The 2018 Reboot | Week 8 Check-In

Productivity

The past seven days have been… less than ideal. I’m still dealing with this stupid cold (the worst of it seems to be hitting me right about now), and construction on my building, and… yeah.

But! The reboot continues, even if it’s a little slower than I’d like at the moment. (If you’re just joining me and not sure what I’m talking about, here’s the explanation.)


I’m going to keep this update short and sweet.

The goals:

Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating.
Still going strong. Not right at this moment (my attention span is pretty much limited to the fluffiest of romcoms right now), but in general: I’m doing well.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
This… hasn’t been going so well. I’m still tracking my focus, motivation, and energy throughout the day, but I’m going to have to keep that up for another week or two. (The data is a bit skewed right now, for obvious reasons.) Overall, though, I do feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
This has been, without a doubt, the most challenging part of this whole reboot. Partly because it’s kind of boring (let’s be honest), and partly because I need to test and fine-tune any workflow that I develop, and that requires doing more actual work than I have been lately. But November is coming up (… tomorrow…) and with multiple projects at various stages of completion, next month is going to be a really good opportunity to test some systems. (It’s also going to be a good chance to really work on structuring my time.)

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
This is definitely where I’m showing the most improvement this week (and in general). I’m still figuring things out, especially when it comes to longer-term planning, but I’ve made progress on the day-to-day. This week has been a really good test—my current todo list setup has kept me (mostly) on track, despite wanting to sleep all the time, so that’s a win.

Finish the work on the office.
I’ve made a little bit of progress on this, but not much. Hoping to make a little more progress today.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 7 Check-In

Personal, Productivity

This week, I’ve been thinking about my big goals.

Not the big things I’m trying to accomplish right now, or even my one-year goals (though there has been some of that), but the big goals. The things that stretch out over five or ten years. And I’m starting to realize that I don’t really know what those goals are. Or… it’s kind of hard to describe. I can picture exactly what I want my life to look like in that time, what I want it to feel like, but beyond that, it’s a bit of a blur. It makes actually planning for that future difficult, if not impossible. I’m limited to taking steps that feel like they’re going in the right direction, without really knowing what the finish line looks like.

Basically, I’ve realized that I’ve been thinking tactically, rather than strategically. I haven’t defined my goals clearly enough, so I have no way of knowing whether those tactics are, in fact, moving me any closer to where I ultimately want to be.

This is a really good thing.

Not the fact of it, obviously, but that I’m realizing it, and that I’m realizing it now, when I’m already primed to make changes. I’m already taking the steps to improve the day-to-day, and I’m going to keep going with that, but I’m also going to start clarifying the long-term. Once I do that, I’ll be able to fine-tune my day-to-day tactics to support my long-term strategy.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 6 Check-In

Productivity

I’ve been kind of obsessed with todo lists this week.

I know. Try to contain your excitement.

Really, though, it’s a bit of a dilemma for me. For a long time, my go-to bio on social media included the phrase ‘list-maker,’ right after ‘writer’ and ‘photographer.’ I love a good todo list.

But I have no idea how to make one work for me.

It’s one thing if it’s a specific project, and I can just check things off until I’m done, but in a more general context… no idea. I’ve never found a system that works for me, whether it’s pen-and-paper, or bare-bones digital, or a digital system with all the bells and whistles. I always start with enthusiasm, sure I’ve found the perfect setup, but within a few months, things start slipping, I start putting things off, and then I start looking for the new perfect tool.

(The one exception—in that it really did work for me for about a year—was Habitica. Since I was in a fairly active guild, if I didn’t check things off it affected other people, not just me. But the todo list aspect didn’t actually have all the features I needed (specifically, more customizable repeatable actions).)

I know that it doesn’t really have anything to do with the tools I use. It’s me. (Though I do have a few issues with the Eisenhower matrix. I can see how it’s useful, but… yeah. I might go into detail on that at some point, once I’ve figured out how to articulate my thoughts.)

I need to figure out how to use a to-do list effectively, and how to motivate myself. If nothing else, I know that after a certain point, just checking things off a list doesn’t cut it.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 5 Check-In

Productivity

It’s been a while since I checked in on this little project of mine (here’s the explanation for my absence, if you missed it), but I’m happy to say that it’s only the check-ins that I’ve missed. I haven’t been neglecting the reboot itself, and I’m actually kind of impressed with the progress I’ve made in the past few weeks, despite everything.

