Clock hung above a diner counter in charming Pescadero, CA
Greetings from beneath the rubble of yet another crunch week, dear readers! That’s right: not only am I quite literally covered in plaster dust and concrete rubble from a messy kitchen remodel as I write this, but I’m getting the feeling that I’m also juggling a bunch of creative balls in the air that are about to come crashing down in my face if I’m not careful. And so, I’m at least trying to be really careful…I’m writing to-do lists left and right, being brutal about my priorities, and letting go of all things that aren’t absolutely necessary or time-sensitive. I’m hoping that these prioritizing tactics will help me meet deadlines and keep all the hours in the day from slipping away – haven’t you noticed that time seems to run amok when we don’t hold ourselves accountable and actively work toward our goals in this way?
While “prioritize, prioritize, prioritize” has always been my mantra during crunch weeks (as I’ve written about here, here and here), I was delighted to stumble across these time-management tips from two bloggers I admire, Emma and Elsie of A Beautiful Mess. It can be so comforting to know that other people face the same challenges when working to accomplish their dreams, and sometimes when I hear snippets of advice in someone else’s words they become more meaningful to me. For example, when I read these ladies’ tips I was particularly struck by “5. Say no sometimes” and “8. Work in bulk.” Although these two tricks are not new to me, they are admittedly approaches to productivity that I often overlook. This is to say, the knowledge that these two people I admire frequently say “no” to certain opportunities in order to say “yes” the the ones that are most important to them is really helping me stick to my guns this week (a week in which I feel like I’m having to say “no” a whole lot more than usual). Also, the concept of working in bulk and doing a bunch of similar projects at once in order to heighten efficiency is a really great, practical tip that I’m going to try and implement more when working on posts for this blog and submitting my short film to festivals…Why not do a lot of related tasks at once, when we’re already in the proper frame of mind after all, am I right?
Psst: Even though there is no single trick that ensures flawless time management and gives us more hours in the day, I think it’s only human to keep looking and keep getting jolts of adrenalin from the new methods that strike a chord with us (a.k.a., the ones that make us exclaim, “Eureka, I’ve found the answer to all my problems in this simple life hack!”). Are there any old or new time-management tactics that have felt like a revelation to you of late? Leave a comment.
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Tulip pens from Amsterdam in an Ikea vase
“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”
As someone who spends far more hours at her desk than are conceivably healthy, I am very sensitive to my work environment (which, for me, is my home). This means my recent move has presented quite the challenge, because whenever I look up from my computer I see the construction zone that is our kitchen, or the stacks of boxes that need unpacking/sorting/shredding. The perfectionist-come-procrastinator in me wants to shoot up out of my desk chair and spend a whole week getting everything in my surroundings just so, but I somehow manage to fight this urge by reminding myself of what a friend told me a few weeks back, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” (I eventually Googled this phrase and learned it is from The Book of Ecclesiastes – who knew, right?)
Another thing that has helped me stay focused on my work as opposed to my house is a little jar of tulip pens I’ve situated on my makeshift desk. I know this sounds so piddly and trivial, but hear me out…The kitschy pens are souvenirs from my husband’s and my 2011 trip to Amsterdam, and about two weeks ago I fished them out of a box of stuff (a box that still remains otherwise unpacked, I might add), because I figured I just might be able to forget all the messy to-dos surrounding me if I gave myself one pretty thing to focus on whenever looking up from my writing. So far this simple trick is really helping me stay focused – when I see my colorful tulip pens I’m filled with nostalgia for my travels, which further energizes me with motivation to get my work done so I can eventually run off to another fascinating corner of our planet, unpacked boxes be damned. Do you ever use visual tricks like this to keep you focused? Leave a comment.
