Planning out the year – where do you want to be 1 year from now?

Happy New Year!

Many folks are getting back to work today after enjoying some downtime during the holidays. If you had some time off, I hope it was refreshing and re-energizing.

If you didn’t have time off, I’m with you. This was the first holiday season I can remember where I didn’t have downtime, so I’m starting 2016 a bit rushed – or at least not as prepared as I want to be.

A new year is a good time to set intentions, goals, plans (whatever word you prefer) for the upcoming 12 months. Of course you can start at any time, but January is quite popular.

Here is how I am capturing my goals (and dreams) for 2016:

Start with the big picture:  One year from now, what do I want to have accomplished / done / tried (in any or several areas)? ie. business, personal, relationships, health, free time, financial, community/charity

  • Focus on one area at a time (if more than one) and capture big steps; tasks and ‘things’ that are definitely required to achieve the outcome. I don’t worry about “how” anything will get done. For now, I write down what I see as required to reach the final outcome.
  • Take one ‘big step’ at a time and capture the next level of tasks to achieve the big step.
  • Repeat as often as needed until I have as comprehensive a list as possible. There are going to be steps or tasks I am unaware of, but they’ll work themselves out.PostItFlags
  • Transfer the goals and tasks to post-it flags (I like how many colors there are and they are easy to move around, and they have a little bit of stickiness to them). I use one color for each area, and number supporting tasks so they can be realigned later on.
  • Pull out a 12-month calendar (seeing all 12 months at same time) and start placing the tabs onto the months when I want them accomplished. Sure all the BIG overall goals may end up in December, but the smaller supporting tasks will spread out over the remaining 11 months.YearAtAGlance_example
  • Once I have the tasks spread out over the year, I can immediately see which months are a bit too heavy and which are too light, so I move flags around until the year feels comfortable.
  • Then I work with my actual calendar and start documenting the tasks into months and weeks. (I move my visual paper information into a scheduler).
  • And I get to work!

Are you starting to tackle 2016 this morning, or are you a little behind in setting goals, as I am?

Here’s to a successful and prosperous year!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Scheduling Time for Yourself While Freelancing

Today is Columbus Day in the U.S.; it’s one of those holidays that some people have off and some people don’t.

Many of my friends have it off. I told them I didn’t. Each of them said, “But you work for yourself, you can take it off if you want to.”

And each of them is correct. I could take it off if I wanted to, but I don’t. I actually find working holidays to be quite productive — since they generally tend to be very quiet (fewer phone calls and e-mails). But that’s me and the personal choice I make as the owner of my own business.

Here’s how I plan my time off. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

2016_calendarFirst, I find a 12-month calendar, such as the one here on the right, that I can print out, make a couple copies of, and mark up.

I start by drawing a line through the dates I will be on vacation. You may prefer to put a big “X” in each box, or highlight the dates in a certain color.

Next, I go through and mark off the holidays (and personal days) I intend to take — those where I will *not* be in the office and *not* doing any work.

Then I decide which conferences, workshops, seminars, and so on I’d like to attend (as far out as I can) and also mark those dates.

I quickly have a visual that shows me the days left that I will be working. Maybe I’ll have to rethink some plans – for instance, it’s crazy how fast my November fills up. I’m never able to do all I want in that month.

This is where a fresh copy of a 12-month calendar comes in; the reassessment phase. It’s where I determine which days off are most important and which activities may fall by the wayside. I mark up the fresh copy with the re-evaluated dates.

Now, you may not know all the dates you want to take off, but holidays, vacations, personal growth, and personal days are great dates to start with. Knowing what dates you don’t want to work helps you schedule your time on the days you do work.

This is a high-level look at the year ahead, but can be a great place to start before figuring out how you will meet your budgeted income and expenses for the year.

Do you schedule your time off in advance, or go week to week and decide based on your workload?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

ToDoIst – A Productivity Tool for Managing Tasks

l have fellow blogger Diane to thank for introducing me to ToDoIst, a productivity tool that’s all about managing tasks.

This a personal review about how I use the free version of the tool. It may or may not work for you, but it’s something to consider if you find you want to keep track of tasks you have to do – for work or play; business or personal.

The name comes from “To-Do List”, of course. Just remove the “L” — ToDoIst.

The synching between platforms is a breeze. No matter if I’m accessing my account from my Android, or from IE or Chrome, on a home computer or another system, all categories and lists appear whenever I go to access them.

