25 Mar 2014 » Hiatus

Hey everyone,

With my packed schedule, I haven’t had a chance to write up actionable posts here in quite a while.

I’m going to take a hiatus on this site, likely a permanent pause, while I consider setting up a new, more focused blog. Expect an update here when that site goes live!

Yours in writing,
James

Comments
08 Mar 2014 » Weekly Update - Job Queue

Another busy week, one dominated by social excursions.

Productivity overview

Finished one I Will Teach course. Taking the other two off of the stove (as opposed to even the back-burner) so that my plate isn’t any more full.

Kept to my aspiration of two pomodoros of novel edits a day. Slow-going at this juncture, though. I may seek out beta readers, who can help me pinpoint where my efforts can have the biggest impact.

At work

One phone screen and one in-person screen that each lead to next steps. Looking forward to continuing with those. One in-person interview that also seemed to go well. Waiting to hear back about another screen. I’ve created a spreadsheet by which to keep on top of all these potential jobs.

Personal productivity

Been gaming a lot. I would do well to find a less absorbing, less compulsive diversion for my pomodoro breaks. That said, this week’s extensive social activities have drained my willpower an inordinate degree, so the environment does play into this.

Managed to knock out some long-deferred phone calls, too. Also tiring.

Socializing

Undergoing a temporary change in roommate arrangements, which is always interesting. Made it out to a gaming event with a couple new people and one new roommate, which went well. Attending an out-of-town birthday party today. I expect that to pretty much wipe me out for the night.

Thoughts for next week

More interviews, more novel edits, and some freelance work to knock out, along with some extra socializing. Phew!

Questions for you

Have you tried tracking your energy levels on days with and without socializing? How do they vary?

Comments
01 Mar 2014 » Weekly Update - Slow But Steady

Plenty of unremarkable but steady progress this week.

Productivity overview

I seemed to need more time to recuperate from the convention than expected. It took more time to get out from under my email backlog than I had hoped, too, but I have aggressive unsubscribing and deferment on the agenda. Overall, steady progress on multiple fronts.

At work

I had one meeting with a recruiter and an in-office technical interview with one of my top picks. Here’s hoping the latter, in particular, turns into more progress on the job-hunt front! Waiting to hear back on a few other prospects, as well.

Anticipating a deposit from my first freelance client soon. Looking forward to starting on that work! Fifteen more such jobs and I’d have rent covered. Seriously. That sounds like a lot of jobs, but the payments add up.

Personal productivity

Kept to my aspiration of two pomodoros per day on the novel edits. Knocked out some global changes, then switched to low-level edits. Making a point of applying the advice from my editors as I go along, with the intention of leaving only the simplest fixes for the proofreaders here on the second quarter of the book.

Put in rather less IWT coursework than intended, having spent a good chunk of that time recovering from the convention. I put in a pomodoro every single day, nonetheless, and switched gears from prioritizing Earn1K to doing nothing but Finisher’s Formula. That 25 minutes each day accumulates, though.

Entertainment

Still playing more Fire Emblem: Awakening than intended. Enjoying it more after looking up ways to grind in the game, at least. I also started reading The Alienist, a 19th century novella.

Thoughts for next week

I may have seriously overscheduled myself socially next week. That said, I could use more one-on-one time with people and some time away from work in which I can re-develop my sense of perspective. I will adjust my productivity aspirations accordingly.

Questions for you

When did you last leave a whole hour or even a whole day or two free on your schedule? What happens when you try that?

Comments
26 Feb 2014 » Weekly Update - Un-Conventional

I kept much busier at last weekend’s convention than expected, so this report’s going out a bit late.

Productivity overview

Kept to my aspiration of at least one pomodoro of IWT coursework and two pomodoros of Kickstarter fulfillment every day.

My biggest job hunt challenge still consists of wrangling all my meeting times and deciding on which jobs to pursue. Problem to have. Confirmed a second-stage in-person interview this week for one of my top picks!

The gaming convention took up most of Thursday and all of Friday through Sunday. Fun! I will want to make a point of giving myself a bit more downtime next convention, though, so that I can both recovery more quickly afterward and not fall quite so far behind on mail, which I barely touched over the weekend.

Entertainment

Started playing Fire Emblem: Awakening. Finding it interesting, though I would prefer something more tactical and less strategic. Started and finished The Better Mousetrap. It got off to a clunky start and the romantic part was a bit cliche, but I found it fairly enjoyable by the end.

Thoughts for next week

Keeping an open mind on this one. Fairly packed event schedule and playing catch-up after taking a couple days to recover from the convention.

Questions for you

When did you last attend an industry event? What’s the next one you can attend?

Comments
15 Feb 2014 » Weekly Update - Steady As She Goes

Fairly same-ish compared to last week. The highlights:

  • Still downshifted to two pomodoros of high-level novel edits every day. Reached the 58% progress point today.
  • Preparing for a second round with Google! Other interviews also continue.
  • Dropping the proactive freelance search for now.
  • Gaming more than expected.

Productivity overview

Staying on track with novel edits. I received the edits from my proofreaders today, so I will switch to low-level edits starting tomorrow and keep at that until I have another 25% of novel ready for them. I will want to study the higher-level suggestions they made first, though, in order to search out ticks and problematic habits going forward.

My big takeaway in terms of managing my gaming: keep the game out of sight and you will have a much easier time avoiding the temptation!

At work

Ramping down the proactive freelance job search. I will still ask about it, but a mastermind meet-up experience reminded me that I do not yet have the runway or other prep ready to embark on such a career. That said, I can still do casual searches and build up both my portfolio and network in the meantime.

Interviews continue at a brisk pace. Had one rejection as of late, but still in the running for several. I would be surprised if I had trouble finding a full-time gig in the next several weeks.

Finally got around to registering as a business here in New York, with a DBA and everything

Put in a few pomodoros of tax effort. I will see my CPA in person this coming weekend, which may speed things up.

Reminder: keep your list of job references up to date on a proactive basis. Finding myself cutting it close on getting new or renewed permission.

Personal productivity

On track for 60 (sixty!) pomodoros this week, not even counting Sunday.

Making good progress on the I Will Teach courses, having put in at least two pomodoros every day since I started.

Put in my first pomodoro of proactive tax prep today, cataloging receipts from the start of this year in anticipation of quarterly taxes and next year’s taxes. The resulting reduction in stress at tax time will more than compensate for this small time investment.

Hit inbox zero. Wonderfully surprised at how well the deferment of most of my mail to Saturday worked out, as the time required of it today still proved manageable. The mail-sending took “only” three pomodoros, but I also had a backlog.

Push-ups every day! Up to 23 today, compared to 13 at the start of this new habit. Exercised three times in the morning this week, too.

Gaming

Played a lot of the Bravely/Default demo. Reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics and in good ways. I will want to make that a “only at home during break time” diversion, though, since it can be such a time sink.

Thoughts for next week

More novel edits, interviews, IWT course work, and then the Dreamation convention on the weekend. Oh my goodness, I’ll want to set out calendar time in which to prep for that event. Note to self: plan for staying up late and for actually socializing at the bars and such.

Questions for you

What industry event do you plan to attend next?

Comments
08 Feb 2014 » Weekly Update - The Newest Normal

Productivity overview

My adjustment to working entirely on my own schedule continues, but with steady progress. I may yet avoid going back to full-time work.

At work

Had one technical interview that seemed to go well. They wanted me back this coming week but had to reschedule, so I may yet have another interview there.

Had a phone interview at a startup, which turned into another in-person technical interview. That also seemed to go quite well! I am told this could turn into anything from freelance and contracting (my preference) to full-time (also acceptable).

Replied to several recruiters, the most I’ve had interested in me at once in a while. Crossing metaphorical fingers, especially in regards to one company.

Haven’t heard back from my primary freelance project yet, but this instance doesn’t surprise me. Like with dating, you keep looking until you find a good match!

Devoted my remaining time to preparing for interviews, which consisted almost entirely of studying and practicing my sort algorithms and data structures. Still under-shot my time-investment goal for this, which warrants a retrospective.

Personal productivity

Still hitting the mark on novel edits: two pomodoros a day and now over 50% of the way through the high-level edits.

Daily push-ups continue without interruption. At 21 a day, up from 13 just a couple weeks ago!

Poor performance on the slow carb diet aspiration. I continue to fall back to the food provided by my coffee shop “office”.

Hit my exercise goals. Dropped the ball one night on meditation.

Put in far less tax-prep time than expected. Planning to pick up a feed scanner for my printed receipts if I don’t maximize my deductions on digital receipts first.

Spent a few more hours processing mail than expected, but I have also started filtering it more aggressively. Looking forward to reducing my incoming mail even further.

Actually undershot my gaming threshold, if you can believe that! And this from someone not presently employed! Habits before people in action. That said, I did read for entertainment enough to compensate for that (a “whole” 1.5 hours).

Started on a few courses by Ramit Sethi. I had a legitimate issue with too little time before, but not now! Depending on potential work developments, that may take over my freelance- and interview-prep time-slots going forward. In other word, Earn $1K would turn into my part-time job.

Allowed myself a lot more time for breaks and buffer than I have in ages. Felt good to find myself done-done some nights.

Social

Had one date that just okay. Didn’t feel a connection, so I won’t be following up.

Attended the second local Live Your Legend mixer. Worth it! Met a lot of interesting, driven people and - even better - I followed up with them after the event. Looking forward to getting to know them better.

Thoughts for next week

  • At least one more interview, possibly more.
  • Two pomodoros of novel edits, without exception.
  • Continuing goal of reducing time devoted to email, freeing up time for other tasks.
  • Giving over the rest of my work-time over to the Ramit courses.
  • Possible dates? Nothing on the radar just yet, but prospects loom.

Questions for you

Have you started a side business? What’s stopping you? Specific obstructions. What would have to happen to overcome each obstruction?

Comments
02 Feb 2014 » Weekly Update - Editorial Input

Productivity overview

A rather productive week! Also a bit tiring, but in a “I got a lot done” way. I could see myself engineering more weeks like this going forward.

Scheduled a job interview for next week! A smaller-looking local web company. We will see what happens here.

Had a preliminary recruiter prep interview for a big Internet company! Pretty much mortified at the thought of how under-prepared I feel for the next step, which may happen next week, so I have slated a lot of study between now and then. At least it covers topics I have wanted to study for - wow - literally half my lifetime. I do feel like I have rushing into this one, to the expense of giving freelance more of a chance, so I do reserve the option to hit the “Abort” button on this myself.

Looking at one potential freelance job already! I will do some research, give them a quote, and see what happens from there.

Personal productivity

25 pomodoros of novel edits. Another 11% of the way through the draft. Nice! I had aimed for 4 pomodoros every day and only missed it in a couple cases. Still a bit tiring, but I could see myself developing the endurance to put in this much editing with ease.

Put in a heck of a lot of mail processing. I would do well to develop a more complete system for reducing the total time required and on focusing the time I do use.

Managed to put in push-ups every day this week! Up to 17 in the morning. Hit my exercise goals, as well. Just one night shy on my meditation goals.

Gamed for upwards of 10 hours total this week. That sounds like a lot to me, but that does include gaming during pomodoro breaks.

Social

Had one personal social event that went long and didn’t go as hoped. Had a couple potential dating relationships fall through, too. Pleasantly surprised at how much momentum I sustained over the rest of the week despite that.

Attended a meet-up of local techies that went quite well! Good company, learned things, and even ended the night joining a couple for an improv show. Yay, making new friends as an adult!

Thoughts for next week

  • Setting time aside to study for the big interview.
  • Still have the other interview at the start of the week.
  • Shooting for just 2 pomodoros of novel edits every day.
  • Filling the rest of my time with the potential freelance work.
  • Setting big chunks of “Buffer/rest” time on my calendar, something that I have neglected for far too long.

Questions for you

You can make friends as an adult. It’s harder, but rewarding!

Comments
26 Jan 2014 » Weekly Update - My Lance Is Free

Productivity overview

This turned into an interesting week in short order.

Got let go from my full-time job on Tuesday. Given my past frustrations, it doesn’t come as an absolute surprise. I’m taking it as inspiration to finally start freelancing, at least. :)

In the meantime, I’ve replaced that work with increased novel edits, much more mail processing, and social events.

Overall, hope rides high!

At work

No office work for most of this week.

Instead, I’ve set up regular “office hours” at the coffee shops nearest my apartment. I’m even logging my hours, as I had with my full-time job. Finding the environment very productive, except for how food complicates things. I will look into coworking spaces soon, in case those (and brown bag lunches) prove more affordable.

Personal productivity

Rocking it on the novel edits. Put in 4 pomodoros for 3 days in a row.

Saw Inbox Zero for the first time in too long. That includes a lot of deferred outgoing mail, too, not to mention quite a few inquiries into freelance web development work.

Gaming more than expected, but The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds proves exceptionally addictive. Almost finished with it.

Personal

Kept to my exercise goals. I also set a new goal of push-ups each morning and met that. Started at 13 and made it to 14 this morning.

Getting closer to my slow carb aspirations. Getting away from all that complimentary food at work has helped. I’m already several pounds lighter since getting let go.

Made a lot of social outings, including a date at the Brooklyn Museum of Natural History that went quite well. I would go back there for another date as soon as today. Seriously.

Thoughts for next week

  • Lots of editing! Aiming for 4 pomodoros of edits every day.
  • More social events. I expect to over-exhaust myself again, but my schedule includes some significant opportunities.
  • Taxes. Plenty of time to do these now!
  • Freelance work search. Just some initial forays into this. Depending on how my runway looks, I may re-focus on developing my portfolio after that.

Questions for you

A reminder that jobs come with zero guarantees. Start on those alternate income streams now.

Comments
19 Jan 2014 » Weekly Update - Lower Level

Productivity overview

I knocked out one big win this week, accomplished or almost accomplished some other expected wins, and survived a long week at work. Not bad, overall, though I could see room for improvement.

At work

Kind of stressful at work. At least two of my teammates agree, so it’s not just my perception. There’s still lots of grumbling about speed of engineering versus quality and I’m a vocal voice in that conversation. We’ll see what develops from that, but I do find it tiring and distracting in the meantime.

Only a smidgen of overtime, to my relief. I find myself unsure of how much to expect next week. Barring any surprises, we can expect to have everyone at the office.

Kickstarter fulfillment

Fairly solid. Went above and beyond my editing goals, applying proofreading to 27% of the total draft as of today. Sent the first 25% to the professional proofreaders on Saturday, as promised.

The process went fast, with the text-to-speech tools helping to speed it along, and I even found myself wanting to keep at it. To think that I fretted about handling the editing work before I started!

Starting on Monday, I go back to the high-level edits. At the current pace for that, I would have 4.5 months of edits left. Good thing that rate of work stems from such a low daily average of editing time, as that gives me room to pick up the pace.

Personal productivity

Knocked out my workout goals. Put in one particularly exhausting treadmill session. I forget how good that feels afterward!

Missed a day of meditation. That seemed to stem from undergoing more social and work exhaustion than I realized at the time. I’ve made a note to give myself a larger margin for nothing but recuperation next time I undergo that.

Took steps towards getting a new accountability partner. With my masterminds having faded to the background, I want to find replacement options.

Still sleeping in more than I like but I think I’m seeing slow improvements.

Nowhere close to a slow-carb diet again this week. I plan to pick up more groceries today that will help address that.

Media participation

Started and finished Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies, including its DLC case. Enjoyed it quite a bit. I did seem to recall a few spots where the writing could have made the correct choice less trouble to find, but look forward to playing the next one.

Started playing Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds at the end of the week. So much pleasing nostalgia.

Finished Leviathan Wakes on audio book this week. Enjoyable, though I had hoped for less predictable endings to the romantic relationships and to the story overall.

I’ve gamed a lot more than expected this week, though my other media participation (e.g. reading news) dropped in kind. I may want to manage such activities in a more deliberate fashion.

Thoughts for next week

Simple goals:

  • Edit more.
  • Get by on work.
  • Enjoy a date this weekend, possibly another this week.
  • Squeeze in some more annual review time if my schedule permits.

Questions for you

Do you track your gaming, reading, work, productive work, sleep, and other time? If not, what can you do to change that?

Comments
13 Jan 2014 » Weekly Update - Work It Slower

Productivity overview

Oops, out a day late! A good summary of the week. Got a lot done, but in spite of many diversions.

The big takeaway: allow myself more guilt-free time to recuperate from social events and schedule less of them in a given week.

At work

We drew closer to a full contingent at the office this week. I’m still struggling with the disconnect between my refactoring aspirations and the focus on feature-first elsewhere in the team, and I think that disparity caused me more stress (draining my mental reserves) more than I realized. I also had tasks requiring more learning and brain-stretching than on average, which seemed to more than make up for the bit of time in which I got off early. Giving myself more guilt-free recuperation time after work may pay off sooner rather than later.

This week looks like more of the same.

Personal productivity

Got in just over two pomodoros a day of novel edits. I had wanted to get in more. At least I made good progress and started switching gears to some low-level edits before sending it off to professional proofreaders.

I also tweaked vim so that I can, with a single key-press, pipe the paragraph under my cursor to espeak, the text-to-speech program. This makes the proofreading much easier.

My plans to finish up the annual planning and to better outfit my apartment got pushed off the end of the calendar week. My usual Sunday weekly planning session got pushed off, as well.

Social

Between two large social gatherings, a long one-on-one, and a date (which went well), I overextended myself. When I sleep in for three hours on the weekend and find my willpower absent as often as I did this week, I know that something gave. I will make a point of reducing my social commitments going forward in order to avoid burnout like that again.

That gives me an app idea: The Introvert Timer, designed to help you gauge your social limits, warn you when you approach them, and give you an out when you do.

Gaming

Put in several more hours than expected. I want to chalk this up to the busy workplace, heavy socializing, and possibly diet all working against my willpower reserves.

Thoughts for next week

Going to take it easier this week. I already have a few social events on the calendar, at least one I which I may want to bump back or pass on right away. I already dropped one otherwise regular event this time around.

Questions for you

Do you know your socializing or quiet-time limits? Have you measured them?

Comments
05 Jan 2014 » Weekly Update - Edited For Content

Productivity overview

A rather good week! Remembered to take a break from social events after a busy week, made excellent progress on the novel, and clocked some serious and insightful hours on my annual review process, not to mention some kudos as work. Also, snow!

At work

We had a half-day on New Year’s Eve and the day off on New Year’s Day, along with a slow day on Friday due to the weather. I still got in some more refactoring work. Even better, I was told that higher-ups rather appreciated how I “took ownership” of the problem addressed by my refactoring efforts. Glad to hear.

That said, the team lead would have appreciated more involvement in that process or at least notification (he was out for vacation the entire time). It will take some time and effort to integrate all the changes, especially with day-to-day work back on our collective radar. I plan to drop proactive refactoring efforts for now, only fixing what QA finds, and focus on how better to pitch such “non-direct customer value” work.

Personal productivity

Put my editing quota in every single day. Passed the 25% mark on the draft. I would like to average more than 2.1-2.2 or so pomodoros a day, but I don’t know if I can manage it just yet, given how that third pomodoro tends to feel like a drag. Experimenting with averaging 17 pomodoros a week, though.

On track for my exercise and meditation goals. I had aspirations of eating something closer to a slow-carb diet, but neglected to prepare enough for that. This time, I cooked more lentils before writing this post.

Put in some significant maintenance work. Clearing out all that hard disk space will save me time and frustration (by preventing crashes and freezes), while the re-arrangement of my room increases my focus, reduces stress, and will save me time, particularly in the morning. Looking forward to acquiring additional furnishing down the road.

