Staying on Task with Tech

In late August, I quit my full-time job as an Administrative Assistant to pursue what I’ve always dreamed of: a career as a writer. I have been writing for as long as I can remember, and going after this “romance writing thing” since 2011. Finally, after years of trying to find my focus, I had a series (The Rookery Rogues, for those of you wondering) that I believed strongly in and a game plan. I would self-publish, thus giving myself the freedom to make my own decisions and go whole-hog on the crazy, untraditionally dark ideas I had in mind.

Writing In Her Journal 1

What I Expected to Be Doing

But quitting my full-time job meant I suddenly had no income until my first book, A Dangerous Invitation, debuts in December. While my husband devoted brings home the bacon with his career in computers, we still needed an extra bit of help. I accepted a part-time job two days a week working as a receptionist in another engineering firm. Getting out of the house for this job keeps me from becoming a hermit, and it keeps my skillset up and gives me a spot on my résumé should I ever decide to go back to full-time admin work.

Suddenly, I had all this time. I’ve been working full-time since I graduated from college in 2007, with no break in-between jobs. My body wasn’t entirely sure how to process no longer having to get up and be somewhere by 8 AM, and so, as any woman would do who loves sleep the way most people love their children, I slept in. Until 11 AM. And I did this for about two weeks, before I finally realized (okay, said devoted husband realized) that I was wasting a good chunk of my day. Jennelle blogged earlier about working from home, and I’ve been trying to follow her advice.

My Dog Messi Sleeping.

My husband would probably say this is what I look like when marathon sleeping.

However, I have to be a little more extreme. Let me explain to you the way my mind works. I am a chief procrastinator, and I freak out under pressure. So I have to con myself: I set unrealistic deadlines because otherwise I will watch television all day and get nothing done. I see that unrealistic deadline—finish a novella draft by the end of October, for instance—and I get this horrible pit in my stomach. There’s a voice in my head that goes “oh no, you cannot do that. You so cannot.” But because I’m a loud-mouthed rebellious soul, I frown at my reflection and instruct myself that I’ve never met a problem I couldn’t beat into submission, and  I set down to work.

Anxious 3

This is about what I normally like when I start writing.

My husband has this theory that I need the freak-out to power through a tremendous work. I need that stupid, gut-wrenching, tear-inducing pit in my stomach or else I wheedle away all my days. But I’m running a small business here, and I set my own deadlines. With no one holding a torch over my head, demanding a final product, how do I make myself accountable? Through talking to other full-time authors and people who work from home, I’ve managed to find a few programs to help me out. Some of these strategies might sound pretty “well, duh” to you, but I’m discovering that the simplest things in life are often the most effective.

1.       Set a timer.

There are different ways of doing this. For about two years or so now, I’ve been “sprinting” online with other Twitter users. The idea is that for a half-hour (or whatever your designated time limit is) you write like the wind. You don’t take a break, you don’t answer e-mails, and you don’t get up from that chair (Lisa blogged earlier about butt-in-chair tactics and mentioned sprinting). The idea behind doing this on Twitter is that you have a bunch of people working toward a common goal and everyone cheers each other on. This was really effective for me until I started to get distracted, as I always do, by the Internet.

So I had to go extreme again. There’s a program called Write or Die, which you can use online here, or you can do what I did and buy the desktop version for $10. Write or Die operates on the same basic principle of my freak-out—we function better under pressure. Write or Die places a timer on you, and if you don’t type for a minute or so, it will make an obnoxious sound (I have set it to crying babies, but you can pick something else). In harder modes, you can set it so it actually starts deleting words if you don’t continue typing. I’m too much of a wuss to ever use that mode.

Start up panel on Write or Die with options

I like the desktop version of Write or Die because it doesn’t involve me having to be on the Internet, which brings me to my next tip…

2.       Turn Off the Internet

Maybe you’re not like me, and you can function as a productive person without getting distracted by the thousands of interesting and revolting things on the Internet. Maybe you don’t have an unending desire to check your Facebook and Twitter every five seconds. If you don’t, well God bless you, you have retained some Luddite skills.

But I have the attention span of a goldfish, so one of the things I’m really battling when working from home is all the shiny things out there. I purchased another $10 program called Mac Freedom (but it is available for PCs, as I have a PC) which actually cuts my Internet off for the amount of time I specify. No more Twitter. No more endless research searches. I have to simply write. Now, I know how to turn off Freedom of course, but it’s an extra step that I’m not going to take if I’m already trying to be productive. This keeps me from the quick checks I claim will only be two seconds.