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Makeshift advent calendar counting down the days to my big move
My husband and I close escrow on our house this week (fingers crossed, we collect the keys on Wednesday), so we spent the whole weekend packing up our apartment and doing taxes in an attempt to get a leg up on the 5,000-plus tasks that will likely come our way in the crazy month ahead. As such, my life has felt a bit overrun by boxes (of both the cardboard and check-box varieties), and I can’t help thinking about how easy it is for us mere mortals to slip into this way of existence even when we’re not facing a huge life change like a move. Personally, I know that there are several times every year in which I catch myself turning my entire life into a series of check boxes. I think this tends to happen when I’m feeling overwhelmed by work or family obligations – a.k.a, times when to-do lists are the only possible means of self preservation. Although I used to worry that these compartmentalizing phases of life were something I had to change, I’ve since realized that sometimes writing lists of all my worries and then filing them away into veritable boxes really is the best way to cope with a too-full plate…
The trick, of course, is never letting ourselves get so wrapped up in this film of check boxes that we forget to live in the moment. This can be hard to do when virtually every spare second is chock-full of tasks, but lately I’ve been trying to balance out all my life’s boxes with at least one new, special experience each week. A few days ago, this meant eating at a new-to-us restaurant in Studio City with my husband , and about a week ago it meant taking my pup to the beach for the first time. Despite the consequences of closed windows and wet-dog smell on the long ride home from the beach, I’d say this approach to check-box-free moments is working quite well…Do you have any tricks or secrets for “living in the moment” even when these moments feel overrun by to-do lists? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment.
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My new organization system illustrated on some Cavallini and Co sticky notes
Putting inspiration into action can be tricky, because there’s just so darn much that has to happen between the inception of an idea and the glorious moment when you have a finished product on the page, computer screen, or airwaves. As a creative professional who’s her own boss, I find this particularly challenging seeing as I have to balance being both taskmaster and practitioner. As you may have guessed from last week’s post about priorities, I’ve been struggling with this balancing act a bit more than usual of late; however, after taking a step back, I discovered one proactive thing I can do to feel in control of my time and tasks. What’s this simple thing? Restructuring my to-do lists, of course. You see, my to-do lists were getting too far gone to even be considered “out of control.” They were becoming so sprawling that I had to scroll through several pages of text just to get a handle on my schedule for any given day, and as a result I wasn’t accomplishing half the things on my daily to-do lists and was going to sleep each night with a discouraged feeling of under achievement. Here’s how I’m attempting to fix my task-list sprawl…
The Art of Getting Schtuff Done:
First, I should tell you that my previous approach was to make a new to-do list for each week; however, these weekly lists eventually became catchalls for everything that popped into my mind and struck me as things that might be cool to accomplish before age 100. Now these far-flung/”wouldn’t it be cool?” ideas go into either individual project-folders on my computer or a handy new list I have called “sometime.” Thanks in large part to the advice of my exceptionally organized husband and the inspiration of a few articles about David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method, you can also create a “sometime” list and several helpful other lists by taking the following steps:
- Create one place for your task lists – Create a folder on your desktop titled “Get It done.” This will replace your to-do lists. (I created this as a new notebook in Evernote, the handy computer/phone app where I organize all my brainstorming ideas and random notes.)
- Create four lists – Create four files/notes within your “Get It Done” folder. Label these files as follows: sometime, this month, this week, today.
- Prioritize – Start by listing every single to-do item you can possibly think of in your “sometime” file. Once your brain is empty of nagging tasks, ask yourself which of these things on your “sometime” list are time-sensitive. Move any task that needs to get done this month onto its corresponding list, and move anything that absolutely must get done this week or today onto their appropriate lists.
- Be realistic – There’s only so much time in the day, so don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting yourself to do too many big tasks at a time. All bets are off when we’re under tight deadlines, but as a general rule you should only put one big task in your “today” file at a time. This is to say, try to fill your “today” task list with lots of 15-minute and one-hour tasks, and only one task that will take four hours or more. This way your big task for the day will get the attention it deserves, and the act of doing quick tasks at the end of the day will help you feel productive even if you face setbacks in accomplishing your big task.
