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Posts tagged ‘productivity’

The Monday Post: 8.21.17

Patti Digh

Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how!


10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 Minutes

One of the most popular pieces from our archives!

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 Minutes

It’s a rare but beautiful thing: An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you’re actually “free” for a short window. No one’s hair is on fire and there isn’t anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls. Whatever it is, you realize that the next little bit of time is not yet spoken for. The window is too short to dig into a project, but you do have time for something.

If you’re like most people, you reflexively reach for your smartphone.

And then, before you know it, the unclaimed window has closed. The baby wakes up, the client calls, it’s time to head out — and those minutes are gone. Are you the better for how you spent them?

Don’t get me wrong: Downtime is important. Ten minutes of doing nothing has its value; social media and other internet temptations can, at times, serve as recreation. But more often than not, the interwebs become a crutch that we depend on because we’re in a short period of transition and we’ve conditioned our brains to need constant, fast-food stimulation. We don’t know what else to do — or we do know what to do, but we’re procrastinating because we’re over- or under-whelmed by whatever we really want to be working on. And just when we might benefit most from a screen-free breather, we’re particularly addicted to the glow.

Whether you’re using up minutes that aren’t otherwise spoken for or you’re avoiding a task you’d rather not do, use those 10 minutes to your advantage. Here are 10 “unplugged” ways to do just that.

  1. Meditate. Whether or not you already meditate regularly, a 10-minute break is a great opportunity to sit. Research demonstrates the substantial health benefits of meditation: it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, increases focus, and reduces sensitivity to pain. Not sure how to meditate? Here’s an accessible introduction from Zen Habits.
  2. Write a poem. Short-form poetry is a lot of fun, and it only takes a few minutes to pen a haiku, tanka, or cinquain. Even if you’re unfamiliar with writing poetry, it’s deeply satisfying to solve the poetic puzzle of fitting your ideas into a time-honored structure.
  3. “Treat” read. You know that stack of magazines and journals that you never get to? Perhaps the New York Times Book Review that you set aside for “later,” or that tempting stack of One Story issues? Maybe an alumni magazine you want to peruse? That’s what I call “treat” reading — something that meets these three criteria: it’s short, unplugged, and somewhat indulgent.
  4. Exercise. Do 10 minutes of yoga, jump rope, or — if you have them — run up and down a flight of stairs (assuming you’re healthy enough to do so). A 10-minute burst of exercise boosts your concentration, mood, and physical well-being.
  5. Journal. Grab your journal — even if you’re a regular practitioner of Morning Pages — and gift yourself with a brief clearing session. Write out what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, what’s working, what’s not working. Keep your hand moving. Speaking from experience, 10 minutes of intense journaling can be an amazing stress reliever.
  6. Share the love. Dig out one of those blank cards or bits of stationary that are lurking in a drawer somewhere and write a brief note to someone you care about. It might be a thank-you note, a thinking-of-you note, or just a few lines that amount to “I’m so glad to know you.” Address your envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail the card next time you’re out. This act of gratitude has benefits for you as well as your recipient.
  7. Plot creatively. Grab a few index cards. Using one card per idea, outline a handful of important scenes that need to happen in your novel; the concept, colors, or basis for the painting that’s been kicking around in your head; a few possibilities for future blog posts. If you prefer visuals to words, use the blank side of your index cards to sketch or doodle.
  8. Prepare. Use a short interval to do some groundwork for a project: Gesso a canvas, sharpen your colored pencils, clean off your worktable or desk. If you don’t have any tasks in this category, spend your window filing bills or dealing with that “not sure what to do with this” stack of papers. It’s not sexy, but it sure feels good when it’s finished.
  9. Clip. Gather up a few old magazines (I keep a collection in my art area for this purpose) and flip through those glossy pages in search of collage materials. You don’t need to look for anything specific, just pull or clip the words and images that appeal to you. Save these clippings in a box for later collage work — and file anything else that sparks a story or project idea.
  10. Step outside. Use your brief break to get some fresh air. Go stand outside and marvel at whatever you see, feel, and hear. Raining? Enjoy the sound of rain hitting your umbrella. Snowing? Stand outside and be with it. Can’t go out because the kids are sleeping/watching TV/leaving you alone for a few seconds? Go stand by a window and breathe deeply. We all need to connect with nature, even if it’s just a few long-distance minutes with one straggly tree on the other side of a busy street.

What are your favorite ways to make the most of 10 minutes?


Creative New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s a Must-Have iPhone/iPad App

Goal_StreaksI’m an iPhone app junkie. But not all apps; productivity apps. I’ve tried so many different habit-supporting and time-management apps that I’m scared to think about how much cash all of those “little” purchases add up to. And I’ve deleted nearly as many, when they invariably fail to knock my socks off. But here’s an app that’s truly a keeper, especially for those of us who are bent on maintaining a daily creative practice: Goal Streaks. This app is a terrific motivator for all the new habits you’d like to develop — and is unusually flexible, allowing you to track virtually any frequency intention (not just daily). At right is a screen shot that shows the first three goals I’m tracking (I have ten in total at the moment — all in the creativity and well-being categories).

