Monday, January 17, 2022

Choices, Lists & Plans

TaniaRose via Pixabay

I've been thinking a lot about routines over the past couple of months. As I'm sure I've said here already, next semester's routine will be different from the one to which I've become accustomed. So, this month, rather than milking my time off between semesters for every drop of R & R, I've endeavored to kick off my spring semester routine early, allocating a chunk of what will be my teaching days to course planning and putting my writing first on what will be the non-teaching days.

Nice work if you can get it. (Wo)man plans, God laughs. The best laid schemes of mice and men.

Yeah. That. All of it.

Turns out that the muse won't always deign to visit just because it's Tuesday, but that every distraction in my house might just rise up to greet me, each placing itself squarely in my path where it refuses to be ignored. 

And then there's the emotional undercurrent. The things I can't control that I set aside, but worry about nevertheless. They simmer away in my subconscious, creating obstacles I cannot see, but that are just as real as the ones I can. They are, perhaps, more pernicious because I can't simply tackle them and check them off my list, and so they eat away at my creativity and my motivation, leaving me wondering why I'm spending so much time doing everything except the one thing I set out to do. 

I'm trying to be more flexible, something I found easy to do when I was younger. But, as with so many other habits we wish to acquire, flexibility refuses to come when called. Instead, it develops slowly and painstakingly over time. In addition, it requires patience, something that blind adherence to a routine does not.

I'm reading an interesting book that frames time management in terms of a series of choices. This has led me to wonder if, perhaps, considering how I spend my time on a choice-by-choice basis is the key to not only managing my time, but also finding that elusive flexibility. Choices are, by definition, fluid; at any time we can choose something different.

Much as I hate to admit it, a desire to control things is a big piece of what lies beneath my acquired love of routine. Routines make us feel as though we're in charge and, in a time when we feel governed by so many things outside our own control (many of which are terrifying), they can be comforting. In addition, routines can be what stands between us and that emotional undercurrent that threatens to undo us if we allow it to pull us under.

As with so much else in life, it would seem that the answer lies in balance. As long as we have responsibilities, our lives cannot realistically be some sort of free flow multiple choice exam with unlimited options. If we want to pay our bills, earn some sort of living, and keep our houses in order, choosing to work and do the tasks associated with work would seem to be unavoidable. In addition, work can also provide our days with a basic structure -- the beginning of routine. 

But satisfying days are also about seizing the choices that lay outside that routine, from the path we take to work, to the order in which we accomplish tasks, to the things we choose to do when the work is set aside for the day. (Notice I didn't say "when the work is done." For many of us, the work is never done. We simply need to learn when to step away). And, since choices are, by definition, flexible, exercising our ability to choose as often as possible has the potential to balance a rigid schedule with a bit of unpredictability, much as the work week and the weekend can afford us some sort of balance between work and play (if we let them).

Perhaps the first choice I need to make is in my outlook. When my best-laid plans are tossed to the wind, I can choose to see this as a terrible thing, or an opportunity. Choosing my outlook will govern not only the choices I make, but how I view them as well -- whether I feel backed into a corner or at a crossroads.

Standing at that crossroads, I can take back a sense of control. Some days, I'll choose the practical path marked out by routine but, other days, I can choose the scenic route, and I can do so without beating myself up for following what is, most days, an arbitrary map.

Why so much ado about routine vs. flexibility? Because finding balance between the two allows us to find some balance within ourselves as well. And because recognizing that choosing to do one thing means choosing to not to do something else is a basic tenet of time management. But understanding the choices we make and fully experiencing them is a basic tenet of mental health.

As with organizing tools, time management techniques should work in our service, not vice versa. When a routine works, leaving us feeling tired but satisfied at the end of the day, then it's a good choice. But if a routine leaves us exhausted and unsettled, perhaps it's time to make another choice.

We are the architects of our days and our lives. What will you design today?


Friday, January 14, 2022

Friday Feature: National Organize Your Home Day


I had an article selected for today’s blog post. But then I got in the car to go grab a Starbucks and heard that today is National Organize Your Home Day! I couldn’t let that go by.

Unless you are already thoroughly organized (in which case you don’t need a day like today), getting organized is a more than one day task. If you, like me, are a work in progress, the best use of a day like today might be simply taking stock. What do you want to improve? What would take a spot in your home from "almost there" to making you smile every time you walk past it? What new tip or trick or tool might you try this week to make things just a little bit better?


