Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Break the Habit of Checking

Are you a checker? Do you constantly check your email, check Facebook, check Instagram?

Me too.

Well, I did...before I found a way out of my obsessive checking. I knew I was spending too much time looking at my phone and not enough time engaged with the people I love or in my writing, but before I would even realize I was doing it, I was scrolling through another of the endless feeds.

I tried several things. Making rules for myself such as only check at certain times of the day or only after my work is finished, but nothing worked. I was addicted to the high of anticipation I got when I clicked on an app on my phone. But the constant checking left me feeling numb and drained of energy.

In the book The Power to Get Things Done, Steve Levinson explains that knowing why we should or shouldn't do something is an important step, but it often isn't enough. Sometimes we have to do things to trick our brains into cooperating. Because I need to be socially connected so that I can market the books I write, I couldn't simply delete all of my accounts.

So I finally found a few ways that have helped me break my habit of checking.

1. I removed all the social media apps and my personal email account from my iPhone.

This has definitely had the biggest impact on my checking. I left my work email and "Pages" app so that I could update the professional Facebook pages I manage. I also left my Kindle App, which means that when I'm bored, I often read instead of falling into mindless checking. I still have access to all my social media accounts on my iPad and computer, but because the phone was the biggest part of the problem, this cut down on the automatic checking.

2. I blocked Safari (the web browser) from my phone.

After I removed the Facebook app from my phone, I would still check it by typing it into Safari. To remove the temptation, I blocked it within my phone's restrictions. To do this, go to Settings - General - Restrictions - Enable Restrictions - Allow (Disable Safari). I could always turn it back on if I needed it for work, but it's a lot of steps and a lot of trouble, so I usually don't.

3. I unfollowed a lot (and I mean a lot) of people on Facebook.

Note that I didn't unfriend them. I can still see their pages and usually if something big happens I'll see a notification that other friends have liked or commented on their status. But this means fewer unimportant updates like quiz results or memes show up in my newsfeed. For Twitter, I created a list of my favorites. This dramatically reduced the time it takes me to scroll through my newsfeed when I do check these sites.

4. I stopped having my phone and computer remember passwords.

Sometimes the small step of having to enter a password can give us enough of a pause to realize we might be checking something out of boredom or fear of working on an important project. As a writer, I've learned that a lot of procrastination comes out of a place of fear that my writing isn't good enough or that I don't have anything to say. But seeing that login page now reminds me of what I'm doing and makes me question where my priorities are.

Everyone has different triggers, so this plan may not work perfectly for you. If that's the case, look at when and how you're checking and put barriers into place to keep you focused on what's important.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

My 30-minute workout

My husband loves to spend time in the gym. He has finished numerous marathons, and he truly enjoys staying in shape.

I am nothing like my husband.

I workout because it's good for me, and it gives me more energy. But my goal is always to get the most accomplished in the least amount of time.

So here's what I've found works best for me.

20 minutes of cardio


7 minutes of resistance training.

For my cardio, I walk 20 minutes on the treadmill on an incline. The incline builds up your legs and burns more calories. It doesn't matter if you walk outside, jog, get on the elliptical, or swim laps, as long as you get your heartrate up.

For my 7 minutes of resistance training, I use an app on my phone, which walks me through a series of push ups, abdominal crunches, planks, and additional cardio in 30 second increments. It doesn't use any equipment except for a chair (I use a step at the gym). If you search your app store for "7 minute workout free," you'll find a lot of options. It's based on research that has shown that high-intensity interval training can be effective.

If you have extra time or as you build up endurance and strength, you can add another two or three rounds of the 7-minute workout.

I also throw in yoga from throughout the week to add strenght and flexibility and to keep my routine fun and interesting.

So that's my 30-minute workout. What do you do to stay fit?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Minimalism at Work

While I don't consider myself a true minimalist (I'm pretty sure my kids' collection of toys could confirm that), I value a lot of the ideas that minimalism can teach us. I've found minimalism especially helpful when applied to the way I work. 

1. An uncluttered work space, provides space for a clearer mind. This doesn't mean your desk has to be sterile. When you remove the clutter, only the most treasured pieces are left behind. That photo of your family or the quote that inspires and encourages you are no longer buried behind piles of junk.  

2. Minimalism helps us to focus on quality not quantity. Instead of doing a lot of things that are just good enough, wouldn't we all rather do a few things well? Somedays it seems impossible to get everything on my list accomplished. Minimalism teaches us to say no to the things that aren't essential and pare down our to-dos to those things that really matter.  

