Today Should Count

I’m counting down towards something I’m not particularly looking forward to (and it’s not related to writing). For the last few days I’ve been saying, “x days”, not counting the current day.

I picture optimism and pessimism as a spectrum, let’s call it emotional outlook. For the sake of a good analogy it’s a vertical line. Buried in the dark depths, is pessimism. Towards the top of the line, way up in the lofty sun-drenched heights, sits optimism. At the very top of the line is idealism. Depending your own emotional outlook is where you place realism.

In my detailed bio: the early years I recount how I was originally optimistic, but became pessimistic. Then, my patient and persistent wife, encouraged and cajoled my temperament back toward the optimistic end of the scale.

(Sidebar: As I write that sentence I consider the writing guideline of not adding too many adjectives. I’ve said my wife is (1) patient and (2) persistent. Both adjectives are relevant to the subject matter and therefore appropriate. But to not mention her beauty is to almost to deceive through omission, dear reader).

My point is this: today should count (especially if it’s less than 75% done). Make the most of every opportunity. Start that diet immediately, ring that friend, cross off that item on your list (after doing it).

 

A Strategy for Productivity

Years ago I did some management studies. It was a massive amount of work (when coupled with actually working at the same time), but also very enjoyable. I appreciated the brain-expansion and exposure to new knowledge.

One of the articles I read was ‘Getting things done: The science behind stress-free productivity’ by Francis Heylighten and Clement Vidal. My guess is, almost everyone wishes they were more productive, so I thought I’d share some of the article insights.

“GTD” is a simple and practical method for knowledge workers to manage busy days and ensure maximum personal productivity.

GTD-Workflow-Diagram.PNG
Source: http://www.eproductivity.com/dx/GTD-Workflow-Diagram.pdf/$file/GTD-Workflow-Diagram.pdf

The flowchart defines how work should be processed. In summary, if it’s a 2 minute task it should be done immediately, otherwise it should be allocated time in the future, with prompt-actions created.

The article contains reasoning on how the brain works (and therefore why the system works).  For example, the long-term memory has good recognition but poor recall; the short-term memory holds 7 items in active memory, and the energy required to actively remember something in the short-term is high.

Here were the points in the article I highlighted:

  • As much as possible, offload your mind by storing information/thoughts in a trusted external memory (paper, computer), in a structured format that is easily retrievable.
  • Record this information in an “actionable” form (so it reminds you what needs to be done).  Hopefully to stop you leaving a vague message that becomes cryptic after 5 minutes.
  • Be efficient with your actions.  (i.e. if you’re in close proximity to a task, do them now). When you’re doing a task make sure that you’re in an environment, with the proper tools, to perform that task with maximum effectiveness. “strike while the iron is hot.”
  • Switching to different tasks (mentally and physically) costs time and energy, so minimize job transitions (avoid disruptions).
  • When an ‘opportunity’ arises, but cannot be taken (due to current priorities) file it away in a ‘someday/maybe’ file, so the opportunity is not entirely forgotten.
  • GTD manages from the bottom (concrete issues you have to deal with) rather than from the top (high-level goals and values). It points out that if you try planning downwards you will simply be overwhelmed by the number of possibilities you have to take into account.
  • Each time you have performed one of these tasks, mark it off and write the next action.  In this way all of your project(s) are moving forward.

None of these suggestions are ground-breaking, but if applied consistently I believe it would increase my productivity. As a writer, I have two immediate take-aways: clean my workspace up and avoid “broswing” on the Internet.

Right: blog post written (or read) *check*.

Move onto your next task, and good luck.

Who wrote this?

Oh… me. 🙂

I’ve been doing a lot of chopping and changing during my editing which I think is vastly improving the structure of the story.

Part of my pathology is that I love visualisation; so I wrote a little program to help you visualise the first 12 chapters of the story which I have edited so far. The original version is on the left and the revised version is on the right. Each row represents a chapter and each box a scene (regardless of scene word count).

And because you can never have enough visualisation, here is some more – this time colouring each scene by the point of view (each character having their own colour).

