Saturday, August 29, 2015

Procrastination—An Evil Lurking

To make any headway in writing, you have to get started, and often starting is the toughest part of the job. For many writers, perhaps you, procrastination is a force to be reckoned with. It can slow down or stall even the most creative of writers. Procrastination can be a deep psychological situation involving fear of failure or success, or a natural result of overload. Sometimes you simply don't know where to start.

In order to fight this monster, you must first know what it is. Procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority tasks with those of lower priority, especially if the lower priority ones provide enjoyment. Writing can be stressful at times—let’s face it, lots of times. Deadlines can loom overhead like giant alien spaceships. Generally, those lower priority tasks are things that you can do later or perhaps not at all.

Just because you procrastinate doesn’t mean that you don’t have the motivation or willpower to complete a writing project. Perhaps the project is too big or maybe your skills aren’t developed enough to handle it. While you may be motivated to write a particular book, for example, you may not have the resources or knowledge to do so. This leads to putting it off as long as possible. Simply trying harder won’t do it. You must understand what triggered you to procrastinate in the first place.

One of the most common triggers for writers is the fear of rejection. Every writer, from novice to experienced professional harbors this fear at some time or another. Too prevent the fear of rejection from overwhelming you, the best thing to do is have several projects going at once. If one fails, you’ve got the others as backup. And who knows, the rejection of one you had hopes for may cause you to put more effort into another which may go on to be a bestseller. Let’s face it. Not all writing projects are meant to be successful.

When battling procrastination, consider whether you tend to do better when working with other people or relying on yourself. Then choose your technique.

There are four ways that you can call on other people to help you do what you ought to be doing.

First, tell someone what you're going to do and by when. Accountability is built into an office work environment when you work for someone else, but when you work for yourself, you don’t have anyone to remind you to get to work. Tell your spouse or your best friend what you’re planning to do and by when. Ask either to check on your progress.

Second, if you procrastinate because you don't like or know your task very well, simply swap jobs with someone. Perhaps you can ask a friend to do some research for you or maybe some accounting while you get on with your writing. If each person does what he or she does best, you’ll both win.

Third, collaborate with someone on a project. Working with someone else can help get the job started and done faster because you now have a shared commitment and two minds and pairs of hands. Writers often collaborate on a book with an expert or another writer, especially if it’s a particularly difficult subject.

As the sole owner of your writing business, you can do only so much. There are only so many hours in the day. Why not ask for help? Delegate tasks to a student intern seeking experience or pay someone to do clerical work for you like filing.

Other things that may cause you to procrastinate are distractions. Is your office cluttered with papers that need to be filed? Does your house need cleaning? Does your garden call out to you to be tended? All of these can keep you away from your work. To make sure you don’t spend all your time on them, schedule each for specific times during the week. By doing a little each day of any of your chores, you’ll not only get them done but get your writing done, too.

If you need or prefer to lean on yourself to beat procrastination, there are plenty of ways to do that.

You can jump right in. Kids do that when they’re swimming at a pool. Most just jump in. The faster you get to work, the faster you’ll get finished.

You can also take it one step at a time. Any project can be achieved the same way, one step at a time so take a small step and beat procrastination.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Go With the Flow

Now that you hopefully are on your way to a better organized work space, you need to take a moment to analyze how you spend your time in your writing space—and better yet how writing fits into your daily routine.

Whether you're driving your car to go pick up the kids from school or shooting a few hoops on an afternoon break, churning out an article or researching a book, the ability to get in the groove so that you're working with time instead of against it is the key to increasing your productivity. Psychologists call this transcendent marriage between time and the mind flow, and when you get flow. you're good to go.

But first you have to find your flow taking control of your time and eliminating the interruptions and time wasters that waste so much of it during your day. Be prepared for good news and bad. The bad news is that unless you're practicing good time management or are a very organized person—most people aren’t—you probably waste a lot of time. The good news is that once you find that time, you can reclaim it. The extra minutes and hours are a gift, something you shouldn’t squander.

