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Since I started doing work as a freelance writer, I often search for ways to become more productive. I’m always looking for new tips and tricks to help me get more work done in less time, especially since I started working on my first book. Because I also work a full-time day job at a pain management clinic, I need all the help I can get.
I figured today I would share with everyone today some things I’ve learned about becoming more productive, and how it's helped me both at night while I’m writing and during the day while at my clinic. I hope you find these helpful and that they help you get more out of your day.
While we’re here, we’ll also be looking at this month’s book recommendations (well, ‘books’ would be more accurate this time around). I have a brilliant series to share with fans of authors like Brandon Sanderson. I’ve also come across some health articles that deserve a call-to-action.
Why Is Productivity Important?
As someone who works both in healthcare full time and runs a freelance business on the side, I can attest to the importance of productivity. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to let work take over your entire life. And, before you know it, you’re taking no time for yourself. That’s why it’s so important to be productive with your time.
When you’re productive, you’re able to get more work done in less time. This leaves you with more free time to do the things you love (like playing card games with the wife). For me, being productive also means being efficient. I like to use my time wisely and get the most out of every day, which is why I am always searching for more ways to work smarter, not harder.
Three Pillars of Productivity
Time Management. Organization. Prioritization
These are the three core pillars of productivity. If you want to be more productive, you need to focus on these three areas to maximize the amount you get done within twenty-four hours.
Time management, as the name suggests, is all about using your time wisely. It’s about knowing how to prioritize your time and knowing when to say “no” to things that will waste your time. Freelancers will run into scenarios often where potential clients are not a good fit for them or their business, especially writers and artists.
It is also easy to run into trap freelance websites that pay poor rates, require an immense amount of setup, and continuously take more and more of your hard earned money in a myriad of fees (looking at you Fiverr and Upwork). It’s essential to spot dead ends in your work so that you’re not wasting precious time growing.
Organization is key to being productive. If you’re not organized, it’s easy to lose track of important tasks and deadlines. That’s why it’s important to have a system in place to help you keep track of everything.
Personally, I use my calendar and task manager apps religiously in order to make sure I am meeting my weekly tasks and personal goals. Learning to organize my work has been crucial for me. Between my day job and Penman Ventures, organizing my tasks allows me to not only ensure I am accomplishing the work that I set out to do, but also helps me achieve a good flow between work, business, and relaxation.
Prioritization is also important. You need to know what tasks are most important and need to be done first. This will help you avoid procrastination and ensure that you’re always working on the most important tasks.
These are the three core pillars of productivity. If you want to be more productive, you need to focus on these three areas. Learning to manage and command each hour of the day will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
Tips For Becoming More Productive
These are just a few of the many things you can do to become more productive. But, these are some things that have worked for me.
- Set Daily Schedules: Setting a daily schedule is helpful. I like to know what my day is going to look like and what I need to do. This helps me to be more focused and to use my time wisely, both when helping patients and helping a client.
- Wake Up Early: Waking up early also helps to be more productive. While I already wake up plenty early to start the workday, I also try to wake up early on the weekends. Starting the day early allows me to get more things done over the course of the morning.
- Follow The “2-Minute Rule”: Following the “2-minute rule” has also been helpful. If something can be done in two minutes or fewer, then do it now. This has helped me to avoid procrastination and to get things done quickly, so that I have more time for longer projects later.
- Eliminate Distractions: Seriously, this is important. When you’re trying to be productive, eliminate anything that will distract you from your work. This includes things like your phone, social media, and TV. When I get in the zone, I’ll listen to Lo Fi and tune out everything else while I write.
- Take Breaks: Burning out too quickly will make completing goals take longer. That’s why it’s important to take breaks and to walk away from your work every once in a while. This allows you to refresh your mind and do more with your time. While writing, I like to write for 25 minutes before taking a 5 minute break. I recommend following a similar formula to increase productivity.
