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What’s on your To Do list?

I recently shared this with my Scrivener newsletter readers, and I thought you might find it useful too…

The last couple of months I’ve been pretty stressed out and frustrated, feeling like despite all the hours I was working, I wasn’t getting enough done. And then I took a step back and realized something that has really helped: I was getting A LOT done, but I’d made it invisible.

For example, while I was running the 30-Day Scrivener Journey, I initially might’ve had an item on my to do list that looked like “Create Lesson 4.” And then I’d get to the end of the day, having worked for hours on it and still not be done, and not be able to check that off my list, and feel like a failure.

So I broke down all the discrete steps required to have a finished Lesson 4 on the class website, and there were THIRTEEN! No wonder I was overwhelmed. Once I had all the parts of the process mapped out—I guess that’s kind of my thing, lol—not only could I see just how much work I was actually accomplishing, but I could also stop in the middle without losing track of what needed to come next.

An example of my 13-step checklist
My 13-step lesson checklist

Maybe it sounds silly and obvious, but I think a lot of us fall into this trap. I’d like to gently suggest if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed—whether in your writing or anywhere else in your life—that you take stock of the full effort required to finish something and give yourself more credit. It’s gratifying to be able to check off each step, and I think it’s motivating.

To apply this specifically to writing, you might think in chunks. Those could be blocks of time, word counts, chapters of a research book read, etc… It all counts. I track words written each day, but my daily goal is time based because I spend a lot of necessary time doing things for the book besides typing out words. Like research, rereading, revising, and brainstorming.

All are part of my process at some point, and the book won’t happen without them. I cannot just think about the story for three months, figure the whole thing out and then have it spill from my fingertips into a typewriter like Dick Francis. (But if I could, the three months of thinking would totally count toward writing!)

Anyway, all that to say that often we think “I just need to do this one thing,” but the idea that it’s only one thing is a lie. For your well being, consider breaking it down.

And if you have any of your own ideas/thoughts to share on this topic, leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018!

Looking back, 2017 had its ups and downs, but it was a pretty good year for me. I published Blindsided, and finished writing and revisions for Running Blind, created two new online courses for Scrivener 3, and gave my first international workshop in Canada.

I got into journaling for keeping track of my personal and professional goals, and to help reduce stress by thinking things through on paper. Another change came when I switched up my schedule to increase productivity. Both helped tremendously.

The new year should be busy and fun. In addition to Running Blind (out January 16th), I plan to release book 5 in the Men of Steele series toward the end of the year, as well as create additional Scrivener 3 courses and books, including those for the Windows version when it releases in 2018 (yay!).

My husband took a job in the Los Angeles area, so I'm starting off the year by moving into a new house (our stuff arrives Saturday!) in a new city (Redondo Beach), and looking forward to a slightly different lifestyle with more walks on the beach, more walking (and less driving in general), more exploration/travel, and less stuff.

How was your 2017? What's on your plate for 2018?

Thank you for being part of my online community. I hope the new year has fabulous things in store for you!

The art of finishing

To do

At the beginning of the year, I was writing Blindsided, the forthcoming third book in my Men of Steele series (look for it in February!), while simultaneously creating a new training platform and expanding my Scrivener course materials to include more screenshots, more detail, and videos.

I set deadlines for both, happily announcing them to my newsletter recipients, thinking this would force me to meet them.

But my deadlines were unrealistic given the scope of each project and the number of significant events/changes going on in my life. I made myself sick trying to stay on schedule for both projects. If I was writing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t working on the class. If I was creating course content, I wanted to be writing.

It doesn’t help that I’m my own boss for both. I don’t miss working for someone else, but there are some advantages to the typical day job, one being that your non-writing work hours have already been prescribed to you. (Others include a steady paycheck and face-to-face human contact…)

Setting my own hours is the hardest part. I either don’t work enough or I never stop.

So, I was struggling until I read a short article that had a huge impact (I’m sorry I don’t remember who wrote it). The gist was this: You will never finish anything—at least not in a timely manner—if you constantly divide your attention. Instead, list your projects in priority order and work on the first one until it’s done. Then move to the second. Repeat.

Despite the fact that I knew this approach was more effective—and applied the same “single-tasking” idea to my daily priorities—I had rebelled against it because I didn’t want to stop writing for two months to update my classes.

