Tag Archives: priorities

Finding Better Balance in 2017

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.

FACEBOOK LAST

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.

DELEGATION

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.


The new Madam President, and why I couldn’t say no

You may recall that I was recently relishing my efforts at saying No. Celebrating them even. What I have learned about myself with that exercise is that busy is a choice. Just like stress and joy are equally choices. The lesson I really needed to learn was not to always say no but rather to prioritize the things that I choose to say yes to, so my busy life is still a fulfilling one.

I’m getting ahead of myself…

I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk for the last month. It isn’t anything new for writers, including me. We all suffer from crippling self-doubt. I thought I only needed to worry about it rearing its head when I was submitting completed works for possible acceptance by editors and publishers. This time it happened at the beginning of a new project. This novel is more complex than anything I’ve ever attempted and it’s also flowing out of me easier than any of the novels I’ve written before. The logical part of me says that’s because I’ve done the hard work of learning how to write novels. Duh. But my heart, where my self-doubt lives, whispers that I’m not ready to have the hopes that I have for this one. That it won’t be any good when it’s done.

Enter a new opportunity born from the efforts of my idol and mentor.

Remember last year when the writing organization I’d been serving on the board of was dissolved? It left a void in my life. A void I looked at as a positive one where I had exponentially more time to write. Looking back, though, it also left a void of collaboration and support from associating with others who understand the life of being a writer that I’d come to cherish.

So, when a new chapter of a well-established writing organization was born, I couldn’t say no to being the President. I led my first meeting this week where we hoped there would be the requisite five members to form a chapter. There were twenty people in attendance. Twenty! From a couple of weeks of word of mouth and social media efforts. It felt like I’d been born to stand there and lead a collaborative discussion to organize the workings of the group. The online membership has almost doubled after everyone shared how excited they are for the new group, which humbles me beyond words. (We all know I’m not that humble to begin with!)

I felt replenished from spending time with fellow writers, discussing the craft and learning from one another the intricacies of the craft. As a result, my writing has also flourished in the days since, and my self-doubt has retreated back to the nether reaches of my heart, until it’s time to submit this project and find it a home so readers can have it.

My life will be busy on an epic scale once again. But this time I chose it wisely and know the benefits will be worth it.


Priorities – the evolution of time management

I realized that, as much as I am online lately, I have been strangely silent on social media the past few months. It wasn’t on purpose and I wondered how it had happened. When and where did my habits shift? I’m an analyst by nature, and by trade, so it made sense to do so. Self reflection and checking in on what I’m doing to make course corrections in my life path are pretty second-nature to me these days.

So what did I find?

I’m busier than ever before – as a mother and a wife, being a writer, at my corporate job, as a volunteer – and have had to further prioritize everything in my life. This is a trend that started years ago and continues to evolve.

The first thing to go was television. It grew from an “ah-ha!” moment when I heard another author answer a question about how he found time to write with a snarky comment about figuring out what was more important: writing or watching television. These days when people ask “did you see…” I always say no. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix and OnDemand programming, I do watch a little television; mostly the shows Hubby has vetted and deemed extraordinary, but it takes me a year to watch a couple of seasons. The time I got back from my life by giving up regular television viewing is staggering.

Last year I had to change my habits during football season. I’m a huge fan – NFL and college. I’m one of those women who is watching the game even if Hubby isn’t home. (Thank you, Dad, brothers and grandpa!) But gone are the fall Saturdays where I lounge on the couch snuggled with hubby watching our favorite college teams, and the Sundays of NFL games. Not to mention Monday Night Football. And yes, sadly, even Thursday Night Football. The games are still on and Hubby still interrupts with “you’ve gotta see this!” while he’s rewinding live television. But, now I’m usually multitasking in front of my word processor and look up only occasionally for a replay. It was my last hold-out of regular television viewing, and justified in my mind because it is a relatively short season each year. The time I got back from giving it up last year was the difference between having time to finish a novel or not. I’m currently revising that novel.

My social media habits have undergone similar evolution, also influenced by writing. First, I’ve had to change my criteria for engaging with ‘friends’ online. Now that I’m out there in the public eye, people I don’t know seek me out. I’ve had to throw out my cardinal rule: if I don’t know you well enough to say hello if we run into each other at the store, we aren’t close enough to be online friends. Knowing that casual acquaintances are seeing my updates unconsciously influences what I choose to share. Next, I’m heavily involved with professional organizations centered around writing and publishing. Using Facebook to interact with these groups has become my main use of the app. I’m online – a lot – but in secret groups where only those who also belong get to see what I’m up to. My brain didn’t translate that the type of activity I’m engaging in was different and failed to allocate an increase of resources to compensate. Frankly, I just don’t have that kind of time anymore. Well, and my corporate job started blocking Gmail and Facebook, eliminating my ability to multitask in small increments of two to three minutes over the course of the day.

Recently I read an article related to how much effort authors should invest in engaging with social media to sell their books. It was well written and had me thinking about all the effort anyone trying to sell a product gives to social media – and how much time it can suck from what is really important. What if we all just used these sites to connect with real people and create meaningful relationships? What if Twitter was really a feed about what’s going on with life and not a constant barrage of people trying to sell me something? It has become so much noise, no one listens anymore. What if all the time we spent online were better suited somewhere else doing things more essential to our happiness? I know I’ve been more productive since my habits have changed even subtly so I’m sticking with the trend.

I wonder what will be next in this incremental evolution in focusing my efforts toward productivity and efficiently in all the areas that I’ve deemed matter most in my life. Or have I reached my full capacity with all the things I’m doing now? Last weekend I was at a family gathering with my siblings and their families. During the reminiscent viewing of a movie we used to watch with our mom – over and over – I found myself reaching for my laptop to work on a certification test I have coming up. Is this just my nature now, to evaluate what the best use of my time is in every moment? Time will only tell. For now, my time management has evolved to a great place where I can commit to saying ‘yes’ to unsolicited invitations to submit stories to publishers. Life is good but only if you make it that way!