LifeHacker loves this app too. Here’s an excerpt from the LifeHacker review:

Goal Streaks helps you set and track repeat tasks so you can form habits and achieve long-term goals more easily. The idea is to chip away a little bit each day, but Goal Streaks is incredibly versatile and can handle just about any more complex schedule you care to throw at it.

Earlier this year I solved my procrastination problem with Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret, otherwise known as don’t break the chain. The “secret” is to put up a calendar and mark everyday with an X each time you complete a specific task (e.g. exercise, cook, clean, etc.). Since then many apps have surfaced to help people implement this method of getting things done on their smartphones. While pretty good, none of them were dynamic enough to allow you to create very specific rules. Perhaps you want to be able to do something four days a week and it doesn’t matter to you which days that task is accomplished, or you need to take vacation days from certain tasks (e.g. exercise and work). Goal Streaks allows you to create and schedule tasks with that level of specificity, making it capable of managing pretty much any situation. The only type of schedule it currently can’t handle, as far as I can tell, is something along the lines of doing something for four weeks and then taking a week off. That said, you can give it exception rules so you can skip certain days without penalty.

Goal Streaks is very easy to use and offers a feature tour to introduce you to all the things it can do. The app is responsive, nice to look at, allows you to set daily reminders, and just works better than the others. It may be late to the game, but it’s a better player than what we’ve seen so far.

The fact is, this app WORKS. When you get a couple of days of X’s in a row, you want to keep the chain going. And then you have three weeks of X’s in a row, you actually WANT to stay up past your bedtime to get your 500 words written because if you don’t, you’re back to zero.

Cost: $3.99. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 6.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5. Grab Goal Streaks here. Then get rolling with your creative resolutions and intentions for 2013.

If you don’t have an iPhone or an iPad, my condolences! 😉

Four Simple Ways to Create More and Worry Less

Sometimes creative angst gets the better of us. How often do you find yourself thinking “I don’t have enough time,” or “My work’s not good enough,” or “I’ll never reach my creative goals”? Here are four simple ways to avoid those minefields and stay focused on what really matters: your creative work.

1. Turn rejection into affirmation. With practice, you can reframe rejection so that it actually affirms your creativity, rather than causes injury. Here’s how. Simply put, you can’t get rejected if you haven’t had the courage to send your work out into the world. And you can’t send your work out into the world if you haven’t reached a level of completion and polish that makes you believe your work has legs. And your work can’t have legs if you haven’t put yourself at your desk or easel or studio bench and actually done the work, for however many hours it took. So at its most basic level, each rejection is evidence that you have done your work and sent it out into the world. This is something to celebrate. Rejections simply mean: Yes! I’m doing my work. I was brave enough to send it out into the world, and this “rejection” is simply an affirmation that I am a working artist. I celebrate that fact, and now I turn back to my work in progress.

If this sounds like a tall order, just try it. Over time, you’ll be amazed by how easy it becomes — to the point that you accept rejection as simply part of the process.

2. Move the goalpost into your sphere of influence. Shift your focus away from things you can’t control and onto the things you can. You might decide that you’re going to get your novel published next year. But instead of putting your focus entirely on something that you can’t ultimately control, move the goalposts into a domain that is solidly within your circle of influence. For example: Instead of deciding that you will get your novel accepted for publication next year (which may or may not happen, regardless of your best work, killer query letter, and an introduction to your cousin’s agent), decide that your goal will be to query 50 agents and 30 publishers from the pool of publishers who accept unagented manuscripts. You might start with those who accept simultaneous submissions so that it doesn’t take five years to hit your quota. Keep careful track of your submissions — via your own spreadsheet system or an online submission tracking tool — and when you hit your quotas, celebrate. The only two things you can really control are:

a)   Creating your best work.

b)   Playing the numbers game to get your work in front of as many sets of eyes as it takes.

If you feel discouraged by this process, go back and read #1 above.

3. Establish a regular creative practice. If you’re not already doing your creative work every day, or nearly every day, now’s the time to start. Think it’s impossible to find at least 30 minutes for your creative work on a regular basis? If that’s true—unless you’ve just had a baby or are dealing with a major illness or life event—consider keeping a time log for a few days in order to see where your time is really going. It’s more than likely that there’s something you can pare down on (TV, Facebook, sleep) in order to fit in a regular practice window. If your schedule is so hairy that you can’t commit to a set time every day (which would be ideal, as schedule creates habit and habit breeds productivity) at least commit to a set amount of time every day. When “life happens” and you have to skip practice, don’t beat yourself up about it—just show up tomorrow.

