Make Your Workshop Notes Work for You

Workshop-NotesWho loves to take workshops? *Raising hand and waving it around!*

Who has random notes on paper that either get stuck in a desk and never looked at or thrown away? Who took notes on a computer but never accessed them or used the again?

How about we make what we learn from those workshops easily accessible and useful?

By taking the below steps you will maximize what you get out of each workshop because you are immediately incorporating it into your daily use. In addition, you’ll have those notes already organized and summarized with easy Search capabilities to quickly locate information.

 

Step 1: Where We Take Notes

Step number one is to bring a computer with you to every workshop, every time. You will rarely get a spare moment to transfer all those hand-written notes to your computer. Taking notes directly into your computer has the following benefits.

  • Saves you time transferring/makes sure your notes make it in to your computer
  • Mobile and more easily accessible from anywhere
  • Notes become searchable = more useful

*If you are a non-computer person (I know many authors who still prefer to hand-write), consider making a binder to hold your notes similar to how we set up Notebooks/Sections/Pages in OneNote.

 

Step 2: How We Take Notes

I’m going to use OneNote as my example. I use OneNote because it keeps my notes in one place (rather than opening multiple files) and is easily searchable. However this method can also apply to other note-taking apps/software as well as Word.

  1. Create a Notebook called “Workshops” (if you don’t frequent workshops often, then your workshop notes could be a Section in another notebook like “Writing”)
  2. Create a new Section for each workshop you take
  3. Create Pages for each topic in that workshop
  4. Type your notes directly on the pages

 

Step 3: Always Summarize & Follow Up

businessThe next step in taking your workshop notes is to summarize. You’ll want to do this immediately after finishing the class, while the material is still fresh in your mind. A summary can take several forms:

  1. Create a Page in that workshop Section with a summary of the information that stood out for you
  2. Add to any running “idea lists” or checklists you have in other notebooks/sections of OneNote
  3. Add to any “process” notes you have in other notebooks/sections of OneNote
  4. Favorite the important links or copy them into any link lists in OneNote
  5. Go take any actions that don’t involve notes:
    • Sign up for other suggested workshops you think you’d like
    • Purchase books or materials they suggested that you think you’d find useful
    • Research anything they mentioned (tools, book cover designers, editors, local book stores, you name it)
    • Check out links they mentioned as helpful (save them to your links list if you find them helpful)

 

Step 4: Create Usable/Repeatable Tools

If you really like a concept from a workshop, try to create a reusable template that you incorporate into each new book project as you start.

For example, after taking a “Save the Cat” workshop, I created a template for my personal use that breaks down the different beats, timing for those, has notes to remind me of important details, etc. I fill that template out for every book now.

If you have a template on that subject, add to it with any details that you feel you want to incorporate into every project you do.

KEY: when you start a new project, check through your lists, templates and the notes summaries to fresh those concept in your mind. You can also do this mid-project when a specific topic applies (like ideas for humor, or ideas to get past writer’s block, etc.). When stuck, reference your notes!

 

In Conclusion

You’ll be more likely to incorporate what you’ve leaned from your workshops you into your method if you consciously review your notes. Making your notes as easy as possible to review and use will make you more likely to do so.

Best of luck and enjoy those workshop!

The Power of an Old-Fashioned Checklist

The Power of an Old-FashionedI have yet to find anything better than the old-fashioned checklist for keeping track of daily tasks. This is a very powerful tool that keeps my life sane, no matter how many deadlines and things-to-do that crop up both professionally and personally.

I’ve tried just about every task list software/app I can get my hands on for cheap or free, and none of them meet the needs and convenience of simply writing it down in a notebook – one which is portable. Usually, I’m a huge advocate for going digital when you can. But, for daily tasks, the notebook is your best friend. (Caveat – there is a tiny bit of digital cross over. Keep reading.)

