Dogs Don’t Like Perfectionism Either!

This piece by Nancy Tanner on how impatience ruins dog training is brilliant: When I am asked what is the biggest problem I see in dog training today, it is the same problem I saw fourteen years ago, and thirty years ago, it is the misunderstanding of time. It takes time to learn how to be a teacher to another species. It takes time to learn how to learn from another species. It takes time to build understanding. It takes time to learn how to observe and how to apply what you observe. It takes time to build a relationship with trust. It's not just dog training! Ask teachers of any craft or skill what their #1 challenge is with students, and the answer will inevitably be, "getting them to slow down." While (speaking generally) you want to do your work at a steady clip and not get bogged down on any one detail, you also don't want to rush through the important details--and they can take way longer to get right than many of us think (or want). Even now, after decades of serious writing, I'm … [Read more...]

How to Interrupt a Social Media “Ludic Loop”

"Ludic" is a cute word, and it means "showing a kind of spontaneous and undirected playfulness." A "ludic loop" is less cute, however. That's when you get stuck bouncing from one procrastination-enabling activity to another: e.g., from email to the Web to your social media feed to YouTube, and then back to email again, etc. Ludic loops can be really difficult to defeat, for a couple of reasons: They're not just fun--or, at least, distracting--but give you the illusion of productivity. And, They reward you intermittently--just like slot machines! So, every once in a while, you DO get a "worthwhile" email, Tweet, etc., and that keeps you hooked and waiting for more. Not all time spent on social media, etc., is necessarily ludic; and even if you do wind up in a loop sometimes it's not a big deal. Still, if left unchecked, ludic loops can eat up your time and life and happiness, so let's look at some solutions: 1) Figure out how much ludic stuff you want to do. When helping people budget their … [Read more...]

Research Agrees: You Should Use Money to Buy Time

Loved this piece from a couple of weeks ago, describing a study in which researchers found that people who pay others to do work they don't want to do are happier for it: "New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness. "The study, led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, suggests that using money to buy free time -- such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking -- is linked to greater life satisfaction. "People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they're being lazy," said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research as a PhD candidate in the UBC department of psychology. "But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money." I've been preaching this for years, often getting pushback about the whole "laziness" thing, or from people who believe that … [Read more...]

Thank you Fast Company!

I'm kvelling! A few weeks ago a wonderful Fast Company writer, Stephanie Vozza, approached me for input into an article on how to be as productive as possible during the summer. I told her that I actually thought the opposite: that summer should be for relaxing, and, moreover, that in summer people often relax into their authentic selves. So the goal should really be to carry one's summer productivity habits and attitudes into the rest of the year, so one can live more joyfully and authentically all year long. It was a pretty contrarian view and, to be honest, I didn't expect Stephanie to rework her entire article around it. But that's exactly what she did! Huge props to her and also to her editor for approving the switch! The result is this article and I couldn't be prouder or more honored. I hope it inspires many people (including all of you, my FB friends) to live their summer life all year long. Many thanks to Stephanie and Fast Company! Also, here's a blog post in which I also explored this idea. … [Read more...]

Parenting Is Not a Zero Sum Game!

From Evelyn Tsitas, an exceptionally useful blog post about what it took for her to write her thesis: Admit it, if you are a mother, there is always that nagging voice somewhere – yours or some critic – that says ‘intense focus and study at the expense of much of everything else in your life will be bad for your young children.’ Rubbish. Low expectations, complacency and laziness* are limiting. Constantly pushing your boundaries and challenging your comfort zone, on the other hand, teach children not to be limited in their aspirations while at the same time reinforcing that anything worth achieving takes hard work, and sacrifice.If you are completing your doctorate and fretting about your children taking a back seat, don’t worry. The mum up late studying, turning down social invitations, spending holidays at the computer or university library may be absent from her children’s lives in some ways, but she is abundantly present in ways which matter in the long term. I can tell you first hand that far … [Read more...]

Self-Care Now More Than Ever!

