,

(Not) Writing With Depression

Today I’m a daily writer. Even on sick days or very busy days I make sure to write at least 150 words. This is my third year of this schedule and it’s still working for me. There are days when it’s tough, and days when I write my 150 words and then erase them. There are days when I write in 10-minute bursts throughout the day or have to force myself to sit down and spend time writing something. But every day I write is a day when I don’t forget how to write.

That wasn’t the case for me in 2012.

In September of 2012 I started treatment for situational depression. Over the previous year I had lost the ability to feel emotions, to care for myself, and to pay attention to conversations, but the loss that hurt the most was related to writing.

I tried many times during 2012 and 2013 to sit down and write. Every time was an exercise in self-hate and improving my ability to berate myself. I went from writing 150,000 words in 2011 to 60,000 words in 2012 to 15,000 words in 2013. It was a clear—trackable—symptom of my depression, and one of the most frustrating ones.

Before I was depressed, writing was easy and I took it for granted. I would listen to a song, read an article, have a silly conversation with a friend, and—BAM—there I went, fingers flying across the keyboard, 2,000 words plopped out in an hour or so. There were days when I would write 5,000 or 6,000 words. Words were easy and plentiful. I didn’t understand how someone could be completely blocked. Writer’s block was an easy obstacle for me to overcome. If one idea was giving me trouble, I’d jump to another. Being unable to write? When I wanted to? Not me.

While I was depressed, even if I decided to come to the writing watering hole, I could not get my horse to drink. The times I tried to write, I would sit and stare at a blank page. I might ask a friend for a prompt, mull it over, struggle over 200 words, and then delete all of them. Between January 2013 and October 2013 I wrote on a total of 9 days. In November and December, after I’d decided to apply to an MFA program and was starting to feel better, I kicked into “high-gear” and wrote 10 days out of those two months. I wrote 19 days total in 2013 and now in 2018 I’m currently on a run of having written 942 consecutive days. That’s—obviously—a huge change.

Writing was not something that automatically came back after I started feeling better. I struggled in 2014, even after I started UCF’s MFA program. (Let me tell you, starting a writing intensive program while you’re still recovering from depression? Not recommended.) This time when I forced myself to write, I had a different attitude about it. I shut down the negative thinking and pushed forward, continuing to plunk down words. It wasn’t the best writing—oh boy, adverbs ahoy and the longest dialogue tags you ever did see—but it was writing. And it got easier the more I pushed myself to practice and the more I forced myself to keep what I wrote.

Part of the reason I applied for the MFA program was because I knew it would provide structure that would force me to write. With grades as a motivator, I knew I could propel myself to get past the hump and write something because I couldn’t turn in a blank page. I feared all my writing might be crap. I feared the depression might have stripped away whatever talent I may have started with. I feared I was forever changed. But I knew that an MFA program was going to force me to confront those things and either figure out how to write again or discover I was done.

In the Spring semester, the start of 2015, I felt something come alive again. I revisited some crazy prompts I’d seen in the last year. I wrote about sentient robots in an alternate history World War II and about a house that possesses a girl. I wrote short assignments that explored my divorce and reconnected with characters created pre-depression. I started working on my novel in earnest. By the end of 2015, I had written 83,000 words and I was invested in my stories again.

Do I still love what I wrote then? Not really. But it gave me a foundation for stories and, most importantly, for my confidence. In 2016 when I realized I had written every day the first week of the year, it was an easy decision to continue writing every day until the end of the month, and then the next month, and the next. I made daily writing part of my routine, and that routine has helped me get through grief-related depression and anxiety. Since 2016 I’ve written over a half million words. I’ve come a long way.

In my experience, there was no writing with depression, not really. There was writing while fighting to not be depressed. There was writing for recovery, writing to unload negative feelings and trying to find something positive. There was struggling to write and hating myself and trying not to hate myself. There were moments when I was me again and when I could find joy and when it felt like I might be out of the woods. There was writing after depression.