- Get Enough Sleep: When you’re well-rested, it’s easier to focus and process thought. Lack of sleep and fatigue lead to the worst of crashes when you’re trying to accomplish your work. Stop staying up late; go to bed at a decent time. Keep your energy up.
- Exercise: While sleep helps you re-energize each day, exercise can help you raise the bar (no pun intended) on your energy levels. Not only will you just feel better overall, but you’ll improve your mental focus, vigor, and health in the long run.
- Meal Prep: When you meal prep, you’re able to save time and energy during the week. And you’re less likely to make unhealthy choices when you have healthy meals already prepared.
- Set Goals: Finally, setting goals is important. When you set goals, you have something to work towards. And, when you reach your goals, you’ll be motivated to keep going. Meeting set calendar goals and comparing your progress week to week also allows you to assess your other productivity strategies for the next necessity.
Track Your Progress
As you work on becoming more productive, it’s important to track your progress. This will help you see what’s working and what’s not working as far as productivity strategies. And it will help you stay on track with your work and established goals.
There are a dozen ways you can track your work and goals, some more specific than others. Journals, activity trackers, spreadsheets, the number of ways you can track your work is endless and as easy to access as your phone’s iOS or Android store. Consistently tracking your progress will allow you to reflect on the work you have done and the methods you have used to achieve your established goals.
I hope these tips are helpful to you as they were to me. With how busy we can be, it is easy to lose track of time, especially after working your day job. If you have any other recommendations, share in the comments below!
The Penman Reviews:
The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington
I have always been a fan of the fantasy genre, even since elementary school. I grew up on books such as Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, and The Hobbit. Aside from the concepts that make up the fantasy genre (magic, fantastical races, the esoteric, etcetera); and the phenomenal scenes / set-pieces that really get someone’s adrenaline and imagination flaring in tandem; there has always been one thing that really ties a “good” fantasy novel together: The insane plots made only possible by the worlds which these fantasy stories take place in.
I had the pleasure of reading the Licanius Trilogy recently, which had such a plot and world. Written by Australian author James Islington back in 2014, the trilogy comprised The Shadow of What Was Lost, An Echo of Things to Come, and The Light of All That Falls, all three of which are available on both Amazon and Audible. The trilogy features a diverse cast of characters, multiple-plot threads with an overarching, well woven narrative, an interesting hard-magic system, and decently written philosophical and theological arguments between the lead characters of opposing views.
If you are a fan of intrigue, and authors like George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and Robert Jordan, then James Islington’s first foray into the world of High Fantasy may be a good read for you. But if you wish to learn more about the Licanius Trilogy first before committing, then read on for the following in-depth review of all three books. We’ll also chat about the author himself, new to the scene of publishing.
About the Author: James Islington
James Islington is a new author in the scene of High Fantasy, who has only recently taken to writing seriously in his thirties. Born and raised in Southern Victoria, Australia, he self-published his first book, The Shadow of What Was Lost, in 2014 on Amazon, before he signed on with Science Fiction and Fantasy book publisher Orbit Books a little less than a year later. Since signing on with the UK team of the major publishing company, he has released the sequel to his debut novel, An Echo of Things to Come in 2018, and then the trilogy’s last book, The Light of All That Falls, in 2019.
The trilogy has since garnered positive reviews from thousands of readers, maintaining an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars after over 2,000 reviews of each book on Amazon alone. On James Islington’s website, he states he grew up on the stories of Raymond E. Feist and Robert Jordan, and this influence shows in Islington’s own writing style and narrative structure.
Since the completion of the Licanius Trilogy, James has submitted his first book for a new series called Hierarchy, the book itself titled The Will of the Many, to Orbit Books in September 2021 with an expected release date of Summer 2023 (because of a publishing backlog likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic, although this isn’t confirmed).
Book two of the Hierarchy series, The Strength of the Few, is currently undergoing its first draft. From the sound of things, this new book series will probably be released in quick succession once the first round of edits for The Will of the Many is completed, barring any extenuating circumstances that affect Orbit Books adversely. Let’s hope that isn’t the case!
