Lesson From NaNoWriMo; Challenge is good. Fear is good too!

Wro Title

That’s it. The curtain falls on the last day of November, and with it comes the end of the great journey that is NaNoWriMo.

And some good news this end, as I managed to win! Wahoo! Finishing 88 words over the 50,000 target, a weighty tome of life, love and laughter (and rock n roll and travelling) awaits. Watch this space, it will be available to read after some editing and a bit of down time for the author.

When I started out 30 days ago, I had no idea how much I’d do, and how much I’d have to dig deep to get it done. 50,000 words seems like a pretty small amount (most stories are more like 60k+), especially when broken into daily chunks of about 1,660. But by the end of the first week, I already knew it was going to be a lot tougher than I anticipated.

Life has a habit of throwing things at you in bursts, and so it was for my November. I’ve been ducking and diving through my other commitments, and yet somehow I still managed to finish a novel. A god damn novel! It’s god awful, I’m not lying. But there’s something there. Something horribly unpolished and woefully rushed. But it’s there for me to look at and pat myself on the back for. It’s there to hold, to stare at, and to edit and re-edit.

Like any experience, it’s what you learn from the act of doing it, not just the feeling of it being done, that makes it special. And NaNoWriMo is no different.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to share the reasons why I found it so useful.

imagerymajestic

“Great!”

It’s nice to do something hard

Life isn’t easy. Then again, I’m not sure it is meant to be. Having something to focus on for the past thirty days has made me acutely aware of how much I can get done if I prioritize my time. I’ve not had to make huge sacrifices, and have missed out on little (I took a five day trip to Hong Kong and Macau in the middle of November), but I’ve managed to add to my out put for the month.

Could I do it every month? Woah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This was still hard work. But that was nice. I work hard all day in my job for someone else. It’s nice to work hard for myself when I get home too.

Ambro

“Workin’ hard, or hardly workin’?”

I’ve broken through Writer’s Block

Multiple times in fact. There were a few days when I sat staring at the empty page and felt more than a little despondent that ideas were not forthcoming. Especially when, through discussions with other NaNoWriMos, I realized this isn’t the case for everyone.

Yet I managed to dig deep and find my own ways through these veritable Mines of Moria, and that was refreshing to know. I’m sure I’ll come up against a void of inspiration again in the future, but hopefully I can be buoyed and spurred on by the thought of knowing I’ve overcome this particular demon before.

vectorolie

“God dammit, not again.”

I wrote… a lot

Not just the finished product, but a lot of other things to get me going, such as using Copy Work as a way of warming up (see an explanation of what Copy Work is here). It gave me the chance to delve back into some of my favourite writers, before switching into my own work (and seeing how far off the benchmark of quality they have set I am).

Not only that, I saw for myself how easy it is to adjust your daily routine to fit in some writing. After all, if you don’t make time for your passions, you’re selling yourself short. You can fail at something you hate, so why not give failing at something you love a try?

fantasista

Don’t ever let anyone tell you it can’t be done, or that you can’t be something

I fell into ‘the zone’

Writing everyday got me into a place where ideas, when they came, were coming thick and fast. From the past thirty days I’ve had enough bad ideas to keep me writing for the next decade, easy.

A few of those, with a little more thought and a little more focus, could grow into something. What, I don’t know, but something. I guess we’ll see, but it’s exciting, right?

Ambro

Ahem, moving on

I conquered fears

Sometimes the fear of starting gets in the way, but I replaced this with a fear of not finishing. One stops you beginning, the other propels you forward. Manipulating your fear, or rather ‘re-imagining it’, is one way of taking back the mind-space and energy fear requires and utilising it in a positive and productive way.

