the first place. Write your stories and stop reaching for the brass ring. If it’s meant to come, it will come, but losing your mind trying to do it all is not the answer. I have to believe that if we simply keep writing quality fiction and putting it out there, something will eventually stick. (I’ve heard that it takes Indies 10 books on their cyber-shelf before they find steady growth in their readership.) Jeesh! I’m glad this is my retirement plan for fifteen years down the road. Baby steps, grasshoppers!

3) Take care of you first! I know we have a responsibility to our families, but if we are overwhelmed, tired, grumpy, and never present, we are no good to them! The answer…nurture yourself first. Get some rest, eat something healthy, drink plenty of water, and get some exercise and fresh air!

For example, I’ll be celebrating the upcoming solstice with a few of my women friends of the earthy-crunchy persuasion (yogis, massage therapists, and energy workers). My husband has agreed to play host, bless his heart. We’ll have a nice healthy pot-luck buffet followed by a bon fire–complete with drumming. Connecting to the earth is a powerful tool for healing–both for us and for the earth. If this seems a little too “pagan” for your liking, I highly recommend finding time to observe some holiday rituals that feed your soul and your spirit, parts of us that are often abandoned to our “online” lifestyle. Yes, I’ll be celebrating Christmas with friends and family, but it comes with it’s own kind of stresses as most of you can attest. Gathering with like-minded women to share our love of nature has such a different energy and I’m really excited for the opportunity to reconnect with my “heart-centered’ community.

The point is, find something to get excited about that has nothing to do with your writing life.
budda and squirrel

4) Prioritize and organize. I don’t know about you, but my desk space can quickly become overrun with paperwork, notes, notebooks, and bills. As all the clutter encroaches, I can feel my stress level rise. It’s worth it to take a half a day and just clear the debris. Get your space organized and start fresh on a new to-do list. Anything that has been put off from your previous lists must go at the top. I know this is a challenge because there are so many more pressing issues than re-designing and ordering new bookmarks. But trust me, those insignificant naggers will weigh you down. Clearing out the bottom of the to-do bin gives you a sense of completion. What you find there might also prove to be the tasks you can hire out or ask for help with from some creative type in your tribe.

5) Lastly, try to remember the joy of writing. very-excited-girl (2013_02_16 17_00_55 UTC)
You know that quitting isn’t the answer. The characters talking in your head that want their story told will never allow that. But if writing everyday is making you miserable…stop. If you love writing but hate marketing, don’t do it for a while. Give yourself a week or a month away from promoting your work or forcing yourself to write. Yes, sales may suffer, but try not to focus on that. The numbers will come back around when you publish that book you’re working on. Do what you can do, do it to the best of your ability, and keep breathing. Be a part of the life that is happening around you, and be gentle with yourself and others through the holidays.

Peace and blessings, friends.

PJ

How many of you are suffering or have suffered from burnout? What did you do to treat it? 

NaNoWriMo Me by J Monkeys

Hiddey Ho there Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  So I know there are both fans and pans of Nanowrimo out there.  If you aren’t familiar with Nano, click here for more detail.  Where do you fall?  I’m a fan.  I’ve learned a very important lesson over the last year.  I hate writing first drafts.  It’s my least favorite part of the writing process.  It turns out, I’ll do just about anything to avoid it.  And hey, guess what?  You aren’t a writer if you can’t write a first draft.  You know that beautifully sculpted final product?  It starts with the first draft. 

Nanowrimo is a tool that helps me staple my butt to the chair and get that torturous first draft written.  In fact, I could use two or three Nanowrimo’s a year.

So, since it’s November, I’m keeping the blog posts short and sweet.  If you are a writer, get writing.  If you are a Wrimo – quit goofing off and get back at that word count!

Time After Time

Since the unofficial theme of the last week or two here at the Scribes seems to be time management, here are my best tips. Casey and PJ both gave you some great advice too!

1. Get up early. Yeah, it’s fun to lounge around in bed, snuggling under the covers, perhaps reading a novel for a while, and playing the 5-more-minutes game (I’ll get up in 5 minutes!). But 5 more minutes often turns into 10, 20, 60 minutes of nonproductive time. Well, maybe not completely nonproductive. You may be producing copious amounts of guilt! Me, I’m up by 5:30 most every morning, though I sometimes sleep until 6:30 or 7:00 on the weekends.

But Suze, you say. I’m a night owl. Maybe you are. Maybe your Circadian rhythms run differently than most people’s. But I want you to be honest with yourself. Are you routinely staying up late working on your novel? (Acceptable, if that’s truly the only place you can fit writing into your waking hours) Or are you staying up until the wee hours playing Candy Crush and cyberstalking your old boyfriends? (Unacceptable) Seriously, folks. Get to bed at a decent hour, and get yourself up early. You’ll be surprised at how much you can actually get done in the morning before you get the kids off to school or get yourself off to work.

2.  Do the basic household stuff. Now, this is different for everyone. These are the routine tasks that need to get done so your day will run smoothly, and/or are the energy-sucking daily tasks that nag at you if they aren’t done. For me, these are:

  • Make the bed.
  • Make sure dishes are done and put away.
  • Put in a load of laundry.
  • Know what’s for dinner.

For me, all 4 of these items take no more than 15 minutes total. I don’t usually obsess about vacuuming, or dusting, or wiping down the kitchen cabinets (unless there’s something I really, really don’t want to do that day!). These are just the automatic things I do that help me feel in control. Think about what those are for yourself and make them a habit.

3.  Know what you have to do each day. A to-do list is invaluable here. I divide my list up into short projects (make an appointment for mammogram, for example) and longer-term things (investigate new internet provider; start holiday shopping; figure out how to finance a trip to Scotland). Don’t whine to me that you’re a creative type and a free spirit and you feel constricted by the confines of a list. Trust me, you need one more than anybody else!

PJ said she makes a to-do list and makes sure she does the 3 most important things before she moves on to anything else. But some days, even 3 tasks is too much and you feel like a failure at the end of the day for having not accomplished anything.

For me, I only require myself to do ONE thing every day. I look at my list the day or night before and choose the ONE thing that is most urgent that I get done, and I make it nonnegotiable with myself that I do it. Sometimes I play a little game and do some small tasks first–the easy ones, that take less than 5 minutes to accomplish, such as scheduling a hair appointment or putting the new Bridget Jones book on hold at the library. This allows me to feed my inner procrastinator, or gets me in the rhythm of getting stuff done, depending on how you want to look at it. But I do my best to get that ONE thing done before dinnertime. If I can check a few more things off, great! I’m ahead of the game for the next day.

So how do you prioritize these items? First off, as you are going about your day, keep a small notebook with you or figure out how to use the to-do list feature on your cell phone. If you’re anything like me, you will have flashes throughout the day of things you need to do–or want to do. As they come to you, write them down. Don’t worry about putting them in the “correct” order. The point is to memorialize them. Because if you can’t remember what you need/want to be doing, you can’t accomplish those things.

I move all the long-term or nonurgent stuff over to a separate list. Then I look at what’s left. My gut tells me which item to make my priority for the next day–there’s always something on that list that produces a little tug (or possibly a pang of guilt), and when I feel it, I know that’s the one. Often, once that task is accomplished, I feel motivated and energized to move on to the next item. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

But here’s the kicker: In addition to the one thing you NEED to do, you should also take a babystep toward something you WANT to do. This keeps you in balance and from feeling like a martyr (like all you do is work for somebody else, or that your wants are unimportant). There’s room for both NEED and WANT in your life–and both of those things need to be fed.

How about you? What are your non-negotiables? How do you balance your dreams (wants) with your needs and make sure both get addressed in your life?