The Licanius Trilogy: Premise and Background
The Licanius Trilogy largely takes place on a supercontinent in the country of Andarra. Two thousand years before the events of the first book, the Boundary, a magical barrier that separated the northern wasteland of Talan Gol, was created to stop a powerful invader who commanded an army of terrible monsters called Aarkein Devaed, who sought to destroy the world. In the war's aftermath that ended with the creation of the Boundary, the Darecians, a civilization of technologically and magically inclined people who ruled Andarra mysteriously vanished.
After the disappearance of the Darecians, Andarra came to be ruled by a new council of magi of incredible power, known as the Augurs: men and women capable of utilizing an external source of power called ‘Kan’, and able to see into the future. Beneath them in rule is a group of magi called the Gifted, who, while unable to manipulate Kan, can instead manipulate their own life-force, or Essence, in ways that affect the physical world.
Twenty years prior to the events of The Shadow of What Was Lost, this hierarchy fell. The Augurs lost their ability to peer into the future, and they withdrew from the public eye while they tried to figure out what happened to their foresight. Without oversight from the Augurs, the Gifted below them were left to govern a country that grew increasingly nervous. Worry turned to anger as the Gifted overstepped bounds under the new mandate, often violently, culminating into a bloody revolution by the common folk, helmed by Duke Elocien Andras, that saw the Augurs killed and the Gifted overthrown.
After five long years of a stalemate between the new monarchy of Andarra and the Gifted, the latter trapped within the defenses of their ancient forts, the Tols, a treaty was finally signed. A treaty which bound the Gifted to a set of harsh tenets and rules that severely limited their power and saw them under the jurisdiction of those who were sworn to uphold the tenets, Administrators. While free, the Gifted were to remain policed… and despised by the populace. And those born with the same abilities as the Augurs, under the new treaty, were to be condemned to death at the hands of the Administrators.
Far to the north, at the edge of Talan Gol, worries and whispers of the Boundary showing signs of faltering reach the ears of a few Gifted who know the catastrophe to follow the Boundary’s failing. And the child destined to stop Aarkein Devaed is born an Augur.
Discussing the Licanius Trilogy
James Islington did some interesting things for the trilogy while still keeping the formula of High Fantasy storytelling familiar to fans of the genre. I will admit that some of the pacing and plot points throughout the trilogy got a little confusing but never to where it was frustrating to follow while reading / listening. The details of the plot can get a little complicated, but the overall premise of the story is fairly simple, with plenty of unique twists that’ll have you question who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
The first book in the Trilogy, The Shadow of What Was Lost, will make fans of Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World feel right at home during the first half of the novel. You have the destined protagonist, Davian, who is sent off on a quest to restore the Boundary by an elder who knows of his identity. Accompanying him is his friend, Wirr, and they later rescue an amnesiac named Caeden. During their flight from Caeden’s captors, all three of them are rescued by a rogue Gifted named Taeris, a scarred elder who keeps his own sorts of secrets. The four of them make the journey north to the capital of Andarra, all while being pursued by hunters and Sha’teth (creatures that are like the Fades, or Eyeless Ones). Later one, they’re met by more companions following a brief meeting with the princess of Andarra.
It’s a classical adventure that sees a party of fated adventurers travel the land in pursuit of mutual goals. Only at about the half-way part of the book does the party slowly separate, and find themselves on diverging paths. There are a myriad of subplots in this trilogy that help individual characters develop both mentally and physically, with the threat of the Boundary collapsing (and later the emergence of a force that broke through the Boundary) serving to their senses of urgency. The finale of The Shadow of What Was Lost ends with a climatic battle that solidifies each character’s position in the future battles to come.
I cannot talk too much about the next two books in the series, unfortunately, without spoiling major details. But An Echo of Things To Come starts with all the major characters having gone through their separate paths already at the end of the first book. This is how the remaining two books of the series carry out the story of Licanius going forward - the major characters are all following their own paths and goals, and meet up at critical junctures before the turn of a narrative. The element of time travel, introduced in the first book, also continues to play a major role in connecting loose threads together by the end of the third book, The Light of All That Falls.
