Managing the Winter Blues

Full disclosure: A few years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, general anxiety disorder and a severe case of social anxiety disorder. Things can be tough sometimes, and medication (so far) hasn’t been a good option for me, but most days are good days. Cognitive therapies have helped me a lot, as well as a supportive partner and family, and things have only gotten better since my diagnosis. It’s easier to cope with an illness you know.

Still, winters are hard. Whether it’s the blues (or the mean reds) winter amplifies whatever negative emotions I’m feeling so that it’s hard to hear anything else. To whit, I’ve come up with some tools to help me manage and quiet those negative emotions, and I thought I’d share them with you in the event that they might help you as well.

Routine

The most important tool in my arsenal. It’s hard for me, because I’m not a big fan of routine, but I’ve found it to be integral to my mental health. Getting up at a similar time each day, going through a morning routine, a work routine, an evening routine, going to bed at a similar time each day – it takes some of the guess-work out of living when living is hard, and it gives me a framework to hang my emotions on so that I can examine them better.

Quality of Life Scores

CIHR and Crest.bd have a great online tool for measuring and tracking the overall quality of life of people with a bipolar disorder. It’s meant to be used once a week by filling out a short questionnaire about habits and moods, and it stores that data for comparison. I’ve found it to be a crucial tool in objectively measuring my disorder, and that it’s given me great insight into what is an acceptable quality of life for me. If my score is too low I know that I need to focus my efforts, change my tactics, or get outside help. It also allows me to hone in on problem areas in my life as they arise, which helps me to manage my symptoms, especially in winter.

Light Therapy

My Mum bought me a Litebook last winter and it’s helped immensely on dark mornings. Light therapy has been a great way to help me manage my sleep schedule when it threatens to become erratic. Litebooks can be pricey, but the odd sale at Costco or Amazon can bring the cost down immensely.

Healthy Foods

Eating well is particularly hard for me to do during the winter months, so I make it easier on myself by eliminating some of the prep work. I know that buying pre-sliced vegetables or bagged salads or bottled smoothies aren’t the most environmentally friendly options, but sometimes that’s the only way I can muster a reasonable diet. I allow myself to buy a little more ready-made during the winter, and use my waning fall energy to can or dry or freeze a store of food to get me through winter.

Exercise

I’m lucky enough to have been gifted an exercise bike, and keeping my heart rate up while the snow’s flying past the window has never been more convenient for me. Before the bike, I made time in my schedule for yoga, or running in place, or repetitions of basic strength exercises while I watched an episode of the Simpsons. Anything that gets my body moving also helps my mind. I’m a couch potato by nature, and I absolutely prefer sitting still to moving around, but I’ve learned that physical exercise in integral to my mental well being and so I treat it like medicine and dose it out accordingly.

Colour

In Ontario, the Big Grey starts around mid-November. The sky is grey, the trees are grey, the ground is grey. It’s abysmal, and energy-draining, and so I like to inject a little more colour into my life starting in late fall. I use my favourite rainbow facecloth in the shower. I put the bright throw blanket on the couch. I change my desktop to something vibrant. I bust out my paintbox, or play pinball, or knit wild patterns. Anything to counteract the greyness accumulating outside my doorway. Snow helps with the grey, but has a different negative effect for me, and I have very little control over when it falls.

Keeping in Touch

My social anxiety makes this especially difficult, but the insulative powers of a snowfall makes it absolutely necessary. My natural inclination is to hibernate through winter, to shut out everyone and put my head down and wait for it to be over, but it’s neither reasonable, nor safe, to do so. Reaching out to friends and family, regardless of how sick the anxiety makes me, is the best way to keep my head up, and it makes winter seem to pass faster ( win/win).

My arsenal shifts a little with the seasons, but it all boils down to good self care and trying to stay as aware of myself and my surrounding as I can. I realise that mental illness manifests differently for different people, and what works for me might not work for you. If you’re struggling, please reach out for professional help – it took me a few doctors before I was able to start making steps towards managing my illness myself, and I still have regular check ins to that end.