- Constantly curate – Delete items from your lists as soon as you accomplish them, and start every day with the goal of having a completely empty “today” file by the end of your working hours. Also, whenever you come up with a new idea that would be just lovely to accomplish, add it to your “sometime” list. Set aside an hour or so each Friday to knock off some quick tasks from your “sometime” list, and I guarantee you’ll end the week feeling supremely accomplished.
- Reassess your priorities – Every few weeks, take a look at your “sometime” and “this month” lists to make sure you’re on track to meet deadlines. Also, be sure to assess whether your priorities are still the same: is something on your “sometime” list really something you want to do this month, or is something on your “this month” list really more of a “sometime” item?
I hope this is helpful to some of you, and I’m sending you wishes for a productive day!
Psst: I am so thrilled to announce that this site has been selected as one of two blogs that will be revealing the cover of the upcoming young-adult novel “Larkstorm” by Dawn Rae Miller. This is the first book of a trilogy, and I can hardly wait to debut the cover this Thursday. I’ve just seen a sneak peek of the cover art and it is absolutely beautiful, not to mention I find the work ethic and dedication it takes to write a YA series positively inspirational. Is this exciting and inspiring, or what? Leave a comment.
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Shrine for Steve Jobs in front of the Apple Store in Santa Monica, CA - I bet his mind was a lot less cluttered than this homage
My weekend was a quiet one all about reading, watching bad movies, and doing lots of tiny housekeeping tasks that have been nagging at me. Chief among these pesky to-do items was the job of finally cleaning out and coating my new dresser drawers in polyurethane, which means my clothes no longer live in big, plastic moving bins. It’s amazing how little things like this can clutter both our living spaces and minds when they go untended to week after week. I usually only realize how much these tasks weigh on me after they are finally done, though, and right now is no exception. I’m feeling so much lighter as I enter the week, as though my synapses are firing at record-high speeds, and I’m ready to tackle all the challenges of my current writing projects with a fresh perspective. In case you need a little extra push to get your brilliant brain going in a similar way on this lovely Monday, I figured I would share a few images of some quirky, creative souls I spotted while strolling through Santa Monica yesterday…
This man stood in the middle of an outdoor shopping center dancing two monkey puppets to the music of a boombox
Clown eating potato chips on a park bench in Santa Monica
Psst: I hope these photos make you smile, and that they find you starting off the week in a most uncluttered way. Are you like me in that a good bout of organizing/doing little life tasks helps you be more creative and productive in your work? Or, are you good at compartmentalizing your internal spaces and external world in a way that lets you be productive no matter how many bills and dirty dishes are nagging at you? If you’re this latter type, please let me know your secret! Leave a comment.
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"A goal without a plan is just a wish" print
As I settle into my home and recalibrate my limbs to the novel sensation of typing without a five year old swinging from them, I realize it’s about time to start setting goals for the remainder of the year. There really could be no better moment to do this than now, because all my recent travel (and the human-jungle-gym status that comes with the territory of family visits) has me feeling a bit off kilter. Getting in touch with my goals and the things that are very intentionally mine within my life is just what I need in order to stay on track and wipe away the somewhat helpless feeling that comes from foreign time zones/unpredictable work hours, though. In fact, as I sketch out my new master plan I’m finding that the more specific I am about all the various steps ahead of me on the path toward achieving my goals, the more empowered and happy I feel about this day that started out with a case of the blahs. It’s amazing what a little focus and scheming can do, am I right?
Specificity has truly been the most important ingredient in this blah-banishing elixir, and the way my morning planning session has suddenly made my goals feel within reach reminds me of this print via Pinterest. I hope this image inspires you to make your dreams anything but wishy-washy today, and if you find yourself needing a little extra focus to stay on track you might want to refer to my tip-filled guides about setting goals and resetting/fine-tuning goals. Do you agree with this Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote that “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” or do you find that all you need do in order to achieve greatness is set a goal and tape it to your fridge? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment.
