Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Keeping on Track

During this time of year, I take some time out of my busy schedule to assess where I am and where I want to go. This assessment encompasses not only my personal life but also my writing life. Part of this exercise includes me looking at my life as a five-year plan, and in some cases, a ten-year plan. I began doing this a few years ago when I needed structure to my life—something I severely lacked before I started writing.

Create and keep a schedule
Create and keep a schedule

I can’t say what I do is easy, but it does yield fruit. I’m disciplined now and more attuned to what I believe my life mission is in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying this to make it seem as if I have everything figured out. On the contrary, if I have anything figured out, it’s my name and where I was born—and maybe where I go when I die. Other than those little things, I’m at the mercy of the wind.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing all this is that I’d like to share with you three key things I do to keep on track for the year. Don’t expect miracles if you’re going to implement any of this stuff in your life. I can tell you it is not as easy as I make it out to be. But, it is worth the try, if you’re in the mood to make a change for a more goal-centered life.

Schedule downtime—That’s an odd way to think about getting things done. Isn’t scheduling downtime the exact opposite of getting things done? Well, not really. What you want to do is prevent burnout. I’ve been there when all I could think about was what I wanted to do, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I read somewhere that the body functions on a time cycle, and if the body doesn’t get the rest it needs, it will rebel by throwing itself in bed. That happened to me. There was a time I became ill with a flu or fever every single year since I was a kid. Nowadays, that doesn’t happen. I take one full day off from being online, writing and chores to be with the family. It’s a full day of familial bonding that has since kept me healthy. The downtime also stimulates my creative juices, clearing my mind and readying the week for my reappearance. By the time my day off is over, I’m set to tackle anything thrown at me.

Work hard—Given I’m a proponent for taking a day off every week, the other side of the coin is making up the time by working hard during the other six days of the week. Working hard doesn’t mean sweating hard, though. It means doing more with the finite time you have available. If that means finding alternate ways to produce more than you are capable of, then it means you’re working not just harder, but smarter. The ultimate goal is to get the things you would have had done in seven days with six days instead. Tricky, but doable. In the context of writing, I schedule everything. My novel writing is part of my schedule as is my site writing. Responding to comments on my site, Twitter and Facebook is in there, too. At the end of the week, all that hard work will have paid off once I look at my accomplishments and realize just how much I produced.

Put it all down on paper—An interesting thing happens when you write things down. You remember them. I think there must be some sort of relational action thing going on in the brain when I write things down. I seem to remember those things and I can remember what they look like written on paper. The idea is a strange one, but I will have to say this really works. Do you really want to accomplish your goals? Write them all down on paper. Years ago, I had the idea in my mind of what I wanted to do—write a trilogy—then went ahead and wrote the titles down on paper. Suddenly, seeing the titles there made them more real. I hadn’t written any of them, but they were real to me. I did the same thing with my other parts of my life. If I wanted a new car, I’d write it on paper then I knew there was no turning back from achieving my goal. Again, write everything you want down on paper. It does make a difference.

Last thing on my mind is this: When a trial hits, you hit right back. Don’t surrender. Stay true to the course. There is nothing in this world that ought to prevent you from achieving your goals. To use the cliché: Live the dream. No one else can do it for you.

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

What goals do you want to write down that would make it more real for you to achieve success?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

What Is Success?

Think of something you really, really want. Now, close your eyes and imagine having it. Wait, did you just close your eyes? I meant for you to close them for a second or two, not indefinitely. Go ahead and close them for a few seconds. I’m hoping you opened them again. Okay, forget about closing your eyes. Gosh. This is getting complicated. Let’s start over.

Success Quote by Marva Collins
Success Quote by Marva Collins

Think of something you really, really want. Now, imagine having it. Can you see it? If it’s an object, can you feel it? What’s the texture like under the pads of your fingers? Try to imagine the sensation. If it’s something you’ve wanted to do like, take that vacation you’ve been thinking about, imagine the spot. Are you feeling the water splashing over your skin while you’re lying on the beach? Can you feel the sun beat down on your head? Okay, so maybe a sunny spot is not for everyone. How about a refreshing Alaskan Vacation? You can’t beat six months of sunshine or six months of darkness.

The thing about the imagination is the brain can’t tell what is real and what is make-believe. To the mind, it’s all the same. Have you ever seen a movie where you’re on the edge of your chair wondering what will happen next? The brain is telling you that it’s firing its synapses in order for you to feel the thrill the movie is providing. The brain thinks it’s real.

Studies have proven the brain is a resilient organ. It remembers things beyond what we think it remembers. When we think about the past, it’s as if we’re reliving the experiences all over again.

Let’s go back to thinking about stuff. Are you ready? Imagine the first time you fell in love. Do you have the thought yet? If you’ve never fallen in love, then imagine your first crush. Better still, do you remember your first kiss? Really, take a moment and think about it. Remember how your heart flipped inside of you, how the center of your being burned with the pangs of wanting this person in your life. Do you feel your palms sweaty, your lips tingly and your breath speeding up? Remember how you couldn’t sleep without thinking about them? How you couldn’t eat because your stomach had a knot the size of a baseball twirling about, never leaving you alone?

If you’ve really stopped to think about it, and felt all those emotions all over again, then that’s your mind at work. It can’t tell the difference if those thoughts you’re having are real.

That’s why it’s important to think of your goals as if you have already achieved them. I’m not talking about that self-hypnosis/self-enlightenment movement going around in the entertainment industry these days. We have enough of that in the gossip columns when we read about stars who have lost touch with reality because they think they are better than everyone else.

What I’m referring to is about work and reward. Training the mind with the feeling of having attained a reward. The best way to do this is to write things down in a list and crossing the items off as you complete them. Instant reward. The other way is thinking about having already won the fight. The mind doesn’t know better, so the mind will release the same chemicals into the brain to provide that satisfaction a person would receive when achieving a goal.

When this happens, the mind will press you to want to achieve that goal.

Simple, right?

Only, you’ll have to follow through. It’s not enough to think about what you want. The mind will reward you, but that feeling in the pit of your stomach, when you see things haven’t really changed, will want you to change.

You can only go so far with the mind. Eventually, you’ll have to take steps to achieve the goal in reality in order to receive the reward in reality.

Make a list. Follow through. Win.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

What’s on your list? Does anyone know the goals you want to achieve?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Monotasking

Monotasking is one of those words you hear and quickly dismiss as nonsense. After all, we live in a world where we don’t have time to dedicate 100% of our time to one thing. Right? Multitasking has always been the way to go. But for today’s Freedom Friday post, I want to talk about monotasking vs. multitasking and the benefits of doing one thing and doing it well.

Monotasking
Monotasking

Let’s get some of the definitions out of the way first.

Multitasking: The handling of more than one task at the same time by a single person.

Monotasking: The handling of one task at one time by a single person.

For a long time I’ve been a proponent of multitasking. Who wouldn’t be? The mere definition entices the idea that someone can become twice as productive as, say, performing one task at a time.

But how effective are we when we tackle more than one task at a time? Let’s put it this way, if you have a 24-hour day, it is physically impossible to squeeze 48 hours from it. Experts disagree. Who hasn’t written an email while on the phone? Who hasn’t prepared a post while chatting in a meeting? Who hasn’t checked the sports scores while supposedly researching for their next assignment?

There’s this movement taking place in social circles called Tabless Thursday. It promotes monotasking by encouraging everyone to ditch the tabs in their browsers and work in one window for the entire day. The movement supports one’s ability to produce quality work at the risk of ignoring efficiency.

Stay focused
Stay focused

I’m all up on these interesting trends and for years, I’ve been an efficient multitasker. For instance, I’ve written posts, watched TV and read all at the same time. Don’t ask me if I remember any of it because I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told my wife when she asks me if I hear her voice while I’m reading an article on the internet. The answer is a resounding no. Oh, I’m sure I was efficient, knocking off tasks from my to-do list as if they were all important, but how good had I produced the work on a scale of 1-10?

Multitasking serves its purpose in an aggressive environment where products have to go out the door quickly. However, monotasking has its purpose, too.

Whenever I have to get something important finished, I now turn off the phone, disconnect the internet, hide my task bar on my laptop, and type furiously at my keyboard until I’m done. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish without interruption.

The other argument for monotasking pertains to the quality of work. This, I can’t judge. I can only go by the reaction of the audience to see if my monotasking ways are effective. All I know is I can get the work done at a faster pace considering I have fewer distractions to keep me from accomplishing my goal.

What are you, a multitasker or a monotasker?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

What do you think of monotasking? How would you go about adding monotasking in your workflow?

Posted in Freedom Friday

The In-Betweens

Do you like secrets? Yeah, I like them, too. I have a secret—well, not like my dark secret I admitted to about a year ago—but a secret, nonetheless. Do you want to know what it is? Of course you do, everyone likes secrets. This is where I insert a strategic pause to give you a moment to think about it. Okay, okay, I’ll tell you, but you’ll have to promise not to tell anyone else. Deal?

