Tag Archives: time management

Focus is not a Four Letter Word

Hey everyone. Casey here.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. And while in my experience that seems to be true, it’s not always obvious that a behavior has moved over into the “insane” column.

ClockHere’s an example of what I mean. Between my family and my writing career, I manage several mailboxes (five to be exact, six if I count the day job). For the last four years, I’ve been deleting annoying and unwanted emails.

Every. Single. Day.

It had become such a habit that I didn’t realize I’d entered the insanity zone. I mean, did I think that by deleting them they would magically stop coming?

I dunno. Maybe.

Like everyone else in the universe, my time is limited and very valuable. So is yours. The world is filled with miniature, time sucking vampires like unwanted, unneeded, unread email.

Of course this got me thinking. What other subtle activities are robbing me of focus? And what can I do to get rid of them?

Do you have the same problem? I bet you do. Naturally, I have some tips:

1. De-clutter your inbox – i.e. stop receiving so many damn useless emails. Do you find yourself deleting the same kinds of emails over and over. Magazine subscriptions, sales at every store known to mankind: Macy’s, Land’s End, Kohl’s – you name it. Go to the bottom of the email and click unsubscribe then follow the directions. See? Easy Peasy.

One word of caution. Do not do this with spam. No, no, no. Actual spam (if it’s coming into your inbox) should be ruthlessly marked a such and sent to the spam oubliette where it deserves to rot.

2. Go to your social media sites and check your settings and eliminate all the needless notifications. Many social media sites send these because you fail to notice all those little check boxes when you first sign up. Or they change policy (looking at you, Facebook) and decide you need to know all kinds of useless stuff. Unless of course you like to know that your brother’s wife’s sister’s cousin has a strange alligator rash on her skin. Ewww.

3. Be in the moment. What does that mean, Master Yoda? It means don’t multitask. GASP. I know. Crazy, right? Believe it or not, it’s not really possible to write a book, talk on the phone, and make dinner all at the same time. Multitasking is a myth people! Focus on the task at hand. The end result will be better.

4. Disconnect. Yup. You heard me. If you want to get in your word count and you can’t stop visiting the world wide web – then turn off the wi-fi. Duh. Don’t worry. Your brother’s wife’s sister’s cousin’s strange rash will still be waiting for  you.

5. Unleash the hounds, Smithers! If your significant other or family can’t leave you alone when you need to work, then sorry, you have to let them know to please leave you alone. If escaping your house isn’t an option, might I suggest a pair of earplugs? They got me through years of younger son’s Call of Duty shouting matches with his friends.

That’s all I’ve got for today. If you have other tips, please share.

Remember to take time to enjoy the flowers.
Remember to take the time to enjoy the flowers.

Pin it, Baby!

Hey everyone! Casey here.
Okay, I’m a bit late to the Pinterest party. For the last few years, I’ve actively avoided joining anymore social media sites that would siphon away from my writing time.

It all started out innocently enough.  While I was updating the appearance of my blog, I re-checked some of WordPress’ settings and noticed a Pinterest option.  In order to take advantage of the option I needed an account.

It was easy enough to create one. Then I made the mistake of looking around.

And – whammo – I was hooked. Because now that I had an account, I should add some boards because what if someone found me and I had nothing there? I would look pretty lame.

And where else could I post my cool Oogles the Owl photo collection?

All pictures 001

Oh, and while I was doing that, I figured I might as well start trying out the little red Pinterest button found on many websites too. So off I went, messing around with my favorites sites to see who had the red button.

Hear that sucking noise?

That was my writing time going down the drain. But the end result – I created some pretty cool boards (see them here) and I’ve been enjoying my friends’ boards (who are years ahead of me).

Honestly, Pinterest reminds me of a giant, web-based scrapbook. The only thing missing is fancy borders, colored backgrounds, and 3-D doo-dads.

The big question I have, what is Pinterest for? How does everyone use it?

As a photo album? For inspiration? To drool over food porn (or hunky men)?

If you’re on Pinterest, please share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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?

Working At Home – Tips and Tricks

Happy Friday. Casey here.

Writers get asked a lot of interesting questions . One of the more popular ones is – IMG_3012“where do you find the time?” Often followed by comments like “I would write, if I had the time.”

Well, guess what? People do have the time, they just aren’t using it to write. Sugar covered this topic on Monday, so I am not going to elaborate on finding time. See her excellent post here.