Within the past week, ToDoIst has changed a bit (image below, left side is prior look; right side is new look)- boxes to tick off are now round instead of square, there’s a lot more white space, and  the tool recognizes more natural language when creating a recurring activity. (ie. if you say “every Sunday” it will know what you mean).

ToDoIst_screenshot

At a glance to the top left of the tool, I know how many tasks I have to do “today” and for “next 7 days”.

Glancing a little further down the left side, I see how many tasks per category exist. I have categories such as: Business, Personal, Work, Errands, and Volunteer. The categories come in handy when, for instance, I only want to see what Business-related tasks I have coming up, whether it’s today, tomorrow, or months from now.  And colors can be assigned to categories, so the visual experience is heightened. For instance, if I know my ‘business’ tasks are blue – it’s so easy to see how many blue items are listed!

ToDoIst_Android

I can create to-do lists for each project, too. Sometimes I list all the tasks at one time, have them all due ‘today’ and then, since it’s so easy, change the dates accordingly once I know I have all the tasks listed. Knowing that the list exists and that I can easily find it and review items at any time, gives me a peace of mind I hadn’t had before.

All of the right side of the screen is the actual list of to-do-items for today. To add an item it’s a simple click of the “+” icon at the top of the screen, writing a description, selecting a due date, and selecting a category (if I want). The item is added to the proper date and I don’t have to worry about it until I need to see it.

The premium version of ToDoIst includes features such as graphs to show you your productivity (how many tasks you had for a day/week/month vs how many you completed), and more.

Do you use ToDoIst? Or do you use another task manager app? Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, and Toodledo are others I’ve heard about but have not tried (yet).

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Month, Week, Day

As a free-lance writer I am my own boss, so I’ve developed a system for staying on-track I call Month, Week, Day.

Every month, I list my goals.

Every month, I list my goals.

MONTH

Every month, I list my goals. These include both Big Ticket items, like the two books I’m working on, one a novel and one a piece of non-fiction, and the Smaller Tasks, which include my blogs, radio commentaries, newspaper editorials and work-for-hire. Some of these goals have deadlines. I post here at Live to Write – Write to Live every other Tuesday. I post to Living In Place on Wednesdays, and I submit The Middle Ages column to The Rutland Herald on the third Monday of the Month before posting it to my website the third Wednesday. I make my own deadlines for Vermont Public Radio and pencil in my ideas and due dates for two commentaries a month.

I also take time to list the meetings I’m already scheduled to attend as well as the interviews and events I either want to attend or need to schedule to research a commentary, my non-fiction project, or an editorial idea itching at the back of my mind.

By the time I’ve finished, I have a daunting list of goals for the month, so I break it down week by week.

I break the month's goals down week by week.

I break the month’s goals down week by week.

WEEK

Either at the end of work Friday or on Sunday evening, I fill in the following week’s deadlines, appointments, and meetings – all of which I schedule for afternoons. Because I’m one of those writers who thrives on consistency, I fence off my mornings for writing, and I try not to schedule anything else until after noon – and later, if possible.

Because writing is both sedentary and solitary, I also try to schedule exercise and social time for afternoon or evening. I attend local yoga classes that offer me both a good workout and a chance for brief interactions with friends.

But before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule what I have to do the next.

Before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule the next

Before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule the next

DAY

Because I’m not very good at breaking the novel down into small, measurable and achievable tasks, I simply block out the first hours of every morning and work on that first. This is the project closest to my heart at the moment, and because sustaining an entirely fictional reality requires fierce concentration, I work on it until my brain gives up. Then I write essays. I save research and formatting posts for late in the day.

My studio is internet- and telephone- free.

My studio is internet- and telephone- free.

There are two reasons for this. First, my studio is internet- and telephone- free, so I can’t squander my writing time on social media when I’m supposed to be writing; second, these tasks don’t require my morning mind, when I’m most fluent with words and ideas.

Sometimes, I’m distracted by other obligations. When that happens, I consult my list of goals for the month, week and day, which helps me reorient my mind to my desk. At the end of each day, week, and month, I cross off the tasks I’ve completed and the goals I’ve reached; I reassign those that I didn’t.

Thanks to a post Wendy wrote years ago about The Planner Pad, I have a great system for making Month, Week, Day work and for Accounting for Your Writing Time, but there are lots of good systems out there. The important first step is to develop a system and stick with it.

Like everyone else on the planet, I also have other obligations. Most notably, I have my 90-year old dad living nearby and a small farmstead at home, as well as children out in the world and a community in which I serve. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what obligation to tackle first and how I’ll ever get everything done. Well, I can’t always get everything done, so I do what’s most important first: I write.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of Into the Wilderness, a love story between middle-aged characters, set in Vermont in 1964.