Window that will pop up when you turn on Freedom

There are of course other ways of turning off your Internet. You could unplug it, route some cable or somethingsomethingwithyoursomething, but despite having a techytech husband, I don’t really enjoy having to actually touch our router, so I went with something where I could hit a button and move on. There are also other programs out there that will let you view specific websites, but I chose not to use them because I really need to block out all distractions. Otherwise, I end up researching word etymology and Googling until I’m blue in the face and have accomplished nothing.

When I combine both Freedom and Write or Die with Step 3, I’m unstoppable.

3. Set sizeable goals and make that to-do list

So this is the “well, duh” step. You’d think this would be simple: you know what you have to get done, and you do it. I’m a very list-oriented person, and in my old job as a transcriptionist/editor at a bank, I compulsively made lists of what I had to finish before the day was out. I’m not sure why this didn’t occur to me when I set out to work from home—I suppose I was still thinking in the way of this being a hobby, and not a career.

But now that this is my career and will hopefully generate enough income later for me to be where I was when I was working full-time or better, I have to treat it like such. This means setting daily goals along with those crazy manuscript goals. My memory is notoriously bad, so I’m having to reteach myself the skills I needed at the bank when I did three people’s jobs.

I now use a program that came with my PC—Sticky Notes, which is a virtual form of post-it notes. On it, I list what I want to finish for the day. For instance, last Tuesday’s goals were: finish GMC work-up, finish plot outline, finish scheduling tweets. I had that sticky note up on my desktop, and every time I went to start another program I’d see my little note keeping me on track for the day. I also use the Sticky Note program for when I’ve remembered something and I want to jot it down quickly.

My current Sticky Note - songs for the playlist of my WIP, Scandal Becomes You

My current Sticky Note – songs for the playlist of my WIP, Scandal Becomes You

When I’m on the go and I get an idea, I use the notes function on my phone. I have an iPhone 4S, so for me it’s actually called Notepad and I can export it to my computer by connecting my USB charger. But I’ve seen this on other phones—and if you have Internet access on your phone, you can also e-mail yourself little reminders. This helps keep me on track.

Further helping me accomplish goals is Scrivener ($40 from Literature and Lattes). I could write an entire blog post on Scrivener, but what I mainly love about it right now is that it lets me drop all my research into one comprehensive document. Both Amy and Jennelle also use Scrivener. I drafted almost all of A Dangerous Invitation in Scrivener, because it allows me to break things up by scene and move things easier.

Picture from Scrivener site – to the left is where I could move my scenes easily

So those are my strategies for working from home and staying on task. I’ll let you know later how things are going for me post-release of my debut novel!

What other tips can you offer for staying on target?


5 thoughts on “Staying on Task with Tech

  1. Timer is great – I used to set the minute minder on the cooker clock to 15 mins and I couldn’t stop writing until it rang and then I reset it and so on. Need to start doing that again every time I slip back into bad ways! And the internet… I physically need to quit safari and not allow myself back in until lunchtime (It’s the end of my lunchtime now.) Needing to balance keeping up an online profile etc with writing gives me an excuse to be online – and makes it harder to be disciplined. Rooting for you and looking forward to hearing how you get on – good luck. PS Do you set your own goal on Write or Die? And is scrivener hard to use – I have it but haven’t used it yet.

  2. Hi, Erica! As a woman who loves some extra sleep herself, I “feel ya,” as they say. I have Scrivener but haven’t taken the time yet to learn all it can do. I’m going to check out the “Write or Die” program. Lately, I’ve been a bit concerned that I would do the latter before I got back to the doing the former! It sounds just like the prodding I need to get me moving again soon. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Erica, one of the main perks of writing from home is finding your optimal time. I worked from home the last 2 to 3 years I worked at a tech firm. I still get up about 7 AM, but it’s mostly just social media stuff until I really wake up. To be honest, I had trouble in the beginning with the writing, because I love communicating with others (I’m obviously an extrovert), but money is a great incentive to write. I don’t get paid to Facebook or Tweet. So it’s all about prioritizing. I’m not a fast writer – partly because I am a pantser. But I noticed that when I turned off all social media sites one day that I wrote 4500 words -and they were all keepers. That’s huge because anyone can write 6K or 7k junk words. I happen to be a night owl & tend to turn in projects in the wee hours. I turned in my last book at about 2 AM. The point is that you have flexibility when you write fulltime or most of the time. Do what works for you and be willing to change your writing hours to suit you. All best!

  4. Working from home is so hard for me! I get so easily distracted and I have two small kids. I basically have to leave to get work done (and work at my “home office” of Starbucks). I still get distracted even there! I make my to do lists and then I panic!

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