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Beth Cox Report: October 2013

Dear Loyal Readers, Authors, and Publishers,

Happy Halloween! 'Tis the season of excuses to buy candy, allegedly to give out to trick-or-treating children. Just because I like fruit snacks and mini cereal bars doesn't mean the kids won't, right?

Sometimes I struggle to get my monthly quota of reviewed books finished on time. I know I'm not the only self-motivated individual who runs into tight deadlines, whether for writing a novel, finishing a college paper, or navigating bureaucratic paperwork (sound familiar)? So, I thought I'd share my basic tips for writers, publishers, students, and anyone else trying to work as efficiently as possible from home:

1) Take care of any physical needs before you start.

Seems obvious? Maybe, but nothing can kill productivity faster than nagging restlessness. One of the best times to get work done is right after exercise, whether it's a session at the gym or a five-minute break for some stretching. One of my favorite devices for getting a little indoor exercise when I need it most, even late at night, is the Gazelle Glider (, but anything will work, even basic toe-touches or sit-ups.

If you're hungry, eat a meal (if it's mealtime) or a healthy snack such as fresh fruit. Don't procrastinate a trip to the men's/ladies' room, either. If you're tired and don't have time to sleep, try a quick shower to wake up. I strongly recommend against artificial stimulants such as so-called "energy drinks" or pills meant to force a person to stay awake - these are disruptive to the human body, and tend to trade off short-term jitters for a long-term crash.

2) Create a work/study space that's relatively free from distractions.

This is a keystone critical step to getting absolutely anything done. Turn your cell phone off if you can; avoid having any food or television near your work area (a drink such as plain water is OK). Close any internet chat applications running. If you're using a portable computer or a laptop, taking it to the public library is a sound option, and much more practical than a busy cafe.

If working at home, your home computer ideally shouldn't be in a high-traffic area of the house. A quiet room you can dedicate to your job is the best option; otherwise, you can still insulate yourself to a degree by putting on headphones and playing some instrumental music (I personally find music with lyrics to be distracting, though your perception may differ). You don't even need a CD player - just plug your headphones into your computer, go to YouTube (, and use the search feature to call up a video of your favorite song.

Incidentally, there's a nifty YouTube trick I learned to automatically play any given video over and over. Simply go to the URL of the YouTube video, and type

in place of "" in the URL; leave the rest of the URL unchanged. This will allow you to "listen on repeat".

Alternatively, you can go directly to

and then search for your favorite YouTube video. I'm naming Listen on Repeat the Link of the Month for their humble yet enormously convenient, cost-free public gift - the idea that "you should only have to hit play once."

3) Set realistic goals for yourself (with some wiggle room), and make a record of how well you keep them.

Any long project needs benchmarks. The computer software and game industry is especially well-known for requiring milestones, simply because coding errors can pop up and require extensive taming at any point of a long and complex development process. But even the most humble of individual writers can work more efficiently when setting reasonable daily goals.

"Reasonable daily goals", in this context, is completely subjective. The only way to find out whether your personal, sustainable writing threshold is 5, 10, 20, 50 or more pages a day is to try and see. Not all of us are prolific legends like the great Isaac Asimov.

Whatever your production goal is, make sure you gauge it by quantity, not time. A benchmark of "I'll write five or more pages today before I quit to do something fun" will encourage you to get your work done; while a benchmark of "I'll work for four hours" may do little more than entice you to browse the internet to while away the allotted time. (It happens to all of us).

You can also jot down how well you keep your desired goals in a calendar or journal. There's no need to spend more than a few seconds a day doing this, and an ongoing track record will help you get a feel for your own capabilities.

In keeping with the general theme of improving personal productivity and working toward goals, October's Review of the Month is a practical-minded self-help book:

The One Thing
Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
Bard Press
c/o Keller Williams Reality (publicity)
1221 South Mopac Expressway, Suite 400
Austin, TX 78746
9781885167774 $24.95

A Russian proverb states, "If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one". In other words, too much multitasking or too many demands at cross-purposes can and will sabotage one's highest dreams. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results is a self-help guide to focusing on what one wants most in life. This might be improved productivity on the job, the drive to complete personal projects, or just more time to be with family and friends. Chapters walk the reader through tips, tricks, and techniques to achieve balance in life, focus on priorities, make a habit out of success, and avoid four of the most common pitfalls or "time thieves" - the inability to say "no", fear of chaos, poor health habits, or an environment that doesn't support one's goals. Thoroughly accessible to readers of all backgrounds, The One Thing is an excellent and enlightening motivational guide, highly recommended.

While the idea behind The One Thing may seem self-evident at first glance, the details of implementing its philosophy are trickier than ever in today's distraction-filled world. Multitasking can be a valuable skill, but doing two or more jobs at once often leads to worse performance in each. The One Thing is written expressly to help anyone focus on their highest priority!

One last, seasonal note. As far as I can tell, there aren't any nationwide elections scheduled for November 2013, but there are multiple "special elections to the United States Congress, gubernatorial and state legislative elections in a few states, as well as numerous citizen initiatives, mayoral races, and a variety of other local offices on the ballot" (a quote from Wikipedia). Please check your newspapers or do an Internet search to learn if there are any elections in your district; even the smallest government office wields political power that directly affects people's lives. Then become an informed voter, and vote your conscience!

That's all for the October 2013 Beth Cox Report. Take care!

Bethany Cox
Managing Editor
The Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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