Self-reflective Journaling – a simple but effective tool.
elf-reflective When looking ahead to 2020 back in December, I did some research on THE traits of ‘successful’ people. A point that came up over and over again was that successful people use reflection and journaling to inform their next steps. Now I’m not talking about screeds of writing every day, not at all. I’m going to show you how you can see results in just five to ten minutes per week (though you might choose to go a little further when you see the results!).
I’ve discovered that journaling – reflecting on the past week and looking ahead to the next with specific questions in mind – provides multiple benefits:
I’ve discovered that self-reflective journaling...provides multiple benefits..." - Emily Larkins.
How I use self-reflective journaling to improve my week, and how you can too!
During my research, I came across a set of visuals on Pinterest that have become core to my journaling process. They were sourced from @heyamberrae on Instagram, and are quick, simple, but effective tools for my journaling process.
These ‘check-ins’ are such quick, simple tasks, but they’ve made such a huge difference to my focus and productivity. I must thank @heyamberrae and give credit for her images, and for making such a positive difference to my week. Follow her on Instagram for more great tips, and most importantly, give it self-reflective journaling a go and see great results of your own!
How has this helped you you? Do you want more tips on planning, writing, or productivity? OR do you have any great journaling tips to share? Let me know in the comments below, and keep an eye out for my next Quick Tip!
To reach your destination, you need to plan your route. You also need a format to do that.
Procrastination; it’s in my genes (along with hoarding things with potential future usefulness, and the inability to consistently put things away). It proved my downfall in 2019. I met my single goal, spending a certain number of hours on writing-related activities, but I didn’t get much actual writing or publishing done. I grew my author platform through trial and error, especially on Instagram and Twitter, but as for actual writing? Wa wa, that’s a no from me. After April, I only dabbled and didn’t publish! No, not good enough.
I wish to be capable of regular blog output, I wish to publish short stories regularly, and offer free content, but wishing doesn’t get you anywhere without structure and commitment. You can have all the hopes and dreams in the world, but if you don’t lock yourself in with dedicated time and get that bum in the chair, like 2019 me, you’ll only accomplish a mere fraction of what you’re capable of.
My intention for 2020 is to up my game bigtime. To accomplish that, I’ve spent a considerable number of hours and oodles of energy researching and developing my 2020 prototype planning documents. I’ve run with the excitement of it and come up with a workable plan. You can learn from my hard work and save yourself that graft by using my ideas as a base to build your own.
“Wishing doesn’t get you anywhere without structure and commitment. Make a plan, set dates, and back yourself to smash them.” - Emily Larkins
Here’s how I’ve set myself up for success in planning ahead in 2020.
I started with research, and lots of it. Without conscious thought, over the last year I’ve been pinning to my Business Tools board under the heading Time Management. There were lots of ideas that sparked interest, but it wasn’t until I sat down and really read through closely that I realised lots of the points fit together. I jotted ideas down across multiple sheets of paper, drew up rough ideas for planner pages, timetables, journal pages, and more. I had to find those magic elements that could work for me, and it took a considerable amount of time to work through them – far more than the couple of weeks I set myself. I could have rushed through and started 2020 with a less than perfect plan, but the likelihood of it succeeding would have been quite low. Instead I allowed myself that extra time to get it right, and do you know what? I’m excited about what I’ve come up with. I admit it’s not pretty; it’s practical, a test-run, a bit scrappy, and has correction fluid bits that normally drive me nuts, note paper glued in, and it’ll look worse once I’m through with it. What it looks like doesn’t matter (I’m ignoring my perfectionist side right now!); the point is that four weeks in, it’s working. I’ve never been so productive, not even when the motivational fire burned bright. Seeing my goals on paper every day, splitting them down into manageable chunks, and taking those small steps, man do I get a lot done without realising it. I’m also smashing my new time goal! Part of it has to do with self-review, but you’ll have to wait until next week for my second Quick Tip (out next week) to discover this wee secret!
Another great strategy I came across during research is Time Blocking. I found this great tip on Pinterest, sourced from productiveflourishing.com (you can read about it for yourself here… https://www.pinterest.nz/pin/590604938619194355/). The essentials are that you break your time into four blocks: Focus Blocks (for when you’re in the zone, and at your best), Social Blocks (when you’re in the right mind-set to meet other people), Admin Blocks (work you can do when you’re not at your best, but can still work productively), and Recovery Blocks (recharging time such as exercise, meditation, reading…). I’ve set myself up a chart that I can refer to throughout the day with task ideas under each. If I feel my self slipping from Focus to Admin, I can switch over and pick a task. When I plan each day, I try to include something from each area so I can switch when I need to. It helps, too, to think of the Recovery Block as part of a productive work day (so long as the whole day isn’t recovery block!). Reading, for me, is an essential part of my recovery time as reading feeds writing. When I’m reading, I’m learning more of my craft, analysing how other writers develop their stories, and what I do and don’t like about the way they tell stories. It removes some of that guilt that I get when I feel I’m being unproductive. It’s about changing that mind-set and being kinder to myself.