Let’s get to the individual goals, shall we?

The 2018 Reboot | Week 2 Check-In

Productivity

It’s time to check in on the progress I’ve been making with my work/life reboot.

In general, it hasn’t been a bad week… even if I’ve had a few days in a row that have felt like I completely stalled on all the progress I’d been making. Really, that’s why these regular updates are helpful for me: they make me sit down and think about each of my individual goals, and honestly assess how I’ve been doing. It’s so easy to let a few bad days discourage me (or to get complacent after a few particularly good days), but when I look at the week as a whole… it’s good. I like the progress I’m seeing.

Mostly.

Now. About those individual goals….


Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating.
I’m still doing well with this one—I’m actually doing better with this one than I was last week. (I had to finish a couple of the mediocre books I was reading when I made up my mind to do this. They were just good enough that I didn’t want to drop them in the middle of the story. But they’re done now, and I’m on to the genuinely good stuff.)

I still haven’t seen a real improvement in the work itself, but again: right now, I’m outlining one project and waiting for notes on another, so I’m not doing the kind of work where I’d see an improvement. But I do like the way I’ve been thinking about my work lately (there’s gonna be a doozy of a blog post coming up at some point in the near future, and if you’re not subscribed to my newsletter yet, it might be a good time to do so. Just saying), and that’s something.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
I’m still in the early experimental stage with this. I’ve been trying a few different time-tracking methods (to figure out how I’m using my time now), and reading up on circadian and ultradian rhythms (because why not?).

But the real progress has been due to the weather. As the humidity eases up, I’m slowly reviving my workout and running routines, and that does a lot for my morning routine in general. Maybe it’s a bit counterintuitive—the exercise cuts into my most productive time, sometimes significantly—but I really do find it easier to find my creative flow on the mornings when I’ve worked out or gone for a run.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
Still haven’t done anything with this. I’m going to make this my priority for the next week.

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
The bullet journal experiment seems to be going ok. I’m keeping things very minimal for now: no complex spreads or trackers, and I’m only adding features as I decide I need them. It means the whole thing’s a bit of a mess for now, but since my goal is to figure out what I actually want in a planner, it’s working for me.

We’ll see if it keeps working in the longer term.

Finish the work on the office.
I’ve been slacking off on my decluttering this week. Just a little, but I do notice the difference.

The problem is that decluttering is boring. It’s going through papers and magazines to make sure there’s nothing I want to keep (there’s almost never anything I want to keep), and until I’m done with this stage of things, I can’t really move forward. Still. It needs to be done, and I’m going to get back to it over the next week.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 1 Check-In

Productivity

A quick recap: a little over a week ago, I decided that I needed to get out of the creative and productive rut I’ve fallen into over the past few months. And it would be good if I could prevent myself from going down a similar path in the future.

So I’ve set some goals for the rest of the year, to build a solid foundation for myself and my long-term goals going into 2019.

I’m going to check in with these goals every week. I still haven’t quite decided what form these check-ins are ultimately going to take (and they’re not all going to be on Thursdays). But for now, one week in, I’m just going to look at each of those goals, and the progress I’m making (or not).


Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating.
As expected, this is the first area where I can see actual progress. I’ve gone through all the unread ebooks I’ve been collecting (am I the only person who finds it really easy to do that? Like, even easier than it always is with physical books?), deleted the ones I know are just ‘junk food,’ and made the ones that I do genuinely want to read easier to find. I cleaned up my ‘wish list’ on my library app, doing the same thing (and adding a few new books that I’m really looking forward to). I’ve (re)committed to watching at least one movie a week; I might increase that to two or three later, if I can make it fit into my schedule. I’ve been doing much better at avoiding those horrible, time-wasting websites.

Have I seen an improvement in my work? Not yet (that would involve doing more work than I have been this week). But I do suddenly have an almost-fully-formed outline in my head for a story that could be so good. Except I very much DO NOT WANT to write the damn thing. Or I do, but… I don’t. (There are reasons. Good ones.) So… I’m not quite sure what to do with that. At least I’m feeling inspired; that’s no small thing.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
I said last week that this is my biggest problem. I’m not going to magically fix it in a week.

Right now, I’m in the research stage of things: reading about time management (and trying to separate the useful information from the dross) and looking at different time-tracking techniques (my natural inclination is to use an app, but I’ve done that before, and while it’s easy and can produce pretty graphs, I don’t know if those pretty graphs motivate me to actually change things).