Benefits

There are several benefits and impacts of using an old-fashioned check list in this way…

  • You will better be able to prioritize your day, when you see both meetings and tasks on paper. (Like using a map to plan a route.)
  • It helps prepare you for the next day. You know what’s coming. You even know if you need to adjust your usual routine.
  • You’re more likely to get all those little things done. (I find anything that doesn’t get written down doesn’t get done. I like to think of myself as a reliable person. The checklists help.)
  • There is proven psychological impact to checking things off. It helps you realize just what you’ve accomplished for the day. (This is so satisfying to me, that I’ll even write down tasks I’ve already completed just so I can check them off.)

Your Daily Checklist

A daily checklist of tasks to complete is something I employ both at work and at home (these days that’s both).

Checklist-Example

Here’s how it works:

  1. Use a spiral notebook (or something similar).
  2. Use your last 15 minutes of work and/or the last 15 minutes of your day to write tomorrow’s list.
  3. At the top of the page, list all your meetings or scheduled events.
    • Include the time, location (address or phone # or conference room #)
    • Include events that even happen daily 
  4. Below the list of meetings/events, write your task list for the day

    • Put your most critical 2-3 tasks at the top of the list, then…
    • Include daily tasks (those that happen every day)

    • Add tasks that are weekly that happen on that particular day

    • Add tasks that are monthly or yearly that happen on that particular day

    • Look at the previous day’s task list – anything that didn’t get completed needs to be transferred over to the new list

    • Even small items should make the list – reminders to yourself to call the dentist or pay your bills

    • If your day is lining up to be on the lighter side, then add tasks that are preparatory for upcoming things (to get a head start)
  5. At the beginning of your day, double check your list.

  6. Add to it anything that came through since the day before (emails that popped up overnight, etc).
  7. As you go through your day, check things off, adjust, cancel, and add to your task list as needed. (The BEST part is the checking off. It’s addictive.)

A few extra tips:

Bite-Sized

DO break larger tasks into their individual steps. If your task is “write a book” every single day, then you won’t check that task off for weeks, months, or even years, which is demoralizing. Make your task “write 3 pages” or “write 1000 words” or “write scene A” etc.

 

Pay Attention to Your Timing

Do NOT include items you know won’t happen in a single day. This will be different every day depending on your planned activities and your priorities. But if you know that you’ll be in meetings for 8-straight hours, scheduling a task that should take you 4-5 hours isn’t realistic. Any tasks which you need to put off to tomorrow you can either…

A) start tomorrow’s list and add the item(s) there, OR

B) moved those tasks to the long-term list (which we discuss in a second)

Only Immediate Tasks

 

Do NOT include items that are further out in time. If you include tasks that are for later in the week/month/year, you lose the satisfaction of getting to check it off for all that time. Plus, adding tasks you absolutely won’t/can’t get to that day means your checklist will be WAY too long. You want a checklist that is manageable (another psychological trick). Move those long-term tasks to the long-term list (see below).

DO Take Notes When Needed

The notebook doesn’t just have to be for checklists. If you need to take written notes (I use OneNote, but that’s not always convenient) write them on the back of the checklist or the next page in the notebook.

Long-Term Tasks

I gave a small caveat earlier. I do use digital task lists. As a PC girl, I’m particularly partial to the task manager in Microsoft Outlook. Don’t use the digital list for the daily stuff. Use it for longer-term tasks. Things out in time that I don’t want to forget are coming or that I want to get to, but much later than today or tomorrow.

For tasks that are recurring but only on a monthly or yearly basis, use your calendar (Google for me). Schedule something on your calendar for those items (with a reminder) so that you don’t forget it’s due on that day. (Don’t forget to schedule in time to complete the task if it takes longer than an hour or two.)

 

Okay everyone. Now that you have the tool, go out and start checking off those tasks. I’d love to hear how it goes for you! Was this helpful?

Top 10 Tips to Set Your Yearly Author Goals

As 2016 is coming to a close, and 2017 is mere hours away, you know what time has arrived…that’s right, time to set your goals for the year.

You thought I was going to say New Year’s Resolutions didn’t you? Nope!

