productivity

Apr 152014
 

2 Apps For Helping You WritePreviously I have explained the importance of routine to help with productivity for improving your writing output. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to 2 Apps for Helping You Write.

Both Apps are free, and both apps I use as a way of utilising the pomodoro technique. The pomodoro technique is popular amongst the #acwri crowd and you’ll find this pop up quite a bit during the #acwrimo and #nanomo.

The pomodoro technique works by excluding other activities whilst you are focussed on one. Usually, this period of time is a period of 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes you can then take a break – read that text message, respond to that email, go for a walk or grab another coffee.

It is a technique that is now a part of my morning routine. I find it maximises the most productive time of my day. And you should do the same with these 2 Apps for Helping You Write.

My Minutes2 Apps For Helping You Write

My Minutes is a scheduling and timer app combined into one. I used My Minutes to great benefit when writing my thesis. It ensured that I wrote for a minimum of 30 minutes each day, and edited/ revised for 30 minutes during my lunch break. It also gave me a tracking of how I had gone over the last week towards achieving my goals. My Minutes displays red circles for an unachieved daily goal and a green circle for an achieved goal. Each circle represents a day of the week, so you can get a visual representation of what you might have been avoiding during the week, or what you might need to concentrate on for the remainder of the week.

You can also set up a daily reminder to tell you how many tasks you have on a given day. As you can see, I’ve been pretty slack. But thanks to this app, I don’t actually need it anymore because it has become habitual for me to have a routine. I had it set up for my daily knee rehabilitation exercises after having an arthroscope last year. So it isn’t just useful for writing, but anything that requires a time based routine.

Perhaps you want to stretch or do another pre-writing activity that you find helpful? This is one of the perfect 2 Apps for Helping You Write.

@Timer

Since using My Minutes and using time based routine techniques, I now need less of that app. Now I use @Timer and prioritise my daily tasks on a day to day basis.

2 Apps For Helping You WriteI use @Timer for my daily reading and editing/ revision tasks to keep me on track. I also use it for when I have completed my daily tasks and am studying my Spanish. It keeps me from doing too much of one thing and not moving onto the next task whilst I have the time. As with My minutes, such a simple thing as a timer can keep you focused on one thing at a time, without being distracted. It also gives you a simple goal.

Of course, you don’t need an app if you are disciplined and just want to set a stop watch or keep an eye on the time or what have you. But the technology is there for you to use, so why not make it work for you? If you are struggling to write, it can also contain that without giving you the awful feeling like you’ve sat down to write and achieved nothing all day. It helps to contain that feeling of uselessness which can blow up your writing if you are not careful.

Technology has many potential uses, especially as a procrastination tool. Many apps seem destined to interrupt with your writing and daily tasks. These 2 Apps for Helping You Write will hopefully improve your writing productivity and increase your output. I’m sure there are many others that people find helpful, but these are two that I’ve found helpful in my own work.

Are there any other apps that you have found that help you write? If there are, let me know below and I will check them out.

Mar 202014
 
Planning Writing to Death
Writing Planned to Death

It appears to me that a strange affliction amongst some of my most diligent students holds them back whenever there is an assessment due, or a deadline for submitting work approaches. I call it planning writing to death and it is a particularly pervasive procrastination technique. It is problematic because one is not aware of it when they are impacted. One may even think they are being productive when in actual fact they are not.

As a procrastination technique, planning is well known to novelists and fiction writers. But it is something that I notice grips academic writers and students especially badly.

It is almost the opposite extreme of unstructured writing which I’ve dealt with in previous posts (headings and so on as a way to organise your writing). This is a disorder where headings, plans and structure inhibit writing altogether.

Symptoms may include excessive note taking, copious amounts of reading, thinking and an absence of words on the screen.

Those most at risk include binge writers and perfectionists.

Treatment includes some of the tips described in ‘How to Write a Lot’.

Most importantly it requires you to realise that your writing sucks. But that it doesn’t matter.

My writing sucks. Most people’s writing sucks. But that’s not the point. It’s there. Starting, doing and finishing something are much more important than doing something perfectly.

Writing is like Golf – the perfect round is never going to happen. Ever. But by starting, getting things down and doing them regularly, you will improve.

I used to be a serial sufferer. It impacted on my own writing greatly. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong. Not until my line manager (2 weeks into my first Research Assistant job) asked me what I had found out. I explained, this, that and the other. She then asked, “So what have you produced?” The penny dropped and I had to change my ways.

It doesn’t matter what you know, it only matters what you have to show.

So how do you approach this problem? There are a number of things I now prescribe when treating planning writing to death.

Ban yourself from reading any more.

Chances are you’ve already read enough. What is important is getting something down. Set yourself a writing target and don’t read anything else until you’ve met that target.

Read with a pen in hand.

Reading with a pen in your hand will encourage you to read actively, rather than passively. Look for an excuse to write something meaningful if you are devoting large tracts of time to reading.

Write a fully formed paragraph.

Write a paragraph summarising what you have just read before going on to the next article/ book chapter on your list.

Chunk it.

Under each of your headings, spend five minutes writing off the top of your head the thoughts on the topic. Do this without reference to readings and literature etc. Once you have done this, you will have material to begin with.

Get the first sentence out of the way early.

The first sentence of the day, of an article, chapter, report etc is always the most difficult. Smash it as soon as you get to your computer. Get rid of it. You don’t need the weight of it to impede the work you do for the rest of the day.

With these tips, I think your writing may well go on to survive and make a full recovery.

Have you tried these tips?

Do you have any other hints to use when you find yourself planning writing to death?

Mar 072014
 

How to write a lot brands itself as a “practical guide to productive academic writing”, and for the most part this is true. It could also be an exposition in keeping it simple stupid for the academic writing arena. It really is one and the same.

