Flexible life

I post a lot about time, productivity, and balance. I’ve even opined before that it’s really more a question of juggling than of balance. Why do I talk about it so much? Because, like most people, I have multiple facets of my life, and I want to have time for everything. (Well, almost everything. For the most part, I don’t care about having time for housework.) That means writing, working, and family. Oh, and crafts, cooking, volunteering, and exercise. And…

You see the problem. Continue reading

Looking at Lift

I’ve been using Lift this year to try to encourage the establishment of good habits. It’s more of a social networking approach to habits. You sign in to specific habits, and others who are trying to do the same habit (30-day plank challenge, for example, or Establish a writing habit) can see your activity and comment on it. You can also comment on your own activities (but not the lack thereof, as far as I can tell — you can’t say why you didn’t exercise on a given day until the next day that you do exercise). And if you link your Facebook or Twitter profiles, you can connect with people you’re already friends with to encourage each other.

The site works on the basic practices of accountability to others (your friends and followers) and of not breaking the chain. Fairly simple and tried-and-true methods. Because of the way it’s set up, though, every day has to be accounted for — if you’re doing an exercise program and it has rest days built into it, those days have to be set into the program from the beginning — which is fine if you’re doing something like working for 6 weeks to get ready for a 5k run, but seems rather less practical if you want something to remind you to run three days a week ad infinitum. For me, Lift seems best geared to things you want to do every day (drink a glass of water before dinner) or something that you’re only working on for a short time.

It excels at training for new habits — for things like developing a specific habit, where you’re working up to it, there’s often coaching involved that helps break down the task into steps and lets you look at the motivation and reason every step along the way. For example, the writing one I did (Develop a Writing Habit) starts with knowing why you want to write, then creating a goal, with various motivational posts along the way.

When you finish a habit’s run, whether it’s 30 days or 90 or whatever, it automatically repeats. Again, that can be useful if you’re just trying to remind yourself to keep doing something on a daily basis. For the writing, though, it felt kind of silly to get the same motivational talks each time.

Overall, I’d say if you like social feedback for getting things done, and if you want to create a specific habit or meet a goal in a specific length of time, Lift can be a good choice for you. I think I’m going to go inactive on it, however, as I’m not really finding it motivating.

Grateful for HabitRPG

I always have a lot to do. Sometimes, I even manage most of it. Long-time readers might even remember I did a series of posts on time management. The problem with schedules, for me, is that they only seem to work if I’m accountable to someone else — appointments, volunteer slots, anthology deadlines are all well and good. But something as simple as trying to create a set order of things to do each day? Not so much.

Enter HabitRPG. Continue reading

Same old, same old? Not so much

I’ve tried all the various routines, from writing in every spare moment to writing a specific number of words per day (mostly in the first couple of NaNoWriMos I participated in) to binge writing. I’ve written things straight through from beginning to end and gone back months or years later to pick up something that I set aside. Lately, I’ve been getting partway through the day on Friday and realizing I should write a flash to post.

I’ve written longhand in notebooks and on random index cards that are lying around. I have written in Word, in a plain text editor, and in Scrivener. I’ve written first thing in the morning when I sit down to the computer, and I have written late into the night (and on into the next morning) because I didn’t want to walk away from what I was doing.

I have also gone weeks without writing a word of fiction, instead spending time with my family, with books, with my crafts.

. . . so I don’t have a routine.

That’s okay. Although there are impassioned people who insist that if you don’t write every day, or if you don’t write first thing in the morning, or if you don’t outline first, or if you do outline, you’re not a real writer, I’ve never believed that. The bottom line is do I create stories that people want to read? As long as the answer is yes, I’m doing my job.

Even if it’s not routinely.

Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Writing routines”– April’s topic and theme in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour — an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to check out the next posts in the series, by Sandra Barret and D. M. Bonanno.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out their thoughts on first stories, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. You can find links to all of the posts on the tour by checking out the group site. Read and enjoy!

Deadlines and me

In my freelance work, deadlines are a fact of life. Every project comes with one, and I know exactly how much time I have to complete the work.

For that reason, I’ve always liked themed anthologies and contests: I know how much time I have to write the story and, generally, how long it should be. NaNoWriMo also comes with a very specific, built-in deadline, and I’ve participated every year since 2003. Blogging deadlines work for me, too — my Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour post on the second of every month, and the A to Z Blog Challenge.

Do you notice something that all of these have in common? They’re externally created. When I read Alex’s post yesterday (Deadlines? Deadlines? What are deadlines?), I agreed totally. Self-imposed deadlines are a pain in the neck, and there are no consequences to letting them slip.