Getting better about waking up in the morning. My earplug habit continues to pay off.

Annual review

I clocked more time on my annual review than expected and still have time to go. Starting with Scott Dinsmores’s spreadsheet, I transcribed most of the results to Trello before running out of time. Even then, it looks unwieldy and less conducive to the foibles of the human mind, so I may end up prototyping something better soon. High time I practiced some mobile app development anyway, as I included “learn a new programming language” on my agenda for the year.

Media participation

Played a lot of the new Phoenix Wright game on Nintendo 3DS. Enjoying it, though I wish that it featured more of Phoenix Wright himself. Started playing Blackbar but got stuck on it.

Picked up a new laptop, a high-end one to supplement this low-end thin-book in front of me now, and spent some time getting it up to speed. I found my Windows 8 experience a lot less painful than expected (and I say this as a long-time Mac OS and Linux user). I haven’t actually gamed on it yet, given other priorities.

Also, I pledged not to acquire any more new media until, in each case, I sate myself on at least two already-possessed items first. For example: I put two new eBooks, however low-priced, on my wish list today, and no more than one will come off of the list until I have finished (for example) Phoenix Wright and Self-Editing.

Thoughts for next week

I put a lot more down on my social calendar than I realized. At the same time, I have plenty of editing on my agenda. This may warrant more working from home, sans commute, or doing more to work over my lunch breaks. At the same time, a low but extant prospect of overtime looms here in my employer’s busy season. Something will give, though I remind myself that skipping downtime will just guarantee crashes later!

Questions for you

Did you complete your annual review? If so, what surprised you? If nothing surprised you, then how are you stretching yourself this new year?

Comments
29 Dec 2013 » Weekly Update - Social Network

Productivity overview

Overall, a pretty good week. Keeping this particular post very short only because I managed to lose the original draft.

At work

Took two days off. Had three very quiet days otherwise, which I used to great effect. Looking forward to pushing for more test-driven development (TDD) and for the Agile principles (but as a whole) going forward.

Met with a lead software engineer from another local Internet company. Educational and productive discussion.

Personal productivity

Made the weekly novel editing quota, despite missing a day (Christmas day). Seeing great results from that. Reached the 23% mark on the draft.

Read and gamed quite a bit. Enjoyed Device 6 and 868-HACK, both for iOS.

Made a big dent in my outstanding inbox.

Social

Went overboard on the social activities, wearing myself out a bit. Good times, though.

Thoughts for next week

Cutting back on the social activities this week, even if I already have some scheduled.

Still focusing on the daily novel edits.

Devoting time to cleaning up, literally and digitally. That will help me focus.

Also focusing on an annual review.

Questions for you

When did you last perform an annual review? What about a quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily, or hourly review?

Comments
22 Dec 2013 » Weekly Update - Holi-daze

Productivity overview

Happy with this week, overall. The stand-out issue: social events took up not just more time than expected, but also more of my energy and willpower. Something to factor into future calculations.

At work

Uneventful at work, at least on the surface. Slow-going overall as people wind down their work in anticipation of the holiday season.

Finally had some long-lasting work of mine wrapped up. That took a lot longer than expected, in no small part, because we had rushed into the work and because this old code-base lacks the engineering for such speed. That turned into more duct-taping by the end of the week, to my disappointment. I would have preferred spending a bit more time retooling the code and approach in a way to future-proof against similar delays.

Remember: “Agile” does not mean “go faster.” It translates into building a sleeker, more aerodynamic vehicle with a better-trained team behind the wheel. You get out the gate slower but get much faster results in the end.

Personal productivity

Hit my hour-a-day aspiration of daily edits to the novel. Re-writing some scenes with much more emotional resonance than before and proud of that. I had hoped to put in a few extra pomodoros of edits over the weekend, but underestimated my social calendar and the corresponding exhaustion. At the 17% point on the draft itself.

Put in plenty of mail processing this week, making a big dent in my backlog.

Social

Two holiday parties and a date that lasted twice as long as expected. No complaints, especially since the latter went quite well. I remind myself to leave more room in my schedule for overflow and the inevitable exhaustion.

Thoughts for next week

I took a couple days off from work, the rest of which I expect to go quite slow in the absence of most of my coworkers over the holidays. I managed to fit more social activities in those days off than I realized, though, so I anticipate using that quiet time to just recuperate.

More novel edits and mail processing on the agenda.

Keeping my aspirations on check so that I will have time for actual breaks over the holiday.

Questions for you

What are you getting yourself for the holidays? What are you getting me? :)

Comments
15 Dec 2013 » Weekly Update - Social Butterfly

Productivity overview

A pretty good week. Got plenty done and still found time to expand my social circles a bit.

At work

My decision to anticipate overtime in my scheduling proved wise. We had a fair amount of that. Expecting more of the same this coming week, though I hold out hope of it tapering off next month.

Still not as focused while at my desk as I would like. Some improvements in my diet (as opposed to overindulging on the snack foods provided) might improve things. Some more walk breaks or lunch hour gym trips could also help.

Personal productivity

Knocked out an hour of editing every day! Today (Sunday) may be the first day that I break the chain, having used the scheduled daily hour for mailing list setup instead. I might yet squeeze editing in. Making good speed on the editing process.

Diet-wise, I’ve slacked off for a while. The time and energy demands of work, combined with a lack of prep on my part, made it all too easy to snack often and on sugars and carbs. Made some strides to get back on that this week, with more improvements to follow. We will see what that does to my focus and energy levels going forward.

Social

I planned my schedule with large chunks of anticipated socializing this week. Even with all of the extra “buffer” allocated, I still cut it close. The events themselves went well or quite well, though, and the expansion of my social circle makes me glad.

Thoughts for next week

Similar plan this week. I have less socializing on the agenda, which I will replace with message processing and Kickstarter fulfillment work, but also some vacation time.

Making a point of using some of that vacation time for actual breaks, with pleasure-reading and -watching anticipated.

Questions for you

How well do you track your time-usage? Do you know which three websites get the majority of your time each day?

Comments
10 Dec 2013 » Weekly Update - Double The Fun

Apologies for missing the update last week. A perfect example of how “I’ll do it tomorrow” turns into “I’ll do it next week” in the blink of an eye.

Kickstarter

The Kickstarter campaign succeeded! 920 USD with 38 backers. Thank you, everyone!

That said, the campaign succeeded. The Kickstarter project as a whole continues at a steady pace. For now, I focus on high-level edits to the draft of the novel itself.

Productivity overview

This week before last, I met my baseline Kickstarter promotion goals, putting in two pomodoros each day.

This last week, I knocked out my baseline Kickstarter fulfillment goals, putting in two pomodoros of research into editing or actual editing each day.

I had fretted over getting back into editing the novel draft. I soon found that nothing but other demands on my time kept me from editing more each day, though. Glad to find that I fell right back into the groove. Prior research and these months of daily Kickstarter contributions continue to pay off!

Meeting these goals did require more than one late night or deferment of other activities, like mail processing. On the other hand, I remind myself that each pomodoro can bring me closer to setting my own schedule.

At work

Lots of overtime these last couple of weeks, with at least another week or two (or more?) of that expected.

I underestimated how much overtime I would experience up until this coming week. I added “buffers” to my productivity expectations this time around.

The time at work seems to oscillate between very focused effort or lots of waiting for feedback from others, each tiring in its own way. Not surprised that I dithered more in the evenings than usual.

Personal productivity

Met my exercise goals both this last week and the week before last, if by hairs’-breadths. Already off to a better start this week, having hit the gym over one lunch break.

Hit my meditation goal the week before last, but missed it last week. Fallout from events going long.

Nominal activity on the mastermind front. An activity to reinvigorate in some form or another, lest I fall off the bandwagon.

Very far behind on my mail processing goals. Frustrating. Answered that with an explicit pomodoro total goal on my agenda this week.

Social events

I had several social events on my calendar these last two weeks, including a couple surprises.

In every case, the events went longer or much longer than expected (or even scheduled). This seems like a common theme to me, so I will want to start “over-scheduling” for such things. All the better to help me enjoy the moment, too. Also made a few new friends along the way.

Thoughts for next week

More buffer in my schedule so that I avoid burnout.

Tone the social events down a bit amid so much overtime, even if I already have a couple things scheduled.

Keep at the editing. I plan to send an update out to backers on the Kickstarter-specific progress at the end of the week.

Questions for you

How much overtime do you have in your life, not just from your job, but through helping your family or self-assigned tasks? Sometimes the most efficient solution to a task is to drop it from your itinerary entirely.

Comments
24 Nov 2013 » Weekly Update - Booking Time

Productivity overview

A fairly productive if rather socially exhausting week. A strong reminder that I’m a time-over-conscious introvert!

At work

Still fairly busy here. We’re getting a bit more slack now that we deliver in smaller, more consistent increments. Uncertainty about my departure time remains irregular (including a spontaneous social event on Friday), and lunches rarely happen. I will want to make a stronger point of reducing my daily personal productivity expectations accordingly.

Reminder to myself: I might only have a half-week of work this week, but I will want to treat that non-work time as actual vacation time, Kickstarter or not! In fact, with the end of the Kickstarter looming, I will want to make an even bigger point of leaving myself a margin of error and a buffer that can absorb all the inevitable anxiety.

Personal productivity

Knocked out my quota of Kickstarter prep!

On track for my exercise goals!

Only missed one day of meditation.

Making big dents in mail, and a couple large pushes might just see me close to inbox zero.

My gaming breaks have lessened, it seems like, with the winding-down of my interest in my current game. Reminding myself that I have more than enough backlog of games to play, books to read, etc. before I go buying any of the new and terribly tempting games that just came out. Besides, a bit of patience gives others a chance to ferret out the choice picks for me.

Social

Spent several hours at my first meet-up with a local fandom group. We had a karaoke event, so I sang a lot but didn’t really socialize at all, arriving late and only after the music had started. Looking forward to a more low-key event later, though, and I can always suggest my own.

Had a nice, casual date! Went well. We’ll see what comes of that.

Kickstarter

  • New videos and blog posts online.
  • Devoted a couple hours to just reading relevant books. I did so more for the sake of taking a step away from hands-on work, and to garner a bit of perspective, than anything else.
  • I don’t have any plan for next week yet, but I will spend today’s work quota on preparing just that.

Questions for you

When did you last evaluate your day-to-day work on the “50,000-foot” level? Even on the “20,000-foot” level? Are there activities that you can drop entirely but to no real loss?

Comments
17 Nov 2013 » Weekly Update - Mini-Update

Productivity overview

This post will be a bit short, as it’s been less than a week since the last one. Still, a productive last few days!

At work

Staying busy here. The “frantic” feel seems to have faded a bit, as we’ve had plenty of progress to show off. Next week doesn’t seem especially crowded, either. Whether having a new, fellow front-developer will reduce or increase my workload (e.g. handing them work vs. getting them up to speed) remains to be seen. I anticipate having more time for mail processing during the day and perhaps even gym visits over lunch hours.

Personal productivity

Made a big dent in my RSS backlog. Also made a good dent in my mail backlog, though I have yet to leave myself enough time to empty that out.

Over the weekend, had a nice little coffee date. We’ll see what happens next. I also met up with some local members of an online self-development group. Found that productive and I look forward to following up with each of them via email today.

Kickstarter

We got another, very large backer just a couple hours before I wrote this! Whoo.

In the meantime, I finished recording the tutorial videos for Gingko and started editing them. I also posted a new project update.

Attending a local NaNoWriMo write-in tonight. While I won’t be writing myself, I will make myself available for assistance and will bring up the Kickstarter if people ask.

Wrapping up the research participation with a follow-up call tonight.

Thoughts for next week

I have an over-packed schedule. It’s that simple. Karaoke with one group with indirect relevance to the Kickstarter, more dates, and other outings. I may want to take a half-day at work some time this week to avoid overexertion.

Questions for you

When did you last take a day off to have only to yourself, with no productivity goals or really anything to keep you busy? What steps would you have to take to have such a day?

Comments
14 Nov 2013 » Weekly Update - Kickstarter Funded!

Productivity overview

First, apologies for such a gap between updates! Work continues to keep me busy, even before factoring in the time put into the Kickstarter itself. I continue working on projects like the Planet Oz Kickstarter in order to earn more balance between such things. Wish me luck!

Kickstarter

The Kickstarter launched! Backers started pledging on the very first day, October 31, and have kept coming in at a nice pace.

I’ve kept to a steady diet of an hour or more of focused promotion effort every day since then, even when at the convention. This habit will continue through the end of the month. Backers of the Kickstarter can look forward to reading more process details first.

At work

The pressure to keep busy continues. On top of that, I’ve had a few days that actually required some serious effort, leaving me more than a little tired by the time I left the office.

This office environment continues to cut directly into the time and energy I have for myself each day (never mind the indirect stress). I make a point of reducing my expectations in kind, but my overestimations continue.

Personal productivity

Rather behind on mail. It’s not a matter of efficiency, either, but hours invested and nothing else. My personal records confirm this, given the number of missed mail processing pomodoros. Not sure about what to do here, other than take steps to improve my focus at work so that I can squeeze in some at-desk time.

Other

I attended Metatopia at the start of the month. Four days of fun for game developers and other creatives like myself. I look forward to going back next year.

That said, I repeated a familiar mistake of underestimating how much time and energy the convention experience would require of me, so I came away worn out. I will make a point of avoiding overlapping events going forward.

Gradually getting into the meditation habit. I’ve managed 10 minutes a day more often than not.

Sticking to my exercise goals. That looming bet-switch mechanic continues to pay off.

Some small noise on the mastermind front, but otherwise largely quiet.

Spent most of this last Sunday shopping for clothes, preparing for my first New York winter. Cut it close, too, as I still haven’t quite adjusted to the cold!

Thoughts for next week

Sticking with the daily Kickstarter promotion effort, though I could do more to analyze the value-per-hour of my specific contributions.

Looking at a packed weekend and next week. Because I’m crazy, I have coffee meet-ups on my schedule. Here’s to fun dates, regardless!

Questions for you

When did you last perform a 20/80 analysis on what you do every day, every week, every month? Let me know what surprises you find!

Comments
07 Nov 2013 » Weekly Update - Deferred

I’ve had an uncommonly busy couple of weeks since my last report, so I’ll be doubling-up with the next one. See you all soon!

Comments
27 Oct 2013 » Weekly Update - On the Launchpad

Productivity overview

A very productive week! I put in perhaps the most hours of any week into the Kickstarter and got quite a bit done. Hard to believe we’re almost at the launch date.

At work

Had a rather less stressful week at work, compared to last week. The CEO is at least content with our recent progress, while I made plenty of documented effort. Managed to remember to ask for time off in a timely fashion, for a change. We also had a big office party, one where I quite enjoyed myself. Here’s to “demolishing the dance floor,” to quote a coworker.

Personal productivity

Phew! Let’s go over the highlights:

  • On track for exercise. Seems like my form was off as of late, so I have more room to improve than expected. Nonetheless, seeing progress.
  • Low success with sticking to the diet. The blame for this lies, by large, with a lack of prep.
  • On track to get in all but one meditation session this week. The sooner I start performing these in the morning, the better.
  • Couldn’t join the one mastermind that I had on my calendar due to a lack of planning on my part. I could stand to step back and refactor my mastermind commitments.
  • Made serious dents in my email backlog, even if I still have a ways to go. Looking at my productivity logs, I can assert that a simple lack of time commitment accounts for a lot of this.

Kickstarter

  • Submitted the project for staff review. Acted on the feedback and sent it back out.
  • Updated the rewards based on feedback.
  • Drafted, edits, and uploaded the first project video!
  • Ongoing coordination of the art. Learning a lot about time-tables.
  • Processed a lot of Kickstarter-specific mail. My only regret is that I don’t have more time in which to keep up!

Thoughts for next week.

Looking at a Thursday launch for the Kickstarter.

NaNoWriMo starts the day after that. I’ll be at convention that same weekend. Oh crap. I will want to take a serious look at where I can further outsource my day in anticipation of this.

Well-wishing and Starbucks gift cards will help here.

Questions for you

What’s stopping you from running a Kickstarter of your own? Seriously, make an itemized list and send it my way! :)

Comments
20 Oct 2013 » Weekly Update - What Wins the Race

Productivity overview

Ultimately a productive weekend, even with my job turning into an unexpected source of stress.

If I’ve learned anything while doing this project, it’s the value in working on one thing at a time. I will always have more to do on projects than I could possibly accomplish, but focusing on one of those tasks at a time will see a lot more completed. Going between several tasks in a small space of time will just slow everything down. Even if I can only mitigate that slow-down effect, I can do that much.

At work

It turns out that my team (a new one) is perceived as “slow” at the office. Worse, I’m specifically included in that evaluation. How much of this boils down to “you’re slow” vs. “you’re slow at getting us what we really wanted all along” remains to be seen.

The threat of fallout from that surprise development no doubt slowed me down this week. I anticipate that the ongoing concern, coupled with the time I want to set aside to address it, will further cut into my personal productivity next week and into November.

I’m ten-percent tempted to pass on NaNoWriMo this month, a recent record in hesitation. We’ll see what comes of all that.

Personal productivity

Making excellent progress on my high-priority personal productivity aspirations. (I used the word “goals” last week, mistakenly.) I continue to measure effort more than results as, in the end, we control the former far more than the latter.

I have slipped a bit on my lower-priority goals. That almost always comes down to a lack of prep on my part.

  • On track for 5 of 7 meditation sessions this week. The sooner I start scheduling these for any time other than just before bed, the better.
  • Essentially no mastermind activity, though we scheduled none either.
  • Made my exercises goals. Trying out routines from 4-Hour Body. I also have my trainer’s regime to start on.
  • Still pleased with the slow-carb diet. I was down to 172.2 today, the day after cheat day! That said, this involved more (and expensive) trips to Chipotle, meal-skipping, and diet disregard than I would have liked. I remind myself that the stress of work contributed to this in no small part.
  • Made huge dents in my email back-log. Looking at less than 50 unprocessed messages across all my tabs right now.
  • Not only did I get in my Kickstarter quota, I put in a few extra hours on Saturday. Now I have the first tutorial video ready to promote the Kickstarter! Mailing list subscribers will get links to the video before anyone else, so I recommend signing up!

Kickstarter

  • Completed the payment verification process. One big source of stress off of my shoulders.
  • Continued networking and arranging for mentions elsewhere.
  • Shot, edited, and uploaded the first tutorial video!
  • Received more art and requested more. Had my first real test at a “product manager” in one case. We’ll see if I managed damage control on my own slip-up. Remember: communicate more!

This looks like my last week for prep before the actual launch, with less time than that in order to get the project actually approved. (Past time to look into the time-frame on that, too.) Wish me luck!

Questions for you

Are you communicating enough with everyone in your life? If you have to think about it, then probably not! Shoot someone an email right away.

Comments
12 Oct 2013 » Weekly Update - Work It Like You Mean It

Productivity overview

A respectably productive birthday week. Still not finding time for personal productivity over work, which continues to cap my overall productivity.

At work

Still working very hard, even harder than before. Had unfortunate developments at work, too, which dampened my spirits and which will translate to more hours for a while, I anticipate. I may want to schedule some deliberate break time so that I can better weather this storm.

Personal

I turned 30 today! Actually kind of unnerved by the normalcy of the day, vs. dreams of active celebrations. I’m still very much in the habit of never getting around to scheduling these things, though, getting too wrapped up in my own work. Squeezed in a bar-hop with a roommate, at least!

Personal productivity

Still doing pretty good on my goals.

