Ergodox EZ – Day 0

So my board arrived last night, a day earlier than expected, which is always a nice bonus. Less nice was USPS caused a bit of a kerfuffle with how they do parcel delivery if someone isn’t home to receive the package. However, even with the issues, I am much happier with my USPS experience than recent FedEx deliveries with regards to parcels that require signature for delivery.

Still, all that mixed together meant that today was day 0 with the Ergodox EZ.

I’m not going to go into too much detail and for my regulars who aren’t keyboard aficionados, there might be a lot of jargon that will be unfamiliar. Since this is closer to steam of consciousness, I’ll direct you to the comments area if you’ve got something bugging you that you want to ask about.

Unboxing and Initial Thoughts

I got to have some help in opening my package, which is always a treat. And since I received a used unit, mine didn’t come with the same experience as someone getting it new. That said, major props to the seller who packed it very nicely with plenty of space and foam. All the bits, bobs, cables, and pieces were present and accounted for.

The Ergodox EZ is a little smaller than I thought it would be, which is good. Clean, white, and tight, I’m very impressed with the build quality. Solid as a kettlebell, though calling it equivalent to Superman’s abs might be a stretch. 🙂

This particular unit has Gateron Brown switches. This is my second experience with Gateron Browns and this experience is much better. The batch of Gaterons used on my Obin Anne Pro keyboard seem much mushier in comparison. These are crisp, very much akin to the Cherry MX Browns that I have on other boards. Typing feel is very nice. I will say that the Ergodox EZ doesn’t have the “hefty” feel in typing that my WASD CODE board does, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I am very pleased so far.

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Nice nub!

Key caps are nice – the DCA profile is going to be a change that only time will reveal if I like. The nubs that comes on the F and J keys are so prominent and I love them; almost sharp to the touch. So easy to tell without looking if I’m on the home row or not. I would be very interested to try the DCS profile that the blank Ergodox EZ comes with.

Ortholinear Keys and Customizing the Layout

One of the obvious differences from other keyboard are the non-staggered rows,  and boy are they taking some time to get used to.

Reaching up from home row hasn’t been an issue, but the reaching down to the bottom row is so different, especially for my left hand. The X, C, V, and B keys just don’t sit where I’m used to and I’m way overreaching past where the keys are relative to where my brain thinks they should be. That’s going to be the hardest thing to master, I think. And since I will often be using other boards (laptop, personal Surface 4 Pro, conference room computers, etc.) I’m going to get plenty of chance to practice going from one to the other.

Getting used to the thumb cluster is going much smoother. By mid day, I had almost gotten used to the backspace key and the enter key being at thumb positions. And and I’m really getting used to having mouse control available to me through keys instead of having to reach for a mouse.

I had been using the online configuration tool in the days leading up to receipt in order to play with my initial thoughts of a layout.

Colemak layout on Layer 0 with dedicated cut/copy/paste and underline/italics/bold on the inner most column of each half and spacing/editing keys on the thumb clusters. As I haven been thinking about how I use computers each day, between work and prose drafting, I have tried to put the things I use the very most in that top layer. I think there will be plenty of tweaking to be done.

I also had a moment of consternation deciding how I wanted to deal with Ctrl-Alt-Delete (for logging into my work computer), Ctrl-Shift-Esc (used to pull up the Task Manager), and the combination of Win-Arrow keys (for moving and docking windows) as these are all things I will want to access quickly numerous times a day in my engineering work.

In playing with the configurator, I noticed what seemed like a few bugs and sent off an email to the Ergodox folks. The customer service response from them has been amazing. I kinda feel bad buying my unit used instead of buying a new one. I hope that providing some additional exposure will make up the difference.

IMG_20180105_102235.jpg

 

So what questions or comments do you have?  Leave them below.

 

 

Don’t Break the Chain – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

I did say that I got a lot of my productivity tips while reading Lifehacker, right?

This technique goes back to 2007 I read the article there writing by developer Brad Isaac, where he related some some productivity advice he received from comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It’s a good read, and  I recommend it if you want to see another application of this technique.

But I’m going to talk about it a little differently. It’s called Don’t Break the Chain and I’ve seen it make several reappearances as people re-popularize it.

How to Use

Don’t Break the Chain is about setting up a routine that you repeat everyday, and the focus really is on EVERY DAY.