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Notes from my goal-brainstorming session last night
As the last week of June stretches out before us and the first half of 2011 slithers away, I figure now is the perfect time to set goals for the remainder of this year. One good way to kick start this process might be to take a look at your New Years goals and assess what you accomplished, what you’re still hoping to accomplish and what just doesn’t matter to you anymore. Even if you only achieved one or two of the goals you set at the beginning of the year, take a hot second to bask in this huge victory right now why dontcha? After all, accomplishing even a single thing that’s important to you is damn amazing. Once you’re done patting yourself on the back and sipping a victory cappuccino, however, let’s get down to work…
In order to kick off an inspired second half of 2011, I suggest sitting down to make your new list of goals as soon as you can. Begin by jotting down the ongoing goals you’re still working toward, and then make a list of the new achievements you’ve got your sights set on. Follow my handy goal-setting tips to ensure your goals are specific and realistic, and then come up with a step-by-step plan for achieving what you want. Once you’re done devising a plan of attack, don’t forget to set deadlines for each of your goals; for example, I plotted each of my new goals out on a timeline and realized that if all goes according to plan I’ll achieve them all by the end of September. This means I’ve got a fat three months to accomplish a set amount of things, and breaking my time into this kind of semester-like segment already makes the tasks ahead feel more manageable…So, why not make your own list of mid-year goals today? I suggest writing “Plan Mid-Year Goals” at the top of your list, and when you’re done you’ll already have one big to-do item checked off. Ah, the sweet smell of accomplishment on a Tuesday afternoon. I hope your day is a lovely one!
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"You Can Do Anything But Not Everything" print
While the first step toward accomplishing anything is simply believing you can do it, I’d say a close second is setting priorities. Sure, I cling firmly to the idea that neither artists nor entrepreneurs would ever get anything done without carefree, childlike moments of viewing the world as a place brimming over with pure possibility, but this boundless world would be dizzying without a calendar and a realistic set of goals. This is why I absolutely adore David Allen’s quote, “You can do anything but not everything.” Yes, this dude is a self-help author and I apologize profusely if the thought of self-help books makes you gag, but that doesn’t change the fact that something about this concept really rings true. We live in an age of multitasking and “You can do it” landscape posters on every office wall, but none of this amounts to much unless we’re cognizant of what we really care about accomplishing and what we can live without. This is because – with the exception of Sanjay Gupta – no one can do everything and we all have to pick our battles, which can mean something as simple as choosing between running errands and making dinner or something as complex as deciding between having a career and raising kids.
Most of us beat ourselves up horribly because of the unrealistic array of things we expect to accomplish, berating ourselves with, “Mr. Gupta can do it! What’s so wrong with me that I can’t balance three jobs and a family, too?” This kind of thinking has certainly made me apply heaps of pressure to myself, but I eventually realized the Guptas of the world only appear to “do it all” because they have a staff of people completing all their other mundane life tasks for them. And, so what if some high-achieving celebrities do indeed do it all and bake brownies from scratch to boot? Does that make us regular folks any less amazing as people? I say it most certainly does not, and I’d even wager that the necessity of setting priorities gives us a leg up over any super-human celebs of this land. This is because, while it sucks to have to let some dreams fall to the wayside, the clarity that a sense of priority brings is priceless – better than all the private chefs and personal trainers in the universe. So, stop clinging to the idea that you should be able to do everything, and simply do what’s important…We cannot have it all, but we can have what matters most.
Image from One Happy Mama via Pinterest.
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Blinged-out tire in front of an automotive shop in Austin, TX
Do you ever have those weekends that just zip by, leaving no traces of where they ran off to? You know, the weekends you enter with the best intentions of catching up on sleep, errands and all the responsible things an adult should do, yet the kinds you find yourself and your carpets on the other side of feeling just as un-rested and un-vacuumed as ever? I just experienced one such blur of a Saturday/Sunday, but miraculously went into auto pilot today and reverted to a little productivity trick I learned a few years back. This recipe for making lemonade out of the most sour of Mondays is quite simple: it involves equal parts of one (1) giant thermos of coffee and one (1) tuna melt. Perhaps the power this combo has over me is associative or maybe it’s due to the rush of caffeine and protein, but all I know is that my friends Albacore and Jo helped me meet a deadline on four hours of sleep today. This ain’t too shabby even if I say so myself, and my day of making proverbial lemonade out of groggy lemons has got me thinking about the important life lesson we all eventually learn…The lesson of how to make the best of imperfect situations.