  • On track to meditate 6 out of 7 days this week. Missed one session on account of bar-hopping for my birthday. :)
  • Very little mastermind activity. Didn’t get around to looking for local masterminds. Doing a fair amount of asynchronous communication, at least. Definitely under-scheduled on my end.
  • Made my exercise goals! Weight-training like a boss.
  • Still elated with the slow-carb diet. I’m down to 175 lb. and find myself having to make a point of “cheating” on cheat day, having experienced the regular diet days.
  • Made big strides on catching up on email. It would still benefit from both more time and the paring-down of my inflow.
  • On track to squeeze in some more life-planning on Sunday.

Kickstarter

  • Made my daily hour goal.
  • Did all of the setup that I could for payments. Waiting on verification.
  • Edited a related short story.
  • Received quite a bit of art from my artists. Looking forward to sharing that.
  • Researched small business licensing and paperwork. Determined that such things appear premature.
  • Clocked in a fair amount of Kickstarter-specific mail processing.
  • Drafted, edited, and test-recorded for writing tutorial videos.
  • More setup and automation for social media.
  • Got more promises for promotion from other Kickstarter projects!

All of that said, I very much need to hash out my “absolute requirements” list in order to make sure that I’m on track for an October launch. I already have a consultation session scheduled for tomorrow, with that as a topic of discussion.

Questions for you

Have you tried Trello, the list-management service? I find it absolutely invaluable.

Comments
05 Oct 2013 » Weekly Update - An Hour, A Day

Productivity overview

A fairly productive week. I haven’t had a lunch hour to myself for personal productivity, though, which put a squeeze on my schedule.

At work

Still very busy at work. We have another big project to jump on as soon as we wrap up what’s kept me busy this last several weeks, so I expect no change in time demands there.

On the other hand, I have eaten out a lot with my coworkers this week, at their invitation. I will want to take the occasional break from that for the sake of both productivity and my wallet.

Personal productivity

Hit most of my goals.

The daily hour of Kickstarter prep continues to prove useful. The sooner I get some scripted tutorial videos out there, the sooner they can help promote the Kickstarter.

Missed one session of meditation out of seven so far. I’ve been saving them for just before bed and I got home quite late that night due to commute surprises.

No masterminds this week on account of everyone’s schedules and workloads.

Catching up on email! Amazing what a couple focused hours on Saturday can do.

Still on track for my workout goals, having hit the gym twice this week already.

Breaks

Had a gaming event this week, which took up a few hours. Been playing a large amount of a portable game, as well. That may occupy much of my interstitial time this week so that I can finish it up before the launch of a long-anticipated game this coming weekend. (And by “long-anticipated”, I mean “I’ve wanted a game like this even longer than I’ve wanted Half-Life: Episode 3.”)

Started listening to REAMDE this weekend, which I can already tell will occupy my ear quite often.

Kickstarter

Steady progress here. Drafted and edited scripts for the promo video and tutorial videos. Even shot some test footage.

Already heard back from one successful Kickstarter runner who agreed to mention my Kickstarter to his backers! Amazing the things you can get by just asking!

Socializing

Other than the gaming night, no particular socializing. Mostly just coffee shops or the apartment for me this weekend while I recharge.

Next week

What do I plan to do next week?

  • Kickstarter prep and promotion. Same as before. Slow and steady.
  • Life planning. Didn’t get any in this week. Will attempt again next week.
  • Otherwise, pretty much the same as last week.

Questions for you

What’s on your reading and listening lists these days? I’d love to hear!

Comments
28 Sep 2013 » Weekly Update - Playing Goalie

Productivity overview

A somewhat productive week. On track or hit the large majority of my aspirations, though only while skipping out on break time in the process. Missed or didn’t have most of my mastermind meetings, too. The big takeaway: look into more local groups.

At work

An exhausting week. We’re coming up on deadlines but also had a lot of meetings this week. My project manager asked me on Friday, “Hasn’t this felt like a really hard week?” I agreed. We acknowledged some kinks in our team’s work process, at least. I certainly had my share. Looking forward to running some more discussions next week, though.

Personal productivity

Hit most of my goals.

Well on track for the daily Kickstarter prep. That relentless progress pays off.

Only missed meditating on one day. Still a somewhat haphazard process. I might get eye-guards and better earplugs to help compensate for my neighborhood.

I might only make one mastermind meeting this week. Folks weren’t available for some and I missed another due to a lack of a calendar reminder. My bad!

Still rather behind on email. Having taken virtually no time on lunch breaks or during work to address that, I’m not surprised. Planning to give it extra focus next week.

On track for my workout goals, though cutting it close.

Breaks

Getting behind on break time, too. Looking at how few random ideas I’ve jotted down in the last few weeks, I could certainly use a bit of a break in order to foster creativity.

Squeezing in some sporadic breaks, even if I’ve fallen back into the habit of too many outstanding media participation targets (unfinished games, books, etc.).

Skipped out on one gaming event this week and didn’t try hard to attend another. I will want to another stab at such downtime next week.

Kickstarter

Making progress! Sent out update emails to my long-neglected mailing lists. Scrounged up things I can use as rewards and incentives. Planning to shoot some draft videos soon, both for the Kickstarter page and for educational material.

Socializing

Had a nice day out with the same person from last weekend, so that’s a good sign.

Next week

What do I plan to do next week?

  • Kickstarter prep and promotion. My goal for next week was straight-up promotion. I still have prep to do, so I’ll end up mixing the two.
  • Break time. I will want to get this in before I crash.
  • Life planning. A dangling thread from the last couple of weeks. It will stretch my brain something fierce but I expect it to lend me some much-needed focus.

Questions for you

Have you sought out local folks interested in achieving goals like your own? If you had to pick three places, where would you go to find them?

Comments
21 Sep 2013 » Weekly Update - Write About Now

Productivity overview

A pretty productive week. On track to hit or nearly hit almost all my aspirations.

Sleeping in remains an issue. I get the impression, however, that I would see more success by staying up late instead of getting up early. On the other hand, I’ve been without my special “sunrise” alarm clock since I moved. Getting that device back may improve things significantly.

At work

Work remains busy. Not quite as crazy-packed as yesterday but we got a lot done.

Glad I took Monday off, as the rest might have helped me dodge the sickness running around the office.

I had an unexpected demo for the higher-ups (what an annoying label for people, incidentally) at the end of the week. I felt like I did quite well on that, keeping my calm and putting on a good walk-through. Made my project manager quite happy.

Expecting another busy week. I still want to make a point of putting in more mail processing time during the day, as opposed to just working quite so much.

Exercise

On track for my workout frequency goal! Even better, I signed up for a gym again! Had a first trainer session and, if work can cover enough of that, I’ll get more. Looking forward to more intense treadmill and weight training going forward.

Personal productivity

Still behind on mail processing. The more I could do to reduce incoming mail, the better.

I’ve almost emptied out my unread news queue! I haven’t had it this low in weeks or months!

Started on a meditation habit. Managed to squeeze it in every day except yesterday, so off to a good start.

Didn’t get around to scheduling a follow-up on the side project, at least not until today. Planning to have that conversation next week.

Kickstarter

On track for the Kickstarter goals! Barely made the deadline last night, too. (Actually, I went past midnight by five minutes, but only in the service of discussing the novel itself with others.)

Spent most of the week working on short stories so that I would have some fiction up online before starting the Kickstarter. Realized a few hours in that my second story, taken from a list of random ideas from a friend, makes for a bad match with the Kickstarter. Putting that one on the back-burner and likely skipping the third story for now and for the same reasons. I hardly lack for ideas, though, and just now remembered another, complete story I can use for this purpose.

As of last night, I made a temporary switch to researching email list-building techniques. I will pursue that today, wrapping up a specific set of material, then I can start preparing the aforementioned complete story for publication on Amazon.

Socializing

Made it to a books-related party this week. Proud of how much cold-approaching I did. Kicking myself for not following up right away on a couple business cards that I received but better late than never.

Taking a date to a book festival tomorrow!

Masterminds

On track for my mastermind meetings this week, even if I ended up pushing one back.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Good velocity. Cutting it close in a few places, sometimes too close, but I’m getting into the groove and taking steps to free up time and willpower for more important work.

Questions for you

What’s the longest time you can spend meditating (and without napping)? Have you ever measured it? Tell me what happened after you tried for a new record.

Comments
15 Sep 2013 » Weekly Update - The Shorter Story

Productivity overview

Got this one out a day late on account of having a day-filling event yesterday. Still working on the sleeping-in habit that would have made that a non-issue.

Overall, a fairly productive week. I can feel myself moving towards a “good enough” groove that concerns me, though, so I very much want to seek out a day-by-day accountability partner. Anyone else out there planning a Kickstarter?

At work

Still busy at work. Expecting the same through the rest of the month. I will want to check in with the project manager about our time-tables so that I can schedule a couple days off or so after we finish.

I did make a serious personal breakthrough, though, in managing to ask for a day off and with no better reason than wanting a bit of a break. A nice change from my overwork habits. I certainly need these periodic reprieves in order to gain some perspective. (I’m also still sore about how much sick leave I ended up “tossing away” upon leaving my last job.)

Personal productivity

Met my workout goal! Cutting it close with Sunday workout sessions. We have a gym coming to my workplace this week, though, and I’ve already told one person that I will sign up that day. Doing so at my old job helped kickstart my earlier evolutionary step towards fitness.

Well on track for my daily hour of Kickstarter prep. Drafted a bit of short fiction as part of that, with plans to put out finished work sooner rather than later. That will give me self-confidence, experience, street cred, and talking points! Still slightly amazed at how much I wrote on the first day of that.

Touched base in regards to the side project. Sounded like I set the ball in motion for handing the reins off on that one, which would be a weight off of my shoulders.

Socializing

Had another nice date this week. That ultimately didn’t pan out. I remind myself that I have potentially thousands of options here in New York, though, and I’m taking someone out for coffee in just a couple hours. It’s a numbers game, so keep playing!

Mastermind

Rather less happened here than expected. Planning and notification shortcomings on part, at least. I’ve already mentioned finding more local ones and this reinforces that.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Largely on track. It feels like I could do more but I’ve also been playing a lot of catch-up lately. Better a maintainable pace than burnout, but I will want to ramp it up soon.
  • Meditation. I’ve attempted to block out some “deliberate break time” for two weeks straight with minimal success. I will switch to a meditation habit instead, with its smaller individual time commitments and well-documented benefits.

Questions for you

Have you challenged yourself on one of your productivity metrics lately? Tried writing more in an hour than you thought possible, running a longer distance, or finishing a report with hours to spare? Are you tracking these activities closely enough to notice if you made such a positive change?

Comments
07 Sep 2013 » Weekly Update - Started Kicking

Productivity overview

Another fairly solid week. Primary goal met. Doing okay on my secondary goals, and still socializing quite a bit.

At work

I had expected a much more relaxed atmosphere at work this week but we ended up having perhaps an even busier one. My coworkers concurred. Lots of meetings. That kind of brain-drain no doubt impacted my overall productivity outside the office, so I don’t want to be too hard on myself for that outcome.

Still holding out for a slower time next week. I may well take some time off soon before I get overworked.

Personal productivity

A week into the “one hour of Kickstarter research and prep” experiment and going strong!

Using the guide I found online as my primary source of actionable items, at least for promotion efforts. Keeping track of my progress on that through Trello.

Requested and paid for my first TaskRabbit task this week. Picked an industrious and effective TaskRabbit, so that worked out well!

I’ve started taking the next research task upon myself - looking for social connections - but I quickly discovered why people willingly pay for virtual assistant help with that. It’s exhausting! I might wrap that up soon and focus on helping the blog and podcast connections that I forged before now.

Socializing

Had a pleasant (if somewhat exhausting) date on Sunday. We’re meeting up again tomorrow!

Rendezvoused with a chance coffee shop encounter today, getting coffee again. I think that went fairly well.

Already have another meet-up scheduled next weekend and who knows what else during the week. Phew!

Exercise

Still barely on track. Going to exercise tomorrow, though I’d rather get it in during the week and give myself the weekend in which to rest. Started reading 4-Hour Body, finally, so we’ll see if that helps.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Mastermind meetings. Had a good number of them. Didn’t get in the productivity session I had expected today, Saturday, likely due to a lack of forward-thinking contact on my part.
  • Side work. No change here. I might just re-arrange my schedule next week so that I can get more closure on this.

Questions for you

Have you estimated how much time you spend on social activities? Do you keep track of how much time you actually spend? What does the disparity mean for your current habits?

Comments
31 Aug 2013 » Weekly Update - Progressive Change

Productivity overview

Another pretty solid week. Met my primary goal, I can still make most of my secondary goals, and I survived a super-social week.

At work

Had another very busy week at work. Experienced several hours of overtime, but at least we wrapped up a big feature-push. We all look forward to a much slower time at the office next week. That overtime did throw my personal productivity for a loop, though.

Personal productivity

I succeeded at the “one month of edits” experiment! That resulted in thirty one hours of edits, one a day, for the entire month. That translates to about a dozen pages of novel edits and one edited short story. Looking forward to repeating this again, perhaps with even more editing time each day.

I haven’t discussed the side project with its owner yet due to scheduling complications. Taking another shot at that next week.

Starting tomorrow, I will spend an hour each day researching or preparing for the Kickstarter project. Out of all the work done towards publishing Planet Oz, I expect that to pose the biggest personal growth challenge to date, even more than the month spent on the original draft.

Socializing

Turned out that we had a large team-sized gathering at work this week. Over a dozen of us went out to eat Friday afternoon. I wasn’t prepared for that but I think I handled myself quite well! Three cheers for prior practice.

Even after the gathering sapped my introvert energy, I still managed to push myself and join a few coworkers for after-work drinks. Yay for stretching myself! If I can steer folks towards a quieter bar next time, even better.

My one anticipated social event went down that night. Drinks at another bar. That date went quite well, even if I didn’t get home until quite late. I will want to leave more room in my schedule for days on which I may sleep in as much as I did today, going forward.

Despite the social exhaustion of yesterday, I still managed to have a very engaging exchange with an intriguing person at a local coffee shop today. Very pleased with my performance and we may well meet up again later.

Looking at two more social events tomorrow. I have an explicit lack of social events on the agenda for Monday, a holiday.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Exercise. Barely on track for this. I’ll have to squeeze in one session before bed tonight and another tomorrow. Time to get a personal trainer in order to foster more accountability.
  • Mastermind meetings. I had one but didn’t make the other one today. My fault for over-scheduling myself and leaving too little margin for error.

Questions for you

How much media-free time do you leave for yourself each day? Have you ever spent just half an hour with all of your electronics turned off, your books put away, and nothing but nature or a simple room to occupy your attention?

Comments
24 Aug 2013 » Weekly Update - Edited for Content

Productivity overview

Keeping my solid weeks solid, even if it means taking a social break sometimes.

At work

We’ve transitioned out of the on-boarding and I’m putting in production work now. That means a much more mixed schedule: meetings, pair programming, getting help from coworkers, and squeezing in tech research everywhere else.

The change interferes with my daily editing schedule. I will want to make a point of grabbing half-hour chunks when I can instead of trying to get a solid hour every time. On the other hand, this new arrangement seems to have given me more time to refresh my tech skills while “on the clock”.

Personal productivity

No progress on the side project. The proposed time commitment for that does not mesh with my long-term goals, so I have decided to “cash out” on that and hand back responsibility. That will free up no small mental weight.

Edits to Planet Oz advance with ease. I’ve completed rewrites for the samples needed for an editor, so I will spend a smidgen more time polishing those up before sending them in. After that, I will start editing or rewriting the short stories that I originally penned as character research.

No further Kickstarter prep but I will resume that next week.

Socializing

Overextended myself this previous weekend, especially on the dating front. Ended up dialing down my social engagement significantly this week to recover, glad that I happened to have an empty apartment this week. (Nothing specific about my roommates; I just needed alone time.)

I already have enough on the calendar this coming week that I probably won’t add more than one additional thing.

Getting it done

So what else did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Exercise. Cutting it close again. I haven’t left myself enough margin for error in weeks past.

Questions for you

Have you taken a test to see if you’re an extrovert or an introvert? They’re not the same as being shy or sociable, so the results may surprise you!

Comments
17 Aug 2013 » Weekly Update - A Very Dated Experience

Productivity overview

Another solid week. Getting into more of a routine that, once established, will leave me more mental and temporal room for side-work again.

At work

Work remains educational. Continuing to spend most of my working day either programming or learning about the business.

Didn’t socialize as much with my coworkers this week as I would have liked. Not surprising, as I made no specific plans. That calls for a more proactive approach next week!

Personal productivity

Still well on track regarding my daily editing goal for Planet Oz. Finding it simpler to accomplish than I expected. Some of that comes from writing so much from scratch again (my forte) instead of just refining existing text (my challenge area). Much of the consistency came from good habit-establishment practice over the last few years, too.

I knocked out the ten pages (about 5,000 words) of rewrites to the opening chapters that I needed for a specific purpose. As of today, I start editing towards another ten pages, but from ones in the middle of the book. Looking forward to getting back to the fight with the wolves!

No work on the technical side project, though I needed a break from that.

No movement on the Kickstarter front yet. Waiting on artists. I can draft more copy for the project page after doing more edits to the novel.

Socializing

Got in a couple nights of scheduled gaming. Didn’t win anything but it was nice to get out of the routine for a bit.

The dating continues! Had a nice visit to a local museum with one woman last week. Had coffee and a downtown trip with another woman today. Meeting someone else tomorrow. Already looking forward to follow-up encounters.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Exercise. Cutting it close this week. I continue to underestimate the interstitial time required of living and working in New York.
  • Editing. Thinking of increasing the daily commitment so that I’ll have demo-able content sooner rather than later.
  • Side project. Planning to pick this up again next week, as the commissioning party has deadlines to meet.

Questions for you

Have you tried a different working space lately? Shaking it up and sitting somewhere else can spur creativity.

Comments
10 Aug 2013 » Weekly Update - Course I'll Stay

Productivity overview

Pretty solid overall in regards to productivity. I’d love to have put in more hours but consistency matters more, as does the avoidance of burnout.

At work

Still stretching my brain every day at work. Feeling pretty good about my training project progress so far. Staying the course there.

Also getting in some interesting socializing with my coworkers. Aiming to expand on that next week. Great partnerships start that way.

Personal productivity

Knocking that daily editing goal out of the water! The chain remains unbroken.

Actual progress through the current draft goes slower than I had hoped. The prologue chapters gave me a lot of cruft to cut and scenes to rewrite. Just a few thousands words into the changes so far, though. I foresee a higher daily time goal.

Prepared the side project prototype site in time! You can see the prototype at http://fifthstation.mobi/.

Socializing

Getting in some dating! Living in New York means meeting new people. Taking a proactive approach will filter in the most interesting folks, though. Wish me luck!

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Exercise. Getting in more weight training than as of late. On track to meet this goal.
  • Breaks. Partaking of Adventure Time in an effort to give my brain a break and avoid creative burnout. Feeling better since the exhaustion of last week.
  • Kickstarter. Nothing to report here yet. I know I want to avoid getting overzealous with this, however, so no rush.

Questions for you

What new habit, if acted on for just 30-60 minutes a day, would make a big change in your life? Is there anything from which you can take a break that would give you the time for that, just for a month?

Comments
03 Aug 2013 » Weekly Update - Words Words Words

Productivity overview

The quick hits:

  • Work remains very engrossing.
  • Considering a diet change.
  • Still struggling with mail.
  • Socializing!
  • Editing!

At work

Staying plenty busy at work. Lots of education-focused meetings and programming. Still learning to carve out more time for myself.