Writing after depression hasn’t been all happily ever after. There are still days when writing is a struggle, when depression rears its ugly head, when life doles out extra helpings of anxiety and grief. On those days I set a timer for 10 minutes and I peck out 100 words. Then I set another timer and peck out 100 more. I check in with myself and ask, “Are you done? Do you have anything else in you?” Most days I do. Most days I can hit 500 words, but some days I can’t and I have learned to say, “That’s okay. This is enough.”

2018 Goal Progress #2

It’s been a few months, so I thought it was time to check in on my Writing Goals for 2018. If you haven’t checked in with your own goals for the year, I recommend doing so soon. Mid-year is a great time to see how you’re doing and to make adjustments so you can still finish the year with success.

 

Day Count: 365 days

169/365

On track!

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

83,215/185,000

I’m currently at forty-five percent of my goal. With the planned 50K for National Novel Writing Month in November, I’m right on schedule.

Since my last goal progress post in February, my focus has shifted from drafting blog posts to drafting fiction, which is another benefit of reducing my blog schedule.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

169/365

Writing at least 150 words every day hasn’t been difficult, but writing at least 400 words a day (my next tier in this goal) has been more of a challenge. I’ve missed 13 days, usually on days when I haven’t felt well, but it goes to show that I’ll push myself for minimums while letting stretch goals fester.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

6/40

I’ve made some recent progress on this goal, so even though that’s a low number, I’m feeling good about it. I need about 15 days before November to hit this goal, and with a recent shift in my schedule, I think I’ll be able to get it.

 

Draft a Novel

First drafts are always the most difficult step for me in writing a novel. I like revising so much that I usually start revising before I’ve written the ending. I’m still having some difficulty with forward progression, but I’ve got most of the scenes drafted through chapter 5, with a scattering of scenes in 11 other chapters. At the end of the summer I’m going to reassess my plans for when I think I’ll complete the first draft.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

I put the short story I was working on in February on hold and have a nearly completed first draft of a different story! I’m excited about this, mostly because it’s a first draft under 2,500 words, which is unheard of for me. I’ll continue working on this story over the summer.

 

Read: 35 Books

23/35

Despite expecting my reading rate to drop off during the year, it’s actually stayed at a brisk pace. The 40-book stretch goal has superseded my original goal, and I may—for the first time since I was about ten years old and tearing my way through Baby-Sitters Club—be looking at reading 50 books in a year. This is an unexpected and very welcome adjustment to make to my goals! I think I have to credit audiobooks for keeping me on such a fast pace.

 

My goal progress overall is looking good. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

,

Hesitant to Finish

I am resistant to finishing things.

It sounds ridiculous typed out like that. I mean, the point of starting a project is to have a finish product. In this case, it’s to have a finished story, and having a finished story is an amazing feeling! But even though I know that, I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to finish one pass and move on to the next. For me that hesitation comes down to three anxious questions:

  • What next?
  • Will I have another good idea?
  • But is it really done?


What Next?

This is a question that isn’t just about what project will I work on next, but how will I structure that project? What will my days be like? What is the routine?

I like ruts. I love working in ruts because I know how much work I’ll get done each day, when I’ll start, and roughly what I’ll do while I work. It’s comfortable and consistent and I am super productive once I have a well-worn rut. But getting that rut going is difficult. Figuring out the best way to work on a project takes time and patience, and often means experimenting with new workflows—new ruts—until I find the right one for the project (or for that stage of the project). As a project winds down, so do I, dragging out the last few tasks in anticipation of having to carve a new rut.

I haven’t figured out how to battle this question. The simple solution seems to be to develop a rut for each stage of writing, but every book I’ve worked on has been different, so that means the process isn’t cookie-cutter. For some books I’ve followed a structured outline, and for others I wrote scenes out of order. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough experience with each kind of workflow to immediately know how I’ll attack it, but for now I have to find other methods to banish my worries about what happens next.


Will I Have Another Good Idea?

Well. Will I???