Finding ways to be productive under less-than-ideal circumstances is vital in our personal and professional lives, and this is a skill I’m still trying to master. Yup, this means sometimes my coffee-and-tuna-melt combo works better than others, and on those “other” times I’ve been known to downright struggle to get a single thing accomplished on a bad day. I realize some of this struggle originates from the creative type’s curse (a.k.a., the misconception that artists need to be inspired and moved every time we create things, when the reality is that people in absolutely every line of work simply have to buckle down in order to meet plain-ol’ deadlines). I think the other, more significant, reason that my productivity recipe doesn’t always work is that it just isn’t fail proof. This makes me wonder if there is a fail-proof fix out there, so I think it only wise to ask you, my sagely readers…Do you have any tricks for getting through tired mornings or uphill days? Do you have one go-to trick or multiple tactics you turn to? Do these tricks work every time or do you find yourself doing a lot of trial and error, like me? I’d love to hear from you!
Snazzy tire from another angle - sometimes we simply need to adjust our views in a similar way when we're having rough days
Psst: Part of the reason my weekend flew by was because I was restlessly giddy about two photo shoots I got to take part in. I can hardly wait until later this week, when I’ll get to show you some images from the lenses of two remarkable creative spirits. If you need help making lemonade out of your day, I hope anticipation of these amazing photographers’ work can provide motivation to keep using that lemon squeezer.
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Jean Marsh as Princess Mombi holding one of her 31 heads in "Return to Oz" (1985), courtesy of Walt Disney
Do you remember the character Princess Mombi from “Return to Oz” (yup, I’m talking about the movie and L. Frank Baum book)? Do you also recall how this dark witch kept the heads of 30 beautiful women in a cabinet so she could change them out with her own on a whim? While this was purely an aesthetic dalliance for Princess Mombi, today I’ve been wondering what it would be like not only to change the physical appearance of our heads but also to switch out the brains inside them. I know this sounds like a ludicrous sci-fi fantasy, but hear me out and this just might yield a useful positive-thinking tip…
Haven’t you ever wished you could unscrew your own head and just let someone else take over for a day? I know I have, and I’ve been itching for this ability today in particular; I woke up with my temples pounding and throat aching, wishing I could lob off my head and replace it with that of a clear-thinking, well-rested person. This desire undoubtedly stems from the fact that I still haven’t been able to shake the bug I caught in Europe, but I’ve also longed to switch heads/mindsets with someone else countless other times when I haven’t been sick…I mean, don’t you ever wish you could borrow your friend’s eloquent confidence the day of a job interview, embody the savvy stylishness of your coworker on a first date or channel the productive genius of Michael Chrichton the night before a deadline? C’mon, I know you’ve been there, and I’m pretty sure that – like me – you’ve also let these desires lurk in your subconscious as frivolous wishes and written them off as mere impossibilities. Sure, we’d be hard pressed to actually screw someone else’s head onto our shoulders, but what if we abandoned our inhibitions and just played pretend? Specifically, what if every time we encounter a task that’s outside our comfort zones we simply imagine we’re a real person, book or movie character who’s perfect for the job? For example, as I soldier through my sickness in the days ahead I think I’ll pretend I’ve swapped heads with Barbra Streisand from “The Way We Were” – a character who I am sure takes upper respiratory infections in stride and reaches her goals no matter what. Do you have a daunting task or seemingly insurmountable challenge you’re facing this week/sometime in the near future? If so, who are you going to emulate and pretend you are as you tackle the world head-on?
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