Wishing you stability, clarity, and safety this winter.

Writer’s Wishlist: Gift Ideas for the Writers in Your Life

Image credit: “A Million Hearts of Love” by JFXie is licensed under CC BY 4.0

With the winter holidays approaching, my mind is fixed on what I want to gift my loved ones this year. If a writer is among your loved ones, here are some ideas you might want to look into:

Pens/Pencils

Even if they don’t do the bulk of their writing by hand, chances are that your writer has a preferred brand or model of pen(cil) that they could use more of. If you’re unsure as to what that is, casually ask if they have any writing tool suggestions based on their own experience. Get ready for heady opinions. If their favourite pen is reusable then refills, or a compatible ink, could make a useful gift.

Their Favourite Beverage

Whether it’s tea, coffee, booze, or soda, most writers have a go-to drink. A canister of their favourite tea is sure to be a hit. A gift card to Starbucks or David’s would probably go over pretty well, too.

A Book-Store Gift Card

Buying books for book-lovers can be a daunting task, and odds are pretty good that your writer has an obscure wishlist you don’t even know about. You can’t go wrong with adding to their coffers so that they can finally buy that hard-to-find hardcover they’ve had their eyes on.

Literary Tees/Totes

There are plenty of vendors online that sell amazing tee shirts, sweaters, tote bags and socks with literary references galore. Get your writer a stylish scarf with their favourite author’s face on it, or a new library bag declaring their love of banned books. Out of Print is one of my personal favourites, and Book Riot has some amazing library themed items.

Museum/Gallery Passes

Writer’s need fuel, and what better to fuel a writer than some culture? A pass to their local museum, art gallery, or science centre will provide them with some exciting new ideas and a fun day of people watching. You could buy two and make it a date!

A Subscription

Be it to a sci-fi/fantasy magazine, a science/travel magazine, a time management site like Freedom, or a grammar checker like Grammarly, a subscription is a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

Memory Sticks/Data Storage

Writer’s can’t have enough backup. A new memory stick, or a half dozen, will give them an added feeling of security and allow them to transport their files safely if travelling. An external hard drive could also be a hit, or some additional Cloud storage.

A Fireproof Safe

Also in the realm of backup: a small fireproof safe can ensure that your writer’s ideas and stories remain unharmed in the event of a disaster. Those memory sticks? They can go in here, too. Be sure to get one large enough to fit a few reams of copy paper so there’s enough room for a few manuscripts.

A Donation in Their Name

Your writer’s local library is probably close to their heart, or they might have a favourite literacy program that they love to support. Making a donation to a cherished literary cause can be a wonderful way to show how much you care and bring a smile to their face.

So there you have it. Mileage may vary, depending on what type of writer you have in your life, but all of the above suggestions are a pretty good place to start for most writer folk. What’s on your wishlist?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned.

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2016: Post-mortem

Phew.

Well, that was one hell of a ride.

My ninth National Novel Writing Month turned out to be a doozy. My initial rebellious streak was quickly quashed, and I found myself reconsidering whether or not NaNoWriMo was indeed the right forum for me to try something as ambitious as marathon revisions – it certainly wasn’t a good idea this year.

I’ll admit I had an unforeseen hitch. At the end of October, I’d applied to (and been hired for) a part-time job that I thought would be a nice opportunity to get away from my desk. I’m incredibly introverted and home can be lonely sometimes; fifteen hours a week in retail sounded about the perfect amount of distraction, and socialisation, and I was looking forward to earning a regular income again.

I didn’t think it would get in the way of my revisions, but boy was I wrong.
In a series of unexpected events (namely half the staff quitting and the company being unable to hire new people to take their place) my part-time job quickly became full-time, and for the first time in years I found myself working 40 hours a week, spread over irregular hours, and at a job I had barely trained for. I was coming home exhausted. My sleep schedule was erratic – which is, I’ve found over the years, a sure-fire trigger for some of the nastier symptoms of my mood disorder. I felt frustrated and inadequate, and I most certainly didn’t feel like sitting at a keyboard and doing revisions after selling dog food for nine hours. My word count stagnated.