The idea that what I’m writing will be the last thing I ever write is one of the most ridiculous anxious thoughts I could have, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking it nearly every time I near the end of a project. Obviously I’m going to write something else. Even through periods when I wasn’t as creative or productive, I never stopped getting ideas for stories. But this is anxiety talking and anxiety doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, so it throws out fearful doubts like this.

There’s no real defense against an anxious thought, except to not entertain it. I’ve gotten better at ignoring this question over the years, but sometimes it still catches me off guard and slows down my progress, keeping me from crossing the finish line so I can linger in my “last” good idea.


But Is It Really Done?

Of all the anxious questions I have that disrupt my productivity, this is the one that I actually have to answer. Figuring out if a project is actually finished is key to, you know, finishing the project. The problem is when this idea turns from productive checking in with the story to obsessing over commas, prepositions, and if I should start swapping around scenes just to see what it looks like.

I typically use revision checklists to keep myself on track and to eventually identify a stopping point. Sometimes I need to add things to the list—maybe during copyediting I uncover another crutch phrase, so I want to double back to search for that phrase, or I might finally figure out how to condense two scenes—but mostly I stick to the list and when the list is done, I’m done. Having that list as a definitive end point helps stop me from obsessing because I have something tangible to point to that says the story is done.

 

Knowing my weaknesses and having strategies to overcome them certainly helps, but it doesn’t stop me from struggling with finishing projects. Hopefully with continued practice it will get easier as time goes on.

Are there any aspects of finishing writing projects that stymie you? How do you over come those obstacles?

,

Writing Sick Days

With my goal to be an every day writer, I can’t really take a sick day. But I also can’t expect a normal writing day while I have a sore throat, runny nose, and major exhaustion. When I’m sick, here’s how I make the adjustments to take care of myself and still be productive:

 

Put aside non-writing activities.

To make sure I have the energy to write, I take a sick day from all non-writing activities. That means I step away from the blog, editing, responding to emails, and anything else that is part of my “work” stack. Doing this lets me focus my time on self-care and on writing, which will not only help keep my writing streak, but hopefully let me get better faster.

 

Rest up, then write.

The moment I’m out of bed and feeling up to sitting at the computer, I go for it! That might be my only writing session for the day, but if I’m prepared for it, 10 minutes will be all that I need.

 

Lower the bar.

Normally my daily writing includes working on my current projects, but on a sick day I’ll let myself chase a stray thought or write something I might not complete.

My daily goal includes writing 400 words per day, but this is where my minimum goal of 150 words per day kicks in. When I’m not feeling well, I’m perfectly fine to stop writing after hitting 150 words. That’s the whole reason I have a minimum goal, so that when I’m really, really not feeling up to it, I have a low bar to clear while still making the effort to write every day.

 

Pick at it.

Sometimes I can’t do the 10-minute stretch, or the 10 minutes weren’t very productive, so instead of working in my usual method, I pick at writing. That may mean writing a few sentences on several different things, or writing one or two sentences at a time on something in progress. I keep the pace slow for my medicine-logged brain and go where my attention seems to prosper.

 

It’s tough to stay productive when I’m not feeling well, but usually my stubbornness is enough to get me to the page and keep me writing. Even though I might crawl back into bed and collapse into a pillow for a long nap, getting something written makes me feel better—at least emotionally.

What do you do to help yourself keep motivated when you’re not feeling well? Do you plan sick days into your schedule, do you let yourself off the hook, or do you push yourself to keep working?

2018 Goal Progress

Since I wrote last week about making adjustments to yearly goals, I wanted to check in on my progress and take stock of how some of these challenges are going (and see if I can convince myself to focus more explicitly on a few of them). So here is my current progress on my Writing Goals for 2018.


Day Count: 365 days

57/365

No days missed and I’m on track for writing 365 days in 2018.

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

27,203/185,000

I’m currently at 27,203 words, which is fifteen percent of my goal. Technically I’m a hair behind the daily average to reach this goal, but since I’m already planning a 50K month for November, it’s perfectly fine to be a little behind pace the rest of the year.