It's about time
It’s about time

All right, then. For a long time my friends have noticed I don’t waste time. This is not one of those self-appreciating statements you hear from someone who wants to put himself on a pedestal for all to admire. I just don’t like throwing my time away on useless pursuits. I never did.

You must be thinking, “Boy, Jack, you must really be high on yourself today.”

In truth, I’m being open so you’ll know where I’m coming from when I tell you my secret. Ah, I see I have your attention again. Telling you I don’t waste time is only a fraction of the overall reason for this Freedom Friday post.

Allow me to pose a question: Where do you waste most of your time?

Think about it carefully. I’m sure you can easily come up with several specific things that distract you from being productive. But you know what? You won’t believe it when I tell you what the biggest time waster is. I’m thankful I learned this secret a long time ago in my teens, and I’ve benefited from knowing it ever since.

Fine, I think you’ve had enough of my build.

Here’s the secret to being productive: It’s the in-betweens.

I can see the puzzled looks already.

Here’s an example. You’ve decided you will clean out the shed this weekend. You have the plan in place. You will unpack the deck chairs, organize the garden tools, and sweep the inside of the dirt that had accumulated over the winter. This shouldn’t take more than an hour, tops.

The weekend comes and two hours later, you’re still sweating it out trying to decide what order the garden tools belong on the shelves. Four hours later, you’re done. What happened to the one hour, tops?

Well, in between you had to check your phone to answer your messages. That is, in between placing one chair after another on the deck. That took a whole hour. Next, the garden tools. As you were deciding what to do with the pruning shears, whether they belonged on the left or right shelf, you decided to take a break in between. After all, you couldn’t do all this work without some lemonade—which, you made from real lemons, in the kitchen, away from the work that was going to take you an hour to finish, tops.

And on and on it goes. The in-betweens is where we lose our time. Those moments in between tasks are precious. This means throwing away the distractions, phone, internet, and general laziness, and getting it done without wasting time between steps.

Five minutes here, five minutes there, the next thing you know it’s been an hour and nothing gets done. It happens more often than not. The key is to prevent it from happening.

This is what I do. When I have a task, I’ll estimate how long it might take. I then give myself a hard deadline. Sometimes, I’ll underestimate the time in order to set the fire under my seat ablaze. This pushes me forward as I quickly see the time disappear and I frantically attempt to beat the deadline. It really is an exercise in self-discipline, but a rewarding challenge, nonetheless.

In the end, this is how I write all my posts. I give myself an hour and hope whatever falls on the page eventually makes sense.

Now, your turn. Try it yourself. Find a task and attempt to complete it with a hard deadline. Make it even more of a challenge by setting the deadline less than the actual time it will take doing it. Believe me, the in-betweens will disappear faster than you think and you will have accomplished your goal in record time.

Oh, all right. If you want to tell someone this secret, go ahead. I won’t stop you.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

Where do you think you waste most of your time?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Motivation

What motivates you? Do you wake up, hop out of bed, breathe deeply and say to yourself, “Today’s going to be the best day of my life.” Do you? I do. Every morning I say that, even when sleeping an inordinate amount of hours on the weekend. And why not? Today ought to be the best day of our life because today is the only day that matters. That’s why for Freedom Friday I thought I’d show you what I’ve learned in the past couple of years in hopes it may move you to freedom—freedom to accomplish your dreams and freedom to become who you are meant to be.

Motivation
Motivation

I started watching motivational videos in the winter of 2012 after a long, dark period in my life. I had lost something incredibly important to me that year and it hurt bad. Those who know me know this dark season had lasted for months. Behind the smiles, the laughter and the song stood a man on the threshold of perpetual sadness.

Then, one morning I woke up thinking I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I changed, just like that. I realized everything I thought could happen, never did. The still small voice in my head returned and I knew my life was about to get a whole lot better.

This blog began on the day I regained my life back. I knew exactly what I needed to do next.

I’ve had people ask me, “What motivates you? How do you keep the creativity going?” I simply answer, “I have a lot of catching up to do.”

When you wasted half of your life in fear of failure, there really isn’t much else to say. It’s all a matter of getting it done.

In the throes of this newfound energy propelling me forward, I dusted off an old manuscript I had written some time ago about a killer who hates zombies and would do anything to put them out of their misery. That killer’s name was Ranger Martin, and he called my name to finish his story.

Fear
Fear

If you learn anything from this post, take away this: Fear does not exist.

