How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity?

 am writing around obstacles


Welcome to Day 2 of our group therapy #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

Today we’ll look at our obstacles in more detail. Drill down into those suckers.

I’m going to measure and grade mine according to severity of effect, and start thinking about how I can get around them, or over them, or under them.

I invite you to do the same, so each of us can start working towards a plan of action that we can draft in tomorrow’s post.

Here we go, then.


Did you hear me sigh just then? I get so fed up talking about my health condition and would rather not even think about it in relation to my writing if I can get by without doing so. It’s boring.

My MountainBut it’s here and it’s big. It never goes away, and out of all my obstacles it has the most significant effect on my productivity, so I need to deal with it.

I nearly said deal with it and move on quickly to the stuff I can do something about, there. Which is pretty much my standard operating procedure. But this exercise is all about examining our obstacles with a view to overcoming them, so I’ll suck that sigh back in and look my physical condition squarely in the eyes.

I just sighed again and almost deleted everything I’ve written so far below the health subtitle.

Stop, Bridger! It isn’t waffle. It’s examining a frame of mind in order to deal with it, and maybe even change it.

I always claim to have the management of my illness cracked. But the truth is, while I’m good at managing the fallout from my physical and mental activity, I’ve never quite cracked the prevention’s better than cure aspect of it.

Problem is, there are strong pulls from opposite directions. The only way I could achieve reasonably reliable energy and freedom from exhausting pain would be to do nothing except rest. Whatever I do, there’s always a health payback. Even from mental activity.

Writing hurts me. A 90k-word novel takes me between 6 and 12 months to write when I’m in my version of the best of health, and the payback from that superhuman effort will last for months afterwards.

Chances are the edits will arrive during that payback period, and edits have their own intense effect which increases the already exhausting pain. And by that time, I’ll also be working on my next novel.

I’m not giving up writing. Uh uh. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. Seriously, the only thing I’d give up writing for is my family, and they won’t ask me to do that so it’s not gonna happen.

However, just because the extreme answer to my two-way-pull isn’t viable, in this or any other universe, that doesn’t mean I can’t (stand by for a “You’ve Got Mail” moment)… tweak things.


Measuring productivity
I used a spreadsheet to record different elements of my lifestyle and measure how they effect my productivity.

I split my working day into 4 sessions:

  • early morning when I start writing, until midday
  • the afternoon, when I usually siesta
  • 4pm to 8pm
  • 8pm until midnight-ish when I crawl back to bed

I did it this way because different daily events channel me into writing at different times of the day.

Those events appear on the spreadsheet as: spoons; visitors; non-routine events; WIP; outlined; deadlined; and blog.

Outlined is there because I work more efficiently when I’ve planned a story thoroughly, and the deadlined column helps me maintain a good focus on the big picture.

FamilyAfter only a few weeks the spreadsheet showed clearly what I already knew, that the biggest productivity-sucking gravity in my writing world comes from spoons and visitors.

And for visitors, read: our daughters and their babies. All of them are here today and this blog post has taken me twice as long to write as yesterday’s did when they weren’t here.

2015 Update

We have four grandchildren now, two 3-year-old boys and two 1-year-old girls. All gorgeous! And as I mentioned yesterday, two of them and their mum live with us now. So my writing takes place in the late evenings, after everyone else goes to bed. 9pm to midnight or 1am is my time.

What I failed to put on the spreadsheet is social media, which I realised during our conversation in the comments section yesterday has a bigger effect in my daily life than I’d thought.

Actually my Twitter-life would be very difficult to measure, because I have it open all day and dip back in when my mind drifts away from my WIP. I’ll deal with that. My plan of action will include something like, SM in clearly-defined short bursts.

2015 Update

As I’ve mentioned, with my greater attention to quality blogging and my weekly newsletter for readers, my routine workload is bigger now than it was in 2012. Not to mention my list of novels in various stages of progress, and despite the scary health stuff I experienced over last winter.

(Or, more likely, because of that stuff, as I described in this recent post.)

Despite everything, I’m managing everything far more efficiently now than I was three years ago. The plan of action I devised them has definitely helped me in this. No doubt about it.

I’ve also been helped by new technology that didn’t exist back then. Hooray for apps and gadgets and all sorts of clever things! 🙂

So my blogging is… not automated exactly, but assisted in many small ways by plugins and apps and 3rd party sites that offer various services. I’ve spent quality time testing these things and learning how to use them, so that my blogging and newsletter work is now a pleasant and enjoyable weekly routine.