What I’m finding useful this year, though, is combining self-imposed deadlines with external expectations. I’ve promised to have something new up for sale every month, and because I know people are waiting (even if it is just a handful of people right now), I make sure I get something done. Note the generic “something” here — that’s key. I’m not committing myself to any particular story or novel getting done and posted in a given month. Eventually, I’ll probably have to do that as I build an audience and they expect reliability. Right now, it’s just focus on getting things done and building that audience.

What do you find helpful to meet your goals, writing or otherwise?

Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Deadlines: Love’em or hate’em?”– May’s topic in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour — an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The next post in the tour will be on the 4th, by D. M. Bonanno. Be sure to check it out.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out their thoughts on crossing genre lines, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. You can find links to all of the posts on the tour by checking out the group site. Read and enjoy!

Procrastination fears me . . . or not

Procrastination and I are old friends. The other day, for example, I was contemplating pushing aside the novel I was working on editing to go bake chocolate chip cookies. I even went so far as to mention it on Facebook.

I did set aside the edits, but only to work on getting “Rise of Kencha” put together and uploaded for sale.

That is my secret to dealing with procrastination, a trick I learned when I was writing a round-up article for Vision on productivity: procrastinate by doing other tasks that need to be done. Another instance from last week: the day after finishing up a proofreading job, I didn’t want to write, so I spent the day working on covers for books and stories.

This tactic works well for people like me, who always have a number of things underway. Trouble concentrating on a book? Try research, a different book, writing a flash, drafting a blog post, reading up on the industry . . . And this is why I set the goals I did this year: not specific things or specific times, just do something.

Of course, it doesn’t work perfectly. There are dozens of Webcomics I read every day (some actual Webcomics, some print comics that just happen to be available on-line as well), blogs I read, Facebook, Twitter, Fitz (a rather addictive Match-3 game), Bejeweled Blitz (ditto), Google +, Wikipedia . . .

And then there are the many non-writing things I procrastinate: housework, taxes, bills, even replacing holey jeans. It’s just so much bother, and there’s always something else I can do instead. Hmm . . . see what link salad Jay Lake put up today, or scrub the bathroom? Check on the latest themed anthologies and their deadlines, or read the latest IRS news for small businesses? No contest.

I do eventually get everything done, or at least the important stuff. And I’ve decided that’s good enough. I’m meeting goals, meeting deadlines, making progress. I’m trying to get “should” out of my vocabulary (as in, “I should do this”), but as long as it’s there, procrastination will be part of my life. I’ll just try to be productive while I do it.

Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Conquering procrastination”– February’s topic in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour — an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The next post in the tour will be on the 4th, by D. M. Bonanno. Be sure to check it out.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out their thoughts on crossing genre lines, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. You can find links to all of the posts on the tour by checking out the group site. Read and enjoy!

Where did the time go?

I’m behind in listening to the I Should Be Writing podcast, but back in . . . episode 199, maybe? . . . Mur Lafferty suggested writing down all the things you do that take time. She wasn’t saying you have to actually write down how much time you spend on e-mail or playing computer games or reading with your kids, just that anything you spend significant time on (personal grooming excepted) should be on the list. The idea is that your top time priorities (family, work, whatever) are probably not going to change, but as you look at things lower down the list, that’s where you can find more time for writing (or drawing or quilting or crocheting or whatever your own interest happens to be).

It’s a scary exercise. Sure, obviously, I’m going to put down time on the computer — but to be completely honest with myself, I have to divide that up because some of that is work (copyediting, proofreading, indexing, marketing my freelance business), some of it is writing or writing-related (writing, research on markets, e-publishing my works, submissions, research for stories), some of it is social interaction (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, reading and commenting on blogs, on-line chats, Forward Motion), and some of it is just plain goofing off (and sometimes, research and social interaction belong here, along with any computer games, reading Webcomics, following random links, looking at the new free books available for Kindle or Nook apps, and so forth). I’m not really good at drawing the lines there, and to a certain extent, I need both the social interaction (my husband being the only adult I see on a regular basis) and the puttery aspect of not having my brain going full-blast all however many hours I’m awake.

At least I know where I need to work on things. Writing needs to take precedence to Facebook and Twitter. Puttering should only happen after I’ve worked or written for the day. The work/writing duo is something I’m not sure what to do with. I find it hard to work on my own words when I’ve been devoting my brain to somebody else’s for most of the day, but because the freelance work represents actual (rather than potential) money, it has to take precedence. Maybe, practically speaking, I can’t work and write on the same day. If true, that’s just one more reason to make sure writing happens before puttering. *sigh* Guess that means I won’t be checking out what Agatha’s up to first thing Monday morning.

