How To Get That Writing Done

IMG_0596_2

For the past couple of months I’ve had the freedom and pleasure to try being a full-time writer. It’s been working out great, or at least it feels like I’ve gotten a good start on the almost-daily writing (I tend to keep one or two days a week writing-free, usually during the weekend).

However, my sixth and last year of university studies started two weeks ago. Although I’ve managed to minimize the amount of courses for this final year, I still have the most important part of my Master’s Degree left: my Thesis. And yes, I use the capital-T because it is a big project and takes  t i m e  to finish.

As you can guess, this time is away from something else: working on my own projects (read: writing).

Before my Master’s studies began two weeks ago, I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed the full-time writing. I was able to invest all my creative energy on writing this blog and my book, but now, after pushing myself two weekends in a row to meet a deadline for school… Well, let’s just say I feel extremely motivated to be able to write full-time again in the future.

How To Manage Your Writing

As I’m struggling to find the time and energy for all three writing projects I have going on (the blog, the book, the thesis), I thought I could share some tips and insights on how I manage to do all that.

1. Be In Control Of Your Time

On Monday mornings, after I’ve had my morning coffee and written my journal (something I started doing again last week to have an outlet for my unedited thoughts), I pick up my notebook and write a to-do list for the whole week.

The to-do list contains the writing goals for my projects I have for the week, such as word goals and finishing and editing blog posts. But I also include my weekly yoga-practice and the fun free-time activities to the to-do list. Every day of the week gets its own to-do list, from Monday to Friday and one for the weekend. The altogether six to-lists fit on one page which gives me a good overview of the whole week.

The weekly list is extremely helpful to give me a sense of how much I need to get done this week and how much time I have for everything. It also helps me plan when I should do what. For instance, I do my creative writing in the morning before lunch because that’s when I’m most creative and motivated, and leave the more scientific writing or researching for the afternoon. Yoga-practices, fun free-time activities and tv-series I leave for the evening when I’ve used up most of my energy for creative or more rational thinking.

2. Efficiency

Because there are only twenty-four hours in a day, I have to plan my time well. How much time will it take to write a blog post? Can I manage to write 1,000 words of Yellow Tails in an hour-or-so? How many hours can I dedicate to research for my thesis?

When I have my time limits and estimations figured out, I can start working. But as we all know, holding on to those time goals is easier said than done. We humans are easily distracted by our phones, our environment, our own thoughts. To be able to focus on the task at hand, one needs to minimize those distractions while working.

(I’m a big fan of singletasking instead of multitasking, especially after seeing this video.)

Find a working space that works for you. If you need quiet, go to a reading room in the library. If you are distracted by your phone, keep it in your bag or another room, put it on sleep mode or airplane mode to minimize all the distractions (I don’t have the notifications on for anything except for chats, which is also helpful even if I would check my phone while working). And if you seem to get distracted by your own thoughts, write them down and continue working.

This kind of efficiency and focused working requires both practice and self-discipline. But every day you’ll get better at it, I promise, if you just keep on practicing. Every time you notice your focus fleeing to something else, come back to your work and refocus.

3. Be Realistic

”We overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year.”

If I want to see a completed to-do list in the end of the week, I need to be realistic about the word or project goals I have for the day and for the week.

For me, word goals work better than time goals. I tried the Pomodore Technique for a few weeks during the Summer, but realized that I work better when I measure my productivity in words written rather than time used on a project. The Pomodore Technique might come in handy when I start writing my thesis in order to come for air every 25 minutes, but when I’m working on a blog post or writing Yellow Tails, I opt for word goals rather than time goals. Try different methods and see what works best for you.

However you measure your progress, be realistic. Remember that we usually overestimate how much we can manage in a day but underestimate what we can do in a year. Instead of deciding to write 1,500 words per day on your book, try putting a word goal of 10,000 for the whole week. One day, you might feel like writing 3,000 words while another day you only manage to produce 500 words. No harm done, if you still meet your word goal in the end of the week!

(And even if you wouldn’t, learn to be okay with that too. Instead of beating yourself for unfinished goals, try figuring out what went wrong. Was 10k too much, should you try 8k next week instead?)

By the way, the thought of we underestimate what we can do in a year motivated me to make a long-term plan for Yellow Tails, to plan my finances for the year to come and make some other plans for the whole year as well. So: be realistic about what you can achieve in a day, but also about what you can achieve in a year.

4. Find Balance

No matter how efficient the to-do lists are, life isn’t only about completing tasks. As important as your word/time/project goals are, it’s just as important to take time off your to-do list. Do something fun, be social, let your Word-documents or blog posts rest for a while.