Goals and resolutions often go hand in hand. Think of it this way, a resolution is usually based around making changes in your life to improve it or make yourself a better you. Whereas goals are a desired end point, an achievement toward which you direct your effort. For example:

Resolution: I’m going to become healthier this year.

Goals: Lose 15 pounds by April. Go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Limit myself to 1 coke/week.

Setting goals as an author is important. Let me repeat…this is an important exercise every author should take the time to do and most don’t.

Top achievers in ALL fields all set goals. Goals help you focus, move you forward, motivate you to achieve, help you to organize your time and resources, hold you accountable, help you believe in yourself, and get you closer to your dreams.

Today, we will not be setting “life” goals, but “author” goals. If it helps, think of your goals in this scenario as a mini-business plan for your author life for the year.set-your-your-yearly-author-goals

Our Top 10 Tips for Setting Your Yearly Author Goals:

 

1. What Is The Dream?

Every author has a dream or two related to writing. Do you want to publish your first book? Do you want to finish a book? Do you want to get a “YES” from a certain publisher or maybe an agent? Do you want to be a best-selling author for a top five publisher whose books are made into an award-winning series of movies or HBO show?

No matter how unattainable you think them, write down  your dreams for yourself as an author. These won’t be your goals, but you may set some (or many) of your goals this year with the dream(s) in mind.

For example: If the dream is to finish your first book, you might set a daily word count goal, or set a goal to find a mentor to help you, or set a goal to join a critique group.

2. Evaluate Your Current Situation

Evaluating where you currently are is always a great place to start. Look at what you achieved during the past year related to your author career and all the factors affecting those achievements. Evaluating where you are can help you determine where to go next. It also gives you a good baseline of what is achievable, where you could grow, and where you can let go.

For example, if in the past year you finished 4 books, perhaps your goal in the current year is to finish another 4, because you know you can do it. Or, after having had that experience, you realize that pace takes away from your personal life too much, and your goal is reduced to 2 or 3 books for the year. Or, on the flip side, you might realize you can do more, and set the goal at 5.

3. List Out Known Expectations

Most likely, you are starting the year with a known list of expectations. Do you have a contract with dates you owe agents or publishers your work? Do you have a pre-order date set, or you’ve announced a publication date to your readers? Have you already registered for classes? Or plan to attend an upcoming conference?

Write down a list of all the known expectations, because these will do 2 things:

  • Feed into the goals you set for the year.
  • Affect additional goals (conflicts? changes in direction?)

4. Pick Goals That Motivate You

Think about past goals and expectations. The ones you were excited about achieving and working on are most likely those you did achieve or even exceeded expectations.

Most authors are authors because they have a passion for the gig. So the goals you set for yourself, most likely should be ones you are excited to achieve. Passion is a key to achievement.

Ask yourself…why do I care about this goal?

5. Categorize

Often it helps to categorize your goals. Categorizing means thinking of types of goals. Doing this exercise will help you cover the bases. Many authors think of their writing goals (word count, finish a book by x-date, etc.) but forget things like personal growth goals like improving as a writer, or business-related goals like spend less on marketing.

A few category breakdowns you might consider:

Author Related:

  • writing goals
  • marketing goals
  • publishing goals
  • personal goals
  • business goals

Levels:

  • Scheduled Goals (things you expect to achieve relatively easily, or things you are obligated to others to achieve)
  • Stretch Goals (goals that might stretch you a bit, but are still achievable)
  • Reach for the Stars Goals (goals that will be really hard to achieve, but you want to try anyway!)

Generic:

  • work goals
  • personal goals
  • financial goals
  • social goals

6. How Many Goals?

This depends on you and the types of goals you are setting. Many articles out there recommend keeping your goal list short: Only 5-7 goals total.

If you’re someone who gets easily overwhelmed, or perhaps you’re just starting out, 5-7 goals is fantastic. If you’re a lister like me who is 5-10 (or more) years into their career as an author, you might need more.

