Adventures in Time Blocking

Image courtesy of ‘Your Name’

Sometimes it’s not the lack of productivity that dogs me…it’s the forgetting to work on something that day.

I’ve found over the years that I work best when my day has a bit of a schedule to it. Nothing immovable and set in stone, mind you…just a bit of repetition of a daily habit that gets me up and running. For instance, I’ll have a day where I want to write a blog entry, work on Writing Projects A and B, do some daily exercise, and follow up on a few non-writing errands. And for the most part, I’ll hit every single one with time to spare.

Some days, however, they turn into Best Laid Plans that go awry. Part of it is due to distraction, but it’s also due to that old classic excuse, Out of Sight, Out of Mind. For example, as much as I’ve been wanting to make sure I stretch and exercise more often, that’s usually the first thing to fall by the wayside, usually because I just don’t think about it until it’s too late. And sometimes it’s not enough to have a list of to-do items on the whiteboard calendar, because sometimes I’m too busy working on something else that I completely forget to look at the thing until late in the day. [It’s in my peripheral vision while I look at this screen, it just ends up as visual static that I don’t always pay attention to.]

So what to do…?

I realized it was time for me to try something I’d attempted in the past: time blocking. I know this is something some office workers do; setting up a full schedule of Things One Must Do Today. It’s mostly so that they won’t overfocus on one specific task to the detriment of every other task due that day. I did it during my school years to some degree, and I did it for almost the entirety of my Belfry years. A scheduled habit turns into productivity for me.

I say this because I’ve created one this past week that’s been working quite well; I literally drew up a spreadsheet of times and tasks: 7am check emails and read morning comics, 8am catch up with small projects and job searches, 9:30am write in personal journal (a leftover from my Former Day Job days), 10am morning stretches…and so on. I printed it out and have it hanging on my clipboard next to my screen. I started this with the idea that this isn’t a rigid schedule and is one that can be changed up if necessary. As long as I hit every task within the half hour, is the main goal.

The end result this past week has been a consistent word count for both projects, blogs going out on time, and most importantly, I’ve been exercising and stretching twice a day again! I’ve missed maybe one or two items along the way, but I’m not beating myself up about it because I know sometimes that’ll happen. I may have to go out and do some errands in the neighborhood, or I might want to finish up something important and time sensitive.

The point isn’t to give every single item a checkmark on a daily basis…the point is to give myself a bit of stability and direction, that’s all. And that’s all I really need right now.

Distraction (again) and Avoiding It

Well, I’m sure I could say I have a legitimate reason for being somewhat distracted, given this week’s news, but…

I really need to start closing the browsers more often. I mean, it’s not as if I get into an hours-long doomscroll…it’s more the serotonin rush of being plugged in, I think, added with a lack of focus. And I need to stop it. Again.

I mean, I know when distraction sets in, because it’s so reliably predictable. I could be scooting along at top speed on whatever I’m working on, and as soon as I slow down to grasp at a word or phrase that isn’t coming to me just yet, my brain says oh hey, let’s go on Twitter and see what’s going on! and next thing I know, it’s twenty minutes later. That’s been the top culprit for a while now.

[In a way, I’m glad it’s no longer my delaying any work at all by poring over my music library for a half hour, trying to decide what to listen to. I was terrible at that during the Belfry days.]

Whatever’s going on in the world really shouldn’t be a distraction, at least not unless it’s literally outside my window. It’s okay to be late to the party now and again. I didn’t even know about the events at the Capitol building until almost a full hour later because I’d closed everything to finish up some long-delayed revision work. It took me a bit of time to unreel myself from all that after lunchtime when I had more work to do, but I was able to do it eventually.

