Knowing when to say…

February 29, 2008 at 11:26 am | Posted in life, Meg, time management | 5 Comments

On Wednesday, Bria made an excellent point that sometimes you have to write through the pain- whether it’s writer’s block, personal issues or actual emotional pain, because once you get to the other side, it’s amazing. I agree with this one hundred percent. If you love something, inevitably there will be rough times and you need to stick with it to get to the joy again. However, sometimes you also need to know when to say when.

Maybe the when is after 50 rejection letters and you realize that maybe you should stop sending out queries until you analyze the feedback. Or maybe it’s after editing for six months straight and you have to accept that the manuscript is as polished as you can get it right now (and you need to start sending it out). Or maybe it’s when the words just won’t come anymore on your current ms and you know it’s time to try something new. Whatever the occasion, sometimes you have to stop pushing.

As you know from my last few months of blogs, I’m not writing. Stuck isn’t even the word for it anymore. Creatively tapped? Artistically blank? Devoid of all literary skill? Regardless of the fancy description, it’s just not working. So I’m saying ‘uncle’.

I don’t remember where this password originated, but growing up with two physically overpowering brothers, ‘uncle’ was the only pass to escape the pain. When they would twist my body into five different pretzels and yell ‘Say it, say it!’ into my ear, I would struggle as long as I could, but inevitably I’d have to yell ‘Uncle!’ Only then would tthey let me go.

Using ‘uncle’ was not giving up, but it was conceding to the fact that you weren’t in the position to fight anymore. Like being backed into the corner of the boxing ring and you need the bell to sound so you can take a rest, rinse out your mouth and start over again. I need that not only in my writing, but also in the blog.

In talking to Bria this week about it, I used a bad analogy to explain how I’ve been feeling about the blog. It’s like we’re talking about France- Jessica and Bria live in Paris and I’ve recently relocated to Rome. I can reminisce about chocolate crepes, but Jessica can actually smell them and tell you what street corner vendor has the best ones right now. Memories of the Eiffel Tower dance in my head, but Bria can dance under the lights tonight and share about the people enjoying it with her. They are living writing, I’m remembering.

That being said, I know I haven’t been putting 110 percent into my blog entries and I apologize greatly. My fellow heartlettes and our readers deserve that level of participation and commitment. I can’t give it right now and feel I need to take a hiatus to concentrate on figuring out how to adjust to my new living environment. After all, when in Rome…

So I hope to return from my hiatus soon and re-embark on this adventure with everyone. In the meantime, I won’t be gone far and look forward to the posts of my colleagues, maybe even post a comment a time or two. Until then…

Uncle.

-Meg

Getting Organized for Artistics (and everyone else)

January 23, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Bria, career, life, management, time management, writing | 2 Comments
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The first thing I’d like to clear up is the organization. Being organized does not equal being neat.

I have seen many managers who keep a clean desk and are yet the least organized people in the company. Conversely, sometimes the person with the most chaotic office is the most organized.

Here’s the question: Can you find it or do things get lost or slip through the cracks.

The new year comes and people generally want to do one of three things: Lose weight, Get out of debt, or Get Organized.

OK, STOP! Do not rush out to ikea or Staples to purchase every organizing gadget that catches your eye – Filing systems, organizers, sorters, planners. . . .so many fun things. And yet, just because it sells well and looks nice does not mean it’s your friend.

So, how do you get organized?

The first step is to figure out how you work. Let’s take keeping a planner as our example. I have to versions of work habits to rely on depending on what the company I’m consulting with is like.

The first version is your standard Franklin Covey organizing conventions– this is the one most people are familiar with – prioritize your to do list, put it in order, schedule them.

The second version is something called Do It Now. Sounds like it could never work, right? But I’ve worked in environments where I was doing less project work and more coaching/consulting – things turned at the drop of a hat, people waited until issues became emergencies, the company may be international and you know if you don’t talk to that person in Asia now, you aren’t sure when you’ll get another chance.

So, which works best in your environment?

Now, lets talk about spatial organizing? If you hate filing – filing isn’t going to work for you. Some people stack and need little shelves, others file and need an extra cabinet – one of my friends stole a brilliant idea from his auto shop. He clipped all the pertinent info, contacts, timelines, etc for each project with a large binder clip. Then he put stickpins in the wall and hung each project on a stickpin. The next one in line was the next priority. Nothing was lost, nothing fell through the cracks and he kept with my one simple rule:

The Hit By A Bus rule.

