Productivity · Writer Self-Care

5 Tips To Help You Stay Sane While Working From Home

For the last 6-7 years, I’ve worked from home as a freelance writer, project manager, and editor. A lot of people think that working from home is all about being in your pajamas and binging Netflix in the background, but it’s actually a bit more involved than that (though I do have some friends who still work in their PJs).

Because you never “leave” work it can be easy to fall into habits of working all the time and never truly relaxing…Or you can end up constantly trying to stay on task when you’re “at work.” It can also start to feel socially isolating because you get less face to face time with other people, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t moved forward much.

Do not fret! I’ve got 5 ways you can avoid these things, and I learned them the hard way so you don’t have to!

Keep a Good Routine – Don’t Work All the Time

When I first started working from home, I would basically make myself available to clients 24/7. If I got a request for a job or an email from a client at 9:30 at night, I’d rush to my computer to answer it. 

It took me several years of working from home to realize that isn’t feasible in the long term. You will wear yourself out super quickly. It’s pretty rare that any of these questions or tasks are urgent, especially if you’re in an industry like me, where most questions would be fine if you answered them in the morning.

Set work hours for yourself. Just like a real job, you need a routine of when you are on and off work. For me, I’m ‘at work’ at 8 o’clock each morning, whether I’m working on my own projects or projects for clients I work with. I usually work until noon, take a lunch break and then try to get back to it around 1 PM. From there, I’ll work until 2-3 PM. Sometimes it will feel like you’re not working the ‘full’ 8 hours, but I’ve spent the last few years really disciplining myself. If I’m working, that’s most of what I’m doing. I’m not checking social media or other distractions. When you’re in an office, some of those 8 hours are filled will chatting with co-workers or moments of being off task. 

You’ll want to be mindful of your time and aware of your distractions, but 4-6 hours of non-distracted work easily matches 8 hours of distracted work for me. I can walk away from 5 hours of non-distracted work and feel pretty accomplished and also pretty drained. Listen to your brain and body and don’t overwork yourself.

One other tool I use to stay on task is called Time Boxing. Planning out your day or week can help you stay on task and remind yourself “Right now, I’m working.” or “It’s time for leisure right now, I shouldn’t be working.” It’s important to make time to work and relax in pretty much equal parts, especially when your home becomes your workplace.

Practice Good Hygiene.

Get up, shower and brush your teeth. I have some friends who do work in their PJs, but they’ve turned that into a productive “work uniform” for themselves. They see PJs as the sort of clothing they create or work in, so being in a suit or something more formal doesn’t work the same way for them anymore.

I personally started wearing a nightshirt to bed and then when I get up in the morning after I do my morning routine, I change into new clothes. I still wear comfy jeans and a t-shirt most days, but it feels good to be in clean clothes as you start your day.

Socialize and Get Out of the House (If you can)

Okay, I totally get that a lot of you are working from home right now as a means of practicing social distancing. I’m proud of you! Thank you for helping us protect ourselves and our loved ones. I’m doing the same! But, this advice still holds, we still need to socialize even if it’s done over the phone or over the internet. Humans crave connection.

When the world is not impacted by a pandemic, I try to leave my house at least once every 3-4 days. Sometimes I just go shopping at TJ Maxx or I go to my Silent Book Club or other activities were my friends will be. If you’re not an extrovert, going for a walk or exercising outside is also a great option.

I’ve also found other ways to socialize thanks to the internet. I’ve played online games via console or my PC with friends and we use discord or party chats to speak to each other as we play. For a long time, I had a group of friends who met up almost every night of the week to game together. It was our version of ‘hanging out after work’ even though we were all doing it from the comfort of our own homes.

I also call family and friends and video chat with some of them regularly. We have a lot of applications and games out there that can help us feel a sense of connection and interaction with people, you can make good use of them.

Co-Work Virtually

A dear friend and I both work from home frequently, so we do a thing we call “sprinting” to help each other stay productive. We email each other when we’re working and we check in on the hour mark to see what we did for the hour. This both helps give us a bit of social interaction and it helps us stay productive and on-task during work hours. 

I’ve also read stories where artists used Skype or Discord to do video or phone chats with other artists, so they feel like they’re working together, like they might in an office. 

