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

Writing Tips

Christmas Day. I’m not here right now but if you leave me a message I will get back to you as soon as I can. Actually, by the time you read this, it will have been a full month since I wrote it. I cherish these long timelines before writing something and before it goes to press. I can play with the writing, add a little, take a little—it’s very organic. Sometimes, and this happens more often than you think, I scrap the post for something entirely different.

Writing longhand
Writing longhand

It’s not my intention today to ramble on about nonsense, so I thought I’d give you a gift instead. Many times, I have felt the need to elaborate more about my writing, but I have never had the will to do that, particularly for these reasons:

  • Writing sites crop up every day, and what I offer isn’t anything you can’t gain from other sites.
  • I’ve never felt comfortable about writing about writing. I know, I’ve written three thick books that I should be proud of, but I’ve always felt unworthy to impart any information to my audience. In my mind, it seems pretentious to do such a thing, considering authors such as John Grisham, who I admire dearly, has never written about his writing. If anyone should write about writing, it should be Grisham.

Anyway, today I’d like to give you three things I do to keep on track with my writing. With this I hope to overcome this huge feeling of unworthiness that goes through me when I’m writing about writing.

All right, enough of the self-loathing. Here are the points:

  1. Schedule Writing Time—I’m a great believer in treating writing like a job. Well, for me, it is a job, so I have no choice. I clock in and punch out every day. That’s the secret as to how I get so much writing done in a day. I wake up at 4:52 every morning, wash up, have my walk, then I sit down to write while everyone is still asleep. My writing is scheduled. I don’t allow anything to interfere with my goal of getting 1,000 words done. Trust me when I say that when you become scheduled, writing will turn into a habit very quickly in your life. You’ll miss it if you do not do it.
  2. Write What You Love—Everyone has something interesting to talk about, even if it’s a silly subject like the zombie apocalypse. When I first started writing, I had no clue what I was doing. In some respect, even today, I don’t know what I’m doing. But, I’ll tell you something you may not know. If you write about things you love, you will never run out of things to talk about, either in your novel writing or on your site. I find it easy to sit down and come up with posts for my site and scenes for my books. And the only reason for that is that I love writing about the things that interest me. Fortunately, the things I love happen to be the things other people love, too.
  3. Don’t Rely on Muse or Inspiration—This is the only “don’t” on my list. Treat writing like a job. In a job, you don’t rely on inspiration to get things done. You do the job because you have to, and if you don’t get it done, you’re out of a job. Simple as that. Are you going to fire yourself? Of course not! You’re going to work hard until what you imagined in that brain of yours flows on the paper and you’re done. Yes, it will be hard, especially those days when you hear yourself saying, “I don’t feel like it.” I promise you though, if you treat writing like a job, you will never run out of anything to say.

One last thing before I go back to having my eggnog—always, always revise. Forget about the first draft. Sometimes I’ll knock out a first draft that appears publication worthy, but the usual thing I do is dump everything on paper, then revise.

Revisions is what makes your work shine. Never cheap out on spending the time with your writing to make it what you’ve envisioned.

Now, if you feel the need to write something, leave a comment. In the meantime, I’m sure at this very moment I’m getting ready to enjoy the rest of today with my family with tons of food and festivities.

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

What writing tips do you have that you’d like to share with everyone?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Distractions

An amazing thing happens when I cut distractions from my life. I write books.

More distractions on the way.
More distractions on the way.

A long time ago, I used to be a Twitter junkie. I couldn’t go two minutes without checking my newsfeed. Somehow, I found someone tweeting about their latest experiment with Mentos and coke fascinating. My DM feed was worse. It became a hodgepodge of ads from folks who wanted me to check out their offers for the latest diet fad, the most affordable bank loan or the cure for the ebola virus.

Facebook had me scrolling through reams of baby photos, birthday greetings, wedding announcements, graduation congratulations, college tuition woes, car crash images, death notices—you name it, I was there. And what would a newsfeed be like without the required charity pitch? California didn’t seem dry last summer when folks were pouring buckets of ice water over their heads.

It doesn’t end on the social networks either. Visiting a news site required me to install ad-blocking software on my browser to prevent me from clicking on related articles dealing with cooking, time management, of all things, and anything else you can imagine as taking an extra few minutes of my day in a senseless pursuit of useless facts.

Now that's a big oops.
Now that’s a big oops.

Add the hours I had spent surfing online “researching” favorite dog toys or best practices in lawn manicures—you had yourself a dull Jack.

Humor aside, it didn’t take long for me to change once I realized I had fallen into a spiral of mediocrity. At the time, I wasn’t writing nor was I thinking about anything that I was doing. I was going with the flow. Surfing. Not ruffling feathers. And any other cliché you’d like to stick in there to illustrate being trapped in the throes of everyday life.

Once I tallied the amount of time I was actually spending with the distractions, I had no choice other than to confront my time-wasting ways.

What happened? I changed. Just like that.

How? Simple. Imagine taking a vacation every week and that vacation turns into quality time with family, friends, and to pursuits that you’ve always put aside because you felt you’ve never had the time to enjoy them.

Now, imagine if you will, actually acting on that idea.