Watch me use Scrivener to write a book

Shelf in my office - sigh

Shelf in my office – sigh

I have an idea for a book. It’s a memoir-how-to on decluttering my house. Years ago I wrote a 16 month newspaper series on moving unwanted and unnecessary things out of my house (I ended up removing over 5,000 pounds of stuff – yeah, I know, crazy.) To this day, people still ask me about that series and the number one question always is….

“Were you able to maintain a decluttered house?”

My stock answer to this is “Get real, we have 6 kids, no one could maintain that, but, to be fair, it’s not as cluttered as it used to be.”

Which is a bit of a half-truth, because our house is rapidly entering the pre-hoarding phase. Part of this is due to the kids (college storage, sports, clothes), part is because I work (and work) and the last thing I want to do at night when I finally shut down my computer is go clean the bathrooms or sort through my closet or put away things that I didn’t put there in the first place.

But, after spending the past weekend clearing out the belongings of a deceased relative, I’ve realized that I don’t ever want people to go through my stuff and laugh at me because I have things like framed chicken feathers from Jan Brett’s prized Polish chickens or a pile of rocks from a favorite family vacation or clothes from college (I kid you not) simply because they make me remember a fun time of my life.

Making people change is the most complex learning challenge there is. You have to prove to them that the pain in continuing their old behavior is less than the pain of learning and practicing new behavior. You have to give them a beneficial reason to change.

When we loaded bag, after bag, of items destined for the Goodwill, I finally got that change message loud and clear.

I need to get rid of our extra stuff immediately. It is literally weighing us down. Extra weight = discomfort. I finally get it.

I missed the Scrivener workshop (darn it) and it’s a shame because I really, *really* want to use Scrivener for this new idea. A non-fiction book just screams for that kind of organization.

So, if the mountain won’t come to me, then I must go to the mountain. This week I purchased the “Scrivener for Dummies” book (the author of this book is who presented the workshop – again darn, darn!) and along with watching tutorials, I’m going to try to figure this beast out.

I am going to write my decluttering-memoir book using Scrivener. Just watch me.

And I’ll be reporting back to all on how using this tool to write a book goes.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Weekend Edition – Spring Cleaning Makes Writing Easier Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How Spring Cleaning Helps You Write

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

So, yesterday was the first, official day of spring.

It didn’t much feel like it around here, with temps hovering around freezing and gray skies hiding the solar eclipse from view. Still, according to the calendar and the wheel of the year, the Spring Equinox had finally arrived. Hooray!

I unintentionally spent a good part of this week doing what I guess might pass as a sort of spring cleaning. I didn’t dust any drapes (I don’t have any drapes), defrost the freezer (I’m not even sure how to do that), or air out the linens, but I did make a dent in wrangling the frightening amount of administrative loose ends that had accumulated in my life.

You know the kinds of things I mean – returning calls, following-up on project statuses, figuring out your new insurance premiums, paying your excise tax, finding a new CPA, getting to inbox zero … stuff like that.

As a freelance writer, I am often swept up by the crush and hustle of needing to get the job done. Though I work for myself, in truth I have many bosses (even if I don’t include my cats, which I do). Sometimes, keeping everyone happy means that these small, household-type responsibilities fall to the bottom of the To Do list. Eventually, they pile up and pile up until what used to be a single, simple, five-minute task has mutated into a growing horde of could-become-catastrophic-at-any-moment chores clinging to my back like so many manic monkeys.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.

At any rate, this week, I shifted some deadlines so that I could focus on clearing out some of the physical and karmic debris caused by my long-term neglect of these clerical obligations. The work was tedious and without acclaim or monetary reward, but I have to tell you that I came away from the effort feeling refreshed and fulfilled and even empowered. There was suddenly more breathing room in my day. I felt lighter, and more optimistic than before.

I have long held that there is an important, if somewhat ineffable, relationship between The Maid and The Muse. My muse is fairly tolerant of disarray, but at a certain point, she takes in the scene, crosses her arms, and looks at me as if to say, “Seriously?” And, I have to admit, she has a point.

On the other hand, my internal maid can’t stand any amount of clutter, and the weight of things left undone is a heavy burden to her, indeed. Because of her slightly OCD nature, she tends to just vacate the premises when things start to spin out of control. It’s a matter of self preservation, kind of like how I’ve learned that if I’m going to make my deadlines, I have to compartmentalize my life a little.