I read this book on the recommendation of some academic writers during #AcWriMo. Paul J. Silvia, an academic psychology specialist in writing, presents the common complaints put forward by academics as to why they don’t write, and why they don’t publish.

For mine, it is just a positive affirmation of what I already do when I’m writing productively, and what others I’ve worked with have espoused previously.  For others, and in particular for students, the book dispels many of the myths surrounding productive writers.

The message is simple – create a routine and prioritise activities that are writing, or will help you write. As the age old saying goes in academia, if you haven’t got five minutes a day to write, no one can help you. By promoting a routine of writing and writing related tasks, it becomes habitual. I notice myself that when I am writing a lot, I am competitive with myself to exceed yesterday’s output, and become agitated when my writing routine is disrupted. I look for any possible opportunity to be writing. But this is a good situation to be in. I wonder how many people do get annoyed when they aren’t writing, or if they’ve just become resigned to not writing and then put up a smokescreen of excuses that Silvia outlines in this book.

Silvia does not just outline the problems inherent in academic writing and for producing academic scholarship. He also outlines strategies and solutions for developing a culture of writing. These I think are very under rated tips. Getting together a writing group – every week or every second week – will reinforce the requirements for writing. I think this is missed by most students and academic staff. Being able to introduce some measure of accountability from a group, rather than relying on deadlines, is a great way to ensure writing becomes habitual and gets done.

Had I been told that I could get through my undergraduate degree rather easily with just writing 50 or 100 words per day during semester, I perhaps would have been much more productive and successful. But this is what the book really amounts to – explaining how to break down writing tasks to manageable sizes that then don’t become overwhelming in totality.

The importance of developing some level of self accountability is also expressed in How to Write a Lot. I think Silvia has stolen my idea of being able to chart success in writing tasks, and output. He gives his results in an SPSS format, which I think is great if you haven’t already attempted to do something similar. At one stage I kept a database of my word output, and noticed that my most productive days for writing were Wednesday and Thursday. This is perhaps one thing that is lacking in this book – the importance of analysing when in the week and during the day you are most productive in writing.

At some point down the track, I’d also like to analyse what type of exercise is the most beneficial for my writing output. I certainly notice that walking and cycling are the most beneficial for my writing output, and that cricket and golf are perhaps the worst – but I have no evidence to support this claim. It may just be the associated alcohol intake that is the problem.

How to Write a Lot addresses my biggest weakness – how to turn writing a lot into writing productively. I write a lot. But I don’t always have much to show for it. Writing sometimes becomes a procrastination tool instead of doing other more important writing. There are simple, focussed tips given in How to Write a Lot to make sure what you are writing is structured, and presented in a way that can later be used for publication. Prioritising productive writing rather than pure output is something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to.

At the same time Silvia explains the importance in depersonalising your own writing. Emotional investment is something students find quite difficult to grapple with. I certainly found this rather difficult whilst writing my thesis, but it is an important trait to be able to develop in order to write more, and write more productively. Hanging off every word becomes pointless when an editor, examiner, lecturer, tutor or boss is going to tear it apart and make you rewrite and review it in any case. Accepting this before you begin writing is probably the biggest lesson that I took out of this book. And this lesson is one that is important for anyone at any stage of their writing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to increase their writing output, or looking for ideas to tune up something that is not quite right. If you have a colleague or a student that is stuck on one of the many stumbling blocks of writing, I’d suggest leaving this book on their desk.

Feb 172014
 

I assume what the most successful people do before breakfast is not read this book. Actually, that is a bit unfair. It is a book (or several chapters really) with a commonsense approach (and a little bit of research thrown in), that explains and illustrates the importance of putting in place a routine to achieving goals early in the morning.

I first came across this book through one of my favourite productivity blogs, and thought it could be useful for those of us who are writing, or working in fields where writing is essential.

As the book demonstrates, many of the world’s most accomplished writers, business people and community leaders have a rigid morning routine that follows them wherever they go. The short book explains how people make time work for them, to achieve personal goals – those fundamental goals that are most important to us.

The interesting thing is that I would call these goals “project oriented”. Despite the success of the people in the chapter used as case studies, they are able to achieve significant personal goals. Such as: writing books, getting fitter or spending quality time with family. It could be argued that it is not so much the morning routine that is important, but the project itself.

The book also shows that parents and time poor people can still achieve outcomes irrespective of their personal circumstances. By arguing the case that the first period of time in the day is the only time you may have to yourself, Vanderkam demonstrates that this should be the time for your most important goals.

There is also a good reason for this, backed up by research. Apparently, those who have a task which they set out to achieve in the mornings are more likely to stick to it – it is likely to become a part of their routine. This is opposed to have an afternoon routine, which may be more likely to be interfered with by work or other family pressures.

Although the book is entitled ‘What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast’ it is actually made up of three short books. The Aforementioned book, ‘What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend’ and ‘What the most Successful People Do at Work’.

The gem of the book is actually the third short book – what the most successful people do at work. In my opinion, it is a must read for those working in a bureaucracy, in the public service or in administration.

A lot of work that I have seen being done by people in such positions is in my opinion, not actually real work. It is work creation, which leads to micromanagement and poor productivity and output. And this section of the book points this out.

It resonated very strongly with me at certain points. Many of the activities that are pointed out as beneficial for productivity become actively excluded when poor management is involved. They’re actually actively discouraged and become problematic, and tie people to their unproductive work habits.

If you refuse to open your emails before 10, you can be hauled over the coals. But this is exactly the sort of advice that is given in this book. It is exactly why in my opinion it is a must read for managers and other administrators who actually supervise staff, to make sure that their style and instruction is not actually inhibiting workplace productivity and building frustration amongst staff.

If anything, I will continue to refer to this section of the book in my own work, and in professional settings.