I don’t care if my mangers’ offices look like a tornado hit them – if they’re messy and that’s how they get the most done, fine (as long as clients don’t see it.) BUT, if there’s an emergency, the immediate work or contacts must be easily found. I need to know where things stand, what needs to be done, and who to contact.

OK, but what about all this stuff I’ve bought over the years – I don’t want it to go to waste.

A couple years ago I through a party – sorry, I didn’t know you then or I would have invited you. It was a swap party, with a twist.

Everyone had to do a look at their organizing tools, put aside everything that wasn’t working for them, and make a list of what would work for them.

They all joined me for pizza and tool swapping. You had to leave what wasn’t working and you could only take stuff that was on your list – The party was a hit. The success of the new tools was a hit. Everything left over got donated – WHY? Because trying to work with the wrong organizing tools is as useless as trying to fix a car with a plane tool kit – it slows you down and creates more work than it solves.

So, what issues are you struggling with organizing?

Get them out there, out of the way and then Go Write,

-bria

Honoring the process

January 18, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Posted in Meg, time management, writing | 3 Comments

I’ve been trying to figure out a post to coincide with our topic-of-the-week, but I haven’t found the time (no pun intended). I’m a time juggler and try to cram as much into one moment as I can. While my son is at gym class, I strategize how I can best use that forty-five minutes and cross things off my to-do list. Yet it never seems to work. Something always manages to screw up the plan. Even today, I have the whole afternoon to complete the tasks I needed to do all week, but I never factored in the residual effects of my morning eye appointment and how the dilation drops prevent me from focusing on anything. (Right now, I’m typing this with one eye closed and sunglasses over my regular glasses- not easy and man, the headache!)

So when I think about time management, I laugh. After all, time is the one elusive item that we can’t control. It never changes. You can’t stretch it out or slow it down. It’s never stops to let you take a breath or rewind for a do-over. So how can you manage it? All you can do is manage the activities you do and use the time to the best of your ability. When that comes to my writing, it usually means writing gets pushed aside. There’s never enough time for it.

I’ve heard all the advice about getting just a paragraph on the page each day and it will add up. Writing morning pages or setting a goal, none of that works for me. I never understood why until Jessica passed along a blog to me this week and it all made sense. On the Moody Muses blog, Barbara Tanner Wallace writes about honoring your process and knowing what you need to get the words on the page. Some people can ‘squeeze in’ writing among their daily to-dos. Like sitting in the parking lot waiting for school pick-ups or in between appointments. Productivity happens for every person in a different way.

For me, I need time to write. Yeah, you say, don’t we all. What I mean by that is I need a good block of time set aside to get revved up and ready. I need to reread the last pages I wrote to get back into the mindset of my character. I need uninterrupted quiet to immerse myself in my created world. I need a few moments at the end to return to reality. I can’t squeeze in quality writing in a twenty minute span (unless I have a scene that has to get out so I don’t forget it. And then it’s usually not quality work). I can’t write a paragraph here and another there. It’s not my process.

And in the end, like Barbara said, it’s important to honor your process. Yes, if I don’t find the time to write for weeks on end, that’s okay. I know I will eventually. I’d rather spend the time I do have writing well, then writing something I’ll have to work four times as much to fix. Because in the end, you can’t manage your time, you can only manage what you do with it.

-Meg

Managing Your Time – For Writers

January 16, 2008 at 11:44 am | Posted in Bria, career, goals, time management, writing | 3 Comments

Last week we discussed priorities and how they effect your time and how you manage it. If you haven’t done the 10 min exercise yet, do it HERE.

This week I’d like to talk about Svelting Your Time. Just like you’re body, you want to put good things in to your time – that’s how you enjoy life the most and accomplish what you want. BUT, just like you’re body, we often put things in our time without thought and it leads to the equivalent of a jigglin’ tummy.

OK, take out your priority sheet.

Often the Important List and the Time List don’t line up is because of things beyond our control. For example, no matter how far down the list your job may be, often because of the mandatory hours, it’s number one on the Time List.

Looking at your Time List, circle any priority that is not lining up where you want it to be AND that is movable.