Here's a reminder that self-care becomes even more important during stressful times. The need for self-care would seem obvious, except that some on the right deride people who ask for it as weak, and a culture that supports it as dysfunctional. That attitude diffuses into the general culture and causes people to feel guilty about wanting or needing self-care. Some good people also feel guilty for "taking time off" to care for themselves when there's important social justice work to be done or others in need of serious help. But your disempowering yourself through self-neglect isn't going to help anyone. (To paraphrase the airlines, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.) Many successful activists (and others, of course) devote hours each day to exercise and other forms of self-care, which helps them maintain not just their health and energy, but motivation and focus. As the poet and activist Audre Lorde famously wrote: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is … [Read more...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

Exclusive! John Scalzi’s Time Management and Career Tips

Last week, the publishing world was abuzz with the news that bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi signed a movie-star-like $3.4 million publishing deal for 10 books. Scalzi is someone I admire enormously, not just for his writing and career success, but because he's a genuinely nice guy, both offline (I've seen him at science fiction conventions) and online. Along with his time management and career strategies, Scalzi is a social media powerhouse, so I also interviewed him on his social media strategies. And he's an out, proud, and smart feminist, antiracist, and LGBT ally who regularly speaks out in support of social justice; and who, in consequence, has been a target of some of the Internet's obnoxious regressive elements. (Whom he handles with impressive good humor.) So another thing I asked him was about how he balanced his politics with his public professional persona. Along with novels such as Redshirts, Old Man's War, and the new Lock In, two must-read Scalzi pieces are his poignant … [Read more...]

Sisyphus should not be your role model! (Or, what to do if you’re distracted by the Internet.)

Wasting too much time online? The solution is actually easy: disconnect. At various times, and in various situations, I've done all of the below—and sometimes two or more at a time: In households where others needed WiFi access, I've chosen not to give myself the WiFi password. That meant that while everyone else could access the Internet freely from any location, I had to take my laptop to a specific location (usually, in another room from where I was working), and plug in a cable. In households where I was alone (for instance, when everyone else was out at work), I unplugged the wireless router. (Note: not the modem, which can cause IP address hassles!) I blocked my PC's access to specific problem sites (like addictive games). It's easy! Just Google “How to block a Website in Windows [or Mac or Linux]” and follow a reliable-looking set of instructions. I worked on a “vanilla” PC from which all Internet access, email, games, and other distractions had been removed. (And used a separate PC for those … [Read more...]

What is the biggest barrier standing between you and greater productivity?

In my case, it used to be perfectionism that shut down the creative process before it started. I spent nearly five years writing and rewriting the same novel chapter because I was terrified of having others see it and judge it. Then - as I got less perfectionist - my biggest barrier became time management. I had to learn to aggressively get rid of unimportant and even semi-important activities to clear lots of time for writing and my indie publishing business. Nowadays, I'm not very perfectionist, and I also have more time. But I still have to watch myself because it is easy to say "yes" to requests I really should say "no" to, and even short digressions for nonessential tasks turn out to be surprisingly big drains on my time, attention, and energy. So I really work to keep those to a minimum. I'm also working on becoming a more efficient writer -- a.k.a. "boosting my writing tempo," as I discuss in Chapter 5 ("Optimizing Your Writing Process") of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. Specifically, that … [Read more...]

On The Importance of Going OFF the Internet

Going off the Internet seems a radical act, but for most people it's essential for creativity. The Internet is inherently and continuously interruptive, and that's not a good mix with creative work, or productivity in general. In classes, I quote Jonathan Franzen (“It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”) and other famous writers on the importance of disconnecting. Then I urge students to disconnect by having two computers: a stripped down, "vanilla" one without any Internet connectivity, games, or other distractions. That's the one you write on. And, a "normal" computer where you do all your other work Alternatively, you could use a non-WiFi-enabled computer, and only connect to the Internet intermittently via a cable located far from your writing desk. You can do this even if the rest of your household uses WiFi simply by not saving the WiFi password in your computer. I did that for years--I had no idea what the household WiFi password … [Read more...]