Working regularly may be the most beneficial thing you can do for your creative bandwidth. When you work every day, you learn to show up for creative practice even when you don’t feel like it—even when the muse is off in Bermuda, the house is a mess, the bills need to be paid, and your best friend wants to take you out to lunch. Just show up at your appointed time and do the work. Creative practice is a sacred commitment for those who make meaning through art. If something brilliant comes out along the way, so much the better. But brilliance isn’t the point; showing up is the point. Making meaning through your creative practice is the point. A regular creative practice helps you stay focused on process, rather than outcome.

4. Get comfy with crotchety Aunt Zelda. Our anxiety about creative fear is often more paralyzing than the fear itself. If you can accept that fear and self-doubt are inevitable parts of the process—and are things that even wildly successful writers, artists, and performers grapple with—you will diminish the negative power of insecurity. Try to develop a mantra to use when doubts arise. “Oh, it’s you again, Aunt Zelda. I see you’ve come back for another visit. Sit down and have a cup of tea over here while I carry on with my creative practice.” By acknowledging the fearsome inner critic of Aunt Zelda, and not resisting her arrival, you are free to move ahead. You might even be able to summon up a bit of empathy for Aunt Zelda, who has nothing better to do than drive all over town in her ancient Oldsmobile, just looking for the next person she can inject with fear, doubt, and perhaps even a wholesale existential crisis. Just say, “Thanks, but no,” to Aunt Zelda and stay focused on your creative process. Remember: Just because Aunt Zelda shows up doesn’t mean you have to get into her aging Oldsmobile and go for a ride.

The piece above originally appeared as a guest post at the fabulous Bliss Habits.


Cathy: oh writing, let me count the ways…

…you can frustrate me:

1. my new printer won’t communicate with my computer, so I can’t print out the edits I did at writing group to read and redline a bit more by pages in hand.

2. you come to me in fits and starts while occupying half my concentration all the time.

…you make me do cartwheels, figuratively speaking, of course:

1. I love a new idea, it makes my heart race and my arms want to write or type in that very moment to the exclusion of all else. I get that tingly feeling like a teen falling in love.

2. I love rewriting, reworking, getting it right.

3. (Please let there be a 3 so the positive side can win today.) That netherworld feeling of one foot here, in the house with the kids and the laundry, and one foot there, in my imagination with my character and his family and friends and dog. This week has been hovering around 100 degrees outside and in my manuscript, it’s Thanksgiving in New England — bare trees, the beginnings of snow, nose reddening winds.

Ah, thank you writing, for the cool, cool breeze!

[Crossposted from musings in mayhem]

Cathy: Results!

Remember this list?

I spent the previous two days at writing camp with my writing group. Two whole days dedicated to writing. Yesterday I had a different meeting in the morning, but then I headed straight to  my writing camp’s day two, and thought I was going to have trouble, but amazingly got right to it! I seriously surprised myself by what I accomplished in the last 48 hours!

The List now looks like this:

DONE~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes

DONE~write observatory scene using A. H.’s notes

Fixed~pay attention to name changes for T. B. and T. N.

working on~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description

working on~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene

working on~edit down cooking relevance

mostly finished, maybe a bit more at the end~more on comets

I also edited it a bit more in making sentences and paragraphs more succinct in the first 50 or so pages.

I need to edit the observatory scene now, but at least it’s on paper – er, computer screen. I think my next stage is to print and edit again by hand. I read very differently on paper than on screen, and can see needed changes so much better.

I obviously need to be in a different environment than my office with my home distractions to be able to concentrate on my manuscript edits.

The other five women I sat in quiet with for the past two days expressed the same thing. Here’s the funny part: I thought it was because of my kids, etc, but only half of us have children at home, and of varying ages. I am the only one with a toddler or a special-needs child, of course, I have one of each. Two are grandmothers who live with their retired spouses, who are both very good at busying themselves. And one is home while her husband still goes to the office.

We’re all at a stage of editing a large work we’re committed to. All of our projects are middle reader or young adult novels. Yesterday we planned that the rest of our usual twice a month meetings for the summer will be devoted to writing, no critique.

This way, when autumn comes around, we will all have work to critique. How’s that for commitment? I couldn’t do this without them. I am so grateful to my writing group and to the time we commit to working together.

[crossposted from musings in mayhem]

Cathy: Caught writing

Last week I mentioned my new story idea that came up in the midst of my big edits I need to do on the first book.

Yesterday I had one of those rare creative spells in which, no matter the interruptions, I wrote steadily over the course of about 6 hours on the new idea.

I’m really enjoying it. That spark was what was missing in the edit draft two stage of the manuscript. I mean, I enjoy making the improvements, but it’s a slow road.

But having something else to be excited about is just plain fun.

So I will continue to edit when I have good uninterrupted chunks of time, as in when my writing group meets. But in the meantime, I’m going to have fun over here on this little idea in all the little moments I have between the usual family business.

Making stuff up is so much easier than fixing what I already have. And it’s fun. I feel like a kid with a kite. It’s time to fly.

After my prior whiney blog share, I felt compelled to crosspost from musings in mayhem something more positive on writing that happened shortly after.

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