I have to admit, though, that setting up my new system has been fun; time-consuming, but fun.
In my former life as a primary school teacher, planner books were an essential element referred to throughout the day. They are about accountability and a visual record of what my class worked through over the school year. At the beginning of the year and each term, as a team, the whole school staff looked at overarching themes for the year, set-date events, etc. That staff was also split into three groups, (syndicates covering a few year-groups each – junior classes, middle classes, and senior classes), and looked ahead term by term together, roughly three monthly, but also down to weeks at a time. So, I’m used to a year calendar, for the broad stuff, term plans for looking closer at each subject area, and weekly plan pages for the day to day and routine stuff.
Now you’ll note that I said former teacher. It was the paperwork side of teaching that overcooked me in the end, and much of that came down to the depth of forward planning required, followed by mountains of testing, assessment, and reports. The stakes were incredibly high, along with the pressure to be perfect. While I like a timetable and a daily plan, I struggle to produce such things too far ahead of time because I love to break the pattern. I love the ‘teachable moment,’ running with a student’s question, but in the current teaching climate in New Zealand, that leads to essentials missing their required time. Oh, and I HATE it when I fall behind and my future plan suddenly looks very different to what I’m actually doing. It feels like doing the work twice as I’d have to change that long-term plan to reflect what I actually did. I also like to do things differently each day, to run with ideas, and largely to please myself, which isn’t exactly embraced in a school setting. That’s why I’ve got a planner that looks as it does. It’s about what works for ME and how I like to do things.
That’s the bare bones of it. I’ve got scraps of memo cube tucked in reminding me of things, for example, the fact that December and early January were so heavily loaded up with family and school things for my children that I was exhausted and hardly did anything productive (except create my new planner format). I’ve noted to allow myself more time before then. And, if I want to make a pretty journal, I’ll have to start planning ahead in November. I’ll let you know about some extra elements of my planning book in coming weeks too.
Here are the key things I need to point out to make this work for you:
And that’s it. Planning and time management don’t have to be massive ordeals. Even setting those goals and keeping a visual track of where you’re up to will help with productivity. It doesn’t have to be expensive, terribly time-consuming, or even that pretty. It’s what’s inside my 1B5 that’s invaluable to me. It’s my ‘stunt journal’ if you like; I intend to create myself a gorgeous book for next year!
So, if you want to increase your productivity, keep better track of goals, and feel better about the way you work, give my Time Management strategies a go.
Do you think this could help you become more productive? Do you like the idea of Time Blocking, or breaking your goals down? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to look out for my quick tips, out now, and coming soon!
OUT WITH THE OLD: IT'S TIME TO GET REAL!
Times are changing at home!
Alright, I know, you know, the whole world may as well know, I didn’t post news in November. I wrote a whole blog, twice. I revised and edited, I chopped and changed, I wrote it, and I hated it, so, no blog, damn it, but more on my failures in a bit.
It’s hard to believe we’ve entered 2020. Not only has a new decade begun, but this year brings big things in the Larkins household – first and foremost, a fifth birthday. I’ll officially have two school girls, thus, hopefully, more time of the useful kind for writing. There will also be a fortieth (not mine yet!) in my house, and then there are the significant family birthdays that somehow stack up into the perfect storm for this year! Three 65ths, a 60th, a 30th, a 16th, and more. Lord help this introvert!
The end of 2019 also saw the change of hands of the original farmhouse on the family farm. We’ve cleared out much of my grandparents’ things, and my grandmother allocated family treasures. I’m a bit of a family-tree nerd, so I know a little about my grandmother’s grandmother and I’m thrilled to inherit some of the treasures she brought over from Ireland to New Zealand many decades ago. My grandparents were also unintentional collectors of local history had never threw out anything that might have a later purpose. Beyond the family heirlooms, we found many treasures of interest to the local museum, including my grandfather’s Peninsula Borough Driver Licence, and memorabilia from the long-since closed Hoopers Inlet School. It was a long, dusty, and fascinating task that has made room for the next generation of farmers, my sister and her family. It’s been a lesson in adaptation for all of us. My grandfather’s grandfather built the house, and each generation of farmer has lived in it at some time or other. We’ve had to put aside the strangeness of touching things that we weren’t allowed to as children, such as the arrangements of artificial flowers and treasures on the sideboard, and let go of it being my grandparents’ home, to allow space for the future.
