Block Scheduling, Pomodoro, and Word Counts, Oh my!

What do these things have to do with each other? As a someone who struggles with focus and attention issues, the first two things have resulted in consistent word counts. I know some folks are not as worried about word counts, fearing it stifles them, or leads to writer’s block and if that’s you, just look away. But if you are one of those people who need firm guidelines with wiggle room in place this is the post for you.

What is block scheduling? Blocking out a period of time to do whatever it is you need to do. It might an hour or two hours, or fifteen minutes. The important part of block scheduling is to make it consistent, this doesn’t mean every day, it could be every Saturday or Sunday, but when you block off the time, the time is ONLY to be spent writing. No social media, no marketing, no other distractions.

The second technique is Pomodoro, named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer. In Pomodoro, you set the timer for a period of time, usually 25 minutes and then for that time period you focus on just that project, in this case writing. The goal being to write as much as you can during the time period. No editing, no going back, just pushing forward to get words on paper. Why? Because you can’t edit a blank page and getting a load of word salad down that you can fix later is better than a blank page. Build the house, you can go back later and hang the curtains and decorate. You can use your phone timer but the temptation to check into social media or email can be strong. Use a cheap kitchen timer, or get a fancy one if you want. I use the timer on my watch, ‘cause I’m old school that way.

Word Counts, or as like to call them, the secret to getting projects done, are the number of words you need to get on paper to finish your project on time. I use Scrivener and it has a delightful feature that lets you put in your deadline for the first draft and days you will be writing and it will figure out how many words you need to write each session to meet your goal. I like many things about the program but this feature alone makes me love it. Before I used Scrivener, I did this on paper, and it worked, but I love that Scrivener lets me know when I meet my goal. Notice I said “First draft”, editing is a different animal, and I will address that in another post. This is about getting raw material down, so you have something to edit.

How do they work together?

  1. Block out your time to write. Treat it like an appointment. Honor your commitment to write.
  2. Use a timer. Set it for 25 minutes or more, no more than one hour.
  3. Start writing. Don’t look back, don’t do anything else, just write.
  4. When the time is up, get up, stretch, get a beverage or snack. Take 5-10 minutes. And then set the timer and get back to work. DO NOT CHECK EMAIL OR SOCIAL MEDIA. Keep your head in the game. Repeat until word count is achieved or your blocked time is up. If you are not meeting your word goals you may need to adjust them. Find a word count that YOU can meet consistently and will let you meet your deadline.

Keys to success: Remember you don’t have to block schedule all at once. Maybe you only have thirty minutes in the morning, and thirty minutes in the afternoon to write. My point is when it is time to write, write. Don’t do anything else.

  1. You can set the timer for less than twenty-five minutes, do what works for you.
  2. When you set your word count goals and deadlines make sure you are realistic. If you are someone who averages 250 words a day on a good day, don’t think you will suddenly be generating 1000 words a day or more. Use a calendar or planner or if you have Scrivener set up your project target dates. I use Scrivener and am also a big fan of spreadsheets (thank you Jeffe Kennedy) and use my planner every day, but you do you.

This works for me, it might not work for you. If you have been struggling to get a book/shorts story/screen play/ written give this a chance. Don’t quit.

 

 

 

Hold on for the Ride

I’ve written about my mom before, about how she trusted her instincts to get me through my young life, before ADHD was a diagnosis, and way before anyone had any idea what to do with the wild-ass young me. I was rough, busy, always starting new projects, could not sit still kind of kid. Most people who know me now would say I have not changed.

This Mother’s Day is a Mother’s Day that sees my mom facing some health issues. Not the first Mother’s day I have wondered if I would have my mom next year. When I was in high school my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a thirty plus year survivor. She showed me then what it is to be tough and survive, and I always think of her as bullet-proof. The number one thing my mom taught me is to never give up. Thanks Mom for all the lessons, and for continuing to be tough. 

For those of you without your mom this Mother’s Day, know that I’m thinking of you. For those of you without children know that I’m thinking of you too. Here’s to all the bullet-proof, kick-ass mom’s out there, wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day. 

Courage and Radical Self-care

I’ve written before about how overwhelm can derail the best of plans. This past year I had a collection of short stories published (you can get them here) and I  signed a contract for a novel in January. In addition to writing I also teach cooking classes, work as a consultant, volunteer at my kids school once a week, work a day job, write this blog and another one, and I have kids and a partner, pets, etc.

