8 Tips For Making a Daily To-Do List That Will Change Your Life

We’ve all been there: you have a list of things to do in your head, but really all you want to do is play video games/nap/see your friends/curl up on the couch with a book. “I’ll do it later,” you think, and suddenly it’s 10pm, the day is over, and you’re left with nothing to show for your day except guilt and regret.

Hashtag relatable, amirite?

I was like that, too. On my days off, I would promise myself I’d get to writing or planning out my next novel, only to spend the next seven hours playing Dragon Age or Horizon Zero Dawn. Although I love games and it’s completely fine to spend your day gaming every now and then, it started to become a bad habit, and the deeper you are into a bad habit, the harder it is to get yourself out.

When we moved to Musashi-Kosugi, it felt like a fresh start in a fresh new apartment. However, I don’t believe that moving somewhere new really got me organised. What did sort me out was something ancient and extremely simple, yet more effective than I ever could have imagined: the to-do list.

Do it. Do it right now. Open Google Docs in another tab. Label it with tomorrow’s date (or today’s date if it’s still early while you’re reading this) and write a list of things you need to do. Done right, it can help you be more productive than you could ever have guessed.

Here are some tips on your to-do list and how to stick to it.

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1. Make it Realistic

There’s no use sticking eight hours’ worth of solid work onto your list. Start off slow – maybe add one or two things such as “pick up the children from school” and “write 500 words of new book.” Even things you were planning to do anyway should be on there.

Adding too much to your list can just make you feel more overwhelmed than ever, and you’ll end up getting none of it done at all.

2. Add Easy Things for Momentum

I always start my to-do list with two things: “make coffee” and “kiss my husband.” Both of these things are easy and part of my morning routine. When you already have two items on your list ticked, it’s much easier to get started on the next. At the time of writing this article, I’ve already finished the first two things, getting me mentally ready for the third (which was writing this).

3. Prioritise

You might have an enormous amount of things to do: housework, personal projects, freelance projects, things you simply can’t put off, and things you could probably put off for another week. Think about what needs to be done now.

For instance, do you have a paper that has a deadline? Get that done before working on your personal project.

4. Start Early

On days where I’m not working at my day job, I try to start the things on the list at or before 9:00am. That way, by lunchtime I have already finished three or four things on the list.

Starting early, when possible, also gives you the evening to do whatever you want, completely guilt-free. You’ll feel much better when you’ve had a productive day. You may even feel motivated to do more work, but be sure to take a rest, too. Playing Dying Light in the evening is way more enjoyable after a day of getting stuff done.

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5. Be Specific

Adding things like “work on new book” or “practise guitar” is all well and good, but be sure to have concrete goals. Add exactly what you want to get done that day. For example, when working on a proofreading project, I’ll aim to edit 25 pages as one task, which will usually take an hour or so. That way, when the 25 pages are up, the task is ‘finished’ and I can rest for a bit.

Some people may rather put time instead of tasks (for example, “proofread for one hour”), but I personally think tasks are more important. You can easily get distracted by your phone, making tea, or whatever else, and the hour can waste away rather than being a time slot of solid work.

6. Allow Time to Rest… But Not Too Much

Allow small breaks, but stick to them. If a break is fifteen minutes, make it fifteen minutes. You may find your motivation is high after completing tasks on your list, though, so feel free to power through if you want to! I’ve found that ticking tasks from my lists just makes me feel more motivated to start with the next one.

Never feel guilty for taking a break, though. Sometimes your mind needs a short break to refuel. Just be sure that your break doesn’t accidentally turn into three hours of nothing.

7. Add Variety

Dedicating a day to your main hobby, task, or skill development is all well and good, but you’re going to burn out quickly if you just have “work on thesis for eight hours” on your list. Here is a quick example list for a student working on her dissertation.

  • Have breakfast
  • Take a shower and get dressed
  • Write 300 words of dissertation
  • Vacuum room
  • Plan second half of essay
  • Call Mum
  • Email lecturer about deadline

etc, etc, etc.

Breaking up your list into various kinds of bitesize tasks makes it a lot less overwhelming. You also get a lot more done in your day. It’s surprising how much can be achieved in less than twelve hours.

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8. Make Your List the Night Before

Don’t wait until morning to make the list for that day! Before you go to bed, make a clear, easy-to-follow list for the following day, complete with easy tasks like eating meals and showering. That way, when you wake up, you can get started with task 1 with a clear mind.

You may be surprised at how much you can get done with a simple to-do list. In the time I’ve been making a daily list, I’ve completed writing assignments that I’d kept putting off, planned out previously difficult details of a book I’m writing, and proofread a huge chunk of a novel for a client. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a list-less life, and you shouldn’t, either.

So what are you waiting for? I want to see your to-do list for tomorrow! Get cracking!