I’ll say it one more time: Fear does not exist.

We build this image of the future of what we’d like to become, where we’d like to see ourselves and within seconds of those thoughts, we kill the dream.

“I’m not good enough. I don’t think I can do it. I’ll fail. It’s too difficult. It’s too much work. I can’t. I’m afraid. People will laugh at me. People won’t take me seriously.”

Let me tell you, just because you hear someone say those things don’t mean you have to believe them. The only defeat we’ll feel is from ourselves. We are our own worst enemy. Once we understand that, once we see that, everything else will fall into place. I’m of the belief everyone, no matter how small or how weak, is capable of great things—incredible things that will astound those around them making others take note and say, “I want to be like that guy. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what he’s got, but I want to be like that guy.”

I challenge my readership today to take that one step that will make the difference. Take that shot to a life filled with challenges, opportunity and hope. Tear apart the bondage that renders you desperate. Throw away the shackles that bind you. Nothing in this world can say you can’t. You can say you can’t. Don’t. I know what it feels like to hear the words “I’m a failure.” I know what it feels like to think I’m no good. I’ve been there. It’s not pretty.

But I say, picture your dream and go after it. If someone tells you you can’t. Tell them, watch me. If you hear that voice in the back of your head telling you you can’t. Tell it, watch me. Then, do it. Every minute lost on a worry is a minute given to failure. You don’t want to fail, do you?

Now go out there and win. Always believe, “Today’s going to be the best day of my life.”

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

What motivates you?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Daydreaming

When I was in grade school, I came home one day with a report card that made my bottom red. Oh, I’m sure whatever I brought home would have met with satisfaction in another home, but in my family, bad grades meant not getting my head in the game. Much of what I’d gone through growing up I’d have to blame it on one thing—daydreaming. And for this edition of Freedom Friday, I’ll tell you why.

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom

Throughout my childhood, my brain would not shut down. While other kids studied their ABC’s in class, my mind drifted, wondering what it’d be like being a superhero. In my mind’s eye either I was swooping down to rescue a kid being bullied in the schoolyard or rescuing the world from the evil Dr. Durge. You see, Dr. Durge was my archnemesis growing up. He was a perfect amalgam of DC ComicsLex Luthor and Marvel’s Dr. Doom. In my world, Dr. Durge’s villainy had no end. And no sooner had I put him away for good in a New York state federal penitentiary, he’d escape for his next crime spree on humanity.

Of course, I had to pay a price for immersing my imagination too much into a world of my own device. My report cards would reflect my inattentive behavior. And my bottom would reflect my being unable to sit for a week. Naturally, by the end of the school year I’d have learned a valuable lesson and moved on.

Or did I?

I’m happy to report I never stopped daydreaming. In so doing, I imagined my life years later as to how I’d like to see myself. Again, I’m happy to say my life turned out exactly how I had seen it being. Would it have happened had I not pictured it in my mind? I don’t think so. Having the thought and the forbearance to continue on the imaginary road I’d set for myself made my life the way it is now. That imaginary road becoming more real as the goal materialized with every step I took toward it.

A long time ago, I learned a quote I can’t forget from now until the end of my days. It comes from the movie Flashdance, if you can believe it. The quote goes something like this:

“When you give up your dream, you die.”

It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do or what you have done, if you pictured your life as a doctor, a businessperson, a sailor or even a ballerina for that matter, and it doesn’t happen, that nagging feeling won’t go away. In some cases, the slow death is irreversible.

At the same time, I’m here to say it’s never too late to get it all back.

A 65-year-old woman I know had always wanted to learn to play the piano. She had that nagging feeling all her life, daydreaming how she’d perform for others and how happy she’d make others feel with her music. When she was fifty-five, she began to learn piano. Her dream to perform for others drifted closer as she got better and better.

She now plays piano for her church in songs of worship.

Field of Dreams (Photo credit: Chicago Tribune)
Field of Dreams (Photo credit: Chicago Tribune)

It’s never too late to fulfill your dreams. What’s that quote from Field of Dreams? Oh, yes: “If you build it, he will come.” Don’t allow a slow death to take hold so as your dreams disappear before your eyes. It’s never too late.

Build it. Live it.

As for Dr. Durge? He’s still around. Every once in a while he’ll appear only to meet once again with my superhero alter ego in a battle of good vs. evil. But he doesn’t have a chance. He always ends up in prison until the day he unleashes another wave of destruction on humanity.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Do you daydream? If so, what do you dream about?