Great! Now let’s look at some ways to get things where we want them.

The first thing I suggest is to print or write up a nice, clean copy of your Time List and put it somewhere you’ll see it early in the day EVERY day.

Mine is typically on a colored index card with an inspirational quote at the bottom. I stick it in the place where my RPM’s are on my dashboard. I can see it when I’m sitting at a light or stopped to talk on the phone. When I get in the car, the flash of color is a reminder to live life by MY priorities, not someone else’s.

Let me ask you a questions: What isn’t on your list?

Is clean house on your list? Well, for most people the answer is no, and yet we spend hours a week cleaning our homes. I am in NO WAY suggesting you live in a pit, but just learning to consolidate your home chores is a great way to gain time:

• Do you sit and talk on the phone, or are you getting mindless things like dusting done
• Does everyone in the house have chores or (at the opposite end of the spectrum) are you the person running behind people picking up after them
• Do you clean as you go
• Do you put something down and have to put it away later or do things go directly to their homes
• How many times do you move unopened mail
• Have you put yourself on the Federal “Do Not Call” list: 1-888-382-1222
• Do you carpool, or are you always the person who drives
• Have you learned how to say know
• If TV isn’t on your list, how many hours do you watch it

Ah, Television. We use the phrase “Time Killer” for a reason. Once that time is gone, it’s never coming back. Let me challenge you to turn the TV off for 3 months – I took this challenge 5 years ago and it changed my life.

Now, I hear you all screaming – What? Give up TV cold turkey? What about Lost? I give myself 1 hour a week unless there’s something special on (special being something I can only see then and never again OR is informative and useful to my writing, life, or career.)

A trick I learned is to unplug my TV. Every time I want to sit and veg, I have to crawl behind the corner consol to plug it back in (that’s where all the dust is living I found out) – Most times it just isn’t worth it.

OK, so you gained a couple mins here and there. But, human nature has us filling it in with more useless time fillers. Don’t let your evil twin steal the time you worked so hard to gain.

Next week I’m going to talk about getting organized to have Time be your companion not your competitor.

Gain a few mins, carry your notebook, and Go Write,
-bria

Where Does All The Time Go?

January 14, 2008 at 10:08 am | Posted in Jessica, time management, writing | 2 Comments

When I looked at our blog schedule and realized that this week’s topic was ‘time management’, I let loose an inner groan. I really have very little else to impart on time management, and could, quite frankly, use all the help I could get on the subject. Try as I might, I mightily struggle to manage my time.

Meg, Bria, and I are all involved in the planning of a writing conference, which is the first of two conferences I plan to attend this year. I go to conferences to meet new people and to take in the workshops that most interest me, but I have yet to go to any with a super polished project in the hopper and the determined intent to sell it.

Well, this year is when I want to start thinking in those terms and by December 2008 I want to have two new books done – one polished and ready to go and one at least completely drafted.

Gulp.

It sounds like a lot when countered with work, home, health, and other commitments . . . until I think about how to best manage my time.

As I post this blog on Monday, January 14, I have 87 days until the first conference and 192 days until the other. That 192 day point is as good a half-way point in the year as any, so if I think about completing a 100,000 word book between now and then, I have to write approx 520 words every day just to get the draft done.

Reality Check #1:
Factor in the whole conference planning and execution, and there are at least 8 days in there where I will be wholly consumed with conference stuff.

Reality Check #2:
I need to give myself the flexibility each month to have a few days off with no writing at all . . . just to try to plan for unplanned things. So, I should give myself a cushion of 18 days where I won’t force the words to come.

And there are a number of other realities that I need to plan around, but I think that giving myself the outs mentioned above are about as lenient with myself as I should be.

In losing those 26 days, I now have roughly 166 days to write 100,000 words. And when I boil it down again, it means that I have to invent roughly 602 words a day to make the goal of finishing by the third week of July.

When I put it like that, it sounds totally doable. (But feel free to check my math . . . it’s been one of those weeks.)

I like to work with two spreadsheets while I’m writing – one is the NaNo spreadsheet that NaNo participate Erik Benson created (and one I don’t mind sharing again because it is just the greatest resource) and the other spreadsheet is a Blank Page Generator that I believe I got from my friend, Donna Caubarreaux.

For me, they have been decent tools to help me with my struggle between writing time and time management. When I don’t see the totals changing on the spreadsheets I don’t like the way I feel, so the visual cues help quick-start the fire I need to somehow find the time to write. If you are interested in receiving either, post a comment to today’s blog with your request and I will email one or both to you as an attachment.

I wish I had some sure-thing tips to share when it comes to creating and managing writing time. All I know is I have to figure out a way to do it and use whatever tricks I can to help boost me along, hence the spreadsheets. I’d love to hear about any tools that you use to help muscle you through the process!

Keep writing . . . whenever and wherever you can!

-Jessica

The Order Of Things – Time Management

January 2, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Bria, career, goal setting, goals, life, management, time management, writing | 4 Comments
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In my non-writing life I do a lot of Management Training (as well as personal and professional growth development and classes) so with the new year upon us, I thought I’d bring a little of that knowledge to this corner of the world.

This is an exercise usually done on the spot – It should take you no more than 12 minutes. To get the most out of it, don’t think too much, just go with what feels right. If you don’t have time to do this now, come back or print it out, but don’t read ahead.

What you need: Pen and Paper – turn the paper horizontal and make 3 columns of 10 rows.

STEP ONE:  In the first column write down the ten most important things in your life right now. Don’t worry about the order, but do try to make them clear. For example:

“Friends” is not a very clear category. What’s a friend versus an acquaintance? Do you mean a close group or a couple of people? Maybe the most important are only your closest two friends even though you love all your friends.

Some other categories I’ve seen: husband, children, faith, learning, exercise, health, writing, work . . . you get the picture –

Your list can have as few as you want, but now more than 10. Play with the list till your comfortable – – – erase / cross-out and rewrite until you’re comfortable with your list.

Once you’ve COMPLETED Step One, move on to Step Two.

STEP TWO:  Now take the list you came up with and put them in order of importance – the top one being most important.

Once you’ve COMPELTED Step Two, move on to Step Three.

STEP THREE: Using the same list, put it in order from what takes up the MOST TIME WEEKLY to the LEAST TIME.

You’ll notice right away that while work may not be near the top of your “Important” list, it may top your “Time” list. This is normal, work is general a set number of hours and that’s part of life, but let’s look at the rest of your list.

What type of trend do you see? If you’re prioritizing your personal life well, the Important list and the Time list will look pretty similar. If they don’t it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions.

What if one of the top things on your Important list is at the bottom of your Time list? This might be where it belongs, but are you sure?

Let’s think about writing as our example – I did this exercise with some writers, not long ago, most of which were moms AND worked outside the home. Right there most of their time belongs to other things. Some of them managed to still have Writing as one of their top 4 on the Time list – I know you won’t be surprised to hear that this group constituted most of the published authors.

As a group, we shared tips and brainstormed other ways to move Writing (and other Important categories) higher on the Time list:

  • Writing at games/rehearsals/practices
  • Speaking into a digital recorder on your way to pick-up kids
  • Keep a notebook in your bag – think your story through while shopping. Write down your notes while standing in line
  • Give up Television – Or cut back. When everyone else is involved in your favorite sitcom, that’s 30 minutes of time to write
  • Keep a notebook by your bed. One author said the five minutes before she gets up in the morning is often the most productive – her body has quit needing the alarm to wake her now that she’s excited about her morning routine
  • Have an accountability partner – how many days in a row can you have an email/phone conversation where you say “I wrote nothing” before you start finding 5 minute chinks of time

One of the first things people ask me when I sit down to teach or discuss time management with them is how I fit in so much more than them. The answer is: “I don’t.” That’s the honest truth. But I have started fitting in more of the right things.

The thing most people don’t understand about Time Management is this, it’s often Priority Management.

To a successful manager, this becomes second nature at work, but she’ll often leave the skill at the office door. If you aren’t clear what your priorities are, then you aren’t sure what to spend time on, then you aren’t sure how to balance that time.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m sure everyone reading this is saying, “Yeah, but you don’t know what my day is like.”

You’re right. I don’t. But the honest truth is every person can say that. Life is too short to grudge your way through. If you want to enjoy this one chance we have, know what you want out of life and put it on your list.