Are you tired reading this? Or overwhelmed? I know I am. If you add in the current political climate I am beyond stressed. Like many people with ADHD I struggle on a daily basis with control and focus without outside pressures and demands. I have written before about self-care, here and here and I think that all of the ideas in those posts still work.

This post is about having the courage to stop doing things, in order to do the things that nourish your body and soul. For me that means letting go of my cooking blog for now, and more than likely letting go of this blog in the future. 

When I started this blog I did so because I needed a creative outlet, even if it seemed like I was shouting down a well most days. It was excellent writing practice. It gave me some positive feedback, and I made some amazing friends as a result of it. But with one contract signed, and wanting to publish more I’d much rather be working on my next book. I’m cutting back on my posts and holding on to this blog for now, because if life has taught me anything it has taught me that things change.

I’ve seen some snarky comments about bloggers staying on brand in the midst of the crazy, unsettling political and social upheaval going on right now. I have two things to say about that:

  1. Just because I don’t write about politics does not mean I don’t care. I am not unaware. Please do not suggest I am not sincere about my beliefs because I am not shouting them from this blog.  I am not a political blogger. I don’t plan on being one anytime soon. There are many many others more qualified than I am to do that. Go read their blogs. 
  2. In the midst of chaos a safe space that offers a peaceful place to rest your brain is necessary for survival. Stressing your adrenal glands long term without a break is a recipe for collapse. Life is a marathon not a sprint. I intend to survive this BS with my body and soul intact. 

Taking care of yourself enables you to cope with all the changes and stresses that come along and this is my message to you:

HAVE THE COURAGE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

 Make a list of things you are no longer going to do. Then find ways to stop doing those things. Let go of what is not working, make space for what is. Post it where you can see it as a reminder in your calendar, or journal, or the refrigerator.  I’ll go first. 

I’m no longer going to stress over getting everything done because I’m putting myself, my family, and my creative projects at the top of the list.

I’m no longer going to work on any creative projects that I don’t enjoy. This may seem radical but it’s not. If you need permission I’m going to give it to you. If a project no longer makes you happy/satisfied/fulfilled, just stop. That novel you’ve been working on so long, you don’t even remember why you started it? Let it go. Write something that makes you excited to sit down and work. Write something that feeds you.

I’m no longer going to do exercise that makes me dread putting on exercise clothes. That gym membership you signed up for and don’t use? Let it go. Find an exercise program that makes you happy, walking, hiking, yoga, swimming, city- league hockey, slow pitch soft ball, whatever gets you moving and makes you happy do that instead. 

I’m no longer going to attend family gatherings/parties/social events that are stressful. That annual family thing that makes you want to scream and run from the room? Let it go. Politely decline. No explanation is necessary. “I’m sorry I will not be able to attend,” is a complete sentence.

The amazing Audre Lord wrote these wise words, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Caring for myself means staying on brand, staying positive and fighting in my own way for the things I believe in. 

Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to care for yourself. 

On Facebook Fasts and No-Screen Sabbaths

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If you have read my blog for a bit you know that I am a big proponent of setting goals and making plans, and being flexible enough to change those plans when other opportunities occur/life happens. This year in response to some self-observation and research I am planning Facebook Fasts and Screen Sabbaths as part of my self-care for this year.

Like many people with ADHD/ADD I do not sleep well and never have, but since the advent of portable screens my sleep has been severely disrupted. I could blame it all on the blue light of the screen but if I’m honest it is not only the effects of the screen that disturbs my sleep. It is the anxiety/stress/mental stimulation that accompanies the screens.

Earlier this year I started taking a break from all screens on Sundays.  It was revolutionary. I remembered what it was like to not feel like I had to engage with anyone but my family. What I noticed most was the lack of urgency. My sense of time was more relaxed. I accomplished my tasks. Without a constant digital reminder of time, I was much more calm. This is not to say that I was less busy only that I was much less pressed and the accompanying relaxation left me happy and rested to start the week. Inspired by a friend’s month long Facebook hiatus I did a three day Facebook Fast over the Thanksgiving holiday and experienced the same feelings.img_5609This year, scheduled Facebook Fasts and continuing No-Screen Sabbaths will be part of taking care of myself and my family and living with intention. I hope you will find the time to disconnect and reset too.

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Making Space

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It has been a busy Summer for me with family, travel, edits for a short story collection to be published in September, research for more stories, book reviews, correspondence, lining up interviews for my blog, recipe testing, blog photography, you get the idea.