Organizing a home is an ongoing task, but taking a day to take stock can be a great way to jumpstart that task. Not sure where to start? Try taking this quiz to figure out your personal and organizational styles. I also like the suggestion in the article to read an organizing magazine or book. If you’re like me, that can be enough to spark ideas and motivation.


Whatever you decide to do, make sure to congratulate yourself on any progress you make, no matter how small. Taking small steps is a sure fire way to get to next year‘s National Organize Your Home Day with a shorter to-do list than the one you have right now. 


What's your reason for getting organized? Share it and/or any progress you make in the comments below. 




Wednesday, January 12, 2022

I Resolve....

Wokandapix via Pixabay
Today is Stick to your New Year's Resolution Day! (No, I didn't make that up). As you know from my post last Friday, I'm more an ongoing goal-setter than a New Year's resolver, but I do take stock at the beginning of each new year. 

In 2020, I created a list of 20 things I wanted to focus on in 2020. Each year since, reviewing and tweaking the list has been part of my January goal-setting. I made some changes from 2020 into 2021, and added a 21st item: Release guilt.

This year, I liked my 2021 list enough that I made only minor changes and I did, once again, add something: Remember that less is sometimes more -- something I hope to remember every time I (or someone else in my family) is tempted to go over the top.

Here's what I want to work on this year:

1. Move more (with a more specific Fitbit goal attached).

2. Be mindful/meditate more.

3. Don't judge downtime, but don't waste it either.

4. Declutter.

5. Create spaces I want to spend time in.

6. Read (for fun).

7. Prize my time and say "no" when necessary.

8. Give people space to do things for themselves.

9. Speak my mind, but also be kind.

10. Use less plastic.

11. Use less paper.

12. Strike a balance between routine and flexibility (more on this on Monday :-)

13. Be grateful often.

14. Define my professional brand and stay true to it.

15. Live on the plateau sometimes.

16. Be optimistic. 

17. Recognize effort and say thank you.

18. Make time for creative pursuits beyond my writing.

19. Stay in the Diamond League on Duolingo.

20. Stop caring what other people think.

21. Release guilt.

22. Remember that less is sometimes more.

How about you? Any high hopes for 2022?

Monday, January 10, 2022

Home




Some days, coming up with an idea is the hardest part of writing a blog post. And today was one of those days. 

So, I did what everyone does when they are stuck. I turned to Google.

Coming up with lists of suggestions for blog posts ideas was not a problem. Coming up with a suggestion that resonated was a different story.

Finally, though, one idea ignited a spark: what does home mean to you?

I started thinking of all the places I've called home, or that have felt like it, even if only for a time. My house of course, where I've lived for the past 28 years. The houses I lived in growing up. New Jersey itself. The condo community we stay in at the beach. The various dorm rooms and apartments I lived in during college and grad school. 

And then, since Billy Joel is my favorite artist (even though he's not from New Jersey), "You're My Home" (one of my favorite songs of his) started running through my mind, and so I had to go on YouTube and listen to it. 

But I digress.

Home is where I'm comfortable. Somewhere I can just be. Home is a place that not only reflects my identity, but becomes a part of it (I'm talkin' to you, New Jersey!)

Home is familiar. A soft landing place. A feeling.

Home is populated by some of my favorite people, but it's also a place where I can happily be alone. It has my favorite things, in the places where they belong (mostly). And when I travel, if I take those people or things with me, the place where I am headed can feel like home for a time, too. 

Home is memories. It's a dynamic space whose changes reflect our own, often in ways that are small enough to be almost unnoticeable. Home can be love, but it can also be the last place we want to be when love is no longer there. 

Home, the subject of songs, literature and even the plaques and decor we use to turn a house into a home, has both one meaning and many. It's one thing when we are small, another when we're teens, and something else when we are grown. 

What does home mean to you?

Friday, January 7, 2022

Friday Feature: Being the Hope

I try to avoid politics/politicians in my Friday Features, but I was pulled in by the headline on this Vox interview with Maryland representative Jamie Raskin. Politics aside, I'm always impressed by Representative Raskin when I see him on television. He comes across as calm, thoughtful, and well-reasoned, even in circumstances where those things are a challenge.