Personal productivity

I’ve fallen back into the habit of including grains in my diet. This makes me want to experiment with cutting them out again and see how this impacts my energy levels. The same goes for my recent uptick in caffeine consumption.

Catching up on email, if slowly. Using more of my “downtime”, such as subway rides, to get to that task first. Took a couple hour-long walks with my phone to help with this, as opposed to the usual weight training sessions.

Masterminds

Still running into coordination issues with these. I may want to switch to a more passive model when it comes to the online ones and see if I can find some more focused groups locally.

Social

I continue to underestimate the time required for getting around town, especially for social events, but I’ve found too many potential collaborators and helpful folk to let up. Yay, “networking”!

I also have one follow-up date tonight and another tomorrow. No complaints here!

Novel edits

On track for novel edits!

I started off with some research and found a couple promising frameworks for the processing; just what I need at this stage of my editing (non-)expertise, per the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition.

Going forward, I will document all of the scenes in the current draft and see what, foremost, needs cutting. That will take long enough that I know better than to plan beyond it.

I already have a small handful of potential beta readers, too. They will receive my standard feedback guide, which will help reduce internal friction and procrastination. It amazes me how much one’s sympathy increases upon learning how human minds work.

I keep hearing that editing can take twice as long as writing, which could mean over 240 hours! Effort over progress matters here, I remind myself, and daily hours will add up.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Checked up on side-project work. No progress on this front, though I’m on the one in the holding pattern. Glad for the lack of demand for my time at the moment.
  • Good for novel edits so far.
  • Social calendar’s a bit full. I’d forgotten how much I’d trimmed from mine back home, especially during the week.
  • Oh snap, Kickstarter. I’ve already created the project online, so no going back now!

Questions for you

Have you considered creating your own Kickstarter? What holds you back? What’s the first thing you could do to address the first such thing? Do it!

Comments
27 Jul 2013 » Weekly Update - Time Keeps on Ticking

Productivity overview

Phew! Still finding my time and focus disappearing much faster than expected by the end of each day.

I have lost a lot of my unconscious triggers in the process of moving (like locations and events), not to mention gained a lot of new distractions, so I will want to re-establish productivity sooner rather than later.

Overall, another week packed with a busy work schedule, lots of socializing, and lots of keeping myself busy. Now to give myself some actual downtime tomorrow!

At work

Same as the last couple of weeks: lots of programming, training, and meetings. I had one day with seven (seven!) hours of meeting and another that drew quite close. Found myself going for quite a bit of caffeine just to keep up. This training period can only last so long, at least.

By the time I do find schedule openings for mail processing or the like, I usually lack the focus or energy to do so. More exercise and naps could help with this.

Personal productivity

Still tanking on this, at least in terms of email and the like.

Gaming more than intended, though it still does not seem like much.

Getting in a lot of book reading, which the subway commute allows more readily than email-checking. I may focus more on the latter next week, though, and use a tablet and its larger reading surface. That said, the personal nature of email does leave me hesitant to check it in public.

Had essentially no mastermind meetings this week due to scheduling issues. Finding or founding a local one, preferably near work, may prove a necessary step. I’ve missed the accountability!

Keeping up

All of the concerns above aside, I have put in a lot of time into prepping my apartment and for life in general. Shopping takes rather more time and scheduling than expected, for example, so I will get that time “back” once I learn how to do so efficiently.

Social

I attended two lengthy social events this week. One, a local gaming event with some networking potential. The other, a nice date over drinks. I have a follow-up on next week, so I know that went well!

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Mastermind meetings still suffering. The scheduling of this continues to prove problematic. Having a local group could help with this.
  • Exercise on shaky grounds. If I don’t knock some out before bed, I’ll miss my weekly goal again! Gah.
  • Editing aspirations start next week! Egads. Plenty of research and prep to do for that.

Questions for you

When did you last double-check your social calendar? Anything on there that you only attend out of habit?

Comments
20 Jul 2013 » Weekly Update - Settling Inward

Productivity overview

Wow, but traveling about New York takes a lot more time than expected! Also, so does socializing! I see - even better now - how people watch their lives flash by without knowing where they went.

The heat up here makes it harder to work than expected, too. Looking forward to actually having A/C in my apartment soon.

At work

Keeping plenty busy! Going through a lot of meetings and training videos, but all in the interest of learning. I have improved as a developer in this short time, without doubt. The time still flies, though, and I could stand to take more breaks.

Socializing more with my coworkers, too. I even got invited to a bar outing on Friday. Noisy and not really my scene, but it remains good to be seen. If I can steer this towards more introvert-friendly socializing, even better.

Personal productivity

Seriously dropping the ball on this one. I underestimated how much of my attention work would take, and how much it would tire me out, so the amount of time I’ve spent playing Animal Crossing comes at no surprise. Some deliberate breaks for mail processing could help here.

Getting in a lot of reading, at least!

Gaming

I got out to a gaming social event early this week. I enjoyed it and could look forward to more, schedule willing. A deliberate study of my productive-while-commuting options could help. I may way to re-investigate getting my Android tablet fixed.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Missed my mastermind meetings. Either I was unavailable or others couldn’t make it, but they didn’t happen this week. I expect to make today’s meeting, if nothing else.
  • I could miss my exercise again. I did it last week and I’ve cut it close this week. Planning to get some equipment and clothes today that would reduce resistance to at-home workouts.
  • Editing aspirations loom. I have an external deadline for having Planet Oz in a presentable state before too long, so I will want to start editing that in just over a week. That will arrive before I realize it!

Questions for you

How busy do you keep yourself? When did you last take a day off to do nothing but walk in the nearest park?

Comments
13 Jul 2013 » Weekly Update - Back in Black

Productivity overview

Oh snap! Where did I go? I didn’t appreciate how much the move to New York would throw off my routine until after I arrived!

The highlights:

  • Enjoyed the gaming convention!
  • Survived (and thrived at?) my first week at my new job!
  • Settling into my new residence!

The convention

I had a lot of fun! Made new gaming friends, played a lot of indie roleplaying games, and finally got around to reading the first three volumes of the Adventure Time! comics. To think of what I’ve missed by not yet watching the show! Looking forward to more gaming down the road.

At work

Finished with the majority of my paperwork at the new job. Looking forward to that first paycheck soon!

After the setup, my new employer put me on their “object calisthenics” course, wherein I develop software against a number of challenging constraints. I can feel myself growing as a developer as I do so! I enjoyed the meetings we attended this week, too, so off to a good start!

Social

No dating yet, nor essentially any pursuit of such. I have enough on my plate right now. In fact, I only got my new bedroom into a presentable state last night. It looks much cozier, though!

Seeing a movie with a coworker or two today. Off to a great start on socializing more at my new job!

Made it to a local techie meet-up. Went pretty well.

Scheduling

Still adjusting to the differences between driving everywhere and having to plan for public transit. My personal productivity has felt the brunt of that but I’ll catch up eventually.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • New job! Making good speed on this and feeling like I fit in so far.
  • New residence! I have some more prep to go but it feels much more like “my” space now, making me all the more comfortable in it.
  • Gaming. I have more regularly gaming prospects than I can fit onto my calendar. Problem to have!

Questions for you

When did you last do a weekly review? A monthly review? Write up a 500-word one right now if you haven’t!

Comments
01 Jul 2013 » Weekly Update - New to the York!

Productivity overview

Moved to New York! Giving a short post today on account of both a highly-compressible week and a very tired author.

Move prep

I spent the vast majority of my free time this week preparing for my move up to New York. That wore me out on both the labor level and the social engagement level. I have a new apartment sublease as of today, though!

Finding the sublease took a good amount of effort. However, networking and just asking around made it all work out and with unexpected speed! Now to actually start moving into the room itself tomorrow.

I did drop the ball on getting my finances and financial institutions all up to date before the move, which caused no small headache.

I might have managed my energy and focus levels more, perhaps with some deliberate meditation. Nothing but nervous procrastination accounts for the belated nature of this post (written up on Monday instead of the usual Saturday).

Gaming convention

Off to a gaming convention in New Jersey later this week! That will constitute my actual between-jobs vacation time. Phew!

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Moved to New York! Still wrapping things up but I expect to have an habitable new apartment bedroom before the convention.
  • Still fleshing out that “move between states” checklist. Did I miss some online resource for that? I would have paid for one. In fact, I would still do so, since I know I’ve missed things.
  • Sleep improving. Despite the late bedtimes and added stress of travel and life in a new city, I managed to sleep in rather less this week. Having an externally-enforced deadline made a huge difference.
  • Gaming convention! Time to roll some dice!

Questions for you

Could you move to a new city or a new state on very short notice? You never know when an amazing opportunity could arise, and the minimalism required of such prep provides daily value of its own.

Comments
22 Jun 2013 » Weekly Update - On This, Office

Productivity overview

My last week at my old job! Single again. Time to ramp up preparations!

At work

Aside from a busy Friday, I had a rather sane work schedule this week. I had almost forgotten what such a “normal” day felt like! Having our long-absent coworker back helped.

I still ended up dithering a lot of that time away with small distractions (sporadic dives into the news-feeds, peeks at my mail, etc.). However, much of that seemed to stem from a combination of anxiety over the major changes in life and the “busyness” habits reinforced by having such overloaded queues for the last couple of months. I anticipate this changing at the new job, which appears more results-orientated than effort-orientated.

Had my last day of work on Friday! Plenty of sincere goodbyes, otherwise a fairly quiet endeavor. Wishing I had made more plans with coworkers in retrospect.

Move prep

Minimal move progress again. I underestimated the impact that this week’s events would have on my productivity, so I found myself taking reading and gaming breaks more frequently and for longer than intended. That may have warded off burnout, I want to believe.

On the other hand, I’ve touched based with several people ready to help with my residence hunt! Said hunt remains the focus for next week. I can set things in motion on that front and then begin packing and the like while I wait on responses.

Side work

Discussed dropping the web work for the local small business in favor of commercial options. That will likely prove easier for all of us, as I don’t expect to have the focus and energy to do right by them any time soon.

Regarding the local startup, just discussions on that front. Waiting on others before I do more technical work on that.

Comic

Had my comic script accepted and claimed by an artist! Can’t wait to see what they do with that.

Stress and its impact

Oversleep continues to frustrate me, so an accountability partner appears necessary for that. I slept in for a whole three hours this Saturday morning! Some of that may come from all the anxiety about moving, too, so starting a meditation habit may further mitigate that.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Minimal move prep. Underestimated how much focus and energy I would have left for this at the end of each day, but networking continues to pay off.
  • Side work adjustments. Continuing to offload what work that I can in preparation for the move. Finished with my current part of the comic script work.
  • Relationship change. Made the break-up official on Sunday. Still friends.
  • Sleep challenges persist. Experiments continue. Accountability partner appears necessary.

Questions for you

When did you last try meditating for five minutes straight? For ten or fifteen?

Comments
15 Jun 2013 » Weekly Update - Major Tom, Major Change

Productivity overview

A week of alternating between preparation for the move, local work, and apparent exhaustion from all the change-up.

At work

Overtime at work every day this week, ranging from 0.75-2.0 hours. Given how much effort I’ve put in each day to try and minimize that overtime (once a Clueless venture, now a “leave on a high note” one), my subsequent exhaustion and lack of focus in the evening comes at no surprise. At least we have one of my co-workers returning from their month-long vacation on Monday, so I can expect a saner workload next week.

I put in my two week notice on Monday, so next Friday marks my last day. I haven’t quite grasped the reality of that.

Move prep

Between the overwork and local time demands, I’ve made minimal progress on preparing for the move out of state. I have put out several queries regarding rental recommendations, which counts. Planning to devote most of next week to this prep.

Side work

Put in a bit of web work for the local company, preparing a more specific prototype for them. That didn’t take long.

I also handed back a couple tasks that they hoped I could handle. Between time demands and other concerns, that needed to happen, but it also proved much easier to delegate than I had feared! Personal progress on that point.

Comic

Drafted the script for the comic anthology! I even got feedback from a friend, put in a couple hours of edits, and sent in the second draft! The submission deadline is today, so I hope to get some actionable feedback from the anthologist soon.

Stress and its impact

I’ve likely overestimated how much my subconscious anxieties about this upcoming major life change have affected me. My sleep seems to have suffered for it, as have my eating habits, so I will want to watch those even closer going forward. Just a bit of deliberate rest can help me resist eating out, for example, and thereby pay for itself several times over.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Minimal move prep. Many demands on my time this week, including one I could have let pass (the comic). I’ve made it my top priority for next week, though.
  • Side work. Good to go on the comic script work effort and progress for the the local company. I have no guarantee of pay for either (or at least no signed paperwork), so job and move prep will take precedent next week.
  • Relationship change. On track for the winding-down of the relationship. I’ll have too much on my plate the next few weeks to give them the time they need anyway.
  • Sleep challenges persist. Experiments continue.

Questions for you

Have you prioritized your projects and responsibilities lately? What criteria do you use?

Comments
08 Jun 2013 » Weekly Update - Dear Career

Productivity overview

Got the new job offer! Oh snap! That development pretty much sums up the week.

At work

Another crazy-busy week at work. Good thing we have someone coming back from vacation in a couple weeks, because my current employers will need it!

Said busy workplace made for a very large impact on my personal productivity. My mail processing suffers for it, so I may look into one of those online games designed to help with inboxes.

Interviews/Job hunt

It took plenty of back and forth and waiting on calls, but I received the new job offer via email on Friday! Planning to sign that this weekend, then send in my resignation letter. My manager already knows it’s coming. I’ll miss the guy.

Still processing the news myself, though. I took one baby step towards preparing for the move today, with plenty more to follow.

Side work

No progress on the local web work, other than limited discussion. The job pursuit took priority.

I received an invite to write for a comic anthology, right out of the blue! My networking at the recent local comic convention paid off! They have a looming deadline on that, so I made this project a high priority for next week.

With everything on my plate, this may call for some time off next week.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Got the new job offer! Ramit Sethi’s course in negotiations will pay for itself when I get the starting bonus that didn’t come with the original offer.
  • No side project work. Too much time required of the job pursuit and at my workplace. I can temper most any guilt over the gaming and reading breaks I did take with the facts of my mental and emotional exhaustion over the course of the week. Neglecting some breaks would have lead to burnout otherwise.
  • Relationship change. Partly because of the new job and move, I’m transitioning out of the relationship with the person I’ve been dating.
  • Made all my workout goals! Even got up early for one on Friday.
  • Making progress on getting up on time. Running an experiment now.
  • New job offer! Repeated for emphasis.

Questions for you

No questions from me this week! Do you have any for me?

Comments
01 Jun 2013 » Weekly Update - Bite of the Big Apple

Productivity overview

Phew! Just about recovered from my flight to and from New York City. Preparations for that and events there pretty much filled up my week. Now to prepare for everything that came of that!

In short, I received a very compelling offer from the company I visited! A move up to New York or nearby looks likely. My away-from-home adventure has begun!

At work

Between the trip and the holiday on Monday, I only came into the office on Friday. My arrival brought sincere cheers of appreciation for my return (I contribute that much to knocking out our work queue!) and the large amount of work left to do came as no surprise. At the end of that day, I told my manager about the expected career move and I found him very understanding. One more weight off of my shoulders!

The other company would like me to start as early at July, so I anticipate a lot of brain-dumping, training, and knowledge de-tribalizing in the next few weeks.

Interviews/Job hunt

One word: success!

I visited the offices of the new company on all three days of my visit. It started with a tour and introductions and a dinner meeting. For the next day, I had a “trial” experience where I pair-programmed with one of the newer hires, then had a social hangout with other prospective coworkers. On the last day, I had an interview with the CEO himself, received the initial offer, started negotiations on that, and took it home! They hope to have a decision from me on Monday.

Land the Tech Job You Love helped quite a bit here, as did the job-hunt and negotiation resources from Ramit Sethi. Research and reading for the win.

Reading

I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoy reading fiction! With my nose buried so much in writing fiction, reading non-fiction, prepping for the trip, and other work, I’ve made almost zero time for reading prose fiction (as opposed to web comics or video games) in weeks or months. With all of my travel downtime, though, I read all of Unicorn Western, Volume 1 and The Shambling Guide to New York City, which I picked up in an actual New York City bookstore! Looking forward to reading even more in the coming months.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Cutting it close on the workouts. I didn’t do any exercise on Wednesday, despite having a workout room at my hotel. I barely squeezed in my Friday session before bed. Looking at a Saturday treadmill jog before I miss my window.
  • Job hunt success! I could find myself signing papers in just a couple days.
  • Negotiation success! Practice helps, as does prior proof that I could look elsewhere if required!
  • Mixed mastermind success. The trip threw that off. I had not accounted for how much I could have my schedule altered by “while you still have me” social time.
  • Nominal web work. Highly de-prioritized, given the trip, but I still had productive discussions with my start-up contact after I returned.
  • Still sleeping in. I see a clear need for an accountability partner at this point.

Questions for you

This marks a great week to just sit back and enjoy a quick novel! What have you read lately?

Comments
25 May 2013 » Weekly Update - Flying by the Seat

Productivity overview

The bullet points:

  • Too much to do at work this week. Hours of overtime and an exhausting load.
  • Practically no website work, but see the first bullet.
  • Partook of some social and gaming break time, but see the first bullet.
  • Traveling to New York City soon!

At work

We had a crazy-busy week at work. Even with a temporary employee helping while we still have someone out, the sheer volume proved overwhelming. I ended up staying over three hours late one day! My hopes of personal productivity (e.g. checking email) vanished under the weight of even the normal-hours workload. It also wore me out enough to really sap my after-hours work. I could only imagine the burnout I might have had in the absence of my breaks, though.

Interviews/Job hunt

Flying out of the state next week! Whoo. I settled my travel plans (buying tickets, etc.) and started shopping for my travel supplies. The trip takes me to New York City and a visit to a fashion capital warrants an update to my well-worn wardrobe. That will help me make all the better impression on my prospective coworkers, too.

I could stand to perform further research on how best to plan for the trip. My watch-words remain “just enough”, given my tendency to over-prepare for travel.

Even before the trip, I had four more one-on-one interviews over the phone. Phew! I got to borrow some quiet space in another office for that, but only because I reached out and asked, and that helped. Feeling very good about how those went!

Web work

I knocked out one early prototype and my contact liked it. Zero development progress beyond that, though, on account of the overload at work. We did have some informative discussions, though. I also need more technical details from my contact and they have run into external delays with that. Lots of delays, overall.

I have more web work slated for right after I post this update, at least. Given a looming deadline, I may end up taking some time off for this before long.

Sleeping in

I’ve slept in a lot this week, both in frequency and amount, at least compared to my 5:30am aspirations and earlier successes. My recent workload may account for the lion’s share of that. Some diet choices may factor into this, as might psychological resistance on my part. This may warrant the seeking out of an accountability partner.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Workout accomplished. I knocked out two early-morning sessions, slept in on Friday, but knocked it out on Saturday instead. Numbers hold steady, so the time comes to up some of them.
  • Nominal web work. I have some web work slated for next week, but only after the trip.
  • Travel prep. I have more prep to do, not to mention research on how best to prep. I haven’t flown in years and never for a trip quite like this.
  • Traveling! Tickets bought. Room rented. Night out with prospective coworkers planned!
  • Wonky mastermind schedule. First week without my usual Monday meeting. Attended a new, interview/negotiation one instead. Tried to have my Thursday one on both Wednesday and Friday, only to encounter others’ scheduling issues. On track for today’s productivity meeting.
  • No (non-weekly) blog post. Way too much else to do.
  • Trip to New York City! Repeated for emphasis.

Questions for you

Have you tried changing your surroundings lately? Our environments play a major role in a lot of our habits, good and bad, and shaking things up can also shake a lot of dust loose.

Comments
18 May 2013 » Weekly Update - Bandwidth Limits

Productivity overview

I enjoyed the teaching opportunity, even if it tired me out!

I found myself with far less time to put in the website work that I had planned. Fortunately, I had explained this likelihood to everyone involved beforehand. The actual exhaustion might not lift until the start of next week.

Both work and personal matters left me wiped out this week.

The job pursuit continues at full speed!

Teaching opportunity

Last weekend’s teaching event went well! Some takeaways:

  • Make more time for myself between events, lest I get socially exhausted again. Better for my introvert self to miss out on an hour of socializing and fully engage the rest than to try and slog through it.
  • Keep a contact information collection sheet or the like within closer reach. I left myself very ill-prepared for self-initiated follow-up by the end of the event.
  • Prepare for more overnight stays so that I can partake in after-event activities without hesitation.
  • Bring more food and snacks of my own so that the I can better resist the free foods that I want to avoid (e.g. cupcakes).

Overall, a pleasant time that I would engage in again. I wonder if anyone would sponsor me for such an event, paying for a room, gas, and the like? Have you asked your manager, family, or friends if they would do so? Doing so could only help!

At work

I had after-hours and escalation phone support duty at work this week, which accounts for practically all of my schedule craziness.

I say “almost”, because I knew I had two anxiety-inducing discussions coming on Monday even before I clocked into work. The one with my manager came down to misunderstandings more than anything else, actually went quite well, and ended on positive notes!

With a reduced workforce, we had some crazy-busy workloads. I ended up devoting my lunch breaks to long walks outside (with my Kindle) or to just processing my own email. Very exhausting. Next week may have more of the same, so I will want to adjust my calendar to have all the more buffer.

Said after-hours duty also proved very disruptive. One scheduled task went very long and even devolved into me driving to the office and back at 2am! That alone may account for how much sleeping-in I did this week. Other calls cut into much of the rest of my time slotted for productivity. The big takeaway: schedule nothing but research and rest time on such weeks, as those activities can field interruptions with much less disruption.

Personal

Regarding the other anticipated discussion, I had a Deep Relationship Discussion with the person I’m dating that, in the end, left some floating concerns that increased my baseline stress level for the rest of the week. Have you accounted for all of the environmental and subconscious influences tugging at your own willpower reserves?

Web work

On track to finally put in some actual development work on the local startup web project today.

Interviews

I had an unexpected call with my primary contact at the New York company. We’ve finalized the flight time and arranged for two more interviews in the meantime. Excellent!

I also finally met the business partner of the local startup guy, via phone, and we have a very fruitful discussion about project plans. All of my study of agile project management begins to pay off! More meetings with the local fellow also proved productive, as they put me on the right track for what they wanted out the project, as opposed to what I had thought they wanted.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • On track to make my workout aspirations. The work disruptions to my schedule hit my exercise routine pretty hard, but I did get in my first early morning workout! Planning to get in my third session tonight.
  • Zero progress on the internship project. I reported this expectation to my contact on that last week. Given how much else I have going on, I plan to just drop this as an active project for the indefinite future.
  • Interview flight scheduled. Time to buy that ticket!
  • Made my mastermind meetings, though with changes. It looks like everyone I’ve asked in one of my mastermind meetings agrees that the group has run its course. Fortunately, it looks like this came out of all of us having outpaced what began as a “beginner’s group”. This development will free me up to participate in more focused groups.
  • Meetings instead of web project work. Said meetings actually saved me time that I might have burned on misaligned expectations. Job responsibilities, in turn, replaced the web work that I had nonetheless wanted to knock out.
  • Blog post still on hold. With such a spastic week, updates to the blog post stood zero chance.
  • Enjoyed the teaching event. I would do it again, and prepare even better for next time.

Questions for you

Have you set aside time in your week to do nothing but recover from exhausting events?

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10 May 2013 » Weekly Update - Out of Sight, Out of Town

Productivity overview

(Posting this a day early, as I expect to spend all day Saturday at an out-of-town event.)

My habit of committing to an excess of projects each week continues. I can see myself improving in that area, at least.

I had a couple major schedule surprises and a scattering of small interrupts. They pushed the internship project work off of the bottom of the stack, but I might squeeze in some time for that tomorrow. Given how much I have happening at the teaching event, I will focus on fully engaging with that first.

An insurance deadline crept up on me, so I had to hasten a routine doctor’s visit. That accounted for one lunch break, but will also mean cash savings down the road. I left work early on another day (which also trimmed a lunch break short), as I had an important call to take. It proved worth it!

Late this week, my local start-up connection told me that they want to pay me significant change for some web work. Whoo! This will push back the internship and the local business web work. That cash in hand would give me a small chunk of financial breathing room, though, so it gets priority.

At work

We had a more slow-to-normal work week. I found myself quite distract-able these last few days, however, and prone to overworking, so I squeezed in less personal productivity time than hoped.

Interviews

I had another interview on Monday. My early departure on Wednesday related to a follow-up call. How quick! They wanted to say that they want to fly me out of town to see their offices! That may happen as early as next weekend.

Teaching Opportunity

I’ve written this post a day early to make room for the training event. Still on track to enjoy that!

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Owned my weekly workout aspirations. Upped my rep count a bit on my personal strength training. Replaced one with session with an extra-fast jogging one, as I can assume that this weekend’s trip will leave me little if any time for a personal workout.
  • Zero progress on the internship project. The preparations for my trip took longer than expected, but I had more than enough schedule surprises to knock the internship out of the running. The same goes for next week.
  • Scheduling a flight to see an interviewer. Yay, travel!
  • No movement on the new job application search. Possibly superfluous at this point. I plan to only revisit this in the short term if neither of my prospects pan out.
  • Made my mastermind meetings. Attendance included a local developer meeting that went pretty well. I may miss a couple next week, if the big trip happens soon, but the other attendees will know beforehand.
  • Had a long bout of gaming. Ended up playing for almost seven hours straight on Sunday. Phew. I played a bit more during the week, and I will admit that the experience (and its admittedly repetitive game-play) reminded me of why I’ve shied away from video games for so long. Some of the time for this came from a canceled event, but I could have attended another one that day.
  • Blog post still on hold. I haven’t touched the blog post draft in a while. The unexpected demands on my time saw to that. It might have to wait another week or two, given everything else. Still, a problem to have at this stage!

Questions for you

Have you set aside enough expressly-free time this next week? Do you know what you will do with it if nothing goes into overtime? What one commitment have you placed above all others this week?

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04 May 2013 » Weekly Update - Interview Intervention

Realistic productivity

Remember that “double your estimates” rule from last week? It still applies!

Besides the interview on Monday, I had another, unexpected one on Friday. It also occurred in-person and out of town, so that trip accounted for pretty much all of Friday. Even then, some of the free time I had that day went to advancing the contract work on (self-assigned) short notice.

I had a friend, also from out of town, call me in the middle of the week with a need for help, too, and that will account for all of this Saturday afternoon. Some other, personal events also took longer than expected.

Given my overcrowded schedule, I pushed the internship website work down and off the bottom of this week’s priority list. The big take-away? I will slot out more time next as expressly “Unallocated”, leaving myself more of a buffer for surprises.

Speaking of priorities: as much as I enjoy the (unpaid) internship work, both the contract work and the job hunt translate into actual money! Having more of that will make it easier to work on the internship later.

At work

We had a pretty busy work week, including at least a couple hours of overtime. Glad that I took off time when I did. I’ve already requested more of the same for a couple different activities.

Interviews

I had one interview on Monday, the one pushed back last week. I know that went well, as I have another interview with them on Monday!

I had another interview on Friday, with another company, and in person with my prospective manager. It looks like a shoe-in, based on the responses and questions. Only the prospects for the other job appear to hold up its progress, but they understand it. The book, Land the Tech Job You Love proved invaluable!

The prospective search for additional jobs (beyond the two above) stood zero chance of happening this week. I had prioritized that below the already-skipped internship work. On the other hand, two birds in the hand instead of the bush and all that.

Teaching Opportunity

I will spend this weekend helping to train women in tech! I’ve looked forward to this for weeks.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Owned my weekly workout aspirations! Unexpected delays threw my weight training schedule off, so I substituted a treadmill run inside of the 36-hour “let your muscles recover” window. Owned the treadmill too, despite a couple months of absence!
  • Zero progress on the internship project. Unexpected major draws on my time this week. I have a bit of work on this scheduled, but only because it overlaps with my prep for the weekend’s teaching event.
  • Focused on the interviews. Could have prepped more. Same as before. I’ve slotted out time tomorrow - breaking my “no work on Sundays” rule - to prepare for Monday’s interview. Making a point of preparing more checklists, too. I would have remembered my tie on Friday if I’d had one!
  • No movement on the new job application search. The Hacker News post arrived and does indeed look like a cornucopia of relevant openings. Between this last week’s surprises and the teaching event this coming weekend, though, I anticipate no movement on this front. Playing the long game instead; I can wait for next month’s post.
  • Made most of my mastermind meetings. Expecting plenty next week. I did make my two most important ones and, while we had low attendance, we made excellent use of both sessions! The experiences re-affirmed my ability to teach and coach. I have a developers’ meeting in town this next week, which I count as a mastermind meeting for these purposes.
  • Only squeezed in a bit of deliberate gaming this week. I under-planned for this and spent a lot of time dithering over my options instead of playing. Ultimately under-satisfied with my choices. The squeezes on my schedule left me well short of my time goals, too. I don’t have any scheduled for this coming week, but I may need it more than ever. That leaves me tempted to break out Pokemon again, given the amount of willpower-restoring “tiny successes” that it can give me in even a short play session.
  • Blog post in progress. I drafted the blog post that I mentioned last report and started editing it. However, that turned out much longer than expected, so it won’t appear here until at least this coming week or next.

Wrapping up

Did you have any unexpected demands on your time last week? How did you handle those? Good luck!

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27 Apr 2013 » Weekly Update - Breaking the Code

Realistic productivity

So, instead of under-shooting my productivity aspirations like last week, I managed to hit more than double the expected pomodoro count in two cases!

On the other hand, that effort came in no small part from a gross underestimation of what it would take to approach my desired results. I won’t stand any complaints from myself, though, as I took care of the part that I controlled: the time spent working. That shift in mindset removes a lot of stress from the equation.

The big take-away? Remember that rule of engineering: double your estimates on how long anything will take.

At work

We had an uncommonly slow week at work. That helped me squeeze in a bit of personal productivity. I still struggle with going overboard on keeping busy for the sake of busyness. No sense in working out of proportion to the compensation provided, though, not when the long-term prospects for compensation seem so poor.

Interviews

I had a remote pair programming interview with one company this week. We both used the awesome tmux software to share a terminal. Together, we went over Ruby and RSpec tests in an imitation of their daily work experience. Oh, if only every technical interview had this kind of fidelity! I feel like I put on a very good showing, so we will see how the follow-up looks next week.

The interviewer for my second interview this week had to push it back, so no movement on that particular front.

Also, a reminder for others interviewing: remember to send a “Thank You” email no more than a day after the interview! They put in a lot of effort for interviews, too, and such a rare gesture makes you all the more memorable.

Do you do anything in a terminal? If so, give tmux a look. Your productivity could soar.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Owned my weekly workout aspirations! Increased my reps goals a tiny bit but still had perhaps my best times yet on Friday. Bam! People have started noticing the physical changes already.
  • Significant progress on the internship project. We had a team meeting this week and I managed to squeeze out something presentable just in time for it! By “just in time”, I mean I had a Heroku instance updating even as the meeting started. I plan to schedule no more than a few hours for the project next week, with no specific progress goals for this round. This pace-change will help me enjoy the experience and thereby maintain my enthusiasm.
  • Focused on the interviews. Could have prepped more. I took part in one interview and was ready for one with another company that they had to push back. Put in a few hours of prep, but in far less organized of a fashion than intended. I plan to go back to the material I already have from Ramit Sethi, review that, and prepare more of an action plan for my outstanding prospects.
  • Next week: resuming the search for new job applications. I expect the Hacker News open position posting to go up before the end of next week, which could provide plenty of prospects again.
  • Flash fiction project dropped. My collaborator ended up canceling. As I had enough on plate even before starting this, I have no plans to restart it with another collaborator any time soon. I hope to go back as soon as my schedule demands allow, though.
  • Made all of my mastermind meetings. They all went quite well and felt productive! Always glad for the energy and resilience that comes of having cohorts in the fight for a freer life.
  • Scheduling deliberate gaming time next week. I feel rather creatively drained as of late, and drained in general. That tells me I need a break before I burn out. Several hours of intentional gaming still proves much more efficient than a week of temporary depression and malaise!

I may put up a separate post in the next few days, one analyzing my week’s plans in more details. Look forward to it!

Wrapping up

How did your productivity aspirations go last week? Did you run into any surprise roadblocks or unexpected successes? Good luck!

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20 Apr 2013 » Weekly Update - Interview from above

Realistic productivity

Remember how I knocked out all of my weekly aspirations last week? Not this time!

That said, I did have a few hours of overtime, not to mention an inordinate amount of work even during normal hours. Feeling the burnout, I think, even if at just the edges.

How does the example of hidden costs and lost opportunities at work apply to my own life? They have largely exhausted my aspirations for grand improvements there, given how little relief we get from the small work. What kind of off-the-clock productivity should I expect for myself? How much should you, dear reader?

Interviews

Glad that I took a whole day off for the out of town interview. It gave me the time to actually enjoy the trip and relax before the meeting. Feeling pretty good about the results.

That first interview lead to a take-home assignment. Glad to have that kind of follow-up, though it took quite a while longer than expected to complete. At least I feel a fair bit less rusty at certain JavaScript tasks with that under my belt.

Between the job search and current job time demands, I ended up dropping all of my podcast prep plans from my agenda. Makes me glad that we had the foresight to schedule only prep and no actual recording.

Made one mastermind meeting, but let some attendance confusion on my part lead to me missing the other meeting for the first time in ages, if ever! Looking to meet later with the one attendee I would have otherwise seen.

Getting it done

So what did I do, not do, and what will I do?

  • Missed my weekly workout goals, but with good cause. I sprained my lower back on Wednesday morning. Attempting my routine or a jog would have exasperated an already painful injury and slowed recovery. Wishing I had spent more time on researching alternatives, but then I did have a very busy, time-sensitive week.
  • No web project prototyping last week. Resuming this week. I had alerted my contact about this week’s negative expectations, so no surprise here. We have a group meet-up next week, though, so I have scheduled a lot of project work next week. I intend to have something to show off.
  • New job pursuit continues to advance at high speed. Just like this last week, I have three interviews coming up. No pursuit beyond the interviews and prep for them this week, as the web project work and its presentation deadline takes priority.
  • No podcast prep. Scheduled, but I found myself with far too many demands on my time to squeeze this in. The same goes for next week, but at least I see it coming this time.
  • Partial success at the second round of the writing project. I drafted a story, gave it initial edits, and got feedback. However, I skipped the second round of edits. Between not having a collaborator’s contribution to serve as a reminder and the demands on my time, it comes as little surprise. That said, I can still see where I might have squeezed it in. There’s always next week!

Wrapping up

How did your productivity aspirations go last week? Did you run into any surprise roadblocks or unexpected successes? Good luck!

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13 Apr 2013 » Weekly Update - Getting it done!

Realistic productivity

Guess who managed to complete all of his weekly aspirations this time around? This guy!

That news surprises me, too. What made the difference? The last few weeks of data. Between that and having filled out my calendar beforehand, I could see that I would want to lower my productivity aspirations for the this last week.

Let me say that having a completed checklist makes it much easier to enjoy scheduled downtime at the end of the week. My personal relationship progress owes no small credit to that.

Context

We had an okay if busy workload at my job this week, which cut into secondary productivity aspirations. Had some overtime that hampered those, too.

Still getting back up to speed when it comes to relationships. That accounts for the belated status of this update.

Getting it done

So what did I do, and what will I do?

  • Met my weekly workout goals. Physical fitness contributes directly to energy levels and positive moods. A couple hours of workout more than pays for itself in terms of later productivity. I plan to repeat this next week, just with a minor bump in rep counts.
  • Web project prototyping continued unabated. Getting close to something usable. I have too much on my plate next week to work on this, though, so I will explicitly bench it until next week.
  • New job pursuit advanced at high speed. Between a lot of emailing, I now have three interviews scheduled next week, including an in-person one. These interviews account for the reduction in other time commitments.
  • Brainstormed with my co-host instead of recording a podcast. This change of plans stemmed from an understandable lack of prep on both our parts. However, my co-host and I struck upon an even more promising approach. We will prep and research for that this week and likely next.
  • Succeeded at the first round of the writing project! I will write for that again this coming week. My collaborator lacks the time to write their own, but they agreed to provide feedback for mine.

Wrapping up

How did your productivity aspirations go last week? Did you run into any surprise roadblocks or unexpected successes? Good luck!

Comments
06 Apr 2013 » Weekly Update

After a couple busy weeks, I’ve moved closer to a more manageable life flow.

The week before last included a lot of overtime at work, including some twelve-hour days, and that had no small impact on my weekly productivity aspirations.

Fortunately, I adjusted last week’s aspirations to better account for such a repeat. Even better, we then had a much saner work schedule. Aside from a couple things that depended on others’ schedules, that equipped me to actually knock out everything on last week’s agenda!

Things move forward on the career front. Sometimes a change of venue matters more than everything else when it comes to improving yourself.

Last but not least, I have a new writing project lined up! More on that once it starts. As a relatively small time commitment, it will leave room for me to resume editing the short story once I’ve resolved my more immediate time demands.

Good luck on your productivity aspirations, dear reader!

Do you keep daily or weekly productivity plans? I’d love to hear more about those and your own scheduling strategies in the comments below.

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17 Mar 2013 » Quick Update

I’ve fallen into my old habit of tossing too many plates in the air. All of those balancing efforts accounted for some of my recent quiet, but they hardly excuse it.

A summary of events:

  • Adjusting to a new relationship.
  • Job and career engagements (all positive).
  • Outlined, drafted, and partially edited a new short story.
  • A convention trip.
  • The flu.
  • And many, many smaller things.
  • Website work.

I can report that my budding weekly planning session habit seems to help mitigate such overwhelm. Full-blown prevention remains a work in progress.

Good luck on your own projects, and learn from my example!

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07 Feb 2013 » A Funny Thing Happened on the Road of My Commute

You probably wonder where the posts went for the last few weeks. What happened to the time that writing them requires? What have I done to play catch-up in the meantime?

Work proved rather more time-consuming than normal for much of December and January. I’d almost forgotten how fourteen-hour days feel. Well, fourteen hours of working for others. Thank goodness for getting paid by the hour.

In more exciting news, your beloved author drafted a whole new short story and submitted to a paid anthology! I might hold out low hopes for acceptance, since this marks my first submission to a paid market that I can recall. However, the simple act of submitting it pushed me past one of those long-standing hurdles that we all run into over and over: the fear of criticism. Have you found yourself cringing at the thought of experiencing the same this week?

Would you believe that my study of better dating habits applies to such fears? While just repeating pickup lines won’t get you laid (as Dr. NerdLove reminds us), a failure to even make the approach guarantees that you will go home alone with neither a date nor an acceptance letter. You can do better.

The good news: the actual experience of putting yourself out there almost always proves far less terrifying than the anticipation. You can anticipate for years about asking a crush out or about submitting to Asimov’s Science Fiction, whereas speaking the words or pressing “Send” can take seconds and take the fear of the unknown away with it. That pattern of relief, even at negative results, repeated itself for me several times this week.