I’m definitely still struggling to find a balance between leisure and all the writing and planning of the writing. I have my Thursday yoga practice and I’m determined to not write anything in the evenings. However, it’s still hard to be able to put aside the to-do list in the evenings.

Especially keeping my late evenings blue screen free has been a challenge. As almost all of my writing gets done on the computer (after which I usually check/update my Instagram, also on a screen), I’ve noticed how I in the evenings often have something I’d like to call a ’blue screen brain’. It’s that numbness, whirring feeling in the brain after you’ve consumed too many hours in front of a screen. It isn’t healthy, for sure, but I’m struggling to find a balance between getting things done and minimizing my screen time. If you have tips on that, I’d love to hear from you!

Finding balance is also about prioritizing. Sometimes you just have to put yourself first, or sometimes your creative projects might have to come before your school/work projects. Or the other way around. Prioritizing also has to do with being realistic: what is the most important thing for you to accomplish today? When you have that figured out, great, do it, and if you don’t feel like you have the energy to do anything else that day – take a break. You’ve done the most important thing for the day and that’s all that matters.

5. Hold On To Your ’Why’

This might be the most important thing when trying to get all that writing done. Whenever you feel deflated, tired, unmotivated or irritated about all the things you have on your to-do list, try to recall why you’re doing all this. Why is it important that you reach your word goal for the day? Why is it important that you show up everyday at your computer or work-in-progress no matter what?

For me, having these three different writing projects means I have three different ’whys’ to hold on to:

Writing my blog is an outlet for my thoughts about the society, people, behavior and self-development. It works as a balancing writing project for my fictional writing. Writing H.E.R. is also a way for me to connect with people who think similarly or want to question the same things I do.

Writing my book is the most fulfilling and fun thing I’ve done in a long time. It just feels right to write fiction and especially to write Yellow Tails. It’s one the most important projects I’ve ever had and reminding me of that helps me write that 1k almost every day.

Writing my thesis… Well, it’s the way to go if I wish to complete my studies, and I do want to complete them and get my Master’s Degree. It might help me get a job in the future if I needed one, it might give me more credit/respect than I would get if I didn’t have a Master’s Degree, and it shows that I’m capable of handling big writing projects (which is funny because I think my other writing projects tell more about me than my thesis, but let’s not go there right now). My ’why’ is a bit foggy on this one which is probably the reason why I find it hard to prioritize time for working on my thesis.

If You Read This Far…

This became one of the longer blog posts I’ve written on H.E.R. If you made it this far, then awesome, thank you for reading! I hope you got some thoughts from this list and maybe you are able to manage and divide your time better between different projects in the future. If you want to share your own time management tips or share your thoughts on something I wrote, go ahead and leave a comment. I’m always interested in hearing what you think about the things I think about!

At the moment, I’m still trying to find a way to get my thesis writing into my writing routines but I believe it will take some time. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to work on the thesis as efficiently as I do with these blog posts and writing my book. We’ll see how I manage. I guess it’ll show on my to-do list in the end of each week…

But now, I’ll leave you to your Thursday. Have a good one!

 

True Progress: Life After Quitting

IMG_5718_1

Tuesday one week ago would have been the last day of my summer job as a radio journalist. When I saw the marking in my calendar (Last day at work!) which was, of course, struck through, I felt incredibly satisfied.

If I had carried through the whole deal, which means I would have worked for thirteen weeks from June to the beginning of September… well, I don’t know how I would be doing.

I know I would still be in this town, living in this apartment and would have a bit more money on my bank account. But how I would be feeling, what would I be thinking, what would the overall mood be like?

First of all, many of these blog posts wouldn’t have happened. Honestly, I don’t think a single one of them. For instance, although some of the Still Life Sundays existed before starting out H.E.R., many of them have been born in the progress.

I wouldn’t have read some of the great books I have come in contact with (latest one being Butcher’s Crossing by the amazing John Williams) or written my own book project (which now has more than 47 000 words and 111 pages – and is still going strong).

The hikes we’ve done, the weekend of sailing, all the thinking I’ve done, the creative ideas I’ve had… I have a hard time believing any of them would have happened if I had stayed at the job.

As I looked at the Last day of work!  mark in my calendar, I felt the satisfaction that comes from making a good decision. That day, on Tuesday, I had had a very productive, creative and fulfilling day, instead of being at work and doing something I wasn’t enjoying (although for that day I’d probably have baked a cake to celebrate my last day, and cake is never wrong, but let’s not shift our focus here).