Christmas brought the usual – over-stuffed-with-sweetness children, shopping, gatherings, gifts, and honouring the reason for the season. What I hadn’t realised in the past was just how much time it demands. Last year I set a goal (a very loose resolution) of working on my author business for a certain length of time per day. That meant recording my hours daily, and I can say truthfully, that in December I did not meet that goal. With Little Miss finishing up at Kindy, picnics, final school assemblies, shopping, wrapping, cooking, gatherings, having children home, and then a husband on holiday, my use of time tipped wildly in favour of family rather than work. I’ve enjoyed it though, and found that I naturally needed to step back from many of my work duties over the holidays. I’ll have to factor that in for this year too, now that I have a new schedule, but I’ll write about that in a bit.
The only other thing of note I’ll share for the end of 2019 was something that gave us a bit of a shock, literally! Between Christmas and New Year, we had a few stormy days with hail, thunder, and lightning. It’s not a common thing on the Otago Peninsula – more of an every-few- years kind of thing. Well! We had two days of storms in a row, and the second day absolutely hammered the Dunedin area with over three-hundred recorded bolts. It was absolutely relentless and ended up right on top of us. There were multiple emergency services callouts to homes and power poles hit in the city, and we got the fright of our five years in the home we built when one of the large Macrocarpa trees just thirty metres away got hit. It was an instantaneous flash and bang, so bright and loud. It scared us good and proper and unsettled the children right on bedtime. After the storm I went investigating and found that not one but two trees had been struck, looking much like an enormous bear had raked it’s claws down the trunks. No doubt I’ll end up using it in my writing – it’s too good not to, but I’m in no hurry experience that again!
I met a goal, but...
Last year as a writer surprised me for two reasons – one good, one surprisingly not so. I set a time goal for each day (and ultimately an average for the year to beat), and hit it (yay)! On the other hand, I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I thought I would. I expected to publish a novel and several shorts, write a fairly regular blog, and keep up with my news. One of those things I managed, and I got a few shorts out, but failed dramatically in the publishing stakes. Now that I’ve been prepping for this year, I understand a lack of concrete goals being at the core, and failure to implement a regular routine. Upon reflection, I set a goal and achieved it, but it wasn’t enough. I had ideas of what I wanted to get done, and foolishly expected to do it. Yes, things changed up on me with childcare, but I could and should have done better. So clearly, for this year, I need to step up my game and make changes. Big ones.
Time to step it up.
Believe it or not, I need to think bigger, not so much in terms of wants, but in goals and planning. I’ve already started, perhaps a bit later than I should have (I’ll need to factor in thinking about 2021 much earlier, perhaps in November), but I’ve put a bit of research and thought into all of it and come up with a plan. I’ve got goals, too. They might be a bit of a stretch, but I won’t know until I try, and I’ll consider this a trial year for goals (last year was for time). They include some pretty exciting freebies, more regularly published short stories, and getting my novel, The Weight of Expectation, published (I will, I really will!). I’ll still have two little charges at home a couple of days a week, but with both of my own children at school I’ll have a dedicated number of days to work just on writing. I’ve got lists of things I can do with kids at home too (like planning and idea gathering), and looking ahead, I can factor in days that’ll be high-load days, and low-load (like December!). I’ve got the opportunity to create balance, now I’ve just got to execute it. Beyond looking at the year, I’ve researched deeper on productivity and discovered the importance of journaling, reflection, and breaking the year into months, weeks…and so on, looking at the long-term, but also breaking up goals. I intend to blog about this in deeper detail, but I’ll hint at MANAGEABLE CHUNKS.
I’ve also got to balance family and work – like all parents do. It’s slightly tricky, given that I work from home. As an independent author, I’m not working to other people’s deadlines, and I have the opportunity to dedicate my time as I see fit, but less work means less productivity, so… I’ve got to find the best balance. I’m confident I can do that more efficiently than I did last year.
In short, from last year I learned:
Measuring time isn’t everything – goals are important – and to go along with that, big goals need to be broken down into steps, as does time. Rewarding myself with things that feed my writing is a sensible idea – like reading and making the most of the mobile library (because I avoid going to town wherever possible).
Making the most of the dedicated writing time I have (like JK says, protect your writing days!), will be essential. Knowing what to do with those grabbed moments (like when the toddler’s sleeping), will be useful too – visuals will help me. Rewards might too. I’ve activated my awareness, now I’ve got to follow through.
