Thursday, 19 January 2017

5 Tips for Staying Productive and Motivated when Working from Home

Whenever my husband has to travel for work I always tell myself it's an opportunity to do great things. I visualise myself working late into the night on new books and swapping Netflix for writing extra blogs and raising my author profile. The reality is, with so much time suddenly available, after a week I find myself struggling to get out of bed.

I think back to writing my debut book Shop Girl Diaries. I had a full-time job and I would get up early to fit in some words before work or sacrifice evenings out to bash out a chapter. Look how much time you have now, I scold myself, why aren't you doing more with it?

Sometimes I wish I had a boss ordering me to do things, instead of having to coax myself through my to-do list. Is my list even right? Am I sure I'm taking the right steps? 

But that wish to have a boss is very fleeting and hollow indeed.

I'm starting to realise there are strategies available to keeping my energy up and motivation alive while working from home alone. With a bit of imagination, I think you'll find they don't just apply to writers either!

1.  Work in Short Stints - I find using a basic online timer really focuses me. For editing work I'll set it for 45-60 minutes and work continuously until it goes off. I'll have a five minute break, perhaps a cup of tea, and then I'll set it again. For new writing, I might set my timer to just 20 minutes. The timer is currently running now... I won't feel like a failure if it goes off, it's just a device to keep me concentrated on the job at hand. While the timer is running there's less inclination to scroll through your phone. Some people find they produce a lot more work in three twenty minute stints than they do in an long hour.  

2. Alternate Between Jobs - after two hours of editing, my head feels fuzzy and I start overlooking errors in the text. Instead of wrestling with a job, it makes much more sense to approach another. The energy you thought was depleted nearly always arises when you switch to a new task. For me, it may be blogging, writing or research. It might also be to putting the washing away or scraping mould off the walls caused by humidity! (Sob.) I know some people feel a need to separate  housework from their other work, but I find a domestic chore a great palate cleanser.

3. Learn Something New About Your Industry - sometimes  my well of creativity seems completely empty and I can't seem to create anything.  I've discovered that when this happens learning something new about your industry or craft might well fire you up. There is so much juicy information online and wonderful opportunities for self-improvement. 

For writing and marketing I turn to the Creative Penn Podcast or I might watch a lively webinar with author and marketeer Nick Stephenson. For insight into non-writing matters and for inspiration, I'll watch a short TED talk. After listening to an animated, encouraging voice I always feel a fresh burst of energy. If you think you have no time, perhaps you should watch Laura Vanderkam's talk How to Gain Control of Your Free Time. She argues it's not about not having enough time but about not making something a priority!

4. Read - this one is particularly for the writers out there. I didn't used to read as much as I do now. I used to think, I want to write books, not read them!  Now I think that's a ridiculous thing to say. Reading reminds me why I want to write in the first place. Coming across great lines in a book fills me with admiration for the craft. I read for pleasure but I also read to learn about structure and plot, what makes good characters and dialogue. If I love a book, I'll go through it, jotting down details about how it is done. I no longer think reading is a distraction from the job, but a part of the job. Scheduling some reading time could provide the inspiration needed for your next task.

5. Allow for Thinking Time - I've left my latest novel to breathe a few days before I send it back to my agent. In the meantime I find myself panicking over what to write next. I thought I had a half decent plot but my fingers were very reluctant to type Chapter 1. Did that mean it was a bad idea? More likely it was the result of not thinking about it for long enough. 

I find that until I stop and let myself DO NOTHING, the ideas can't come in. Yesterday, while washing up, an important plot twist came to me. Aha, I thought, and immediately regretted sending the half developed synopsis to my agent. Sometimes  you need to stop everything before you can move forward. Allowing time to just be might be the answer to that sticky problem.  

Deadlines and needing to pay the rent are often motivation enough, but sometimes staying fired up requires a few changes to the routine!

For daily updates, find me on Facebook/EmilyBenetAuthor 

Friday, 13 January 2017

It's OK to Switch Off the News

Imagine that every time you have an interaction with someone or something, a piece of you remains with that thing or that person. A piece of your energy is left behind.

