COPING WITH DISTRACTIONS

Distractions are so distracting. Here are a few ideas to help you cope:

1) The first trick for dealing with them is to be sure you’re not causing your own distractions: You check your email, Twitter or Facebook account, or make a quick phone call when you had started out to work on a big project, like writing a novel. And then, every so often you do the checking again. This kills your focus, and it will take some time to get back into the “groove.”

You’re doing something you have as a top priority on your to-do list, but it’s boring. So, you distract yourself by, you guessed it, checking email, Facebook, or Twitter. Making a phone call. Playing just one game of solitaire.

2) You allow others to distract you because you don’t have firm rules and signals to let them know you are working and should not be disturbed until you come up for air. This goes for family members if you work at home, and for co-workers at the office. Close a door if you have one, or put up a do not disturb sign if you need to. Be sure to take regular breaks where you are accessible, especially for children.

3)Try checking in with yourself about your habits. Have you made enough things you need to do every day a habit? Think about the habit of brushing your teeth. You don’t even say to yourself, now I’m going to brush my teeth because you do it along with other small grooming habits, every day. You probably do it at the same time every day. You probably, way back when, did have to think about it every time for several weeks before it became a habit. Make as many things you do most or every day habits. This saves mental energy, so you will get more done before being tired.

3) Perfectionism can be a distraction. First of all, it’s practically impossible to get everything you do perfect. You must decide while working on a project: when does it become “good enough?” After that, aiming for perfection is a huge distraction. You’re better off starting on something new instead.

Bottom line: When you get ready to tackle the most important jobs each day, close the door, turn off your phone, shut down your internet connection, and forget about perfectionism. Make all that a habit, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish every day.

AUTOPILOT REVISITED

He’s back:

Remember my post about developing habits to help you get through your days quicker and easier? http://www.janchristensen.com/is-habit-destiny/

Well, here are a few more thoughts about fine-tuning your schedule.

1.     Have a routine for checking your notes, calendar and to-do lists every day.

2.     For major projects, don’t list on your to-do list more than three to five actions related to the ones you’re going to tackle that day.

3.     Prioritize your goals on your list, not just in your head.

4.     Take items off your lists that are no longer necessary or desired, even if you haven’t finished them. It’s surprising how many of us leave things on there that no longer interest us or that we haven’t a prayer of accomplishing. They just clutter lists up and can make you feel discouraged.

Realize that you cannot always, get everything done that’s on your to-do list every day. Hardly anyone ever does. This will eliminate a lot of stress.

And finally, effective time management uses the great in-and-out system;

Try not to take on a new task before an old one is finished.

This works on so many levels—Before bringing in a new food product, new clothing, new decorations, new project, new anything, get rid of something else. You whole life will be less cluttered.

And your time will be more easily managed.

WORD BY WORD

If you write 1,000 words a day it can equal a lot a year. Here’s how:

SIX DAYS A WEEK

If you write 1,000 words a day for six days a week for one year, you will have 313,000 words written by the end of the year.  Divide by four, and you will have four 78,250-word books in rough draft.

Your novel or nonfiction book may need to be a few thousand words more than that, but you can, no doubt, squeeze those words in before the end of the year.

Write a short story every month. = 12/year by writing 1,000/words or less one day a week.

Write an article every month. = 12/year when you have some extra time

At the end of one year you could have three novels, one non-fiction book, twelve short stories and twelve articles written.  This means that you have to do only two things:  Write 1,000 words a day, and edit 1,000 words a day, Monday through Friday, plus write and edit 1,000 words for your short story quota (could do 500 words in one story, and 500 in another, for example) every Saturday, and squeeze in that article when the mood strikes, but aim for one a month.

RADIATE

 FIVE DAYS A WEEK

If you write 1,000 words/day, five days a week, you will have 261,000 words at the end of one year.  Divide by four, and you have exactly enough for four 65,250-word books.  Make one or two a bit shorter, and you can squeeze in a two-week vacation.

If you get most everything you write published, each will help sell the others.  Someone may read your nonfiction book and find out you wrote a mystery, so will try that out, or vice versa.  Someone may read a couple of your short stories or articles, see your bio, and decide to try one or more of your books.

The trickiest part is to keep up the pace and to make sure that if you edit out a whole chuck of one of your pieces that you also write enough words in that day to make up the deleted words.

Make up a chart for tracking how much you actually accomplish every day in a spreadsheet, and you will be amazed at how much you have done in just half a year.

Excuse me while I work on my second 500 words for the day. (But no, although I wish I could meet this goal, I haven’t yet. But there’s still time.)

 

 

END OF THE WEEK OR BEGINNING?

Planning and preparation are essential for getting things done, especially those things you really want to do.

Time management experts seem to be in two camps about when to do what.