3. It rejects the idea that we need to "keep up" with anyone else and gives us the proper perspective to focus on where we are now and where we can improve. As an author it can be tough not to compare my own work to someone else's awards, sales numbers, or contracts. But I'm learning that energy is better spent on honing my craft. When we don't feel like we're competing with everyone in our field, it gives us the luxury of celebrating the successes of others. 

4. Minimalism strips away pretense. Your work is no longer about what everyone else thinks but about the actual work itself, which is freeing and inspiring. 

5. Relationships trump everything else. When it comes down to it, the reason minimalists strive to have less is so that they can pour more into the relationships in their lives. This can help build positive working relationships and can also help you strike a healthier work / family balance.  

Here are a few of the thinkers and teachers on minimalism that I enjoy:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Frustration IS the Process

I recently read two very different books that both emphasized one very similar point -

Stress, frustration, feeling stuck or lost...this is the creative process.

It's something you have to go through to get to the good stuff. We all want to find an easy, step-by-step process for creativity and art. But it doesn't exist.

A solid process is great for the act of research, scheduling your writing time, and goal setting, but when it's just you and the work, it's pushing through the questions and uncertainty that lead to creativity.

 So don't give up. None of us have this figured out. We're all in it together. Keep working.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How to Focus

It seems so easy, doesn't it? You need to write that term paper, edit the chapter of the novel you're working on, or finish your taxes. It has been on your to-do list all week. But things keep getting in the way. You get busy, someone interrupts you, or you sit down to work on it and you just get stuck. What do you do?

1. Use the timer on your phone. Tell yourself you're going to work on it with complete focus for 5 minutes. Don't allow yourself any distractions for the full five minutes. If the doorbell rings, ignore it. Turn your phone off. You can do anything for five minutes, right?

2. When the timer goes off, congratulate yourself. Getting started is by far the hardest part. You did it!

3. Do you have another five minutes in you? Yes? Reset your timer and do another five minutes.

4. You hit a point where you feel that tug that tells you to stop. You want to check your Facebook, refresh your email, get a snack. You have an unexplainable urge to google the song lyrics you've been wondering about. Take a deep breath and identify what triggered that feeling. Did you just run into a question you couldn't answer? Are you experiencing self-doubt? Once you recognize what's causing you to want to quit, it has less power over you. If you have a pen and paper nearby, write it down.

5. Keep going. Can you press through the rest of the five minutes despite the resistance you feel? Yes! And every time you overcome this resistance, you're making it a little easier to overcome the next time.

6. Do you think you can do more? Reset your timer for 10 minutes or 15 minutes, but try to keep the intervals short enough that they seem easily attainable. We want your brain to think - Pshaw! That's easy. I can do that. Not - Whoa! Let's go watch those cat videos on youtube again.

7. Keep going. You've got this.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Making a To-Do List

To-do lists are great. Writing down our plans for the day is useful, but is it enough?

Have you ever made a to-do list and then only accomplished the easy stuff, leaving the two or three big, important tasks untouched.

Here's one tip for a good to-do list:

Make your list the night before. Make sure you put some kind of limit on each item. If it's small, like paying your electric bill, you can complete the whole thing. If it's editing your novel, you'll need to put a limit on it such as, spend 30 minutes editing or edit one chapter. Make it small enough that you can do it in one sitting. If you need to, sprinkle several of these smaller tasks throughout the day.

Then number your list in the order you plan to do it. Do this the night before. We tend to be more optimistic about how we'll feel the next day and will put the more important tasks up front. If you wait until the next day, they easily get pushed further down on the list. Make sure to mix some easier tasks in with the bigger, more difficult tasks to give yourself a break.

The next day, you don't have to come up with the willpower to convince yourself to work on the important stuff. Just start working on your list in order.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

One at a Time

What's one thing that will derail your goal faster than anything else? 

Taking on too much. 

Why do resolutions fail? Because we usually make three or five or ten. That's a list of wants and wishes, not a goal with a strategic plan. 

Try this. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish. Maybe it's losing weight, getting organized, volunteering, and writing a book. 

Now, pick one. 

Yes. Just one. Mark everything else off the list. 

Now, make a list of strategies to make that one thing happen. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you might list things like, take up running, go to the gym, eat healthier, give up desserts...

Okay. Let's take it a step further. Pick one thing and mark everything else off the list. 

I can hear the groans. It will take too long! I want results now! But we all only have so much will power to go around. Focusing on one thing increases our odds of achieving our goal.

So if you go to the gym, focus this entire month on getting to the gym three times a week. No matter what happens, that's your number one goal. If you happen to eat a little healthier too, great. But your only goal is that one thing. 

Next month, now that going to the gym is starting to feel like a normal part of your routine, choose one more thing to add. 

Now imagine how your life might look different this time next year.