But the reality was that if I didn’t, the courses wouldn’t be done before we moved to California, which meant they probably wouldn’t get done until fall, if at all. And the book probably wouldn’t be done either.

So I quit writing (so painful!) and focused on my class platform and lessons. Then I got back to the book. Now I have a new site and a finished manuscript, despite the huge distraction in the middle of my year where I accomplished very little.

Moving forward, I’m trying to set my schedule such that I can still work on training and writing, but one always has precedence. The other gets attention when I need a break.

Right now, my manuscript is with an editor, so my main focus has shifted to creating a Scrivener for iOS course. Research, craft reading, and fleshing out the next book are secondary activities that I do when I need a break. My plan is to finish the course before it’s time to work on edits.

The single-focus concept is simple, but my daily process is a perpetual work in progress, and I have to fight the urge to work on everything at once to feel productive. Occasionally I have to stop and ask myself which is more valuable: Many unfinished projects in various stages of completion, or a single finished project?

The answer is easy.

So, do you struggle to tame your project list? I'd love to see your tips for tackling it.

Tracking Progress in Scrivener up at Writer Unboxed

progress bar with work in progress written by hand

Despite the craziness of landing in a new town and house hunting last week, I managed to get my latest post written for Writer Unboxed on time. (Yes, I probably should have written it long before the move so I wouldn't have to stress.)

What I failed to do was let you know about it! If you've ever wanted to know how to set manuscript and writing session goals and track your progress toward them in Scrivener, this post is for you.

I hope you had a fabulous weekend. Enjoy!

Piling it on: expectations and stress

woman with to-do list

In my first job as a programmer, my company’s sales team consistently promised clients super-short turnaround times that we couldn’t meet without working serious overtime, sometimes as much as 16-hour days.

Talk about stress.

Had they given us another day or two for each project, I might not have been so glad to quit when we moved.

Same project, different timeline. The projects themselves weren’t inherently stressful. It was the company’s unrealistic expectations that made them so.

Sadly, now that I work for myself, it turns out I’m not much better than that old sales team at setting realistic expectations. I’m not even talking about big things, like publishing deadlines.

I’m talking about my daily to-do list. In my head there’s this fictional world where I can “handle” my email in 20 minutes, compose and publish a blog in under an hour, and consistently produce 3000 words a day.

Hahahahahahaha.

That’s called Fantasy Land.

When I plan out my day (poorly) and don’t meet my goals, I get stressed. Over the long term, repeated stress takes time off your life, weakens your immune system (so you feel like crap AND lose more productive time), and turns you into an irritating house companion.

So, the problem doesn’t necessarily lie in having too many things to do (though I also need to learn to trim my list), but in not allotting myself enough time in which to accomplish them.

A to-do list with 18 items that I’ve taken care to schedule realistically—with buffer time for things like potty breaks, food, and general miscalculation—might keep me busy, but at the end of the day I’ll be feeling pretty good.

Yet, a list with three items can bring me low if improperly handled.

I’d love to say I’ve slain this beast, but I’d be lying. It’s something I have to re-address every few months or so because I get lazy and start winging it, and then start stressing…

Here’s my current approach to managing my towering to-do list:

1. I’m taking note of how long repeated tasks actually take, and using that to set a more achievable schedule.

2. I’m prioritizing my list so the most important things get done first (Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy has great suggestions). Even if I don’t get to everything, I’ll at least get to the items that matter most.

3. I’m going to bed earlier so I can get up earlier. I’m a night owl, but I’m more productive if I start my day early and get the key tasks—like writing—done before the day “starts” for real.

I actually set several alarms on my phone to remind me to get ready for/go to bed. The key is not to ignore them. 😉

4. I (usually) create a daily schedule. I’ve been hinting at this throughout, but when I know I have a busy day ahead, I’ll plan it out the night before, down to the quarter hour. If I have an appointment or event, I work backwards from it.

I schedule everything that happens prior to the appointment—with a bit of buffer for derailment—and then follow it with a list of other things to get done that day (sometimes schedules, sometimes not).

