Being More Productive–Taking on the Procrastination Pixies by…Eating Frogs?

 

One of the challenges of being a professional author is that there are so many cool activities that look a lot like “work,” and actually they are a Procrastination Pixie in disguise. There is so much busy-work that can just eat up huge chunks of time, leaving us little meaningful progress to show for all our effort. As writers we must always be gauging what is really most important. Face it. We have a lot of essential tasks for our writing job alone—writing, reading, researching, marketing, promoting, socializing on FB, blogging, tweeting, editing, revising, plotting, planning, expensive therapy, etc. These are all jobs added on top of our day job, running a home, cleaning, cooking, laundry, fitness, and so on and so forth. All these tasks must get done. That is true. But, not all of them have the same priority ;).

There is a lot of emotional distancing when it comes to being a writer, especially when you are new. Our dream is new and shiny….yet often not taken seriously by others. Most of the time, if we aren’t careful, we won’t take it seriously either. If we aren’t mindful, we will allow busy-work to interfere with diving in and taking our dream by the horns.

Every day is a challenge for me to manage time, to learn to say no, and to focus. I am not where I want to be, but I certainly am not where I was. Compared to most people, I am actually pretty productive, so today we are going to talk about increasing productivity. Get the most output for the minimal time input.

Understand that there is a difference between activity and productivity.

One of the most common Procrastination Pixies falls under the genus species name, Activia Pixius Busyworkus. This pixie masquerades itself as a really great use of time, but, in reality, is a total time-suck that can have you scrapbooking by lunch. What does an Activia Pixius look like? The genus includes, but is not limited to, thank you notes three months after Christmas, watching old home movies, organizing baby pictures, and quality time with the Thigh Master you bought in 1994. Basically any chore that made you groan and roll your eyes until it came time to sit and write is guaranteed to be an Activius Pixius. You make a vow to write, and suddenly that junk drawer that hasn’t bothered you for the past six months is calling out to you like a siren. Strap yourself to the mast (office chair) and plug your ears. Your junk drawer has more layers than the Triassic Period, and I’ll bet there are a few stray Jelly Belly Jelly Beans sealed in amber below the napkins from KFC you are too cheap to throw away but never use.

Oh, wait…maybe that’s my drawer. You get the point.

Rare Photo of Actual Procrastination Pixie Disguised as a Hamster Cage that Needs Cleaning Instead of Doing Edits on Novel

I have to make a conscious effort to focus on the meaningful tasks of the day. If we aren’t deliberate, the Activia Pixius will whisk us off to a hall closet to sort Goodwill donations in three seconds flat.

At the end of the day you might be able to eat off your floors, but sadly, shiny floors do not impress agents. I know, I asked the one locked in my closet—ha ha ha ha! Kidding. My closets are way too cluttered to fit an agent!

Organized cabinets do not sell books. They might make more room for all the books left unsold, but that’s about it. A good way to avoid the snares of the Activia Pixius is to make goals. Real goals. FROG Goals.

Eat that Frog

One of my all-time favorite books is Eat that Frog—21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. This is a really great book, not only because of the advice, but it is short…with big print. Easy read. Actually Tracy’s book changed my life. I know when I start using his methods I can take over the world in a day. Okay maybe not take it over, but at least give it a good pillow-fluffing.

Years ago, I would write my Things to Do list. I would write down everything that needed to be done, and would start with the easy things first. Right? WRONG! Brian instructs we do the opposite. Place your FROGS at the top of the page. Frogs are the tasks you dread. The bigger, the uglier, and the slimier that Frog is, the closer we need to put it to the top.

We do these FIRST. We must face our fears. Dive headlong into those tasks we dread. We are not allowed to do anything else on the list until we take out the Frogs with extreme prejudice. After the Frogs have been made into a green smear? Then feel free to do the dishes, read blogs, chat on Facebook, etc. All these other chores need to be done. Hey, my husband has grown kind of fond of eating and having clean socks. So have I. But I need to always be careful that I am not putting these tasks ahead of writing that must get done. And, actually, it is very liberating to annihilate your Frogs first. It takes away this giant anvil hanging over your head. Often the other tasks will go far quicker because now there is nothing to avoid, no Frog to make you drag your feet while folding the towels.

