Man, I seem to be really kicking butt at work. I have focus and concentration and energy. Ironically, when I work from home, I don’t seem to be as productive. I find 100s of things to distract me, but that is my problem, not my brain’s.
I’ve developed a routine. Here it is.
- Don’t set the alarm clock. Wake up whenever you want. (I try to be in work at 10, but sometimes I come to work as late as 11). I got this idea from the 40 Sleep Hacks Ebook.
- Do exercises first thing in the morning. Note that I don’t do this as often as I should. (Sometimes I wake up and immediately start writing- but even that assumes 10-20 minutes of settling in).
- For breakfast, have a diet soda, one section of dark chocolate (about 100-150 calories), 7 almonds, one big bowl of oatmeal (with milk and honey), one bowl of frozen blueberries, thawed. For the piece de resistance, I have a can of sardines or kippers (water-packed not oil-packed—that preserves the Omega 3s).
- Take a shower and drive to work like a madman
- Skip lunch. No fooling! I’ve stopped eating lunch a few months ago, and I haven’t missed it one bit! Instead, have some bread, fruit and maybe some nuts to tide me over.
- No more than 1 diet drink during the day (but stay on water).
- If you get drowsy at the office, try to walk it off. If the drowsiness persists, go to your car and take a nap. Are you worried what people will think? Who cares! (I don’t think God would care as long as you get your work done).
- Finish when your brain is tired (don’t interrupt yourself if you’re on a tear). Have a good dinner. By good dinner, I mean NOT eating out but fixing yourself something. As much as a foodie as I like to think I am, over time I have grown quite content with simple (and even sparse) meals. I cook maybe once or twice a week, and although I cook something from my usual repertory, most of the time I decided that I spent way too much time preparing the meal. That’s time I almost never get back.
I really don’t exercise as much as I would like to; it’s funny how much you can delay that even if you have a desire to exercise. Usually you get caught watching TV, surfing the net or taking an extra nap. Or maybe you have some task you need to do or email to write which throws your schedule into disarray.
Also, even though my brain stays in tiptop shape, I have never been particularly good about housework or routine maintenance tasks (backing up computers, flossing, etc). Also, when I write creative things, my schedule takes a leap out of my window. It gets nearly impossible to get into my work, but once I do, I never want to get out of it.
Some countervailing forces:
- writing in the morning. James Michener once said that everyone writes his first two books at 5 in the morning (presumably before they go to their day jobs). If I really get wrapped up on writing in the morning, I can lose my routine (and fall behind on exercise, housework and even basic hygiene sometimes).
- Family/friends. Sure I love them, but they always are interrupting your schedule and demanding immediate attention. I guess I can’t complain too strongly. I mean, it’s not as if I have a screaming child to deal with.
- Aesthetic distractions. Sometimes I do everything except what I’m supposed to and instead lose myself in a movie or book. Certainly, you can take this too far sometimes (I once watched 21 episodes of Lost in a 26 hour period), but occasionally it’s all right.
Finally I wish to talk about my writing tools. Recently I’ve accumulated quite a mass of tools.
- Personal Brain. Personal Brain is a visual idea mapping software, but I use it for notetaking and research for my bigger book projects. I’m still a novice, but it has really prevented me from losing thoughts and notes I make and subsequently lose or can’t read. They have a free version, but I went and paid my $250 for the super duper version with all the bells and whistles. It’s also become useful for cataloging bookmarks and PDFs. (I will publish one of my brains online when I have a chance).
- NoteTab Light. This is a simple text editor which I use for most of my writing. They have a free version which is actually very useful, but I paid the $30 for the upgrade. Bonuses: They have a one-click button to convert txt to html, plus a one-click button to remove line-breaks from a bunch of raggedy-edged lines. Modify –> Lines –> Join Lines. (I use Oxygen XML Author for my technical writing, but inevitably I spent more time composing in Notetab Light).
- Windows Live Writer. This is a blog editing tool which works like magic. I keep it open the whole time I am working on my computer. Besides the ease of use, the main thing I like is that you are not depending on a browser to do your web editing (i.e. you can save your work offline) and that you can paste images into it no problem.
- Google Docs. I have started to rely on this a lot for personal record keeping. I keep tax information, licenses, rough drafts of documents, instructions to self. I recognize that security and safety of these docs isn’t guaranteed, but I trust Google enough for most things.