Here’s how it works. You take a year calendar, one with a whole year on a single page, and place it on the wall with a big red marker next to it. For each day that you complete your task (whatever that might be, though for Jerry, Brad, and myself, that’s writing), you put a big red X through that day. And once you’ve done this for a few days, you have a chain of day. And the goal is don’t break the chain. Don’t miss.

That’s it. The idea is that as the chain grows, the pressure of having all those days chained together pushes you through the days when you don’t want to do the task, even if the only reason for that day is just to prevent yourself from breaking the chain.

My Usage in Writing Fiction

Here’s where I get to reveal my deep, dark secret. I HATE this technique. I’ve tried several times to implement it over the 10 years since I first read about it and each time it was an abject, miserable failure that left me feeling worthless and useless with each attempt. So why share it with you?

Because it maybe the technique that works best for you.

The thing that I have loved most about learning about personal productivity is that it is, indeed, personal. Something that doesn’t work for me may be the best thing ever for you. And with time management, the changing times might make a once-failed technique into you most prized bit of knowledge.

Even though I don’t like this approach, I think you should know about it and try it for yourself.

So, I don’t use this technique at all in writing fiction. Or in any other facet of life.

Why Didn’t I Like It

For me, it became a metaphorical chain weighing me down – the constant nagging feeling that I was eventually going to screw up and break it became self-fulfilling prophecy. Children would get sick, work would go long, church obligations would rear up, friends would need help – inevitably something more important than my writing that one day would come up and I would end up breaking the chain.

I played with all sorts of “rules” that would still allow me to meet my goal while not actually getting anything done and that was where it really got to me.

If the chain became more important than the actual content of what I was producing, what good was the chain? Why bother keeping up a fake goal if I wasn’t actually making any progress on what I had set out to do.

In the time since trying it, I’ve learned that my particular style of work doesn’t benefit from having an outward scoring system. There are lots of new tools and apps out there which “gamify” life – giving points for making habits, dropping “life” if you screw up, leveling up with awards, etc. Turns out, those don’t make me want to do better in my actual daily life because they become too much to keep up with.

But maybe your life might benefit.

Applications and Apps

Because I haven’t been actively using it, I can’t say what phone or computer apps a would be useful for tracking a “Don’t Break the Chain” calendar if you wanted digital over paper. I know there is a website of that name that appears to let you track things over time, but I haven’t used it.

As for applications, I can think of tons. NaNoWriMo is a similar implementation of the same idea – though only over the course of 30 days. Write every day. That’s the basic idea.

Most habits are formed the same way – work on the item in question 30-60 days and eventually, a new habit will start to be formed.

Drafting, revision, character sketches, sending queries, pitching, personal branding and marketing, blogging – any of these could benefit from Don’t Break the Chain as a tool for encouraging work, to keep going through moments of lower motivation.

The other big way that something like Don’t Break the Chain can help is that by forcing yourself to work on something everyday, you clear away the low hanging fruit fast. It’s easy to keep reworking the same scene over and over if you only touch it once every two weeks because you’ve had all that time to think it over. But when you have to draft a new scene each day? You have to work smarter and develop better focus during the rest of the day so that your well is full when you sit down to create. That intentional focus, day after day, can be even more useful than the resultant product that you make.

Finale

So, am I wrong to hate Don’t Break the Chain? Have you used it or something similar? Do I need to take another look?

Also, I moving up my posting day for this series from Friday to Thursday. Let me know if you like the change.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Ergodox EZ – Day -2

Some of my real-space friends and acquaintances will know that I have a problem.

I have started buying keyboards. Expensive keyboards.

No necessarily break-the-bank types of purchases, but if your experience with expensive keyboards is a Logitech combo keyboard and mouse set, I’m not talking about those. I’ve started into the world of mechanical keyboards (which thankfully are coming down in price the more mainstream they become). My least expensive keyboard was the same price as that combo and it comes with only 61 keys – 40% fewer than a normal sized keyboard. Same price for something in a much smaller package.

Why pay so much for a keyboard? Well, I’ll actually be doing an entire series on that and reviewing the boards I have at some point later this year. Suffice it to say I find the quality, the feel, and the ergonomics of these boards much better than the wired USB keyboard that comes with your Dell or HP workstations. And ergonomics reason is the big one.