When we retool how we prioritize, the results are impressive.

He is mocking you.

What are some time-management techniques you guys use? Any suggestions? Advice? Do you have an infestation of Activius Pixii (plural for Pixius)? What form do they take? Maybe we can give you advice for safe removal with live traps :D.

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home. It is not too late to sign up for the workshop Selling Your Book taught by USA Today Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. This workshop is for all authors, but any self-pubbed writers would stand to gain amazing benefit.

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  1. #1 by Kerry Meacham on January 7, 2011 - 2:00 pm

    Love this book. Brian Tracy’s other book, Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want-Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible, is great too. It’s not as quick a read but well worth the time.

    One quick trick I’ve learned in doing my daily to do list is to have my frog item(s) in a green font and bolded. If you write it out then take a green highlighter to these beasts. It’s a quick visual way to make sure your subconcious doesn’t try to push you down the list. You simply can’t say that you forgot it was a frog when it is the only thing green or highlighted green on the page.

    Great post as always Kristen.

    Thanks,

    Kerry

  2. #2 by Annette on January 7, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    Great post! A couple of my frogs are of Godzilla proportion. Today, I’m tackling one of them: a story analysis on a 107,000-word client manuscript. My time-management technique is using a one-hour timer to keep me on task and remind me to take breaks at regular intervals. My sirens: backing-up my desktop before taking it to the Apple Store, doing laundry, and making a pot of vegetable soup. Now, off to fight the siren song…

    P.S. Love the hamster pixie. LOL

  3. #3 by Jill Swenson on January 7, 2011 - 2:24 pm

    I found one of those pixie’s at my place! What a wonderful piece! I am always inspired to get down to business after reading your blog. THANKS

  4. #4 by Susan Bischoff on January 7, 2011 - 3:00 pm

    The way you keep nailing my bad habits so accurately is getting kinda creepy. Loved your visual aids in this one!

  5. #5 by Albert Berg on January 7, 2011 - 3:03 pm

    While it is important to know your priorities, I’ve found that at times after focusing on my writing for a while it really helps to get up and do something else, even if it’s only doing the dishes (walks are nice too). Getting out of the writing mode for a few minutes helps me reset my brain, and I can come back to my work later with a fresh perspective.

  6. #6 by CMStewart on January 7, 2011 - 3:28 pm

    Telling other people my daily writing goals helps maintain my word count. I don’t want to be all talk and no action, so I pound out my word count no matter how many pixies are flying around the room.

  7. #7 by dtrasler on January 7, 2011 - 3:33 pm

    This year I’m trying a bold strategy. As an ageing gamer who writes plays (but, you understand, not enough plays…) I’ve bought myself a new game for Christmas. Sounds like a bad idea, but wait, there’s more: I’m only allowed to play the game when I’ve acheived the day’s target. And because I can’t play the game when the kids are home from school, I have to get on with things NOW! So far this year I’ve hit all my targets, finished my full length play (A year in the writing and re-writing!) and have high hopes my next project will also be done in record time. And it’s a good game, too.

    • #8 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 7, 2011 - 3:34 pm

      LOL…I did that with Modern Warfare’s Black Ops. It works, :D.

  8. #9 by Patti Mallett on January 7, 2011 - 4:13 pm

    I’m new by a few days to this blog and have already gained many tidbits and “connections” from it. Today is Truth-told-with-Humor, my favorite kind, and it’s repeating what I told myself this morning (obviously, I have read Brian Tracy), that I need to do the job I least want to do first. Thanks, Kristen!