It can really help to motivate you if you know you have to tell someone else what you did for the last hour. I have another blog on Accountability Buddies if you want to learn more.

One word of caution with this though: Don’t let the socializing become the thing you’re “doing” for the hour. My friend and I use email because we’re less likely to pull each other off-task with it. I’ve had sprinting buddies in the past who wanted to keep talking while we were supposed to be working. If that happens, just do your best to stay on task and it might be time to find a new buddy.

Reflect on Your Accomplishments. It’s Easy to Miss Them.

I had a “friend” who used to make comments about how working from home wasn’t truly ‘working.’ I don’t think she intended to be mean, but she would often tell me I could take care of tasks she couldn’t because I had “so much free time.” I think this attitude will become less common in the coming weeks, because as more people work from home, more people are going to realize how hard it can be and how you can totally lose all your boundaries with work when it’s a room away, rather than a commute away.

The greatest way I’ve found to combat these negative comments or feelings is to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Did you finish a bunch of tasks? WOO! Were you supportive of the people you work with or students you work with? That’s awesome! Did you manage to learn something new or build on a skill you already had? YOU ARE DOING GREAT! 

Just because you may not have a boss or co-workers to directly acknowledge all the progress you are making, doesn’t mean you’re not still making progress. You are, trust me. Even adjusting to working from home is a huge amount of progress. Like I said, it’s taken me years to make these adjustments and feel happy and comfortable with my work/life balance. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them down below! I’m happy to share anything I’ve learned in the last few years, especially if it helps the people around me.

Also, my friend I virtually co-work a lot with has written a companion piece to this blog about different apps and tools you can use to help you stay productive and on task while working from home.

Go check her blog out here: https://virtuosity1111.wordpress.com/ (I’ll update the link when the post is up)

Motivation · Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Why Failure Isn’t A Bad Thing

One of my favorite hobbies is playing video games. I’m one of those silly adults who actually really enjoys games like Fortnite, and when I first started playing the game, I was pretty bad at it. I would only use one kind of weapon, because it was the only one I thought I was good at and for a while, I told myself it was not worth trying to get better at other types of weapons. 

Eventually though, if I wanted to continue to get better, I needed more options. So I started learning how to use the sniper rifle. And then I figured out how to use a shotgun. I was honestly trash at them when I started out, but I kept at it. I learned how to use the scope and time my shots. Nowadays, I can hit a snipe in Fortnite about 50-70% of the time.

The reason I was able to improve and get better at the game, is because I changed my mindset. I went from a “fixed” mindset, where I had concluded I could not get better to a “growth” mindset. When we have a fixed mindset we believe our skills are sort of set in stone. If we fail, we decide that this thing we were trying to do just isn’t our thing.

With a growth mindset, we see failure as part of the learning process.

You learn from your failure and you try again. I’ve met a lot of writers who struggle to take feedback, because they think that failure is the end of their journey. It’s not. If we have a growth mindset, we can look at that feedback and we can see where we have weaknesses. Once you know where your issues are, you can try to improve them. 

I know for a fact that I struggle with really well-written descriptions. When I edit the first draft of my own work, I watch for sections where I could really improve the descriptions. I still don’t rewrite them until I’ve gone through the entire draft, but eventually, I hunker down and flesh them out. It still does not come easy to me, and I sort of doubt it ever will, but that’s okay. I’m constantly improving my writing practices. 

We can only learn from our weakness and build our skills if we know what they are and are willing to try to overcome them.

I’ve been reading a great book on this subject called “Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani. She specifically talks about how a lot of girls and women are socialized to have a fixed mindset. If you want to change your perspective, you could definitely check out her book or watch her TED Talk here.

I’ll end this blog with one of my favorite quotes about failure:

Productivity · Time Management

Writing Sprints – What They Are And How They Can Help You Finish What You’re Working On

I started doing writing sprints 5 or 6 years ago, during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I still use them pretty often today. I am not the fastest writer when it comes to typing under a time crunch, but sprints are a quick and easy way for me to get some words on the page.

What Is A Writing Sprint?

