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Plotting my day

ScheduleI’m most productive if I get my writing done before the rest of the day starts. Once it gets to nine or nine-thirty, I feel compelled to check and respond to email, comment on and promo my group blogs, and stop by Facebook and Twitter.

If I sleep until eight, eat breakfast, and deal with the dog, then by the time I sit down to write, the precious early hours are gone. I’m a night owl by nature, and while I get up to kiss my teens goodbye before they head to school, it’s hard to resist the call of the warm, cozy bed once they’re out the door.

But the lure of more sleep leaves me frustrated with myself by the end of the day. The word counts don’t stack up the way I want, and other “urgent” tasks get in the way. When I let my body rule my day, I work, but don’t produce what matters to me on a consistent basis.

I decided I needed a boss to keep me in line, and since I work for myself, I had to step up.

SampleDayPlan

A sample day plan

The answer—at least for me—was simple. I had to go back to the practices I’d used when I worked full time, back when I worshipped time management gurus like Brian Tracy and Franklin Covey. I had to determine my priorities and plot my next day in advance. I had to plan it out the night before so I’d have a reason to get up the next morning.

Once I could see in writing how my day needed to play out, I was motivated to get up to make it happen.

Rather than clutter up my digital calendar with things like “write”, “check email” and “work out”, I’m using a small white board. Easy to see from my chair and easy to modify if my schedule changes.

I’ve fallen into a schedule where I get up to see my kids off to school—or sometimes earlier—and then stay up. I make my oatmeal, feed and let out the dog, and then write for about 90 minutes. I don’t always produce as many words as I’d like, but I’m doing much better than before.

The key is putting in the time.

Once the writing is done, I don’t have to feel guilty about working on all the other stuff that I want/need to do, some of it writing-related, some of it not (I didn’t originally quit my full time job to write, after all). The number one goal is met, and if I write again that day, great. If not, no biggie.

Less stress and guilt, more productivity. That’s a win.

Oh, and here are some numbers to prove it.

Last week, getting up early (for me) to write before doing anything else on the computer, I kicked out 7528 words between Monday and Friday (I’ve been taking weekends off for family time). That’s an average of 1505 words per day. Near NaNoWriMo levels of words without the NaNo—or rather, mega—levels of stress.

Sure, it helps to have a manuscript idea that won’t let me go right now, but if I weren’t producing words, I’d be outlining or editing, and by 9:30 I know that even if I blow the rest of the day, the thing that matters most to me professionally is done.

And productivity is contagious. Now that I schedule my email/social media time, the guilt is gone, but I also have a reason not to get lost in the Internet for hours. I’m on a schedule, dammit. I’m a professional.

I’m putting my needs first. Following through on my promises to myself. It feels good, and that’s addictive. Like the runner’s high, it’ll keep me coming back for more.

I’m plotting to make this my most productive year yet.

What about you? How do you keep yourself on track?

Image credit: By Gentaur (Gentaur) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So not Wonder Woman

Okay, so I already missed my blog post on the second day of the year. Ugh, goals, right? I give myself one day off each week, but since I took most of the week off already, I didn’t intend to miss a post this soon. But, really, it was a good thing.

I was too busy writing!

The thing about goals and daily tasks is that they have to be prioritized. In my Daily Writing Plan for this year, the first three items (write 1000 wpd, complete daily tasks, blog) are tasks, and the remaining items are really reminders of what not to do unless the first three are finished.

I put the tasks in order of importance. Notice writing comes first. Huh. Weird. So even though I don’t always follow my own rule on this–like right now ;-)–the blog is supposed to be subordinate to writing. As are things like judging contest entries, working on class assignments, and reading email.

Goals and plans are important to me, but I also have to be able to cut myself some slack. As much as I always wanted to be Wonder Woman–she had the cool invisible jet and bullet-deflecting bracelets after all, and who wouldn’t want to look like Lynda Carter in a leotard?–I can’t do everything.

Understanding my limits is just as important as pushing their boundaries. If the goals weren’t a challenge, they wouldn’t be worth pursuing. Occasional failure is inevitable.

So, I’m cutting myself some slack, patting myself on the back for meeting yesterday’s writing goal, and jumping back on board with the daily plan.

The Daily Squirrel: Eden (a coworker’s viewpoint)

Every day, Eden wore her auburn hair in an up-do more appropriate for a formal occasion than a day at the office. As she passed doorways on the way to her office, she smiled at everyone, as if bestowing a gift on them with her very presence. And don’t get me started on her outfits. Tall and slim, she knew how good she looked, and every tailored silk suit was an opportunity to prove it.

She thought she was Katie Couric or something with her bare legs and slingback heels that screamed, “You know you want me,” to every man in the office. The rest of us faded into the background like so much wallpaper when Eden was around.

High Resolution

Happy 2010! I hope you all had a great holiday. My household is catching up on laundry and email as we recover from a great trip to visit family in Phoenix. And, like many of you, I’m thinking about goals.

Even though resolutions for the new year have become cliché, I find it helpful to evaluate past goals and set a new course for the year to follow. Goals help me see more clearly how productive I’ve been, as well as where I want to go.

In a November post, I listed a daily plan that I’m using to be more productive. It includes micro goals that get me through each day and help me take advantage of my most productive/creative hours for writing, while saving my “slump” hours for other tasks.

Based on the last two months, I’ve tweaked the daily plan to be more realistic, but still challenging.