During NaNoWriMo this last November, I calculated I averaged 9 hours per day of keyboard usage (a little less on the weekends) between work and prose writing. That’s a lot. And my hands noticed. I’ve had some issues with RSI crop up in the past and the symptoms returned again in full force this year as I pushed myself to write more and faster than I have before.  So, I’ve been on the lookout for something that will further alleviate stress on my hands and fingers because this will likely be the state of affairs for some time – day job and night drafting. And I hope I have found it.

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The Ergodox (source ergodox.io)

It’s called the Ergodox. It’s a open source (code and design) split keyboard that has started to become popular in the keyboard enthusiast community. It uses programmable layers to allow for much greater functionality and efficiency in typing and by being split, each half can be placed and oriented to be the most comfortable. There are a lot of other differences, both visible and invisible.

The problem with it? I don’t want to mess with the software/firmware side of it. I can program, but only out of necessity, which all of this lovely flexibility would require. The other? You have to build it yourself from a kit of parts, which again, I could do, but I don’t want to spend the time and money acquiring all the tools I would need.

Thus enter my eventual choice – the Ergodox EZ. A manufactured, customizable version with a web-based configuration tool for programming all the layout changes.

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Ergodox EZ Shine (source ergodox-ez.com)

The big problem with both? Price.

Both units cost well over $200, with the EZ (with the accessories) going north of $350.

As I said, expensive. But I finally have gotten to the point where if I’m going to spend that kind of time typing, I really should make sure I have something that is going to help me, rather than hurt me. And if this can do it, it’s a bargain, even at those prices.

So, I found a used Ergodox EZ (same version shown) that a fellow enthusiast tried and didn’t end liking, selling it to me for a significant drop in price compared to new. Will it be worth it? Will I see a reduction in pain and strain in my hands? Will I be able to handle all the changes?

That’s what I’ll document over the next while – at least the next month – as I try out this new (and quite different to me) keyboard. That’s why this post it day -2; the board is due to arrive later this week and I’ve been started to wrap my brain around how I might actually make this thing work for me.

Next week I’ll post some unboxing photos and talk about my first brushes with the unit.

If you’ve got any questions, post them below and I’ll try to answer them.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 12.53 – True Confessions

My podcast app didn’t download the episode from Christmas Eve, so I’ll have to play catch up on that one. However, while driving to attend a write-in with my writing group of amazing people, I was able to get caught up on this week’s episode and it was a humdinger. (I’ve been rewatching Psych on Amazon Prime, so my language may be stranger than normal).

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟🌟 🌟 🌟

True Confessions was all about things that the hosts have attempted that they failed at, and not just old trunk novels from the starting days of writing, but more recent. For most of them, that was within the last year.

Listening to them postmortem their way through these failed project was inspiring and hilarious and made me feel in much closer company. These are all people whose works I have read and admired. And having just completed another novel where I pushed myself to do something I’ve never tried before (multiple POV), I can say that I also failed.

That story is a bit of a mess plot-wise and interest-wise (boring start and plodding), but as I have already mentioned in past posts, I learned a ton from writing it. That failure showed me what to fix the next time I work on a multiple POV story.

Learning to be okay failing at something is a challenge for me. I’ve been a perfectionist my whole life and frustration is my natural response when I don’t get something right within the first few iterations. I’m used to figuring stuff out quickly. But in the last decade or so, I’ve been getting better. Having a child who has a similar frustration response certainly helps make me more aware of it in myself as I try to remind and support him when he doesn’t get something right immediately.

Dealing with failure also has helped me work on my self-compassion. I recently read an article from Kristen Wong on the New York Times about self-compassion and how it can help with being confident. I am definitely one that needs to better learn good self talk; failure gives me a chance to see my weaknesses and acknowledge them within the context of my strengths. Yes, my story may have been a hodge-podge and not very good, but my story structure and plot-weave were so much better in this book than previously. And I tried something new that I also succeeded at – I balanced several story threads and gave them all appropriate weight and tied them together well. So, yes I failed to make something that I would publish (at least right now), but the bones of the story are correct.

So in the same spirit as the podcasters, please take my true confession to heart – you can and should fail frequently.

And as Howard Tayler’s Maxim #70 of 70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries states:

 Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.

