April Moore on Work Habits (Part 2)

Go To Your Room
If I had known how much I could have accomplished as a kid when my parents sent me to my room, I’d have
a seven-book series by now. Today, I treasure alone time in my room where instead of plotting revenge on my
sister, I actually get quality time to write. Claim your own space, whether it’s a room, a corner, or a table. Your
area should also consist of only what you need to write. Don’t work at a desk where you pay bills, or do other
hobbies. You need to focus on writing. My area is the guest bedroom. I found a small desk at a flea market,
painted it and parked it by the window. The closet, situated behind the desk, houses my weapons of writing:
reference books, research, and all those extra office supplies I stocked up on. (You can never have too many
Post-Its). Make the space inviting—but only to you. You need to be left alone, so politely inform your spouse,
your kids, and your dog (who’s holding the leash in his mouth) to not bother you while you are in this special
space of yours. I’m one of those who needs a change of scenery every once in a while, so sometimes I’ll work
in the sun room, out on the deck, or on the living room couch. But inevitably, I find that I’m most productive
when I go to my room.

Break it Down
I tend to freak myself out thinking about the amount of work I have ahead of me. Nothing like a bit of fear to
kill your motivation. I must remind myself to take baby steps. Luckily, Folsom’s 93 can be broken down into
roughly 93 steps. So, I tackle one at a time, sometimes two. If your project feels like deciphering the Dead Sea
Scrolls, then break it down. Work on one scroll at time—or half a scroll. Don’t put more pressure on yourself
than you need to. Shoot for a certain number of pages a day to get done. Maybe it’s one chapter at time, or one
article a day, or the introduction of your book proposal. You will feel more accomplished and productive if you
take on only what you can handle that day. When I applied this method, I had those scrolls deciphered in no
time.

Reward Yourself
What does your little heart desire? (Think small for this, okay?) Maybe it’s a new book, a nice bottle of wine,
or going to the theater to see a movie. Now, choose the task or project you need to do and set a deadline. When
you meet that deadline, reward yourself. I know this may sound simplistic, but it works. Yes, you could give
yourself the reward anyway, but show some willpower, because trust me, that reward is way less satisfying if
you truly didn’t earn it. Write your deadline and reward on a board or post it on the refrigerator to keep you
motivated. Get the family involved to help support you on your journey because it’s even more rewarding when
others can share it with you.

With a bit of creativity, it’s possible to be a productive writer without fleeing to deserted beach house, or a
lonely cabin in the mountains.

 

Thank you, April, for this great advice for us all. And thank you, readers, in advance, for checking out April’s project when you get the chance. 

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Accountability

This week was a big, steaming brown pile from an accountability standpoint.

Instead of working on writing goals, I built some furniture with my son, visited with old friends from out of town and cleaned the living bajeezus out of my back yard and garage.

I did manage to meet my basic moneymaking goals, to post on this blog and work on an ongoing speculative project I plan to launch soon. I also finished off a larger assignment and took two meetings on another project I might become embroiled in.

I should have scheduled this week as a week off — I knew ahead of time how hard it would be to get everything done. That way I’d feel pretty okay about meeting my plan instead of vaguely uptight with myself for slacking off.

Ah well — the best part of screwing up is that you get to try again.

Thanks for listening.

April Moore on Work Habits (Part 1)

I’m pleased to announce that April Moore, author of Folsom’s 93  and all-around great writer, has agreed to do a few guest posts about writing from her perspective. Without further foolish foofoorah, heeeeeere’s April…

I think many writers revel in the idea of a secluded place to work; a long retreat, free from interruptions and time to master our craft. However, this concept never seems to end well for Stephen King’s writer characters. So before you head to a vacant mountain hotel, or a remote cabin in upstate New York, consider these work-from-home tips that won’t involve axes, poltergeists, or dead bodies.

Take Care of Distractions

I’m easily distracted, whether it’s something shiny or a pile of laundry. Sometimes, no matter how determined I am to get several pages written, even small things can veer me off the creative path. Working from home poses a plethora of distractions that can keep you from settling into work mode. Combat them by dealing with those things before you flip on the laptop. Wake up early and take care of that load of laundry, pile of bills, or a sink full of dishes. Schedule your chores and writing time. Perhaps designating one day to household tasks can enable you to work the rest of the week. Another distraction is the internet. Aren’t you curious about your blog stats, Twitter updates, or Lindsay Lohan’s latest court appearance? If you don’t need internet access to write, then turn it off. What about noises? One word: Earplugs.

 Get Organized

Treat yourself to a shopping spree at an office supply store. They say if you buy great workout gear, you’re more likely to get your butt to the gym. Same goes for writing. If you want that fancy pencil holder, get it. Do what you need to do to create a productive work environment. Organization is critical for me since I have 93 dead guys to keep track of. I bought a few file boxes with hanging folders and together, my label maker and I went to town. Each inmate has his own folder containing absolutely everything pertaining to him: transcripts, newspaper articles, and even critiques from my writers group when I’ve submitted his story to them. If your work is disorganized, you may not feel motivated and driven. Get the right tools to help you.