I do this exercise myself every 6 months – after the first 2 years, I was pleased to see that prioritizing my life had become more of a habit than a chore. I’m doing more of what I love and less of what I tolerate.

Oh, and book one is done.

In two weeks the Heartlettes will be blogging about Time Management. We’d love to hear your own personal tips.

And then, get organized and Go Write!
-bria 

Happy New Year!

August 27, 2007 at 9:19 am | Posted in Jessica, time management, writing | 1 Comment

I am a bit of a professional student, so while most folks may think of January as the start of their new year, I am used to the academic calendar and the new year ushered in by September. A recent post on our WordPress friend’s blog, Curious Lady, had me thinking about this new year and the goals I had over the past year as well as my goals going forward.

And a big one, both going forward and back, is time management.

As I’ve tried to improve on the why and how I spend my time, I have realized with greater clarity how closely aligned my time is with where my energy and attention are directed. I have found that I am easily distracted, which has me digging deep to re-evaluate and re-set my priorities so I can better align that energy and attention with my goals.

Two sources I wholeheartedly recommend as help aids are the book, Time Management for the Creative Person by Lee Silber, and the Blog, Author MBA, the latter of which dipenses invaluable advice about writing as a business venture. After all, as writers we are also entrepreneurs.

So in the spirit of sharing what I’ve learned, here are some tid-bits I have acquired over this past year with regard to time:

Pay yourself first. Similar to funding your IRA every month, take stock of what you need to do for you every day, and pencil those items in first. By applying this practice to your writing, pretty soon sitting down to write every day becomes as much a habit as brushing your teeth or sitting down to dinner. Once you pay yourself first, you can plan the rest of your resources around those priorities. Research says it takes approx 29 days to form a new habit. Give yourself the month – what do you have to lose?

Assess your relationships. I have very limited spare time so I am fiercely protective of it. The people who truly care about me know and respect that I am pursuing the writing life and I so appreciate that they give me space, let me breathe, and do not make unfair demands on my time. The writers I know, who can honestly say they are also pursuing the writing life, understand that the writing comes first because they do it too. Both groups give me their understanding. If you don’t fall in either camp, then you don’t align with my goals and therefore don’t provide a healthy relationship for me. My wants are simple – please don’t make me feel as though I have to reassess you. (I don’t have little ones, so please, moms, if you have some tips on how to manage eeking out your writing time I hope you will share!)

Surround yourself with positive energy. Negativity steals energy and attention. You will have a better chance of restructuring your time when maintaining focus.

Feed your soul. We’ve mentioned it here when Marley visited with us and it’s the topic I referenced from Curious Lady’s blog: Writers Write! But in fairness, we have to feed the well, too. So whatever it is that supports your creativity and keeps your muse happy, put that activity on your priority list.

No is a wonderful word. How many times have you gotten yourself in a situation in which you did not want to be because subjecting yourself to the torture was easier than coming out and saying no? Myself being a repeat offender, I have learned that in the end I am only harming myself by allowing such situations to happen. Saying NO to something you don’t want to do frees you up to do something you do. It’s OK to say NO! The people who matter will understand, and if they don’t, do you really want to be associated with them anyway? And if you need to get a pep talk on saying no, I recommend reading Alexandra Stoddard’s Time Alive.

Email is a killer. Although I love this blog, I regret to have to add it to this bullet point. Get an egg timer. Set a limit. Do a commercial segment’s worth of email at a time. Whatever the case, set a limit on the amount of time devoted to email and blog reading. And don’t start your day with email. It’s far more productive to start with a more tangible task.

Don’t touch mail twice. Dispense with mail items as soon as you get them.

Make a daily to-do list. Best done in the evening so you can start the next day with some clear objectives. Checking items off the to-do list is a huge boost to the feeling of productivity and helps create a positive cycle of task mastering.

Do you want to be at the same point this time next year?

One last thought on time management:
Tough love. This kind of overhaul isn’t for the feint of heart.

I wish I had the magic formula to help make this process easy and straightforward. But if you can stand to declare yourself a writer, put yourself out there, and face rejection, I believe that you are tough enough take back control of your time.

Whether your new year is based on the annual, academic, fiscal, Chinese, or lunar calendar, may you find ways to steal back some time so that it won’t feel as though it’s going so darn fast!

Have a great writing week!
-Jessica

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