How I Use the Pomodoro Technique® – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

At heart, Pomodoro® is nothing more than timed focus. But in a world filled with constant  distractions – from phone calls to notification to people randomly asking you stuff – being able to deeply focus on a task can feel like a superpower.
Like many of the techniques and tools I’ve been exposed to over the years, I first heard about the Pomodoro Technique® , created by Francesco Cirillo, through an article on Lifehacker. Follow the links for more info if you’d like more background.

(Disclaimer: Note that this blog post is not affiliated with, associated with, or endorsed by the Pomodoro Technique® or Francesco Cirillo and the Pomodoro Technique® is a registered trademark of Francesco Cirillo.)

How to Use

The Pomodoro Technique® is quite straightforward. At its most basic:

  • Choose a task on which to you’d like to make progress
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes
  • Work on that task for the 25 minutes without distraction, interruption, or breaks
  • Then repeat

There is definitely more to it than what I’ve described and if you’re interested in seeing how to use it in a more complete fashion, I recommend you can visit the creator’s site at https://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique.

My Usage in Writing Fiction

Where I really find the Pomodoro Technique® useful is in helping me remind myself that I have a superpower – the ability to focus deeply in a single task. When I find resistance cropping up in the form of tiredness, apathy, boredom, impostor syndrome, or whatever, this – more than almost anything else – gets me through it or past it to the creation on the other side.

If I’ve scheduled time to write, but the day has been buzzy and distracting, it can be hard to get traction to start creating. If I can’t get going on my own, out comes the timer and I try to do at least two rounds of Pomodoro®. Amazingly, once I get into the project again, the creative juices take over. This goes hand in hand with that other “mind trick” I use and Just Open the File. If I can just get started, the engine catches and I can keep it going.

The other scenario I find it helpful to use this technique is when I’ve run into a block. Something about knowing that if I can get some words down during one of these sprints gives me the confidences to break through to the other side.

Applications and Apps

All of the above applies to drafting prose for me particularly, and to editing and revision work.  Since I work in the realm of novels, that’s usually working on scenes or parts of scenes.

Consequently, I have also found that I can’t use it when I’m outlining or for other pre-writing activities. For those, once I get going I don’t want any artificial clock stopping me. Further, motivation isn’t an issue because a new project is by definition new and shiny. So less useful a technique in those cases.

As for apps, any timer is works. I’ve used Google’s built-in countdown timer (just do a search for those terms) and my watch timer. The original used a kitchen timer. Simplicity is a big part of why this technique works, so no need to overthink it. Get a timer, use it.

If you want to use an app for continuous sessions, I can also recommend the ClearFocus for Android. I like the layout, colors, and the way the app automates rest periods and longer bouts (stringing multiple sessions together over a couple of hours).

Who It Might Not Work For

If you deal with anxiety or if timed anythings set your teeth on edge, then the Pomodoro Technique® likely won’t make creating easier. I know a lot of people can’t stand the idea of creating to a clock; since that’s the whole point of this technique, it will likely not work for you.

Additionally, some types of creation just don’t fit well into 25 minute chunks, nor with the idea of deep focus. Some people can create just fine flitting from flower to flower in their garden of ideas. If you work 10 minutes on one scene, then 15 more on a character bio, then 5 minutes searching for a good inspirational background image, and then back to writing a scene, you might get annoyed when the timer goes “bing” right in the middle of your flow.

If you work in those kind of chunks, you could try it, but I really think 25 minutes is a nice sweet spot for getting deeply focused and then letting yourself have a break. If that isn’t how you work, you could modifying, but I’m not sure this style of technique would work.

Finale

If you’d like to learn more about the technique, and there is more to it than just what I’ve talked about, you can visit https://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique. Check it out there.

So, what questions do you have? Have any of you had good success with this technique? Please share in the comments below.

Achieving Flow – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

Have you ever found yourself so invested in an activity that you forgot to eat? Hours passed in what seemed like minutes and during that time you find that you’ve completed a whole lot of whatever it was you were working on? According to my university choral conductor where I first learned about it, and to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has done the research on the topic, you’ve experienced a bout of flow.  And I’m convinced it’s a trainable mindset that can be invoked when needed.

