The Value of Habits, and the Need for Deadlines

I’m late getting this blog post out today, and it’s wholly because I fell out of the habit of blogging, when I was spending most of my weekends working on our flip house with my husband. Back when I was blogging regularly before, getting the blog done was typically one of the first things I did once I got going on Sunday (although, that sometimes takes me a while). But now?

I had it on my To-Do list, which is the first step. But instead of getting the blog written, I goofed off, cleaned the fish tank (which badly needed doing), did laundry, washed the sheets and put them back on the bed, and puttered around in between. So now it’s after 9 PM, and just now getting to the blog.

Fiction writing is pretty much the same way. Yes, I have adrenal fatigue and chronic migraines, but the latter aren’t usually the debilitating kind, and I can’t help but feel those things are more excuses than reasons. So I have all good intentions of getting to the writing, even to the extent of putting it on my to-do list, but I somehow never seem to get to it.

Except this week, I finally did.

Over the past few months, I’ve been glomming on another financial independence blog called Our Next Life. (btw, highly recommended, as it’s more about the touchy-feeling side of planning for retirement, rather than about numbers, all wrapped up in some wonderful life-musings, and the writing is really good.) The author used to work a very fast-paced, high stress job, and in a post I read last week, wondered what life would be like without deadlines in early retirement.┬áSeriously, that post is well worth a read, especially her thoughts on procrastination, but to sum up, she concluded that without deadlines, she and her husband might not get around to all the travel, service, and outdoorsy adventures they have planned.

I realized that was my problem too. As a writer whose publisher does not impose deadlines (or contract for unfinished work), I was having trouble staying motivated. Worse, I was having this same trouble in my day job.

My dog Isis has several deadlines a day, for taking her beauty naps.

Not that I wasn’t doing anything there, but I just wasn’t feeling the motivation, which led to me not getting as much done as I should have been for the past several months–because there’s no deadline attached. I’m the only programmer working on this project, and while I did give my supervisor a rough idea of when it would be done, there’s no one holding my hands to the keyboard to keep things moving week to week.

So I put together a schedule, breaking my work project down into smaller chunks, and setting a deadline for each one. I was debating on whether or not to send it to my supervisor–after all, it’s not like I expect her to babysit me–when she emailed me and asked for that very thing! So while she has tons of other stuff going on and I don’t expect much follow up, just knowing she has the schedule is giving me a feeling of enough urgency to focus better. And as a result, I’m feeling more engaged with my work.

What I’ve Been Reading: I have a lot to catch up on here–if I even try. I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction, in addition to blogs outside of the fiction writing realm. But of course, I’m still enjoying fiction. Recently, I read Stone Cold Heart, the final (so far) installment of what’s become one of my favorite series, the Mythos Legacy by Jami Gold. One reason I love this paranormal romance series is that these books and characters aren’t just the same-ol, same-ol. In Stone Cold, the hero is a gargoyle warrior in a Rip Van Winkle situation, and the heroine is an Army vet dealing with PTSD. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a different kind of paranormal romance. While the three prior books were also wonderful, it’s not necessary to read these in order. More gargoyle books are planned in a spinoff series, and I’m looking forward to the next one!

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What I’ve Been Writing: For the writing, I jumped back on the ROW80 train last week. While it isn’t the same as a deadline, having someone to be accountable to is a great motivator for me. I hate posting on my blog that I met none of my goals (even though everyone is always kind and supportive), so that helps me get things done.

So am I getting tons done now? Nope. But I did meet my writing goal for this week, which was to finish the Week Two lessons of Holly Lisle’s How to Write Villains workshop. Babysteps!

For next week, we’ll stick with babysteps for now, and plan on getting Week Three done of the workshop.

What about you? Do you need deadlines, or at least some sort of accountability, to get stuff done? Have you read anything good lately? And how are you doing on your goals, whatever they may be (writing or otherwise)? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

 

Fragmented

Lately, it seems I can’t keep my mind on one thing long enough to accomplish anything. This is not just in writing, it’s everywhere – stuff I need to do at home, and also at my day job.

