Productivity · Time Management · Writer Self-Care

How To Declutter Your Digital Life – Digital Tools Vs. Digital Distraction

I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” over the last few weeks. Like many people in their 30s, I started using social media in my early 20s and I’ve just continued to use it, without realizing how much digital clutter was making its way into my life. I did not realize the negative impact digital clutter was having on me. Our social media apps and programs are built to be addictive and to make us feel like we’re engaging and talking constantly with other humans.

There is some value in social media and other tools of the digital age, but not all of it is equal.

In Newport’s book, he discusses the concept of choosing your digital tools wisely and decluttering the tools you use that may cause you to become distracted or put you in a feedback loop for online approval. This hit me really hard last week. I have a wonderful husband who who has been really supportive of me lately. I had a sudden impulse that I needed to share how wonderful he was on Facebook…Instead of simply turning to him and telling him how much I appreciate his support. Sure, sharing on Facebook would show others how I appreciate him, but the point was to be grateful to him, not to showcase my gratitude to the world.

I think Digital Minimalism has some great lessons to teach, even if I don’t feel like all the lessons fit perfectly for me. Since a lot of the work I do is online and through social media, I can’t abandon those tools entirely, but I can make them better tools and less distracting.

Digital tools add value and help us live better lives.

Digital distractions keep us from living that better life.

I definitely recommend checking out Newport’s book, but here are some ways to get started tossing out the digital clutter:

Delete The Apps That Aren’t Serving You

I went through my phone and removed applications that I don’t regularly use and I removed some that I felt like didn’t really add value to my life. I have a handful of “games” I play when I need to de-stress or take a breath, but I also had some games that had started to feel like an obligation, something I had to log into every day. Those went bye-bye.

I also deleted apps that I had downloaded with good intentions but hardly used or never used. If there comes a time that they server a purpose for me, I can download them again later.

Unfollow, Unfriend, Unlike and Leave the Group

Last night, I went through all of the groups I was in and pages I had liked on Facebook. I removed any group or page I felt like didn’t add to my digital life. I’ve already done this sort of thing with Instagram and Twitter. I joined a lot of these social media applications early on in their existence and over the last ten years or so, I’ve liked and joined so many groups and pages on a whim that add nothing to my life.

While these apps can still be more of a distraction than a tool for me at times, at least know the content I’m viewing when I use them is catered to the life I currently want to live.

It’s a lot like clearing out an old box of stuff from ten years ago. The woman I am now doesn’t have a use for some of the things she would have dearly loved in her 20s. It also helps me make space for groups, pages and people who actively add to my digital life and help me keep my focus on where I want to go in my real life.

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Productivity · Review · Time Management

Trello – A Visual Way To Plan Your Productivity

I recently discovered a great new tool for productivity tracking called Trello that has helped me a ton! I still use my bullet journal as well, but I keep my monthly goals and planned projects on my Trello board as well so that way they’re just a click away when I’m working on various projects. I wanted to give a brief overview here on my blog so you can see if it’s a tool that might help you as well.

What is Trello?

Whether you are working by yourself or with a team, you can use Trello to track your tasks visually on a board. Overall, I found the user interface to be really fluid and easy to use, so there’s not much of a learning curve to figuring out how to use the boards.

How to Step Up Your Board

You can really set up your board in whatever way works best for you. You can make lists and then fill them with cards that represent different tasks.

I’ve set up some of mine by laying out goals for each of the coming months and each month was its own list, but I’ve also found I like the “To Do, Doing, Done” list layout as well, because it helps me focus on what my current projects are. Here’s an example of what your board could look like:

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You can also easily drag and drop cards between lists, so it’s simple to move things around your board as you need to.

Features I Love About Trello

Color coding, the ability to add checklists, and the ability to add deadlines are by far my favorite features! You can add a color label to cards, so if you have interconnected projects you can add the color label to them and easily see where all the different pieces are.  

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Checklists are nice if you are like me and love the feeling of marking something off the to-do list.  You can also see how many of the checklist tasks have been done by just looking at the board itself, so you have an easy idea of how much more you need to do. Deadlines are something I like to have, even if I miss them, so I have something to work towards.