When people ask how do I get so much done, I always say that I am blessed with the H (hyperactivity) in the ADHD diagnosis and that it is my super power. I find it difficult to sit still. I have to move, to do, to be active. It is not always a blessing. I can be exhausting to be around. I take on too much at times. I have to regroup and rethink when facing deadlines. I have to make space and pare down by make room for all the things that are important.

It is not uncommon for folks with ADD/ADHD to find themselves swamped with projects, overwhelmed and frustrated. Right now I’m working on my plans for my blogs and my writing projects for the year, and it occurred to me that the real answer to getting things done is not just the blessing of being a high energy person, it is also the ability to discern what to let go of and what to hold on to. I like to garden and a big part of gardening is weeding. Weeding to make space for what you want to grow. I had to let of blogging for a bit to focus on other writing projects. I’ve had to let go of my gardening projects to make time for my family. I’ve had to let go of social media a bit to have time for me.

It doesn’t mean that I won’t go back to these things, but it does mean that the process of picking and choosing what to spend time on is key in accomplishing anything. The one question to ask when deciding how to cut back in order focus on a specific project or goal is: “What can I let go of to make room for what I want to happen?”

Let go of things that are crowding out the things you want to grow.

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Focus: When All the Good Things Happen at Once

IMG_5466 It has been a while since I posted about staying on track with ADHD/ADD. I have been working on many projects and in the way that life goes many of their timelines overlap. I wrote here about keeping track of projects and it still is a great system but I did not anticipate the impact working with others can have on your project timelines.

Receiving a revise and resubmit, request for a professional report, and/or a proposal for an amazing project can derail the best time manager. For individuals with distraction issues time management is a constant struggle, add family responsibilities, the day job, and travel to the mix and you have a classic recipe for disaster, missed deadlines, wicked stress and sleepless nights.

Here are ten steps for dealing with positive overwhelm, staying on track and working towards your goals.

  1. Take at least fifteen minutes and breathe, get outside if you can. Your goal here is to reset and let your adrenal glands chill for a moment. If you really want to do it right take thirty minutes. And yes this part is necessary for step two.
  2. Make a list. Brain dump every little thing that is swirling around in your brain. I use poster size paper and sharpies for this, you do you and use whatever you like to get everything out of your head.
  3. Add deadlines to all the things. All of the scraps of paper and post it notes with dates on them, gather them up and get it all of it in one place.
  4. Now look at the list. Are there things you can let go? Or postpone? Let them go or reschedule. Be honest here with yourself. Your goal is to focus on those things that you must do to accomplish your long term goals.
  5. That planner/wall calendar/app you paid good money for and then abandoned? Get it out. Now add the new things, update the old things and add all the due dates.
  6. This is hard part. Choose what you have to give up to get all the things done. Even with the best time management system it is impossible to do all the things. That GoT addiction? Binge watching your favorite show may have to go. Do not give up your exercise program. Oh you already did? See the next step.
  7. Start taking at least fifteen minute every day to move. Dance, walk, jog, yoga, weeding the flower bed, whatever gets the blood flowing to your brain. If you want to go really crazy go for thirty minutes.
  8. Traveling in the midst of everything? Make a list of what you need to take with you to complete or work on your project. Talk with your family/traveling partners. Let them know what you need and come to some agreement about your work time. Be firm. Be realistic. While a family reunion might be great for story ideas, trying to complete a revise and resubmit between rounds of horseshoes/drinking beer/ and scarfing down Great Aunt Millie’s potato salad will most likely end in frustration.
  9. Step back and breathe again. Good things happening can be as overwhelming as bad things happening. You can do this.
  10. Reread this list and repeat these steps as often as you need to keep yourself on track.

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What You Focus On Will Happen

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The title of this post is not a big secret. It is the key accomplishing anything. It is also the hardest thing for people with ADHD/ADD or other distraction issues to keep in mind when confronted with multiple choices and activities.

I wrote here  https://blog.writingwhiledistracted.com/?p=699  about how to plan and evaluate creative projects. Once you have chosen your project, how do you move forward? The answer is focus. Do you have more than one creative activity that you want to accomplish, or do you want to become more skilled in an activity? Plan focused time for your pursuits.

