Oh hey, February, hey.
To no one’s surprise, I did not manage to do much social media or blogging over the past month. Honestly, the social media marketing drains me so much. I overthink it and stress about it and spend way too much time on it, and I just don’t know that it really does anything for me. And blogging… well, I like blogging–I like coming here and rambling until I find some kind of coherent train of thought–but I just haven’t been finding much to ramble about lately.
But I’ve been working on getting into some kind of rhythm for the new year, and I think I may be on the cusp of finding something that works for me and helps me fit fiction and fiction promotion into my life. Granted, things have been quiet around the house, and there’s a bit of a lull with one of my big clients, so it’s possible this entire theory could be upended when life gets crazy again. BUT–in general, I think I have a bit of a hint of a tiny plan/model for the year.
What I Learned Last Year
To see where I’m headed, you need to be familiar with the Pomodoro Technique. Basically, this is a productivity hack that involves working on a timer system–25 minutes of work, followed by a five minute break, repeated four times, then taking a 15 minute break.
You also need to know two things about me:
- I’m really, really good at administrative functions. Somewhere deep down inside, one of my personalities is a reincarnated castle steward or something, because I am great at keeping track of minutiae and pestering people and following up. (Not always great at getting them to respond, but I do try… a lot…)
- I really, really hate administrative tasks.
With those two things in mind, let me tell you how I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique.
I had a lot of little administrative-type tasks last year–content management and minor editing and that sort of thing–and when I didn’t have meetings, I started using the Pomodoro method more reliably. It’s really hard to use this method when the day is full of meetings; meetings just don’t tend to fit into this model. However, I used it whenever I had at least two hours of solid time to work.
All of those meetings and administrative tasks last year drained me… a lot. They drain my energy and creativity. It’s tough to work around them, sometimes, and as family obligations increased toward the end of the year, I struggled to fit all of the things into my life. I ended that contract, and this past month has been a huge breath of fresh air.
However… I learned one thing from that contract–namely, that Pomodoro method is a livesaver.
When I had a pile of those little administrative and editing tasks to catch up on, I just set my timer and plowed through as many as I could in 25 minutes, took a break, plowed through for 25 minutes, and so on. I almost never needed a full cycle of four repeats to finish things. This method saved me from procrastination and unproductivity.
I also started using it more reliably for writing projects. A lot of shorter projects can be drafted or outlined in a two-hour period pretty easily, and just getting something drafted kind of starts the whole “crockpot” process in my head and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.
So… for the past month, now that I’m out of the meetings and admin tasks, I’ve been using the Pomodoro method for everything more reliably. I try to do at least one two-hour burst of work in the morning and one or two in the afternoon. And most of the time, that’s enough for me to stay caught up on client work, at least so far. If I can’t get three two-hour bursts in during the day, I can do one in the evening. That’s four to six hours of solid, productive work every day, but broken into manageable chunks.
Y’all… It’s amazing how much I can get done this way.
The Fiction Connection
The new piece of this is… In the last week or two, I’ve started using this method for fiction. I’m going chapter by chapter through Unquickened, pulling it back into Scrivener and editing and rewriting as I go, for up to two hours each day. My original goal was to just do one chapter per day, but as with so many things in life, just starting to get momentum helps build momentum. Now I’m aiming to devote one of those two-hour bursts of work each day to working on fiction projects. First up: Unquickened.
I’m also aiming to use at least one of those two-hour bursts each week to set up some social media posts and a blog post. I don’t know if that means I’ll have something up every day, but I’m hoping that if I just aim for a minimum of one two-hour burst each week, I’ll at least have something more consistent. It’s a start, right?
What I Can Do 25 Minutes at a Time
For those of you struggling to fit All The Things into your life, I cannot recommend this method highly enough, especially if you do most of your work asynchronously and/or in isolation. Here are some of the advantages I’ve realized:
- 25 minutes is a really manageable amount of time. There’s a modification of the Pomodoro method that involves 52 minutes of work with a 17 minute break, but I find my mind starts to wander after about 35 minutes, and then it’s hard to get back on track. Why push it? Better to keep focused for 25 minutes at a time than lose it entirely by working too long.
- A five-minute break is almost always the perfect amount of time. I can run to the restroom and get a fresh cup of coffee, tea, or water… I can check social media but not get bogged down in the bottomless scroll… I can play a quick game of solitaire just to break things up… I can let the dogs out for a minute… I can reply to texts… Five minutes is just about perfect.
- People can live without me for two hours. When I really need to focus on something bigger or more in-depth, I can shut myself away for two hours, and no one feels too neglected. Then I can reply at my leisure. I do need to get better at ignoring stuff that comes in during my 25 minutes of focus, though… I should probably just put my phone in airplane mode. And I may have to start putting up a “do not disturb” message on the whiteboard that’s on my door. BUT–two hours is not so much time away that I’m neglecting all of the other pieces of my life.
I think a lot of people who use this technique go straight from one two-hour burst to the next with just 15 or 20 minutes between–so three bursts of 25 minutes with a five minute break after, then one more 25-minute burst, then a 15-minute break, then start the cycle again. I find that’s too much for me. I need to do something in the middle to give my brain and body a rest. BUT–I’m also willing to get up at the buttcrack of dawn to do two hours of work before anyone else is up and/or work in the evenings if no one needs me. I don’t need to get a full six or eight hours of productive work in during the traditional hours of eight to five. (Who really does that these days, anyway? Even if you’re in an office for eight or nine hours, are you really productive that long?)
I know this isn’t really a real update on the progress of Unquickened… except that it kind of is in that I am working on it again and I am (so far) making progress and gaining momentum. I don’t know if this will continue, but I do find hope in the fact that I’m getting more creative and flexible and focused all at the same time.
And to be completely candid, if this book doesn’t kill me first, it will get done this year… 25 minutes at a time.