Just a quarter of an hour

Writer Sallie Tams has a blog post with a huge amount of solid, good, even great advice about getting on with things. Do read the whole piece but this is one section I especially liked:

YOUR STARTER FOR 15 – what can you do in the next 15 minutes that advances you towards the goal? There are 96 opportunities to do this every day – take just one of them and use it to get one step closer to where you want to be. You will be astonished what you can achieve in 15 minutes. I did this with my extremely derelict and over-grown garden when I moved into this house. Initially I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea where to start but by giving myself 15 minutes every night and a little longer at weekends, got the task done and the results were edible (as you can see above) – how great is that?

Done Really Is Better Than Perfect – Sallie Tams, One Word After Another (15 March 2015)

Read the full piece.

Write like you’re doing a meal plan

This doesn’t help if your main writing work today is a novel. But if you’re writing lots of smaller pieces, if you’re blogging, if you’re pitching stories out to people, if you are doing anything that is bitty, take a minute to do a meal plan.

For instance, this news site The Blank Screen will almost invariably have five new articles per day. If a lot happens, if something very big and relevant to you and I goes on, then it’s more. It’s rarely less because there is always enough going on and enough to read that I can help you postpone actually doing any work.

I don’t try to write five articles per day, though, I try to write six. It’s not always possible of course but when it is, when I can do it and when there is material to write about, then a sixth piece is a real help.

It can’t be something time-sensitive, it can’t be breaking news, but it can still be something useful and interesting – just something useful and interesting that I can hold to the next day. That means the next day begins with me already having one of the five started. If I then manage to write six new ones, I can hold two over for another day.

You could argue that this is like preparing today’s meal and then using leftovers tomorrow. I like that except it feels mildly insulting to whatever tomorrow’s articles are. Still, it’s true.

But there’s something else. It’s easier to write that sixth article than it is to write the first. It’s like you’re in the zone by then, you’ve got five pieces behind you, a sixth is not a massive stretch.

On Fridays, I also write The Blank Screen email newsletter (do sign up for your copy). Also on Fridays I write an entirely personal blog called Self Distract. Then on the first Monday of every month I write an email newsletter for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s West Midlands branch. Now, that Guild newsletter goes out on that first Monday in the month but I’ll write as much of it as I can the previous Friday. So that means on one Friday in a month I am writing two email newsletters, one personal blog and five or six news articles. Doing them all in one go, piece after piece in a row, is much easier and faster than picking up one piece a day and working on those.

As well as being in the zone both of writing and of researching new material for the newsletters, there is the practical element that they get written in the same places. I’ll compile the ideas in Evernote but both newsletters are sent using a service called Mailchimp and there are certain steps you go through. Go through those steps for The Blank Screen newsletter first means you whack through them all a second time for the Writers’ Guild much faster.

Everything you write – I mean you, specifically you – has three parts to it. There’s the getting ready to write, there’s the writing, there’s the finishing up. If you can do more writing in the middle then you save the time getting ready and you save the time wrapping up the details.

I see that very much like planning out the meals for the week and knowing that if I do a slow cooker thing on Tuesday that it will last me Wednesday and Thursday too.

One thing. The Blank Screen newsletter always includes a section called What I’m Writing. Ostensibly this is to show you that I am doing some bleedin’ work, I’m not just after telling you to do some. It does also definitely mean I will write something in the week so that I don’t have to confess laziness to you.


It also very specifically means I will always include a reference and a live link to the new personal Self Distract blog.

Which means I have to write and publish Self Distract first.

By making this choice, I set a sequence for myself and that means I never have to think about it. I’m sitting down now to write Self Distract and that is the only thing I can do, it is the right thing to do, I can concentrate on it fully.

Maybe I just need tricks like this to get me through the week but I bet you do too.

Day 3 of Decluttering Omnifocus – and a snag

So, previously I’ve faced up to how by the end of 2014 my OmniFocus To Do database was in a right state. And I’ve been doing something about it. By now I should have my shiny 2015 database up and running – but I don’t.

I also don’t have my messy old 2014 one. I have something from in between 2014 and 2015.

It’s because a) I went through the old one ticking off what I’d done and what I was going to delete and 2) I ran out of time because of deadlines. For the last couple of days I’ve been working from the old database but with its shiny new polish. And it’s been working really well.

Even just doing this much, I am feeling on top of things again. Which, as I’ve said before, is the real benefit of OmniFocus. Above feature set and specifications, if it can make you feel this good about what you’re doing and what plates you’re spinning, I’m happy.

But I must just move it on to a new set of 2015 folders. I must. I will.

Bollocks to New Year’s Resolutions

Look, it’s your choice: say bollocks to them now or say bollocks to them in a few days, weeks or maybe if you’re very strong, months. The start of a new year comes with more engineering strain than it should, given that the whole thing is an artificial construct and – wait, that does sound like engineering.