Today’s My Birthday

Hi, everyone. Today’s my birthday. I got a cake to prove it!

A lot of my friends are older than me, and by writing this article I can almost feel the “Oh, shut up, you’re still young!” But hear me out.

25 is when you stop being a young adult and become an adult adult. There is no excuse for not being able to do things anymore. You’re expected to know how to change a baby’s diaper. Drive a car. Fill out your tax returns.

25 is where your life begins.

Not that it’ll feel any different, probably; things will just hurt more and hangovers will last longer. I’m fairly happy with life so far, so it’ll be good to see where the second half of my twenties take me.

What Do You Do When You Have Writer’s Block?

The last few months of 2017 and January 2018 were fantastic for me, writing-wise. I pumped out dozens of articles for various websites and finished a novelette. I wrote every day. I even made some money.

But every day of February so far has been a disaster. I’ve got a quarter of the way through articles before dismissing them as trash. Two unfinished fictional projects poke the back of my mind all day when I’m working or cooking, but as soon as I sit down to write, my mind goes blank.

Am I burned out? Or is it just writer’s block?

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I’m pretty upset about it. Today’s a national holiday, which means I’m not at the office and it should be a day of working on the final of my fantasy trilogy. I just quit my job to be a full-time writer, for pity’s sake. Now I can’t even manage a five-hundred-word article and the idea of writing fiction would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

What do you do when you’re suffering from writer’s block? I’ve been reading a lot. I love to read anyway, but I’ve already demolished several novels in 2018 alone. I’ve also been playing video games. I’ve been writing for this blog, but that to me doesn’t really count as “writing.” I want to finish my trilogy! I want to start working on a new project!

So how do you beat writer’s block? A quick Google search takes you to a few articles. I just found this one on GoinsWriter, which suggests music, walking, coffee, reading, and even freewriting. Writers Digest says you should write when everyone else is asleep, clear your desk, exercise, and work on other creative projects.

This slump suuuuuuuuuuuuucks. What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Peach Coca-Cola in Japan: Gross or Great?

I’d heard a bit about peach cola floating around in Japan. It’s just one of the many experimental flavours of drinks and the like that pop up now and then in the country. You’ll see crazy varieties of crisps, chocolate, alcohol, and soft drinks. I saw a bottle of peach cola in Daiso and grabbed a bottle.

Peach is quite a common flavour. You can get peace juice, peach soda, peach alcoholic drinks. What would peach cola be like?

I usually don’t drink cola unless it has whiskey in it, but I took a swig. At first it just tastes like regular cola, but the peach flavour comes afterward, at the top of your mouth. There is also a peachy aftertaste mixing with the usual slightly acidic sensation of coke.

I personally don’t think it’s that special. If you’re old enough to drink, you can get very similar peachy flavours with better drinks, such as peach horoyoi (3% alcohol). Though I suppose if you’re a huge fan of cola, it might be worth a try.

Basically, it tastes pretty much how you’d expect. Quite tasty, but nothing groundbreaking.

Yakiniku (Korean Barbecue) in Japan

It’s the weekend, and a national holiday on Monday! I’m getting geared up to spend the next three days killing dragons, hunting monsters, and reading books. Not necessarily in that order.

We had yakiniku for dinner, which is the local word for Korean barbecue. You get a grill at your table and order stuff to put on the fire. The meat is all cut thinly so that it cooks after just a minute or so.

Restaurants usually offer a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) course, but you generally don’t need it. The tabehoudai was around 3,400 yen but they had a set for two people for just 2,500 yen and it was more than enough.

They also had nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) set, but you could only get it if you already ordered the tabehoudai. Therefore, we got just one bottle of sake and then ordered soft drinks to make our own mixed drinks. Forbidden? No. Cheeky? Maybe.

The set was ginormous, have a look. Please forgive the vertical shot though; I am not a clever man.

We also got a big bowl of rice, some sausages, and some kimchi, which is spicy Korean cabbage and one of my favourite foods ever. I remember going mental when I saw kimchi featured in an episode of QI.

It’s pretty much a meat lover’s dream. We had grilled kalbi beef and sausages and rice and kimchi and onion and carrot and pumpkin until we were full to burst. I also had juice with too much sake in and left the restaurant a little merry.

If you visit Japan, definitely be sure to try out “yakiniku.” It’s one of the best not-Japanese-but-kind-of-Japanese styles of eating you don’t want to miss 😀

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Angst” by David J. Pedersen

Day 39

I’ve just finished reading a fantasy novel called Angst, written by David J. Pedersen.

“When Angst turned 40, he knew it was over. Angst had longed to be a knight of Unsel, to make his mark in history, to be remembered for heroic deeds and wondrous acts. He grew up knowing he was destined for something great, but now it is too late. Not only is 40 far too old to become a knight, Angst is one of the few able to wield “the magics”.”

