How to Bingo Your Way to Fun Productivity!

In a recent newsletter I mentioned how I sometimes roll a die to decide which section of my project to work on. When you pick a section at random it’s hard to take the work too seriously or otherwise get perfectionist. Reader Nathan wrote in with another great randomizing technique from Viviane Schwarz: bingo cages (a.k.a., wheels). "One of my most important work tools is a bingo wheel which I throw wooden balls in labelled with the projects I need to work on—I've found it absolutely impossible to run a schedule based on priority, they all need work all the time and thinking about which one is the most pressing is just wasting time. I spin out a project, set a timer and work on it for half an hour or an hour to take it forward, then I spin again until it's time to stop working. It sounds quite ridiculous but it beats every other system I've ever tried for productivity; you just have to make sure the right balls are in the cage, throw in more if a deadline is approaching or take some out if something … [Read more...]

Inspiring Post-Election Words from Atul Gawande and Perennial Wisdom from Gene Sharp

I’ll send out another productivity newsletter in a bit, but in the meantime, Atul Gawande’s New Yorker piece offers one of the most healing and encouraging responses to the election I’ve seen. Excerpt: To a large extent, though, institutions closer to home are what secure and sustain our values. This is the time to strengthen those institutions, to better include the seventy per cent who have been forsaken. Our institutions of fair-minded journalism, of science and scholarship, and of the arts matter more now than ever. In municipalities and state governments, people are eager to work on the hard problems—whether it’s making sure that people don’t lose their home if they get sick, or that wages are lifted, or that the reality of climate change is addressed. Years before Obamacare, Massachusetts passed a health-reform law that covers ninety-seven per cent of its residents, and leaders of both parties have affirmed that they will work to maintain those policies regardless of what a Trump Administration … [Read more...]

Tips for a Distracting Time

It's been a crazy and, in many ways, difficult week here in the U.S. If you're having trouble working (as I am and I know many others are), grab your timer and do short intervals. (Even a minute or two!) You will make progress and, perhaps even more importantly, keep the material fresh in your head so that you can re-enter it more easily when you have more focus. And who knows? Maybe a couple of minutes will lead to a couple more, then a couple more, etc. Did I tell you I sometimes use dice? I have a great purple set from Chessex (gamers' choice; a cheap indulgence). Sometimes I roll a die to decide which part of my manuscript to work on. (Which chapter or section; they're all numbered.) It adds a bit of color and fun to the process, and randomness is a great tool against perfectionism because you can't really take a piece of writing that seriously when you're only working on it because you rolled it. For those (understandably) upset about the U.S. election, a few tips: Don't perfectionistically … [Read more...]

Six Things To Do If You’re Having Trouble Finishing Your Work

Here's the list: (1) Show it! Often we procrastinate because we’re afraid to show our work to anyone. (“Afraid” is probably putting it lightly—we’re often terrified.) So stop hoarding your work and start showing it. But be judicious: there’s no point in showing to clueless or callous people. Show only to kind supporters who “get” what you’re trying to do. Start now! Show bits and pieces, or the whole thing. Invite any feedback, or certain kinds of feedback, or no feedback at all. (Tell your audience what you want!) The showing, not the feedback, is the important part. (2) Finish small stuff. Finishing is a skill you can practice. If you’re a fiction writer, write anecdotes and vignettes. (Bring them to completion, and then show them.) If you write nonfiction, write up (and show) one small point instead of several big ones. If you’re stuck on a complex email, write (and send) several small ones instead. (Here’s how to overcome email overload.) Then move on (gradually) to finishing bigger … [Read more...]

Do You Have a “Room of ReQUIETment?”

Continuing on last week’s Harry Potter theme, I want to ask you: Do you have a “Room of ReQUIETment?” Of course that’s a play on Room of Requirement, the fantastic room at Hogwarts that could be anything, supply anything, a student needed. Back in 1929, Virginia Woolf published A Room of One’s Own, which discussed, among other things, a creative woman’s need for space and privacy. (Of course, men need these things, too—it’s just that fewer women had them in Woolf’s day.) But physical space isn’t enough. You also need a quiet, capacious mental space that’s free of judgment, worry, and external concern; and in which you can invent and play and create freely. I call that your Room of ReQUIETment. Create it using the nonperfectionism techniques I’ve written about in The 7 Secrets of the Prolific and elsewhere. See also: Joyful Productivity and The Woodland Trail Metaphor Harry Potter and The Boggart Perfectionism … [Read more...]