Fear Harnessed

What did you learn from your November? If you didn’t get a chance to do NaNoWriMo, what do you think you might gain from it? Have you challenged yourself to do something recently and taken something away from the whole experience? I’d love to hear about it…

NaNo Stats

Special thanks to Ambro, fantasista, imagerymajestic & vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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Like Clockwork; How Routine Habits Can Change Your Life

routines title

What does the morning mean to you? Is it a long slog of repetitive alarm snoozes and chimes, ushering you violently from slumber into a world of cold air and heavy eye-lids? Perhaps you’re a peppy-pepster, buzzing from sunrise and bouncing about the house in giddy merriment? Or is the morning simply just the first in a series of common events, an inevitability of your daily slog, and a reminder that you are no longer dreaming?

“Morning, tiger”

Wherever you fit, I hear you.

A lot of fuss is made about mornings; the early bird catches the worm; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; the morning has gold in its mouth.

These are three sayings that stress the importance of an early morning, the last two coming from a certain Benjamin Franklin (and I’m sure he must have said the first one too at some point).

Are you a morning person? Statistically, only about 10% are. In fact, only another 20% are night owls. That puts about 70% of us right there in the middle, neither late sleepers nor early risers, conveniently non-spectacular.

“Speak for yourself”

Here comes the sun

But what if we could harness the power of the sun? Like a blooming flower opening up in all its glory to spread itself out and bask in the sun’s aura, we too can be so grand and wonderful, no?

I know, I know. ‘I have a job’, ‘I have kids’, ‘I have Netflix’. These are not excuses, they are just facts of life. Obstacles will always be in your path, no matter what you do or where you do it. Life cares not for smooth sailing and calm seas. It will throw grenades, barbed wire and tornadoes, and expect you to take it all!

Pictured: life

Pictured: life

So, how do you get around this?

A routine of course!

It’s simple. Regularity breeds an environment where your body and mind know what is expected of them in certain situations and at certain times. By scheduling yourself to be doing specific actions at designated times, you get yourself into a very productive habit that can lead to serious long term gains. It also removes the chance for dilly-dallying and general horseplay (unless, of course, you have made time for that in your routine. In which case, fantastic!), and replaces this with well planned, well utilised time and activity.

“Hmmm, I’m not so sure”

Why bother?

“”Habits help us get through the day with minimal stress and deliberation,” says social psychologist Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California whose research focuses on the effect of habits on behavior” (taken from the article The Blessings of Routine on ChicagoTribune.com).

Whether the routine is rising early and maximising your productivity in the morning (more on this to come), or structuring your movements and actions throughout the day so as to keep yourself maximising your time for your interests, your day can only get better.

Time is money, but time is arguably more important. They are two things that define and dictate our daily lives, and yet we have so much trouble emphasising to ourselves to need to manage our time as carefully if not more so than how we manage our finances. Are you spending your time on things you really want to? Whether it’s having more time to play laser tag with your kids, bake cakes with your grandma, sell stocks and close accounts, or write and read, we could all do with having a little extra time in our lives for these passions. Squandering time is as big a waste if not more so than throwing money down the drain!

“Aaargh!”

When can I routine?

This part is easy! For those of you interesting in making time at the beginning and end of your day, there is a great video here on The Art of Manliness that explains how you can book end your day with a structured routine aimed at prioritising your time and making the most of setting yourself up to succeed every day!

In the coming weeks we will also be looking into the daily routine of some great people from history, and seeing how their daily structures helped them to be the best they could be. We’ll also give you a breakdown of why making special care of using your mornings in an effective way can set you up for an even better day.

To, y'know, climb mountains and stuff

To, y’know, climb mountains and stuff

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself though. Life is busy, and some of us are truly swamped by the things we have to do, leaving us little time for the things we want to do. Small changes, even anything such as making time for ten minutes of reflective thought every morning, are a start.

Your task for this week? Go forth and add something to your daily life. It doesn’t have to be something big, but it has to be something noticeable, and something you are capable of doing every day. For the more competent among us, perhaps look to try something a little taxing that may take a little juggling to actually be possible to fit in.