To illustrate: I’ve had several fun dates since the last post, but only after having many more requests turned down. By the time a short story of mine gets into a paid market, I expect to have collected a Stephen King-sized stack of rejection letters in the process.

Earning those rejection letters means writing another story and submitting to another anthology, though, however scary that potential rejection feels right now. Do you feel like you need a bit of liquid courage before approaching that publisher? Then take a shot and fire up your email client, fellow writer, because I have an opportunity for you.

Why don’t you join me in this self-challenge? If writing about interest places strikes your fancy, then check out The Journal of Unlikely Architecture. Remember to follow the submission guidelines to a T!

Have you decided to submit? Did the site inspire you to write something of your own? I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below, here on this interesting site for interesting people like yourself.

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10 Dec 2012 » Review of Analogue: A Hate Story

I’ve written about video games before, and how they matter to productivity, but today I want to talk about how six whole hours of gaming could prove well-spent.

I almost find myself a bit challenged to explain such an obvious result. You come to me better-read than most, dear reader, so we could leave the value in reading Shakespeare or F. Scott Fitzgerald unstated. The same goes for Analogue: A Hate Story. As a visual novel, it holds to all the literary value of written work, regardless of how much button-pressing it might require.

The game - an interactive fiction title - consumed my entire Saturday evening. It even pushed aside a couple of my staunchest daily habits, to speak to the degree in which it engrossed me. Don’t fret too much: that short time span brought me to a 100% completion (courtesy just a couple online hints) and I consider it time well spent on the science fiction tale. Only on such rare occasions does one experience a second-person story that reads in such a natural fashion.

More than a literary curiosity, though, Analogue poses an uncommon intellectual challenge. Where Shakespeare asks us to sympathize with agonizing princes and conflicted kings, and Fitzgerald wants us to identify with his self-made and -unmade Gatsby, game creator Christine Love expects us to look at ourselves. Far more visceral than a metaphorical comparison, Love’s choice of choices makes it hard to separate “you”, the narrator (narratee?) from you, the reader. When you choose a certain route down the branching story, the experience comes with inevitable self-reflection.

Did you make that in-game choice because you would, because you need it to win, or because the persona you adopted for the current play-through could do nothing else? What does a belief in an “obvious” choice for a fictional character say about our own choices? Even if you go back, reload a save file, and take the other route, then some little or larger parts of yourself still agreed with each decision in one way or another.

The characters in Analogue have, almost to a one, many layers to themselves. If you take away nothing else from playing the game, consider how your reactions to each story path offer fleeting glimpses of your own inner depths. Treasure these, as they disappear with the fading of each subsequent dialogue box.

Go ahead and start with such an interactive choice now. Do you download the trial for …?

Thank you - any part of you - for playing Christie’s game.

P.S. The gaming experienced inspired me to get back into Ren’Py and my own visual novel engine efforts. Look forward to hints of that in the months to come.

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26 Nov 2012 » After the Draft There's Life After Writing?

What Do You Mean, You Finished It?

Just twenty four days into NaNoWriMo 2012 and I find myself staring at two of the most liberating and terrifying words for a novel drafter: The and End, and in that sequence no less. Like with the end of everything, this experience brings a few broader life lessons along with it.

I find the accomplishment liberating because I have met my National Novel Writing Month self-obligation and knocked out over 50,000 words before the end of November. I could, in theory, stop writing there.

I find the accomplishment terrifying because I dare not actually stop.

What I Learned

Pacing still matters more than anything

I had some days where I missed my 2,000 word quota and some where I wrote all of zero. A few days saw me go above and beyond with hundreds of post-qouta words. One day saw me surpass 5,000 words. Only that one day, though, and my last day at that. The vast majority of day saw me hit my quota and stop soon after that. Those days accounted for the bulk of the words.

Setting an explicit end goal makes a huge difference

As Cal Newport verified with research, knowing one’s destination can decide whether you win or lose. Sure, I have succeeded at NaNoWriMo without knowing how the novel would end, but I found it exhausting and frustrating, not to mention rather more time-consuming. Knowing where the ride stops makes a journey like this far more fun.

The journey comes with its own rewards

Specifically, the experience and stamina gained through the process of enduring such a journey will matter far more than the draft itself. Regardless of how well that particular piece of fiction fares on the market, I can still apply my enhanced writing chops to every creative project going forward. I never would have succeeded at this year’s four month, 120,000 word writing project without the habits developed over the course of several NaNoWriMos.

Lasting improvements take time

While I might have finished in twenty four days this month, that represents only a 4% reduction in time from the last event. Nonetheless, the experience did reveal new, specific weaknesses that I can now target for improvement. I expect to have all the better (words-per-minute-increasing) of an outline next time, when I might shave off yet another day. I didn’t cut my time down this far after just my first novel, either.

The Biggest Lesson

More than any of the specific writing lessons above, I want to emphasize their general applicability to the rest of life. If you want to have a visceral experience that brings the lesson right home, then I cannot recommend NaNoWriMo enough. It may well improve far more things than your typing speed.

Have you picked up lessons of your own from NaNoWriMo? Ones from other creative projects? I’ve love to here that story of yours below.

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19 Nov 2012 » Coloring Outside the Lines of the Outline Breaking Ranks, Breaking Rules

Keeping the End in Sight

I used to prefer writing by the seat of my pants. I just figured out one of the secrets to my success with outlines, though. It took six complete novel drafts (and part of a seventh) to reach the conclusion, but it explains so much.

What accounts for this change of heart by a former pantser, once preferring open-ended prose? It begins with the historical context.

The Earliest Days

My experience with outliner versus pantser hearkens all of the way back to my very first full-fledged novel endeavor: Planet Oz. I squished both techniques together. While I might have seat-of-my-panted my way between each literary milestone, the author of The Wizard of Oz had laid those markers down long ago. Writing a remake gave me a ready-made outline that, I suspect, accounted for no small part of my success in my first year of NaNoWriMo. However, it would take another year for me to appreciate this fact.

I went into the next NaNoWriMo with an exciting notion for the book: restaurants, robots, and transforming robots, all realized in keyboard form. The combination did provide me enough incentive to write all of the way to fifty thousand words, but I made it to the end with a frustrating lack of satisfaction.

As it turned out, I discovered my true protagonist only a third or halfway through the process. My conscious mind would only come to realization closer to the end, though, and that demotion of my first protagonist (and first-person narrator) left me exasperated. I never even made it to the giant robot in the book’s title! What had happened?

That second title had featured a semblance of an outline, character notes, and a general aspiration. In practice, the plan boiled down to the provincial equivalent of directions: the “go left a ways, then turn at where the old barn used to be” kind that serve to get you lost. In other words, I went in without any real notion of where I needed to stop. My story kept going until it petered out of its own accord, cut off at a point begging for less of a wrap-up and far more conflict. The lesson from that year’s journey took a year to sink in, but it did.

A Breakthrough

Come my third NaNoWriMo, I started work on the entry that would both provide the seeds for a burgeoning series of novels and reveal the core value of outlining. It feels a bit odd to say that, knowing just how much of a complete rewrite that particular novel draft will require, though I did get one part right. This story came with an ending in mind.

My initial ending reduced to a vignette of a battle, a climatic showdown that would settle a dispute between powerful forces, but it came with resolution built it. The big question posed by the opening (another, similarly explosive vignette) received an answer adequate for closing out that chapter of the series, even as others remained opened, while the amount of relief at passing that point felt palatable. If I could experience that, as someone who knew the “big picture” weeks before it arrived, what greater promise did it hold for the reader?

Looking through my notes now, I see that I used a cinematic beat sheet in the process of outlining the third novel. Given the emotional release expected of films, the final result of the novel comes as no surprise. What explains the failures of the next novel, then?

A Breakdown

My fourth participation in Camp NaNoWriMo succeeded, technically. I hit the 50,000 word mark and reached a passable point for The End. As with the second novel, my heart just lacked resonance with the results. Even before reaching that stopping point, though far too late into the month, I could tell that a fitting resolution lay outside of my reach. The route to my fictional finish line ran through far hillier terrain than anticipated.

In the process of experimenting with the Snowflake Method, I had ended up creating more characters and interconnections than I could handle. (The problem stemmed from my inexperience rather than the method itself, I should point out.) The relationships, contributions, and needs of those characters piled up far too fast for me to corral them into a story of the proscribed length.

With the last of my 50,000 words piled in front of me, the weight of the open loops felt crushing instead of completed. On the outside, I reached a goal. On the inside, I knew how much of an opportunity I had missed.

My fifth NaNoWriMo entry avoided the over-sized cast problem, but it lacked another element instead. I might have featured too few characters, if anything, but the big problem stemmed from its lack of a powerful enough ending. It felt like the characters walked away from story shaking their heads, looking around for the “On Next Week’s Episode” preview clip. I went ahead and stopped with five days of NaNoWriMo remaining, having already run out of plot before its time.

Have you spotted the recurring theme with all these frustrating novel experiences?

A Breakaway

Something snapped into place when I started my sixth NaNoWriMo entry. Rather, epiphany arrived in the days before that month of Camp NaNoWriMo. The month before that had seen me draft my novel outlining guide and that guide included one part absent from all my prior attempts. It consisted of three steps:

  • Imagine an ending for your novel.
  • Make that ending more dramatic.
  • Then, make that ending even more dramatic.

Those last two steps made all of the difference.

What had changed? I had now set myself on such a bearing that I might, once within sight of the finish line, find myself needing to dial back the action and consequences. What writer would not give up a month’s coffee to have that problem?

Looking at back at my notes now, it turns out that I did, in fact, drop some of the potential ending. How did that possibly help? It meant that I had made the ending as dramatic as the story allowed. What more could an author want?

The value in outlines for me, then, reduced to this: they fill in the details between the in media res (mid-action) beginning and its heart-clenching conclusion.

I could off in entirely different directions. I might end up investing whole new characters, plot points, or the like. However, I could “recover” from such changes with relative ease and actually have a stronger story for them because of a fundamental difference between these surprises and those of prior novel drafts. Instead of detours, these changes stemmed from my subconscious discovery of even better ways to reach the end.

Even as I added to the seventh, in-progress novel draft tonight, the surprises kept coming. I caught myself laying down both metaphors and straight-up hints at events to come. The amount of rewriting this may save me shows incredible promise, but I also find such things downright far more fun to write in the first place. Pre-discovery of the ending empowered me on the per-sentence level, to the point that I must now question many long-held assumptions about presumed literary “accidents” in other works. Best of all, the realization of such an important element points the way towards my own “ending” as an author. If I can figure out just what I have in mind for that, who knows what unexpected routes I might find or forge for myself on the way there?

What experiences do you have with outlining? Have you found a particular technique that works wonders for you, or perhaps one to caution against? I look forward to hearing your opinions on the matter below!

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25 Oct 2012 » Tolling the Bell for Yourself And a Possible Violation of Poe's Law

I never ring the bell at Wendy’s that answers the question, “Did you have excellent service today?”

I never do it at Burger King, either, but the staff at Arby’s hears it most every time. Why? Only Arby’s offers such a bell.

Have you, reader and prospective writer, set up such a bell for yourself? If so, when did you last ring your own bell? I heard alarm bells ringing inside my own head after finishing a science fiction novel this year.

Reading Isaac Asimov’s Nemesis, in particular, had left me mortified. Nothing within the pages itself caused this particular anxiety, either. All of the blame stemmed from the author’s biography on the back dust jacket.

How did Asimov’s life story terrify me? It listed the number of books written in the acclaimed author’s lifetime: over four hundred. While still less than nine thousand, the difference between his output and mine almost made the aspiration-obsessed writer in me want to surrender.

Doing the math only hampered my remaining hope. My current word rate made the task of drafting as many books as Asimov appear Sisyphean. Could I approach that amount? Would I want to?

My video game habits, of all things, provided a mote of solace. I saw the huge hours-played counts on some titles - once viewed as points of pain - evolve into proof positive that I could devote myself to an interesting task for unbelievable lengths of time. Where have you invested yourself in kind?

The Arby’s service bell rings in my head again. This imagined sound carries the cadence of a “Level Up” chime out of Pokemon, though. While the restaurant staff might serve fast food instead of full course gourmet meals, they still deliver what I request and do so with a smile, so they earn their ring. The time arrives for you and I to ring our own bells.

This post before you counts towards that tolling of victory. Compared to personal journals and past blog attempts, this one entry improves a blog already boasting of a much great number of far more valuable posts. Your reading of this does the same. It means that you sought out self improvement.

I drafted a full-length novel this year. A short story came after that. A NaNoWriMo victory followed, with another one coming down the pipe. What difference do these accomplishments make? Keep in mind that I once had far less written words to my credit than you do at present.

Did you know that the industrious Asimov, at one point in his life, had also only written as much as me? He might have passed that point early in his career, but you can I can both do the same.

No matter how little you have written, Asimov’s total word-count also once matched your own.

If we can follow his example and keep plugging away at the keyboard then we might yet play catch-up. Having continued this far into reading this post, you have already moved closer.

How can just reading a blog post count? You sought out self-improvement. Not just a numerical increase of a high score, either, but something that stretched your mind and challenged those most resilient of pre-conceptions: those you hold in regards to yourself. Will you write a witty comment in response to this, seek out further learning, or draft a blog post of your own? These moves all count. Once you start on one, you can go ahead and ring your own bell.

Tell me what you did in the comments. I want to hear that bell ring!

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15 Oct 2012 » Victory Conditions Or How Not to Lose at Winning

Can you imagine clocking in ten or more hours on a game in a single weekend? How would it make you feel to see that written down on a time-keeping sheet?

Seeing that made me feel like I needed to change something.

I made such a huge time commitment with Civilization V not long ago. Another game threatens to do it now. The mere recollection of such experiences exhaust me.

That bit of self-knowledge came courtesy of perhaps Steam’s best feature: the play-time tracker. The discovery that I had played over a hundred total hours of one game lead to a major perspective shift.

At one hundred and twenty hours, my recent novel project required more time. It required only twenty percent more, though, and look at what I have to show for the change in effort: a whole novel.

How did I accomplish all of that without the positive Pavlovian feedback of “Battle Won!” sounds and special effects of video games? I didn’t.

I found myself hard-pressed to pull away from the game at times. Despite having parties to attend and sleep to get, the “one more turn” lust persisted. How? The game may exist in a broken approximation of reality but the designers re-assembled the pieces into a sharp instrument capable of cutting away any delay in the feedback loop.

In the Civilization gaming world, for example, rewards appear at every level of accomplishment. Pretty particles effects dazzle the eyes, joined by positive pings at moving units, detailed pictures, and weighty narrations of accomplishment at each completed world wonder.

Even gaming errors pain us less. When my first few games under the new DLC (downloadable content) resulted in major, fatal mistakes, I could restart without so much as a whisper of complaint from the AI. I went on to see a world-spanning victory with one of the new civilizations less than twenty-four hours after starting another session. If only our beta readers and reviewers could forget about our past writing failures, right?

Who could turn down such a powerful stream of positive reinforcement? Again, I didn’t. Yet, I still had a new novel draft after a few months. How?

Getting tangible rewards for writing might take hours, days, or years. They almost always require initiative on our own before validation arrives, as well. Does it come as any surprise that our “creative vegetables” remain uneaten when a plateful of gamified dessert lies within reach?

The Pomodoro Technique provided the necessary reinforcement. With tools like the Pomodroido mobile app in hand, every half hour of accomplishment came with a little bell and the reward of a break. I acted as my own “Novelist Whisperer” and trained myself towards victory.

Two more techniques contributed to this victory:

  • First, I added numerical scores to my beta reader feedback requests. This let me track my progress in a far more measurable way than any prose-only comments. I could shoot for a literally literary high score.
  • Second, I shot for daily word-count goals. With those in place (such as 2,000 each day during NaNoWriMo), I could win at writing every day. When did you last “win” at writing?

My list of lasting victories at writing will only lengthen as I continue to expand this list of gamifications. With enough such victories, I could even “win” at turning myself into a successful novelist.

I expect the same techniques to work for you, current reader and future writer. We run essentially the same neurological software, after all.

Have you gamified your writing yet? What can you do next to do more of that? I want to hear about your own technique experiments in the comments below.

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01 Oct 2012 » School Yourself Aiming for the A Grade

Would you believe that my own writings continue to educate me, their author? My August 2012 participation in Camp NaNoWriMo entry turned out all the better for it. Now I want you to benefit from the same lessons.

The self-education came from my newest material on how to write. I had drafted a guide to outlining in anticipation of NaNoWriMo. While I pulled from such great sources as Joseph Campbell’s analysis of The Hero’s Journey and Blake Snyder’s lessons on dramatic structure in screenplays, I still had to test the value of the results. That called for using my own guide a week before NaNoWriMo.

The questions mattered more than the answers. I had some vague notions of where I wanted the story to go, but my very first self-assignments made me feel like an outlining newbie. That I had posed those questions made no difference: the guide’s queries generated new insights into the characters each and every night.

These questions weighed on my mind. However, my rationalization-demanding subconscious prepared all manner of explanations and connections in response. Thanks to those, the results came pouring out onto my keyboard at an incredible words-per-day count.

I finished that novel draft in record time. The 50,000 word finish line disappeared behind me only twenty one days into August. That still leaves preliminary edits, feedback from friends, and a check for one of my (justified) biggest fears, a too Mary Sue of a protagonist, but I feel a thrill at those upcoming challenges.

If I can just capture that sense of wonder at what comes next, bottle it, and present it to my readers, then who knows how well this novel will work out? Imagine yourself doing the same.

A few sample questions for your current or next creative work:

  • Do you know how your overall story will end? Can you make that ending more dramatic?
  • Do you know what kind of story you like? Do you know what kind you hate? How much of each do you see reflected in your current work?
  • Which character takes the most proactive action? Are they the protagonist? Why or why not?
  • Have you left yourself any time by which to distance yourself from the work before the edit?
  • Do you have anyone lined up to give you feedback?

Quite a few questions, I know, but ones that could save you quite a bit of effort. Did they help you? Let me know.

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13 Sep 2012 » Review: The Little Book of Talent Read It Like You Mean It

Daniel Coyle’s new book, The Little Book of Talent provides an island of informational refuge in a sea of often verbose and overwrought advice on personal development. Given the torrents of productivity and self-improvement advice rushing at us across countless blogs and podcasts, we can get swept away by all the data and anecdotes before ever finding the precise, actionable advice that matters. I found almost nothing but that specific, useful advice in Coyle’s book. If all of the ear-marked pages and highlights in my free review copy offers any indication, I expect that you will also find your fair share of value in it.

The physical book itself comes in a practical form. While it will look attractive enough on your self, thanks to the gold leaf, I appreciate the choice to make it hard-bound and more durable on practical grounds. One could benefit from always keeping it within arm’s reach inside a backpack or case, as I have done for weeks, unhampered by its portable size.

The size of the book matters for more than physical portability. It also comes with manageable mental storage requirements. Thanks to Coyle’s choice of a numerical index for each tip, along with a representative icon, that makes its all the easier to pull them out of memory. I would have liked a complete index of the tips or a separate reference card here and I might have broken some of the larger tips down into more atomic ones for mnemonic purposes. Tightening the connection between each tip and a greater number of illustrative stories might have also helped. That said, these tips remain rather more accessible that those of larger volumes.

I did run into a fair number of “refresher” moments, but those stemmed more from my own extensive reading on the book’s topic than anything else. Having encountered some of Coyle’s chosen stories and studies before, I can report that they affirm his lessons. He did his research.

The research paid off. You can see the usefulness of the tips reflected in my own stories, both biographical and fictional, and eleven of my favorite examples lie below.