I seem to hit Heavily Distracted levels maybe every five days or so. I don’t know if it’s a brain thing an emotional one, but it’s something I have to deal with in one way or another. Sometimes it’s easy, closing those browsers, putting on an album, and immersing myself in work. Other times it’s not so easy, and those are when I don’t have a clear plan. Either way, I work through it somehow, eventually. Sometimes I’ll back away and do something off the PC, like a bit of art or music practice. Or maybe even a word search! [Those are surprisingly calming for me, I find.]

Anyway — life finds a way, as they say. I know I get distracted, and it’s up to me to find ways to avoid that when I can.

Starting off on a positive note

Wishes for 2021 courtesy of a sidewalk artist in our neighborhood.

I’ve been doing pretty good for the last few months, even despite the pandemic, the news, and everything else. I’ve learned to establish my own personal boundaries and stick to them, and know when to push myself when needed. It’s by no means a perfect setup, but it’s what works for me and keeps me sane.

I suppose I could post what my 2021 plans are here, but to be honest, I don’t have too many right now. At least none that I think are worth posting on Day One, at any rate; some of them can wait until I’m good and ready. What I do plan on doing in 2021 is to be more outwardly positive. It’s still far too easy for me to let the latest news affect me, still too easy for me to fall into cynicism. If it tires me to hear myself go on about it, I imagine it would annoy the hell out of everyone else even more.

I didn’t make any major updates on the whiteboard schedule, instead keeping with the one I’d created when I started writing again some months ago. It still works well for me, so there’s no need to change it up just yet:

Sunday: blog post for Dreamwidth, music practice
Monday: 750 Words, art practice, blog post for Welcome to Bridgetown
Tuesday: 750 Words, art practice, blog post for Walk in Silence
Wednesday: 750 Words, art practice, music practice
Thursday: 750 Words, art practice, Walk in Silence
Friday: 750 Words, art practice, Welcome to Bridgetown
Saturday: poetry, music practice

Right now the “music practice” and “art practice” consist of mere basics: guitar and bass noodling, and simple storyboarding for my novels. At this point it’s more about consistency and getting used to the processes again, and not worrying too much about perfection. I’ve ignored those two for far too long, so it’s time for me to pick them up again.

As for the 750, I don’t have any specific projects I’m working on with them, so instead I’m using it to get back into the habit of ‘writing for fun’. It’s been a while since I opened up that site to just write microfiction or expand on vague ideas, none of which happen to relate to any major project I might be working on. Besides, I sometimes come up with neat ideas for future projects that way!

Anyway…it’s a new year, I’m starting off on a positive note, and I plan on keeping it that way as much as I can.

A year of difference

A strange year needs a strange anime gif. Source: Nichijou.

It’s definitely been an interesting year for most people. As mentioned over at Walk in Silence, I started 2020 off in a terrible mood, primarily due to the (now Former) Day Job situation. It had taken a lot out of me since returning to the office in November 2019: I was suddenly stripped of most of the quality time I normally used for writing, I was wasting at least two-plus hours on the road a day (not to mention roughly $70 a week on gas and tolls), and to top it all off, the “We’re All a Big Happy Family” Return Plan had actually been more of an “Extremely Poorly Thought Out (If at All) But We Still Have to Hit This Tight Deadline and Be Active On Day One Or Upper Management Will Be Pissed And Oh By the Way Your Desk Is WAY Over In the Middle of F*cking Nowhere and Far Away from the Rest of Your Team and It’s Not Set Up at All and What’s That Noise Oh Yes It’s the Building’s HVAC Fans Right at Your Feet” Plan. It was a complete shitshow and I’d lost almost all faith in the company at that point. By the start of 2020 I was saying hell with it, applying for jobs on my phone, and using the 750 Words site for my writing at work because I just didn’t give a shit anymore.

And then of course, the pandemic happened, and (Former) Day Job couldn’t even handle that right. I gave my two weeks, just as the city, state and country started hunkering down for who knew what. I mean, I’d been wanting to take some mental time off from the job for a few years now (let’s be real, the four weeks of vacation a year really wasn’t cutting it at this point), but I hadn’t expected to have that handed to me like this.