Even if all you can only spare thirty minutes out of your day you will get more accomplished in thirty minutes of focused activity than a day of distracted multitasking. Multitasking is a lie. It is a lie that will derail your efforts to accomplish anything of worth. The key is to focus your attention. Focus. Really focus. Put your phone down. Make your environment what you need it to be to help you focus. For me that means music, for others it may mean silence, or a busy coffee shop. Do what you need to help yourself. It is not selfish to take care of your own needs and pursue your creative projects.

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 Make whatever you are writing, creating, or thinking about be the only thing that you are doing. Guard your scheduled time for your pursuits. You will get more accomplished in thirty minutes of focused activity than a day of distracted multitasking. Say it with me: Multitasking is a lie. It is a lie that will derail your efforts to accomplish anything of worth. Write these words down where you can see them:

 What You Focus on Will Happen.

 

In Praise of Play

 

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When was the last time you really played? When did you last do something just because it was fun, not because it was good for you, or exercise, or accomplished some task in the process? When was the last time you played something that did not involve a screen?

Play is about the process. It is about not caring how things work out. It is not caring if you color outside the lines, or if you don’t win the card game, or if anything tangible is produced at all.  Most adults and many children have had the concept of free play, play without a purpose, drummed out of them because they have over-scheduled themselves to oblivion, or they are busy watching other people play. Our brains are magnificent organs, and are capable of withstanding much abuse, but brains function better with play, and with breaks from screens.

For people with ADD/ADHD taking a break from screens is essential and helps to refocus scattered thoughts. Play enhances creativity, decreases stress, and rejuvenates us in a way that interacting with screens does not. Play can trigger the release of endorphins, and improve brain function. .IMG_4613

My challenge to you is to let go of the have tos, and the musts and embrace the want tos. Stop embracing the idea that being productive every waking hour is necessary. Stop and play, let go of the cult of being busy. Just like taking time to be outside and away from screens is healthy, taking time to play, without screens and without an investment in the outcome is mentally healing. Take care of yourself, go play.

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Getting back to it


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Why is it so hard to get back to work after a break? This little guy peeping in my window is not helping.  For people with ADD/ADHD, we struggle with staying on track most of the time, much less with the craziness that surrounds the holiday madness that starts with Halloween and proceeds through the roughly twenty-three holidays that end with New Year’s eve.  Many people make all kinds of resolutions. I wrote here,  about how I did not make resolutions but instead make goals. Goals are fantastic and wonderful and how I manage to get things done, but goals are hard to remember sometimes in the everyday chaos that is life.

This year at a New Year service with our kids, we each wrote a word on a bit of tile to remind us of what we most wanted to do this year, a word to remind us of the one thing that if we accomplished it would make us feel happy /proud/ content/ calm/ wonderful.

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It seems simple enough, but the process of distilling a goal down to one word is powerful. If you are struggling with getting back to writing/ work/ exercise/ eating well, try this: choose one word that will remind you of what you most want to accomplish this year. Write it on a stone or small tile. Keep it on your desk, or in your pocket, and when you feel like you are drifting, hold it in your hand, let it anchor you, remember what it is a that you want most. This exercise was brought to us by our friend Chelsea, and this post is a way to say thank you Chelsea for this wonderful idea, and the start of a new family tradition.

 

Reentry: After Travel Self-Care

IMG_2538 I  spent last week in a fog after attending the Surrey International Writers Conference this year. Reentry into family/work/real life after travel /learning /inspiration/ and only having to take care of yourself can make the strongest among us freak out. Combine jet-lag, sleep issues, the time change, and all the stuff you did not do while you were gone and it can overwhelming and frustrating. All the ideas that you have for getting back to work to finish projects or start new ones can come to a grinding halt as your mind and body try to adjust, add a little ADD/ADHD into the mix and you have the perfect storm for feeling and acting like this:

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Here are five things that can help with reentry:

  1. Exercise. Walk or swim, or whatever it is that gets your body moving and rests your brain.
  2. Nature. Get outside, breathe, disconnect from electronics. Give your mind time to appreciate world without a screen.
  3. Eat well. Drink water.
  4. Be gentle with yourself.
  5. Be gentle with your family. Little ones often are sad/mad that you left them, they may cling or be difficult to let you know that they missed you, and are unhappy that you were gone. Sometimes big people behave the same way if they have had care and feeding of the littles. Remember that while a conference is work/career related, you were able to enjoy the company of other adults, and the parent at home was dealing with the fallout from your absence.

Conferences can be well-springs of information, inspiration, and support. Do not let after conference stress keep you from attending, try these tips after your next conference for a smoother reentry.

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