I’ve spent most of my writing time drafting blog posts, but my fiction word counts are starting to rise as I get back to work on my second novel.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

57/365

No misses so far on writing at least 150 words every day. I’m actually doing fairly well on the next tier, which is 400 words every day. I’ve only missed 4 days so far! The slow and steady method of small regular word counts continues to be the most successful way for me to keep a writing habit and stay in practice when starting bigger projects.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

1/40

As I said in my goal setting, I expect to get most of my 1K-word days during NaNoWriMo, but with only one under my belt I feel a little behind. That should change soon, though, because I’m going to be getting back to drafting a novel, and even with a slow and steady pace, I know some scenes will hook me in and I’ll look up 1,500 words later.

 

Draft a Novel

I’ve made some progress toward this goal, picking up what’s already written and beginning the process of sorting out what to keep, what’s missing, and what needs to be reimagined. I’m a little behind the schedule I originally planned, so I’m readjusting my expectations to finish this pass by mid-March and then begin drafting again.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

Similar to the novel draft, I’ve done a little bit of work on a short story. While I wanted to write it in order, the end was one of the first scenes that came to me, so I finally decided to draft a version of it so maybe I can concentrate on the rest of the story.

 

Read: 35 Books

8/35

I worked through four books in each month and I’m currently deep into one other book and starting three more. That progress tells me I might have underestimated this goal, but I will concede that two of those eight books were graphic novels (therefore, short) and two of the books I started in December 2017, so I expect this finishing speed to drop off throughout the year. Even so, I think by mid-year I’ll be looking ahead to my stretch goal of reading 40 books.

 

It’s nice to be able to report that I’m on target or ahead for most of my goals. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

Goal Adjustment

Making goals at the start of the year is exciting. “I’m going to do all the things! I’m going to live a better life! I’m going to succeed!” But a month or two into the year it’s easy to figure out all those big plans may not actually pan out. So, what do you do? Give up? Punish yourself? Make adjustments?

I’m an advocate for continuing in the face of failure and realigning my expectations. Realignment can come in a number of ways:

  • Trimming out goals that I know I cannot achieve
  • Breaking a goal into landmarks so I can check off achievements
  • Reducing goals to something that is more achievable
  • Replacing goals with goals that better align with how the year is going


Trim

Last year I planned to write two novels—one during the year and a draft of a new one during NaNoWriMo 2017. The novel I was planning to write over the year became what I worked on during NaNo. My time just didn’t align for being able to work on the draft earlier than November. Trimming out a new novel was an easy decision for me to make, even though it was disappointing when I looked back on my plans for 2017. But it was the right decision, because looking back on the year, I have no idea how I would have been able to work on another novel during 2017.


Break

For the novel I worked on last year, I kept feeling intimidated by the process. Rather than continuing to look at it as “draft a novel” (which only sounds simple on paper), I broke it into several steps: write a two-page synopsis, draft character arcs for the main characters, re-read what’s been written, write 1,667 words per day during NaNoWriMo. Breaking the task into those smaller chunks gave me a plan for approaching the whole goal, and, even though I didn’t actually finish the draft, I did all of those other things! So even though I didn’t hit the main goal, I feel good about the progress I made.


Reduce

Last year I planned to write 200K words. That pans out to 548 words per day. I hit the 200K early, but decided since writing was going so well, I should keep writing 548 words per day. Oh. Oh no. That did not work. Instead of beating myself up, I reduced the goal. I changed it first to 500 words per day and then to 400 and finally to writing on a specific project (and at least 100 words). Each adjustment fit with what was going on in my life and it kept me productive on the main goal (writing) without feeling bad about not hitting an unrealistic landmark.