If you haven’t tried Trello out, I would definitely give it a whirl! A basic account is free to use and it has all the features I mentioned here. If you’re looking for more advanced features, you can get a Business Class account for you and your team, which is super affordable at $10 a month.

Productivity · Time Management

How To Achieve Your Goals With An Accountability Buddy

Creative work can be isolating and it is easy to lose your motivation when you feel like you spend day in and day out working on your projects alone. Finding a friend or creative partner to help you stay on task is a great way to keep yourself motivated. I have had a few different accountability partners over the years and it has made all the difference.

A few years ago a dear friend and I decided we would work together through “accountability sprints” where we would check in via email every hour or so to see what the other had worked on. More recently, I’ve done weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with my accountability partner because that’s what our schedules allow for. If you need motivation and you want to start looking for someone to help hold you accountable, here are some tips and tricks I have learned over the years.

Make Checking in a Habit

I’ve done this a few different ways.  As I mentioned above, I have had partners I checked in with pretty frequently and some that I only checked in with every week or so. When we check in we always go over what we accomplished, what we did not quite finish, and what we want to do in the future.  You can use tools like a shared google doc to keep track of what you are currently working on, so your partner can visually see what your goals are and what you are working towards.

Build Trust and Be Comfortable

You need to be able to give and take constructive criticism from your accountability buddy.  If you can’t be honest about your productivity with your partner, then it may be difficult for the partnership to really push you to do more.   

The two best accountability partners I’ve had were people I was good friends with first.  We both knew when to say “Hey, dude, you are slacking” and when to say “Hey, I know you did not hit all your goals this week, but you worked really hard and that matters.” Finding someone that you share enough trust with that they can give you honest feedback and helpful praise is really important.

Make Sure You’re On Similar Levels Creatively

A couple years ago I met a friend who I thought would make a good accountability buddy.  They were just starting to build a writing career, so they needed a lot of feedback, but they seemed rather eager and willing to do start the work so I dove in.  As time went on, I realized that I was giving them a lot of constructive comments on their work and trying to motivate them past the planning/plotting stage of their work.  As the months wore on, they stayed stuck in that stage and I realized it was not working out for either of us.

It’s best to find someone who is on a similar level to you creatively.  If you work with someone who has some finished work and has shown they can start and finish their projects it is more likely you’ll both be able to move forward creatively together.

Be A Good Buddy

One thing from my career as a teacher that stuck with me is that you need to give a good amount of positive feedback and give negative feedback carefully and kindly.  This applies to being a good accountability buddy too! Think about the feedback you give and make sure it’s both helpful and productive. You want to be a good cheerleader for your buddy and have them be a good cheerleader for you too!

Productivity · Time Management

Why You Should Trade in New Year’s Resolutions and Set Goals Instead

One year ago, my best friend and I sat down and set goals for the year.  She and I have spent the last three years or so encouraging and supporting each other toward our goals.  I remember right around the time that she and I got serious about our work, a friend in our community posted publicly that “New Year’s Resolutions were worthless.”  I grumbled defensively to myself, but in some ways now, I agree.  It is one thing to write down a bunch of resolutions, it is entirely another to set achievable goals for the year.  

Back to the goal setting.  A year ago, at the end of 2015, my best friend and I made our set of goals.  We separated them into different categories: Main Goals, Emotional/Spiritual Goals, Secondary Goals, and Tertiary goals.

There are two things you should focus on when setting a goal, it is best to ensure that it is both measurable and achievable.  While saying things like “I want to be a better writer” is all well and good, unless you outline how you’re going to progress toward that goal, it isn’t very measurable.

Our Main Goals were the most important for us to achieve.  Mine were things like “Write 500 words a day.” and “Write at least 1 short story a month.”  I also wanted to win NaNoWriMo again, and even though I did not accomplish all these goals, I still made a lot of progress.

My Secondary goals included things like “Blog on a regular basis” and “Find regular freelancing gigs.”  This year, my blog has grown a lot and that’s allowed me to connect with other creative people, both other writers and artists.  Their influenced has helped me to get closer to what I want out of life.

