As 2016 wanes and 2017 kicks into gear, it’s a great time for writers to look back at what they’ve accomplished over the past and look ahead to what’s possible in the next year. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony.
Our book Generation Space: A Love Story is finished. In fact, we’re reading final proofs this week. The website is up, and we’re looking for YOUR memory or dream of the Space Age there. And now we’re thinking about 2017!
Here are five ways for writers get organized this week for the next year:
Read a book about organizing your life. We brought The ONE Thing to Dorland to re-read it (we read it at Dorland two years ago). The guiding principle of this book is the question What is the one thing I could do now that would make everything else easier or unnecessary? That’s a question that’s difficult to ask in the midst of juggling tasks or fielding requests from others, so the reason to read this book while we’re out of the fray is to embed some of the ideas–especially about prioritizing and compartmentalizing–more deeply in our minds again. The website has some extra resources, including a 66-day calendar that can be used to track the change of one habit and webinars available on YouTube. Admittedly, the whole package is a bit over the top for a couple of writers, but it jogs our ambitions. Peruse other reading options at Lifehack’s list of 35 books about productivity and organization.
Get a tool to organize your year. We’ve long used The Redstone Diary, a paper, notebook-style calendar with great artwork (a different theme each year) and a week at a glance. This year, we’ve also invested in the Passion Planner, which poet Elline Lipkin mentioned to us when we were at Dorland last time. We like the idea that this planner demands regular checking in and includes reflection. It’s actually a lot like The ONE Thing in its emphasis of prioritizing and compartmentalizing and its visualization of goals and scheduling. The website has tips, including suggestions on pens, and there’s a YouTube channel too.
Use containers to organize your stuff. We’ve purchased some accordion files. In the one with twelve pockets labeled by month, we put our bills, receipts, and other paper snippets of daily life, a system we’ve used for several years. The other is a 31-pocket (month-long) folder that can be used as what Anna’s mom called a tickler file. The idea is to put notes, bills, the grocery list, and so on in a pocket to do later–tomorrow or ten days from now–and then forget about it until it needs to be addressed. At the beginning of each day, you check that day’s pocket for tasks to do. So it works like a list of things to do, but it’s organized for the next month and allows you to lessen the immediacy of tasks that can be put off. If you’ve ever told someone to send you an email as a reminder in a week, this system may be the one for you. If you’re reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you may want to stock up instead on storage boxes or closet organizers for your objects that spark joy. If your writing space is a mess, desk organizers or a simple shelving unit (or planks and bricks) may be the priority. Containers help declutter the mind as well as the physical space.
Download a way to limit your online time. SelfControl for the Mac, Freedom for the PC (there’s a Mac version too, but SelfControl is free), and StayFocusd for Chrome seem to be highly recommended. They all allow users to customize what’s blocked so that it’s not necessarily all or nothing. The first two also prevent users from turning off the blocking once you’ve set the timeframe, so you can’t cheat. Such internet-blocking software might be a great companion for the Pomodoro Technique, which uses short blocks of time and breaks to fuel productivity and stave off burnout.
Back up your files regularly, starting today. If you’re really diligent and productive, you should probably back up your files once or even twice a day. Most of us can manage to keep our work safe if we back up our computers every week or even every month (especially if you also email yourself drafts in progress). Think of how much you produce in a month, though, and what it would mean to lose that. Yet only just over one-third of people back up their computers monthly or more often–and in 2015, one in four computer users reported never backing up their files. (BackBlaze does an annual survey.) We like using external hard drives (and, every now and then, we put important files on a usb in our safe deposit box because it’s good to have them in a separate location in case of disaster). Many writers use an online service like BackBlaze ($5/month or $50/year) or Carbonite, which offer plans with unlimited space, encryption for security, and automatic back-up. Others use a cloud-based service like Dropbox or GoogleDrive, which are also great for sharing large files with others but aren’t encrypted (unless you do that yourself first).