So, in short, the lady that ‘doesn’t do New Year Resolutions,’ has made some (cringe), but I’ve only ever avoided such things because I struggle with the idea of failure. It’s time to toss that silliness out and lift my working game. If I want to succeed as an author, I need to step up and do it otherwise the dream will be lost. What will keep me going is just that: The Dream.
Time to go out there and get on with it.
Coming up in 2020...
New short tips blog posts monthly.
Free Flash Fiction Fridays - a new quick read every month, and best of all, they're FREE!
Short Story Sunday - every second month I’ll endeavour to publish a new short story (starting in February).
New-look prompts - on stunning new backgrounds, and searchable chronologically or by genre. The first are already up on Pinterest with five new prompts weekly.
Have you set goals for 2020? Do you want to learn about the discoveries I’ve made around goal setting and time management, follow Emily Larkins, Author on social media.
Please share your ideas and discoveries in comments.
Have a great month,
On life in September:
This month started with massive applause when both of my girls having their turn on Otago Polyfest 2019 stage. My eldest and her school were first up in the programme on opening night. I’m a little glad that she’s in the middle row because she has a habit of doing odd things on stage – last year she hit herself in the face with her poi and scowled at it like it was the poi’s fault, this year she peered through the line in front of her looking for her family in the audience (hilarious, but a little distracting!). Hopefully she gets over this ‘cute’ stuff by next year; she’ll be too big to get away with it. Meanwhile Little Miss had a lunchtime performance on the Thursday (Polyfest has grown so much that it now lasts almost a week with performances starting in the morning and finishing late into the evening, and is livestreamed!). My girl had her first trip on a bus and I accompanied the class of 22 and their amazing teachers to help with costumes (my teaching experience still comes in handy now and then!). Oh my word, they were a world of cute with their little skirts and headbands. Besides how can children aged two to four on stage before a crowd in the hundreds not steal hearts and create laughs? From the gorgeous little lady with her late timing to the world’s cutest stage-runners, little waves when parents were spotted in the crowd to a re-run of one song when one little girl missed her turn to start them off, it was all super adorable (especially when a couple of littilies fell asleep on the bus on the way home! Check both my girls and their teams out here... CLICK IMAGE TO WATCH
Scroll through at the bottom (or watch every team!) - Big Miss’s performance from 0:2:20, Little Miss from 3:22:00. Enjoy!
Half the birthdays in the Larkins house fall in September (I’m in December and my youngest is in January), so we’ve been partying. Big Miss turned SEVEN early in the month and we hosted a family dinner to celebrate. You’d think when I say ‘family’ that there might be ten or fifteen, but we’ve grown over the years with partners and children so we number well over 25 when we’re all together. When we built the house we thought we’d created something pretty roomy, but our open lounge/dining/kitchen area bulges with that number, especially when a good proportion of the guests are small, loud, and on the move. Still, it astounds me how quickly the youngest members of the family are growing – the smallest will be one next month, and the eldest, my husband’s sister’s gorgeous daughter, will be fifteen! It’s insane! And they’re all so different in their talents, tastes, and personalities – I can hardly keep up! Next came Mr L’s birthday later in the month, the last of his thirties (he says don’t remind him). Next year is going to be spectacularly huge in milestones for my extended family with three fifth birthdays, a sweet sixteenth, a 30th, a 40th, a 60th, and a couple of 65ths in the mix. For an introvert, 2020’s going to be a definite social challenge, but making a fuss over all these wonderful people will be awesome!
As I write today, I glance out the window and see many, many lambs! We’ve been in our farmhouse for nearly five years, and I’m only just now really beginning to re-tune into knowing what I’m looking at. Ten years in town screwed my farm barometer when it comes to sheep and lambs that are fine compared to those who need help, those weeks off lambing and those with a couple of days to go, hours-old lambs and days-old, but it’s all coming back now. I know too when I can sort something easily myself, or when I need to call the big guns for backup. We’ve had a little lamb that struggles to get about, so I’ve been out on the hunt for Leo(nardo Dilambrio) morning and night, in wind and driving rain to make sure he’s alright. His mother’s getting crafty though, moving him to increasingly clever hiding spots, so clever that we often hear her calling out because she’s forgotten where she’s left him! Unfortunately, he’s one of those lambs with a question mark hanging above him. There’s a good chance he won’t make it, but we’re doing all we can to give him a chance.