By the end of the day, there wouldn't be much left of you, would there?

Or imagine yourself as a balloon at a kid's party, leaking helium each time a little pair of hands bops you up in the air. By the end of the day you would be a sagging dollop of plastic incapable of floating.

With all the bad news pouring in from around the globe, we are in danger of giving it our best attention and energy,and leaving ourselves with little to get on with living our lives fully.

It definitely feels like there's an overall sense of malaise. I've recently read blogs by people feeling unmotivated and depressed because everywhere they look they see pain and injustice, and they feel powerless to do anything about it.

When you read an upsetting article, it doesn't end when you finish reading it. You have given a part of yourself away to it. When someone upsets you, you don't stop thinking about them when they walk away. Your energy follows the focus of your mind, whether you are aware of your thoughts or not.

Last summer, I made a friend who shared with me her vision of PersonalPower. The idea is that we all have access to a source of power within us. The problem is we can't always find a way to plug into it. Or, we find we have depleted it because we have been leaking energy left, right and centre.

To refill our energy centre we have to look after ourselves. On a physical level, we need to eat well and sleep enough. Mentally, we might need to de-stress, meditate, get outside the office and spend a bit more time in nature. I look forward to sharing her book when it comes out as it's life changing stuff!

After engaging with a person or a piece of writing or a television programme, she suggests taking a moment to reconnect with yourself. She refers to it as 'calling your energy home'. Ask yourself, am I back inside myself, or is a part of me still with that person, that article, that show?

Call that energy back, take a deep breath, feel your feet on the floor and become aware of your attention. One thing is certain, you can't do anything positive while you're running on low quality energy because you've given all the best stuff to things and people who don't deserve it!

There are times when it seems impossible to focus. However much you meditate or pray or try to concentrate on your goals, you can't seem to escape the negativity. In which case, switch it off. Switch off the noise. 

Turn off the news, unfollow the people who post negative content and give yourself permission to breathe. Give yourself permission to be happy.  

Whatever you do, don't be tricked into reading all the bile on the internet. It doesn't mean you don't care.   


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Do you have influence over yourself?

I dragged myself out of bed this morning with some difficulty. The voice from yesterday's inspirational podcast goaded me on. Don't you have any influence over yourself? If you don't have influence over yourself, how are you going to achieve your goals?

My first goal was to persuade myself to get out of bed early after days of holiday lie ins. I allowed myself five minutes to snooze before sleepily grabbing my yoga mat and forcing my aching body through a few sun salutes. How could I be thirty three and feel like ninety three?

Self-discipline, I thought hazily, you've got to retrain your brain. This will be easier tomorrow.

Then I flopped onto my back and considered snoozing some more, except my feet were too cold. Spanish houses are freezing. It's the stone floors.

After my half hearted work out I took a metallic tasting tea to my desk and spent four hours rewriting one single chapter. Number 10 out of 54. At one point I put my head in my hands and thought: 


But I persevered and that afternoon managed another four chapters meaning I'm back on track to finishing my novel's rewrite this month.  

In a way I think every day can hold the potential and optimism of New Year's Day. Every day is a chance to give life your best shot. And maybe your dream is just to have more time to yourself. More time to think about what it is you really want to do with your life.

My Dad always said he valued efforts over results. I didn't agree with him until now. Yep, now I do think making a genuine effort is what counts. Every day. Falling over and getting back up again. And again. And again.

I think we all have the power to do something special with our lives. We just need to believe it and then influence ourselves into acting on it.     


Friday, 30 December 2016

New Year Resolutions: Control vs Acceptance

I've always been a big list maker. A goal setter. More enthusiastic about my New Year's resolutions than the big party. One of my most memorable New Year's was when I stayed in to finish writing a short story. It was the first story I ever got  selected for a reading at Waterstones Book Shop in London. It felt like a huge reward at the time for the sacrifice I'd made.