For a bit more clarity Wikipedia defines it thus:

In positive psychologyflow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

History (a new section I’m adding for this article)

At Brigham Young University, I had the chance to join the BYU Men’s Chorus, an auditioned choir that – during my first year – was being newly directed by Rosalind Hall; a 200+ male voice choir with a wispy, effervescent Welsh woman as conductor whose accent took me completely off guard the first time I heard it. She quickly became one of my favorite people in the world.

That was the first of 6 years in the various choirs at BYU, many of them directed by Sister Hall. But it was during that first year that she started talking to us about flow. The way she described it, she wanted us to focus on the music, on our production of it, on her direction, on blending with our neighbor, on finding the right emotional connection, on anticipating tempo changes, and on and on.

And all that was too much she would say – too much to try to be actively focusing on if you were constantly hoping from thing to thing in your mind – am I blending? did I stick out too much on that note? did I cut off on time?

Instead, she encouraged us to work towards getting into flow, where the business of life and the business of creation both fell away and left you in a state of deep, satisfying engagement. You weren’t worried about what the final song was going to sound like or or if you were going to have it memorized. Rather you just rehearsed, in the moment, fixing what needed fixed right there.

She’d have us take a moment at the beginning of rehearsal and clear our minds, setting aside anything that was distracting – an upcoming test, anxiety about a date, homework problems still undone – and for that hour let ourselves be subsumed by the music.

After 6 years of practice, it’s a state I can drop into at will, especially for performing music, but anywhere else I want as well.

How to Use

The Wikipedia entry states that Csikszentmihályi’s Flow theory has three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state:

  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.
  3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.

The first item to me seems self explanatory.

As a solo writer, #2 is an interesting one because that immediate feedback seems to indicate that another party must be involved. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. For me, this means that whatever I am working on has visible results that I can critique or modify – words actually appearing on page. That’s part of why I prefer to type my fiction instead of hand write – the length of time required to write by hand means that my brain is already off to the next sentence while I’m working on the current one, or visa versa in that I have to spend so long on the current sentence I don’t remember where I’m going next.

I’ve heard that some poets prefer type writers or hand writing their work for specifically this reason – it slows them down so that they can choose the right word.

The last condition is also an interesting idea – being able to do something and being able to be confident to do it. I have found this to be true as well in order to be able to get into flow.

I I believe learning some meditation techniques could be useful in training your brain to mitigate distractions which can help you get into flow. But this one is harder to give a lot of counsel on without actually knowing you and your situation.

My Usage in Writing Fiction

I find I can get into flow do most things related to writing unless I’m just really tired or distracted. Drafting is where I use it the most as it can be very easy to sit down and draft without breaking concentration. Fiction writing or blog posts are places where I find myself really falling into flow.

And revision – especially polish edits. I get caught up in the flow of my own story and find myself tweaking words here and there while I read along. I really like using it here because I can definitely tell when something in my writing pulls me out of the narrative. I suspect that readers are most annoyed with a story when it pushes them out of the flow they get when reading a good book.

Applications and Apps

Applications can be just about anywhere as I stated before. Any activity that could benefit from deep focus could benefit from achieving flow. But for me, I would say the best application is learning to make it a habitual mindset. The more often I can drop into flow, the more I can get done while also enjoying the process. And this is a lot of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about – that flow promote happiness.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of his assertions about how to achieve happiness in life, but I will confirm that I find myself happier when I finish a flow session. And I do think artists and creators who are able to be more productive and more creative by getting in flow will have more to be excited about in their work.

For apps or programs, I think it’s the opposite. Turn off notifications on your phone, close the email tab, and let people know not to disturb you. Flow can be hard to maintain if you constantly have things clamoring for your attention.

Who It Might Not Work For

If you deal with anxiety or if timed anythings set your teeth on edge, then the Pomodoro Technique® likely won’t make creating easier. I know a lot of people can’t stand the idea of creating to a clock; since that’s the whole point of this technique, it will likely not work for you.

Further, some types of creation just don’t fit well into 25 minute chunks, nor with the idea of deep focus. Some people can create just fine flitting from flower to flower in their garden of ideas. If you work 10 minutes on one scene, then 15 more on a character bio, then 5 minutes searching for a good inspirational background image, and then back to writing a scene, you might get annoyed when the timer goes “bing” right in the middle of your flow.

If you work in those kind of chunks, you could try it, but I really think 25 minutes is a nice sweet spot for getting deeply focused and then letting yourself have a break. If that isn’t how you work, you could modifying, but I’m not sure this style of technique would work.