On Trying to Write While Sitting in the Midst of the Battle of Hogwarts

An author friend of mine recently wrote on Facebook (and gave me kind permission to post): “Almost impossible to work these days. It feels like I'm sitting in the entrance hall of Hogwarts trying to write...while the final battle with Voldemort and the Death Eaters is raging around me.” She's not alone. Recently YouTube celebrity (and prolific vlogger) Hank Green tweeted: “This election has been consuming. It's been a source of constant anxiety and is reinforcing unhealthy behaviors for me.” (He followed up with one that said: “But that's mostly because, it matters so goddamn much.”) To which, prolific, bestselling, science fiction author John Scalzi replied: “The damn election is partly why I am behind on this book I'm writing. I hate I'm distracted, but it's my country.” Okay, so if you’re finding the election distracting—and my apologies to my non-US readers for another U.S.-centric newsletter, but the principles do apply generally—you’re in good company. And I’m with you, by the way: … [Read more...]

Why You Don’t Want to be Donald Trump

One thing I teach, in my writing and business classes, is how to effectively promote yourself. I have a handout (see below) summarizing the three “Promotional Personalities”: Arrogant Idiot Properly Proud Shy And Self-Effacing I came up with these because so many students were reluctant to promote their work because they were afraid of being (or being perceived as) arrogant, obnoxious, and/or pushy. And so they would err on the side of caution and become too shy and self-effacing. I wanted to show them the productive "middle way." The first time I ever taught all this in class, I asked who would be a good example of an Arrogant Idiot. Several students immediately shouted out, “Donald Trump!” And so, ever since then, I've used the adjective “Trumpish” to describe the Arrogant Idiot. And, in fifteen+ years of teaching, no one has ever pushed back. Of course, arrogant idiocy* isn't the worst thing about Trump—his racism, misogyny, and fundamental dishonesty and lack of integrity are. So … [Read more...]

An Insanely Simple Tip That Will Make Your Writing Sessions Fly

Ditch your clock! I mean at your workspace. I got this idea this summer, when I was doing a lot of tabling (at the farmers market, PRIDE festival, etc.) for our group Vegan Kalamazoo. Each gig was between three and six hours. On days when I wore my watch or kept my cell phone on, it was hard not to check the time every few minutes—and so, just as it does for bored schoolchildren or office-workers who watch the clock all day, the day draggggged. (Note: tabling isn't boring! I love meeting new people and talking about veganism. But there's no doubt it's work.) But on days when I left my watch home and shut off my phone, I entered a kind of time-free zone, and the day was much pleasanter and seemed to go much faster. Eventually, it occurred to me that if I got rid of the clock on my computer screen my writing sessions would seem faster, too. And I did, and they did! This isn’t a new idea, by the way. It’s why, for example, you’ll only rarely see a clock in a supermarket, store, casino, … [Read more...]

Beware Post-Summer Situational Perfectionism!

Note – this one's a bit late, partly because Labor Day was late this year. But hopefully it will still be in time to help a few people. In any case, the principles apply after any break, so if necessary consider it a piece of early advice for the upcoming holiday season! - Hill A few people have told me they've been having trouble getting back to work after summer vacation. They're telling themselves (and others, unfortunately, are also telling them) stuff like: “Okay, summer's over. I've had my break. Now, I'd better get back to work. In fact, I need to work extra hard to make up for lost time.” That's an example of situational perfectionism, which is any condition that causes your perfectionism to spike. And, like all perfectionism, it's a dead end. Putting pressure on yourself only causes your creative, productive self to rebel and shut down. Also, let's not forget that many vacations are not actually that relaxing. One person I spoke with did a “service vacation” where she nobly but stressfully … [Read more...]

Fall Coaching, Classes, and the State of the Books!

Hi Everyone, Please see last week’s newsletter in which I described my new newsletter approach. Thanks to the many good people who wrote in with comments and/or in support of my new plan. I always welcome, and thrive on, your input. Below are my coaching, teaching, and writing plans for the fall. Some good opportunities to jumpstart your productivity! Best, Hillary Coaching Current clients - Remember: coaching hours are usable for one year after purchase. If you've got 'em, use 'em! If you don’t know what to use ‘em for, email me: we’ll figure it out. Former clients - I would love to hear from you. Please send an update and if you have a concise question or two that I can answer quickly for free, I will be happy to do so. Prospective clients – From my coaching page : Every season I take on a limited number of new coaching clients. They’re typically ambitious, focused individuals who want to make the fastest possible progress on one or more of these goals: get more work done each day; … [Read more...]