That idea is about taking one day and dedicating it to none other than yourself. Scary, huh? Pretty terrifying, don’t you think? Guess what? It is scary. It is terrifying. How can one do that with the bills to pay, the kids to shuttle back and forth, the meals to prepare, the laundry to wash, and the shopping to bring home? How? Theoretically, it’s impossible.

And you know what? It is impossible.

But once I had decided I needed a change, to cut the distractions, and live a more productive life away from the online world, all of a sudden I had time to do anything. Those little slivers in between tasks where I would have sneaked a tweet, read a Facebook entry or pressed a like button had disappeared, replaced by a meal with the family, a trip to my kids’ recital or simply a talk with someone I love.

That one day in the week I’m now disappearing from the online world has become the day I look forward to the most.

By the way, don’t forget today and tomorrow are the last days to pick up your FREE copy of my first book Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse from Amazon. It’s my gift to everyone who has stuck with me for the past three years, putting up with my banter while I lost my mind writing the conclusion to the Ranger Martin trilogy due out October 20.

Distractions

What about you? Do you dedicate a day away from the online world? Are you thinking about if?

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

Without Our Phones

When did we all of a sudden become so tethered to our phones? Whenever I take the train into the city, everyone has a device of some sort keeping them entertained. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about “the itch”. If you don’t know what I mean, the itch is this compulsion to check our phones. Constantly.

What would the world be without devices?
What would the world be without devices?

I’ve spoken about this subject before, but more from the time management, productivity angle. This Freedom Friday post is more from a rant perspective. As you know, I don’t rant on my blog—at least my regular readers know this. I try to keep things on the lighter side. Even my zombie-related posts have a thread of dark humor I weave through it, and for those who can see it, I’m grateful. Sometimes, the only way I’ll know if I did a good job of it is when I get feedback stating such.

But this constant obsession with checking our devices has gotten way, way out of hand.

I’m writing this from the standpoint that I, too, am a big offender. When my book came out last year, I couldn’t go a few minutes without checking my phone. With a blog, a twitter account, facebook page, Amazon and email, I had my hands full. Literally. Things did settle down a few months later, yet what a crazy time that was.

Then there’s the intimacy issue.

When I’m at the mall, I’ll sometimes sit at a bench and watch people. Twenty years ago, people watching used to be fun. Husbands would fight with their wives about the cost of a new dress. Wives would fight with their husbands for checking out the new blond cashier over at the deli. This happened more often than you think, probably still does. And parents would get mad at their kids for wanting that shiny new game featured in the window of the mall’s biggest toy store.

Nowadays, everyone has their head down and they’re not talking with one another.

Ah, but the counterargument to that observation is that we’re all being social online. It’s a different way to communicate. Yes, I agree. It is different. The nuances people use to get their point across while communicating online disappears. Sure we have the smileys, winks and frowns, but where is the involuntary brush of the hair when someone’s lying? Or seeing them bite their nails in conversation because of anxiety? Or hearing the inflection of their voice when they’re about to fall to pieces? Or the tender touch when opening our hearts?

We’re living in a world where bits of information has replaced reality.

What would the world be like if we’d put away our devices?

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

What about you? Do you find it difficult to put your phone down? What would you do differently to keep that phone disconnected and experience life as reality?

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

A Day Off

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about sleep and how it boosts productivity. For this week’s Freedom Friday, I would like to share another productivity booster some folks can’t imagine trying, even if their lives depended on it. Are you ready? It’s called a day off. Yeah, scary, isn’t it?

Plugged In
Plugged In

In some circles, the day off is an outdated relic that belongs on the trash heap. It gets in the way, wastes time, and is nothing more than a distraction.

I wish I had a penny for all the times I hear how we can become better at what we’re doing if we dedicate more time to what we’re doing. I’m here to tell you different. I’m here to say it’s okay to take a break. Everything will be there when you get back.

How does it work at our house?

Well, every Saturday I unplug from the internet to spend time with the family. This means you won’t find me posting or commenting on mine or anyone else’s blog. You won’t see me on Facebook or Twitter. And my email collects dust until Sunday morning. Saturdays is when I treat my family to a special meal, watch a couple of movies, visit friends and relatives, and typically relax doing nothing other than stare out the window, daydreaming. That last part happens more often than you think.

The Day Off
The Day Off

It’s a day we do what we don’t have enough time to do during the week. And I don’t mean chores.

So let’s go back to the productivity thing. How productive, really, is taking a day off every week? This question harkens back to my sleep post where I talk about time management experts encouraging folks to shorten their sleep cycles in order to gain a half-hour extra on their day to do things. I think I manage a convincing argument establishing the fallacy of that sort of thinking. That half-hour is not extra time to use for other things. That half-hour is for sleep.

Similarly, and speaking from my own standpoint, taking a day off enhances creativity and boosts energy levels. On a personal level, I mentally disconnect from life so I can replenish my reserves. By the time Sunday comes, I’m all set to tackle the week with new ideas and a healthy perspective.

There was a time I didn’t do that, and I used to have days run into each other like a continuous merry-go-round. Thankfully, that’s over. In all honesty, without wanting to sound pretentious, I find taking time off once a week to unplug from the internet and spend it with the family aids in a more balanced lifestyle.

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

Do you take a day off to unplug every week? If not, have you thought about it?