So… not great, but I’m moving in the right direction.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
Yeah… I haven’t even started thinking about this one.

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
Hm. I’ve sort of started? Maybe?

I’ve revived the bullet journal I abandoned at the beginning of the year, and I’ve been experimenting with different ways of using that. I’m in research mode, here, too—and, like time management, wading through all the productivity porn and figuring out what’s useful, what’s useful to me, and what’s just empty platitudes… it’s going to take some time. This is actually the area I want put the most effort into over the next week

Finish the work on the office.
More progress! I’m back on track with the decluttering process (it’s a bit slow—it’s a bit of a challenge, even for an unsentimental minimalist like me—but it is happening), I’ve sourced the final supplies I need for my DIY art project, and I’ve finally got good task lighting. I’m feeling good about this.


In all: it’s not terrible. It’s about what I expected for a plan like this, only one week in. Most of my active projects are still in slightly awkward stages, and it’s difficult to build a routine around them just yet. But it’s a start, and everything will start to get easier as I figure out what I’m doing.

The 2018 Reboot

Productivity

It’s been a long, hot summer, and in the past few months I have fallen out of every good habit I’d managed to establish in the first half of the year.

I haven’t been taking photos, or at least not many. One of my big photography goals for the year—one that I’d hoped to achieve in June—has stalled.

I haven’t been running as much as I’d like, or even managing my usual workout routines. (When the humidity pushes the temperature near 30°C at six-thirty in the morning, I absolutely refuse.)

I’ve been working on the Violet Lane outline, but in fits and starts. When I actually work on it, it’s going well, but it takes an awful lot of motivation to get started.

I’ve been spending more money than I’m really comfortable with. Everything I’ve been buying has been necessary (or if it’s not strictly necessary, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for long enough that I don’t feel guilty about buying it), but it all takes up space and my plans for decluttering have kind of stalled.

I haven’t been watching many movies. I’ve been reading mediocre books. I’ve been falling into internet black holes. My podcast backlog is growing again. Intellectually, it feels like I’ve been consuming nothing but junk food for three months.

(I’ve also been eating quite a bit of junk food.)

Basically: I’ve been in a rut. (I might’ve mentioned this already?)

But it’s September, and September always feels like a fresh start. The way the air feels, the way the light falls, the sudden urge to buy a new backpack (I do not need another bag) (or another notebook) (really. I mean it)… the back-to-school feeling has never gone away.

This year, I’m going to take advantage of it.

I don’t mean that I’m going to suddenly throw myself into everything I just mentioned, trying to fix them all at once. (Though, let’s be honest: that would be a closer analogue to the whole back-to-school thing.) I know that won’t work, at least not for long. But I’m going to use this energy—and the fact that we’re not really that far away from the end of the year—and spend the next few months figuring out how to keep from falling into this rut again, and building systems that can support the work—creative and otherwise—I want to be doing.

That’s kind of vague. I do have specific goals in mind.

Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating.
I’m listing this first because it’s easiest, and it’s something I’ve done before. It’s the only one that I can start doing (almost) immediately, with no preparation.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
I’ve never been great at this. I’ve actually always been really bad at this, and what little progress I’d made fell apart this summer, both because of the heat (I had to give up some of the routines that kept me on track and my motivation dropped to zero) and because the time-tracking app I’d been using stopped syncing and I haven’t found a good replacement. I honestly feel like this is the thing that holds me back the most, and if I can figure it out, a lot of other things will start to fall into place.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
Basically, I need to figure out how to take a concept from idea to finished product in a consistent way, so I don’t get hung up on trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next. Ideally, this would also include the idea generation stage of things, since I also have a tendency to drag my heels when it comes to choosing something new to work on. This is more of an issue with photography and blogging than writing fiction (I’ve already started putting together a system for that) but they all need work.

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
I’ve always been a little bit in love with planners and to-do lists, ever since the day they handed out our spiral-bound handbooks/planners in junior high. I bought my first Day Timer when I was sixteen (I still have it, and I know exactly which box it’s in). I’ve used PDAs and iOS devices for more than fifteen years(!!). I’ve experimented with hipster PDAs and bullet journals and any number of pre-designed planners. And I’m still looking for something that does everything I need or want it to do. I still don’t know what that is, and hopefully I’ll be able to figure it out over the next few months.