Tip 1: Stare at Who You Want to Become

Just one tip in and I found actionable advice relevant to me. My own writing proficiencies stem from countless hours of reading most everything and of listening to numerous podcasts by writers themselves. Coyle’s own biography of writing success reinforces this.

Tip 4: Buy a Notebook

I started this habit back in high school with a Palm Pilot (just picture the geek factor there). A stack of filled Moleskines lie on my shelf, the growth of the pile only arrested by improvements to one of my favorite phone apps, Springpad. Even my shower participates in such thorough note-taking, courtesy AquaNotes.

Tip 5: Be Willing to be Stupid

This very review exists for the sole reason that I draft first and edit second. I wrote about seven thousand words of proto-review and notes before writing the one you read now from scratch. My several complete novel drafts - yes, several - came together amid the express absence of editorial input. Keeping this one tip in mind could transform all of your creative output going forward. Like I say, you can only publish what you’ve edited and only edit what you’ve written.

Tip 11: Don’t Fall for the Prodigy Myth

Another foundational tip. Early praise for my own smartness put a distinct cap on my childhood willingness to risk failure in the public eye, if memory serves, and I continue to struggle with the fallout. If you feel distressed at the thought of others seeing your mistakes, then remember this: the people inclined to appreciate your talent will remember your successes far better than your failures anyway.

Tip 15: Break Every Move Down Into Chunks

Every victory over procrastination boils down to the application of this one tip. This very book review, which looked so daunting at the start, came together because I expected a mere twenty five minutes of reading and writing from myself at a time. I just had to repeat that simple, comprehensible request until I reached the end. What large task of yours can you start breaking down into digestible chunks?

Tip 18: Choose Five Minutes a Day Over Five Hours a Week

Possibly the most important tip to date. My NaNoWriMo victories all stem from an initial vow - and eventual habit - of writing a certain amount each day. Just a couple attempts at cramming in extra words, and the disproportionate exhaustion that came with it, taught me the importance of pacing for the long haul.

Tip 26: Slow It Down

A tip that I find invaluable even as I typed out my notes on the tip itself. If slowing down sounds counter-productive, imagine an assembly line. It hardly matters how many widget come out at the end if one puts them all together the wrong way. Consider the same when reading this book, too.

Tip 31: To Learn a New Move, Exaggerate It

This stands out as an excellent summation of why I participate in NaNoWriMo. Without having attempted at least two thousand words on most every non-break day, no less having succeeded, I might have considered the work required of a full-scale novel untenable. Having done so, writing thousand words each day, even for a few months, felt like a break.

Tip 44: Have a Blue-Collar Mindset and Tip 50: Cultivate Your Grit

To paraphrase author Mur Lafferty, to be a writer means sitting your butt in your chair and writing. Stephen King, for example, has written virtually every day for decades and he experiences at least some success as an author. Again, this review exists as the express product of having put my butt in my favorite, orange coffee shop chair and writing. Even with the cold or flu that struck me down near the end of the task, I got back to work and set to finishing the edits as soon as my body allowed.

Tip 47: To Learn More Deeply, Teach It

I can testify to having a much deeper grasp on all of the tips in the book because I made this effort to teach you, the review reader, about the work. Back in college, I found that helping others during study groups often helped me as much as them. Keep this tip in mind whenever someone asks you for advice.

Weak Points

I did find the book dense with value. Sometimes it grew a little too tight on the prose, though. Some of the tips, such at #17, would have benefited from the specific stories that I so enjoyed in many of the other ones. More such stories would have provided much more value than the glossary and neurobiology appendix, but someone newer to the science might get more out of the latter. The “Further Reading” section could have done with descriptions with each book referenced, too. Judging by how many notes I took in writing this review, the space taken by the “Notes” pages in the back might have served better as space taken up by the missing stories mentioned above. Nothing that a second edition or online addendum could not fix, though. The back-cover blurb frames this as a gift book, so I find these forgivable choices.

Final Reckoning

My overall score: 4/5 stars. The addition of more stories alongside each tip, combined with a more detailed index of the tips, might have brought it to where I could round up to a full five stars. I still recommend it as a buy, speaking as someone who considers himself a part-time student of self-improvement. If you find yourself near the beginning of your skill-acquisition journey, though, then I cannot recommend this book enough. It will provide an excellent foundation for rocketing forward with that education.

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24 Aug 2012 » Something Out Of Nothing Ignore the Quantum Foam for a Moment

I almost did not write the original draft of this post. However, the draft owes its very existence to that near lack of prose.

It seemed, at first, that I had found myself emptied for ideas after weeks of drafting new posts every day. That hypothesis lacked punch, though, because I could point to mighty stores of potential blog post ideas captured in myriad ways. For example:

What could explain my resistance to writing this post, then, given those treasure troves of idea seeds?

Another hypothesis came to mind: simple biology. While a good-sized dinner and a mocha had preceded tonight’s work session, I might have taxed my brain’s glucose supplies by the hour and a half of editing that preceded the drafting task. Partaking of a bit of water and food had countered dry spells before, but yet I ended up writing a fair bit of this post before making that observation. I found that could write but the question of whether I would continue remained open.

Going back to the stored ideas above turned fruitless. Many of them had withered on the vine for a lack of attention or sufficient detail by which to summon back the original intent.

What about my past posts? These provided much richer soil for new ideas, though not from the specific contents. Rather, I noticed a trend as I went over them. The most invigorating posts had virtually all sprung from actions of my own doing. I had pre-drafted my best blog posts by the very act of living a more exciting, more challenging life. Looking back at the last few weeks, that hypothesis explained the hesitation to type. Compared to some recent accomplishments, my life this summer had appeared somewhat boring. That appearance also proved deceiving.

Some of the “boring summer” counter-evidence (from the date of the original draft):

  • I had just returned from the Origins Game Fair and its multiple straight days of gaming goodness.
  • I had just completed the Goins 15-Day Writing Challenge. No small feat.
  • I had written daily blog post drafts to the point of exhaustion! Just reaching that point counted as an accomplishment.

Can you believe that I made an entire blog post out of not having a blog post idea? Now you, dear reader, can call me out if I ever complain about a lack of such ideas. I look forward to rising to such challenges!

Have you caught yourself living a boring life lately? When do you plan to make it less boring? Share your plans in the comments below or ask for suggestions!

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19 Aug 2012 » Environmental Hazards Put on Your Radiation Suit

Blogger Leo Babauta just reminded us that killing time isn’t a sin. We can further distinguish killing time from murdering it, though. I know because I commit a surprising amount of chrono-cide on occasion.

I have murdered time by napping. What about a nap could make it so deadly? Would you guess at a lack of any need for it? I could have avoided that with better planning.

It started with the environment. With highs surpassing 105F in a recent month, the need to stay inside appeared obvious. Our brains can literally overheat just like an overclocked CPU and with similar performance penalties. Without such cognitive hampering, I might have thought better than to try and work in my under-cooled house. A few dollars on iced coffee at the well-chilled local coffee shop would have paid for itself in terms of preserved productivity. I now factor that into choosing my preferred working locations.

Who expects a pair of sandals to make their own demonstrable difference to productivity? In my case, it occurred in their absence. I compounded the heat-based sapping of my productivity by trying to get away with pants, socks, and regular shoes. So much for bowing to fashion sense and to dreams of saving time and money, whose fleeting natures could have tipped me off to the folly therein. Do you dress with enough function that form can follow in kind? People will remember what you accomplish over the years far better than how you dressed on a particular day, after all.

Learn from my bad example and take some time to step away from your daily grind. Re-evaluate it from a safe distance. Even a blogger can’t expect to overhaul a word-churning assembly line without turning it off first, not unless they want to lose a limb in the machinery. Have you given your mind a break - not a distraction, a break - this week?

Do you have tips of your own for keeping your environment productive? I want to hear them in the comments below!

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10 Aug 2012 » Review Speculations Like Panning for Gold in the River Styx

When it comes to beta readers and their feedback, I figured a few things out:

  • Ask a lot of people
  • Provide an easy answer mechanism
  • Provide for more objective reviews
  • Prepare to practice patience and persistence

We can go over each of these in turn.

Ask a lot of people

When I say “a lot of people”, I mean a lot. Does asking a couple dozen people sound like a daunting task? Brace yourself: you can expect to ask hundreds of people before getting the feedback you need. The good news? It gets easier, like exercise over time. The bad news, you likely have plenty of social baby-fat to work off first.

The most ready source of feedback will exhaust itself with haste. While you may have a lot of friends, only so many can answer your call for feedback. Whether due to other commitments, a lack of experience or interest in your genre, or a limited capacity for more objective review, your initial crop of potential reviewers will winnow down as soon as you start asking. Presume that one in five or ten here can help on a given review request.

Sheer volume matters more than anything here. A more even spread will also help you detect trends. Outline surveys help with this, especially since they cover far more demographics than those of your in-personal social circles and their physical limitations. They come with a much lower response rate, too, so seek out at least five different, relevant offline venues that can accept your survey requests. You would have already tapped out social networks in getting the feedback of friends, so you may have to join new and unfamiliar forums for this.

A survey of mine, an infamous “zero response” one, suffered for a lack of awareness. My subsequent survey found far more respondents thanks, in part, to a wider campaign. The latter also included far more radio buttons than text fields.

What do you do for editorial feedback, though?

Provide an easy answer mechanism

Can the reader add their notes to your piece of fiction Aline? Make changes in place? What about draw on printed sheets? Between the change-tracking options of Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and the like, you can allow a reviewer reckless abandon when it comes to editing your files. Just remember to keep backups of the originals.

Email remains one of the best mechanisms for capturing the feedback. You can track the entire discussion with clients like Gmail and use tools like Boomerang to make sure that you remember to follow-up with slower reviewers. If your reader can do their job by just hitting Reply, then all the better for you.

Favor checkboxes and radio buttons over text fields and, Internet forbid, full-on text areas. Creatives like us fear the blank page and canvas enough. Imagine how they feel to the average reader. I find that the mere effort of distilling questions down to shorted, explicit list often provides its own insight, so both you and the survey-respondent benefit from that.

Do yourself another favor by bringing a bit of science to the feedback.

Provide for more objective reviews

Nobody likes open-ended essay answers on exams, especially ones like your survey that offer zero grades as a reward. Do you remember your relief back in school at getting multiple choice questions? You got to have a machine perform the grading, as well, instead of an overworked teacher’s assistant.

I recommend a scoring system. The copy of stories that I send out to each beta reader includes a list of metrics and a request for a score of one to five on each (five ranking highest). The consistency between the numbers, and the reliability this implies, continues to amaze me.

Some example metrics:

  • Intriguing
  • Comprehensible
  • Thrilling
  • Inspirational
  • Romantic
  • Satisfying
  • Instructive

Different stories would have different metrics, but four or five could suffice. You might also include an overall score. Such numbers make it harder for a kind-meaning review to talk around a problem area instead of addressing it head on.

Prepare to practice patience and persistence

Include version numbers in the drafts you send out. That will equip you to match specific reviews with specific drafts. Otherwise, waiting for all of the feedback for a specific version to arrive will drive you to distraction.

Life happens. Unexpected events arrive, schedules change, people invariably over-estimate how long they will require for things. Sometimes you even ask someone to review a novel when you thought you had only sent them a short story. True story, referring to the mistake instead of the work itself. It may take days or weeks for a review to come back and by then you have had plenty of time for editing. You did edit in that intermediate time, right?

Learning from experience

I know I lost plenty of momentum on my last short story project after the initial delay on editing. By neglecting to to have a new, fresh writing project on my plate to take its place, my subconscious no doubt decided to redirect my energies to more immediate concerns, sapping my creative reserves. Learn from my example and keep something waiting in the wings.

Did this review overview help you? Let me know in the comments. You can even score this post if you like, just remember to write one of your own!

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27 Jul 2012 » You Can't Have 30 More Minutes You Have to Take It

I finally found some manifest value in watching so much television and playing so many video games as a child. Well, I found value besides all of the mini-lessons on story-telling, the acquisition of massive stores of nostalgia fuel, and refining my media tastes. Exceptions exists - I don’t expect the Pokemon cartoon of my youth to win any awards - but it turns out that having my attention divided into episode-sized, half-hour chunks provided excellent practice for future productivity. The game itself provides an even better metaphor for a productive life.

The half-hour chunking of children’s television (at least 1980s-1990s shows for adolescents) reminds me of one of my favorite tools for productivity, the pomodoro technique. My red timer runs as I type this. The plotting of those shows, in turn, illustrates how I manage to keep going back to that timer five, six, even more times on some days. By leaving those stories on cliffhangers, kids sit through those blasted commercials and stick around for the restart. I hacked my last bit of novel-writing in the same way, having made a point of stopping on unfinished sentences and paragraphs. Give that a try and see what it does for your long-term writing success. Watch out, though, as other sources of entertainment use the same trick.

On a whim, I checked one of my video game stats and found myself mortified. I had played over one hundred and twenty hours on the latest Pokemon games. Where had that time gone? Un-evolved creatures, levels less than the max, and a half-empty Poke-Dex had kept luring me back in, time after time. What did I have to show for it in the long run? Have you asked yourself that question of your latest bit of favorite entertainment? Going by my standard writing rate, that equates to one hundred and twenty-thousand words not written. I could have doubled my full-length novel draft count in that time. What could I could to make up for that?

My extended Pokemon experience does provide some of its own value. The very first generation of the game inspired one of my earliest works of fiction, if not the earliest. How much of your recent work and mine exists at the sole behest of other such sources? Reading Tolkien makes it easy to dive into penning epic fantasy, while extracting writing from a video game deserves all the more creative credit.

That said, where can I find a publisher willing to commit the contents of my save file to paper? I could not talk myself into self-publishing such a story. That time spent on gaming still translates to the absence of a novel. How does this observation help me or you? It doesn’t. The value lies in dissecting what made Pokemon such a draw for my transient attention and then converting that into a more addictive writing process.

With the Nintendo DS, I could pull it out of my pocket and squeeze in a few minutes of gaming - never mind a few hours - at any moment that my attention wandered. Waiting at the bus stop? Bored during a lunch break? Held up by the late start of a meeting? Bam, another Pokemon captured. Terry Mixon of The Dead Robots’ Society found a productive variant on this that made him into a writing machine. Any given lull in the action results in him whipping-out of his smart phone and furious typing on its small keyboard. That might sound like a pain, not to mention slow-going, but even one additional sentence increases his total word count. He might boast of a whole new chapter by the time each day’s little breaks have added up, all thanks to the efficient use of pocket-time.

Pokemon also rewards the player often. Whether an excited chime upon the landing of an attack, a sparkling “Leveled Up!” message, or the thrilling evolution sequence, I received that transient moment of positive reinforcement on a regular basis. A market exists for more sophisticated tools that provide the same for us creatives, though I do keep a little running in a separate terminal window that shows my current word count. Seeing that pass the five-hundred word mark always brings me a mote of joy. I also kept gourmet cookies on hand during my first NaNoWriMo, which I could only eat after reaching my daily word count. Bad for my waistline but magical for my total number of pages. Have you provided yourself with any similar reinforcements for even the smallest writing achievement?

Last, and of the greatest long-term importance, Pokemon gives all of us characters with whom we can identify and watch grow up. Consider the amount of personality that goes into the design of each of the three starters (Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur, back in the day). Players may invest an incredible amount of thought and deliberateness into making a choice that will last their entire game. They will spend dozens of hours with this particular Pokemon, often more than that invested in many college classes, and it will shape their entire play experience. The player’s childhood rival or friendly competition always brings their own starter into their matches, allowing Nintendo to remind us of the player character’s humble, single-digit level origins with every such fight. Have you looked back at some of your own grade-school work lately and considered just how far you have advanced in that time?

It should come as no surprise that my starter always joins me whenever I face the Elite Four. The game designers made a calculated decision on the progression of power levels and move choices when it came to the starters. If anything, those three Pokemon almost serve as the protagonists of each games as much as the trainer. They always have three evolutions (not unlike a familiar act structure) and undergo dramatic change by the end, both externally and internally. Could you ask for a more clear-cut example of The Hero’s Journey?

In the end, I recommend enjoying the experience of Pokemon but just in moderate doses. After that, you can go on to write about it for far longer. I hope you enjoyed my own little journey across the full length of the time-management spectrum. Do you have any of your own take-aways from playing Pokemon or the like? Comment below!

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20 Jul 2012 » Destroying Worlds Or, the Light Side of Darkseid

I destroyed a world. While the initial shock of that news seeps up into your full awareness, let me make a direct appeal to my fellow gamers. You and I see world-scale destruction on a regular basis, at least of a fictional scale, and that makes a huge difference to our ability to write.

Which world did I destroy? I had created it in Minecraft. Typing out rm -rf Minecraft/ on my terminal came with a preceding pause, that flash of anxiety at the digital “atrocity” about to result from my voluntary actions, but I still hit Return and committed to the act of annihilation. I even felt good about it.

The world represented hours of investment, possibly dozens of them, all spent punching trees and dodging Creepers in order to create a continent-spanning mini-empire. I would miss it quite a bit. My castle, the first cat I had ever domesticated, even unused gold ore and diamonds, they all disappeared, replaced by a refreshed command-line prompt. I only feel ongoing relief at this decision.

What prompted that act of severe personal vandalism? I invite you to look back at the amount of time spent in that digital world, then do as I had done and compare it to the amount of time spent on your other creative works. In turn, multiply both personal investments by the number of people who might ever experience each. Then, appreciate the result. After that meditation, one more operant remains in this chronological equation: how much value would they derive from it?

The results for Minecraft come out very low compared to those of even this one post, which took far less time than even one Creeper-farming expedition. (My poor, unplayed record!) Psychologists remind us of our tendency to ascribe special value to things due to irrelevant circumstance or contact, as illustrated with travel souvenirs. What presses its thumb on the illusory end of the value scale, though, than digital possessions, the mere flipping of bits? There may be no spoon but we can create as many more as we need, so why fret over the loss of a given one?

When it comes to valuing our time properly, you can experiment with a few techniques that I have found well worth the investment of real-life experience points:

  • Logging how I use my time. This real eye-opener already warrants another re-visit from yours truly. If your boss asked how you spent your time at work, how could you answer? Remember that you are the boss of yourself when it comes to writing.
  • Periodic restarts. I went on to pick up a pickaxe again, as historical patterns predicted. The lack of total investment in that new world, however, will make it much easier to step away. Just mind the logical gaps left by the sunk cost fallacy on the way to the metaphorical or literal recycling bins.
  • Periodic re-evaluations. I made significant progress on another game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, before quitting. The quality of the game failed to factor into that decision; instead, an unrelated break helped me appreciate the low threshold of my enjoyment and I never looked back. I keep the same in mind when it comes to writing projects, resulting in the permanent trunking of one NaNoWriMo novel but also the second-drafting of another.

If the thought of intentionally destroying game-saves makes you faint, you still have hope. Another one of my earlier Minecraft worlds still lies waiting for me, somewhere, burned onto a read-only CD. I backed that up a year or more ago but have yet to peek at it again. I have, instead, written quite a few words of fiction since then, never mind started this blog from scratch. The story repeats itself for countless over games, revealing a pattern of both returning to habit but then breaking free again. Care to join me in looking forward to reading what you produce in the absence of Minecraft, Skyrim, or the like? I want to see you reach for that word-count highscore.

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13 Jul 2012 » Jumping Out of the Plane at 50,000 Feet I think I brought a parachute

The small scale of my current goals continue to surprise me. Do you know where you want to end up in five years? I haven’t figured that out yet but this mini-retrospective may put things in perspective for both of us. It starts with a review of outstanding goals.