Replace

I had every intention of launching my editorial website in 2017. By the time October hit, I realized I was not in a place mentally where I could offer my services to strangers. My friend had died, my cousin was in liver failure, and several other areas of my life were already in upheaval—did I really need to stick to a goal that could easily be pushed to a later date? Instead of pushing myself when I really needed to take care of myself, I dropped my launch goal and replaced it with a goal to take care of my mental health. I started grief counseling and focused my efforts on being mindful of my feelings, my grief, and finding joy. It was quite a switch from focusing on business, but it was the right switch for what was going on in my life.

 

Your goals should never be static, and they should never hinder you. If your goals are stressing you out and demotivating you, you should revisit them and revise them. Goals are supposed to make us better, to get us closer to the people we want to be, but we have to work with the people we are now and what we can bring to the table today. Realign your expectations, throw out what doesn’t work, but don’t give up.

Weird Ways to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety has been my companion through most of my adult life. Most people wouldn’t know this about me because I am so totally chill about everything, yo. (I made a joke about my NaNoWriMo co-ML and I that his job was talking and my job was planning and panicking—it’s an even division of labor.) Seriously, I do a fair job of managing my stress and anxiety, and mostly it’s through normal means, like taking a walk, taking a nap, or watching a funny movie. But I also manage it through some unusual means, and so I’m here to break down: The Top Three Weird Ways I Manage My Anxiety.


1. Memorization/Recitation

I am an avid fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve seen all the episodes, read a ridiculous number of books and comic books, tracked down interviews and read behind the scenes books. I know quotes, actor names, random factoids, and the name of every episode.

Let me clarify, I know the name of every episode in order. Forward and backward. With episode numbers.

There are 144 episodes of Buffy and when I’m feeling stressed out, I head over to Sporcle to play my favorite Buffy episode quiz. The quiz is simple—you write the episode title and it fills in on the list. And even though I know all the episodes, sometimes I’m a little rusty, or I remember them out of order, so I play the game over and over until I have the order correct forward, and then backward, and then under 10 minutes, etc. (I stop when I feel less anxious, but this can go on for bits at a time for days, depending on what’s causing the anxiety.)

When I’ve got Buffy down, I move on to Angel (110 episodes), and then Stargate SG-1­ (a whopping 214 episodes).

In some ways it’s a time waster, but when the anxiety is high, the repetition can help calm me down and the memorization lets me focus on something that isn’t whatever’s causing the anxiety.


2. Cleaning/Reorganizing/Book Touching

I usually have a smallish (read as: large) pile of paperwork sitting on the corner of my desk and a handful of other things sitting out of place around my space. Picking up those areas is a great way to deal with my anxiety because while I might not be able to get a grasp on other things, I know where these things go! (Some of it is the recycling, I admit.) Even if I don’t make it through the stack, diminishing it at all gives me a sense of purpose and success when anxiety is otherwise blocking my productivity.

Reorganizing my bookshelf is another way I deal with anxiety, but since my bookshelf is already organized, this is often a way of tricking myself into feeling productive. I might shift curios around or find a new bookend, but usually there’s very little to do. What I mostly end up doing is touching the spines of books, reading titles, taking in the colors, and occasionally picking the next book I want to read or identifying a book to give away (that last one is actually productive). Even if I’m not distracting myself by the task of reorganizing, losing myself in my book collection for a few minutes usually helps reduce my anxiety because I’m focused on something else.


3. Faceplanting in a Cat

When I’m stressed, I find my cat and I shove my face in his fur. Or sometimes, he finds me and forces me to cuddle (often by lying on me and shoving his fur in my face—at least we’re in agreement about what’s comforting). This also usually leads to him purring, and there’s little that soothes anxiety as efficiently as a cat purr.

 

Three weird methods, but they all work for me. The reason they work is that all of these activities take me away from whatever is causing the anxiety and allow me to focus on something else—and something I enjoy. Because even when I’m reciting the names of Buffy episodes, I’m thinking about a show that is funny and means a lot to me. So, yeah, even though it’s a little weird, I’m happy to do it if it means that afterward I can function. Do you have any weird coping mechanisms or things that you do before settling into work?