A writing sprint is a set amount of time where you write like your life depends on it. During a sprint, I do my best to cut out distractions and just write. I usually set time frames of :15-:25 minutes for my sprints, with short breaks in between. The time doesn’t really matter, you can do whatever works best for you. I have friends who go for a full hour, and some that prefer 10 minute sprints.

Sprints led me to the Pomodoro Technique a few years ago. Pomodoros function in a similar way to Writing Sprints. You work for 25 minutes or so, then take a 5-minute break, then do another 25 minute “Pomodoro.” Once you’ve completed 4 Pomodoros (about 2 hours) you take a longer break, usually 30 minutes or so.

Sprinting Is Best With Friends…Or Co-Workers…Or Other Authors

I can definitely self-motivate when I need to, but during NaNoWriMo I actually schedule a daily sprint with writing friends. This means I’m more or less obligated to show up daily and sprint with them. At the end of the sprint, we all share our word counts or we talk about how productive the sprint was for us. 

To be honest, it’s a little competitive, but not in a negative or hurtful way. If I have friends who are writing 1K words in 25 minutes, it motivates me to go a bit faster, because I know I’m not really competing against them word for word. The only person I’m really competing against is myself. 

It’s a lot like having a gym buddy. If you know your friend is going to be there waiting for you at 6 AM to hop on the treadmill, you’re probably a lot more likely to show up and do the work out. 

If you aren’t sure where to find friends or people to sprint with, there are tons of discords and other places out there with writers just like you! I’ve found some on the NaNo forums and on the NaNo subreddit. 

I’ve even used the concept of sprinting/Pomodoros just to keep myself on task and productive. A friend and I have actually emailed back and forth for years during the weekdays, checking in with each other on what we got accomplished during our last “sprint.” 

Motivation · Writer Self-Care

4 Ways To Get Unstuck Creatively

This year, I’ve felt stuck and unmotivated to write or work on my writing projects more times than I would like to admit. There are a variety of reasons for this, sometimes I feel like no matter how much work I put in I’m not moving forward quickly enough, other times I don’t have the creative “flow” I wish I had. I’ve found some strategies to help me keep moving when I feel stuck though and I wanted to share them with you in case your struggling with the same sorts of feelings.

Make a list of what you’ve accomplished over the last year or so. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if they’re small.

I say the last year or so because sometimes it’s easier to look back at a longer portion of time, but you can go shorter if you need to. You can even review your goals for the year and take some time to pat yourself on the back for the things you’ve achieved. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you forget to stop and smell the roses and recognize the things you’ve accomplished.

Give yourself credit. Seriously, even if you’ve only hit 1/10 of your goals, hitting that one goal still puts you closer to your dreams than you were if you had not tried at all. You can also look at things other than your goals. This past April, I went to Wasatch Comic-Con, a smaller convention that focuses on creators. I went to workshops and hung out with creators in the industry I aspire to be a part of, I got great advice and I was brave to go to those workshops and do things outside the comfort zone. That experience has moved many of my comic projects forward and has helped me grow as a writer and creator. I may not be moving as fast as I wish I was in terms of getting things finished/published, but I can look back on that experience and acknowledge it helped me move forward.

Talk with other creators or creative friends.

This can be hard for those of us who spend a lot of time on our own during our creative process, but I’ve found that reaching out, especially when you feel stuck, can help immensely. Sometimes your friends can help you see your story or plot from a different perspective or by merely talking about what you’re trying to create, you can work towards clarifying your vision.

Ideally, it’s great to do this over the phone or face to face, because as humans, we’re social creatures and that social contact can help lift our spirits. For me, I live in a tiny, rural town so that’s not an experience I always have easy access to regularly. Sometimes I will contact a friend via email, Discord or other means and ask if I can chit-chat and bounce ideas off them for a bit. It always amazes me how sharing my ideas helps me improve them and make them more clear.

Read the stuff you enjoy.

I set a new goal for myself in the last couple of months where I try to read at least two books and two graphic novels a month, as well as trying to read for at least 30 minutes a day for pleasure. I have a terrible habit of feeling like reading is the time I could spend being productive, but by making reading for pleasure apart of my goals, it feels more like productive time. If you want to be a writer or author or creator, it’s good to consume books and graphic novels you enjoy so that you can see what other writers are doing and admire their accomplishments (and perhaps, learn from them).

Take a break. Or take some time to free write.

It can be tempting to sit at a desk and punish yourself for not being productive enough. If you find yourself doing this, step away from your work and try doing something else you enjoy for a while.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling stuck, but you still want to write something, try freewriting for a bit. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be great, you’re just putting words down on the page and acknowledging that you may have to edit or delete a good portion of them. Something I’ve discovered over the years is that self-punishment isn’t productive and it doesn’t help me motivate myself to do more, so sometimes I sit down and write for a bit, even if it’s not connected to my current projects. I’ve found that once you start writing, it’s easier to switch gears to one of your more cohesive projects and get going on it again.

Productivity · Time Management · Writer Self-Care

How To Declutter Your Digital Life – Digital Tools Vs. Digital Distraction

I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” over the last few weeks. Like many people in their 30s, I started using social media in my early 20s and I’ve just continued to use it, without realizing how much digital clutter was making its way into my life. I did not realize the negative impact digital clutter was having on me. Our social media apps and programs are built to be addictive and to make us feel like we’re engaging and talking constantly with other humans.

There is some value in social media and other tools of the digital age, but not all of it is equal.

In Newport’s book, he discusses the concept of choosing your digital tools wisely and decluttering the tools you use that may cause you to become distracted or put you in a feedback loop for online approval. This hit me really hard last week. I have a wonderful husband who who has been really supportive of me lately. I had a sudden impulse that I needed to share how wonderful he was on Facebook…Instead of simply turning to him and telling him how much I appreciate his support. Sure, sharing on Facebook would show others how I appreciate him, but the point was to be grateful to him, not to showcase my gratitude to the world.

I think Digital Minimalism has some great lessons to teach, even if I don’t feel like all the lessons fit perfectly for me. Since a lot of the work I do is online and through social media, I can’t abandon those tools entirely, but I can make them better tools and less distracting.

Digital tools add value and help us live better lives.

Digital distractions keep us from living that better life.

I definitely recommend checking out Newport’s book, but here are some ways to get started tossing out the digital clutter:

Delete The Apps That Aren’t Serving You

I went through my phone and removed applications that I don’t regularly use and I removed some that I felt like didn’t really add value to my life. I have a handful of “games” I play when I need to de-stress or take a breath, but I also had some games that had started to feel like an obligation, something I had to log into every day. Those went bye-bye.

I also deleted apps that I had downloaded with good intentions but hardly used or never used. If there comes a time that they server a purpose for me, I can download them again later.

Unfollow, Unfriend, Unlike and Leave the Group

Last night, I went through all of the groups I was in and pages I had liked on Facebook. I removed any group or page I felt like didn’t add to my digital life. I’ve already done this sort of thing with Instagram and Twitter. I joined a lot of these social media applications early on in their existence and over the last ten years or so, I’ve liked and joined so many groups and pages on a whim that add nothing to my life.

While these apps can still be more of a distraction than a tool for me at times, at least know the content I’m viewing when I use them is catered to the life I currently want to live.

It’s a lot like clearing out an old box of stuff from ten years ago. The woman I am now doesn’t have a use for some of the things she would have dearly loved in her 20s. It also helps me make space for groups, pages and people who actively add to my digital life and help me keep my focus on where I want to go in my real life.

Motivation · Productivity

Conquering The Fear Of Failure

At my core, I am a perfectionist, so failing scares the crap out of me.  I used to fall apart when I thought I had failed at things.

This month I saw Captain Marvel.   I was brimming with both excitement and fear, because it’s no secret to people that know me that I love the character and I also adore Kelly Sue DeConnick, the writer who helped to breathe new life into Carol Danvers a few years ago.  I’ll avoid spoilers, but in the trailer and in the comic, there are discussions and visuals about falling down and getting back up. Failure is falling down, but you can make the choice to get back up.  