One camp says to start your week by:

1.    Cleaning off your desk
2.    Clearing out your emails
3.    Checking your calendar/planner to see what’s coming up
4.    Review what you did last week to be sure something urgent doesn’t need to be done first
5.    Write out your to-do list for the day
6.    Prepare what you need to accomplish the tasks on your list (gather equipment, files, phone numbers, for example)
7.    Sketch out to-dos for the whole week.
8.    Do something hard as soon as you can after all this other stuff is done. This is now called eating the frog. If you get the worst, most unpleasant or most important task done every morning, it will set you up to have a great day. Read more about eating the frog in Brian Tracy’s book:

(Click on image to go to Amazon.com for more info.)

The other camp says to do most the above at the end of your week.

It wouldn’t hurt to do it both times. Especially if:

1.    Things pile up on or in your workspace on your days off
2.    Emails gather like dust bunnies on your days off
3.    Your memory isn’t what it used to be, so you need to check your calendar/planner again.
4.    You can probably skip the review either at the end of the week or the beginning of the week.
5.    To-do list could be done either day—your pick
6.    Same with preparation
7.    When you arrive at the beginning of your week and have your to-do list all ready, you can begin quicker, fresher
8.    Don’t leave anything hard, if you can help it, for the end of the week

One note about email. I do suggest checking it both end of work week and again at the beginning. Anything urgent should be handled right away no matter what day it is. And if you don’t check the beginning of every day, some of the work you planned to do may no longer be necessary. Definitely something to keep on top of.

This may seem a little overwhelming to do twice a week, but once you get into the habit of doing each thing, it won’t take long, and you’ll be glad you did.

WAYS TO SAVE TIME

Spending time wisely is only one part of managing it. The other part is finding ways to save time, especially on things you don’t like doing as much as other things.

To do this, you have to make a conscious effort to think about everything you do during each day.

One of my favorite books growing up was “Cheaper By the Dozen” by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernest Gilbreth Carey about an efficiency expert and how he got things done in his household with a wife and a dozen kids. He timed their showers, he lined them up to do things, he taught them how to do everything faster with less motion.

That book lead me to a life-time interest in time management, efficiency, and personal organization.

We can learn how to increase efficiency in our own lives if we pay attention to what we’re doing. This can work for everything from brushing our teeth and setting the table, to painting a room and arranging the room for a better traffic flow. The more you dislike something that has to be done, the more you should work on how to get it done in the fastest way possible. 

This involves things like putting stuff you use all the time in convenient places, and putting stuff you use together in close proximity. In other words, the stapler goes in your home office, not in the bedroom. The utensils you use for cooking and baking go next to the stove, not in the pantry. I recommend that for one day you pay particular attention to all your actions and how you move around in your space. Where can you cut down on wasted time?

Routines are also helpful when you want to get things done quickly. Same time of day, same thought-out actions lead to a more productive life. As a bonus, they also lead to a more relaxed life. What could be better than that?

DOING THE HARDEST THING

Most of us have things that we just don’t like to do for one reason or another. Depending on what those things are, we can blow them off most of the time (is it absolutely necessary for you to write a holiday newsletter every year?) or we absolutely have to do them (sorry, the kitchen has to be cleaned on a regular basis).

And it may be that you can blow it off, but you’re really rather do whatever-it-is because it will move your most-favored goals forward. Your most-favored goals are those that you have at the top of your goal list. You have a goal list, right? And you have put it in order of priority. If not, stop a few minutes and do that, now.

What has been proven the best way to move your most-favored goals ahead? Do whatever-it-is first. At the start of your day. Your resistance is lower then, but your motivation is highest. This is when you have the most optimism for getting things done. And once you do this a few times, you’ll realize that it makes the rest of your day so much better. You can pat yourself on the back for getting that chore out of the way and over with.

This is a particularly important thing to do when it involves your most important goals in life. That’s why so many people who exercise regularly (even those who don’t particularly enjoy exercising) do it first thing in the morning. This is why so many creative people get up before the rest of their family to create their art. This is how the best businesspeople get the best results. And this is how many great housekeepers keep the house spotless—tackle that dirty oven or cluttered, needs-cleaning refrigerator first thing.

Try it for three weeks (the time it usually takes to form a new habit) and see if it works for you.

DO IT NOW OR PUT IT OFF?

Two great ideas which are easy to remember when joined together–

The first is about doing something you know you should do, need to do, or sort of want to do, but keep putting off. Tell yourself to do it now. Tell yourself  you will only spend 10 or 15 minutes (your choice) doing it. Then you’ll stop and do 10-15 minutes again tomorrow, if you’re not finished in that timeframe, and other tomorrows until it’s all done. This works for a lot of people, especially if you make your future self  do it at the same time every day. Often, people who try this go for more than the time they decided on, even finishing the whole project, or at least making a huge dent in it. And that can spur them on to finish it totally.