Sometimes, life can feel like this

You’d think it would be easy to stay focused on my job. I’m blessed to have a job I actually like, and the people I work for pretty much hand me a project to do then leave me alone to do it. They are so hands off they rarely even ask for progress. So I can sit at my computer and write code all day ­čśÇ – yes, I know that sounds awful to a lot of people, but it’s what I love! People seldom stop by my desk and interrupt me, unlike jobs past where that was the reason I couldn’t get anything done. When my awesome, current coworkers stop by, it’s usually for something important, like lunch. Yet, there are enough facets to a programming project that I actually can – and do – break up my tasks.

There’s always documentation to be written – something none of us like to do (otherwise, we become business analysts, like one of my peeps), and always seems to be put off until the last minute. There are usually bugs to fix. Email to answer. Luckily, my desk phone hardly ever rings (heaven!) and when it does, it’s a wrong number half the time.

But even when I’m deep in coding, work gets fragmented because to see my changes, I have to restart the web server on my computer, which takes a minute or two.

And while it’s doing that, I’m off to read blogs. Or check personal email on my phone. Or something similar.

At first, ┬ámaking use of these few minutes of downtime here and there seemed like a good way to keep up with all the blog reading I have. There are over 100 blogs in my Google Reader feed – granted, not all of them update regularly, or even often. But there are dozens of new ones to read every day, some of which I really enjoy and look forward to. But by the time I read a post and maybe comment, my web server’s been restarted for a couple of minutes and I’m basically goofing off. Not good. Other times, I’m on a roll with something, then a reminder pops up from Microsoft Outlook, or a random thing I need to remember pops into my head, so of course I have to note that great idea for a blog post on my phone, go call that person or make that appointment, or send that email. More fragmentation.

It’s worse at home, and I don’t have the excuse of waiting for a web server to restart. Mostly it’s that last thing – remembering something or the burst of inspiration that never comes when I’m actually working on the thing that needs inspiring. Sometimes I think of something I want to look up on the Internet – just for a minute! – which of course turns into fifteen. Or a half hour. Or more. I think this fragmentation is the root of all evil of my motivation problems. It doesn’t help that my to-do list is seemingly a mile long – and just thinking about it is overwhelming sometimes to the point that I just want to play computer games (and sometimes, that’s just what I do). This is worse when I’m not feeling well (my excuse reason for not posting a blog on Monday).

Some of this is within my control. Today, I went to work resolved to give my job my full attention, even if it meant twiddling my thumbs for a minute while waiting for the ol’ web server to restart or some files to copy over the network.

I got a lot done – got my project deployed to where my coworkers can use it, in fact. I got documentation written – a whole release notes document. Not a big one, but important. It felt good, I felt accomplished, and I enjoyed work more.

My blog reading might just have to get cut back a bit.

The other stuff is harder to get a handle on – what I call the “life” stuff. Remembering at nine PM, an appointment I have to make the next day during business hours. The best way to be sure I’ll remember it is to email myself at work – right now. That thing I have to look up on the Internet before I forget. I still haven’t gotten to blogs yet today, or writing, other than this blog post, because of planning other things – and playing a computer game or two.

What about you? Have you noticed your life getting more fragmented as you get older or take on more roles (adding “writer” to “mom/dad,” “employee,” “husband/wife,” etc.)? Does it disrupt your enjoyment of things you used to love? How did/do you handle it? Right now, “power through” is my only answer. Wish me luck that it’ll continue!

#ROW80: Week 1, Short and Sweet

Sequencing was a challenge (as I knew it would be), and making time to work on this was too. But it’s done!

This week’s goals

1. Last minute sanity check – IOW, note important stuff I’m afraid I’ll forget

2. Dig into the real revisions: going through my notes and actually writing the changes on my manuscript pages. This is Lesson 16 and starting on Lesson 17 of Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel system. I say “starting on” because the actual cut is brutal, and this manuscript will definitely be more work than either of my last two, and I’m trying to get it done faster, too. Here’s hoping I’ve learned enough to do that.

Several people expressed interest n HTRYN. She’s not currently taking new students, but will be starting on Monday, I believe. I’ll add a direct link when it’s available.

Good luck to everyone participating!

For more info on ROW80, see the “A Round of Words in 80 Days” blog