By five o’clock that day, which would have been the time I usually was done with work and would have been on my way home, I had done following things: my morning yoga routine and a short muscle workout, written 1,5k on my book (which always gives me the greatest boost of calm and satisfaction), eaten a good lunch in nice company, read thirty-something pages of a well-written book, published a blog post and accepted the invitation to join a few friends for a beer that evening.

And that day was more or less the definition of how I’d like many more of my days to look like. Of course, every day won’t be a successful day of writing and so on, but the structure of that day was functioning and satisfying. It made me happy.

Last Thursday we had a go-through of the internship with rest of my fellow journalism students. We were asked to come up with three things we liked about our internship, three things we didn’t think functioned very well and an aha-experience (i.e. a realization) we had had during our internship.

Before the go-through I was actually pretty nervous, wondering if we were going to talk about me quitting my job, or if a cloud of disappointment would hang in the air through the whole thing.

However, no one seemed to judge me for my decision. As I presented my list of likes and dislikes and my aha-experience (how it felt like I really learned how the working life of a daily news journalist looks like), I felt pride and strength in my decision. I knew I had done the right thing and no one could make me change my opinion about that decision.

It was as if I had already moved beyond that, like I was already on the next step while everyone else were still hanging out on the previous one. It felt like true progress.

You Are What You Focus On

IMG_3218_1

On Tuesday, I wondered why people never have all the time that they need so I observed how they use the time they have on their hands. From what I saw, people tend to use their time for window-shopping (both in shopping malls and online), playing games on their phone, checking their social media feeds or talking about other people or events that have happened or are happening in the near future.

I am not saying any of this is bad. It isn’t – at least when it’s done in small amounts. However, these activities tend to take over everything else. Especially our smart devices are excellent Time Turners… although they work in a counter-productive way, that is, they make the time go faster.

What I’m trying to say is this: by using our time on things that aren’t really productive we are wasting our time.

(Because, honestly, can you remember all the photos you saw on Instagram this morning when you scrolled through your feed? Or what was on the news yesterday? Of all the minutes or even hours you invest on doing these things – how much of that Time would you say was time well spent?)

But wait, what? What do I do with my Time? Let’s start with what I don’t do:

I don’t really use my phone for reading news or checking my social media feed several times a day. I don’t have any games on my computer or on my phone (and even though we have a Wii console at home we aren’t really tempted to use it), I seldom have a need for window-shopping, and I use my bike instead of driving a car everywhere – and spare the time I would otherwise spend sitting in traffic.

The Time On My Side

Because of what I don’t do I seem to have a great deal of Time on my hands. Actually, every few days I realize I have too much of that Time. You ever heard of that – having too much time? It’s a real thing. And let me tell you, it’s a challenge.

For the past eight months or so, I’ve been managing my Time more than usual. First of all, I decided to check my social media only once a day (that’s Instagram, mostly) and for the second, I haven’t really been deep-diving into news on a daily or even on a weekly basis for the past one and a half years. This saves me hours every week.

I prefer meeting friends in real life instead of spending hours on Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, chatting away on recent events or other stuff. I have my habits, which save me a ton of time. I prefer single-tasking instead of multitasking which means I get things done more effectively than if I would be checking for e-mails, social media and chat messages every now and then while doing my writing. I don’t binge-watch tv-series that much anymore and have become more selective when it comes to Netflix and TV-programs.

All these things give me Time.

How We Spend Our Time

With the time I have, I’m able to write much more than I had before. I have more energy for playing chess, going for walks, reading books, do some research for different projects I’m interested in.

It hasn’t been all too easy to get where I am. And there is still so much I would like to do with all the Time I have on my hands: read even more books, try mediation, dedicate more time for researching, write a journal, work on my book, become a better photographer and filmmaker.

So I’m in the middle of a process here. I think it’ll never end – these self-development things rarely do.

It has required a great deal of self-discipline to get where I am today. Acquiring all this time has demanded several moments of hands-caught-in-movement-towards-the-phone and forefinger-reaching-for-the-app-that-takes-you-to-Instagram. It has also required many conscious decisions such as leaving the phone in another room for the night so that the first thing I check when I wake up isn’t my phone but the weather or, better yet, how I’m feeling that morning.

There are many quotes out there that are about how we consume our time. One of the first ones that stuck in my head a year ago or so, was the quote by Annie Dillard:

”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

It made me think of how I spent my days: I was constantly on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Youtube. I read up to twenty different blogs on an almost-daily basis. I read books, watched movies and tv-series (mostly Gilmore Girls and Friends), and looked up food recipes that I might someday want to prepare. I was a hard-core consumer. The only thing I produced was the food I cooked, which I then ate, i.e. consumed.