Tertiary Goals were things we wanted to work on, but may not get to in the long run.  My main goal in this category was to “Learn more about Graphic Design” which I did some of, but it certainly was not my focus in 2016.

When my friend and I met to talk about our progress, we were both a bit astonished.  My goal was never perfectionism, though I did not meet some of my goals, I made progress toward becoming the person I want to be.  We had both grown a lot over the last year.  If we had not set these goals, kept each other responsible for them, we would not have been able to see how much growth had occurred in the past year.

When I set goals this year, I added one more thing.  A theme for the year.  For 2017, my theme is Authenticity.  Though 2016 was a rather rough year in a lot of ways, but one thing I learned during it, was that I was much happier when I was authentic.  So this year, I will continue to focus on trying to be authentic and being the best version of myself I can be.

What about you?  Do you set yearly goals?  Do you have New Year’s Resolutions?

 

 

Geeky Stuff · Productivity · Time Management · Writing

A Geeky Guide to Leveling Up

In a video game, when you gain enough experience points and you’ve fought enough monsters, you level up.  Leveling up generally means that two things happen: First, you get access to better equipment and new quests, and second, the quests also have leveled up and you face a new level difficulty.  So how do you level up your real life?  How does it feel once you’ve leveled up?  What do you do once you’ve leveled up?

Start from the bottom and break down big goals.

You may wander into a few caves where there are level 70 trolls and you’re still rocking your level 5 daggers, metaphorically, of course.

In normal person speak:  You may have big goals you’re trying to achieve or big obstacles to overcome.  Rather than running full tilt at these things, sometimes it’s best to break what you are doing down into smaller, more achievable goals.

If you want to write a movie and get it made, but have never written a script before, setting a 3-month deadline for that goal is likely to lead to some heartache.  That’s making your goal int a level 70 troll, and you’re not ready to fight that troll.

Instead, you might want to take a screenwriting class, or read books on screenwriting.  Maybe your 3-month goal is to take a class and have a rough draft of your script, by that point.  That’s more like a level 10 troll, and something you can definitely manage.

Leveling up takes work.

In lots of games, there are ways to grind and gain levels quickly.  The problem is, if you don’t put the work in, you miss valuable lessons and content along the way.

Most of the people you admire scraped and hustled when they started out.  Lots of writers worked a full-time job while writing their first novels, comics, etc.  There might be a few that got lucky and somehow got the maximum payoff for minimal effort, but those people are usually few and far between and they often had someone helping them along the way.

There are times that putting in the maximum effort will be frustrating and disheartening, but we don’t get anywhere by standing still.  Keeping going.  If you work strategy isn’t working and you’re not making progress, step back and re-assess.

How do you know when you’ve leveled up?  Things get harder.  But they also get easier.

You know you’ve leveled up with the difficulty of things kicks up a notch, but you also find yourself able to rise to the occasion.  You’ve worked hard to gain new skills and insight, and though the new challenges are unfamiliar or unventured, you still have a bit of inspiration to go after them.

I won’t lie, there are times “gaining a new level” fills me with worry and anxiety.  I wonder if I am able to face the new challenges in my life and still manage my time.  You can use that fear as fuel, take it as a dare to dream bigger and do more than you did before.  In many ways, our biggest limits are in our head.

Productivity · Time Management

Productively Tools: RescueTime, Momentum, and Strict Workflow

If you are anything like me, you probably hop on the computer and at first you’re totally ready to write, but only after you check facebook.  And tumblr.  And several other sites that suck your time into the void, never to return.

I won’t lie, I still do this, but I’ve found a few handy tools that help me cut into that time and ensure I stay productive with my writing time.  Here they are:

Rescue Time

Rescue time can be install via the link above and I also have the Chrome extension on my browser.  With the Chrome browser extension, I can check my productivity for the day at the top of my browser.  You can also go to their website and sign-in for more detailed information.

REscuetime
My weekly dashboard at Rescue Time’s website

My favorite feature?  The weekly productivity email I get on Sunday.  Each week it shows me how productive I was, what I spent most of my time on and how my productivity compares with the week before.  It’s an easy way to see how much time I’ve spent on facebook, or other sites, and how much time I spent in Scrivener writing.

