Managing Your Time

Now that the season is on us (NaNo season, that is) you may well have noticed that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done. You start the day full of great intentions, but, somehow, you blink and it’s already gone.

So, what can you do to make sure that you get through the work you have set for yourself (without working yourself into the ground)? First and foremost, you can learn to effectively manage your time and workload; when you can do this you will find that your days become significantly less stressful.

 

Prioritisation And Planning

The first step in any time management endeavour is to be aware of what you need to do. After all, if you don’t know what needs to be done you’ll never finish it. Sit down, take a deep breath and list everything you need to do today; once you have put a star next to things that have to be done by the end of the day.

You might be tempted to tell yourself that it all needs done today, but the truth is there will always be things which can be put to the bottom of the list.

Make a numbered list; the top three should be your most urgent tasks, those which absolutely must be done, the next two are the ones that should be done today. Anything after that should be items of low priority; things which you would like to get done, but which are not necessary.

 

Putting The Plan Into Action

When it comes to managing your time you should view your task list as a living document; your to do list should evolve as the day goes by. Focus on the most important tasks first, of course, and try to limit multi-tasking. Logic might tell you that if you’re doing two things at once you’ll make progress faster, but the truth is that you’re only going to be distracted, at best, and overwhelmed at worst.

Start with the most urgent task and work your way through the list.

Half way through the day stop and take stock of the progress you have made; cross of tasks you have finished, leave notes beside any that you can’t finish for any reason, and re-prioritise the remaining tasks.

Ideally, by the time you have made it to this point you should have finished your top two or three tasks so consider what you have left and mark the next most urgent. When you reach the end of the day, do the same once more; cross off completed tasks, leave notes next to any partially completed ones, and mark the next most urgent if any are left.

The marked tasks should be first on the list you make the next day.

 

Maintaining Your Energy Levels

When you have a lot on your plate, it can be tempting to work at break-neck pace until you… well, break. This isn’t the way; burnout is very real, and very debilitating. If you burnout you will quickly find that your productivity, your mental health, and  your workload suffer.

If you want to avoid burnout and maintain your productivity throughout the day, and week, there are a few things you should do;

  1. Eat regularly; have breakfast and have dinner. If you’re not a lunch person don’t force it, but be sure to snack so that you can keep your focus.
  2. Drink enough water; stay hydrated to ensure that you don’t get headaches or begin to feel sick.
  3. Work in bursts; work for an hour or two before taking a quick break of five minutes or so. Stand, stretch, have a drink, and walk around before you sit down and start working again.
  4. Set working hours; and stick to them! When you work for yourself, or you’re a full-time student, this is particularly important. Working twelve hours a day may seem like a good way to get work done, but you’ll make yourself sick in the long run.
  5. Draw a line; define your work and private lives, and make sure that they don’t bleed into each other. One way to do this is by having “work” clothes. It may seem silly when you work at home, but something as simple as washing your face and changing your clothes can help your body and mind to change into a more relaxed gear.

 

If you’ve already managed to burnout you should start the process of beating it.

 

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Beating Burnout – A Writers Guide

Burnout isn’t pretty, it isn’t fun, and it really isn’t necessary. There are ways to avoid becoming burned out, but on the assumption that those have failed let’s talk about how to get over it.

In fact, let’s talk about a real life case-study; me.

 

As I write this, I’m sitting in my pyjamas with a cup of Pukka detox tea, which by the way is amazing (sorry shameless plug, but it smells like heaven), and I am very slowly easing back into a normal working schedule.

Two weeks ago I burned out completely, and I’ve only just recovered; that’s right, burnout takes a long time to recover from. Why? Well, because it’s a build up of stress and exhaustion caused by a long period of neglect and poor self-care.

Two weeks ago, when I realised I was entirely burnt-out I took a picture which I had intended to share with you, but here’s the truth; my vanity wouldn’t let me keep it. It was just that bad; despite being freshly showered, cleansed, moisturised and blow dried I looked haggard. My face was grey, I was bloated, I had a major break out, my hair was lifeless and somehow still greasy looking, and I had bags the size of China under my eyes.

I looked ill, and that’s because I actually was. In fact, I looked like this;

But with terrible, terrible skin (and an extra twenty pounds… ok thirty, damn Kayleigh Cuoco for being perfect).

Burnout might not be a medical term, but it is actually a mild form of what might be called Fatigue, or medical exhaustion. In essence, when you burnout it’s because you have taken your mind and body for granted; when a heavy workload and depression combine the resulting burnout can be crippling, as I just experienced.

 

That night I finished all the work I could handle, because when you’re freelance you have to work even when exhausted, I took a hot shower, I exfoliated, I cleansed, I shaved, I conditioned, and cleaned every inch of myself. I brushed my teeth with charcoal to remove stains and then I brushed them with enamel repair toothpaste. Then I drank a cup of hot water, took multivitamins and I did the hardest thing in the world for the average freelance writer; I cleared my schedule for the next day.