Most protagonists in fantasy novels are young and gifted, destined from birth to be the hero and saviour of the story – often not relatable at all. One of the first things that draws readers to David Pedersen’s Angst is the fact that the main character is the exact opposite of this stereotype.

Angst is the perfect name for this character: he is unsatisfied with his life, a gift that should have been cherished makes him an outcast, and he spends his life in skull-numbing boredom. After turning forty, he believes his dreams of becoming a knight, and subsequent hero, are over. That is until he draws a sword that has been unmovable for as long as anyone can remember. It just might be up to Angst to get to the bottom of the problems plaguing Unsel… once his back stops hurting.

Angst is just an adorable character. Pedersen cleverly captures the mid-life crisis, urge to become something bigger and better, and the fearless, cheeky flirting of a forty-year-old. It was really interesting how these elements fit nicely into a fantasy story.

The story itself was incredibly creative and I’ll have a hard time forgetting many different aspects of the world of Ehrde, including places, beasts, and the concept of the Vex’kvette. I found that I was carrying the book around with me so I could read it on the train and during my lunch breaks.

There were a few things I wasn’t sure about. Something we find out about Heather, Angst’s wife, could have been foreshadowed, along with several other things. I also couldn’t bring myself to like the character Rose, although that is personal preference because I’ve heard she’s a very popular character. Nevertheless, this was a fun story to read and I look forward to reading the next one! I give this book four stars out of five.

Get Angst on Amazon US
Get Angst on Amazon UK

Tokyo’s Blue Winter Sky

Day 38

I haven’t written anything in a few days because work has been really busy. Plus I spent most of last night playing Dragon Age Inquisition.

I was walking to work today when I noticed how beautifully blue the sky was. Winter here is dry and clear, with great views of Mt. Fuji. Even when the skyscrapers tower around you, you still see the perfect blue of the sky if you look up.

A downside of a dry winter is that the country is prone to fires, although with modern heating systems and architecture and the like, it’s becoming less of a problem. It’s also easy to get dehydrated and chapped skin in this season.

Still, when I think about the dark, windy, rainy weather of winter back home, this blue blue blue sky isn’t so bad 😉

Japanese “Purikura”

Day 35

Today I went to Ikebukuro with some friends. We were supposed to be going to some kind of museum exhibition, but as the queue ran down the stairs all the way from the seventh floor down to the second, we gave up on the idea. People here don’t mind lining up hours for something if it’s popular, but none of us had the patience. Instead we ate salad and pizza, yum yum.

Edward really really wanted to do purikura. Purukira, a shortened version of the term “print club,” is a photo booth that adds exaggerated airbrushing to your pictures. You can also add writing, pictures, backgrounds, and stickers to make your photos unique.

It’s against the rules in some purikura places to go in if you’re just one guy or a group of guys. We got some funny stares when I walked behind my three British male friends, who are all taller than the junior high school girls occupying the room.

It’s just 400 yen for a purikura, so 100 yen each. You go inside and have to pose quickly because a picture is taken every couple of seconds. It was really fun, and the boys look so pretty!

If you’d like to try purikura, just go to any arcade in Japan. Just remember that if you’re a group of men, you won’t be able to do it, unfortunately. Maybe they had problems with strange guys peeking in the past. Some tourist attractions like Tokyo Tower also have a purikura booth, sometimes with themed backgrounds and stickers. They’re great for couples or groups of friends.

 

Hamster Babies

Day 34

Mate, I’m really emotional right now.

You might know that I have hamsters, a boy and a girl named Hemingway and Zelda. They’re sweet little things, and on the 22nd January, Zelda gave birth.

She’s got a little house in her cage and since hamsters like a small, dark place to hide, she gave birth in there. I’d known she was pregnant because she got all fat and whenever I put tissues into her cage, she did this:

I kept a close eye on her, removing the top floors of the cage so that the babies wouldn’t fall, cleaning it thoroughly, and adding lots of extra food and bedding. On the 22nd January, the day where Tokyo got all the snow, I heard little squeaky voices coming from her cage.

I’ve done some research on the internet and they say you mustn’t touch the hamster babies for at least two weeks. Every day, I eased into the room as quietly as possible to change the water and add food. Sometimes I couldn’t hear the little squeaks at all and felt alarmed; what if Zelda had killed her babies? Hamsters do that sometimes if they’re frightened.

It’s been two weeks, but it feels like much longer. Today is Saturday, which means that on Monday they I’ll be able to say hello to them and find out how many there are.

Today, as I was giving the little family food and I saw something amazing! One of the babies came out to explore!

But right after I finished taking this video, the little guy stopped moving.

He just lay there, on the ground, eyes closed. I felt like I was falling through the floor and down through the earth. Had I scared him? Had he been weak and crawled off from the others to die? Had he frozen to death without the warmth of his mother?