There are many more gadgets available now than I could ever use in my work, but I like to keep my eyes open for news and reviews in that area.

This is the sort of thing I mean:

Here’s an excellent round up of time-and-effort-saving tips for author blogs from social media strategist Frances Caballo.

And this brilliantly concise article by author assistant Kate Tilton suggests ways we can connect with readers via Instagram.


Over to you
What do you think? Which of the obstacles you talked about yesterday have the biggest effect on your productivity?

Which of them could you tweak, maybe? How would you do that?

How about measuring them against your results? Would that work for you?

How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet

Yesterday was brilliant and you’re all wonderful. Let’s get our group therapy gig going again in the comments today. 🙂



Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 1 is here.

Day 3 is here.

What are your obstacles to productivity?

 am writing around obstacles

Here we are at Day 1 of our 3-day #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

Today, we’re each going to list all the obstacles that stop us being as productive as we want to be. The rocks on our roads.

On Day 2 we’ll figure out how to overcome the obstacles we’ve identified, and on Day 3 we’ll draw up our individual plans of action to stop those obstacles from damaging our productivity.

I’ll go first.

Here’s my list:

This is the biggie for me. Rather than bogging down this conversation with details of my health condition, I’ve explained all about it here.

Like many chronically ill people, I measure my strength and energy for each day in spoons.

Like many chronically ill people, I measure my strength and energy for each day in spoons. Click To Tweet

Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a simple and very useful system. Its creator explains it here.

An ME dreamSo today I have one spoon, which means that writing this post is like trying to deal with one of those syrupy can’t-run-away-from-the-monster dreams. I’ll do it, because I’ve decided this is how I will use this spoon, but writing this post is the only task I’ll manage in the entire day. Absolutely nothing else will happen, writing-related or otherwise. I’ll be in bed, either unconscious or wishing I could be.

On the standard 1 to 12 spoon scale, the best I can usually hope for is a 5. A long series of 5-spoon days is brilliant.

For example, when I enjoyed one of them all through January and February of 2012, I wrote my SF novella Damage Control, rewrote my voice recognition software-savaged UF novel Golden Triangle, and outlined my futuristic steampunk novel A Flight of Thieves.

Again, apart from my morning shower and eating regular meals, writing was the only task I managed each day in that 8-week period. But it was so good to bang out tens of thousands of good words.

2015 Update

That was a productive year! I completed Golden Triangle, A Flight of Thieves, and Damage Control, and all three were picked up by different publishers and released during 2012/3/4.

In spring 2014 I used a similar 5-spoon period to finish writing Gifted, and then another one in late summer to edit that big novel ready for its release by Hartwood Publishing.

2015 has been more complicated after my winter of horrible health and two surgeries, but when a 5-spoon period came along in the spring I grabbed it and completed my literary fiction novel The Honesty of Tigers, which is now out on submission.


I love my family. They’re loud and active and fun and wonderful. They often interfere with my plans to write, but they don’t do it deliberately or maliciously and as they’re my Number One priority in this life I seldom complain. But they do have an effect on my productivity, so I need to factor them in.

2015 Update

I’ve had to factor them in even more in this past year, since one of our daughters divorced and moved back home with her lovely children. Three generations of us live together in this house now, including two toddlers, and I work on my Mac in the corner of our open plan living room because my old study is now a bedroom.


Other people
Certain personality types send me scurrying to the back of my cave, pretty much like anyone else I suppose, but mostly I deal with people as they come.


Social media
This one’s complicated. It’s magical in many ways, but too much of a good thing… etc.

And it’s all about people, so it’s intimately bound with my “other people” category.

It’s also bound with my “health” category, because on days or weeks when I’m too sick to write I often spend hours at a time on Twitter and various forums, which then becomes a comfortable pattern that can lure me to stay rather than leave when my health picks up. I know you know what I’m talking about. 😀

Mostly, I enjoy social media and wouldn’t want to be without it, and when I enjoy it too much so that it’s a distraction that forms an obstacle, it’s my own fault. This is something I need to remain aware of, because it’s slippery.

2015 Update

And there’s a lot more slippy danger potential now, with my new social media addictions. I’m on Twitter more than ever and have added Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest to the mix.

