Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday Feature: Drawing a Line

I seem to be on a productivity roll -- at least when it comes to the articles that attract my attention. Last week, I wrote about a seven minute start to the day touted for increasing productivity (Tried it. Liked it.) but, in the same post, I commiserated with a commenter who'd had enough suggestions on productivity.

And yet, here I am again this week. Partly, it's January but, mostly, the semester starts next week and a lack of productivity is no longer an option. Perhaps most important, this article by Gwen Moran not only addresses the elephant in the business section from the start ("There is no shortage of advice about and strategies for performing optimally and enhancing productivity"), but goes on to share two pieces of information that I seriously need to take to heart: do one thing (the research on multitasking is clear: don't do it) and stop working all the time.

I can give you a million excuses about why my work days bleed into evenings and weekends, not the least of which is that neither writing nor teaching is not a nine-to-five job, but all that does is reveal how embarrassingly difficult it is for me to draw the line.

I'm working on it. Both of those things, as a matter of fact.

If you, too, are "working on it," check out the rest of Gwen's Fast Company article. Your top pieces of advice might be different than mine or you, like me, might just find a cool new name for your favorite kind of day ("serendipitous days"). Either way, making it a point to develop a better relationship between ourselves and our work is never a bad idea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Way Back Wednesday: My Kingdom for a Title

Yesterday, a project I'd put a lot of time and heart into got rejected. While rejection is always disappointing, it's a part of the writing life. Like most writers, I have other projects in the works, so I'm choosing to look at this as found time that I can spend on those other books....

Like the ones about Marita, Angel, and Charli. 

I wrote the original version of the post below just shy of three years ago, which means that's how long I've been working on the final book. In the meantime, I think I've ironed out the tech issues I was having with the re-release of Casting the First Stone, which means it should be out soon (for real!), making the final book -- the one that inspired this post -- next in line and it, too, is close. 

This is MAC year -- time for Marita, Angel and Charli to come out and play again. There's only one problem....

Photo: Prawny via Pixabay
If creating a character is my favorite part of a writing project, coming up with a title is my least favorite.

Creating a character is a process that's expansive and full of promise. People on the page can be anyone I want them to be: someone just like me or my polar opposite. Young, old, short, tall, professional, down-to-earth, obnoxious, kind, male female.

Or all of the above, because few stories contain just one character.

A good title is just the opposite. In just a few words, it encapsulates everything the work -- whether blog post, article, novel or something altogether different -- has to offer. It's a teaser, a grabber, or, dare I say, "click bait," designed to bring the reader into the piece.

No pressure there.

I don't spend a lot of time on blog post titles. In fact, when I first started blogging, I didn't title my posts at all. Then I read about the importance of the title, so I grudgingly succumbed. In that same spirit, I should work a little harder at finding the "just right" title for each of my posts, but this is one place where I abandon perfectionism and settle for "good enough," hoping that the law of averages is in my favor, since I write four or more posts each week.

I'm a little pickier about creating titles for my magazine pieces, but here I'm content with "good enough" because I know an editor has the right to change anything I come up with. When I'm getting paid for a piece, I give the title my best shot, but I also don't obsess over it because creating a title I love makes it that much harder to accept a change if the editor has something else in mind.

Tumisu via Pixabay
And then there are books. Currently, I'm contemplating the title of my next Marita/Angel/Charli novel and that is much, much harder. Casting the First Stone came to me immediately, but coming up with Chasing a Second Chance was a much more laborious process, consisting of multiple lists and also-rans, with numerous contenders rejected along the way.

For this third (and last) one, I came up with a title I loved -- two, in fact -- but one didn't fit the pattern, and I was told that's a bad idea. The other was fun, but didn't meet my goal of encapsulating the themes and journeys of the characters in the book.

So, I kept writing, figuring I'd come up with something. Perhaps my characters would help me out.

But then the book was finished. The revisions were nearly finished.

Still no title. Until...

I found my mystery c-word -- the one to go with "casting" and "chasing" -- and then the rest was obvious.

So, I give you the title for the final book: Courting the Final Verdict.

Unless I change my mind again. You know how authors are.

Monday, January 13, 2020

3 Reasons Why my Desk will Never be Clear

Created with Canva
This morning, I had an entirely different blog post in mind when I sat down at my desk and said good morning to Alexa, my Echo Dot. No, I'm not having conversations with random inanimate objects or greeting my office Goodnight Moon-style ("Good morning tape. Good morning stapler, Good morning cup with the caffeinated iced tea.") Saying good morning to Alexa gives me a fun fact of the day. Today, I discovered that it's Clean Off Your Desk Day "which, come to think of it, we should probably celebrate more than once a year." ("Her" words, but I agree).

Even when it's clean, my desk is never clear. Right now, the pullout tray where my laptop sits (my primary work space) is just how I like it -- empty except for Post-it notes on one side and a notepad (for capturing random thoughts) atop the mouse pad on the other. The space beyond (the actual  desktop) is a different story. It's not terrible, but it has two semi-neat stacks and a collection of random objects scattered in between. Most of this needs to go (and, since it's Clean Off Your Desk Day, that will definitely be on the agenda for this afternoon -- or this evening) but, even after it does my desk won't be clear, and here's why.