I asked myself: is this how I want to spend my days and, the pattern extended, my life? I wasn’t all too dissatisfied with my way of spending my days, but still, the quote and the thought in it got stuck in my head. How did I wish to spend my days and my life?

Today, I feel like I’m more on the right path than I was one and a half years ago. I am more of a producer than a consumer – I create sentences that build entire worlds. I create photos and videos.

I am, of course, also a consumer. We can never cease to consume – but we can choose what we consume and how much.

What I Don’t Have

But why am I writing all this? What’s the idea behind this blog post?

The thing is – I have too much Time on my hands. And having all this Time is a challenge because even if I have all the Time I wish for, I’m not able to do everything I want to do.

I’ve realized there are many things I’d like to do with the extra time that I have. I would love to go hiking much more than I do at the moment. I enjoy working with my hands and would love to use these hands for cooking and baking, building things and painting (just a side note: I’m not a painter or a carpenter but a writer, so no great expectations on my building and painting skills. It’s just something I enjoy doing).

However, these wishes come with restraints: the nearest deep-in-the-woods hiking trails are at least one-hour drive away. If I’d bake all the cookies and cheesecakes I’d want to, me and my partner would probably gain 20 kilograms weight neither of us needs.

(And as a side note: I wish to bake and cook food only when I feel like it, instead of making it an obligatory daily task because that tends to take out all the fun in it. So what I’m searching for here is some kind of balance)

Also, for the past two years I’ve been getting rid of things I don’t need anymore so by creating paintings and things out of wood and screws I’m creating more things that I basically don’t need. How to create without adding to the amount of things you already own?

Since I’ve realized the limits of what I can do with my Time in my current situation, I’ve also realized what I wish to change in my life (so I guess you can call it in one way a positive problem). This is how far I’ve come in my realizations:

  • I want to live in a house. Not in an apartment in the city, but in my own house a small distance away from the city.
  • I want to live near the nature and the sea. Switch the noise pollution of the city to the sounds of waves, wind and birds.
  • I want to have a studio for working, writing, painting and all the other creative things I aim to do.

The part about the food I haven’t figured out quite yet. But I have a strong belief in that a solution will find it’s way into my head.

By making more Time into your days, i.e. having more control over what you do with your time, you have more time to think what you’d like to do with that time and how you can do it.

More time on your hands also gives you the opportunity to think more clearly where you want to be in the next five years or so. And that’s a way of living a more meaningful life, if you ask me.

The Time On Your Side

IMG_5518_1

They say that Time goes too fast, that there simply isn’t enough of it for everything you wish to do.

They say that if they only had that time they would watch more movies or catch up with people they haven’t heard from in ages. They would read books, play the piano, write their journal, do yoga, take their time drinking coffee in the morning and enjoying the moment. They would finally be able to clean the apartment thoroughly.

If they’d just have the time.

But they don’t.

How come they don’t have the time, I wonder. In order to find an answer to this question, I start observing people and what they do with their time.

I look out from our apartment window. In the afternoon, for two hours straight, there are cars standing on the street, waiting in line for the lights to change – they are all on their way home. A trip that takes about fifteen minutes without traffic takes double as much time with all the other travelers. While waiting for the lights to change from red to green, they listen to the radio, take a smoke or check their phones.

In the school cafeteria, I observe two guys who sit near me. A moment ago they were talking to each other but now they’ve both reached for their phones. The plates are already empty, lunch has been eaten, but they take a minute (or five) to check what’s happened on their mobile extensions of themselves. One of the guys is playing a game on his phone, similar to Bejeweled Blitz.

Another day, and different people at the cafeteria. Two girls are talking while checking their phones. The other one wondering if she should buy a used iPhone: ”It’s only 500 euros and the battery is still long-lasting.”

The other one encourages her to buy it for that price because ”it’s cheap considering the brand.” Then they decide to drive to Ikea, maybe to buy a new plant for the apartment or a cheese slicer, or just to get an ice cream for a coin.

It’s Saturday. A friend comes over, and when there’s a quiet moment, she sits on the sofa and checks her phone for the latest news. She reads out loud a long article about something that happened on a German airport – a story that doesn’t have an interesting ending but the article sure gave away that there would be. Ten minutes have gone by as she has read the article.