The different subplots and narratives tie very well together at the end of the third book, with a major twist that was introduced at the end of the second book resolving itself in the third book in such a way that it made me just… stand in place for a little while, just processing what had happened in the audiobook. These resolutions were not mind-bendingly perfect masterpieces… but they were very well executed. The dialogue and the characters also help to carry the narrative beautifully, as all the main characters are lovable in their own ways.
One problem I had, however, with the narrative involves the roles of some of the side characters in the story (the ones whose perspectives we do not follow once). There was one instance in the third book that felt extremely deus ex machina, and I feel that is because the two side characters involved disappeared half-way into the second book with brief reference to them afterwards. I feel like this is more of a set-up for one of Islington’s future books, which is said to also take place in the world of Licanius. We’ll just have to see.
Overall, the narrative throughout the three books starts slow in the first book, then quickly ramps up into an epic, nationwide, time-touched adventure that is memorable to read. The main characters are fantastic and likable; and the dialogue carries these novels to the end, with enough humor mixed in to help level out some of the darker conversations that come up and the myriad talks of philosophy and religion.
If you have time to pick up the series, I would highly recommend reading through them. If you prefer listening to audiobooks, you would be pleased to know that the Licanius Trilogy is available on Audible, and performed by the fantastic Michael Kramer.
Shadow of What Was Lost
A young man with forbidden magic finds himself drawn into an ancient war against a dangerous enemy in book one of the Licanius Trilogy, the series that fans are heralding as the next Wheel of Time.
As destiny calls, a journey begins.
It has been twenty years since the godlike Augurs were overthrown and killed. Now, those who once served them -- the Gifted -- are spared only because they have accepted the rebellion's Four Tenets, vastly limiting their powers.
As a Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war lost before he was even born. He and others like him are despised. But when Davian discovers he wields the forbidden power of the Augurs, he and his friends Wirr and Asha set into motion a chain of events that will change everything.
To the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian's wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is. . .
And in the far north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir.
The Licanius Trilogy is a series readers will have a hard time putting down -- a relentless coming-of-age epic from the very first page.
"Storytelling assurance rare for a debut . . . Fans of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson will find much to admire."" -- Guardian
World Health Organization: Cost of Physical Inactivity
What The Penman is Reading
Some Context From a Public Health Perspective
Throughout the 21st century, the risk of chronic disease has risen over time. In public health, we associate this rise of chronic disease with the improvement of our healthcare systems. As people are living longer lives, the overall population risk of chronic disease increases while our average birth rates decrease. This has been the gradual shift most 1st world nations have been experiencing since the Baby Boom from 1946 to 1964.
Meanwhile, another shift has occurred overtime. There has been a decreased emphasis on physical activity and exercise. There are many factors that play into the decrease in physical activity: technology, the internet, automation, etcetera. Our workforce has outsourced more strenuous labors in favor of professions and vocations which involve sitting at our desks more often than us being outside.
Our children and school systems have been affected by this shift in overall physical activity as well, as school curriculums have gradually phased out the requirement of more physical activity such as gym and workshop, in favor of the fund-friendly courses of math, science, and general studies.
This decreased emphasis on physical activity unfortunately has a negative impact on our quality of health and our risk of chronic disease. Decreased physical activity increases risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and even orthopedic diseases, including osteopenia. While I recognized this to be a significant issue in the United States, the WHO’s first ever global report and its focus on physical activity had me stunned. Less than fifty percent of all countries have any sort of policy in place to promote exercise and physical activity.
The economic burden of chronic disease brought on by physical inactivity in the United States alone is substantial, given the estimates on the reports. For the rest of the world, it is easy enough to see the burden of chronic disease rise to the trillions if physical activity and exercise are not promoted on a policy front soon.
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