Today I thought I might be pregnant. At five in the morning I took a test with my heart in my throat. What better way to start the new year? I thought excitedly. My mind raced ahead, wondering who I would tell first and how long I would wait until I told them.  

As I waited for the result, there was a power cut and I couldn't see the strip. If this was a film, I thought, the lights would come on and I would see the positive line. Then I would scream. Or maybe I wouldn't. I would slip back into bed and casually whisper to my husband, So, how do you fancy being a Daddy?

The lights went back on. The test was negative. My life isn't a film.

Today as I contemplated writing a blog post, I thought to myself: What's the point of making a list of goals when I have no control over what matters?

But I don't think that's entirely true. We may not have control over everything, but we can choose how we react to events in our life. Today I felt very tempted to succumb to my melancholy and hide under my bed covers. Instead I found a podcast on staying positive when trying to conceive and hoovered my bedroom. Next I'm going to scribble the serenity prayer above my desk.

I don't believe in making impossible resolutions. I'm not someone who decides in January that they are going to go the gym every day from now on. If you didn't go to the gym before, why are you going to go every day? There must have been a reason you didn't go before. Maybe you hate the gym. Fair enough. Perhaps you should choose another way of exercising, like a dance class or martial arts.

Goals should be achievable. So here are mine:

1. Pass my driving exam 
2. Finish rewriting my book The Hen Party
3. Try doing yoga once a week to restore balance in my body!
4. Meditate every day (achievable because I already do this most days!)
5. Get involved with the charity that organises beach clean ups
6. Visit my family more, keep in touch with my friends and surround myself with people who nourish me
7. Write a brand new book

and of course,

8. Keep writing blogs (because it feels so good to share.) 

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog this year and for all the supportive comments across my social networks. It means so much!

For more regular posts, you can find me on Facebook/EmilyBenetAuthor


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Driving Test 1: The Pigeon of Doom

I remember it clearly even though it must have been over fifteen years ago now. I was in the car with my Mum and we were driving through one of Bermondsey's many railway tunnels. There were pigeons on the road ahead and it looked like they weren't going to move. I gasped as I thought we were going to run them over.  But at the last minute they flew out of the way.

"My friend failed her driving test because she stopped for a pigeon," my Mum said.

Yesterday I had my driving test. I hadn't started off brilliantly, taking the wrong exit off the motorway. But I'd handled it well, changing lanes at a more complicated junction. I managed some intersections and stopped for some pedestrians. All fine.

And then I saw a pigeon ahead of me. It was just sitting there, barely moving. I was joining a main road and I was equally aware of the Stop sign I had been repeatedly told to obey or else. Come on pigeon, I thought. I probably said it out loud too. I thought of what my Mum had said about her friend. I had no doubt in my mind it would fly away. That's what pigeons do.

The pigeon did not fly away. Not until I had driven over its head. I can't remember this clearly. All I know is my instructor said, "It's okay, it's flown up into a tree."

It threw me a bit. After that the examiner told me to stop wherever I could. We had been taught that one thing is to 'estacionar' (park) by reversing, and the other is to 'parar', nose first. I had already parked successfully. Now I just needed to stop somewhere.  And for some reason I didn't think stopping was as serious as parking properly, so I stupidly left the car sticking out a little bit. Maybe I would have got away with it. But to make matters worse, though I had pulled the handbrake up, it was a sticky stick that required an extra last pull. As I got out of the car to swap with the next student, it started rolling forward and the instructor had to pull it up.

After the test the examiner brought up the pigeon.

"What if it had been a dog or a cat or a sheep?" he said, clearly upset. I told him I'd been convinced it would fly away. I didn't add that I wouldn't have assumed a dog, cat or sheep would have flown away.

I told him about my Mum's friend who had failed for stopping for a pigeon.

"We like animals in this country," he said. It seemed ironic really. Spain isn't China, but it doesn't exactly have a reputation for being animal friendly, whereas I think England does.

"I love animals too," I insisted. I felt like I needed to explain how I'd spent most my childhood cleaning out guinea pig hutches, how I only bought free range eggs...