Yes this interview is in part a book plug, but it's more about the people (most notably his late son) than the politics. I like the stories he tells, especially his statement to his children: "When everything looks hopeless, you're the hope."

Not a bad message for a new year kicked off by yet another COVID variant. Wishing you a hopeful new year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A Procrastinating Writer's Letter to Santa



Hi Santa --

How are you? How are things at the North Pole?


I want to apologize for reaching out to you during your well-deserved vacation time. Unfortunately, since I've practically perfected the art of procrastination, I didn't get around to this letter until now.


Okay, since you see me when I'm sleeping, and know when I'm awake, you know that's only partly true. Yes, I put this off but I also didn't think of it until it was too late to contact you in a timely fashion. It seems that even my ideas show up late.


Anyway, back to my point. I had a great Christmas, despite the fact that I never got around to writing to you last year. But, as I approach 2022, I can think of a few things I'd love to have.


  1. Confidence. I’ve got plenty of this at the idea stage but, it seems that when I sit down to see those ideas through, I freeze up and that ubiquitous procrastination kicks in. If you could have your elves come up with something that sits on my desk and pops up now and then when I'm writing to tell me to have a little faith, that'd be great.
  1. An inbox reset. I've accepted the fact that I will never be at inbox zero on my own, and I'm okay with that. But, if you could magically thin out the junk mail and unsubscribe to the stuff I shouldn't have subscribed to in the first place, that would make my life a lot easier. How does that connect to writing? Less time spent on that infernal inbox means more time available to write.
  1. Super submission powers. I don't mind submitting, but if you could point me in the direction of the people who actually want to read the 30 page proposal I've labored over and/or those who will at least respond when I send them something, that'd be great. Again, it would save me a lot of time and would go a long way toward increasing the first item on this list.
  1. The desire to revise. We don't need to go overboard here. I don't need the same level of excitement for revision as I feel when a new idea grabs me (although, come to think of it, that’d be great), but if your elves could just come up with something that helps me dread it less, that would be fantastic.
  1. The motivation to write at any time of day. I know this one's a big ask, especially since there are times of day when I really do have this. Unfortunately, other responsibilities (like a day job) are often scheduled for that same time, so by the time I finish with those, I'm content to curl up on the sofa and play Words with Friends or watch Netflix. Again, just a little spark would be terrific.

I know you're busy, Santa -- even in the off-season (I'm an educator. I get it). I'm not in a big hurry for any of this except, perhaps, the motivation. And maybe the confidence. And I don't want your work on this to take anything away from the kids, but maybe a few of them could use some of these, too, so it wouldn't be a total waste of the elves' time.


Thanks, Santa. I'll be here watching out, not crying and trying not to pout, even when I'm revising, whenever you get to this. I hope you and Mrs. Claus and the family are doing well.


Sincerely and hopefully yours,

Lisa

Monday, January 3, 2022

There Will be Flowers

The meme at left has been popping up all over my Facebook feed. I don't know its origin, but I do know that every time I see it, it makes me smile and I make sure to "like" it. 

Today, I logged onto my "junk mail" e-mail account and came across this article from Happify on "3 Super Simple Ways to Enjoy Your Life More." I like them all, and I have used each of them in some form or another. But I especially appreciate the first one, which is bookending the day by considering something I'm looking forward to in the morning and something I enjoyed at night (a practice my daughter and I already engage in).

Twice in my theatrical past, I had the opportunity to be in the musical Company. The first time was in college, and the second time was as an adult performer in a community theatre production. Today, as I was planning this post, a line that was never particularly memorable to me before jumped into the forefront of my mind: "You see what you look for, you know."

The last couple of years have been pretty lousy and many of us feel as though we're tiptoeing into 2022, just waiting for a monster to jump out and scare us. 

But what if we didn't?

What if we decided that, even in a year with monsters, there can be flowers? What if we were intentional about willing happiness into our days and celebrating it at night? What if what we looked for was the good, the sweet, the salty, the savory, the spice of life?

Every new year brings with it opportunity. We can plant flowers, or we can bemoan the weeds. We can grumble about the things we don't want to do, or we can look for the bright spots that make us smile. We will see what we look for, so the question is, what will we look for? 

There is always something to complain about. But there's also always something to be grateful for. Which will define your new year?