I’ve started using a planner and I really like it

This post contains quite a few affiliate links to things I have found helpful. If you buy any of these things using these links Amazon will send me a small amount of money as a referral fee. But there’s no pressure on anyone to do that, I just wanted to write about a few things that I personally have found helpful.

Over the last year and a bit I’ve been engaged in an ‘on again, off again’ project to try to become more organised. I wouldn’t claim to be a particularly organised person, mostly because in the past I had plenty of spare time and was able to waste quite a lot of it without feeling too bad. That isn’t to say that I was actually productive, but I did do some things, so I guess I didn’t notice how unproductive I was when I had acres of time to waste.

Now I have a toddler things are very different, and I want to make the most of the little time I do have and complete some artistic things in it. In the last year I made a lot of effort to make sure I sat down to do something everytime I had a patch of time (and wasn’t in desperate need of a nap), and for a while felt quite productive. I think just establishing the habit in the first place was helpful at the start. But over time I began to realise that while I was doing things, I still didn’t seem to be able to actually finishing projects.

So then I went off and listened to some of those productivity podcasts and read some books about productivity systems. While most of them were helpful, they seemed to be aimed at people who did a different kind of work, the kind of work that can easily be split up into discrete tasks. In contrast I find that with a lot of my creative work, particularly my writing, how I would split it up into tasks like that is often a bit unclear. Then I stumbled across the book ‘From Chaos to Creativity’ by Jessie L Kwak (affiliate link) which is a book about productivity and creativity written by someone who is a working writer and who understands the sometimes nebulous nature of creative work. Personally, this is the book on productivity that made sense to me (indeed I’m planning on re-reading it this year), but after a good start I will say I have struggled to implement some of the advice that I thought was most helpful about actually planning work.

In January last year someone reccomended a planner that was specifically designed for writers and creatives by Audrey Ann Hughey. So I bought the 2021 version of the planner at the beginning of 2021, but am so disorganised that didn’t start using it until January 2022, and have been revising the dates as I go. In the past I have been one of those people who were very skeptical of planners, and a few years ago would probably have dismissed it. I think I was quite attached to the idea of creativity being this organic, fluid process that needed as few boundaries as possible, and the idea that you would actually plan that was difficult for me. This just goes to show how sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about the things we want to do can get in the way of actually doing the things we want to do.

For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I feel differently this year. There are things I want not only to work on, but to actually finish, and when I finish those things I want to actually get them to an audience. So I have picked up that planner and really tried to engage with it, and so far I’m finding it has made a real difference to my creative work.

What I really liked about the 2021 Author’s Planner (the 2022 version is available here, and an undated version is available here – affiliate links) is that it has sections that are designed to help you think about different aspects of your work, including (but not limited to); what your big picture ambitions are; how you want to use social media; what your expenses and income are; what your general plan is; and sections that give you more granular space to plan what you are going to do over the next year, three months, month and coming week.

I’ve been using the planner for about two weeks and I have already finished something! This week I’ve submitted a short story to a magazine. I had stopped working on it when there wasn’t a huge amount of work left to do (which seems to be the point at which I abandon a lot of projects). At the beginning of the year I set myself the focus of submitting that story in January, and by the end of the first week I had done that.

As we are only a few weeks into January, it remains to be seen if I can manage to be organised enough to continue using the planner, or if I fall of the productivity wagon again. But I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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Parenting and productivity: what have I learned?

When my son was born last year a few weeks before we went into a national lockdown I thought that there would be time to do things. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a habit of working on multiple projects at a time. We also bought a house that needs lots of work doing to it that we planned to do ourselves. I naively thought that I would be able to continue with this multiple project approach, but it turns out that I was very optimistic.

In the first 6 months, when my son couldn’t move very far, it was actually possible to do lots of things, but as I was recovering from a C section there was a limit on what I could do, so I mostly stuck to writing. Once he got the hang of moving about however, things really changed and I found I was able to do less and less. in particular I found he got really interested in my computer, which meant that my previous approach of writing when he was around became unviable, or I would soon have a broken computer.

There have been a few black days where I was feeling very frustrated and stuck, with the house needing lots of work and my projects sitting untouched on my computer. At the same time I have found that just spending time with him, watching him learn and grow has been a really mind expanding experience. Everyday he encounters something new for the first time. I didn’t want those moment with hime to be lost in my need to do other things and so I started thinking about getting more organised. My partner bought me a copy of Getting things Done by David Allen (affiliate link), which was helpful to some extent. I also read a copy of From Chaos to Creativity by Jessie Kwak, (affiliate link) which was really helpful and a much easier book to navigate when you don’t have much time.

He’s now toddling, and into absolutely everything making and while you would think things would be even more difficult, actually I feel a lot more on top of things now. Here is what I have learned:

  1. It helps to have a system – Both of the books I suggest above recommend developing a system to mange all of the things you have to do. I’m still working on mine but have found Trello and a series of physical white boards helpful in organising my time.
  2. Get used to making the most of small, unpredictable pockets of time – I find that I frequently find I have small pockets of time in which I can do something that come at odd moments in the day. In order to make the most of this it really helps to work out ahead of time what little jobs or tasks I can do in ten minutes or half an hour and keep a list of these. For example I have managed to do quite a lot on our garden this year in thirty minute slots here and there. I have also made some good headway on the second draft of my novel in twenty minute chunks of time.
  3. Switch devices – my son is obsessed with my laptop computer and I can’t really use it around him as he just grabs it off my lap the whole time. But I have found I can write a lot of bits and pieces on my phone and then tidy them up on the computer later when he is napping.
  4. Switch media – I’ve recently signed up for an audible account (affiliate link) have found this really helps me – I can’t read and look after my son, but I can listen to an audio book while I’m cooking or something like that. This has been transformative for me.
  5. One thing at a time – I have had to put some things on hold, like pretty much all of my film making and art work so I can concentrate on one bit of one creative project – the first book of the Feeding Jasmine Valentine Project because that’s all I can do.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.