  9. #10 by Austin Wulf on January 7, 2011 - 4:24 pm

    I definitely need to reprioritize–both my writing day and my day in general. I usually start with my novel work in the morning (because it’s the easiest writing I’ll do all day) and then move on to my blogs (second easiest.) The unfortunate fact is that none of these is making me any money right now.

    At least I prioritize my writing, haha. I might go a couple days without cleaning out the catboxes because it takes such a back seat to doing work. (And don’t ask me about showers :P)

  10. #11 by Shellie on January 7, 2011 - 4:33 pm

    Kristen! You know me too well, its scary! Will make my list with green marker and brown marker. I also bought myself a game for christmas, after hubby bought me the Xbox 360 with Kinect. I will try the do the bad first and get a reward (by playing the game). Much better and easier on the hips that the other reward, chocolate! Thanks for another great post.

  11. #12 by bill hubiak on January 7, 2011 - 4:38 pm

    After spending the last couple of decades on the road (40-45 weeks of the year) conducting training, my wife encouraged me to semi-retire so I could write more. So for the last several months I’ve been working on my third novel. I’m an early riser and have found that if I sit down at the computer as soon as I wake up, I’m still sitting there writing until I get hungry around noon. From then on it gets iffy. I usually give in to every distraction that comes my way and am lucky if I crank out another paragraph for the rest of the day. The only exception is on the days I publish my new blog. Those days I can come back from the gym, eat some more (because I love to eat), and get back to work until I finish what needs to be done. I’m thinking that a sense of urgency may be missing from my work on the new novel. I’ve set a goal for completing it before we go off to Maui in early March. Perhaps shorter term, intermediate goals might serve me better. What do you think?

    • #13 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 7, 2011 - 4:57 pm

      Definitely. Goals need to be broken down into benchmarks or they are too overwhelming. You sound like me. I write all morning and by lunch, I am done. Put a fork in me. D-O-N-E.

  12. #14 by Jami Gold on January 7, 2011 - 4:58 pm

    Love that idea to do the hard stuff first. Great. Now to do it… :)

  13. #15 by Theresa on January 7, 2011 - 4:59 pm

    I enjoy the Brian Tracy books and have read/heard “Eat That Frog” several times.

    I suggest Flylady or a variation. You don’t have to do everything at once, or each email when it comes in, but you can tell that pixie that “yes, I’ll get to that, it’s scheduled, when I am finished here.”

    Another suggestion is to have a list of 5 specific things that, when done, say “my place is presentable and I can think.” When the house pixie comes calling, it’s easier to brush her off if those 5 things are done.

    I think better with a decluttered floor, dresser top and desk tops. I write in my bedroom. Sometimes there are bags of stuff in my closet, and my 3rd dresser/paperwork drawer is packed, but both are shut and I don’t see what’s inside.

    I can and should schedule time to clean them out every day or so after I’ve eaten my frogs. Be sure you do that, from experience. Until then, if someone needs something enough to interrupt me, I have two places to search, not stacks of stuff all over the place.

    Another suggestion I once read, do not remember where, is to keep a piece of paper to jot down things to do that come to mind while you’re writing, after you’re done, then you can complete the list.

    Unfortunately, you do have to work on that list after you’re done writing.

  14. #16 by jesswords10 on January 7, 2011 - 10:00 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. It’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do, and yet you managed to show me where I’m going wrong. lol! Damn, the pixies are at it again. So I was doing everything backwards. I see now! I will definitely be checking out Brian Tracy’s book and yours!

    One method I’ve begun using is called The Butt in the Chair approach. Give yourself a time frame, sit down. You don’t have to write, but you’re not allowed to do anything else. For me, that’s enough to get me thinking and the writing follows in accord. I just did a blog post on this. Got the idea from another great book called “The Writer’s Idea Book” by Jack Heffron.
    http://jesswords10.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/the-butt-in-the-chair-approach/

    Thanks again, Kristen!

  15. #17 by hudsoncoffeetraders on January 7, 2011 - 10:01 pm

    My family has learned to fear Sunday evenings! Because I work at home I make certain that the laundry is done, the house is tidy and there are no nagging chores to face come Monday morning. It also helps me to transition the space from one that belongs to the whole family into my work place.

