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For 2016, a Productivity Experiment

Snow sort of shut Portland down the first weekend of January.
Snow sort of shut Portland down the first weekend of January.

Happy 2016, everyone!

One of my resolutions is to start blogging again. I think I managed six posts in the last year? A funny thing happened as I became more recognizable in my little corner of the internet (which isn’t very recognizable at any rate, but still). I’ve found myself shying away from the kind of sharing I did even a few years ago when I started this blog and re-joined Twitter and all that.

Some of that is good professionalism, like not posting industry gossip or complaining publicly about rejections or anything like that. Some things, like the kind of political posting I used to do, I simply don’t have the energy for–I greatly admire those who continue to speak up when it’s clear the opposition doesn’t give a good god damn, but at this point in my life, I’m not that person 90% of the time. I have spoken up more on Tumblr and a little on Twitter about my depression, but generally if I’m having a good day I don’t feel like discussing it (I actually hate attention being drawn to it pretty much anytime) and if I’m having a bad day, I’m more likely to stare catatonically at the wall than tweet or blog.

And there’s been this other niggling weirdness. I’m sort of…ashamed? Of my life? I’m in a very lucky situation in that I work from home, and my husband’s income covers all our necessary expenses. My career work, writing and editing, doesn’t pay very much and not very regularly (promoting Bear and Black Dog Editing was another thing that fell to the wayside in 2015, the Year of Floundering Ambition); I work at Another Read Through in Portland because I enjoy it and it gives us a little breathing room for spending money; but the household doesn’t rely on my day jobs. So, I have complete freedom to pursue my passions and dream career.

Despite all that, 2015 was a struggle. There were a lot of high points, moments of serious excitement and accomplishment and lots of great times, professionally and personally; but the last few months especially have been simultaneously frantic and stagnant. I’ve wrestled a lot with feeling awful about myself and my work, and the guilt that comes with feeling badly when I’m in a situation so many people would kill to be in.

That’s how depression works. And taking an emotional nosedive made me feel like I had nothing to share. There were times when I only shared FROM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN stuff because I had to, I was committed to ~*~marketing~*~ the moment I launched that IndieGoGo campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy now that I did all that–in fact, I’m beating myself up that I didn’t do more–but it’s been hard to get and keep the motivation, especially as we get closer to the release date and my brain starts whispering to me that everyone’s going to hate it.

Those weeks of feeling paralyzed while being laid out on the rack left me drained. I tried again and again to re-center and find my productivity, find my get-shit-done power. I made to-do lists. I bought a planner. I asked for my husband’s help in getting me at my desk doing work, since he works from home as well. Inevitably, any new burst lasted only a day or two before it all fell apart.

So–coming back to today. For the new year, I want to use what I learned last year about what doesn’t work for me, to improve and find what does. And I want to start blogging again because there’s a sense of connection with blogging that you just don’t get as much with Twitter or Facebook.

Today’s post tackles finding a routine that works for me, AND sharing that information even if I feel weird about the fact that I don’t have to make time for my career around a day job or kids or anything like that, and I still struggle with it. So we’ll see how this goes, right?

Last week, my first back to work post-holidays, I decided to experiment. My normal MO with work is to write every task or goal out a week or so in advance, and try to stick to that to-do list. As I said above, this stopped working for me as soon as I missed something or fell behind. I’d also been trying to match my husband’s schedule–he works typical 8am-5pm hours. But I am not a morning person, and after two and half years of working from home, I couldn’t sustain a 7:30 wake-up. I got so good at snoozing my alarm, y’all. Ninja good. That fucker would barely go off before I’d stopped it. And I would do this for two hours without waking up. Not only was the wake-up early, but I often have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Husband Matt can fall asleep at 9:00pm without much issue–I couldn’t if I tried. And I have.

So instead of trying to force myself to what may have been an overly ambitious task list and a schedule that didn’t suit my circadian rhythm, from January 4th to the 8th I decided to not set any goals or alarms or anything–I would just sort of do what I do, and journal it all. I started in the morning with when I woke up and how I slept, then tracked times, activities, energy levels, etc throughout the day, for five days. The hope at the end of this was that I could discern a pattern that I naturally gravitated to, and build my work goals for the future around that pattern.

This is my favorite key-chain. It was a stocking stuffer for my husband and HE WAS GOING TO GET RID OF IT.
This is my favorite key-chain. It was a stocking stuffer for my husband and HE WAS GOING TO GET RID OF IT.

The experiment was a success!

Patterns definitely emerged. My average bedtime is between 12:00 and 1:00 am, bedtime here meaning about when I put down my phone–that’s one habit I can’t seem to break myself of. I wake up without an alarm between 8:30 and 9:00 am. I get myself some breakfast, watch some YouTube or read some blogs while I eat, and then sit down to the computer to work around 9:30 or 10:00.