In the end it wasn't the pigeon that swung it. It was the handbrake. He would have passed me if it hadn't been for that bloody handbrake. It was the pigeon I dreamed about though. It took me ages to get to sleep, the exam playing on repeat in my head over and over again. 


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Driving Around Mallorca Like a Mad Goat

I've a driving exam next Tuesday. Or maybe it'll be Monday. It seems the driving school wants to keep it a surprise. 

"What do you mean it might move to Monday?" I ask my instructor, when he tells me. 

"It's 50 / 50."

That's ridiculous, I think. It's lucky I'm flexible but that's not the point.

"What if I had a normal job?" I say.

He shrugs. "Well you don't so stop complaining."

"But what if I did..."

He ignores me. I'm in the backseat and easy to ignore. I'm currently watching another student drive. He's pretty smooth. Shame he keeps going the wrong way down one way streets.

50/50. Like the chances of me passing. I'm good sometimes. Not all the time though.

"You're a bit of a mad goat," my instructor says, when we're alone. "I think it's your personality. You need to calm down."

This is a serious problem, I think. How on earth am I going to be able to change my personality in less than a week?

I consider the problem as I speed down the motorway. Learners are allowed on motorways in Spain. They're the easiest bits really. It's all the intersections that are a pain.

I don't know how I'm going to transform into a calm, grounded person. Meditation? Yoga? I do all this stuff anyway. Fat lot of good it has done for my driving.

"She's gone," the instructor observes. He means I'm thinking. I'm outside the car.

"No I'm not," I say. But maybe he's right. "I'm just annoyed. I want to be smooth."

"Look," he says. "You can be smooth but if you make mistakes you won't pass. If you're rougher but you follow all the signs correctly then you'll pass."

But the mad goat image has stuck in my mind. I don't want to be unpredictable. I don't want to be jerky. My friend's mum who used to drive us back from school drove so badly I always arrived home feeling sick. I don't want to be my friend's mum or a mad goat. But I suppose he's right and the most important thing is to pass now and smoothe up later.

I really want my driving license. It's become all consuming. All I seem to be doing is running back and forward to the driving school.  

So pray for me on Monday... or maybe Tuesday.

Alternatively leave a tip on how I might calm down in the comments section. Gracias! 


Monday, 5 December 2016

A Trip to England: From Londoner to Tourist

"Does it feel funny being back?" my friend asked.

I had been away from England for nearly seven months. Arriving at Euston station after a wedding in Manchester I was blown away by the amount of people. It wasn't just the quantity that was mind-boggling but their speed. Like a flock of birds they changed direction, miraculously not knocking into each other.

When I lived in London I was like that. I sped everywhere, dodging in between everyone without stopping. But after so long away, I felt like a tourist, unsure of where I was or where I was supposed to be going. I stood in the wrong place, I stepped the wrong way, mirroring on comers instead of letting them pass.

How could I have lived here for so long? I wondered. It seemed so overwhelming and stressful. It took me a few days to recover my old pace.

The other big difference was the cold. It was 10 (50F) degrees at night when I left Mallorca. Arriving in Manchester the pilot said it was 0 (32F) outside. I thought I wasn't going to cope. I thought I was going to step outside and freeze mid walk. However I had come equipped and between my sheepskin lined boots and feather puffer jacket, I was surprisingly cosy.

Did I feel like a tourist?  I took photos of the frost and crunched back and forward through the ice like a little kid. The cold seemed like a novelty. I suppose it's fun when you know it's only temporary!

It was great to see friends and family after so much time. There was so much catching up to do. But when someone clinked my glass and said,  'Welcome home!' it seemed quite odd. Was it still home? It didn't feel like it. Not quite.  

I arrived back in Mallorca last night. I've already been for a driving lesson, chatted with my local grocer and called on my neighbours for help with a sticky door. It's 19 degrees (66F) outside. There's not many people about. I like it. I feel at ease. Safe.  It's been less than two years, but it already feels like home.