In layman’s terms? I booked myself a day off.

I slept for fourteen hours straight and when I woke up… well, I still looked and felt like shit because burnout doesn’t go away over night. You have to work at getting rid of it.

 

What Causes Burnout

If you’ve reached that breaking point I can give you hope, but first I need to give you a wake-up call; burnout is caused by excessive mental or physical stress, poor diet, poor hydration, and sleep deprivation. Don’t get me wrong, eating well and drinking water wont save you if you work 16 hours a day and never sleep, but a healthy lifestyle can help you fend off burnout and fatigue for longer, and will probably make the experience more bearable.

The health implications, however, last longer than the symptoms and negative fallout:

Sleep Debt, or sleep deficit, is the cumulative result of restricted sleep, or sleep deprivation, over longer periods of time. Now, we all know that regular sleep loss, or poor sleep, puts you at risk of heart disease, obesity, and other health problems, but sleep debt is particularly pernicious; you will be more prone to depression, fits of rage, comfort eating, a lower libido, and you could be at increased risk of diabetes if it happens regularly. Furthermore, sleep debt doesn’t go away just because you’ve slept in for one or two days – it is cumulative and is suspected to shorten your life.

Poor Diet and Dehydration rarely cause burnout on their own, but when they combine with poor sleeping patterns they make it devastating. Of course, the real concern here is the damage you (and I) will do to your body because of these bad habits….

Ok, lecture over,

 

Beating Burnout

Deep breaths – don’t worry; I know you feel shit right now, but the good news is that you’ll start to feel better pretty quickly.

The key is to treat burnout much like you would treat the Flu – rest, eat well, stay hydrated, and seek appropriate medical advice if you need to. Now, in all honesty, you shouldn’t need a doctor for burnout, unless you’ve really went hell for leather.

Instead you should be writing yourself a short shopping list; now this method works for me, but you don’t have to follow it to the letter. Just remember that the key here is to show your body a bit of extra love to make up for the damage you’ve caused.

Finally, nothing on this list is needlessly expensive; there are no status items here – this is about care not cost.

You Will Need:

  • Water – as a Scottish citizen I’m lucky; our tap water is excellent, but for others bottled water may be needed. Don’t freak out and get super expensive “sports” waters or “smart” waters; amazon pantry sells 12x 500ml bottles of Highland Spring for £2.80 and 6x 1.5l bottles of Buxton for £2.50. If you’re tap waters no good just opt for something cheap and cheerful.
  • Multivitamins – once again, don’t go overboard and stress yourself by buying out-with your budget. These soluble Vitamin C tablets and these multi vitamins work as well as any others.
  • Good Food – cut out junk food as much as possible. Raw fruit is your friend here, and things like apples and bananas are not overly expensive. More important, however, is ensuring you eat lots of green vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and runner beans. Also look for protein and mineral sources such as spinach and chicken. Vegans and vegetarians should focus on beans, pulses, and nuts in order to get the right mix of nutrients (but then you already knew that).
  • Time – in the end there is no substitute for time. It took you time to burn out, and it will take time to recover. For at least the next week go to bed early and avoid setting alarm whenever you can; even if you cant sleep quiet meditation in a dark room will ease stress and tension, and hopefully help you to sleep later on. Nap during the day if you need to at first, but don’t get into a habit of it if it disrupts your sleeping routine overall.

 

Optional but helpful

  • Coconut water – the wonders of coconut water are crowed by every beauty blogger and nutritionist alive, and for good reason. I won’t bore you with the stats, therefore, as you probably already know them (if not, here they are). What I will say is that when I do burn out I drink about 500mls of coconut water just before bed for the first week while recovering, and I have personally noticed that it speeds my return to full functionality by a few days. Its not as cheap as bottled water, but you can get a pack of 20 OKF Pure Coconut Water for £20 online. However, if you live near a Lidl, Aldi, or Home Bargains/ B&M you can probably get 3 or 4 6 packs for much less.
  • Facemasks and Skincare – once again this is a personal ritual – I break out when I burn out, and I find that facemasks make me feel good as well as benefitting my skin and returning balance. I use one of these once every week anyway, and up their usage to twice a week if I’ve let myself burn out.
  • Cocoa Butter – if your skin has become really quite dry and started to become tight, painful, and/or cracked on your feet, hands, and elbows etc you could consider Palmers Cocoa Butter which is a miracle and every day staple anyway (in my opinion). Once again, though, this is just what I do to make myself feel better and speed the repair of damage that I notice after a burnout.

 

The most important thing is that you try to carry forward these actions and form good habits to reduce the risk of future burnouts. In all honesty, if you’re a student, or you work for yourself, it’s going to be impossible to never burn out ever again, but you can make it less common, less likely, and less severe if you just take care of yourself!