Failure is a tool that teaches us more about ourselves, about what we need to learn and how we need to grow.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from the Captain Marvel comics that outlines the concept very well:

“Have you ever seen a little girl run so fast she falls down? There’s an instant, a fraction of a second before the world catches hold of her again… A moment when she’s outrun every doubt and fear she’s ever had about herself and she flies. In that one moment, every little girl flies. I need to find that again. Like taking a car out into the desert to see how fast it can go, I need to find the edge of me… And maybe, if I fly far enough, I’ll be able to turn around and look at the world… And see where I belong.”

– Captain Marvel Vol 8 Issue 1 – Kelly Sue DeConnick

If we don’t fail, we don’t grow.  Though we can definitely learn from a variety of sources, I think it tends to be the times we make mistakes or fail that we learn the most solid lessons.  

We also learn from feedback on our mistakes or failures. I am a big fan of constructive criticism because it can help you gain skills and knowledge you did not have before.  It’s like sharpening a knife. If you put a knife against a soft surface it’s not going to get any sharper. It has to be put against a rough surface over and over for the blade to get sharp again.  

So how do you conquer the fear of failure?

I am by no means perfect at this, but these are the things that have helped me:

  • Fake it till you make it.  If you want to be a writer, write and tell people you are a writer.
  • Remind yourself that failure is a part of the learning process.  
  • Give yourself time to feel the fear, then move on and push through.

And lastly, don’t forget to enjoy those moments of freefall, when you’re soaring for just a second.  The world will get hold of you again, but you’ll never know what you can accomplish until you push your limits.

Productivity · Review · Time Management

Trello – A Visual Way To Plan Your Productivity

I recently discovered a great new tool for productivity tracking called Trello that has helped me a ton! I still use my bullet journal as well, but I keep my monthly goals and planned projects on my Trello board as well so that way they’re just a click away when I’m working on various projects. I wanted to give a brief overview here on my blog so you can see if it’s a tool that might help you as well.

What is Trello?

Whether you are working by yourself or with a team, you can use Trello to track your tasks visually on a board. Overall, I found the user interface to be really fluid and easy to use, so there’s not much of a learning curve to figuring out how to use the boards.

How to Step Up Your Board

You can really set up your board in whatever way works best for you. You can make lists and then fill them with cards that represent different tasks.

I’ve set up some of mine by laying out goals for each of the coming months and each month was its own list, but I’ve also found I like the “To Do, Doing, Done” list layout as well, because it helps me focus on what my current projects are. Here’s an example of what your board could look like:

0c044a887172aee767b6109c79b0940e

You can also easily drag and drop cards between lists, so it’s simple to move things around your board as you need to.

Features I Love About Trello

Color coding, the ability to add checklists, and the ability to add deadlines are by far my favorite features! You can add a color label to cards, so if you have interconnected projects you can add the color label to them and easily see where all the different pieces are.  

0a2b2d31c62e62bff877522f8b8fab14

Checklists are nice if you are like me and love the feeling of marking something off the to-do list.  You can also see how many of the checklist tasks have been done by just looking at the board itself, so you have an easy idea of how much more you need to do. Deadlines are something I like to have, even if I miss them, so I have something to work towards.

If you haven’t tried Trello out, I would definitely give it a whirl! A basic account is free to use and it has all the features I mentioned here. If you’re looking for more advanced features, you can get a Business Class account for you and your team, which is super affordable at $10 a month.

Productivity · Time Management

How To Achieve Your Goals With An Accountability Buddy

Creative work can be isolating and it is easy to lose your motivation when you feel like you spend day in and day out working on your projects alone. Finding a friend or creative partner to help you stay on task is a great way to keep yourself motivated. I have had a few different accountability partners over the years and it has made all the difference.

A few years ago a dear friend and I decided we would work together through “accountability sprints” where we would check in via email every hour or so to see what the other had worked on. More recently, I’ve done weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with my accountability partner because that’s what our schedules allow for. If you need motivation and you want to start looking for someone to help hold you accountable, here are some tips and tricks I have learned over the years.

Make Checking in a Habit

I’ve done this a few different ways.  As I mentioned above, I have had partners I checked in with pretty frequently and some that I only checked in with every week or so. When we check in we always go over what we accomplished, what we did not quite finish, and what we want to do in the future.  You can use tools like a shared google doc to keep track of what you are currently working on, so your partner can visually see what your goals are and what you are working towards.