  16. #18 by Hilary on January 7, 2011 - 10:04 pm

    Fantastic blog, Kristen! I love reading it and I’m learning a great deal from you and the sources you reference in your posts.

    I haven’t read Brian Tracy’s book, but I get the gist of it from your blog post today. I started writing again last year when I participated in NaNoWriMo, after YEARS of not writing, so I’m still trying to find my groove by setting goals (which, as it turns out, helps me to avoid the frogs).

    One of those goals is to get up an hour earlier than I need to each morning and write before I have to get ready for the day job. When I get home at night, I read a chapter or two of a craft book. If that book has writing exercises, I incorporate them into my early morning writing.

    The early rising is my biggest frog; no one would ever confuse me for a morning person.

    I’m finding that writing is more a tadpole for me than any other chore I have to do, at least for now. I suspect that is because I consider the fact that I’m writing again to be a gift…one that I am so grateful to have had returned to me. At some point, I may find myself taking that gift for granted and then writing will become a huge frog.

    In the meantime, all my other chores are my frogs and happen after I do my evening reading. Who wants to do laundry or clean the cat box anyway?

  17. #19 by Margaret Reyes Dempsey on January 7, 2011 - 11:51 pm

    Great blog. You must have been channeling my energy (make that absense of energy) when you wrote this one. ;-)

    Today I confessed my sins in Typical Day in the Life of a Writer: http://margaretreyesdempsey.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/typical-day-in-the-life-of-a-writer/

    I promise to do better tomorrow. Really. :-)

  18. #20 by Jessica S on January 8, 2011 - 12:53 am

    I just came across your blog, and I’m hooked already. I just wrote a post about breaking the procrastination cycle. After reading this, it’s really hard not to go back and amend some of it to include eating the frogs first. Maybe I still will. You wouldn’t mind another back link to your blog, would you? ;)

    • #21 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 8, 2011 - 2:55 am

      Not at all. Back-link away! Glad you enjoyed :D

  19. #22 by Marilag Lubag on January 8, 2011 - 1:03 am

    I’m not a good person to ask with time management. I know that the more tasks I do, the more efficient I become. The less tasks the less efficient. I’m a procrastinator unless I’m busy. Then I became queen of multitasking.

  20. #23 by M.E. Anders on January 8, 2011 - 12:12 pm

    Half-way through your article, I halted in my tracks. I NEEDED that book by Brian – so, off to order it I go. :)

    As for time management, I am actually a bit “too good” at my to-do-list, since I tend to neglect relationships in the process. Striving for balance is key.

  21. #24 by Lisa Ullrich on January 9, 2011 - 4:25 pm

    I just love the creativity and imagination you put into your posts. I’m a great procrastinator. I have no problem sitting in front of my computer to watch the newest episodes of General Hospital, reruns of Bones, reading blogs, Facebooking and Twittering. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if I could do all those things every single day of the week and say I’m being productive. However, there are so many other things I would like to accomplish.

    My biggest reason for procrastination is lack of direction. I’ve yet determined where I want to be and what direction I want to take. This leads me to my biggest procrastination pixie….”researching” on the internet. If I read everything there is to read, then maybe, just maybe, I will figure it out. Most likely, I’m dragging my feet on determining my direction because I’m afraid I will choose the wrong direction. If I never choose, it can’t be wrong, right?

    This year, I’m actually taking steps to go in a direction, well many directions, but at least I’m moving somewhere. I’ve made a whole list of things I want to do this year, ways of living my life, and things to accomplish. Since the new year, I’ve been being proactive, I have a day planner, and taking steps to do just this. Your blog inspires me.

  22. #25 by katekatharinaferguson on January 10, 2011 - 1:58 am

    I’m glad these pixies are getting the recognition warranted by their huge distraction potential. Am getting back to lesson planning…NOW.

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