Finish the work on the office.
I love this space. Before I got so far off-track, I could see a real improvement in my motivation and energy, just from spending time in this room. But the current stage is… not great. It feels cramped and cluttered. I want to get back to work on the improvements, and I want to be able to give you a tour by the end of the year.

There we have it: my goals for the rest of the year. Not including things like NaNoWriMo or other specific projects. It’s not terrifying at all, seeing it all written down like that. Really.

In my part of the world, the first day of school is either today (for university students) or tomorrow (for everyone else). So today is as good a time as any to start. I’m going to check in here every week. I’m not quite sure what form those check-ins will take, or when exactly I’ll do them, but I will keep you posted.

Ok? Ok. Let’s go.

Sketchbook #36

Photography, Productivity, Writing

Most months, I take this post as an opportunity to reflect on the creative goals I’d set, and decide what I want to try to do in the coming month. Sometimes, taking that time to reflect leads me in a direction that doesn’t really fit into the standard format I’ve established for these ‘sketchbooks.’

Which is a roundabout way of saying this might be long, and it might ramble a bit. I’m trying to figure out some stuff, here, and if this isn’t the best way for me to do it, at least it’s been effective in the past.

Ok? Let’s go.

The way I’ve been managing my creative life—the things I’m working on, my creative energy, my time—isn’t working.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy with the things I’ve been doing lately. I love the stories I’ve been working on and the pictures I’ve been taking. This isn’t the usual feeling of ugh, I hate EVERYTHING that comes over me every so often, or the low point in my usual three-month cycle. Some of it can (probably) be attributed to the heat this summer—I haven’t had the motivation or attention span to do much work. Some of it is a general anxiety, and I know exactly what’s triggering that. (More on that in a minute, because it’s relevant.) But this goes deeper than that. It’s a restlessness and general dissatisfaction with my current processes, rather than with the work.

For the last few years, I’ve been thinking about writing and photography in terms of “projects:” concrete, measurable goals, whether it’s NaNoWriMo or a specific manuscript, or 365 photos. For a while, that was exactly what I needed—something to work toward, with some degree of accountability.

And that’s great.

Until this month, when all of those projects managed to hit stopping points at roughly the same time. I finished the 100 Days of Black & White photography project. I sent The Black Sun to my beta readers. I launched my newsletter.

… and then I wondered what the hell comes next.

There are things I could be working on: the Violet Lane outline. Various updates I want to make to the website. The big photo project that I keep hinting at and that I swore I’d be ready to announce this month (and which, by the way, I am not ready to announce this month). I’m not working on any of them. (Or not much. I have been picking away at the Violet Lane outline, and I’m really starting to like that again, but it’s going slowly.)

And, like I said: part of it comes down to anxiety. As soon as I sent The Black Sun to the last of my beta readers, I was instantly aware of all the flaws in the manuscript. (But I’m being good about that, at least. I know where this uncertainty is coming from, and I know that I can deal with it. I won’t look at the file, let alone make any changes, while it’s in beta. I’ve gotten some initial response, of the don’t worry, it doesn’t suck! variety, so that’s nice.) Plus I’ve been doing that thing I do with Instagram, where I feel guilty about not having anything to post, so I don’t log in at all, and then I feel guilty about that.

On top of that, the progress I’ve been making on the office revamp has been its own source of stress. As much as I love what this space is becoming, it’s a mess right now. The closet is a disaster area, I’ve still got one ugly old bookcase that I can’t throw out until I’ve found places for all the odds and ends that I’m still storing there. The cat has officially claimed my new comfy reading chair, even though she’s got a bed in the room already (which she’d been using happily until two weeks ago). And every so often, the scale of this hits me and sends my not-so-inner minimalist into a tailspin, thinking about the money I’ve spent (nothing excessive, but still more than I’m strictly happy with) and what’s going to happen when I move (which I’m not planning unless something really big changes in the few months before the lease is up for renewal). I joked the other day that, between the office and my bedroom, I’m basically building a fully-functional tiny house, only… it wasn’t a joke. Not really.

So, yeah: I’m dealing with some stress.

But there’s always stress. I’m not going to meet any of my creative goals unless I figure out how to work around that stress. And the way I’ve been working until now isn’t helping me anymore.

The problem with projects is they’re finite. Eventually, they come to an end (or at least a logical and/or necessary pause), and you have to transition to something new. Different projects require different approaches, even different schedules. Every one of them needs some kind of plan, and every one of them starts with a certain amount of resistance. (At least for me.) I need to overcome inertia to start, and when it’s just one project, that’s fine, but when it’s everything, it’s… not fine. It’s really difficult.