You can categorize your activities however you like, which is great!  If you actually use facebook for business on a regular basis, you can change its category to reflect that.

Momentum

Momentum is one of those awesome little extensions/apps you use so often you forget how helpful it is.  Momentum is replaces the new tab page with a dashboard you can personalize.  It includes: A place where you can put your focus for the day, a to do list, a place for your favorite links, the weather in your area, a beautiful background image and inspirational quotes.  

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I don’t use the to do list as much, since I have my bullet journal for that, but the reminder of what my focus is helps me stay on track for the day.  The background images tend to be very breath-taking and inspirational for me as a writer.  It also helps you remember that you should be working, when you open that tab to check out what’s happening on Twitter.

Strict Workflow

I’ve written about the Pomodoro Technique before, where you work in 25 minute on/5 minute off productivity units.  Strict Workflow extension works with that template, except it works for your browser.  When you press the little red tomato at the top of your screen, it blocks distracting sites for 25 minutes, so you can work uninterrupted by your need to see what that friend from high school is doing.

What the 25 minutes is up you’ll hear an alarm go off, and you can then click the now green tomato for a 5 minute break.  You can surface facebook, tumblr and any of your other blocked sites for 5 minutes, then the alarm will ring again and you can again click the tomato to start another 25 minute work session.

STrictworkflow

Be aware, once you install this extension the only way to see the sites you have blocked during that 25 minute work session is to uninstall the app.  You can also change which sites you have blocked and what amount of time you want to work/have a break.

 

Hopefully these help you!  Let me know what you’ve used to be more productive!  I’m always up for new tools.

Time Management

My Newly Discovered Productively Tools: Bullet Journaling

I’m a little behind on blogging because, as most of you know, I’m knee deep in working on my novel for NaNoWriMo.  But I wanted to share some new tools I’ve started to use that are working wonders for me.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’m always seeking new ways to improve my productivity.  If you want to see some of the methods I’ve used in the past, including my awesome post-it system (which is now upgraded to my bullet journal) go ahead and check it out here.

POSTGOALS
Here’s an example of how I used to do things.  Not bad, but the bullet journal is MUCH better.

When you dictate your own work schedule, or if you’re just pursuing a creative career in the side, it’s important to set goals.  The bullet journal is the perfect way to balance not only your creative goals, but also your daily tasks lists, events and other notes.  It’s like a planner and a journal had a baby, an organized, inspiring baby.

The problem with my post-it note system was that the items all had equal weight and at the end of the day/week, I didn’t hold onto the notes.  I couldn’t look back and see what I had accomplished or what had been moved forward to accomplish on another day.

You can customize and build your journal in a way that works for you.  I have a page for each month, then daily pages.  I also have pages like:

  • Books to Read
  • Yearly Goals
  • Recipes to Try
  • Weight Loss Tracker

I was able to find many samples of pages online as well as different ways people use and build their journal.

IMG_2967My daily pages usually look like the picture to the left.  It has both tasks I need to do for writing, day to day tasks, and events. You can also see little stickers next to the most important tasks I needed to accomplish for the day.  I’m able to visually organize what is the most important for the day, this way.

Completed tasks and appointments get a line striking through them.

If something does not get finished that day, I put an arrow through it and move it to a future date.   I love this, because it makes me very conscious of what tasks I’m not completing and moving forward.

I also included some inspirational quotes I found and liked on pages here and there.

I would definitely recommend this system for people who like to cross goals off a list daily.  I’ve even added some small tasks to my daily list, so I have something to cross off first thing in the morning.  It gives me that extra motivation to keep accomplishing things throughout the day.

If you want to learn how to set up your own bullet journal, check out their website here.  There are also several posts on youtube and tumblr that have so many ideas on how you can make the system work for you.  My journal is fairly plain compared to some of the cute ideas out there.

How about you?  What’s one new productivity tool you’ve discovered that’s helped your work load?  I plan to share a post on RescueTime next, which is another awesome tool I’ve recently found.