5 Ways to Improve Productivity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity. Every year about this time, I start looking ahead to the next year. I begin to cull through my potential Word of the Year List and reflect on my word for this year. I look at my goals for the year and come up with a plan to make it through the holiday season with my goals still intact.

I like to be productive. I’m happier when I’ve checked off my to-do lists, when I have a plan for the day (or week or month or, heck, year). I feel better, not just in my headspace, but physically when I’m meeting my health goals and I feel better in my headspace when I’m making time for creative outlets. But it’s hard to be productive all the time – some days, no matter how many things are on my to-do, I just don’t feel like it. I don’t want to write or read or finish that craft or make those phone calls or pay those bills or fold that last load of laundry. I just flat-out don’t want to.

When those days hit, there are two choices: 1) don’t do anything and feel even worse the next day or 2) fight back against the don’t-wannas with a few tricks. Here are five ways I push through those blah days:

  1. I use a focus app called Tide:   I’ve been using focusing apps for a long time, but I switched over to this app in the spring and I am in serious love with it. There are several different settings (nap, meditation, focus, etc), with different timing options starting at 15 minutes. I usually set it for 45 minute writing sessions: write for 45, take a short break to fold that load of laundry or get a drink of water or play ball with Hazel-the-pup, then it’s back at my desk for another session. 
  2. Put the phone in another room:   This seems like a given but for a long time, I was working with my phone right next to me. Email would bleep or someone would call and wham! I’m out of my zone and distracted again. Putting the phone in another room (and turning off the notifications for my watch) is key to keeping my focus where it needs to be. Going along with this one: turn off the internet! Seriously, disconnect from wi-fi and if you need to check “just one thing” online, make a note in your WIP or on a piece of paper and keep pushing forward. Check that one thing during your morning routine or after you’ve met your word count for the day.
  3. Use a paper planner: There are a lot of digital options for planning and I think they’re great. For me, though, a paper planner is the best option (the Happy Planner is my jam! Love the flexibility/customization options of the disc system). My planner holds daily to-do lists (like cleaning and appointments) but it also houses my business plan, deadlines, quarterly goals (including action steps to meet said goals). Plus, there are stickers and stickers make everything better! There are a couple of different studies that have shown the physical act of writing down a goal or appointment helps us meet those goals. I’m a firm believer in paper planners for accountability and goal setting.
  4. Make a date with yourself: have lunch with girlfriends, go for a walk in the botanical gardens, or just head to the mall to people-watch. I like taking my writing notebook with me. Sometimes I brainstorm book/character ideas, sometimes I write down blog/social media post ideas and sometimes I just bring dump a lot of the stuff in my head or doodle. Here’s the thing: as much as I love planning, there are times that I plan too much for too long. Being unable to focus on my work can sometimes mean that I haven’t made time for *me*. When that happens, stepping away from my computer is crucial, even if it’s only for an hour. Creative dates help me clear my head so I can focus again.
  5. Sleep: I don’t mean a nap in the middle of the day (although a good 20 minute power nap can be ahhhh-mazing!). I mean getting a full 8 hours of sleep. Having a set bedtime and sticking to it. Along with eating healthy and drinking water, the best thing I can do for my focus is to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. Being rested is crucial for me to feel good, to feel like working, and to be able to focus on my work. 

When I’m having one of those days when I just can’t focus, I’ll think about what I’ve been eating/drinking, the sleep I’ve been getting or the schedule I’ve been keeping…if I need it, I’ll take an hour or so for me, and then I’ll go back to the basics of turning on my focus app, turning off the internet, and getting back to work.

What about you? How do you focus when your focus is gone?

#WriteTip: Setting Up Your WIP Notebook

Kristina’s Project Planner Worksheet

I get asked a lot about my writing process, and while we all have our processes and most writers are cool sharing what works and what doesn’t, I think the real value in knowing how other writers write is in knowing that there are so many different ways to write a book. There is no singular right way. You look at what is working for you and you adjust accordingly. My process isn’t the same even from book to book. Some books I write beginning to end. Some books I write out of order. Some books I turn in and realize that I need to rearrange a few key areas. Books are beautiful, frustrating, really weird things. But.

You knew there was going to be a but. 

But, there is one thing that stays true with my process: my WIP Notebook/Project Planner. So I thought I’d share that part of my writing process with you guys this week because it might help you, too. My WIP notebook becomes a kind of catch-all for each book. It has details like drafting/editing deadline, series name/information, and detailed plot and character notes. I love it because having all the details in one spot makes it easy to double-check a character’s eye color or change names when you realize every.single.name begins with “M” or to fill in the “blah blah make this funnier” notes we leave in our WIPs while we’re fast-drafting.

Here’s how my WIP notebook works for me:

The brain dump: The brain dump is exactly what it sounds like: a dump of information. I write everything I think I know about the book, characters, and backstory on these pages. Things I think might happen, things from the past, where my characters are emotionally at the beginning of the book, where they are at the end, what the romantic storyline is, what the personal storyline is. It takes up the bulk of the notebook and is usually four of five pages of…stuff. Stuff that I need to get out of my head before I can actually start parsing through to see what works and (more importantly) what doesn’t. 

Kristina’s Plot Worksheet

The Plot Worksheet: After I’ve written down the pertinent backstory stuff, character stuff, maybe even opening or closing scene details, it’s time to start parsing through that to create an actual sort-of plot. That’s where my plot worksheet comes in. Here I’ll list the tropes for the book, the series (if it’s part of a series), title and length details. But, the real work is in the scene listing. I’ll write out scene ideas for the different acts of the book – some will make it in and some won’t, but having the scene ideas written down is very helpful in create an actual outline. 

Kristina’s “W” Worksheet

The “W” sheet: From that dump of information and general scene listing comes some actual outline information. I’m a fan of the “W” plot and I kind of integrate it with a three-act structure to create my outline – and for those of you who think this is too rigid, just know that I go into every outline knowing that once the draft is finished I’ll probably move at least 2-3 scenes around in the book. Back to my worksheet. So we have the highs and lows of the initial trigger and problem, the first turning point, a second triggering moment, a deepening of the conflict, and so on. Some of these moments will be in my brain dump of information. Some in the plot worksheet. It’s why I do a brain dump, a plot worksheet, and then a W sheet – because genre romance is all about certain moments happening at certain times. By winnowing all.the.details. into specific.plot.ideas. and then into an outline form I get a clearer vision of the conflict. Conflict, as we all know, comes from the past. Something bad happens as a child. Something bad happens as an adult that confirms to the character that they are not worthy of whatever it is they want/have/need. It’s conflict math. 1+1=2 or Incident+Incident=Confirmation. For me BrainDump+Plot Workheet=Solid W plot-plan.

Kristina’s Character Worksheet

Character Sheets: Then come the character sheets. Each character gets a main sheet with details about their physical features, their home, their family, their wants/needs, job information, hopes/dreams, nicknames. Why they have what they have and don’t deserve what they want…all that good, emotional stuff. 

Kristina’s Setting Worksheet

Setting Sheet: Keeping track of business names and locations, seasonal details, big events, even the town layout and a timeline of events can be hard in a single book…its even harder when you write a series. Having a setting worksheet keeps all those minute details in one place so that I can refer back to find that I called the local bar Shorty’s in book one (or, heck, chapter one) and Logan’s in another book/chapter. 

If you like these pages, I have printable versions that you can print and use for your WIP notebooks. Do you use a WIP notebook (either online or offline!) to help your plotting?