My concern over the scales of my goals started with a huge one, literally. It stands over twenty feet tall before factoring in the basement floor. As small as mortgages may come away from the big cities, I still underestimated the opportunity costs. Did you know exactly where you would live or even where you would work for each of these last several years? My own parents had a couple decades’ lead on me and they could not have foreseen moving a few years ago, given the arrival of new opportunities. Even those chances came out of the housing market crash that took away the options of so many others. Covering the mortgage every month, while in some ways a goal, looks more and more like a mere obligation that you can route around ahead of time.

Before the house, university life seemed primed to provided some big-picture answers. I graduated with a degree in Theater and Film Studies, specializing in 3D animation, but I haven’t rendered anything in at least a year, perhaps more. My career depends on entirely extra-curricular skills. This blog depends on the same. With the growing amount of buzz over alternatives to the college course, have you considered skipping those classes entirely in favor of taking extra-curricular lessons from life itself? Most everyone remembers summer vacation far better than fall semester, after all.

Jumping back to this very moment feels like a leap out of an airplane. The ground approaches fast and without regard to the color of my parachute. Looking at the tech news tells me that focusing there will keep me in a rat’s race of technology overturns. I do know that staying another year in my current career arrangements will drive me to distraction. Unless I pull the ripcord soon and slow everything down, I will go splat. We jumped in tandem on this, so have you checked your altimeter today?

Writing fiction as a future appears about as wise as investing in the stock market. Let me emphasize the investment part. Day-trading time for words would yield neither, nor much chance of a big pay-out, but patience will carry the day here. Each new blog post, each new novel or short story draft adds to a portfolio whose value will only grow over the years, assuming I wait for the literal and metaphorical interest to compound. Have you invested in yourself recently?

Having written out all of these observations in a way that my subconscious can no longer route around, the need for a five year plan sticks out all the brighter at me. How much time away from busy-work and in meditation must precede such a revelation awaits my discovery, but where might that go? I do not presume to guess where I could end up in five years. I do know that I can set myself on a particular course and then pay attention to where it takes me. What do you have in mind for half a decade hence? Even better, how will you spend the half-hour before you now?

If this retrospective inspired introspection on your part, give a shout-out below. I want to hear what you took away from this.

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20 Jun 2012 » Are You a God? Probably Not

My disbelief in god, gods, or the supernatural spurs much of my writing. What does it all mean, then, without those? Why bother writing at all? Those questions haunt me all the more because of my atheism.

I could go into the problems with trying to deduce meaning from a life overseen by an omnipotent and omniscient deity but I feel too confident in my lack of belief to concern myself with that. We cannot trust our own eyes to notice gorillas in the middle of basketball games and burning bushes defy our imagination all the more. The task of creating our own order out of the local chaos of the universe provides me with justification enough for writing as hard as I can.

I do not so much disbelieve in a god as judge the detection of such as beyond the ability of us mere mortals. We have written tomes about and meditated for countless hours on the notion of “oneness with the universe”. Science even validates that as a legitimate experience, but it does so by reminding us that our very sense of ourselves - as something separate from the universe - exists only in the mind. Advances in neurotechnology reveal that many supernatural or expanded-mind experiences reduce to the suppression of mental activity in specific regions. Religion may literally consist of turning our brains off.

I turn to writing because it provides a better-vetted opportunities for improving the word. From the humble math textbook to Descartes or the like, we can point at readers who turned into higher-ordered, more sophisticated beings after exposure to educational works. Such a prescription of learning looks like our best antidote to the relentless march of entropy that begins again with each new, uneducated generation.

What can I write about instead? Human understanding, facts of the universe, ways in which people break apart (cautionary tales), ways in which they come back together (positive examples), and instruction manuals for assembling the most comfortable chairs known to human kind, to name a few. Should I find myself in front of a divine judgment seat, I dare the deity on the other side to explain why they expected worship when they left us with so much to learn on our own. My future children will know to put their books back on the shelves for others to read later.

I respect conscious disagreement more than any mere atheist by default. Speaking as someone who has read the entire Christian Bible twice, among other texts, statistics and sociological research show that I likely know their contents far better than you. Does any of this offend you? In all sincerity, that warms my heart. It also means you give enough of a damn to pay attention. While religious debates have better forums than the comments here, I do challenge you to let your faith inspire you to write the best fiction possible. The results can stand on their own.

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18 Jun 2012 » Five Year Plan All in the Execution

When did you last think about where you want to find yourself in five years?

Going beyond a specific house, beyond relationship aspirations, even beyond all kinds of generalities takes work. It takes serious imagination. Who better to think ahead about such things than writers like ourselves, though? I know that from personal experience.

I want to give Dolly Garland of Kaizen Journaling a shout-out for turning me onto bigger-picture thinking. You may find yourself intrigued and educated in the same way after taking a look at her site. Thanks, Dolly!

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12 Jun 2012 » Crime in the Title But Only If I Get Caught

Some would consider this act a terrible act of thievery. I don’t. In fact, you can see me exercise my rights (or writes) in the very title of my latest novel draft: Planet Oz. Why haven’t you done the same and taken the plot wholesale from a famous work?

I have distressing news for the originality-inclined. Most - if not any - plot you might imagine borrows from an existing one. Millions of writers have marathoned down the route you just stepped on even before you first touched a keyboard and they all borrowed from the atomic units of conflict, duplicated from the Greek originals below:

  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Himself
  • Man vs. Giant Robots

Excluding the fourth category for a moment, any story with action reduces to one of the other three. Cave paintings depict the first two after millions of years. The story of Oedipus hails from millennia past. One could argue that even the post-modern conceit of the self-aware author-and-reader dialog amounts to horizontal shifts of man vs. man and man vs. himself. Do you imagine yourself more creative than the most acclaimed authors of our time who, in turn, reference other works, however oblique their manner? The very act of communication requires the use of words already familiar to others.

As much as I love to joke about the uniqueness of the fourth item, that remains a point of humor instead of a serious literary insight. Men are not giant robots (outside of Cylon/Evangelion slash fiction), there is nothing natural about giant robots, and you, dear reader, are probably not yourself a giant robot. However, a human-piloted robot represents just a well-armed but still anthropomorphic opponent. If autonomous, the robots reduce to a force of nature. Asimov covered the topic of internally-conflicted robots decades ago. My attempt at originality falls flat and I don’t care.

The uniqueness of my novel, Planet Oz, derives from composition instead of content. One large part classic fantasy, a few parts science fiction, and a healthy sprinkling of action story tropes blend together into an original work, all framed in the language of my particular mind. Others will provide their editorial input, perhaps even inject new sentences of their own, but the greatest bulk of individual work remains with me, the author.

If I told myself that all those hours of work (at least a hundred and twenty of just writing) mattered less than the tiny idea of “Oz on a distant planet”, then that self-theft of credit would constitute the real crime. My time and sweat carry much more value than that. How have you assembled familiar words into a sum more valuable than its phonemes lately?

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06 Jun 2012 » Caught the Worm Now What Do I Do With It?

I can still make up for missing the initial boat on the second day of Goins’s challenge. Looking forward to hearing about the results?

Considering how little sleep I got last night, it almost feels like I got up two hours early to write anyway. I say “almost”, though, because I already know that specific feeling. Back at the beginning of the year, the sun tended to rise upon me seated at my kitchen table, writing away, but something happened to break me out of that automatic behavior. The details of the habit changes that first enabled that long-desired schedule shift and its subsequent, persisting reversion elude me, but I have my suspects:

Falling out of the exercise habit
I’ve let the self-imposed requirements of my creative schedule push out the time required of a gym visit. Some combination of the Sworkit app and the unavoidability of push-up and jogging opportunities may yet fix that, though.
Late-night caffeine
As much as I love my pre-bed tea, the chemical can still wreck havoc on circadian rhythms. Avoiding it after 8pm would mark an achievable start.
Staying up too late
My bed tends to find me in it after midnight, almost without exception. If my weekend hours offer any indication, I need at least seven hours every night, perhaps eight.

In the meantime, I did just finish the first round of edits to my latest short story. That new draft even went out to a few alpha readers! You can read a short sample below, though mailing list subscribers can look forward to an even longer snippet. Critique away.

I fired off a fifth shot and felled the beast. Its body started to dissolve immediately, all except for a glowing red core that shoved away the fog of this weird world. Holstering just one gun, I reached out to seize what my partner must have needed back before my ears left me wincing.

“Don’t touch it!”

The sailor-uniformed girl had returned. Her shrill cry had stopped me in my tracks and the crustacean-encrusted trident kept me from resuming them, pointed at me from the other side of the radiating object. “Sorry, but regular people shouldn’t go tampering with ‘souls’. I can handle it from here.”

The girl air-quoted with a free hand and I took a step forward but she waved me back. Touching the core with her weapon before I thought to raise my own, the girl - Asian and sporting long black hair - caused the core to disappear into it. The young woman nodded in the direction in which I had come. “We have to get it back to your partner, right?”

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05 Jun 2012 » Re-Declaration of Independence We Fight For The Right to Write!

Today, I re-declare myself as a writer.

Why would I need a re-declaration, you ask? Because I had stopped.

I had stopped for a lack of planning. Despite all of the other preparations that I had made for a week-long trip out of state, those that related to keeping up a daily writing habit fell by the wayside. You can learn from my specific follies below:

Leaving the netbook out of reach while at the convention center.
Having neglected to back it up before the trip and in wanting to avoid yet another thing to haul around, not to mention the costs and consequences of potential theft or destruction, taking my main portable computer to the convention floor turned into a non-option. Now I know to bring along both a pocket-sized keyboard and an extra battery for my phone (or some other technological fix).
Failing to include explicit writing time on my convention event schedule.
I scheduled all of my gaming activities and made allowances for meals but I dropped the ball here. With my introvert nature requiring periodic breaks for personal time anyway, I could have captured plenty of writing opportunities if only I had braced myself for them instead of chancing into such sporadically.
Assuming I could squeeze writing in at the end of the day.
Some nights, I only made the drive back to my place of rest after one or two in the morning. I practically fell right onto the borrowed couch those nights and with the netbook not even removed from its case.

You can partake of my wisdom through adversity, though, and declare yourself a writing before you leave for your next out-of-town trip. Apply the lessons above and write as you go. Good luck!

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05 Jun 2012 » Joining the Challenge 15 Days to Writing Awesomeness

Thanks to Jeff Goins of goinswriter.com for initiating the 15 Habits of Great Writers Challenge. As you can guess from the banner below, I will begin participating today, though I hope to read about you doing the same! Good luck.

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25 May 2012 » Murdering Goats Bleating Around the Bush

When did you last kill a goat?

I don’t know about literal goats but my Dropbox folders seems littered with the bodies of metaphorical ones.

These fictional goats come from a parable:

A poor farmer had only one goat to help him around his farm. The creature worked hard and carried around whatever vegetables, fruits, or farming instruments that its owner asked of it.

One day, the farmer - already quite hungry - resorted to halving his loyal goat’s supply of feed. Though a bit grumpy at the loss, the animal continued to haul everything around the farm. When the farmer realized that the goat worked just as hard as before, he marveled and then started to think.

“What if I tried feeding my goat even less?” Acting on this idea, the farmer halved the goat’s feed supply again. The goat continued to haul as hard as it could. This cycle repeated itself for days that turned into weeks.

The farmer, looking at all of the feed that he had saved up, had another idea. “What if I stop feeding the goat at all? It doesn’t seem to care about how much I feed it, so I could just sell all of this extra grain.” After returning from the market with his new profits, the farmer tried this new experiment.

The goat dragged vegetables, fruits, and instruments around the farm for another week. It then died. Left disraught and helpless, the farmer had to mortgage his farm to buy a new goat, and it took months before this goat grew into the strength of the old one. The poor farmer grew even poorer by the end of it all.

I could pick from several examples from my own life, but my “eBooks” directory stands out as a great match to the story above. It contains all manner of half-read, just-started, and unstarted books by others. In this allegory, the goat itself represents my overall reading progress and the goat’s feed represents my attention. By splitting that attention across multiple books, my ability to read periodically falls down by the wayside and I lose all ability to pick up my active titles again. This might line Amazon’s pockets but it drives me batty? Do you know how to help?

I found one intermediate step towards breaking that problematic habit. Using Google Docs, I started keeping a spreadsheet of all my “active media”, those books, movies, or the like to which I have lent out attention. Having an objective, externalized list makes it all the harder to let boredom evolve into abandonment. It also allows me to lend finality to the dropping of titles that I choose to stop reading, usually for a lack of value. Now if I could just keep that list up to date!

Based on how much my masterminds have helped me with accountability, a more public record of my media habits may help in the same way. Look forward to a new widget here on the blog that will show just such a list of my unfinished reading. Have you tried the same? How has it worked out for you so far?

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23 May 2012 » Surveying the Writing Terrain Initiative Rick Rolled

In case you haven’t spied it on the homepage:

Starting on Writing Survey Now Live!

Taking the survey helps me help you with winning the initiative over writing. Doing so will also make you one of the first to receive the forthcoming Slipstream Field Report, where you can see the day-to-day experience of bringing a short story to completion

Fill it out today.

This represents a big shift for me, seeking out such public input.

My ability to help you write, though, requires that I put myself out there. I have to proclaim my ignorance from the hills, right down at all the Internet trolls, and admit that others hold power over me by their anonymous answers. This excites me.

When you fill out the above survey, you share a little piece of yourself with another. You perform the very act of writing that so many others fear to begin and join those elevated ranks once reserved for priests and the select few. If you can put your whole heart and metaphorical soul into your answers, too, that will make them all the more special.

I look forward to your response.

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09 May 2012 » Clearing the Mental Desk My Hero, Inbox Zero

Piles of junk mail disappeared from floors and found their way into our virtual inboxes. I would complain about that except that so much of our much more interesting mail paved the way for that first. The trick to re-capturing the value of the digital post service lies in slicing the responsibility up.

In March, I started a new habit. Every day, now six days a week, I devote half an hour (one pomodoro towards emptying my inbox. This counts as a separate activity from reading all of my mail, however, and let me break down the components of what happens instead.

  • I file items that require same-day responses in Action Required/TODAY
  • I file items that require responses some day in just Action Required
  • I file items that I can read later, though perhaps never, in Review
  • (Any purchase receipts, e.g. Amazon, find their way into Receipts)

That suffices for emptying the inbox. Keeping that sorting step in its own block of time cuts out a lot of context-switching, sparing more of my limited time and focus resources to handle the prioritized messages in their own contexts. I find that emptying the inbox first makes it much easier to tackle the rest of the mail processing , though, just as cleaning up my house makes it easier to focus on writing. How does it feel when you experiment with the above approach?

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20 Apr 2012 » Oil Change of Pace Replace Every 20,000 Words

I removed an expected pomodoro from my daily checklist today. Two big reasons lie behind that decision. One, midnight lies less than forty-five minutes away, so squeezing in that additional twenty-five minute block would bring me far too close to my self-assigned midnight deadline. Two, I’ve succeeded at squeezing in that pomodoro (one of three) in before the arbitrary deadline too many times as of late. How can a victory over personal inertia count against keeping the goal?

I plan to dial back my daily writing, as well. Once the obnoxiously close ending of Planet Oz passes me by (invariably sooner than I can expect), my 1,000 words a day goal can down-shift to 500 for the purposes of whatever comes next, perhaps short stories. Why the possible slow-down here, too? I intend to avoid a complete stop.

For the first few months of my new daily pomodoro activity goals, I accomplished them virtually every day, almost without exception. That lasted for a good long while but something happened one weekend, amid the hustle and bustle of an out-of-town convention: my creativity failed me. Sure, the exhaustion of enjoying the geeky convention contributed but not enough. My brain felt incapable of producing any fiction that day, so I made it my first explicit break. It worked. Despite even more busyness after that, my next day at the con saw an enthusiastic outpouring of words (including an extra 200 or more, if I recall). Like a car at the end of a long road trip, my brain needed a gas station stop and an oil change.

The same now applies to my ongoing workshop efforts. I had ramped up to 1.5 hours a day but, despite singling out Saturdays as required break days, that extra half-hour each night has taken its toll on my focus, never mind my renewed romantic relationship. Getting to bed a half-hour or hour sooner should nip that potential burn-out in the bud, though, and prevent a trip to the metaphorical auto repair shop. I could think of no good time to have a few days of forced unproductivity inflicted on me by an accident of neurochemistry, so consider the same for your own schedule.

Have you or someone close regretted holding to an over-ambitious schedule in the last few months? Have you found a better balance that keeps you going day after day, instead?

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16 Apr 2012 » Always Starting As Your Mom Would Want It

I can think of one skill that ranks above all others: starting. Why place it so high? What about finishing, about knowing when to call it quits, or knowing which things to start? I start with starting because every other skill depends upon it and I want to teach you why.

However you came to develop your favorite skills, it stemmed from starting. Either you began on a course of research, began practicing at it, or just began listening to your teacher. Without that show of initiative, nothing would have come of it and neither of us would know what we missed. The thought of such lost opportunities saddens me to no end, so I started developing the Sliced Up For Me site with that in mind. I want to bring you steps small enough that starting turns into an after-thought, an activity so easy that you can start every day and amaze yourself with what comes out at the other end. I know that I experience that every day.

My logs might list hours upon hours spent on this site and blog, far more than could fit in a single day, but starting still matters. It matters more than before. So many options present themselves, so many possible additions or changes, that a paralysis of choice looms as a constant threat. If I fail to start my small nugget of work each day (compared to my regular job’s portion of time), then that paralysis would realize itself and nothing would happen. Starting with one improvement, however tiny, paves the way for the next one, then another, and then this entire site surprises this creator itself with its cumulative completeness. I might never finish it (who ever finishes a site?) but that incessant starting keeps me coming back for more.

If you want to seize your own initiative when it comes to creativity, you can sign up below and look forward to the coming report. Do you have any recent success stories of starting to share?

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12 Apr 2012 » Incidental Resets Distinguishing Backups From Break-Ups

Whether through an unplugged power cord, a lightning strike, or the infernal automatic updates inflicted by Windows, I periodically find my computers reset without adequate warning. I bet you experience the same. Did you ever stop to consider how that benefits you, though?

Just last night, the woman I date reiterated her horror at the number of tabs that I keep open in my browser. In the interest of good relations, I decided against showing the second browser that I had open (Chrome, in addition to Firefox). Without my realizing it, the session-saving features of browsers turned into my bane. When I could depend on unexpected or required restarts to clear my digital head-space, my plethora of under-read articles and “going to reference again soon” pages now come back to haunt me, those tabs of sessions past. The build-up leaves my computer bogged down - the netbook, more than any - and my head suffers the same from the equivalent addition of transactional costs. Those tenths of a second spent switching between tabs (and you use the keyboard for that, right?) add up. The same applies to writing fiction.

I love NaNoWriMo because it denies me any time to go back and read what I wrote yesterday, never mind over the course of the month. At best, the last paragraph or two receives a quick review before I begin pounding on the keyboard at the start of each pomodoro. I bet that you wonder: how can I bear the thought of missing a detail or switching up chronology mid-write? Knowing that my time of editorial reckoning will arrive, eventually, makes all of the difference. Look forward to a post about boxing off the inner critic, who would perform those edits, until just the right time.

In the meantime, remember to back up those files often before another storm inflicts its permanent editorial opinion without your permission.

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Grab A Slice Of Life

You've read it, you've watched it, you've played it. What comes next?

Now, future Life Slicer, your turn comes to write it. Sign up below for help with cutting down to the best parts of the fiction-writing life!

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