Finale

If you’d like to learn more about the technique, and there is more to it than just what I’ve talked about, you can visit https://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique. Check it out there along.

So, what questions do you have? Have any of you had good success with it? Please share in the comments below.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 12.51 – Constructed Languages

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟

Perhaps is because of how much I enjoy the whole crew, but when it’s just some of them doing the interviews, those are the episodes that I find be the least satisfying. And I don’t think this has anything to do with the hosts, but my own expectations.

This week’s episode is an interview/panel with Dirk Elszinga, an associate professor of linguistics, and focused on using constructed languages in fiction.

The biggest take away I had was that it is worthwhile to consider language background and usage if doing secondary world fiction (which most of mine is). Even down to how names behave. While I think this is something that I should consider, I’m not certain how far the rabbit hole I’d need to go – i.e. how much is anyone really going to care?

And this is probably where I would need to examine my own biases. Small tangent here – recently, I started re-reading a debut novel from a favorite author and noticed just how much my own critical eye has changed since I first read this book. I first read it just before I was starting to consider being an author and novelist. What I’ve noticed on this re-read is how much the author uses simile compared to now where he uses metaphor. And just how much more effective the later is.

As a reader only, that first pass didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all and the “limitation” of using similar vs. metaphor was lost on me. So I wonder how much of that really matters for the general populace.

This is similar to the discussion that is ongoing in the film space – critics have the things that they look for in movies, and in some very high profile cases recently, the critical opinion has diverted strongly from popular opinion.

I think constructed languages could very well fall into the same category of things – those in the know might really appreciate it while others may not care at all. So, how much effort should a writer expend? Brandon Sanderson has talked about this in his world-building lecture and I think I’ll echo what he said – Do enough to make people think you’ve done it all, but don’t do it all. Pepper little things around your story and world-building that at least let people know you’ve considered something, but don’t solve all of it.

And that’s where I think constructed languages is going to go for me right now. Maybe that can be a place in the future for some more craft building.

 

Just Open the File – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

To start off this series about personal productivity and time management for writers, I thought I would offer up a tip – or at least a phrase – of my own devising.

I call it Just Open the File (JOTF) and it’s such an absurdly simple idea that I hesitate even calling it a tip. But it has worked for me. And it might work for you.

How to Use

Just Open the File is exactly that – a personal mantra to remind yourself to open whatever it is you are working on – outline, revision, draft, character sketch, blog post, or whatever. Push past the feeling of boredom with your current opus, ignore the siren call of one more round of Splatoon 2, and leave aside the micro slam poetry battle on Twitter.

You open the file. It’s the smallest step you can take while making forward progress. Feel conflicted about where your story is going? JOTF. Got writer’s block and can’t decide what to write? JOTF. Hate everything and want to start over? Just open the file.

My Usage in Writing Fiction

I use this to trick my brain into using my existing habit of “working on what’s in front of me.” When I started learning about habits and habit forming (a whole ‘nother series) I kept hearing about “lowering the threshold” to the thing you wanted to do.

An example of lowering the threshold for a new habit: Want to work out more? Leave your workout clothes out and visible so you see them more frequently, so they’re right there waiting for you to put on as soon as you get home from work.

For me Just Open the File is an attempt to hack the routines and habits I already have. I’m the type of person that works on what I have open. If I see something sitting open in front of me, I start to “ideate” on it – little blips of thought of how or what comes next.  So, opening the file of my current project lowers threshold to actually working on it because, well, there it is, right there, in front of me.

When I am feeling decidedly bad and don’t want to work, I make a promise with myself that the only thing I’ll really push myself to do is to open the file. That’s all the will power I have to have. If I do open the file and I still don’t want to work, that’s fine. Good, even. I celebrate it. Look at me! I opened that file. Let’s send out a dance gif.

And then, almost invariably, I get this feeling that I could do just a bit more. Not much. Maybe a sentence or re-read a paragraph.  Even then, it might not be much. But it’s forward progress. It’s better or more complete than what I had.

And I do this over, and over, and over, until eventually, I don’t have to think about opening the file, I just do. I start.

Applications and Apps

I use this everywhere – personal and professional. Every time I feel myself resisting doing work I know I should be doing, I just re-state my little contract and open the file.