2010 Daily Writing Plan

  1. Write 1000 net words/day, at least 6 days/week, and track in Scrivener
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (judging, query letters, synopsis, CP readings, etc.)
  3. Post blog entry including Daily Squirrel, at least 6 days/week
  4. Limit email to three times/day unless daily goals are met
  5. Work out before 7:30 am, or during afternoon/evening
  6. Limit FB and blog reading to 30 minutes/day, unless daily goals are met
  7. No fiction reading unless daily goals are met

Writing Goals for 2010

  • read one writing craft book/month
  • enter Floater and possibly Diego’s story in GH and Maggie’s
  • attend RWA National Conference (pitch Floater and series?)
  • complete and polish three single title MSs

1/31 – Finish rough draft of Floater (and come up with better title)
2/28 – Finish first major revision of Floater (using Maass & other books)
2/28 – enter Floater in Great Beginnings Contest (finish and apply Hooked)
3/01 – Start next book for DEA series (Diego’s story)
4/01-4/15 – Touch up Floater after CP feedback
5/31 – Finish rough draft of Diego’s story (before we move in early June)
6/XX – Move to ???, trip to Europe (try to write/revise/brainstorm at least 30 minutes, 6 dpw)
7/15 – query at least five agents with Floater
7/31 – create pleasant and creativity-inducing writing space in new home
7/31 – Finish major revisions on Diego’s story, get CP feedback
8/01 – start another book (TBD, part of series, or other idea)
9/01-9/15 – Touch up Diego’s story with CP feedback
10/31 – finish rough draft of 3rd book
11/30 – Finish major revisions on 3rd book

What are some of your goals for the new year?

The Daily Squirrel: interview

John forced himself to sit still even though he wanted to adjust his tie, wipe his brow, and fiddle with his gold pen. With a baby on the way, he needed this promotion more than ever. And, dammit, he was the right person for the job. At least his wife kept telling him so.

“What makes you think you’re the best candidate for plant manager?” Helen, his long-time boss and good friend, asked in a cool, professional tone. He knew she’d be impartial, but damn, couldn’t she at least smile to put him at ease?

“Well, I’ve decreased the operating costs and increased productivity in my area at least ten percent annually for the last five years. I also spearheaded the new product line roll out, which was on-time and under budget. And my department has the lowest turnover rate in the entire company. I’d like the opportunity to do the same for the entire plant.”

Amazingly, his voice sounded confident, even as his hands trembled in his lap, hidden from view by the conference table.

Helen glanced at the two men sitting to either side of her. “And we’d like to give it to you,” Helen said, finally giving him a smile. “You’ve got the job.”

The Daily Squirrel

squirrelYears ago, when I was in Toastmasters, we had a member, Ken, who was truly a remarkable speaker. Anytime we had an unfilled speaking slot, he would give an impromptu speech using a random topic from the audience. His most memorable speech was about gray squirrels. He gave a humorous, completely off-the-cuff, 7-minute speech about hunting squirrels as a kid. True? Who knows? Impressive? Absolutely.

In honor of Ken’s “squirrel speech”, I’ve started a (mostly) daily exercise that I call “The Daily Squirrel”. I think of a random topic (my squirrel), and then try to write a short scene around it. You can do this while brushing your teeth or waiting in line at the grocery store.

As an example, I chose a water bottle as my squirrel, and here’s what I came up with…

He reached for the water bottle tucked into the truck’s console, but it slipped from his grip as he lost the feeling in his fingers. The bottle fell to the floor with a thud, water pulsing out onto the dirty carpet. Every lost drop made him more desperate to quench the fire in his throat as his heart stopped beating and he gasped for his last breath.

Okay, morbid, but you get the idea… To force myself to practice, I’m planning to add a daily squirrel to the end of my (almost) daily blog posts.

Wanna try it? Share your own daily squirrel.

UPDATE 1/14/2010: The Squirrel has gone weekly as it became too time consuming. Look for it on Sundays. Click here to see all of the Sunday Squirrel installments.

My discipline needs a tune-up

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

According to success guru, Brian Tracy, it takes 21 days of repetition to form a good habit–although bad ones seem to require a much shorter period! So, how does one form a habit of excellence?

Discipline! I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert at something. But continued practice requires discipline. I think my discipline needs a tune-up.

Over the years, Brian Tracy’s books (try Eat That Frog!) and seminars (Try Psychology of Achievement or How to Master Your Time) have helped me increase my productivity with effective time management strategies, ideas for overcoming procrastination, and goal-setting techniques.

I applied these ideas regularly when I worked in the business world, but somehow when I started writing, I threw it all out the window. Other than a to-do list with deadlines, I haven’t been as disciplined or productive as I’d like.

Why? No clue.

So, after a less-than-productive day/week/month (although I did manage to pound out 1,000 words today), I’ve decided to make a daily plan/productivity strategy. It looks something like this…

  1. Write 1,500+ net words/day at least 5 days/week (I track this in a file in Scrivener)
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (e.g. write query letter or synopsis, submit contest entry, critique for partner, etc.)
  3. Only check email three times/day (mid-morning, lunch, before bed) unless daily goals are met
  4. Work out early, or wait until afternoon slump
  5. Limit Facebook and blog visits to once/day unless daily goals are met
  6. No reading for fun unless daily goals are met

I’m trying to pay attention to my best times of day to tackle different tasks. For example, I know I am better at writing before 10:30 in the morning, and again in the late afternoon/evening. Other things, like educational reading, working out, or running errands, are best handled during my less productive hours.

My daily plan is a work in progress–like my manuscript–but if I keep working on it, hopefully I can move closer to excellence.