You can see that I have reduced the number of point-of-view changes. Next time I procrastinate I’ll do some more 🙂

A Short Break

Given that to deny it would be lying, I’ll admit that November and December haven’t been great months of productive writing.

Some of my preoccupation has been excusable – this time of year is heavy with obligations and events that cannot be hidden from. There is also some organization which I had no choice but to prioritise. Add to that some procrastination: a little computer gaming and a reading spurt – about five books in 2 months (which is very unusual for this year). Recently I’ve also started programming again. (Which is probably not a good thing for my writing, but I’m not yet willing to admit it to myself aloud. Consequently any errors in this post are because I didn’t read it aloud).

Looking at my schedule between now and early January it’s unlikely that I’ll find much writing time in there.  Not if I still want to be a good husband, brother, son, uncle and functioning employee…

So I’ve decided not to stress about it and just let the next few weeks happen. Any writing I do get done will then be a bonus and a cause for celebration, instead of a constant feeling of dread that it’s not happening.

I wonder why it is I can easily procrastinate away a day (with some guilt), but any attempt to take that same amount of time ‘off’ in a planned and proactive-way makes me feel even more guilty?

Writing-Life Balance

It has been my intention to write a long post about writing-life balance, but I have decided against that. Something as complex and variable as “life” can hardly be discussed in a single post. Instead, let me address the issue of priorities and efficiency.

How much of a Priority is Writing?

Writing is a priority for me, but it is not my highest priority.

As a Christian the expression and growth of my faith must take pole position. As a married man I must take proper care of my wife (which is a joy), by earning a wage and contributing to the home-work. Wanting healthy relationships, and personal sanity, also means giving time to family and friends not just spending my life putting words on a page.

Writing must be maintained as a priority however if it is to become more than a side-hobby or not be lost among other pursuits. To this end, I am trying to avoid the other recreational activities that I know will suck the hours out of my day.

I remember hearing a (highly successful) man I respect say,

Work-life balance isn’t about always having balance; but about having balance on-the-whole.

You might have periods when the writing fever takes you, hot and sweating into the cave of isolation. But that period will only last so long. You don’t have whole-of-life balance during that period, but when the fever lifts you regain balance by investing heavily in your other priorities.

In the same way, if your other responsibilities are being “taken care of” a short period of neglect is not disastrous. As a simplistic example: If I mow my lawns, a weekend or two of writing isn’t going to result in an overgrown yard. Be generous with your other priorities, and they in turn will be flexible when you need them to be.

As the good book says,

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Be diligent in both making hay while the sun shines and taking care of the other things when the sun doesn’t shine.

Writing Effectively

Time is precious so it’s important that you are efficient with what you have. If I want an effective day of writing I must follow the pattern I know works. It starts with:

  1. Getting up at a reasonable hour (0830 at the latest),
  2. Shaving,
  3. Showering,
  4. Eating a mid-sized breakfast, and finally
  5. Spending some time in personal devotions.

Reading that list, you might think I’m wasting a whole swag of time. If I’m not intending on going out on the day, why shower? Why shave? That’s time better spent writing, you might think but you’d be wrong. After 13 years of work my brain is hardwired that being dressed and shaved means “work time”. I find I can focus more when I have acquired the worker bee mindset.

I also know what not-to-do in the morning. I can’t watch TV, read the newspaper or browse through my “regular” blogs. If I watch TV my brain is dulled to a state where I just want to be spoon-fed entertainment all-day. If I start browsing, I find that time will evaporate and I’ll be wanting to go back for a “fix” or “update”. As a bit of a news junkie this can be a weakness for me – However, if I don’t know the day’s news I can’t be interested in it.

It also helps to know in advance what I am going to work on. If I can I will do some “recon” and decide what comes next at the end of my previous writing session, Doing so lets my brain think about that in the background and gives me clear goals for the day.

Make the most of the time you have. If I have only an hour there’s no point in trying to work on my novel. I can however proof-read it, work on a short story or blog post. I can puzzle away about plot problems / issues and try to solve them.

A day is wasted as a collection of wasted minutes. (me)

Make every minute count!