What to Do When Your Gingerbread House Collapses

I have no idea what went through the mind of whoever built this gingerbread house when it collapsed. But I'm guessing she (or he) didn't get all self-critical and perfectionist about it. Perfectionism is an obstacle to creative problem solving, admirably on display here. Happy holidays, and remember that the secret ingredient is always compassionate objectivity (nonperfectionism). … [Read more...]

“My Productivity Has Increased Tenfold.”

A heartfelt thanks to artist and coaching client Sonja Cillié for the below testimonial on our recent work together: "I have benefited tremendously from our coaching sessions. My productivity has increased tenfold. When I come across a barrier now it doesn't derail me completely anymore, I can get back on track the same or at the very least the next day. I am very aware of my perfectionistic thoughts and am able to be more compassionate (most of the time)." Coaching will help you get your new year off to a productive and confident start. All coaching begins with a $375 Needs Analysis / Action Planning Process, and that may, in fact, be all you need! Sign up now, or learn more about my coaching here. Also, order a paperback copy of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific directly from me and I'll custom-autograph it for you or the person of your choice. (You'll also get an e-copy!) Be sure to write the desired inscription in the memo section of your order form. (You can also get it from Amazon and iTunes, of … [Read more...]

What’s the Right Number of Drafts?

"What's the right number of drafts?" Meaning: how many drafts does it take to produce a polished piece of work? When I ask that question during workshops, people usually reply between two and five. (People who are familiar with my work and think they know where I'm heading usually answer with a higher number.) But if there's a journalist, or former journalist, in the class, they always give the right answer: "As many as it takes." I guess journalists are taught this by their teachers and mentors. I was reminded of this by a recent article on writing by the brilliant Rebecca Solnit in which she mentions, "I’ve seen things that were amazing in the 17th version get flattened out in the 23rd." I imagine some readers were all: "Wait--what? 17 drafts?! 23 drafts?!!!" For me, 17 is nothing. I probably rewrite every word of my books two or three dozen times. Even "simple" blog posts like this one get rewritten five or ten times. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it might not be as much … [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...]

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...]

Why Email Overload is an Overgiving Problem

Email overload can be regarded as an overgiving problem. Sure, you get too many emails each day, and they take too long to answer. If you’re like many people, however,  you’re reluctant to face the problem by: (1) leaving some (or many) emails unanswered, and (2) answering most of the remaining ones tersely. (Many people write multi-paragraph emails when a simple “Sorry – can’t do it.” or “Great!” or “See you at 8!” will do.) This isn’t all your fault! Here are some factors that make email so tricky: We get a lot of emails. If you get just twenty a day and spent just three extra minutes on each one, that’s an hour lost each day! When you’re flooded with emails you’ve got to be super-efficient in dealing with them or they’ll bury you. Email occupies a weird middle terrain between the formality and permanence of written communication and the informality and impermanence of spoken communication. You’re getting many different types of emails thrown at you. That makes it harder to deal with them … [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: Harry Potter and The Boggart Perfectionism Joyful Productivity and The Woodland Trail Metaphor … [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!

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 helped out a charitable cause. Another had to unexpectedly renovate an apartment that a tenant trashed. Still another spent part of her vacation in close quarters with difficult relatives. They all needed a vacation from their vacation! I myself had a terrific summer with … [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...]