About half way through the month I conceded that maybe trying to work on an existing project was overly optimistic, and so I began on the first draft of a new story, set in a well-established world with a cast of characters that I know inside and out. This fresh-start helped, and my word count jumped, but I was so far behind that catching up still wasn’t going to happen. I might not have gone into November hellbent on meeting 50K, but I had hoped to write more, and more consistently, than what I actually managed.

So what were the good parts of NaNoWriMo for me this year? Here in December I’m content with the nearly 15K that I ended up with – it’s a good springboard for a project that I’m excited to examine more closely in the near future. I also made some writing buddies that I’m very much looking forward to getting to know better. I’ve since quit the retail job, and I’m happy to be getting back into the swing of daily writing again.

All in all, this November wasn’t the month I was hoping for, but it wasn’t a terrible experience, either. I think that might be one of my favourite aspects of NaNoWriMo: what I end up with at the end of thirty days might not be what I expected, but I’m always better, and wiser, for having written it.

How did your November go?

How I’m Doing NaNoWriMo Differently This Year

This is my 9th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and this year I’m doing things a little differently.

nano-rebel

See that? I ticked that box. I am now, officially, a NaNo Rebel.

I’d been hemming and hawing for weeks as to whether or not I should join in the festivities this year. I didn’t want to break my WriMo streak, but I also didn’t want to put my current manuscript revisions on hold to start a new first draft. After painful deliberation, I decided to just suck it up and try working on both projects simultaneously. Maybe it would be hard. Maybe it would be impossible; but really, who would care if I didn’t make it to 50k? It’s the effort that counts, right?

I created my project on the NaNoWriMo website on October 31st, and rolled up my sleeves in anticipation for the break-neck month ahead.

Now, it should be noted that I am a planner, or at least a ‘plantser’, and in all of my hemming and hawing I hadn’t done any outlining on this supposed new project. Day one went by with a paltry total of 83 words written. Day two saw a minute spike in word-count, bringing me to a grand total of 256. I was chugging along on my revisions, but completely lost in this new first draft. By the afternoon of day three I was starting to wonder if I had lost my frigging mind. Then I perused the personal achievement badges on nanowrimo.org, and I had an epiphany.

I had never considered working on anything other than a fresh novel draft to be a legitimate option for NaNoWriMo, but when I saw those jaunty little sunglasses something clicked. Suddenly, I saw working on revisions as a valid choice. Surely, there must be other rebels out there, and surely I would still be able to partake in 2016’s writeathon as a member of the community. I felt vindicated. And relieved.

So… what exactly am I doing this year?

I am writing like I normally write. I’m working on revisions of Steep, and drafting short stories as palette cleansers, and I’m writing blog posts and dumb poems and letters to friends, and I’m counting it all. Everything I write during the month of November, I’m adding to my word-count. Don’t ask me how I’m going to verify it, because I haven’t quite figured that part out yet, but I’m sure it’ll be a blast.

It’s been said before that the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to write a novel in 30 days but to develop the habit of writing every day. Maybe that’s true. Right now I’m thinking that maybe the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo is to write your heart out in whatever way you see fit, and maybe, after all, the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo can be different to different people and that not one of them is wrong.

So write on, you crazy diamonds.

 

Organising the Writer’s Notebook: the Index (or Table of Contents)

I love writing longhand. There’s something deeply satisfying about filling up a blank page with words. Stuffing a notebook to the brim is better than chocolate, and I have dozens of the things, fat with ink, lining shelves and stacked in corners throughout my home. I also rarely write in order – a character sketch here, a bit of research there, and some stories can easily span multiple cahiers – and information can get lost pretty easily.

I’m a little late to the craze, but I recently started using a bullet journal instead of a more traditional day planner to organise my schedule, and with learning the system I also learned of a tool that I wish I had started using years ago.

We’ll call it an ‘Index’ here for the sake of clarity and continuity – it might be more accurately described as a Table of Contents, with it being at the beginning of the book and organized by page count instead of alphabetically – but what it’s called is less important than what it does, and what it does is wonderful. Indexing allows a writer to add on to previous stories and easily find notes and reference material without having to scour a notebook from cover to cover. It also prevents the user from losing writing entirely if it gets buried between unrelated content. Paired with pagination, a notebook’s index is a powerhouse of organisation, and it’s a simple, user-friendly system. Here’s how it works.

There are two main elements to an index system: pagination and the index itself. For pagination, you can either add page numbers to an existing notebook  or purchase a pre-paginated notebook (two nice but pricey options: the Leuchtturm1917 or Clairefontaine’s ‘My Essential’). The first few pages (or last, if you prefer) are set aside as the index. Each new section of the book, be it a snippet of dialogue, a single page of notes, or an entire short story, is then logged in the index followed by the corresponding page numbers.

For example:

  • Chicken Poem: 1
  • Blog Post Ideas: 2-4, 39
  • Hunter’s Moon: 5-28
  • Dot Kensington Story Ideas: 29-32, 34
  • The Manta: 33
  • Steep Sequel Ideas: 35-38
  • See You At the End of the World: 39, 41-50
  • Notes on Spaceflight: 40, 51

It does take a little getting used to, and if you’re using this system it’s important to build the habit of adding to the index regularly – it’s only as good as it is current. Some people prefer to add to their index every time they write, but updating it every few days is also an option. If you’re indexing a filled notebook retroactively, affixing a bifold of paper to an inside cover can buy you enough space to log your entries.

Overall, indexing is an elegant system and a great tool if you love writing by hand. If our notebooks are jungles, our indexes are our maps, and knowing where you are is never a bad thing.

 

 

NaNoWriMo Prep 2016

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month every year for the past eight years (and met the target goal four of those years). I love the sense of camaraderie and good spirit associated with the event, and the feeling of accomplishment for having met my goal has always been worth the strenuous daily word counts.

This November is different for me because I’m currently elbow deep in revisions on last November’s novel. I’m hesitant to start a new project and I’m struggling with the idea of counting 50,000 words of revision instead. I’m saddened by the idea of sitting this month out, but also questioning the wisdom in beginning a new manuscript. In short, I’m stuck.

While I decide what my November writing schedule is going to look like, here are some of the things that I’m doing in preparation for NaNoWriMo (just in case):

Selecting Playlists: I use 8tracks for my  music fix while writing. I can’t handle listening to lyrics when I’m in story mode but I love having some emotional music playing, especially during the really heavy scenes. Finding music that suits the tone and setting of your novel can be time-consuming, so getting a playlist together now is a nice way to help your future self out and try on the skin of what you’ll be writing next month. One of my all-time favourites is the Journey soundtrack by Austin Wintory. Seriously… so good.

A Full Pantry/Freezer: I’m a bit of a food prepper at the best of times, but with a chill in the air my foraging kicks into high gear. This impulse helps immensely come word-marathon season – any time saved on basic human need stuff can be used for writing, afterall.  Many meals can be made ahead of time and frozen, or you can spend these next two weeks testing some recipes for some one-pot meals that’ll cook up quick in between chapters. When possible, choosing whole, healthy foods can be a good way to save time on snacks and meals and give your brain a boost; I’ll be stocking up on nuts, dried fruits, and a big bag of baby carrots for snacks (plus a box of my favourite cookies as a reward).

Honing My Daily Schedule: I tend to use October as a month to reevaluate my daily routine and audit my behaviour. Winter has a different creative energy for me, so it’s useful to reassess my habits ahead of time so I can come at the darker months with my toolbox full. This could mean streamlining my afternoon routine, carving out some time for my morning SADS lamp, or adjusting when/how often I walk the dogs. Consider trying out some of my favourite productivity tools to see if they’ll work for you this November.

Wetting the Soil: This month I’m watching a load of documentaries, reading whatever I can get my hands on, and spending more time in the woods. A trip to the museum or library, reading scientific magazines, taking a free online course, or following rabbit trails on Wikipedia as your curiosity leads are all great ways to enrich your imagination and grease your creative gears. Drench yourself in trivia and histories this month. Consider it ample hydration for the soil of the story you want to grow.

Gathering Inspiration: I have half dozen books in my home library that I always pick up when I’m feeling down about my writing, and I keep them even closer during NaNoWriMo. If you have a book (or six) that reminds you of why you wanted to be a writer in the first place, gather them up. NaNoWriMo pep talks are great sources of inspiration, but you never know when you might need an added boost from one of your faves.

Now that I’m writing full-time, the pace of National Novel Writing Month doesn’t seem quite so breakneck, but I remember all too well a time when drafting 50,000 words in 30 days seemed impossible. If you’re new to NaNoWriMo or struggling with how this whole crazy thing is going to go down, watch this site for an upcoming post with some tips for getting the most out of your keyboard this November.

In the meantime, happy prepping!

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Playlists: October Edition

I like to listen to instrumental music while I write – most often something that fits the mood of the story I’m working on and gets me immersed in the scene. This autumn I’m doubly steeped in spooky as I prepare for Halloween and work on revisions for my supernatural murder mystery novel, Steep. Here are some of the 8tracks playlists I’ve got on this month:

scientists library 8tracks.jpg

The Scientist’s Library, a collection by yourfavouritechild. A chill blend of classic jazz that’s good for just about any situation.

secret

What we do is secret, a collection by boldly. Mellow and melancholy, with a touch of adventure.

thoushalt.jpg

I: Thou Shalt Hit the Books, a collection by Igniparous. A solid classically-themed instrumental collection.

librarymist-copy

A Library in the Mist, a collection by hulloemily. A little  mysterious. A little sombre. A little spooky. Good stuff for supernatural magicks.

What are you listening to this October?

Quarterly Goals: Fall 2016

Autumn is my favourite season: sweaters and socks are once again an option, the air smells like woodsmoke and leaf mould. I can turn off the AC and turn open the windows, and drink as many hot beverages as I like; things are good.

This fall is my first using the quarterly goals system and since fall is (usually) my most productive time of year I’m looking forward to seeing just how much I can tick off my to-do list over the next three months.

Here’s what I’m planning:

Complete Current Revision of Steep:

This one is going to be my biggest challenge. I’m currently about a tenth of the way through revising (and retyping) my last manuscript, and to get this done in time means that every day is going to feel like NaNoWriMo from now until December 31st. I’m making good progress and gaining speed, so I’m optimistic that I can have this thing ready for Beta readers at the start of 2017.

Four Short Stories Revised:

Revising my current novel, Steep, has really hamstrung my gumption to revise anything else, and first drafts of short stories continue to pile up. I’d like to take a look at a few of these this fall and get them closer to human consumption.

Four New Recipes Learned:

Pretty straightforward. I’ve been honing my skill at canning these past few weeks, and I’d like to continue that trend by learning a couple of new canning recipes, as well as a new dinner or two.

Twelve Books Read:

While I’m still about a month behind on my 2016 year-long challenge to read a book a week, I’m hoping to keep up my current momentum until the end of the year. Shouldn’t be too hard considering the quality of my current TBR pile.

Twelve Letters Written:

Postcards count, too. Between some new penpals, reconnecting with old penpals, and my usual correspondence with friends and family this should go off without a hitch. I’m planning on trying a few new tricks with formatting (like cross-writing), and excited to break out my Halloween-themed postage stamps.

Twelve Game Nights w/ John:

My husband and I are both avid gamers, but our daily work schedules are quite different. This can make it hard for us to sit down for an hour or so at the same time and move some pieces around a board, so I’ve added this to my quarterly goals with the hope of finding a rhythm that works for both of us. We’ve purchased some great new titles recently, including Mysterium and Concordia, and I’m looking forward to further exploring their mechanics.

Eight Dog Hikes:

I walk the dogs multiple times a day, but my favourite outings with them are the woodsy, dirt-trail hikes that we do on weekends. With the weather getting colder, and my dogs getting older, hiking every weekend this quarter might not be an option, but I’m sure we can get some good ones in before the snow flies. This past Saturday we hiked a new trail, got a little lost, and found a cool footbridge I’d like to visit again, so. . . *tick*.

Two Online Courses Completed:

I enjoyed taking some free courses through Coursera last quarter, and have my eyes on some paleobiology and history courses this fall.

 Six Finished Knitted Objects:

With the cooler weather comes more comfortable knitting. I’m aiming to have a few more pairs of socks and a couple of new sweaters completed by the end of the year, plus an item or two to give away at Christmas.

Practice ukulele for a half hour, twice a week:

Would love to learn a few new strumming patterns – and get better at playing an E chord!

Repair rust damage/scratches on Beetax:

Our car, Beetax, is 16 years old and needs some TLC before the road salt goes down. The garage got cleaned out as per last quarter’s goal, so they’ll be stabling indoors this winter.

Send out Christmas cards to family and friends:

Last year I did hand-drawn cards. We’ll see.

Organise creative supplies closet:

I have a closet full of papers, paints, supports, clay, fabric, you name it, and it needs a good revamp to make everything more accessible.

Print, frame, and hang photos for picture collage:

Pretty self-explanatory. Bought some frames a month ago and would like to get them on the wall.

Operation Stashbuster – all yarn must fit neatly in steamer trunk by year’s end:

I have an obscene amount of yarn. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem except that it’s all over the place and a lot of it needs winding/sorting into cakes or skeins. I’ve got a few good patterns for stash-busting in my arsenal and I’m using them this fall. If what’s left doesn’t fit into the huge steamer trunk that it calls home by the end of this quarter I’m kicking it to the curb come January 1st.

Phew! It’s going to be a busy quarter, but I’m confident that I can achieve my goals if I put my mind to it, and all the extra caffeine and sugar that the season brings can’t hurt. I’m debating whether it’s a good idea to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, considering I’m still waist-deep in revisions of last November’s project, but I’ve taken part every year of the past 8 (with 4 wins under my belt), so it’s  a tough decision. I guess I’ll need to do some soul-searching.

If you’ve set yourself some quarterly goals, be sure to comment below – I’d love to see what you’re working towards.

Happy autumn!

 

Featured Image: “Halloween Wishes” by Miwok is licensed under CC0 1.0

Getting the Work Done: Tools to Fight Procrastination

 

I am one of the world’s best procrastinators.

Admittedly this is a difficult thing to measure as most people are pretty private about their failures and procrastination is, by and large, failing – failing to start, failing to make progress, failing to finish, failing to act – but if ten thousand hours is the amount of practice required to gain expertise in a particular field, then please consider me a master of procrastination.

For as long as I can recall I’ve been honing my craft. As a child, I would wait until I could hear my grandmother’s footsteps coming down the hallway before rushing to get ready for school. Homework assignments with weeklong deadlines were feverishly started (and completed) the night before their due dates. Once, I left the creation of a handknit gift until mere hours before the recipient’s party. In college, I consistently threw together last-minute essays that I had been given a month to complete. I am no stranger to all-nighters.

It’s not something that I’m proud of, despite my apparent skill, and it’s clear to me that procrastination has had a negative impact on my personal and professional life. It’s a shallow-feeling victory to squeak past the finish line when I know that I could have done a better job if I hadn’t procrastinated (and all without the white-knuckle, adrenaline-charged 12 to 24 hours that preceded). I have a laundry list of projects that have never seen the light of day because I am too disorganised (or scared) to actually start or finish them.  It is a major bummer to have a day pass without having accomplished anything of value. Our time, and willpower, are limited, and so making the best use of those resources is, I think, one of the most important skills a person can learn.