Still. I spent three months not writing. I stopped blogging, journaling, and I closed down the second (paid) 750 Words account. I did some spot-cleaning of Diwa & Kaffi, but that was about it.

I knew I still needed that mental leave of absence, so instead of keeping busy, I decided, let’s not continue the daily stress of having the weight of it all on me if I didn’t need to carry it anymore. I continued to send out the occasional job applications and do a lot of household errands. We went for walks around the neighborhood. We followed the right emergency health guidelines (as did both of our families, thankfully). I knew I was lucky and privileged to be able to pull that off, so I spent that time the best I could. I did a lot of extremely overdue mental, emotional and creative housecleaning.

I picked up the writing again some months later, restarting the 750, the blogs, poetry, artwork, and the journaling. It felt right to do it then, now that my mind and heart were a lot clearer. I started toying around with some story ideas I’d come up with during those final (Former) Day Job days. I found I could focus on my creativity at the levels I wanted and needed to have them at. And I started rethinking about what I’d do for the next Day Job.

So yeah. On the one hand, I could easily say that 2020 was an utter failure because of such low word counts, lack of productivity and not consistently releasing one self-published book a year like I had for the last five years.

But on the other hand, I’d done so much more that was just as important, if not more so: I let myself have a clear mind and a calm heart again. I’d say I still came out on top, which is all I could ask for.

I have some interesting plans for 2021, and I’m looking forward to making them a reality!

Updates and whatnot

First on the docket: FREE BOOKS!

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and all five of my ebooks are available for free until the first of January over at Smashwords! Here are the links:

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir
The Mendaihu Universe Book 1: A Division of Souls
The Mendaihu Universe Book 2: The Persistence of Memories
The Mendaihu Universe Book 3: The Balance of Light

All five books are available in multiple formats, so you can read on any PC, laptop, or ereader! Because I like looking out for y’all.

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Second of all: chances are I might not have too much to ramble on about in the next few weeks as I’m most likely going to just keep busy offline with my other projects as well as celebrating the holidays, so if you don’t see any posts in the next few Monday/Friday go-rounds, that’s the reason. It’s not that I’m busy, it’s that I’m enjoying not being busy!

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I’m happy to say that late last night I came up with an idea that could significantly improve the opening of MU4, which I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. As usual, it revolves around my penchant for starting the story at the wrong time! Of course, I’d already logged off, and had even turned off the bedside light to go to sleep when it came to me, but thankfully I was able to remember it this morning, so that will be part of today’s work. Yay for breaking through a block!

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I’m still plowing through my music bios and it looks like I’m down to maybe 15 unread books at this point, which blows my mind. I never thought I’d be that caught up! Speaking of reading, I’ve done a factory reset of my e-reader (somehow the keyboard had stopped working) which wiped a number of apps that I’d had on there that I probably didn’t need and never used, but on the plus side, I’ve filled it up with a number of cheap or free e-books that I plan on hitting next year. My average books-per-year has hovered around 70 or so and I’d like to up that. (Why so low? Primarily because over the last few years I’ve been spending a considerable amount of reading-in-bed time doing project revision, and that can take up to a few weeks at a time. I currently do not have any projects at that level at this point.) I can zip through a good-sized book in a few days so for next year’s GoodReads challenge I think I’ll set it at 100 and see how far I get.

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Speaking of reading, what was my favorite books I read this year? Good question. I’ll need to refer to my GoodReads list and get back to you on that. That could be a good post in itself!

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…and that’s all I have for now. Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas holiday!

Wintertime

Back in the early 00s, I made it a point to head down to my basement writing nook to get my words done, whatever the weather. I would do this even in the dead of winter, bundled up in layers and a small space heater pointed directly under the desk at my feet. Nothing could stop me from getting my daily thousand words done!

