This post was originally just going to be a straight, advice-y, “This works for me, maybe it’ll help you!” kind of post. But it turned into some feelings, and since this is my personal blog, I hope you’ll forgive the I’m-having-an-issue preamble.

The Preamble

I mentioned in a few of my weekly catch-up posts that I’m still trying to figure out this whole work-from-home thing, now that I’m lucky enough to make editing my main job. For a long time, I worked by time. Two hours editing, two hours reading and reporting on manuscripts, one hour on Twitter, three hours research. It seemed to work alright, as long as I could keep to it.

Then I discovered RescueTime. In using it to track my on-the-computer time, I discovered that my “two hours of editing” actually was only about an hour, hour twenty or so, with all the clicking away I’d been doing–to check Twitter, Facebook, email, what have you. So I set a new goal: two hours “RT” time of editing. That also worked fairly well for awhile; I’d keep plugging away on a manuscript until RescueTime told me I’d spend two full hours on it, though I still clicked away a lot. So I added StayFocused, a Google app that lets me block websites for certain periods of time. And man, we were on a roll. 

I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but around the holidays the system fell apart. I flew home to Pennsylvania for the first time since moving to Portland and got sick while I was there. I’d intended to keep working, but instead I took a week off, slept fourteen hours a day and watched Supernatural the rest of the time.

When I got back to Portland…I don’t know, things got weird. I couldn’t get back into the swing of things. Projects piled up. When I finally cleared my backlog, I didn’t feel relieved. Matt started working a second job, and I thought him being out of the house virtually all day would give me plenty of time to get my work done, but it only made me even crazier because we didn’t (don’t) get much time to talk about our days and decompress, plus he no longer was able to help with dishes and laundry and other chores.

I couldn’t justify stopping to do them because I had so much to read, and I had to spend x amount of time on the B&BD Twitter, and I had to forums and blog and *commence head explod-y-ness*. (I honestly don’t know how people have day jobs and do all this stuff. You are gods and I bow down before you.)

I joked that I needed a nanny to remind me to eat and wake up at a reasonable time, but man, if we were able to afford one I totally would have hired someone to come over for an hour or two around lunchtime every day to help me play catch-up. I was floundering that much.

Photo by Marcus J. Ranum
Photo by Marcus J. Ranum

The truth is, I still kind of am. But I’m starting to come out of it. I’m making to-do lists, and putting even the smallest thing on the list because doing easy things and being able to cross them off makes me feel better. I’ve put up sticky notes around the house to remind me of small things: no dishes in sink at end of day. Sit up straight. Brush and floss. Salad plus entree equals dinner. Good morning, feed the dog. It may seem silly, but they kind of anchor me, keep me from getting light-headed and overwhelmed.

The Advice-y Part

Using times to track my work productivity became too wibbly wobbly. With writing, I always use concrete goals–write 1,000 words, write 1,500 words, write 2,000 words–so I started using that for all my other work.

I’ll edit twenty five pages a day, +/- to the end of the chapter.

I’ll beta-read fifty pages, +/- to the end of chapter.

I’ll read twenty five percent of whatever manuscript I’m reporting on.

I’ll read one chapter of whatever book I’m currently reading.

The time it takes to accomplish these vary, but for me, the concrete goal is much more like an item on a checklist. It’s more solid than an arbitrary two hour goal that gets leeched away with every habitual click to a new window. It’s twenty five pages! It’s a chapter! And it adds up, all the way to the end of whatever project it is.

This probably isn’t new advice to you. It wasn’t to me, but I needed a reminder of it while I was mentally flailing around like a bird with a broken wing. So if anyone else out there is flailing, even a little bit, here’s your reminder: this doesn’t just go for getting words down in your manuscript, it goes for anything. Start small. Accomplish something concrete. Reward yourself appropriately.


3 thoughts on “Confessions From the Flailing Edge

  1. I struggle a bit with balancing projects, because I tend to have phases where I have a lot of things going on at the same time, followed by less busy periods, and I end up floundering around during busy times trying to do too many things at once. I’ve started relying on lists a lot more, and I also have a desk calendar which reminds me of when I need to have things done by!

    1. Haha yep, I have a desk book with a weekly calendar that was SUPPOSED to help me keep things straight, but since it’s often piled with in-progress or TBR books it’s mostly just a place for me to record my daily progress on each project. Which is of course helpful in its own way, it just functions a lot less like a calendar than I meant it to.

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