Power Outages

A couple weeks ago a transformer blew at my house, sending me out of the house unexpectedly and in a hurry. (In a hurry from the heat, even in December Florida houses can get hot fairly quickly.) It could have happened at a worse time—my laptop was fully charged and I was showered and dressed—but having changes forced upon my plans is never a good time. Except for when those changes force me out of a rut and push me forward.

On this particular day, I was avoiding certain tasks and generally struggling to even start my to-do list. Having the power off at the house meant I couldn’t bury myself in another Netflix binge. It meant that even reading a book would be uncomfortable in the heat. Being forced out of the house actually made me more productive because I couldn’t avoid my work in the same ways I normally would at home.

Not to mention this whole situation gave me an idea for a blog post in which I could talk about the ways we can trick ourselves into motivation and focus. Which is a topic I’m heavily considering these days.

2017 was a tough year. For me personally it saw the death of two friends and life-threatening health issues for three family members. Not to mention the general anxiety and distraction that was 2017. Staying focused on work with these real life issues going on was difficult, if not impossible some days. My normal drive and ability to motivate was challenged time and again. Other creatives talked about this problem throughout the year (John Scalzi’s post on the topic was quite memorable), but the problem really caught up with me in October. I tried to adapt my routines and dig deeper, tried new ways to motivate myself and keep focus, but the problem seemed to get worse, not better. I don’t have any answers yet, but I think rolling with the changes is part of the puzzle of productivity. I think embracing change—purposefully doing something different—can have long-term results. Or it can at least temporarily shift my focus long enough to edit a chapter or draft a new scene.

Finding motivation in the midst of personal chaos is a struggle, and the trashfire that was 2017 only made it more difficult. But I’m glad I ended the year with a literal power outage that forced me to confront some of the ways I was going about pushing myself. Even though I don’t have answers, I feel like I at least have some perspective. I’m looking forward to embracing 2018 and finding new ways to be productive.

Productivity Apps

I’m on a constant mission to find tricks to improve my productivity. The number of productivity apps out there is staggering, and after a long time of searching and testing, I found three apps that helped me move from writing every now and then to writing every day, and even helped me finish and revise my first novel.

Rescue Time

Rescue Time downloads to your computer and tracks how you spend your computer time, including logging which websites you visit and how much time you spend on them (for one browser, for all others it just tells which application you were using).

It takes all of this information and aggregates a productivity score, as well as the number of hours you spent doing different categorized activities.

Below is a snapshot from this last month. I hovered over “Design & Composition” so you can see my top activities under Design & Composition were Scrivener, NaNoWriMo.org and Google Documents.

You can use Rescue Time with its default settings, or customize websites and activities for what you would call “productive” or “distracting.” You can also add or edit categories to fit your tasks. For example, while I was in the MFA Program, I added an “MFA” distinction under “Reference & Learning,” so I could get productive credit for things like working on online classes.

Use: After you get it set up, it tracks your productivity passively. You may need to tweak it as you use it, but even the default settings are pretty good for starting to get a grip on your life. Use it to find out where you’ve been spending your time so you can make better choices about how you spend your time.

Ease: I’ll be honest, it took me awhile to really get the hang of Rescue Time to tweak it to my “productive” tasks and then understand the data. The passive tracking makes it easy to collect data, and then I could analyze it at my own pace.

Benefit: Rescue Time emails a weekly summary of activity. Seeing “Design & Composition” as my top activity lets me know when I’m putting my writing first. Rescue Time also helped point out what was most distracting for me and helped me take steps to avoid and mitigate those distractions.

Paid: There is a paid option to Rescue Time that gives you more bang. It has a built-in block out timer, alerts, offline tracking, and—this is the one I like the best—it can track which document you’re working in, not just that you’re in MS Word.

Productivity Challenge Timer

Sometimes the best way to be productive is to set aside productive time. Productivity Challenge Timer is a phone app that allows you to set a timer and get to work! The timer can be for as few as 10 minutes or as many as 120 minutes (you can also add 5 minutes if you need to keep working).