Okay, maybe there were a few days when it was just too cold to stay down there. Those were the days when I’d use the family computer upstairs tucked away in the kitchen pantry. It was a bit uncomfortable as the only chair there was a stool and I slouch terribly when I sit, and I wasn’t always as productive, but at least I was warmer.

Nowadays I’m here in Spare Oom, and it’s one of the coolest rooms in the house at any time of year. The one window faces north so it never gets direct sun, and if there’s any breeze coming off the bay, it hits me first. This is fine during the summer, but in the winter my fingers can get a bit numb. Right now it’s 49 F, I’ve got the floor radiator on, and I’m wearing my house sneakers and the sweater A knitted for me. I’m about to head into the kitchen to make a other pot of coffee in hopes that it’ll help me warm up.

Sure, I’m lucky, considering we don’t get snow, nor does it drop below 40 degrees. No unplowed roads and crappy visibility. (Imagine if it did snow here…this city would be the king of cars-sliding-sideways-down-hilly-streets-and-crashing-into-each-other videos.) I definitely don’t miss any of that at all. We just get a biting chill that we feel in our bones because of the winds coming straight from the Pacific Ocean. One unexpected plus to wearing a pandemic mask outside is that it doubles as a muffler during days like this!

Still, it’s nice to be in a warm room, bashing away at the PC as I try to make those daily words.

Back to life, back to reality

Okay, I’ve goofed off enough. Vacation’s over. Time to get back to work. Well, it wasn’t exactly goofing off, but the point remains that I have things I need to do! Revision! New words! New novels! Blog posts! Artwork! Music practice! Errands! Plant watering! Etc!

Fine, maybe not all of them at once. One at a time, one after the other, is just fine. Put on some music, open up those documents, and close those social media browser tabs. Let’s get crackin’.

Plus, there’s only three weeks left of this crazy year, and I should probably think about my year-end playlists, retrospectives and 2021 plans. This past year may have been intensely weird, stressful and occasionally frightening, but it’s also been eye-opening, revealing and uplifting as well. Never a dull moment, at least.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting a few of those things: my favorite songs and albums of the year, my end of year mixtape, future plans. Working on where I am and where I’m going. In the new year, I’ll be working on getting Diwa & Kaffi out into the world one way or another. I’ll be working on new projects and finishing old ones. Getting better at my other creative outlets. Starting a new career. And maybe even changing up my lifestyle a bit.

Yeah, I know, time is relative and why wait until New Year’s Day to start a new life when I could just start it now? But one thing I’ve learned this year is that assigning dates and schedules to the things in my life actually serve to help me, not hinder me. It puts my life and my thoughts and emotions in order, and it keeps a clear path ahead. Works fine for me.

Besides, I like a bit of denouement at the end of the year, where the past gets a bit of well-paced closure once and for all.

Slow Going

Source: Makoto Shinkai

Some days it feels like I’m going in the right direction…but still I’m waiting for the train to actually leave the station. It’s not really a sense of impatience, more like a deliberate slow start to get up to speed. I know I’ll get there eventually, I just want to do it right and with minimal failure or distraction.

I’m pretty sure that part of this comes in response to how I lived for most of the 90s: no idea where I was going, jumping on any bandwagon that sounded cool, throwing everything at the wall to see if it sticks. I made a lot of mistakes. Some easily fixable, but a lot of remorse and embarrassment as well. I knew I was doing it wrong but had no other way, no other frame of reference to learn from. By the end of the decade I’d learned some, but there was still a long way to go.

Here at the end of 2020, I’m starting off what I’d like to think is a new wave of writing. The way I look at my own works has changed considerably; there’s a bit more clarity and a lot more patience and control. I’m deliberately not running headlong into these new projects without a plan or even a solid plot. If this means I take a day not writing, so be it. I know that I’m not avoiding the project, I’m merely not clearcutting my way into a destructive mess. I can pick it up in the next day or so. Five hundred words, even two hundred, is better than trying to force a thousand when they’re not there in the first place.

