Deadlines: never enough rope

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Deadlines are one of those things I really struggle with. I always set myself hopelessly optimistic deadlines, and I even build in wiggle-room but somehow it’s just never enough. The thing is, stuff happens.

For example, back in August, I set myself a two-month deadline to deliver my new book to Amazon for eBook release at the end of October, and on other platforms at the beginning of November. Then what did I do? Did I crack on and achieve my goal?

Well, yes and no. I sat and read a few books. I watched some TV. I went shopping. I posted pics of my cats on Facebook and some haiku on Twitter. Then I started to work on the last little revisions of the book, found a plot hole, plugged it, found another one, forgot about it, went shopping, got sick, family members had time off work and wanted to do stuff, found a mouse living in the dining room (courtesy of aforementioned cats), read a few more books…

Remembered plot hole three days before upload date! Argghhhh! And FINALLY got round to finishing off the book and uploading it 58 minutes before the cut-off time. After spending a year writing, editing, drafting, editing, revising, etc, it all nearly went wrong in the final hour. Did I mention I’m a pantser? Not that I generally thrive on adrenaline – quite the opposite.

So yes, I made the deadline. Just. But sometimes having a shorter deadline helps me – then I know there’s no time to procrastinate, and that actually helps. If you think you’ve got plenty of time, you actually do a lot less! So: note to self: next time either give myself an extra month, or reduce the two months by half. Or more.

By the way, there’s also now a mouse in the living room.

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Keeping on top of it all – or how not to get distracted!

Like a lot of people who work from home, I can so easily get distracted by everything that is NOT work. I don’t really fall into the trap many have problems with – social media – as I am still kind of ‘oh fine if I absolutely must’ when it comes to interacting with others. Although I do like a good meme!

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But no, social media is not my guilty secret.  I tend to drift off in my thoughts a little too often – not always a good thing, even if I am a writer. And I also get distracted by the garden and what the birds are doing, or what my cat is doing…I play lots of Sudoku, and like a lot of home-based workers, I often notice little things I suddenly need to tackle – but don’t get the idea my home is a shrine to cleanliness. So there’s the ever-present housework. And then there’s the laundry, the shopping, food preparation and menu planning (which consists mainly wondering if those fish fingers I found in the back of the freezer are okay. They could only be a maximum of seven years old, ‘cos that’s when we got the freezer, so…?)

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And of course I have to hone my IT skills by learning how to do things on the computer, and I need to keep up with what’s happening in the world of books and stories and authors – sometimes I also need to squeeze in a good gloat over my book collection…

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So life for the home-based worker is very, very busy. Heaven forbid if you have any young children too. It can be all too easy to forget to do any actual work. That’s why deadlines help me.

Leaving aside my editing and proofreading actual paid work, when it comes to my own writing, I have to actually force myself to achieve. if you are not a writer, or maybe even if you are ( I know a number of writers who never have the least trouble getting on with their WIP – work in progress) you could be forgiven for thinking all you have to do is sit down and – well – write.

But I know that many people, including myself, find it quite difficult to begin – even when they have notes and an outline, and know exactly what they want to say. It’s like a kind of stage-fright, I guess. Often known as the Fear Of The Blank Page.

So I have now obtained a desk diary, (yes, old school – actual paper!) and I have started putting in my ‘due date’ for each project, and working backwards like my Criss Cross protagonist Cressida, I then work out how long it will take me if I work around the commitments I already have, and how much time I have available. So far so good, I am pleased with this strange, newly-efficient me. I have also begun to limit myself to twice-weekly social media binges, which was an easy thing to do for me, and I am working solely in my teeny tiny office ‘out back’ on my new all-signing, all-dancing laptop, which keeps me away from the dishes and the state of the floor, and I can no longer see the birds, and only occasionally get walked on by a cat.

So I have sorted out my work-space and I have sorted out my time-keeping – all of this, I hope will lead to improved productivity and a sense of achievement that will spur me on even more.  Maybe Virginia Woolf was right, and all we need to work, is a ‘room of one’s own’? Now if only I could get some good, fresh ideas…

 

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This may look like a picture of one of my cats, but actually it’s an IT exercise! Or so I told myself for the time it took me to create it, when I should have been revising my novel-in-progress!

Take Time Out

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Malcolm showing how it's done!

We often feel we have to accomplish as much as possible within the span of each day. Sometimes it is our self-esteem that demands that we are ‘achievers’. However, life is not just about work, not merely concerned with achievements. Life should be enjoyable, should even be – dare I say it – fun! Don’t rush headlong towards a nervous breakdown, stop and sit for a while. I often have to remind myself it’s okay to do nothing now and again. Partly it’s my upbringing that says every moment of the day should be productive and useful, and partly it’s the fact that I work from home for a relatively low income and feel a need to demonstrate that I am working as hard as I can, and partly it’s my own character – I’m not naturally one of those people who can just chillax whenever and wherever. And I know some of you out there are the same, admit it!

But our busy lifestyles mean we so often find ourselves lurching from one task to the next, checking them off on our mental to-do list, and feeling that we must keep accomplishing tasks or we have failed. Not so.

It’s okay to take time out, to veg, to just be. Quite often, even when we think we are relaxing, we are still trying to make ‘good use’ of our time by working on some task – completing sudoku or crosswords, reading a book, or even playing a game on our computer.  So rarely do we actually do nothing. But in fact, time spent day-dreaming, listening to the sounds of nature from outside – or the sounds of traffic if nature is far away – and just letting our thoughts drift, this is all time well-spent. We need to rest, not just our bodies but also our minds. and if we allow ourselves that period of rest, we often find that our minds are sharper, our thoughts clearer, and little niggling things we have been working on suddenly seem easy or we can now see the action we need to take. Our brains have time to catch up with the mental filing from all the information we have been absorbing as we go about the routine of our lives.

So – give yourself permission to bunk off and do absolutely nothing for ten minutes twice a day, and see your stress levels plummet, your self-esteem and positive energy sky-rocket, and your creativity will be fresh and maybe take you off in a whole new and exciting direction. It could turn out that the twenty minutes a day you spend doing nothing become the twenty most productive minutes of your day.