This doesn’t even take into account the off-line things I do with my time, from running errands to weeding and planting to quilting to reading and so on. And a lot of days, it’s one of those or writing, not both. (There’s a reason my son complained the book I handed him earlier today was covered with dust. Housework generally isn’t high on the list.)

What about you? Where are you spending your time?

Burning up the candle

I’ve been really tired of late. Some of it’s good — I’ve had a lot of freelance work on my plate, which keeps me busy. Unfortunately, then I have less time and energy to do my writing, and when I start figuring the time for other things — exercise, family time, cooking, life — well, there’s even less time and energy. So I cut corners. Skipped the exercise because heading out for over half an hour to run, then coming back and stretching out, showering, cooling down, well, all that takes time. Chunks of it.

Today, I read a post Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote back in 2009 as part of her Freelancer’s Survival Guide, Burnout. In it, she lists several symptoms of burnout — exhaustion, irritability, inefficiency, and more. Hmm. Yes, that’s ringing bells.

Okay, to be fair, I figured I was on the edge of burnout. That’s why I took the weekend essentially off, just doing things I enjoy and don’t stress over (mostly — getting kids to bed has to get done, and there often seems to be stress involved). It’s also why I read her post today; I hoped she had some good advice.

Her advice? Sleep, eat right, exercise. And then worry about whether you’re taking on too much. I’m trying to get more sleep; it’s not always easy with a family, but I’m trying. I do need to get back to the exercise that I’ve been slacking on, though. I mostly eat right — except for the chocolate chip cookies I baked this weekend and ate copious amounts of.

One of the stressors I’ve had is feeling like I have to live up to others’ expectations for my writing career. Whether it’s things I disagree with (like writing taking precedence over everything else in my life, including attending my son’s first band concert) or more insidious things like being a writer meaning I should be writing every day, for more hours than I put in, so I get things done faster. And even if I do want to get things done (and some I need to get done, like the book I’m writing for Moongypsy Press), adding that expectation on top of everything else has made it worse.

I’m still trying to write, but I’m trying to not be down on myself about expectations. I want to write because I want to write, because I have these characters in my head whose stories I want to tell, not because it’s one more thing on my to-do list.

I’ll probably be much more upbeat after even a week of better sleep and a couple times of exercise, but this is a good wake-up call that I need to take care of myself, and that includes managing my expectations.

What about you? Have you been pushing yourself too much recently? Or some time in the past? What helps you get back on track?

U is for unfinished work

The down side of starting new ideas is that I’m not always done with old ones. It’s not just writing, either. Yes, I have what would be piles of uncompleted stories (short stories, novels, whatever) if they were printed out. I’ve also got most of a quilt top that I need to finish putting together. A sweater I was making for when the girl was 1-year-old (and now if I finish, I need to figure out what to do with!). Organizational efforts with papers that still need to be gone through (although I made a good start earlier this month) and shredded, recycled, or filed as necessary. The garden, which will always be a work in progress. And more.

The problem with all these things is that every time I see them and notice them undone, it takes a bit of an emotional toll. “I should do that.” “I don’t have time right now.” “I need to make time.” “Later.” Which means not getting the work done can be mentally exhausting.

People who work monomaniacally don’t have to deal with this as often. They pick one or two projects, pursue to completion, and then go on to the next. It’s great if that’s the way your brain works.

Me, I think my work habits go back to the whole “breadth, not depth” thing. Deep focus just isn’t the way I’m wired. I’m a bee that goes from flower to flower to flower . . . (Extra points for catching the reference!) And it mostly works for me. I do get things done and submitted and even published. I keep my attention fresh and engaged by always having something that fits my mood and attention.

Still, I’m not enchanted by the emotional toll of realizing how very much still needs to be done. I hope to get the quilt top done in May. Ditto the papers. The stories? Well, I’m working on them. I know there will always be some unfinished (at least partly because there are always new starts), but I’m trying to cut down on the backlog over the next year or two. There’s a marathon this coming weekend on Forward Motion that may help with the short stories. That should help.

When it comes right down to it, though, I know that it will never be all done. I’m okay with that. I have to be. A priest once said, “We all die with things on our to-do lists.” The alternative is to stop living before I die. I’m not willing to do that.