Keep track of everything you do in an average work day. Jot down each activity. Then take a red pen and circle anything that was, in light of your values and goals. a waste of time, even a phone call to a friend. How can you get these time wasters out of your day? Or at least take better control of them. For instance, you could talk to your friend after dinner.

Most people spend their time on things according to their priorities. How about you? Does anything stand out? Too much time texting on your smartphone? Too little time for yourself or with your family or friends or on your current writing project?

And don’t forget procrastination (We’ll take a look at that next week.) How much time did you spend procrastinating? How many interruptions did you have? What kind? Who were they with? Are there things you shouldn't have been doing because the activities could have been delegated or you simply should have simply said, "No"?

If you spend much of your time complaining about not having enough time to get things done, then perhaps you’re not doing those last two things—delegating and just saying no. By the way, that phrase just doesn’t have to do with drugs.

Look to see if you can bundle certain activities together? With the high price of gas, many people are grouping their errands by location so as not to be running all over the place. Try consolidating some tasks. Is it possible to get all your paperwork out of the way at once? Can you set aside a morning to take care of marketing calls and Emails?

And speaking of Email, how many times a day do you check it? For the average person, looking over and replying to their mail can take up to an hour each time. If you check your mail four times a day, that’s four hours you’re spending reading and corresponding. And if you’re constantly checking messages on your smartphone, who knows how much time you spend on your mail.

To find out how you actually spend your time, you’ll need to keep a Time Log—a record of all the time you spend on every little thing, from the moment you rise in the morning until you put your head down on the pillow at night. A Time Log is a powerful tool for discovering how you allocate the minutes and hours of your life. Sounds tedious, but once you do it, you’ll be able to take better control of your time.

To start your Time Log, take a sheet of ruled paper. In the left-hand margin, note the time you change activities, and on the line to the right list exactly what you're doing: getting ready for work or bed, projects or paperwork, making calls, talking to visitors, attending meetings, reading mail, making or eating meals, walking the dog, watching TV, and so on. Also note who else may have been involved so you can later determine how relevant each activity was to your goals and who tends to take up your time the most.

If your more computer savvy, you can create a spreadsheet, making each row on the sheet represent a 15-minute time block. Many people find this easier because the blocks remind them to log what they were doing. Accounting for time accurately on the computer spreadsheet can be harder, however, because not all activities neatly fall into 15-minute blocks. Whether you log an entire week including a weekend is up to you.

And, yes, keeping a Time Log, even for a couple weeks is a hassle, but it’s a hassle worth considering.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Reclaiming Your Desk

As a writer, the center of your world is your desk. For some, perhaps you, that center is often hidden by a mountain of stuff—yes, stuff. Papers to file, mail to open and read, notes, books, pens, rulers, and a myriad of “personal” items that have moved in and homesteaded on your valuable desk property.

Can you see the surface of your desk? Or are you totally overwhelmed and need a miniature snow plow to clear it? Chances are that sometimes, perhaps most of the time, this is true for many writers.

So how do you reclaim this valuable space? As with the acronym P-L-AC-E that we discussed in this blog last week, there’s another one just as effectual—R-E-M-O-V-E—Reduce distractions, Everyday use, Move to the preferred side, Organize together, View your time, and Empty the center.

Let’s start with removing distractions. While it’s nice to have a couple of photos and favorite little items on your desk, they take up valuable space and distract you. A photo of a loved one may motivate you, so we’ll give you that, but too many other photos and what not will certainly distract you from your writing. So remove from your desk anything that isn’t directly related to your writing. Put those items on a shelf or some other place in your office.

Only put items you use every day on top of your desk. Everything else should go into drawers or cabinets underneath it. There’s no need to have a mug full of pens at your disposal. You’ll only use one at a time anyway. And while a few extra ones, especially with different colored inks are good to have, keep them in your top desk drawer for easy access. The same goes for notepads, paperclips, rubber bands,etc.

Everyone is either right or left-handed. And while some may be ambidextrous, they’re in the minority. Arrange the items on your desk to complement the hand you use. Move everything to the preferred side. Place pens, pencils, and pads where you reach for them most. Most writers don’t even consider this when setting up their desk. Rearranging everything to suit your most used hand will make working easier.