There aren’t really any apps per se – it could be opening an email draft or re-reading a text from somebody about something I don’t want to do. Anything where that sense of “Ugh, do I have to?” pops up. Use JOTF as a commitment to make forward progress.

Who It Might Not Work For

Type A, super-go-getters, major productive heroes. You lot already have this problem nipped.

Less tongue in cheek, I think this is something that could useful everywhere. Finances? JOTF. School homework? JOTF.

It’s all about making the first step so small it doesn’t actually feel like a step.

Finale

What other simple hacks or tricks do you use to get motivated to work on what you don’t want to do?

Leave comments below. I look forward to stealing seeing them.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 12.50 – Form and Function

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟 🌟

(for the rating obsessed types out there – these are out of 5 stars)

This was a great episode, mostly for the content and the interplay with the Chicago hosts. I really like Wesley Chu and Mary Anne Mohanraj as additions to the hosting crew – Mary Anne especially. I love her insights and I get a lot from the perspective she brings from her experience outside of speculative fiction. Tangentially, it’s likely my humor metric above will track with Howard’s appearance on the episode – we’ll see.

This week’s episode is about how form can dictate function within the realm of writing. It covered everything from writing for audiobooks to long form writing using a quill and ink to Eric James Stone’s business card flash fiction (which is a TOTALLY awesome bit of self branding – yes, I have been watching vids about marketing; why do you ask?).

My first paid project as a writer (woot woot) was writing a series for a stage production of radio plays for local theater group Main Street Radio Players – which allowed the troupe to perform a live show without the need for elaborate costumes and sets. I did a four episode crime thriller.

I LOVED doing this project even though it was so incredibly hard. Everything in that story had to be reflected through dialogue and sound effects – and even then, the sound effects got cut. Trying to tell a story that way when all my previous experience had been to only pepper dialogue through out was most challenging. Getting mood, story tone, description, BLOCKING (for crying out loud), through just dialogue was such a powerful growth experience. In that case the form of medium dictated entirely HOW the story could be told.

I couldn’t rely upon tricks like exposing a character’s internal monologue or letting silent “glances” or “looks” convey beats. I did use a narrator, but limited it to episode introductions and scene transitions. It was a fabulous experience.

Back to reflections on the episode – the gist was to use these different forms as ways to experiment, to break out of ruts, and to break through blocks. While I could see doing a different “form” for a scene just to try something out, a lot of the growth from my experience came from doing a finished work.

Do I think every writer should try a complete work in a different format than their norm? No, absolutely not. But I think there may be many writers who will treat this idea as just one more writing “gimmick” and miss out on a beneficial experience.

So, if you’ve done things like this before and didn’t find them useful, give a little more thought to doing something larger or more complete. That said, it’s not the kind of thing I think a writer should worry about. If you want to expand your craft and your flexibility – go for it.

Personal Productivity and Time Management for Writers – Series Introduction

When I was 17 or 18 years old, I attended a evening seminar with my dad presented by Franklin Day Planners (now Franklin-Covey). In it, the speaker, Hyrum W. Smith, gave a lecture about time management concepts and demonstrated the use of the Franklin Day Planner system.

It was engaging and intriguing and I immediately turned to my dad after it was over and we decided to invest in a day planner system for me to use my senior year of high school in prep for college.

Since that time, I have gravitated towards lifehacks, techniques, tricks, and systems all with the goal of improving my work and my life and reducing the amount of stress that those inevitably cause. I’m not passionate about it or only live thinking about how I can squeeze one second more out of my day, but I do find the idea and application useful for reducing stress and improving balance between all the various things that pull at my time. So, I’ve done a lot of reading, experimenting, and research into the various time management and project management choices that are out there.

I’m no expert, but I have used and do use many of these in my daily routine.

In this series, I want to discuss these several options in relation to being an author and novelist. I won’t make a ton of recommendations because personal productivity and time management can be very individualized. But I can at talk about how they might be incorporated and where they might be useful for a writer.

Quick Disclaimer: None of the items in this series are endorsements for any product, software, or system. I’m not getting paid to promote or write about any of them. These are just reflections on my own personal use and suggestions for how others might be able to use them.

Subscribe, follow along, engage in the comments, and share your thoughts and experiences. I’m always on the lookout for new things to try.