 

Remember, writers need love too! Show yourself some love.

Finishing Your First Draft Like a Pro!

Finishing the first draft of anything, whether it be a novel, poem, or short story, is heavy going. There’s a reason so many writers fail to finish a first draft when it comes to new ideas; sure, it can be because the idea turned out to be poor, but usually it’s down to fear and life just getting in the way.

 

Trust me, I’ve let life get in the way of more short stories and novels than I can really remember. This is why you should trust my advice in this case; I’ve now ghost written six novels for clients, and two of my own. I know how to finish a first draft these days, and I’m here to help you do the same.

Finding Motivation; 

There’s no point in me throwing methods and work plans at you if you have no motivation, and certainly no-one can just give it to you… but there are somethings you can do to motivate yourself. Some of them might even be mildly helpful to your WIP;

  • Create a pinterest board for your WIP. What’s the mood, the aesthetic, and the colour palette?
  • Create a playlist that gives you the right feeling/that you can see in the movie of your book.
  • Write first! When you wake up, roll to your laptop, tablet, or notepad and even just write two or three lines of your WIP. If you have no time to do more, fine, if you can’t think of how to do more, fine. At least you did something, and that’s one less worry. Sometimes it even gets the juices flowing before the bulk of the day saps your energy.
  • Exercise. If you roll out of bed and into a jog you can be sure your whole day will be more energised! This goes for writing too.
  • Write down three things you love about the story and characters.
  • Remind yourself why it’s important to you.
  • Talk to someone you trust about the idea; their excitement will spur you on!

Here’s a Tumblr post with more hints (and more colourful language!)

 

Methods;

If you work part time and have a few extra days a week off you can pursue these in a serious way to get your first draft done lickity-split, but they’re just as effective if you only have an hour a day, or every other day, to devote to writing;

  • Adopt “working days” and stick to them; allocate one or more of your non-working days as a writing “work day” and put in a full 6 – 8 hours. This isn’t for everyone, and it can be really hard work, but it does pay off. Remember to actually utilise the time for writing, not reading, not editing, and certainly not Candy Crush Saga! Pro Tip; treat it exactly like a regular working day. Get up and washed, have breakfast and start for 8 or 9am, ensure you DO have breaks and take lunch, and when you finish for the day put it away. Draw a line between work and free time, or you could lose yourself to it entirely. In a day like this, i’d aim for anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 words, but that’s my rate of work. See how you go, and set a reasonable target for yourself, but don’t be too harsh if you miss it once or twice.
  • Fast-Draft; fast drafting, as laid out by Kristen Kieffer, is the process of pouring your story onto the page as fast as you are able to do so. It means writing in the majority of your free time each day, and it means abandoning the idea of a “good” first draft. You’re essentially pushing all the real work back to the editing stage and letting your mind gush. At this point you’re writing for yourself. Now, Kieffer states that this is not the best approach for a “pantser”, but if you’re willing to put in serious work in the editing stage you shouldn’t be deterred. It does work much better if you put in some pre-writing, however (that being detail plotting and planning).
  • Weekly checkpoint system; whether it be word count, plot point, or page based you can set yourself a reasonable goal to stay motivated. Have a partner in writing to hand over your completed sections to if you want some extra incentive. Be honest with your self about what you can achieve, however, as missed checkpoints can demotivate.
  • Reward motivation; this one speaks for itself, and only really works if you’re a disciplined individual, but it can he very, very effective. Reward yourself for good work and meeting goals. Remember that writing is HARD.

 

Small Great Things (not quite like the book)

The little things can be key in making sure that your writing is consistent, but also that you yourself are healthier and happier. Here’s my self-care shortlist;

  • Keep expect to drink roughly 2 litres or half a gallon of water if you’re writing all day. This will ensure that your eyes don’t get too dry and itchy.
  • Speaking of dry eyes; take a ten or fifteen minute break for every three or four hours you work. Stretch, do a squat or two, and look away from the screen. Even just tilt your head back and rest your eyes.
  • Eat well; don’t gorge on crap. Complex carbs, meat, healthy fats. These are as essential to the writer as the athlete. Have fruit at your desk, even.
  • Sit in a proper chair where possible.
  • Maintain good posture. Proper writing posture looks like this;

Image result for proper posture for writing

  • Try standing while you write for a while; set your laptop/tablet/notepad on the kitchen counter if you can.
  • Actually take down time; you should write as much as possible, but all day every day is no good for everyone. even 9 – 5 workers get a day or two off per week.

 

Arm Yourself With Understanding

Make sure that you have all the resources you need to get you through; do your research, develop your idea, create strong characters, develop and make use of your characters effectively, and know what mistakes you should avoid – there are quite a few.

Above and beyond all that, however, go easy on yourself; don’t fall into despair if you miss a day or two. Get back on the horse and keep your eyes on the prize!