I'm a work-space personalizer. I know what the professional organizers say but I work at home, so I don't have to worry about whether a boss or co-worker will consider my fun/funny decor unprofessional or distracting. I share an office a work and leave the desktop perfectly clear when I leave for the day but, in my office at home, you're sure to find my quote from Philippians 4 ("I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"), a print my daughter got me at the English Market in Cork, Ireland, my "If I don't want you can't make me...I'm retired!" plaque, a stapler and my high-heeled shoe tape dispenser -- among other things. When I sit down in my office, I want to feel at home. A barren desk does not give me that feeling.

A few of my favorite things
I have a small office with limited storage. My office is a converted porch and space is at a premium. I office supply odds and ends in a small, clear, three-drawer unit in the upper right-hand corner of my desk and a desktop folder holder on the other side. The left side of the desk could use some rethinking (the folder holder has, shall we say, expanded.....), but most of what lives atop my desk (stacks notwithstanding) serves a purpose. Or, it did the last time I gave my desktop a thorough overhaul.

I have an I need to see it personal style. I read a rebuttal to this concept the other weekend -- something about deferred decisions, maybe? It induced a pang of guilt and then I opted to let it go in one ear and out the other, so to speak, since it was apparently written by someone who doesn't operate out of this style. And that's okay. But it is my style, and I've forgotten enough things that I put away to know that leaving important things where I can see and/or trip over them allows me to stop trying to store them in my mind, or even on a list where they become intermingled with all the other items. I need to keep this style under control (which is why I have things like a small, clear, three-drawer unit and a folder holder on my desk), but I cannot banish it completely.

I'm sure I had one more thing to share when I started this post, but I've now become so distracted by the urge to clean my desk that it completely escapes me.

How about you? Are you a fully clear desktop person or desktop personalizer?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Friday Feature: 7 Minutes to Productivity

The other day, I stumbled across an article on Twitter about a morning routine that would change my work life. It looked interesting, so I retweeted it, mainly so I could find it again. In the process, I found a comment another reader had left for the author:
"Jokes on you. I don't fall for this click-bait anymore."
Point taken (even though the reply wasn't meant for me). There are a ton of "habits of the most productive people" articles out there and I, too, have stopped clicking on them. No matter how many times I read about people meditating at 6 AM, that is not a habit I will replicate. I'm also not convinced that the same stuff/different day plan works well for everyone (although I do cherry-pick some worthwhile ideas from some of these pieces). As for me, I like changing up my routine from day to day.

But some days, a routine -- any routine -- just won't click into place. When I had one of those days earlier this week -- a not-quite-enough-sleep, not-nearly-enough-motivation day -- I went back to my Twitter feed to re-read the article.

And I tried it.

And I liked it.

Because it allowed me to step out of lockstep productivity mode (or, in my case, the lack thereof) and included pausing to tap into what was going on internally (which is usually why I'm procrastinating in the first place), it worked. There's a lot of research to back this up, too -- research that encourages us to let our minds wander first in order to focus them later (or, what we called "brainstorming" when I was a kid), and to delay the start of a project in order to allow ourselves to consider the possibilities.

The process was also a good match for one of my 20 in 2020 list items -- be mindful -- without requiring a huge, schedule-busting time commitment (my busted schedule was why I was trying this in the first place).

I'm not in the market for a morning routine overhaul, but this is one I'll keep in my back pocket for days when I should be. It gave me permission to just chill while also corralling my wayward thoughts in a time-limited way that got me off my duff and back to work.

Not a bad way to spend seven minutes.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Time to Get Started?

edmondlafoto via Pixabay
I have spent a lot of time during this break beating myself up about not being able to get started. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I get up early (a relative term if there ever was one) or much too late, even by my night owl standards. I don’t seem to be able to kick myself into gear until late morning.

And I do mean late morning.

I have applied all sorts of adjectives to this. Tired. Overwhelmed. Unmotivated. Lazy. Procrastinator.

Do you hear that? The sound of judgment permeating this post? It’s ugly, isn’t it?

Needless to say, that didn’t help. And, if I'd laid finger pointing and blame out as a plan for myself (and a ridiculous one at that), I could have told you it wouldn’t work. I would never say those words to someone else (well, maybe tired and overwhelmed). In fact, if someone came to me with this "can't get started" concern, I would seek to analyze and create a plan -- a helpful one, not one based on hurtful criticism -- yet my first response to myself is to chide.

At 81, my dad is unapologetically not a morning person. Though he would help someone he loves at any hour of the day or night, he doesn’t schedule appointments until after lunch unless it’s completely unavoidable. His sleep schedule is more in line with the norm than mine is, but he still gets up hours later than my lark of a husband. And, for his part, my husband is asleep on the sofa before my dad turns in and long before I turn out the light and call it a day.