Tune in soon to hear April tell you about rewarding yourself, breaking work down and going to your room. 

Thanks for listening.

 

Professional Bathroom

I visited with friends at Munchkin Playland today. It’s a franchise operation: fancy coffee shop with play areas for babies and toddlers. Just the place for soccer moms. Decent coffee. Slightly higher prices than it’s worth, but not so much higher that I won’t pay it.

The bathrooms impressed me. Scrupulously clean, clearly thought out with a baby/toddler crowd in mind. Professional-looking labels. All the tools you’d need to change a baby or guide a youngster new to the whole potty process. The bathroom had a system, and the owners were using it.

This is how franchises work. A functional system takes the guessing out of the scut work of running a business — leaving more time and energy from growing the business itself.

As writers, we can benefit from having our own systems. Writing is a creative process, and many of us have images of long writing binges in a garret apartment, drinking absinthe and mourning a lost love. The free-wheeling, flexible lifestyle of a professional writer is part of what drew many of us to the field. I know one reason I do it is so I can be home with my children and never have to apologize for going to a 3PM soccer game.

However.

The more systems you put in place around your writing and your career, the better your chances of making a decent living at it over the long haul. This can be as detailed as a daily schedule in 15-minute increments, or as loose as a monthly income goal. Whatever you need to keep yourself on schedule to reach not just your immediate financial needs, but also your long-term idea of where you want your career to go.

A few of my systems include:

  • Weekly earnings goals, with accountability provided by my blog.
  • Specific time slots where I write without fail.
  • A 5-4-3-2-1 structure of marketing tasks. (More on the 5-1 in another post).
  • Keeping an event schedule months in advance, so I know when to earn extra for times I won’t work.
Since I consider my job to be freelance writer/work-from-home dad, I have similar systems for keeping the house clean and taking care of the kids.
Some people object to systems because they think they’ll be restraining. If you approach them the right way, the exact opposite is true. Systems make sure you get everything done. This means that when you have time off, you can enjoy it fully. You won’t spend any of your free hours worrying about your career. It’s like going on a budget. If you know you’ve accounted for all your expenses, you can spend that extra $20 without feeling guilty.
Thanks for listening.

Work at Home Dad

My wife and I reverse the traditional arrangement. She has a career-type job, 40-50 hours per week, and brings in reliable income and insurance for our family. I work from, writing. At this point, I do bring in a respectable income. I also take care of the house, the kids, the cooking and our budget.

I love it. There are days I don’t love, full of sick kids, frustrating repairs and tight deadlines. But my time is my own and I go to work each day with my baby in my lap. In another post, I’ll go into detail on work-from-home tricks that aren’t scams – ‘cos seriously, this is awesome and you should try it. Today, let’s talk about a few ways to make full-time daddy and full-time work not add up to full-time crisis.

Act Like You’re at Work

I don’t mean stand by the water cooler and make passive-aggressive remarks about the other people in the house. I’m talking about setting goals and holding yourself accountable the way your boss and team would in a work environment. Without this in place, you will not make enough money to sustain your work-at-home lifestyle.

Organize, Organize, Organize

I came to this lifestyle after years of running a small business, so it’s possible I’ve gone overboard on this. I have job descriptions for my cleaning tasks, profit and loss sheets for my budget and a pretty solid schedule organized by week, month and year. You don’t have to get that detailed, but the more systems you put in place, the less energy you’ll spend on figuring out what to do. Energy is at a premium as a work-at-home dad, so do what you can to save some.

Get to the Gym

Make a workout every day or two a priority. There’s a host of research indicating this will make you more productive, resourceful and patient. It doesn’t matter if you run, lift weights or play some pickup ball – but it does matter that you get out there. Most health clubs these days have a child care room, so you can get a short break if your kids are under school age.

Go to Lunch

The hardest part of being a work-a-home dad is the sense of isolation. Sure, you’re with your kids, but you need to interact with other adults. Make plans to grab lunch with friends – especially working friends on their lunch breaks – two to three times each week. This will keep you grounded and hedge against the depression that often hits stay-at-home parents.

Take a Day Off

For me it’s Thursdays – a day I found myself tired and frustrated during my business management days. This doesn’t mean you actually take the day off from responsibilities. Just avoid scheduling any tasks for one day. This gives you a chance for guilt-free relaxation and provides a window for catch-up on any projects that ran long.

There are hundreds of other little tricks for managing home, kids and time. These broad-stroke guidelines form just an introduction. I hope somebody, somewhere found them helpful

Thanks for listening.

Library

  • The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steve Covey
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen