Writing, Focus, and Accountability

I don’t know about you, but these days, my focus comes and goes in spurts. Trying to get anything done is a slog, uphill both ways, with a short stopover in the kitchen for a snack.

Right now, we’ve got the whole ‘social isolation’ thing happening, with worries about how fast COVID-19 already spread, and what the job market is gonna look like when this whole thing ends. Cause it has to end, right?

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you should know that I’m the very definition of a Type-A lady. I need to feel some control over my life.

However, we all know the best type of productivity for this Type-A lady? Involves check-lists!


Remember a couple months ago when I started spouting the glories of using project management tools from the office for my writing? (For me, I picked Trello. They are not sponsoring me. I have no sponsors. But hey, Trello, feel free to sponsor me!)

Turns out? Offices use project management tools cause they kinda work.

I’ve almost kept up with all my self-imposed tasking. Seriously, for an unpaid vanity gig, I give myself a lot of work! Sometimes I think maybe I should focus more on my actual writing [my mom AND my dad both agree]. (But, hey, if you do find this blog helpful, leave a comment!*)

During the first 3 months of 2020, I only dropped the ball once. (Turns out, if you send Author Spotlight interviews less than 24 hours before they should go up, the replies might be done in voice-to-text. I deserved it).

To keep from making my mistake?

3 “Tricks” for Making Checklists Work

  1. Put the things you want to accomplish on them
  2. Add due dates
  3. Actually check the thing regularly

Now, I tried, really hard. It was just a bunch of small things that added up to the big miss. I added a spotlight but didn’t add it to the trello, I was sick and didn’t do my weekly task of ‘checking my trello board’, and I waited until bedtime, the day the author spotlight should have been prepped, before triple-checking my gmail draft that actually has the master list of author spotlights.


Before you go thinking I was born a Type-A, I must confess the reality of the situation. I’m a recovering messy-girl. That’s why organization is a thing I do in binges, and then coast until something goes wrong. I was the one who missed recess to clean up her desk. The one who was once hoarding seven library books in her desk and/or locker.

I am the girl who SOMEHOW managed to lose a spelling test DURING the test, before turning it in.

You think I’m joking? It started off with a messy scrawl and a spare sheet of paper where I was copying over the words in neater handwriting and ended up… I still don’t know.


Where was I going with this?

Humble-brag time. Since I’ve been home, I’ve managed to:

  • read 14 books (10 physical ones)
  • slush read for The Oddville Press
  • beta read one short
  • attend 2 virtual Balticon meetings
  • 1 virtual Anansi Storytime meeting
  • revise 30 pages and send them to my mentor
  • did my first pass at prepping the next 30 pages
  • my weekly, unattended Twitter chat: #ChatWriteNow (10pm Thursdays)
  • Plus, of course, my 3 author spotlights, and as soon as I finish this, 3 blogposts and vlogposts

Plus, a not-a-rejection from an editor on a short story. (She’s no longer the editor on that project, I need to resubmit).

When I look at my Trello board for the entire 1st quarter (I organized it like that to keep from getting too cluttered), the only things I missed were:

  1. Monthly #authortube video that wasn’t my blog — although, if joining a livestream counts, I’m okay.
  2. Updating the trello board one week (obv)
  3. Still waiting on feedback from a few readers of my middle-grade novel, so I haven’t started its revision

And that’s not counting the hours and hours I spent mindlessly browsing facebook or ‘playing’ the fb not-a-puzzle-game Hero Wars.


Isolation update:

I am doing my dayjob from home — but it’s a new project with a lot of moving parts where I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

I’ve done a fair amount of cooking lately — pasta, stew, boxes with directions on the back. I’m surprised I haven’t resorted to stress-cleaning yet. But, I did find a pressure washer because my sidewalk needs it. Maybe this weekend?

Minor confession. Remember last week’s post where I said a lovely walk between dayjob and writing helped break everything up? Well… I sprained my ankle on Saturday, so I’ve unfortunately been forced to slack on the couch this week. But, hey, it’s been cold and rainy, so I don’t think I’m missing too much, besides the step-count.

I’ve been sleeping better, although I’m pretty sure it’s getting used to the stress, not decreasing my stress. But, hey, I’m great at binge reading when I’m stressed.


As all the experts are saying, be patient with yourself if productivity or creativity is on hold from the stress. Figure out what you can do, and make sure to leave some time to bring yourself joy — or at least distract yourself from the stress for a bit.


How are you holding up?

* Or, if you want, I did actually add a donation button over on the side. If you actually find this blog helpful and worthwhile, plus have the spare cash, I’ll give a shout out to my first sponsor.

I’m torn between, “other people are more deserving” and “I should value my own time and work”. Hence why it’s been up for months and I’m just now mentioning it. In a tiny aside. At the end.

How One Writer Uses Trello To Track Her Creative Progress

At some point in any creative’s life, they realize they can’t keep track of it all in their heads.

There are a lot of tools out there; from handwritten bullet journals to Scrivener to post-it notes, there is a plethora of choice. Because every person works differently, so different tools are going to be helpful to different people. Plus, even if a tool was useful at an earlier stage, doesn’t mean it’ll be the right tool for you right now.

If you’ve been following me, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve got a ton of balls in the air, so to speak.

  1. Revising a YA fantasy
  2. Sent my MG contemp-fantasy out for feedback
  3. Reworking some short stories
  4. Querying my short stories
  5. Revising other people’s queries – and posting some for my Query Corners
  6. Interviewing authors and posting Author Spotlights
  7. My weekly blogpost
  8. My weekly vlogpost
  9. Other #authortube activities – write-ins, short updates, etc.
  10. Volunteering for conventions – working on Balticon’s programming staff
  11. Assistant editor for Oddville – an online quarterly fiction magazine
  12. Applying to be a panelist at conventions
  13. Attending conventions (either as an attendee or presenter)
  14. Beta-reading for friends and family

I could probably think of a few more things I’m trying to do this month alone, but my list is getting a bit long. At some point, probably after some betas nudged me 3 months late, I realized I couldn’t keep tracking this in my head.

As I’ve discussed before, I love being able to check things off, I love keeping up productivity streak, I love feeling like I’m making progress.

To Do lists are always a good thing for me. But? I needed an online one. I needed to be able to check my list no matter where I was. I didn’t want a journal — I don’t carry a purse, just a phone-wallet.

There were a lot of post-it note or list style to-do lists, but my day job had introduced me to some project management tools. I’m a coder by day, and I’d worked with GitLabs, which has project milestones, and epic tasks broken down into 1-2 day chunks. So, I looked around to see if there was anything similar that I could use at home. Preferably free. And didn’t look like it came out of the 90s.

I saw ads for a few others – Monday.com kept being shown while I was trying to binge Brooklyn 99 on the cheap Hulu. But? It seemed aimed at teams and collaboration — not something that was a major concern for me. I thought it might be far too heavy-weight for what I was looking for. The first thing I saw and tried was a tool called Trello. And I liked it.

I fell off the bandwagon back in November or so, but with my New Year’s resolutions, I set it back up, and I’m really liking it. It helps me visualize, prioritize, and make sure I don’t forget things with less immediate deadlines.

Anyway, enough preamble. Pictures are worth 1,000 words. (Or more. Because I’m pretty sure I could get super wordy if I tried to describe an image in excruciating detail.)

Trello Boards

In Trello, you can have one or more “boards”. As this is intended for project managing a team, you can have multiple boards for multiple projects. This year, I’ve split mine boards by 3-month-chunks, rather than splitting it up by writing-project. This way? All of my active stuff in one place, but I’m keeping the board itself from getting too cluttered.

When I first tried it out last year, I just had one for what I was writing and one for what I was reading (books, beta-reading, etc). But, it kept getting busier and more cluttered and I felt overwhelmed.

Trello offers lots of templates, so when I created a new board for this year, I looked through them and set one up. But, after careful consideration, decided it wasn’t quite what I wanted, so created ANOTHER new a board for this quarter.

My Actual Trello Board

My Trello Board for 1st Quarter 2020

In the upper right corner, you’ll see a menu drop-down. That’s where you can change the background color, search for cards, add stickers, and more. I like a nice mellow blue, but if I was managing multiple boards, I’d likely use a different color per board. (Spring might be green…)

Lists

As you can see on the right, there’s a button to ‘Add another list’. The lists are the large columns. I’ve labeled mine:

  • Backlog
  • To Do
  • Awaiting Feedback/Queried
  • Doing
  • Done

And each list contains a number of ‘cards’ that I’ve added to it. As a card moves through my process, I can click and drag it from one column to the next — forward, backwards, or skipping around.

Cards

These are my task items. I try to break them down into small chunks. Bite-sized tasks that could be completed in just a few days, nothing huge and epic.

Clearly, you can split your items anyway you want, but half of my reason for using this tool is the sense of progress I get as I check things off. I’d rather check off 7 sub-tasks a week, than wait 2 months to check the parent-task off. I’ll STILL be thrilled when I move that card into the ‘Done’ list, but this way, I get to celebrate the little achievements that help me on my way.

Cards hold a LOT of information and a bevy of attributes.

  • Titles
  • Labels (for different types of tasks)
  • Members (if other people are collaborating, you can assign them)
  • Due dates (you can schedule reminders!)
  • Check-lists (where it tracks percentage done!)
  • Attachments! (if you need access to outside files)
  • Descriptions
  • And more!

When you add a new card, whatever you enter into the box becomes your title. Once created, you can click on the title to edit the full card, or you select the pencil icon to quick-edit a single attribute.

Labels

I have a bunch of labels I use, to keep track of the different types of tasking I do. You can just leave them as color options, or you can edit them and add a word to the label.

  • Conventions
  • Beta-Reading
  • Housekeeping
  • Revising
  • Author spotlight\Query Corners (requires outside input)
  • Blog\Vlog (just me)
  • Meetups
  • Oddville (I’m an editor/slush reader)

The color-blind option adds the symbols to the left edge of the label. I know in a glance, when I look at my board, which things are get me closer to publication, which are supporting the community, and which are for my social media platform.

Check-Lists

When I first saw that the items had check-lists inside them, I thought I was using Trello wrong. Then, I realized the truth. I could use those to break down the sub-tasks and watch my progress on a given task.

And the best part? I can use a pre-existing list as a template -> Just copy it on over to my new card.

Then again, it’s also one of the few annoyances I’ve found. It shows each and every instance of every checklist, rather than selecting from 1 instance of each checklist.

But still, watching the “Percent Complete” go up? TOTALLY WORTH IT.

Under housekeeping (my yellow label), I even made a task to make sure that I reviewed my board and updated all the tasks. The promise of watching that percent bar goes up almost guarantees I won’t miss a week.

Due Dates and Attachments

You’re familiar with the concept. I’m just taking a moment to show the screenshots for you. The Due Date lets you set reminders. The attachments lets you find stuff on many common hosting sites.

Deleting Boards

When you finish a project, you can always archive its board. But sometimes, you just don’t want the board to exist any longer. In those cases, you can delete it permanently.

Deleting a board

  1. Select settings
  2. Select more…
  3. Select Close board (this means no one can make updates to it)
  4. Confirm at the pop up
  5. Select ‘Delete’

Now, Trello has plenty of other features, from the automated Butler and more. But? For a solo creator, just trying to manage her workload? This is all I need.


Do you use any project management tools for your personal projects?

Which ones and why?

Let me know if you use Trello, too.