The interesting thing about work–here meaning computer work–is that it tended to fall throughout the day in three, 2-3 hour chunks: morning until lunch, afternoon, and then evening after dinner and after Matt had gone to bed. The afternoon sessions varied because of my out-of-the-house work and volunteer shifts, which are about 3-4 hours themselves; but the morning and evening ones were very consistent, and pretty productive.

Dealing with emails and being present on social networks consumed a lot of work time during the day, but much less during the evening work session. Other than those things, my work time was devoted to various FROM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN things: editing, promoting the launch event, planning the launch event, creating and sharing promotional materials for the book, outreach, etc. Which makes sense, given that this is launch month.

Occasionally I would set myself one, maybe two small tasks for the next day, and I got all of those done. When I wasn’t at the computer, I was usually doing household stuff (dishes, making food, caring for the dog and/or husband, who was sick last week) or pursuing my other hobbies, like art, knitting, and exercise. Working out consistently has been something I’ve been striving for since early October.

Largely, what emerged was sort of a paced balance between computer time and away-from-computer time. My brain just really seems to need that turn-off time, where I’m not chewing over my marketing to-do list or wondering how awkward Twitter thinks I am or what have you.

And I really think the productivity journaling helped, as a reverse to-do list. I’ve seen the method suggested somewhere on the Internet before, but writing down what I accomplished actually made me feel…accomplished. Go figure, right? It kept the panic down and the satisfaction up, and I think that made a huge difference for me. I did make those little to-do lists for things that I’d been forgetting or putting off, but keeping those short and focused made them easier to approach–as did tackling the bigger thing I’d been putting off before I did anything else the day I told myself I’d do it (I think that’s called the frog method? As in, eat your frogs first or something? BUZZWORDS).

Obviously longer term planning is still a necessity, and I do have some larger task lists that I’m working from. It’s a really weird phenomenon, given that I’m my own boss, but last week it felt like I was pulling from those larger task lists in a self-guided way, whereas before there’d been a harsh boss cracking the whip at me. Yes, that harsh boss was also me…but…yeah, it’s weird.

I’m very pleased with the outcome of my experiment, and I plan to keep up this journal method and the fluid 2-3 hour work sessions.

I know a lot of people are in a similar sort of experimental phase this time of year. Tell me what’s working or what you’re trying this year! 

I'm wearing a corset for the FROM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN launch party and you have to "season" it, so I season and listen to podcasts.
I’m wearing a corset for the FROM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN launch party and you have to “season” it, so I season and listen to podcasts.


4 thoughts on “For 2016, a Productivity Experiment

  1. To do lists are a huge help for me as I struggle with my own anxiety and depression. Being able to physically cross something off a list (even if I just added it to the list) shows me how much work I’ve actually accomplished, even if it feels like nothing. They also show me why I get out of bed, why routine is a good thing, and I end up rewarding myself more. By rewarding myself, I mean I allow myself to relax–to take the time I need to take care of myself, mentally. I’m not anxious about “wasting” time I could be working.

    Good luck this year! <3

    1. I also love to-do lists for the pleasure of crossing something off–or my post-it method, where I can physically crumple up a piece of paper and throw it away, muahahaha. But I’ve found that they only work for me as overarching guides; I can’t do the daily to-do list like I was trying to do, because as soon as I don’t complete a day’s list, it falls apart.

      Time to relax is super important. I constantly feel the creep of “you have so much stuff to do why are you watching YouTube while you eat breakfast?!” I’m enjoying having the nighttime work session, because it actually helps with that; if I’m not at my desk “working” enough during the day to keep that voice down, I know I have another session and it’s not so dire.


  2. Finding a balance is so hard! I am in a similar situation. Hubs paycheck takes care of everything. So I am lucky to get to stay home. Kids, cats, dog, house… all my responsibility.
    I always sit to do one thing and find myself thinking of all the other things that I should be doing and in the end flailing and failing. Then feeling terrible. I am adopting the being happy where I am method, or trying. When I’m working out, that’s exactly what I need to do and I let go the voice in my head screaming that I should be writing. When I’m doing housework, it needs to be done. Writing time happens off and on. I’d love to get back to drawing and would love more time to sit and read.
    For now my new way of thinking seems to be working… Just keep being the best you!

    1. God, the household everything is like a crushing weight. Matt usually handles a lot of the daily chores, which are mostly just dishes and dinner, but he’s been sick this week so I’ve been doing that on top of work. But you’re right–housework isn’t really wasted time (unless you decide to do something like polish the silver or something, haha), and your workouts are DEFINITELY worthwhile you time, as much as writing is. The positive mindset sounds great. 🙂 It’s like, instead of freaking out about how much you’re not doing, you can look for opportunities in your day to do stuff. Woo! <3

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