Instead, I’m going to share my twenty years experience as a work at home employee of a large national company. These tips and tricks can apply to writers as well as anyone.

1. Get up in the morning, like you would on a work day for an outside employer and bathe. Yes. Get out of your pajamas and wash yourself.  Go to your designated work space and report for duty.

2. Remember to eat breakfast. Again, in case you haven’t heard this before: it’s the most important meal of the day.

3. Develop a mindset that this is a job. Create the same mental head space/attitude you would if an employer was paying you. Writers – if you are under contract – yes, you have an employer who is paying you. If you are aspiring to publication, best develop a solid work ethic now. It will serve you well when you land that contract.

4. Have a schedule. For example, I will write from the hours of 9:00 – 12:00. Or midnight to four am. Whatever fits. And during this time, I am working. No social media, no television, no phone calls, etc.

5. Tell yourself – I do NOT have all day to get it done. See # 3 & #4. You don’t have all day. I know it seems that way, but if you want to work at home (doing any job, not just writing) you have to be professional and get your work done during scheduled hours.

6. Dirt doesn’t matter. Leave the dishes, killer dust bunnies and monster laundry piles alone. Believe me, they aren’t going anywhere. You can deal with them later. Like you would if you went to a day job outside of your home.  If you are bothered by these things, sorry, but you have to get over it. Or find a place to work outside of the home.

7. Take a lunch break. See #2. Eating in important to the body and brain’s function.

8. Drink lots of water. Why? So you don’t sit in your chair until your muscles atrophy. Every time you take a bio break, drink some more liquid.

9. Exercise. Especially important if you are staring at  a blank screen or hating your job. Take 10 to 30 minutes and walk (or whatever exercise does it for you – lifting your arm to aim a remote doesn’t count).

10. If you aren’t writing a story, you should be plotting your next one. Use every minute allotted to writing time to advance yourself.

11. Fake it till you make it – if your day’s writing is crappy – who cares! It can all be fixed

Only the queen can hang around in her castle all day.
Only the queen can hang around in her castle all day.

later. That’s what editing is for.

12. Schedule down time. All work and no play, make a writer grumpy and not very good at their job. Granted, if you have a full-time job (like many of us do), then allow yourself a day of rest (or even a few hours). I did this recently – see here.

13. Have fun. Remember, you’re doing this because you wanted to be a writer!

Anyone else have any tips to share?

Writer Impossible

Happy Friday and welcome to the Scribes. Casey here!

Recently, my family has become infatuated with watching Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible. I know the show has been on for about four seasons now, but we had never seen it until I stumbled upon one afternoon. I was supposed to be plotting one of the three stories doing combat in my brain, but, hey – I didn’t feel like it!

Mystic Ink and Scar
MYSTIC INK at Mystic Pizza

After watching about a dozen episodes, several themes played out over and over again.  Such as:

Owners who micromanage to the point they do everything and don’t let their employees do their jobs.

Owners who let their staff walk all over them.

Owners who have no idea how much they are spending or what it costs to do business.

And, sadly, writers are often guilty of the same things. (Okay, micromanaging is mostly our job!).

Here’s what I’ve learned from Chef Robert Irvine:

1. Be honest. Denial does you no good. If you’re not up front about a problem, you can’t fix it. So if you aren’t writing like you want to, it’s time to assess your habits, document your day and determine how you can work more effectively.

2. Work smarter, not harder. I’ve encountered this philosophy in my corporate day job. I’ve witnessed first hand the belief that if you work 90 hours a week, that somehow you’re doing a good job. In my experience, that’s not true. Not if it means you end up burned out and unhappy. That is not a good long-term strategy. Working smarter means using your time effectively and delegating/outsourcing tasks when it make sense to do so.

3. Old dogs can learn new tricks. Bad writing can be fixed as long as you’re willing to learn new tricks. And you are willing to throw away the old and bring in the new.

4. Outsource. Robert doesn’t do everything by himself. He has a trusted builder and a designer (and I am sure a host of others you don’t see on camera) to help him out. Writers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help or hire professionals when warranted.

5. Backbone. Get one. As writers, it’s our job to manage our careers and be our ownWillow champion. It doesn’t matter if you have an agent or not. No one can look out for you better than you. Like it or not, we are all small business owners and we all have to be savvy, especially now, with restrictive, rights grabbing contracts and other pitfalls.

And finally, Chef Robert’s most important lesson – do the best you can, every day.

Well, what do you think? Any lessons learned to share with us?