Build Trust and Be Comfortable

You need to be able to give and take constructive criticism from your accountability buddy.  If you can’t be honest about your productivity with your partner, then it may be difficult for the partnership to really push you to do more.   

The two best accountability partners I’ve had were people I was good friends with first.  We both knew when to say “Hey, dude, you are slacking” and when to say “Hey, I know you did not hit all your goals this week, but you worked really hard and that matters.” Finding someone that you share enough trust with that they can give you honest feedback and helpful praise is really important.

Make Sure You’re On Similar Levels Creatively

A couple years ago I met a friend who I thought would make a good accountability buddy.  They were just starting to build a writing career, so they needed a lot of feedback, but they seemed rather eager and willing to do start the work so I dove in.  As time went on, I realized that I was giving them a lot of constructive comments on their work and trying to motivate them past the planning/plotting stage of their work.  As the months wore on, they stayed stuck in that stage and I realized it was not working out for either of us.

It’s best to find someone who is on a similar level to you creatively.  If you work with someone who has some finished work and has shown they can start and finish their projects it is more likely you’ll both be able to move forward creatively together.

Be A Good Buddy

One thing from my career as a teacher that stuck with me is that you need to give a good amount of positive feedback and give negative feedback carefully and kindly.  This applies to being a good accountability buddy too! Think about the feedback you give and make sure it’s both helpful and productive. You want to be a good cheerleader for your buddy and have them be a good cheerleader for you too!

Personal Post · Productivity · Writing

Self-Care for Creative People

I am a very type “A” person.  I also have ADD, so I tend to bounce around from project to project, furiously trying to get everything done.  In the last year or so, I’ve learned that self-care is kind of key to my mental health and I’ve been learning more and more about what it means to me.  Often times I feel too ‘busy’ to take a minute for myself to refill and refresh my mental state.  It can be difficult to do this normally but I’ve also found it can be hard to do creatively.  There is always the temptation to push for more.  Push to get more done.  Push to write more, draw more, create more.

Instead of feeling super accomplished after I push for more, I tend to feel like no matter how much I get done there is always more to do.

My Favorite Self-Care Rituals

1. Read

It can be tempting to get so into my own projects that I leave no time for reading, but lately, I’ve been trying to set aside 10-20 minutes a day to read something.  A book, a comic, something with some kind of storytelling aspect.  I’ve even gotten a little app called “Webtoons” on my phone where I can scroll through short comics and binge read entire creator-produced series.

2. Color 

I’ve found that coloring is a great way to feel creative without the burden of creating something brand new.  I spurlged on some colored pencils and markers and I have a mermaid coloring book I pull out sometimes.  I’ll listen to music or watch youtube and just feel in the lines to my linking with purples, pinks, and blues.

3.  Go For A Walk

I’m bad about taking my own advice on this one, but getting out of the house can be a great way to clear the mental/creative clutter.  It’s also summer, so right now it’s a lot easier for me to take a stroll.

4. Declutter/Clean Up A Small Area

If it’s really for self-care, I try to pick a small cleaning task like loading/unloading the dishwasher or picking up my office.  I’ve always found that small cleaning tasks can help me feel a little less disjointed and a bit more together.  I have also found that sometimes it helps me work through ideas I’m stuck on.  Something about using my hands/body, allows my mind to hum and work in the background.

Book Recommendations – Novels To Help You Avoid Feeling OverWhelmed

I also want to recommend a couple books that might help you avoid feeling completely overwhelmed in your creative journey.  Sometimes their advice is a little at odds with each other but I’ve found gems that I cling to in each of them.

  1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero – I still re-read this book on a regular basis.  It helps remind me that I have great to things to share with the world.
  2. The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving a F* by Sarah Knight.  So yeah, this one does swear quite a bit, but Knight has a great approach to figuring out what things you should care about and what things are okay to let go by the wayside.
  3. Anything by Gabrielle Bernstein.  – She is totally Guru-esque, but she’s also just full of light and love.
  4. Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis – A really lovely book that helps you work on the lies you tell yourself (You’re not talented/good/skinny enough).