Lately I’ve been feeling as though I’m at a crucial point in my creative and personal lives; that point where the next steps are going to be a whole new world. Am I afraid of that? Maybe so. I kinda sorta know what I’m doing? I think? But that’s okay; the more important thing here is that I trust myself. I trust myself to move forward, knowing what I’m doing and where I’m going. That helps me overcome those fears. And soon those fears will lessen and not be so overwhelming.

It’s slow going, but it’s going.

Exercising

Source: Nichijou

Thanksgiving is over, the tryptophan/carb coma has worn off, and we have finally finished up all the turkey in the house. It’s also getting colder, which means that, since I am an Old, they are starting to ache. Which means it’s time for me to start moving again. We made sure to get some good neighborhood walking in over the extended weekend, so I’m not worried about being a lazy butt…it’s more that I don’t want to fall into the classic trap of ‘there, I walked a mile, happy now? *becomes a slug for the next three weeks*’ we all fall into around this time of year. I’ve been putting off the daily exercises and stretches I’d been doing in the past (sometimes for legit reasons, but mostly because of laziness, alas), so starting today I want to get back into that again. I’ve never been one for spending hours dedicated to high-level pro-athlete weights and exercises, but I do really miss hitting the gym and getting a good thirty minutes on the treadmill as I listen to tunage and think about new story ideas. Since the YMCA is currently closed, we’re making do by walking the streets of our neighborhood. [Our current fun thing to do is count how many doggos we meet on our walk. Current record is 35!] I need to get back into the habit of taking a few minutes during the day to do a few stretches, crunches and extensions, however.

This also means it’s time for me to get back on my writing schedule. Last week was kind of a washout due to multiple errands and shopping to take care of, but I kind of expected that to happen. I don’t feel too guilty about that. The whiteboard schedule is staring me in the face as I type this, expecting me to make good on my daily assignments. These are writing exercises and projects that I’ve broken down into easily manageable segments (see my recent posts about focusing smaller), so it’s not as if they’ll take up a considerable amount of time out of my day.

Interestingly, I’ve kept my break schedule that I used to have at the Former Day Job, and that seems to give all of this some structure. My morning break was at 9:30am, and currently I’ll still use that time to back away from the PC and write in my personal journal. Noontime is still for lunch so A and I can chat, catch up on our Twitter feeds, and do whatever non-work things that need doing. I use my 2:30pm break for stretches, going downstairs to get the mail, or zipping up the street for any quick errands at the corner shop. And the both of us will clock out at 4pm to take our afternoon walk around the neighborhood. All that time in between, in roughly two hour blocks, is perfect for me to hit things like these posts, daily words, and so on.

I’ll admit that getting myself motivated is sometimes an issue — I mean, who hasn’t been distracted to some level during these political and pandemic seasons? — but once I get myself started, I can usually keep the momentum going until the end of the day. I still get that thrill of finishing a writing assignment like finishing off a chapter or a scene, leaving me one step closer to my goals.

As long as I keep moving!

Working on it

The Theadia project is turning out to be a tougher nut to crack than I’d expected, but at least I’ve learned from experience now that I shouldn’t let that bother me too much. I’ve been spending some of my Daily Words playing around with the plot and searching for the right story that needs telling. It’s very similar to the issues I had with Diwa & Kaffi.

So instead of forcing the story into shape against its will, I’m going the alternate, less stressful route: letting it come to me naturally. And given that this is probably the third or fourth time in a row where I’ve encountered this, perhaps this has become my current style of writing and creating. It takes longer, but there are far fewer dead ends to contend with.

In the meantime, I’m letting myself play around with a few other projects, one of which has been on the Spare Oom back burner for ages, just to keep the writing muscles in shape. I’m not taking them entirely seriously — well, I am, but I haven’t assigned any deadlines or hard stops as of yet.

As long as I’m moving forward, yeah?