My to do list today is 45 items long. It’s 10AM and I still have 33 items to go.
I’ve been using the Forest app for the past week to cut down on my phone time, and especially my twitter time. It’s a fun take on the Pomodoro technique that basically lets you set a timer to plan trees in your forest. The tree grows when you finish your timer without touching your phone (you can have the phone play music or a podcast while your tree is growing, you just can’t fiddle with your phone). You can also accept calls while the tree is growing, but you can’t make calls/text/check apps etc. It’s a good gamification of the Pomodoro technique, and a beautiful app.
I’ve finished rewriting chapter 2 and am back to rewriting large swaths of chapter 7. Forcing myself to cut ruthlessly cut things down.
I’m working on the second draft of my first novel (so far in Chapter 3 of 22), and outlining and discovery writing my second novel. Scrivener has been a blast for this too, allowing me to manage my characters and references to them without resorting to another tool (I’ll try to do a post about that later on).
I meant to give The Rook another try (I got annoyed with it after 30 pages during my first go), but due to a lot of upheaval at work, I started reading Linchpin instead.
Two of my co-workers (two of the best), are leaving: one to go abroad, and the other one to a different department. That’s made me rethink my future at work, whether I need to move as well and pick up a new area of expertise or not. After a lot of anxious soul searching I realized what I’d forgotten in all this mess — my dream isn’t to work in tech, it’s to be a writer. My day job is what allows me to write while keeping a roof over my head, nothing more, and every minute that I invest in it is a minute in which I’m not writing. This whole ordeal just made me want to double down on writing even more.
I’ve got a busy month and a half in July and August, and then things will settle down a bit more. My updates here may be sporadic as a consequence, as I prioritize my writing and running instead.
Writing: Working on the outline of my next novel, and planning the second draft of my first one. Tough work, but there is progress, and progress is what I’m looking for.
Reading: Finished the delightful second Vinyl Detective instalment, “The Vinyl Detective — The Run-Out Groove“, by Andrew Cartmel. Enjoyed it very much, and can recommend it if you’re looking for an intelligent pick-me-up. On the verge of finishing “The Night Watch,” by Sergei Lukyanenko. A very Russian, darker but not dark-for-dark’s sake urban fantasy that is well written and sophisticated. Nothing like the childish dark urban fantasy novels that I’ve read lately.
Running: Got back on track this week. Getting myself used to progressively longer runs, and finding out that they aren’t so bad after all.
Drawing: except for a few quick doodles, nothing this week. I’ll try to get a quick watercolour in this weekend.
Several things didn’t go as planned this week, as I had a few unforeseen schedule changes, a bit of bad luck with my running, and a pretty bad day at work near the end of the week. As a result, both my running and my writing suffered (I missed a writing day and my long run is going to be 6k instead of 10K).
So what do you do when things don’t go entirely as planned?
Get back on the horse — so you missed a day, or didn’t make your daily word count, so what? Projects that are worth doing don’t live and die on a day (looking at you NaNoWriMo), but on accumulated body of work done over several weeks, months and years. Do you know what is entirely unhelpful to achieving that work? Getting so caught up in you missing a day that you decide to give up entirely. Get back on the horse, get back to fulfilling your daily goal today instead of fixating on what happened yesterday. .
Don’t go into a spiral of trying to make up for the lost work — that’s a great way to set yourself up to fail. If you set 500 words or a 5K run for today, you probably aren’t going to be able to do that and make up for the 500 words and 6K that you missed yesterday. So then you beat yourself up again, feel crummy, and set yourself up to fail by dragging more and more work with you from day to day until you give up. If you missed a day, then you missed a day. Move on.
Focus on what did happen — in my case, my reading this week sky-rocketted, and I spent more time with my family. That doesn’t make up for everything else, but it is something positive that I’m glad happened.
Partial work is better than no work — I ran a 0.5k this week, which sucked, but was better than nothing. There were also days when I wrote only 20 or 30 words. That’s not great, but its better than nothing, and every little thing can keep the habit going.
Check what went wrong and when, and see if you can learn from it for the future — were you too ambitious? Do you need to rework your plan to account for something that you couldn’t foresee when you first built it? Don’t make excuses, but do be honest and make some changes if necessary.
Leave enough ‘breathing room’ in your schedule for these kind of off days — this was my biggest mistake, and the one is going to be hardest to fix, long term. My running schedule can (still) suffer a few delays, but I’m prepping for a race in the fall, and I can’t really afford to leave things like my long run for the evening of the last day in the week. Earlier is better, and making sure that your goals are achievable even if you aren’t at peak performance is important — especially for endurance sports like running and novel writing.
Shawn talks about deciding what is important to you, and how you should make sure that you really are making that thing a priority. If you’ve read Merlin Mann’s 43Folders, listened to the early episodes of his Back to Work podcast, or have been following Seth Godin then a lot of what he’s saying won’t be new to you. But there is something powerful about the succinct way he puts some of these same old ideas into words:
What then if you lived like nobody else?
Don’t spend hours each day watching television or scrolling through social networks.
Don’t let your work life dominate over family time, personal values, or happiness.
Don’t ignore the importance of investing over the long-run and planning for the future.
Live as far below your means as is reasonable, and don’t derive your happiness or self-worth by the fanciness of the things you own.
Don’t let laziness or busywork keep you from building something meaningful.
Don’t assume you need a better tool in order to do better work.
It’s funny. Simply doing the opposite of what most people do can actually open up many opportunities for you to do meaningful work.
It’s not a long piece, I recommend giving it a read. And then getting back to writing.