But, eventually, The Maid and The Muse get together and stage an intervention.

I think that The Maid just reaches her breaking point. There is just too much clutter and too many things that should have been done weeks ago still hanging over our heads. She just can’t stand it anymore. The Muse becomes an accomplice out of necessity when the hand-wringing and griping of The Maid make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on creative endeavors.

So, I get to organizing, clearing out, and checking things off lists. Like I did this week.

Whether you realize it or not, having all those little tasks biting at your ankles takes a toll on your creativity. Even if you’re not actively thinking about them, all those worries linger somewhere in your consciousness and distract you from your work. They are like a shadow that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. You’re not exactly sure what it is, but it makes you uneasy.

When you finally confront that shadow, it’s not nearly as scary as you’d imagined. A few hours of focused effort, and – voila! – your head is clear and you’re ready to get down to your real work. I also believe (warning: woo-woo alert) that clearing your plate of physical and virtual clutter opens the way for new opportunities and possibilities. By creating more space, literally and metaphorically, you are free to invite more of what you want into your day and your life.

Ok, I’m stepping off my soapbox, but I do wish you a happy spring and (if the spirit grabs you) happy spring cleaning!

 

What I’m Writing:

nuthatchIt’s been a while since I’ve linked to a piece of my own writing, but in honor of the Spring Equinox, I’d like to share a recent column I wrote in admiration of our feathered friends and the way they help usher in the warmer weather and the new season.

I wrote Spring on the Wing after the phrase “held aloft on hollow bones filled with promises and sky” popped into my head just before I fell asleep. I’d been wanting to write a little something that expressed my love for and enjoyment of the many birds that frequent the feeder just outside my office window; and when I had that little piece of the puzzle, I knew it was time.

I hope you enjoy the piece and would love to hear from anyone who’d like to share his or her own piece on the arrival of spring.

 

What I’m Reading:

book bookmans taleJust  yesterday afternoon I finished Charlie Lovett’s novel, The Bookman’s Tale. I had three girlfriends coming over later and probably should have been running the vacuum or making some other domestic preparations; but I only had a few pages left to read, and I just couldn’t put the book down.

The Bookman’s Tale felt to me like a delightful mash-up of ages and genres. The story weaves in and out of four different time periods (Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s), and tells the tale of a recently widowed antiquarian bookseller who is drawn into a literary adventure when he discovers a mysterious portrait hidden in a book. There’s a love story, a mystery, and quite a bit of history. There’s a bit of the DaVinci Code’s intrigue and a bit of the gothic flavor of books like The Thirteenth Tale.

And, of course, as a lover of literature and books as works of art, this story held a particular allure. Lovett, a former antiquarian bookseller himself, clearly has a reverence for all aspects of the bookmaking art. Certain passages made me long to hold one of the literary treasures he describes in my own hands – a bit of paper and ink, but also a piece of history.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Marketing & Other Business-y Topics:

Inspiration:

Craft, Process, and Productivity:

Just for Fun:

Bookish:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

A twofer this week – to cover both sides of the clean desk debate.

pin tidy deskpin cluttered desk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy spring. Happy writing. Happy reading. 🙂  

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Housemaid Sketch Photo Credit: april-mo via Compfight cc

Is Multitasking a Way to Be More Productive?

Multitasking – it’s a method of working that easily divides an audience: folks seem to embrace it or run from it.

Do you find multitasking productive? Or a time suck?

I think of multitasking as leap frogging. For instance, you start replying to emails, end up clicking on a link within an email, and then get lost in the endless world known as the Internet. One page leads to another leads to another leads to another and before you know it, an hour has passed and there are still several emails to reply to.

Do you accomplish more when multitasking? Is it the way you find the success that you want? Or do you think multitasking sets you up for failure because you don’t get much accomplished?

Like anything, I don’t think it’s absolutely-multitask-all-the-time or avoid-multitasking-all-together. There can be a balance; it’s a matter of finding what works best.

Confession: As I wrote this post, I kept checking e-mails and managed to get sucked into the Internet through one of those ‘read more’ links like I mentioned above. <grin> So instead of just cranking through this blog post in 30 or so minutes, it took me a couple of hours. Multitasking did not benefit me in this instance!

Multitasking does work at times, though. For instance, when I’m in a waiting room or in a line – I can reply to and clean out old emails, sort and save emails, and schedule activities and events. Similarly, if I’m waiting for something to update online, I can reply to inquiries on Twitter and Facebook.

How about you? Do you find multitasking beneficial in saving time or a way to extend the time taken on tasks?

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.