The Universe has a way of sending me exactly what I need, when I need it. As I wrapped up 2016, I reflected on the year. While I had stayed on top of all the things I’d said yes to (and then some that I inherited out of familial duty) with
most of my sanity intact, I hadn’t accomplished as much as I wanted to or had set out to do. Keeping up isn’t always the same thing as being effective, I found.
Confession time: I had a really rough January.
I spent the last half of 2016 teetering at the edge of losing all the things I was juggling just trying to stay on top of everything. I volunteered enough hours in my several roles within the League of Utah Writers that I won a really prestigious award (when I’ve officially been awarded it, I’ll share details!) but I hadn’t completed the novel I’d been on track to finish when the year started.
I still haven’t.
A lot of this is because I decided (almost on a whim) to return to college to finish my degree. However, that wasn’t the only reason if I was being completely honest with myself. In the darkest moments of January I actually resented my shiny prestigious award. It represented concrete evidence of over 500 hours that I’d given to people besides me and my writing.
I spent 2016 doing things that were amazing. Don’t get me wrong. But much of it was at the expense of my own dreams and goals. I had done it all, except what made me happy and what meant the most.
Here’s where the Universe comes in. I follow a blogger and fellow writer who is a productivity expert. She supplies me with my yearly statistics and writing progress tracker and I’m in an online writing group she started. I don’t know her personally but she changed my life by writing about her own similar struggles last year. When I read her blog post reflecting about it, I realized just how ineffective I’d been last year at the things that really mattered to me.
I got to take a turn with my friends receiving, rather than giving, support and talked through a ton of these things with Hubby. Hard as it is to hear “I told you so”, he HAD been telling me this was where I was headed all year long. I just hadn’t believed him, thinking I had it in the bag and could handle whatever life threw at me. I was wrong.
Yes, me. Wrong.
Mark your calendars. This might not happen again for eighty years, folks!
What I realized from all of this is that my personal productivity was suffering because I was not focusing on the right things. I was doing everything believing I was being successful and effective and in reality I was neither. I started taking stock of things I did and evaluating if they were the right things to be spending my time and energy on based upon whether doing them would bring me happiness or achieve my own goals. When I approached things from this place, it was much easier to say no to things without my FOMO (fear of missing out) rearing up.
I spent February implementing changes and am in a much better place because of it. Here’s a rundown of the subtle changes I made that had the most impact.
I moved Facebook (and all the other social media I do) last in order of things I do each day. I thought I was already doing this since I usually set aside specific time every day for that. The small change I made was to stop getting notifications that popped up when I would get a new message or someone would interact with me online. I was getting them so I would know if something pressing came up that I could handle easily. These things I thought kept me on top of things were actually Unscheduled Interruptions. Once I eliminated them, it was easy to see how much. I still can see the total number of notifications as a passive thing if I happen to glance at my phone over the course of the day. But not knowing the details of what I’m missing gives me the freedom to “do” my social media on my own time after the things that matter most are done. I do this even for email – which surprised me. But, the idea of keeping up on email and being reactive to requests doesn’t support the reality of getting the right things done. Let’s face it, email was created as a way to communicate without the need for instant response.
SHORT STORY A MONTH
I knew when I enrolled in school that my writing time would be cut in half at best and I was right. I lost steam on the novel and found it harder to pick up seamlessly when I only had stolen moments to write. But I still have stories in me and I’m much happier when I’m writing. So I committed to what’s left of my writing group to write a story a month with specific deadlines. We’ve only been at it for a month but January was successful. By the end of the year, I’ll have at least twelve drafted stories that I can have at my disposal when that perfect opportunity presents itself without stressing about how I’ll find the time. Making my writing the first thing I do when I have free time has kept the focus on my own creativity.
This one is a tough one for me. But it’s been a year with my fellow leaders within the League and I’ve discovered others who are just as anal and committed to getting things done as I am. Knowing what each of their strengths (and weaknesses) are and who has what specific skills has allowed me to trust more and more things to others. I also get to be in charge of building a team to split up the work of putting on conferences and it’s going extremely well. Much more so than where I was a month ago when I was ready to quit completely so I could spend all my free time on my own writing. Bottom line, I love the work I get to do to help others achieve their dreams and find opportunities within the writing community to grow. I wouldn’t trade it but I’ve also found a way to make it work better within the boundaries of my life.
Spending time on what is really important to me and focusing my efforts on activities that drive my goals, not just crossing off things on a list, has made a huge difference for me. The key for me is mindfulness about what each thing I’m doing and how it is contributing to those things that matter most to me.
Shout out to Jamie Raintree, without whom this journey out of my dark place would have taken forever! Here’s to a fantastic and productive 2017.