My suggestion is write them ALL down. Then, if you look at the list and start to have a panic attack, start whittling it down to a size which makes you a little uncomfortable (you want to stretch yourself after all), but doesn’t make you want to throw up.

Remember, you want to be excited to start your goals list!

7. Think SMART, then Dream Big

SMART is an acronym which can help you set the specifics of your goals. Goals which set specifics such as a date, a quantity, a plan, etc. are more often achieved. For each goal you set, think about the following parameters:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable or Meaningful
  • A – Attainable or Action-Oriented
  • R – Relevant or Rewarding
  • T – Time-bound or Trackable

The SMART system is a great way to make sure your goals are not vague or irrelevant.

That said, they don’t tend to work for the “This is the Dream” related goals. Author’s dreams can be BIG, which is fantastic. The big stuff is what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish in the long-term. Check out this fantastic article on how to set goals for those big dreams: When SMART Goals Don’t Work, Here’s What To Do Instead

8. Put Your Goals in Writing

Write it down folks. Otherwise you’ll forget about it. I promise that, when I go to review my goals and see how I’m tracking, I have already forgotten half of them (usually the half I’m not working on yet).

WRITE IT DOWN

9. Prioritize

Look at your final list of goals and prioritize. Make sure you’re focusing your work and effort and energy on the most important goals first. When setting priorities think about:

  1. How long will it take to complete?
  2. When is it due?
  3. Who do you owe it to?
  4. Urgency level?
  5. Downstream impact? (Something could be low urgency today, but if you don’t get started it’s a big impact to you by next month. Or 3 other goals hinge on achieving the first goal.)

10. Reevaluate Regularly

Check your goal list often. Once a quarter (every 3 months) is a good rule of thumb. If you have goals happening every month, then once a month is better for you.

When you review your goals do the following:

  1. Check off those goals which have been achieved.
  2. Look at remaining goals and your progress.
  3. Has anything changed which affects your list?

Reevaluating your goals isn’t just about checking things off the list. During the course of a  year things are going to happen which could impact your list in big ways.

Sometimes life gets in the way, and you need to pare back your goals. Which is okay!

Sometimes an achieved goal can lead to more unplanned for goals. For example, you could have a goal of landing a contract with a publisher. Let’s say that happens. Yay! But they not only signed your book, but contracted 3 more for the series with specific due dates, many within this year. I promise, you’re going to need to add those to your goals and likely re-prioritize your list.

 

I hope this article helps you create a fantastic goal list for the year. And I hope you achieve not only your goals for the year, but also your dreams!

Dealing With Deadlines

duedateDeadlines. We all have them. I don’t care if you’re a student, a parent, a CEO, or President of the United States, you deal with deadlines regularly. Even bills could be considered deadlines. If you are one of those people who suddenly has to work extra hours to meet a deadline that seemed to loom sooner/faster than you expected, then you need help with managing your deadlines.

Here are some tips and techniques that could help:

Give Yourself a “Soft Deadline”

Aim to have your project/work completed ahead of schedule. How much depends on the deadline. If you’re given 1 week to complete something, try to finish 1-2 days earlier. If you have months, try a week or two earlier.  If you can psych yourself out to think of this as the actual deadline, even better. Having work completed ahead of time is both a huge stress relief, and gives you extra time to double-check and tweak if needed.

Break It Down

Break your project down into steps.

  1. List out all the steps of a project. Start higher level. For example, your first pass at the list might just say “make presentation.”
  2. Break your steps down more if needed. For example, make presentation becomes analyze the data, gather materials, outline, create presentation materials, etc.
  3. Write the tasks down in the order you’ll need to complete them.
  4. Include how long you think that individual task with take you.
  5. Note any specific deadlines for parts of the project (sometimes there are sub-deadlines involved)

Back It Up

Use backward planning to set your plan in place.