Some ideas:

  • half an hour of reading before bed
  • fifteen minutes of emailing friends in the morning
  • 3o minutes of foreign language review before breakfast
  • a morning jog (15-30 minutes is sufficient!)
  • Keeping a journal, making time to write for at least 20 minutes every night (click here for the IQ breakdown of why journals are awesome)
or crocodile dentistry...

or crocodile dentistry…

Ultimately, the person who can control this is you. Don’t waste any more time thinking and yearning. With a planned routine, the thought process is removed and instead you only have moments for action! Knowing that every day you will be playing/practising/learning/growing can be a massive motivator, and a keen reminder that your life is moving in a fulfilling and enriching way.

What’s stopping you? Let us know in the comments what things you make a habit of doing routinely, and any tips you might have for others who are just starting to form routines of their own.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, Kookkai_nak, marin, stockimages, TeddyBear[Picnic] and Tuomas_Lehtinen @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Unleash the Beast; How To Get More Stuff Done

get stuff done logo

I would never think of myself as lazy, but I have already posted something about napping, and to take all that time to nap in a full time schedule has meant I have had to learn how to use my time well! Do you ever have those days were it just doesn’t feel like there are enough hours to get everything done? You could be a single parent trying to juggle work and family life, or perhaps a young graduate on your first rung at a big company and trying to make a big impact. Hell, you could just be a freelance writer looking to make more time in your day for daiquiris and dancing.

Humans can be tangential beasts, and these wandering minds can often lead us down mental rabbit holes, blocking us from finishing some of the multitude of tasks we need to. Do you know what I am saying?!

So, whether you want more time for work, for general life, or even just to say you can, this post should go some way toward giving some examples of successful methods, or at least giving you some inspiration to get you thinking of your own way.

Go on...

Go on…

Keep it Simple

Ok so this isn’t really a technique per se, in so far as it doesn’t have a fancy author or a book to go with it. What it does do is draw on common sense ideas that should seem obvious, and it hopes to use these to build your energy, productivity and ability to think clearly; a combination of which should lead to greater output and a ‘to do’ list full of ticks!

So, make sure you: have a good nights sleep (7-8 hours), focus on the task at hand, stay hydrated, get an early start, turn key tasks into habits, eat healthy, exercise, eliminate the non-essential, lock yourself away and be sure to take breaks during work.

Just by making sure you follow these simple pieces of advice could increase your productivity. Sometimes the little things make all the difference, and can be easily overlooked.

Pictured: How NOT to work (but how to have fun)

Pictured: How NOT to work (how to PARTAY)

Stephen Covey’s Priority Matrix

Few have had the impact on time management that this man has. Over his lifetime he was able to craft together several different approaches to making the most of your time, but he is probably best remembered for his two best-selling books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First.

Essentially, Covey’s methods focus on his understanding of universal truths, or ‘principles’. It can be shocking how much we are willing to do to avoid doing some tasks, and often we can actually do less and be more effective. Truly, one cannot have a conversation about time management techniques and not mention the late Covey, whose work to this day still inspires millions. Website here.

I used to clean toilets

I used to clean toilets

The Pomodoro Technique

This was a personal favourite of mine at university, and I have had great feedback from students who I have recommended this to since. Invented in the late 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo, the simplicity of this technique is one of the main reasons for its effectiveness. It gets its name from the Italian word for tomato, as the timer used by it’s creator was a tomato shaped kitchen timer.

The technique breaks work into 25 minute slots, separated by 3/5 minute breaks. Each slot is called a pomodori (the plural Italian word for tomato) and put into categories of four. After four pomodori (called a set) a longer break is taken, typically 15-30 minutes.

The general principle is that you choose the task you want to do and then set the timer. You then work continuously for the full slot, only stopping when the timer rings. If you finish before, then the rest of the slot is for ‘over-learning’, or getting more finished that is relevant to the task. Website here.