I share this not because one of us is right and the others are wrong, but because I want to be more like my dad -- unapologetically not a morning person. I’ve got 4/5 of that down pat. It’s the unapologetically part that I struggle with.

I don’t know why it took me so much time and mental anguish to figure it out but, even if my hours aren’t in sync with the regular business world, I put in a full day. So, besides the crushing guilt over being in bed too long after “everyone else” is up, why does it matter what time my day starts?

It doesn’t. At least not now. Now, I am still on break, yet still working, too -- on class prep, an online course and the writing it’s become so challenging to squeeze into the semester. Oh, and there are all those little things around the house that fall to the bottom of the list during fall and spring semesters. Some days, I work in spurts but, most days, I work consistently during the day and, often, again in the evening after some afternoon down time.

In two weeks, I will need to conform (slightly) again. I’ll need to set an alarm which, admittedly, will be for a time when most people are already up and at work. I’ll then need to show up on time and ready to teach. And I will do this willingly, in part because I have set a schedule that does not include early morning classes, but also because I enjoy my work and recognize that a schedule is necessary in order to make it happen

Meanwhile, as long  as my work day is flexible, you’re more likely to find me working on a syllabus or blog post at 11 pm than 8 am because that’s the way my body clock is set. I don’t jump into the day, I ease into it. And, at night, I don’t embrace the end of the day. I extend it, savoring the quiet time when I wind down much too slowly and go to bed much too late.

There it is again. That judgment, ever so sneakily stinking up the place.

I am who I am, and, in the big picture, I get a LOT done. Some days I’m amazingly productive and
other days, I leave an imprint on the sofa -- y’know, kinda like everyone else. I wear many hats and, some days, I’m too tired to decide which one to put on first, so I take my time figuring it out.

annca via Pixabay
My dad has the right idea. And, I’m learning that the only thing standing between me and that same unapologetic attitude is those judgy labels I stick to myself. And, I certainly don’t want to wait until I’m 81 to toss them in the trash, so maybe today is the day I shrug and say, “That’s just the way I am.”

And that’s okay.

Monday, January 6, 2020

20 for 2020

Adapted from Kollsd via Pixabay
I spent some time on New Year's Day analyzing the goals I'd set for 2019 and setting new ones for this year, more specifically this month. It's something I enjoy, believe it or not, and something that helps keep me on track.

But, as an overachiever who loves to learn, for every goal I select, there are three or four others I set aside. Some are too big for the moment or even the month, while others are guidelines or philosophies of the, "y'know, I should do more of that" variety.

Enter my 20 in 2020 list. I did one of these last year, too and checked a number of things off, my favorites being visiting my daughter in Ireland and getting one of my books published (Know Thyself). Others migrated to my goals list, some for this month, but few, if any, remained untouched.

That's the power of writing things down.

So, without further ado or explanation, here's my 20 for 2020.

1.   Be mindful.
2.   Remember that it's (still) okay to say no.
3.   Put my own oxygen mask on first (figuratively).
4.   Declutter.
5.   When I hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras (also figuratively).
6.   Set a screen time curfew.
7.   Read more.
8.   Don't wallow in the news.
9.   Be optimistic.
10. Give people space to do things for themselves.
11. Tip more.
12. Say thank you.
13. Use less plastic.
14. Make space in the schedule for creative pursuits beyond my writing.
15. Meditate more.
16. Remember that it's okay to do nothing sometimes.
17. Be a mentor.
18. Stop caring what other people think. They're probably not watching anyway.
19. Consume and create less social media.
20. Live on the plateau sometimes.

What are yours?

qimono via Pixabay

Friday, January 3, 2020

Friday Feature: Not Judging

In The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum's character, Michael, remarks on the importance of rationalizations, saying, "I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations."

I would argue that same is true of judgments. Despite the Biblical exhortation to "judge not, lest ye be judged," most of us make multiple snap judgments on any given day, not just of others, but of ourselves as well. 

"Oh, she so should not be wearing that!" 

"I can't believe I just said that."

"Well, that was stupid."

Sound familiar?

Regardless of the "that" in question, we quite often have an opinion on it. We could argue that, if we keep our opinions to ourselves, we aren't hurting anyone.

Or are we?

Very often, the judgments we heap on others resemble those we pile on ourselves (and vice versa). Over time, they take a toll on us, our favorable judgments building us up and our unfavorable judgments tearing us (and perhaps others) down.

In a recent post on her Aesthetics of Joy blog, Ingrid Fetell Lee writes about these judgments, as well as how to stay joyful amid the judgment that sometimes seems ubiquitous and never-ending. One of my favorite passages from her post is this one:
"When people want 'what’s best for you,' they are using their own standard of best, which might mean safest, most secure, with the least struggle. But your own definition of best could be wildly different." 
What is your definition of best? Are your judgments of self and others paving your path or putting boulders in it? Navigating the path to success is challenging enough without getting in our own way, but eliminating judgments is a tricky process indeed.

Perhaps the first step is simply catching ourselves in the act.