“No,” I moaned. Only a few days old and he’d already died!

Zelda was rummaging round in the room. I picked her up and put her near the baby. She sniffed at him for a second and then started eating the food I’d put into the cage. I looked at the little baby sadly. I felt horrible, but then…

The little baby moved again!

I couldn’t believe it. He must have played dead, or reacted to the bright light, or even fallen asleep. But suddenly he was as energetic as could be, crawling around the cage until he found their little house again. The pile of bedding was like a mountain for it, but he got inside and I’m sure right now he’s all cuddled up with his brothers and sisters again.

I’m not sure what happened, but I’m so glad he’s all right. I’ll have to start finding a home for these little ones soon, although it would be nice to keep hold of one or two of them!

There’s something quite magical about getting a glimpse of Zelda and Hemingway’s children, seeing their little pink feet and little twitching noses. Well done Zelda, well done babies, and I’ll see you in a few days to start getting to know each other!

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How to Find Beta Readers for Your Book

Day 33

I’ve been asked by a few people how I got beta readers for A Bard’s Lament. I’m not going to lie; it has been a lot more successful than the previous two times I asked (for different books). Quite a few people volunteered, and to my delight, all of them got back to me with great feedback way before the deadline.

Hopefully, my experience will prove useful for other writers who are trying to find beta readers. Here are some Dos and Don’ts I’ve learned.

1. Prepare a Great Pitch

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A pitch is similar to a blurb; it is several sentences that make a person want to read your book. The pitch tells the person a little about your story and makes them want to know more. If someone is genuinely into the story they will be a lot more likely to read it.

2. Build Relationships Before You Need Them

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Social media is powerful. Facebook groups and Twitter, from experience, have proven to be strongest in connecting with readers and other writers. Engage, chat, get to know them and, importantly, genres they like.

This isn’t to say you should go and introduce yourself to dozens of people you aren’t interested in before you “use” them to do you a favour. Connecting with people potentially interested in your work just makes sense, especially if you’re planning on marketing your book yourself.

3. Ask for Volunteers

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Use Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and any other tools at your disposal to advertise for volunteers. Put your pitch and make it clear exactly what you’re looking for: to give a free book to people who are willing to give honest and constructive feedback.

Only a tiny percentage of people who I thought would volunteer actually volunteered, so don’t get disheartened if people don’t respond.

4. Approach People Who Might Like Your Genre

Very few people are going to make the effort to read your book simply because you wrote it. There’s no use approaching your romance-loving neighbour to read a paranormal horror, or the writer you know from Facebook who specialises in fantasy to read your mystery thriller.

Groups are useful because people who read or write the same genre tend to stick together.

5. Don’t Ask Directly

If you directly message someone and say “HEY! Want to beta read my book?” The person, depending on their personality, will either say yes because they want to, say no, or worst, say yes because they feel they should. An awful lot of time is wasted when you send them your manuscript, they mysteriously disappear or become extremely busy, and you sit there waiting for feedback that will never come.

Instead, say “I’m looking for beta readers for my new book, [Title]. Do you know anyone who might be interested?” If they ask for more information, give them your pitch. Even if they aren’t interested themselves, they might know some readers who might be. This way, you are not upsetting anyone by being pushy.

6. Make it Clear What You Want

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Some readers may be interested in your story, but still say no because they’re worried that they aren’t qualified.

Make a list of questions that you’d like them to try and answer. Nothing technical – that’s the editor’s job. Here are some example questions you can use for your beta readers.

  • Does the story open well? Did it make you want to read further?
  • Does the plot make sense?
  • Is there anything that is unclear?
  • Are the characters interesting? Do you care about them and their decisions?
  • Are there any questions you feel still need answering?
  • Was the ending satisfactory?

Questions like these make it a lot easier for your beta reader and avoids them just telling you things like “Yeah, I liked it,” which may be nice to hear but won’t help you at all.

7. Give Them Enough Time

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After you’ve sent your manuscript to beta readers, give them a reasonable deadline, preferably a couple of weeks depending on the length of the story. I gave two weeks for my 13,000 word story but if you’ve written a lengthy novel, it might be better to give them longer.

If you have a deadline, make it clear to the readers from the beginning so they won’t suddenly tell you they can’t do it anymore. People are busy and remember that they are doing you a favour.

8. Be Patient

It can be easy to start chewing your nails and spam the “inbox” button in your email while you wait for responses. However, it will be quite rare for people to get started right away. Give them a week, or maybe give them several, and most importantly, don’t nag them. There’s nothing more of a turn off than someone pestering you saying “have you finished it yet?”

Making what you want clear and making your book sound interesting and engaging will greatly increase your chances of getting people volunteering to read it! Beta readers are an essential part of self-publishing as they can spot errors before publication and before you fork out for an editor. What kind of book are you working on right now?