I’m also starting to think that maybe this project-based approach doesn’t actually move my work forward as much as I’d like. I mean, yes, the two photo-a-day projects have noticeably improved my photography. But how much of that is the project itself, and how much of it is just taking photos on a regular basis, and sharing them publicly? Feedback is a huge motivator for me as an artist (as much as it freaks me out), and a creative community of some kind is essential (as much as that freaks me out sometimes). The projects themselves are irrelevant.

That said… routine can be a killer, too. I’m not the kind of person who can sit down at the same time every day and churn out 1500 words, regardless of what I’m working on. (I mean… I can. I’ve been that kind of person, and it was a big factor in my burnout. I’m not going down that road again.) And I definitely don’t want to ritualize the creative process too much. If I need certain circumstances in order to be able to make art, whether that’s a certain environment, or a certain schedule, or even a specific scented candle, then everything falls apart when I can’t repeat the ritual. (Again: I’m speaking of my own experience, here. If the ritual is what works for you, then go for it!)

The trick, then, is figuring out how to consistently produce work, whether fiction or photography or something else entirely, and get regular feedback, without turning it into a chore. It’s figuring out how to focus on the process, rather than the outcome, while still keeping my long-term goals (which still haven’t changed, so at least that’s something) in sight. It’s figuring out what really motivates me, and how to tap into that.

I don’t know how to do that.

It would be nice if I could wrap up this blog post with some clear answers, if I could say for sure what I was going to do. It’s taken three days and over a thousand words just to articulate the problem in a way that makes sense to me, and I’m still thinking about what the solution is.

So that’s what I’m going to be doing in September: thinking about my creative process, and my day-to-day routine, and looking at ways that I can improve it. I’m going to try to get back to regular posting on Instagram, though it probably won’t be a specific project. I’m going to work on the Violet Lane outline and continue to try very hard not to worry about The Black Sun.

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime… if you’ve gone through this, and come to any conclusions, I’d love to hear what helped you. If you’re still going through something like this, I’d love to hear from you, too—we can puzzle over the dilemma together.

Sketchbook #31

Writing

When it comes to the big picture, I have a three-month attention span.

It takes three months for that initial burst of energy and enthusiasm to fade.

It takes three months to lose sight of my big goals, and get bored with the day-to-day grind required to achieve them. Three months to start to question whether those goals are actually possible, and whether I’ve got the drive to see them through. Three months to start thinking ’I don’t feel like writing today. I’ll make it up tomorrow.’

In other words, March was difficult.

Not impossible. I put together an almost-complete outline for Violet Lane in about a week, and I’ve been working on a new photo project that I’m really enjoying. Plus, I had a few days in which outside forces conspired to keep me from doing much at all, and that annoyed me enough to push me to start moving again. But that kind of motivation doesn’t really last very long—a week later I was doing things again, but I was feeling stuck, too.

So.

I’ve been taking some time to get myself focussed again, to remind myself what I want to be doing and why I’m doing it. I’ve been looking at what’s stopping me from doing those things, at what gets in my way and keeps me from writing, or taking photos, or whatever it is, and I’ve been coming up with ways to avoid falling into those old familiar traps. I’ve been looking at the way I spend my time, and how I organize my work, and just generally trying to figure out how to do things better. I’m doing what I can to eliminate the worst of my distractions, the ones that steal my attention and don’t give anything back in return. I’m looking at how others have pulled themselves out of ruts like this, and seeing what I can apply to my own situation.

And, as I write the current draft, I’m trying to pay attention to how I’m doing it, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve spent too much time only vaguely aware of my own process, and so, every time I start a new story, I’ve got to figure everything out from scratch. Again.

This all sounds kind of clinical. Maybe it is. But I feel good about the way things are going right now. Violet Lane is progressing nicely, if slowly. I’m on a bit of a roll with the photo project (having fresh flowers on hand helps with that… I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when they finally start to fade). And, a step at a time, I’m getting back on track.

I’m not there yet. Of course I’m not. It’s going to take a while to figure this out. And I’m not going to try to make a hundred changes at once – the temptation is there, but if I do too much too fast, I’ll just end up overwhelmed and right back where I started.

But I’m moving in the right direction. That’s the important thing.