And just as you did in the general organization of your office, organize like items together. Grouping helps to establish centers so that you can easily find what you need.

Make sure you place a clock on your desk so that you can easily view your time. And be sure to make it big enough to easily see it at a glance. Don’t depend on looking at the tiny numbers on your computer’s task bar to find the time. Always keep time in view so that you can budget it better.

Keep the center of your desk clear by emptying it each time you finish a project. Clear space in the center of your desk so that you can work on the project at hand.

Finally, aggressively attack your mail, both regular and Email. Provide an inbox for incoming mail and one for outgoing mail. Designate specific times during the day to read your Email and turn off Email notifications on your computer and on your smartphone. They can distract you more than anything.

With these tips in mind, plan on reorganizing your desk space so that it’s an efficient and pleasant place at which you can work. You’ll soon discover that your productivity will soar.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Put Everything in Its P-L-A-C-E - Part 3

In the first two installments of discussing how to organize your office, we looked at organizing your files and books, but if you’ve been working in your office for a longer time, it may be time to take aggressive action against clutter. To clear it of clutter and organize items for easy access and appearance, you’ll need to use the P-L-A-C-E process.

You can start decluttering your office by using the five steps in P-LA-C-E—Purge, Like-with-Like, Access, Contain, and Evaluate.

Purge: First, clear your space of clutter by dumping, donating, or distributing everything you no longer need. Whether you toss the dried-up pens in your desk drawer, clean out old files, toss away outdated research, or donate the books you no longer need, purging can ernpower all your organizing efforts. And you’ll see immediate results. As you get rid of those things that have built up over the years you’ve been in business, you’ll uncover additional storage space that will help to get your office organized.

Like-with-Like: The second step in putting things into place is to organize like things together. It’s amazing how many different places you’ve been storing paper for printing or office supplies like pens and such. The latter seem to grow like Topsy with a mugful here and a small box there.  Not only does grouping help you know where to look, whether you're searching for a file or a pen that works, but placing similar items together also often creates “centers,” one-stop spots with everything you need to complete a task.

Access: Once you have things grouped, placement for easy access is your next priority. Where do you usually use these items? Put them there. Place all items used daily on, in, or near your desk so that you don’t have to go hunting for them. For example, store printing paper next to, above, or under your printer. Perhaps build a small shelf on which to sit your printer, underneath which you can pile several stackable, plastic desk organizers in which to place your printing paper. Allow a separate organizer for each type of paper.  Place file cabinets with recent files close to your desk. You might even want to consider building a new desk area using file cabinets with a hollow-core door placed on top. It’s much cheaper and more efficient than the office furniture sold in office supply stores.

Contain: Containers do double duty from an organizing perspective—they keep like things together, and move things out of sight to clear the landscape and your mind. You can contain things on shelves, in drawers, with bookends or magazine holders, in hanging files, or in baskets, boxes, or closed containers in a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes. Contain within containers by adding dividers to drawers. The more you contain, the better you’ll feel. Don’t opt for expensive containers sold in office supply stores. Instead, check out your local dollar or discount stores. You’ll be amazed at what you can find for a dollar. You might also consider making your own specialized containers from assorted boxes.  Cut on a diagonal, some boxes can work well as magazine holders, and you’ll get two from every box.

Evaluate: After you complete the first four steps of P-L-A-C-E, you’ll need to evaluate your results. Did everything work as planned? Organization is an ongoing process, and organizing can often be improved upon as your needs change or you sharpen your skills. When you evaluate and adjust over time, your organization systems become self-maintaining. A good time to assess your organization is when you change direction or start a new line of writing. Writing books, for example, demands a different type of organization than writing articles or short stories. For one thing, you’ll need more storage for all your notes and drafts. What would have been contained in one manila folder for an article may take one or two or more file boxes for a book. 

Finally, schedule a yearly checkup to help you keep everything working at peak level and up-to-date with your current needs. You might plan this over the holidays in December or even on New Year’s Day.

Next week, we’ll attack your desk. It’s the place where you spend most of your time, so you’ll want to make it as efficient, attractive, and ergonomically comfortable as possible.