I mean this in the same way that you see when we change our clocks, putting them forward or back an hour. Every single time I can guarantee I will end up in a conversation where it’s 8pm, say, and someone tells me that: “Of course, it’s really only 7pm”.

No, it isn’t.

It isn’t 7pm, it isn’t 8pm, the very most you can say about it is that it’s now. (I have a watch that just says ‘Now’ instead of having any hands or digits at all. It is by far the most accurate watch I’ve ever had though I think it’s lost some time lately. That’s my excuse for buying an Apple Watch and I’m sticking to that.)

Anyway, we just collectively agree to call now 7pm or 8pm or whatever it is. There’s a rich source of drama in this – Alan Plater did two terrific radio and then stage plays about when the UK adopted one single time zone and it’s the only time I’ve resented him for finding the drama before me – but now, right now, the clock and the calendar are the same. They are artificial constructs, things we created and that we choose to agree on.

Which all makes sense and is in all ways sensible, practical and – yep – productive. What isn’t is all this stuff we hang on to certain days like pegs. Our birthdays. Shouldn’t it be our mothers getting presents? Anniversary of some seriously painful stuff there. And New Year’s Day. If you didn’t make any resolutions, you at least thought about how you’re not making resolutions.

And if you did then you also know that the New Year’s Resolution Effect lasts but a very short time. Come a rotten wet Tuesday in February, the resolution field is at best membrane-thin.

Which means at some point you go from feeling you must and/or should make resolutions to feeling bad that you failed at them. Come next New Year’s Eve and the next cycle, you go through the same thing but now you have last year’s failure weighing on you. You have every year’s failure weighing on you. If there were ever a resolution that you might actually succeed at, you kill your own chance by the certain and correct knowledge that you have failed every single time before.

Seriously, then. Bollocks to it all.

Don’t make a resolution for the New Year, don’t plan to change something for your life, do something to change today. Do something different or better or new or worse or stupid or anything today. Then tomorrow you have a success on your hands. Possibly a regret too, but we need a few of those.

We want so much and we can do so much. But we can do it one pixel at a time.

Listen, I am by nature a pessimist and I fight it chiefly by racing to do the next thing before the current one dies. Christmas and New Year is sometimes tough for me because I can’t do so much racing. But I used to believe – and I used to think I was clever in believing – that the walk of a thousand miles ends with but 10,997 steps.

(I worked it out.)

This is true. It is also true that the usual form of that saying, about beginning such a walk, is trite and cliché.

But it has a point.

I just think we need to add one more point to it.

Work on something you enjoy doing now and get the enjoyment out of it now. Whether it becomes something bigger, whether you finish the novel or get the TV commission, there is pleasure and satisfication and accomplishment and art in the journey. So enjoy the journey.

Lighten up about the new year and bollocks to new year’s resolutions.

Six Subtle Things Highly Productive People Do Every Day

I should do me some of these.

Eric Barker, writing in Business Insider, heads the list with this unexpected advice:

If you start the day calm it’s easy to get the right things done and focus.

He's got much more to say about why that works and also what specific steps you can take to make it happen, to make it happen every day. Plus another five detailed things that I know I've done some times. And must do more.

Read the whole piece on Business Insider – though sorry for the irritating ad page you have to tap through first.

Is it a task? Is it an event? No, it’s… er… um…

I was in a meeting last night and was told I had to do something – but only if certain other things happened. Broadly, if any of these things go wrong then I have to do this or that or the other depending on what and where and when.

It all makes absolute sense but it makes sense to me now. I don’t know that it makes so much sense that I will remember it in a year’s time when one of these things goes wrong.

Plus, I got into a state recently because my OmniFocus To Do list was so full of stray ideas and stuff that I will never get around to that I wasn’t getting around to the stuff I needed to do. I was seeing trees instead of wood. I was feeling like I’d lost all control of everything. And while I’m back now, while it feels great to be on top of it all once more, the road to that misery is to bung in things that you shouldn’t.

And I don’t know. I can’t put this particular instruction in my calendar, that’s obvious. But I can put it in my task list. Yet if I do, when exactly do I tick it off? Possibly never, certainly not for a month, probably not for many months. It would sit there forever, really.

This is starting to happen more and more. I don’t know how I’ve coped with it before, I’m not sure that I have coped with it before, but it’s happening now and I need to deal with it now. So what I’m trying is this: I’m creating Evernote notebooks devoted to the organisation or the project. Those instructions are now one note that will stay in Evernote forever. Because that’s what you use Evernote for: it’s for remembering forever. And if I never look up the notebook again, it’ll be because I don’t need to. Fine.

But will this work? It sounds sensible to me. Except in a month or a few months or a year or if ever this thing goes wrong, then will I remember that I have these Evernote notebooks?

I should add a task to OmniFocus that says “Check the Evernote notebooks you created in order to not have tasks in OmniFocus that you need to check”