  1. Start from your soft deadline and move backwards task-by-task.
  2. Adjust the schedule as needed until it fits your time frame. There are a lot of ways to adjust. Here are a few:
    • double up tasks
    • add extra time on certain days or weeks
    • shorten amount of time you’ll take on certain tasks
    • ask for help
  3. Write your plan down. You can use a few methods for this including:
    • a simple checklist
    • a project management software or Gantt chart
    • put it on your calendar
  4. Don’t wait to get started – sooner is always better.
  5. Adjust your schedule as you move through the project.

A Few Extra Tips

  • Project Interruptions: Pay attention to other projects, deadlines, appointments, holidays. Make sure to plan those into your timing.
  • Feedback Time: Make sure you include some time for feedback (from your boss, from your customer, from your teacher, from your kids, from trusted advisors, from other members of the project, and so on). And then additional time to incorporate any of that feedback.
  • Manage Your Stakeholders: Clear communication, early and often, with the people to whom you owe the work will always save you time, trouble, complications, and often missed deadlines down the road.
  • Get Ahead Moments: There are times when you’ll actually have some downtime. Doesn’t happen often, I know. But it does happen. Those are great moments to get ahead on your project. The more ahead you can get, the less stress down the road.
  • Utilize Your Calendar: Make appointments for key benchmarks (the bigger tasks that need to get done by a very specific time). Make appointments to block off time to work on the project uninterrupted. If your project is recurring (say every 6 months), make an appointment to remind yourself to start preparations.

Project managers will likely recognize many of these tips. Break It Down and Back It Up will get you to something that could easily fit into a traditional Gantt chart. If you struggle with meeting deadlines, start with the basics I’ve outlined and get used to the process. But I would recommend taking a basic project management course (not software but theory). I’ve found those to be helpful with ideas for personal time/project/deadline management.

Happy planning!

Tame the Email Beast

Cat with lion shadow

If you’re like us, you have at least two or more email addresses. At work alone we receive at least 100 emails daily, most of which require a response very quickly. And that’s just work. Then there’s friends, family, author stuff, websites/blogs we follow, kids’ school and activities, and so forth. It becomes very easy to get buried in email in today’s digital world.

But there are ways to tame the beast! Here are our top 5 tips to keep your email manageable:

 

Action-Required Only

The only emails that should be in your inbox are those still requiring action. Which means you still need to read, reply, do something, or are waiting on someone else. Every other email should be moved to a folder or labels (filed) or deleted. For those of you with 100+ emails in your inbox, I’m talking to you. Make this a personal goal. Several of the next tips will help.

 

2-Minute Rule

Respond to any emails that will take you 2 minutes or less as they come in. This habit gets that email off your plate and out of your inbox. According to efficiency-related research, doing shorter tasks firsts makes you a more efficient person. (BTW… If you don’t interrupt easily, save all the 2-minute emails and answer them in chunks all at once.)

 

15-Minute Daily Clean Up

At the end of your work day, or before you shut down your personal computer at night, take the last 15 minutes to clean out your email inbox. Finish off any remaining 2-minute items. File any emails that you’re finished with. Delete any junk mail. Send “I’ll get back to you by x date/time” responses for those items that you can’t finish.

 

Out-of-Office (OOO) Messages

The out-of-office messaging feature is not just for going on long vacations. If you have customers/clients who expect a fast response to their emails, set OOO messaging if you’ll be away from your computer for longer than 1 hour. Dentist/doctor appointments, late mornings, long meetings with no computer…use OOO messaging.

 

Filing & Foldering

Keep a very simple file/folder method. These days, search capabilities mean you don’t need the complicated folder systems of yore. For example, at work you might have one folder for each quarter. Every single filed email goes in that folder during that time period. At home try to limit yourself to 5-10 folders by topic (no more than 10).  Use search to track down any filed emails when needed. By having very few folders to search, it makes it easier/faster to find them. It also makes it easier/faster to file them.
Tips-Organized.fwNow for the hard part. Take the time to go apply some of these methods. It might take you an hour to get your inbox reorganized if you have to redo your folder system. But once it’s complete, it’s so worth it. And if you can ingrain some of these habits, you’ll feel a lot less stressed because your inbox won’t be chaos!