Aaaand, cruise ship season looms imminent on the horizon here in Dunedin – the first is due on October the 1st, and with it will come my slight obsession looking across to Port Otago for visiting ships. I’ve already been through the schedule and noted each expected arrival in my diary, mostly so I can plan my very rare trips to town on days when we don’t have ships in. We’re expecting another record year – more ships and passengers than ever before. While it’s great for the city’s economy, it can be taxing on locals with slower trips to town (on top of the major road works that we’ve had for several years now working on widening the peninsula road, which are taxing in themselves, you’ve got to allow around forty minutes travel time each way), tourists stopped in random and sometimes dangerous spots to get that perfect photo, a crowed city centre, and the swelling of numbers at our most beautiful spots. Dunedin, and the Otago Peninsula (on which I live), is known for particularly stunning scenery and relatively close proximity to several colonies of wild (and in many cases endangered) animals. We’ve also got Larnach Castle, incredible beaches, cute and quirky little shops and galleries tucked about the place, and history galore. Oh, and the attraction that I’m just quietly pretty stoked about, Dunedin is a UNESCO City of Literature! If you’d like to know more about the awesome little city I live in, check us out on Wikipedia here:
or even better, on the Dunedin City website:
On writing in September...
I’ll be blunt and admit that I haven’t reached the goals I set for myself, well, not all of them. Sickness and all the extra activities the kids have had on haven’t helped, but the major contributor is PROCRASTINATION. Unfortunately, the supreme ability to procrastinate has been passed down to me. A family member, whom shan’t be identified but contributed to my DNA, continues to provide unintentional expert tuition on the subtle art, and I’ve learned the tricks of the trade well, for better or worse. Procrastination, too, is a commonly identified trait in writers, and unfortunately, I haven’t bucked the stereotype. This month, the main source of procrastination has come in the form of nearing the end of re-planning a novel I’ve drafted several times and haven’t yet found the right formula for combined with bursts of enthusiasm for sewing and crocheting. Nearing the end of planning means I actually have to sit down and write the book again (with concentrated effort to get it written in as short a time as possible so the story stays fresh), and overcome the fact that several efforts so far just weren’t right. So what’s the chance that I get it right this time? Previous efforts say small. The gift of a massive container of fabric from my aunt proves a tempting distraction, especially with my little niece’s birthday coming up – I plan to make her some dresses using said fabric. So, the sewing is for a good cause, but it gives valid reason to put the writing off – see the dilemma? This is the time when I need to visit my Pinterest board, words that motivate me, for a kick in the pants! Phrases that remind me to just blimmin’ get started might help, that you don’t succeed if you don’t do the work, unrelenting pursuit of goals being the path to success, and having control over attitude and effort will be good places to start! I’m determined to get under way, so I consider myself on the path…
I may not have written much, so to speak, but I have been plotting for the win! The fact that I’m not happy with any of my previous drafts leads me back to plot – that it’s not strong enough, and my tendency to ‘pants’ it (wing it, go off on a tangent) part way through are at the heart, I think. With this in mind I’ve been scouring pins on my Write: Plot Development board (Pinterest), in search of a plot formula that actually works for me. I’ve given several a go in the past that have been about three-quarters useful, but I haven’t hit the magic ONE yet. I’m all excited when I find something that feels good, but the actual sitting down and making my ideas fit the plot formula can be incredibly difficult. I usually get lost around three-quarters of the way through – the beginning is relatively easy, getting into the change is ok, but finding a way through to the climax and then what happens after gets all gritty. Until I actually know what really happens, I find it hard to plan for it. This time, however, with my subtle changes to a circular diagram I found, which I now call my ‘Plot Clock,’ I hope I’m closer to getting there. I’ve all but finished a plot outline and have started transferring these events to my manuscript document. When that’s done, I can go and fill in ideas, then get writing! Over past attempts I’ve collected a multitude of ideas on my Pinterest story board, and have decided a name change is in order from ‘Sounds of Home,’ to ‘The Weight of Expectation.’ Whether it’ll be named either is still up for mental debate, however, visiting this board helps me feel keen to get started. It helps me fall into the world with the characters, and with any luck, it’ll drive me forward. For anyone interested, I’m planning future posts on how I use my Pinterest account as an essential part of my author platform, stay tuned!
So, to sum up this month, it’s been a muddly puddle of family life and procrastination. There have been exciting moments, small wins, and a bit of grind through the writing process, but I doubt it really comes easily for anyone, no matter how much they claim it does. Perhaps on the tenth or twentieth novel??? (feel free to drop a comment if you’ve found the sweet spot!).
I’m hoping spring will give me the motivation I need, and perhaps a tidy of my writing room. I’ll keep you posted!
Until then, happy writing and reading!
Hi, I'm Emily,