The second idea is about putting it off for later. Use this technique when you want to quit a bad habit, like eating too much, incessantly playing computer games, smoking, etc.

When the desire hits, tell yourself  you’ll do it later. If you keep putting it off until you fall asleep that night, do that for twenty-one days (the number of consecutive days researchers have found it usually takes to break a bad habit–can’t skip a day or you’ll have to start counting all over again), the habit will most likely disappear. Even if it isn’t totally gone, you may have cut way back on how often you do it.

Or here’s a thought. Combine the two. Put off the bad habit by going to work on that project for 10-15 minutes. Hopefully, the lure of the bad habit will have lessened enough by that time so you can go on to do more productive things, or just chill out knowing you’re beginning to beat two bad habits, the putting things off, and your particular unwanted behavior. Win-win!

If you try this, I’d love to know how it works for you. Comments are always welcome here!

PUT IT WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT

Something you need to do soon, or want done by the end of the week? Place an object in sight that will catch your eye and thus nag you frequently during the day.

  • I have a problem with magazines piling up, unread. Probably because I stash them away, out of sight. Now I plop one on the table next to where I sit to remind me to read through it when I have a few moments. After I’m done with it, I get another one out. I also tear out the ads and pages as I read them and throw them away because I tend to skip around instead of reading straight through. Each magazine gets smaller and smaller, I don’t have to remember what I read and haven’t read, and it helps me realize it won’t take that long to finish it. Husband reads from front to back, and he simply folds down the last page he read. Do what’s best for you.
  • Been putting off the dusting? Take whatever you dust with—rag, feather duster, micro cloth–and put it where your glance will catch it often. Get out the vacuum or dust mop if your dusting is up to date. I don’t recommend putting the toilet brush within sight, though. You’re just going to have to remember that chore on your own.
  • Need to send a sympathy/birthday/get well card, but you’ve been putting it off because you have to look up the address and put a stamp on the envelope? Put it right next to where you sit to relax.
  • Keep forgetting to empty the dishwasher? Open the door when it’s finished running, even if you don’t have time to empty it right then. The open door will remind you to put everything away.

You get the idea. What tricks can you think of to nag, er, help you remember to get something done that really, really needs doing?

FOUR RULES FOR GETTING YOUR SHORT STORIES PUBLISHED

After several years of writing, submitting, and watching other writers and wannabes, I have come to realize the importance of these four rules for getting published in the short form. Since I’ve had over 50 short stories published, I feel confident that these hints will work for you:

  1. Write every day, or at least five or six days a week. Set aside a time, and apply the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair, and write. Aim for 1,000 words each day.
  2. Finish a huge majority of the stories you start. I have seen so many writers start lots of projects and never finish any of them. Of course, these stories will never see publication.
  3. Read every day. When you are a beginner, it does, in my opinion, help to read how-to books about writing, creativity and motivation. It’s better to learn about  point of view, for example, from a book than from the editor who rejects your manuscript because your POV is inconsistent and confusing. Read in the genre you wish to write in. And read in genres you plan never to write in. It’s all good for you.
  4. Submit every week. If you submit one piece each week, that equals fifty-two submissions a year! Of course, at first you will have to work up to a significant number of stories to submit. If you write every day, you will soon have enough. Aim to write one short story a week or at least every two weeks, and within a year, you will see major improvement in your writing and hopefully, some acceptances. If you get a rejection, immediately send that story out again. It can count for the one that week.

I admit, I used a critique group to help me meet the goal of writing at least one short story every two weeks for a few years. Having other people waiting for something to read from you is a great motivator. If you can’t join a group, at least find a critique partner or two. Try it. And let me know if it works for you.

HABITS FOR STAYING ORGANIZED

I’m watching the Olympics, so I don’t have a lot of time to do housework. Here are some habits I’ve trained myself to use over the years. Because I do these most of the time, my space is neat and uncluttered. Try it for yourself.

  1. Put stuff away after use. Most things need to be behind closed doors or in drawers. Have a designated place for everything.
  2. Put everything away after a shopping trip. And if your space is really cluttered, throw away two or three items you no longer need while you’re putting things away.
  3. Handle paper as little as possible—take care of it (answer it, call someone about it, mark it on your calendar, etc.), file or toss it. Open mail next to a wastebasket. Don’t even open something you know is junk, just toss it.
  4. Deal with dirty clothes properly—put in hamper or basket, wash when you have a load. Put away as soon as dry.
  5. Don’t leave the kitchen with dishes in the sink or unwiped countertops, food left out, or any other kind of mess. Immediately after finishing a meal, deal with the cleanup.
  6. Don’t leave any room without picking up everything that needs picking up.

Once all of this becomes habitual, your space will look fantastic, ready for company, and you will have saved yourself a lot of time. Win-win!