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’

This is not the first time in my life I am taking advice from Jerry Seinfeld, but this is one example when he really does show wisdom. The idea is simple; every day you perform a task, then mark a cross on your calender to show you have done something. Over time, a chain will develop, and this will increase your desire to keep working as you don’t want a blank day on the calender (and therefore a break in the chain). This technique has a greater motivating effect the longer is is followed, and so eventually you should be in a state of perpetual work as you don’t want to let yourself down. Find it here.

Don't be that guy

Don’t be that guy

Zen Habits

This method revolves around the idea of not having any goals. I know this seems like it is the opposite of what you want, but hear me out. By removing the focus on goals and deadlines, this method frees the spirit to embrace opportunity and chance. You still know what you want, you just aren’t tied to a certain path and can be flexible in your approach, relying instead on intuition, instinct and passion.

This is clearly one for the free spirits, but a worthy mention none the less. Ponder it here.

This is definitely more productive than just waiting for things to happen

Getting Things Done

Back to the self-help books, and another best-seller. David Allen, its creator, focuses on thoughts, goals, ambitions and tasks and lumps them together into one system that can get the best from you. The nature of its structure means it is very flexible, and almost anything can be pinned onto it and worked towards.

In its simplest form, it is essentially five steps; capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage. That said, there is much, much more to it as you advance. Find more info here.

“Can I use my own steps?”

App That Task

We live in a digital world guys, and predictably there are already apps available to help you organise your time too. Everything from to do lists (Evernote) to time-wasting tracking apps (Rescue time), and avoiding distraction (focus booster) to syncing work and home devices (dropbox). You can literally find an app for everything, including some of the techniques we have already mentioned (such as Pomodoro!)

It’s the digital age, man. Embrace technology and find yourself much more productive. After all, it’s why humanity invented the stuff! Find a great list of time saving apps here, courtesy of LifeHack.

Which app tells me where I left my keys...

Which app tells me where I left my keys…

Kanban

One thing I love about this method is the fact it gives you a visual chart of your progress to gain instant gratification, and see how productive you are over a period of time giving you a sense of pride and achievement.

Created by Taiichi Ohno from Toyota, based largely on the Toyata JIT (Just In Time) production method for its cars, this system works by tracking your to do list in a series of columns which are divided into done, doing and backlog. It looks complicated at first, but it is a method worth sticking with. Track yourself here and see how satisfying it is to see each achievement as it happens. Nothing beats that feeling of finishing the annoying little jobs.

“All emails answered!”

Eat the Frog

Mark Twain once wrote, “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day”. Essentially, get the worst stuff done first, and the rest of the day will feel much better.

This is the basic idea behind the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. It offers 21 tips on ways to avoid procrastinating. But even if you don’t fancy splashing out on the text, the simple idea can be easily placed into any daily routine; get the greens down you first, then enjoy your steak. Go ahead, eat that frog!

Not literally...

Not literally…

Amalgamate, You!

Nothing above catching your imagination? No worries, just put your favourite elements together to make a super system. A recent online poll showed that many people’s preferred method was actually to put together various techniques and craft them into a much more personalised approach. Pomodoro mixed with getting things done and not breaking the chain is a very popular combination, but you could easily mix eat the frog and some apps. Go full digital and you could even combine various apps together too! After all, more heads are better than one.

We couldn't have done it without you Carl

Give me a T, give me and E…

The possibilities are endless, and ultimately you are the master of your own destiny. But I feel your pain, internet. I know  from personal experience how hard it can be to get everything done that you need to. Sometimes you can be working at your peak, and still find yourself falling short. It’s true that in life we can sometimes face challenges that are beyond the possibilities of human endeavour. That said, you can prepare yourself better for them with a little life shuffling, and perhaps even increase your personal time if you have got all the important stuff out of the way.

Do you know another method you want the world to know? Or do you think that these methods are just for the lazy and procrastinators? I’d love to hear your comments!

Special thanks to adamr, koko-tewan, marin, stockimages, supakitmod, imagerymajestic and watcharakun @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015