As authors, we often have to set our own deadlines and the last-minute scrambles begin to lose their charm pretty fast when you’re in charge of the clock. We all have our own particular styles of working, but for those of us who don’t enjoy the self-inflicted terror thrill of constantly being under the proverbial gun, here are some of the tools that I have found helpful in managing my urge to gold brick:

Quarterly Goals:

I started using this system with great effect after learning about it from author and vlogger Jenna Moreci. I tailored her system to best suit my own work style and have seen a rise in my productivity and focus since doing so. My quarterly goals span most aspects of my life – work, study, family, fitness – and I try to get the majority of my list accomplished each quarter to allow for a clean slate in the next. I schedule myself a ‘reality check’ two weeks before the quarter ends, during which I can revise a couple of my goals to better reflect what is actually attainable in the time left – I do this because I’m the kind of person who overfills her plate, and also the kind of person who flops into a heap of emotional diarrhoea when she’s overwhelmed. If you’re scrappy, and facing the impossible just makes you work harder, or the type of person who’s a little more down-to-earth with their expectations at the start of the quarter, then maybe you don’t need the reality check phase.

I print my goals onto a regular old sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ copy paper and post it above my desk. When I finish a goal, I cross that sucker off. Any still-relevant goals remaining at the end of the quarter get added to the next goal list, and I give myself a little reward if I’ve managed to complete more than 75% of my goals (usually a new book, or a nice stationery, or a fancy tea – something little but also a little lavish, to make it feel special). Repeat into infinity.

Pomodoro Technique:

I know that this method doesn’t work for everybody, but if you’ve never tried it I encourage you to give it a whirl. In essence, you are dividing each working hour into two sets of 25 minutes of focused work and two reward periods of five minutes. You work for 25 minutes on a specific task, then allow yourself 5 minutes to take a break (this could be getting up for a glass of water, dancing to a song, browsing social media… whatever). It works well for my day-to-day and lets me focus on my work without feeling bogged down or getting fatigued.

A fella by the name of Francesco Cirillo came up with this swell technique sometime in the 80’s. It’s simple, easy to use, and I’ve found it to be very effective. If you’re a traditionalist, any old kitchen timer will do but the red tomato-shaped twist-timers are the classic model for this technique (I had a pink piggy twist-timer that I used for years until its eventual demise). If you prefer something digital, the timer feature on any smartphone works just as well, or you can repurpose the browser-based tea timer Steep.it. These days I use the browser addon ‘Strict Workflow‘ for my ticking tomato needs, and it has been a terrific boon to my own productivity. I love it because if I’m being particularly neglectful I can spring it on myself with a single click, thereby snatching social media from my hands like an impatient parent.

There’s a similar system called ‘20/10‘ that I learned of from UfYH, which allocates a 10-minute break after every 20 minutes of work. These are a great tool if I’m being particularly fussy or if the task at hand is particularly difficult, but the 5-minute breaks of the Pomodoro technique is usually sufficient.

Social Media Blockers:

Another nice feature of Strict Workflow is that it can also be set to block certain distractions for the duration of the ‘work’ periods. There are plenty of free options out there for every browser, so don’t be afraid to try out a few to see which one works best for you. Most allow the user to tailor the list of blocked sites, the time allotted to blocking and breaks, and even the severity of the punishment/resistance if you try to bypass the block.

Eating the Frog:

The self-help book, ‘Eat That Frog‘, by Brian Tracey, centres on a useful tool for avoiding procrastination. The main idea is that you can build momentum in a day by starting with your hardest task (your ‘frog’) and completing said frog you can motivate yourself to move on to smaller/easier tasks, thereby mowing through your to-do list with the tenacity of a caffeine-addled llama. It’s pretty business-centred, and parts of it are definitely more useful than others, but the main principle of it has been quite helpful in my own day-to-day, so credit where credit’s due.