Happily, the plan of action I devised here in 2012 allows me to enjoy all these places without draining my energy to zero. More on that later in the series. 🙂


It piles up, doesn’t it? Mostly it’s okay and we’re in control, but occasionally it builds like a snowdrift overnight and suddenly we can’t get the damn front door open to go out and chop wood and everything gets horribly urgent with no heat or light or way out until all we want to do is crawl under a blanket and sob.

It’s internal as well as external. In fact, external pressures rarely give me a problem. I plan them, and manage them, and if someone else shows they’re determined to keep making unreasonable demands of me, I simply get alpha on their arse. That isn’t something I glory in or even look for, by the way. But if a situation requires it, I have it.

TimeNo, it’s internal pressures that can cripple my productivity. Personal deadlines and building over-optimistic lists of things I want to achieve. I’m a bugger for that sort of thing.

And I always seem to build those lists when I’m in a 5-spoon period, so although I’m experienced enough to factor in the possibility of poorer health, I always forget just how physically crushing a bad relapse can be until I’m right there inside one of them.

2015 Update

As with the social media, I’ve increased my potential pressures this year by stepping up my blogging and starting my weekly newsletter. It’s all writing, as much as my novels are, albeit with different routines and shorter deadlines.



Okay, that’s my list. Over to you. What are the rocks on your road?

What are your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet

We can do this like group therapy if you like. Talk to each other. Many of us will have insights that might help each other, and we can all give good hug.


Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 2 is here.

Day 3 is here.


What’s wrong with me?

Next week we’ll be doing a 3-day #AmWritingAroundObstacles series here on my blog, all about overcoming obstacles to productivity.

We’ll talk about obstacles that can prevent us from working efficiently, which for me means writing, and work out how best to get past, over, under or through those obstacles.

I have a pretty good idea where I’ll be going in this thought process, because I’ve spent some time pondering the method that I hope will help me be more productive, but I want to hear from you too. So if you’d like to subscribe by email you can do that now up in the side column just here on the right.

Hey, maybe you’d like to say in the comments below this post that you’ll be here to work through your circumstances with me, like a statement of intent for yourself. I like that idea. I’m gonna do it to fix it in my brain. 🙂

Anyway, that’s next week.

Today, I’m going to tell you about the medical condition that affects my productivity, because I want to refer to this post next week rather than weigh down the series with a deep old moan from the back of the groan cave. Here it is.

What went wrong?

My long-term health condition is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. ME for short.

I came home hurt after the 1991 Gulf War and it took me a long time to recover from my injuries. I was mostly paralysed for the first two years and my wife gave up her career to look after me. It was a hell of a fight to regain even some movement, and that was only the start.

What followed was a long journey measured in 4 or 5 year periods from bedbound, into a wheelchair, to up (and frequently down again) on sticks, and so on.

It wasn’t a linear journey by any means, because there was far more going on than simply regaining the use of my limbs. Some internal organs had been stomped to death and were never coming back.

And my immune system was damaged, which is where the ME virus comes in. I caught it in a military hospital and it changed every aspect of my life. I was what’s known in the ME world as severely affected.

Eventually, in July and August 2006, I walked without aids for the first time in 15 years. That first day was big. Big. There may have been tears, and they weren’t only mine.

To my huge disappointment, that autumn a relapse knocked me down again and several years later I still haven’t made it up off the low plateau it pushed me back to.


What’s it like now?

My life is very sedentary. I’m registered as 80% disabled (although my disability is largely invisible) and I’m 99% housebound.


My primary symptom is pain, with exhaustion as the secondary symptom caused directly by the primary one.

Muscle pain is constant and forever, with joint pain nearly constant and nerve pain (like they’re trapped, only usually they’re not) swooping in to spice things up regularly. I still have big muscles from my old endurance athlete days and when they cramp, often several of them together: boy, do they cramp!

Management is focused on rest (which I’m not very good at, even after all this time) and the intelligent use of energy in small amounts without draining my small reserves (at which I’m better).

Pain control is a problem. I use codeine phosphate and paracetamol 24/7 to take the edge off, and I practice mind over matter. The next (and final) step up the pain relief ladder is morphine. Which dulls the pain, but it also dulls my mind. I’d rather have my brain working, thank you very much, but big jagged hideous pain dulls my mind too, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

I tackle the pain control problem day-by-day. I don’t know of any other way to do it.

Okay. There’s my health story. So next week, when I mention physical hurdles, these are mine.


Enough, already

That’s me done whining. I’m going to hit post then leave that “statement of intent” comment for myself.

See you next week, I hope.


Further reading

Here’s the #AmWritingAroundObstacles series:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3


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