And that’s how easily the Time goes. You binge-watch Friends or How I Met Your Mother, update your Instagram and Twitter, or simply refresh your feed again and again to see if there’s something new for you to see or read. You text with your friends about who you’ve seen and what you talked about, what happened on that event last weekend. Or you go to the supermarket because you’ve once again ran out of milk.

So, people say that they simply don’t have enough of Time to do everything they’d like to do. Is it any wonder? From what I’ve seen, minutes and minutes go by to things that shouldn’t take up your time.

Minutes turn into hours and suddenly you realize you’re late for your yoga class or a friend is coming over – and you haven’t had the time to tidy up the apartment. The Time clearly isn’t on your side.

Or maybe it’s you – maybe the Time isn’t on your side because you aren’t trying enough?

All At Once, Summer Collapsed Into Fall

bloggif_5b695f115428d

A driver honks at a cyclist not to cross the road – the Mercedes has no time to slow down for the cyclist, he’s too much in a hurry.

Ikea’s parking lot is filled with cars, every fresh University and College student getting their own beds, sofas and bed-side lamps to start a new chapter in their lives.

Empty seats in cafés echo the conversations and laughs from the summer that is now coming to an end. So few has the time anymore to sit down for a coffee and a freshly baked croissant, because

the Fall is at your doorstep.

Or rather, it’s pushing that door buzzer downstairs, giving you a reminder that it is here, coming up the stairs slowly but surely, and finally entering, maybe in a few weeks, giving you the crisp mornings and windy evenings.

Do you want him? He doesn’t ask, so you can’t answer. And anyway, you’ve already buzzed him in. You always do, even if you don’t want to. There is no other way.

The Beginning of Fall

Many people in the city seem to get anxious, stressed and, well, pissed off this time of the year. The reason? The ending of Summer and the beginning of Fall. The ending of long evenings on the terrace with a glass of wine, the long mornings with a fresh cup of coffee and the longer articles they can focus on properly for once. And the beginning of early mornings, quick slurping of morning coffee that burns your tongue, and five thousand other drivers in the traffic at the same time as you. Tired afternoons, dark evenings as the sun goes down earlier and earlier. No wonder people get pissed off.

The crazy rollercoaster people experience when Summer ends and Fall begins is both unpleasant and energy-consuming. They think why it’s so hard to wake up at 6.30 in the morning, and why it’s even harder to fall asleep at a decent hour. Why they suddenly have so little time, so little energy, why did they give up that gym membership for the summer because they thought they’d make up the workouts by cycling and running outside, picking berries and swimming in the ocean, and it was never enough!

Just as many have difficulties adjusting to the changing of clocks, many experience the same thing with returning to work after Summer Holidays. It takes time to adjust to the early mornings, the timetables, the rush hours and balancing between physical activities, leisure and work. It’s tough and energy-consuming, and many react to it negatively rather than positively. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, for the first month or even two, depending on how easy it is for one to adjust.

Choose the Swing Carousel Instead

But me, I continue my days as if Summer was Winter and weekends were Wednesdays. For me, the days and the seasons are the same because my mornings start the same way every day.

In the morning, I wake up at 6AM, make my bed and go to the bathroom. I brush my teeth and take a shower, finishing with cold water to really wake up my body. I do my morning yoga routine (it takes approximately fifteen minutes) after which I eat breakfast. On the weekdays, it’s always the same: muesli with milk and a combination of walnuts and almonds. After breakfast, I wash the bowl, take my vitamins and make coffee that I drink from my blue-grey KeepCup. At 9AM, at it’s latest, I get to work, that is planning and writing.

I don’t react the same way to the changing of seasons because for me, there never was a different time or season. Whether it’s Winter or Fall, Thursday or Saturday, I wake up at 6AM, make my bed, brush my teeth, take a shower and do my morning yoga. My every-day habits help me stay balanced and keep my energy more or less at the same level as always. I don’t need to step on and off the rollercoaster. I can choose the swing carousel or the tea cups instead.

However, even though I don’t react the same way to the beginning of a new season as many other’s do, it does affect me. It’s the other people’s rollercoasters – the honking cars who no longer have the time to let you cross the road first, the longer lines in grocery stores, the stressed-out people who don’t want to go back to work, the crowded gyms and yoga classes – that have an effect on my day-to-day life.

In one way, I wish I’d be able to return to the city when people have, once again, adjusted to the ordinary work life and left the rollercoaster of emotions. Makes me think of Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends. 

How do you feel about Fall? Is it a chance for new beginnings or a stress factor?

P.S. Can you recommend any good tools for making GIFs? I’d love them to be less grainy.