Making a Game of It:

It’s no secret that I love games. I go rabid for them. I will participate in just about anything if there’s scoring involved, and I love the challenge of competition. My penchant for points may lead to some pretty awkward board game nights, but I’ve learned to use my compulsion for play to my advantage.  If I’m chronically procrastinating on a project or field of work, making a game out of it allows me to approach the task from a different, and appealing angle. ‘Don’t Break the Chain‘, a year-long challenge to see just how many days I can keep up momentum for, or trying to break my own word count from they day before, are both great ways to make work feel exciting, and playful.

Lowering My Goals:

I firmly believe that procrastination is a defence against the fear of failure, so if I’m stuck on dalliance, I will not hesitate to hedge my goals.

This may sound like a cheat, but it’s one of the most useful tools I have for getting shit done. Like I said earlier, I am not resilient when overwhelmed. I melt like whipped cream on a radiator. Call it a byproduct of being raised a special snowflake, or a symptom of my anxiety disorder, but if I don’t think I can succeed at something I usually give up. In situations like these, the kindest thing I can do for myself is to lower my expectations. If I set out to write a thousand words a day and by day six I’m pooched, I lower my word count goal by half. Or three-quarters. I cut up my workload into tiny little bites that are sure to fit into my delicate milquetoast mouth, and I eat them.

And that’s that. I’m sure that as I gain experience I’ll discover more ways of putting off my desire to put things off, but for now those are the tools that have worked best for me. If there are any techniques or tools that you swear by, please mention them in the comments below, and I hope that by reading this post you have found something that will help you to break the cycle of your own procrastination.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should really get back to work.

This Is My Dog, Oscar: A Tribute on National Dog Day

This is my dog, Oscar.

He’s not a very good dog, by all accounts. He doesn’t come when he’s called, he pulls at his lead, and I’ve lost more than one pillow to his insatiable jaws.

He’s not a very good dog, but he’s my dog.

We go on a lot of adventures, most of them mundane, but when Oscar is with me even the most mundane of settings becomes exciting through his eyes. I notice things that I might not have without him. He makes me present in a way that I am not able to achieve on my own. He is always with me, day and night, waiting patiently outside the shower or sleeping at my bedside, and his presence gives me a comfort unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. He’s lying at my feet as I write this, twitching his toes at some dream-rabbit.

I have only experienced love at first sight with animals, and I did so with Oscar, too. He’s a weird looking guy, with an appearance more likely to make you laugh than sigh, and from the first moment I laid eyes on him I knew that I wanted him in my life. At five, I was at least his second owner. At twenty-five, he was my first dog – the first dog that I had ever been the sole caretaker of, and in the past five years we’ve been through a lot together: dead-end jobs, dead-end relationships, death-trap apartments and a mental health diagnosis that turned my life on a pin. He’s been by my side for the best of it all, including finding the person I went on to marry. Taking care of Oscar has taught me how to better take care of myself, and while I’m still learning on both fronts, I’m grateful for the perspective he’s given me.

I’m grateful, too, for him barking so loudly it scared off a fist-fight that threatened to drag me into it that one night in East Van. I’m grateful for our camping trips, mountain hikes, and nights spent keeping each other warm in Northern Ontario. I’m grateful for his enthusiasm for car rides, which served him well on the five-day road trip from the West Coast to our now home. I’m grateful for his patient ear when I tell him my problems or read him one of my stories so I can get a feel for the cadence, and when he sits by me, head cocked, as though he’s trying to understand every word.

He’s getting old now and I know that I’ve only got a few years left with him at best, so I’m trying to make the most of them. I hope that in the time we have left together I can give back to him a fraction of what he’s given me, because although it might sound cliche, he’s helped me to be a better person.

Perhaps I should clarify: I’m not a very good dog owner, but my dog doesn’t seem to mind.

This is my dog, Oscar.

He’s a very good dog, and he’s my dog.