Finishing work sessions earns ranks and achievements, so there’s a little gamification involved with the Challenge Timer, if that’s your thing. Be warned: if you don’t work you’ll lose ranks (I have lost so many). If losing ranks stresses you out, that’s a feature you can turn off.

In the free version you can set up 4 projects and then track the amount of time you spend doing each thing. I set mine to track Writing, Reading, Editing, and Business.

Use: Being able to decide how long I’ll work each time makes this app extremely useful. It also helped me learn that working for 10 minutes is better than not working at all. (And that several 10-minute sessions start to add up!) Use it to help you focus on the activity you’re working on at the moment. The timer means focus!

Ease: Getting started is easy, just create a project and hit the button to start. The stats took a little time to understand, but they can easily be ignored until you’re ready to tackle them.

Benefit: Productivity Challenge Timer is good for focusing when you want to work and rewarding yourself with a break. It’s easier to focus if you know a break is coming up, or if you know you only have 2 more minutes, etc.

If you like stats, this also can help you determine when your most productive hours are. The app tracks when you work along with how long you work, so you can discover, for example, that you work more often in the evening. For some of you that might be obvious, but you’ll now have the evidence to show your family and friends when they try to encroach on your writing time. 😉

Paid: There is a paid option for Productivity Challenge Timer that gives you an “unlimited” number of Projects (99), access to Continuous Work Mode, and some additional achievements.

Habit Hub

Habit Hub is a habit tracker that works off the same strategy as “Don’t Break the Chain.” Each day you perform the task is another day in your streak. You can set a target for a streak and Habit Hub will track you each day.

Not only do you determine the habits you want to track, you can also decide how often you want to perform the habit. For example, you can set Habit Hub to track you for Monday through Friday or Tuesdays and Thursdays or any other combination of days. You can also choose to perform the habit on a set number of days per week (instead of on specific days).

Best yet, Habit Hub allows you to set reminders. Mine reminds me at 1:30pm every day to write. The app also sends a reminder at the end of the day (9:00pm for me) to remind me to check in for all of my habits. Having these two automated reminders is a surefire way to get my butt in the chair for writing at least once per day.

Use: Use Habit Hub as a reminder to build habits and as motivation to continue the plan you make for yourself.

Ease: Clicking one button to log your completed habit is as easy as it gets (we’ll gloss over logging that you didn’t complete a habit). In addition to logging in that you accomplished your goal, you can decide if you need to skip it for the day. Skipping is a great feature because it allows you to say that you had extenuating circumstances that prevented you from performing the task, but it doesn’t break the chain.

Benefit: In addition to tracking the number of days you have in a streak, Habit Hub creates graphs to show your “Habit Strength” (the percentage of times you’ve completed the habit), your progress, your ratio of completed habits, and it even helps you see on which days of the week you’ve completed the task most often. Being able to see these things can help you determine patterns such as, “I never write on Sundays,” and then you can adjust your expectations to allow for a writing break every Sunday. It’s not always about working harder, it’s about working smarter.

     

Paid: The paid version allows you to track unlimited habits (the free version only tracks 5), and you can add rewards and have more specific tracking (such as a habit you complete x-number of times a day). You can also have additional targets, setting yourself up for streaks of 10 days, 30 days, 60 days, 100 days, so that you can build up to a full 365-day streak! (The free version gives you 3 targets, which you can edit and delete if you need to make additional targets.)

Habit Hub is the only app I’m recommending that is currently Android only. You can find similar habit trackers in the Apple App Store. Search for “habit tracker” or “don’t break the chain.”

Using These Apps In Conjunction

Here’s how I used these apps to deliver a shot of productivity to my writing life.

Rescue Time helped me identify which websites and tasks were my time suckers. Rescue Time also made me accountable to how I used my time because it was logging everything I was doing (and judging me). That knowledge encouraged me to work more and play less.