- ewallet. Password manager. I store important logins and passwords and account numbers in ewallet, and I keep versions on my PDA as well as my desktop. This has saved me a lot of time.
- Delicious bookmarking. I keep all my bookmarks on delicious, and I’ve installed the Delicious plugin for Firefox that allows you to create a bookmark by right-clicking. There have been times when I’ve misplaced a bookmark, but this doesn’t happen often. (I’m finding that Personal Brain is now becoming useful for organizing bookmarks in a more useful way…but alas, you keep everything on the local machine—not particularly safe). I find keeping track of web pages to be a chore; even bookmarking can be a chore. Sometimes I have 100-200 tabs open at once, and as a result, my browser will start to crawl — even on a machine with 4 gigs of RAM. Instead I will just close everything all at once and reopen to a fresh browser. If I really need to go back to a web page, I can go to Show All History and find what I needed.
- WordPress weblog software. It’s not obvious at first, but you can store rough drafts and even outlines of things in Live Writer and then keep them on your web server. I’ve started using WordPress to store some personal data that is not particularly valuable except to me (like things I’m reading, daily weigh ins, and a list of my political representatives) . If I have a series of posts I want to make, I will create a post which will be a Table of Contents for the succeeding posts. It’s easy to lose track of what ideas you have. (For simply keeping track of ideas, Google Docs might be more reliable). The beautiful thing about WordPress (or any CMS) is that once you saved a draft on your web server, you can access it from anywhere with Windows Live Writer.
I’m not really a task manager kind of person, but I now have a bulletin board of current tasks at home.
I color code my tasks. Orange= Creative Writing, Green=Technical, Pink=Article Writing (not necessarily creative), Yellow = job search, family, personal errands. Also, the smaller White cards are quick tasks which I can usually accomplish in 20 minutes or less. Finally, I will usually stick bills/appointments to the bulletin board on the left side just to remind me (and so I don’t lose them).
I will be the first to admit that I don’t check off my tasks every day; maybe once a week is all I have the attention for. But this task bulletin board has helped me a lot. How?
First, the only thing that matters about the bulletin board are the items on the far right side. These are all front-burner items. Often, these tasks take hours or even days to finish, but I always glance at it because it’s right above my desk. Sometimes I will reprioritize things and even add things. Like I said, I don’t live by this bulletin board; it’s just a good reference point.
The second column to the right consists of second priority items. These are things which I’m eager to push into the front-burner if I can. I say “eager,” but I don’t really mean that. Life is not a race. I finish my tasks when I finish them. Things sometimes take longer than usual. That’s normal. No sense in crying about it.
Doing this has helped me to prioritize and also to recognize the different kinds of things I’m working on. That pool of stuff on the left are probably equally important to me but things I’m not ready to tackle; but at least I won’t forget them.
Certainly there is room for improvement. For example, my backup solutions are still inadequate. Doing routine system maintenance on my computer is still a time-sink. I still have trouble keeping track of my media files. Here’s a tip: buy an external drive with SATA connections and a machine which lets you connect with it. (or buy an internal/external SATA card to hook up to your computer). SATA is much faster than USB and Firewire. That saves you a lot of time backing up things.
I have wanted to get into media production for quite some time now. I have been distracted by other things, but one major hurdle (besides the technical hurdles) is just having a well-maintained backup system. Which I do not have. I use Acronis TrueImage to make manual backups (once every 2 weeks), but that isn’t really adequate.
I’ve never been particularly successful at managing files on my computers. I rarely lose things anymore, but I often have trouble figuring out which version is most current. (I am seriously entertaining the idea of using a version management system like Subversion for all my writing). Music and media management is still a nightmare.
Also, I have not kept a good remote system of backups for my web content. I console myself by thinking that my hosting service is doing daily mirrors of everything, but if I were to get broken into and I did not notice for a week, that could be a very bad thing.
I’m not really a phone person. I rely on skype mainly, and I haven’t really adapted to making my data accessible. Instead, I use a PDA which provides contacts, passwords, RSS readers, a spreadsheet of my Library Thing collection. I haven’t quite figured out a telephone-based PIM system that is effective and affordable.
Finally, I am not particularly good about keeping receipts and manuals for things I buy. I’m getting to the point where I should just scan/digitalize everything, but I’m not ready for that…for a while at least.
Why have I written this post? Because I’m lazy and paranoid.