Update! And Why Self-Censorship Doesn’t Work

I hope everyone had a great summer! I continue to thrive in Kalamazoo. You haven't heard much from me, lately, for a few reasons: I've been busy working on my next book, a version of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific just for undergraduate students. (More on this in future newsletters.) The local vegan group I cofounded two years ago, Vegan Kalamazoo, has really taken off. We’ve now got hundreds of members and do several activities each month. Running it is now at least a quarter-time job. I’ve also been doing more blogging on effective vegan activism. For those who are interested, here are some of my articles: Compromise Isn’t Complicity, The Myth of the Overnight Vegan Conversion, and (an oldie, just fyi) The Rise of Nonperfectionist Veganism. I was given the opportunity to blog on Balloon Juice, one of my favorite blogs. It gets between 15-50K visitors a day (more during times of political excitement—like now!), and is also read by influential bloggers, members of the press, and others. So it’s a … [Read more...]

Fan Mail From Novosibirsk

I was thrilled to get some fan mail from Novosibirsk today: Hello, miss Rettig! My name is Alexander, I’m writer from Russia. Couple weeks ago I found your book - and it was like a revelation for me. I always want to be a writer. I was started to write seriously three or four times - and always crashed myself down with fears and doubts. In January I started it again, now more seriously than ever, I really worked hard, but in June I started to feel the ghost of defeat again… And then I find your book. All my fears, all my doubts, all unspoken words about my writing was there! I couldn’t believe it! I was searching for things that you wrote FOR YEARS (it’s true!). Now I have it all in one book on my shelf! Amazing! Procrastination is not defeated, but now I have a deadly weapon for it. So I just want to say my biggest thanks to you for this book. Here it is: THANK YOU VERY VERY VERY MUCH!!!:) And one more little thanks for preface for the Russian edition;) Writing is so solitary and it can be easy to … [Read more...]

Exclusive: Sharon Shinn’s Time Management Tips!

I was recently thrilled to have the opportunity to interview bestselling fantasy / science fiction / romance / young adult novelist Sharon Shinn. Why all the genres? She's incredibly prolific. Moreover, she's prolific while holding down a full-time job. A writing job! It's just incredible. I just had to find out how she does it--especially because she also happens to be one of my favorite authors. I especially love her popular Samaria series (the first volume of which, Archangel, is shown below), but all of her books are filled with great characters, suspenseful plots, fabulous world-building, and the kind of well-crafted prose that's a joy to read.   I hope you find Sharon's time management insights as useful and inspiring as I do--and thanks to Sharon for the interview! (Also see previous interviews with best-selling science fiction writer John Scalzi and acclaimed free software activist and MacArthur "Genius" Richard Stallman.) - Hillary 1. You are someone who works full time who has managed to write … [Read more...]

Cleveland Events: Saturday 4/23 and Sunday 4/24

Saturday, April 23, 10:00 a.m. to Noon in Cleveland, Ohio at Literary Cleveland at Lake Erie Ink, Hillary is presenting Joyful Writing Productivity. Inspiration exists and is available to everyone at any time. Under-productivity, procrastination, and blocks are solvable problems. The secret to achieving a state of near-perpetual inspiration (a.k.a., “flow”) is to switch from a scarcity to an abundance mindset, and also from a shame/blame mindset to one focused on problem-solving. In this workshop by Hillary Rettig, author of the best-selling THE 7 SECRETS OF THE  PROLIFIC and THE LIFELONG ACTIVIST, we’ll delve deep into the heart of under-productivity so you can see, once and for all, what forces are holding you back. Then we’ll discuss solutions—lots of them—that you can start using immediately to boost productivity and reduce stress. This workshop is for all writers—including creative, academic, student, and those who write on the job—plus all artists, activists, and anyone seeking to get more … [Read more...]

Harper Lee, “Second Novel Syndrome,” and Situational Perfectionism

Harper Lee, author of the immortal To Kill a Mockingbird, died last week at 89. She never published another book except for Go Set a Watchman, which was published in 2015 in what many consider to be dubious circumstances. Lee may have suffered from second-novel syndrome, a form of procrastination in which an author becomes self-conscious due to the public attention she receives for her first book, and is consequently inhibited from publishing her second. I don't know whether she wanted to keep publishing or not, but she did tell one interviewer: “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death [of Mockingbird] at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement....I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.” If she did suffer from second-novel syndrome, she wasn't alone. Ralph Ellison … [Read more...]