Once I added Habit Hub, I had a daily reminder to write. Even if I was too busy to respond to the 1:30pm reminder, the 9:00pm reminder usually got me to the computer. On a few occasions I had been too busy during the day, but would check my phone before bed, and there it was, a reminder that I hadn’t written. At this point your reminder has to marry your stubbornness. Do you let yourself off the hook because you’re tired? Or do you haul yourself to the computer, blink at the glowing screen, and write something?

Personally, I hauled myself to the computer, aimed for 50–100 words and then clicked to say I wrote for the day. Because putting in 50 words is something.

Productivity Challenge Timer was the last app I added. Even with Rescue Time judging me, I still had a habit of drifting off during the middle of a “writing session” to check Tumblr or Twitter, or window shop on Etsy. After all, Rescue Time would keep track of how much I was actually writing, so it didn’t matter if I broke my stride.

Nope! Productivity Challenge Timer was the perfect bum glue. Once I set the timer for 15 minutes of Writing that meant I couldn’t do any activity that wasn’t related to Writing. I found my focus was strongest for 15- or 20-minute work sessions, but I usually needed at least a short break at 20 minutes. The gamification of Productivity Challenge Timer also helped encourage me to plan more writing sessions, and thus write more words.

Obviously you may have different results, and you may find a different combination of productivity tools more useful. The important thing is to find something that works for you. Don’t be afraid of trying a new app and experimenting to find out what works best for you.

, ,

The Changeable Plan

Almost every week I meet my friend for dinner and we go to either Barnes & Noble or the library. We spend an hour walking through the books, reading titles, touching covers, and expanding our to-read lists. In addition to an ever-increasing to-read list, I also have an ever-increasing library. And of those books there are a good many that I haven’t read. This year I decided my reading theme would be Read Your Damn Books. I made a whole plan for how many books I wanted to read, how many of them should be books I already own, how many audio books, how many graphic novels, etc. And then I proceeded to the library website and I ordered a bunch of books for home delivery because I apparently like usurping my own plans.

But aren’t all plans really just guidelines? I mean, when I made the original book list, I knew I would swap out books if I wasn’t particularly feeling a title, and that I would make new discoveries over the year. My primary goals were to read thirty books and to spend about half of my 2017 reading time consuming books from my home library. I also wanted to read at least five books borrowed from my local library and to listen to at least two audio books.

I had no idea that I’d get so invested in audio books. I’ve been listening to them while I take walks and so I’ve so far been through seven audio books. (Can I count one as “reading my damn book” since I already owned it?) My guideline of a plan obviously involves some spontaneous revision since I now have to decide how upping my audio book intake affects the number of physical books I read. Do I still need for half of my 2017 books to come from my bookshelf? Can I revise that number to just twelve? (Or ten seeing as how we’re over halfway through the year and I’ve read a whooping total of six books I own.)

I also had to scrap and revamp part of my plan. I had planned to start researching for a time travel story in the latter half of 2017, but in starting to draft my pirate novel, I realized I need to do more pirate research. So it’s back to the high seas, air, and steampunk for me. All the time travel books have been relegated to 2018—at least I already have the start of next year’s guidelines.

The main thing about plans is that they have to be flexible. Rigid plans often prevent productivity. If I said I had to stick to reading my physical books and ignored that I was enjoying listening to audio books on walks I might not have finished as many books as I have, or I might have stopped walking so I could add that time to my book reading time. Sticking to my original plan would have ignored my natural inclinations and that frustration would have easily made me stagnant.

Strangely this reminds me of writing my last novel. I had an outline laid out—an excellent guideline, indeed—but I got caught in the middle, trying to force the main character to read books when she just wanted to listen to audio books (at least in this analogy). Once I let her listen to audio books, things started coming much easier. I had to refigure my plan and change a few expectations, but finishing the first draft became much easier when I stopped fighting against my plan, just like how reading over thirty books in 2017 will be much easier if I let myself continue listening to audio books. Going with the flow isn’t so easy if you’re a planner, but learning to find my own rhythm and accept that as a new plan is key to staying productive.