So it might look like this:

0600 Wake

0630 Run and cool down

0800 Walk dog

0815 Eat breakfast

0845 Shower

0945 Leave for Physical Therapy

Write

Call Jane

Blog post

I’m training for a half marathon, so on running days I go early while it’s still cool outside. (BTW, exercise is great stress relief!) Every other day of the week I start with writing, so it’s the first thing I accomplish, and work out later.

When everything is scheduled for its own time, I can relax and focus, instead of worrying about whether I should be doing something else.

And, yes. Some days I totally fail. If I don’t go to bed early enough, none of this works, so that’s HUGE for me right now. My biggest struggle. But having a plan (and a specific reason to get up) makes it easier.

I have high expectations for myself overall, which I think is important, but I’m learning to keep them real in my day-to-day plan.

How about you? What stresses you out, and how are you handling it (or not)?

Luck or passion?

follow your passion sign

 

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. ~ Seneca

When we follow our passion, we're much more likely to meet the luck that makes something really cool happen. ~ Gwen Hernandez, on the Behind the Prose podcast

In 2010, as a newbie writer looking for blog content, I started writing about my favorite software: Scrivener. (Did anyone doubt? 😉 )

It began with how-to posts mainly for my writer friends, who were the only people following me back then. Initially, I had no expectations other than picking up a few new blog followers and plumping up my website’s content.

But a lot more people than I expected were interested in what I had to say. (Awesome David at L&L promoting my posts helped immensely!)

In 2011, I started teaching online courses. By 2012 I had signed a contract to write Scrivener For Dummies. Soon thereafter, I was taking on private training clients and giving in-person workshops for writing groups and conferences. Not bad for a side interest spurred by my other passion: writing romantic suspense.

Getting the book deal was lucky—a crazy confluence of events that you can read about here—but I wouldn’t even have appeared on my publisher’s radar if I hadn’t continued to learn about Scrivener and grow my platform through new posts and online classes.

I would not have been positioned for that luck to strike.

The point of this post is not to point out my good fortune at finding work I love—though I’m pretty damn happy about it—but rather to illustrate an idea.

When you follow your passion, cool things happen.

That’s a recurring theme I’ve noticed in interviews with people who have changed their lives by listening to the little voice inside their head begging them to spread the joy of fitness, take up knitting, become a farmer, or whatever.

Most of them did not set out to start a business or change career paths. They sort of fell into it. Their enthusiasm for the work of their heart put them in the right place, with the right skill set or knowledge, to take advantage when an opportunity appeared.

All they had to do was step through the open door.

Do you spend time on at least one thing that you’re passionate about? If not, why not? What’s one step you could take today to start yourself on that journey?

Really, there’s no downside to doing what you love. Even if you never move beyond part-timer, hobbyist, or fanatic, you’ll be a happier person for following your heart. And what’s cooler than that?

Letting go

LettingGoBalloonSometimes, we have to let go of our expectations. Of life, of others, and of ourselves.

Okay, well, we don’t have to, but we’ll probably be really unhappy…

I got a good reminder of this last week when I had a couple of trusted writer friends read my upcoming book. While they had good things to say, they also made some valid points about things that need to be fixed.

What? Now? But, but…this book is supposed to come out on May 13th. I already had it edited, got the cover designed, had the proofreader scheduled, and…well, everything.

But what’s more important, speed or quality? For me, there’s no question. Quality trumps speed.

So I had to let go of my plan and adjust my expectations. The book needs more work, simple as that.

I’m incredibly thankful to my (honest) friends for bringing the story’s issues to my attention. (Funny how you sometimes can’t see these things until someone points them out to you, and then you think, “Duh.”) I’d rather have it be my friends/beta readers than my paying readers!

To those of you who were looking forward to reading Blind Justice in May, thank you, I love you, and I’m sorry. I hope when you finally read it, you’ll think it was worth a few more months’ wait. I sincerely believe the book will be much stronger.

And I’ve learned something about myself. I will continue to strive for better books at a faster pace, but I need to honor my process and be true to my characters and their stories. There are authors out there who can produce a book every two to three months. I applaud them!

At this point in time, I’m not one of them.

I’m trying to let go of unrealistic expectations—both in my personal and professional life—and focus on creating the best books I can. I know that little spot at the base of my neck that carries all of my tension will thank me. 😉

Has anything forced you to let go of your expectations? Please share!


 

Photo credit: By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Apprentice Eric Cutright (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons