Archives

Keeping Busy

Today’s culture …

One thing about today’s culture is that it keeps me busy. Oh yes, I have many technological advances at my fingertips that enable me to do even menial tasks quickly and efficiently with the touch of a finger. I don’t even need to push buttons any more. A quick swipe of my finger across a screen gets us the latest news from my friends and family as well as quick blurbs about what is going on in the region or around the world. I can find out about pending storms, how much I have in the bank, and directions to a new restaurant. I even have a touch screen in my car. Speaking of cars, some of the newer models can parallel park and apply the brakes with little if any assistance from the driver.

Marvelous timesavers …

So, with all of these fabulous timesavers, how come I’m still so busy? Where is all of this free time that technology claims to bring? If truth be told, I think I’m busier today in semi-retirement than I was when I had 3 little kids at home. But there’s one slight difference. I don’t stress about the busyness like I used to.

Priorities …

I suppose that might be because I have gained some wisdom from my years of life experience. Unfortunately, there were a lot of candles on my cake before it finally began to register, but the fact remains: I make time for what is important to me.

We all do, even the younger set like my kids and grandkids approaching their academic finals. They may have made less than studious choices throughout the semester, but when it comes down to the last exam of the year, they will often stay up all night to ensure the information has been duly entered into their brains. Finally, it has become important to them – maybe that’s why the exams are called finals. I can’t help but chuckle at this last-ditch effort, but I certainly don’t say a word.

Too little too late …

Ok, so it may be too little too late, but even in my golden years, I sometimes do the same thing. That said, my choices generally are based on wisdom – what’s important as opposed to what I’d like to get done – an immaculate house vs. lunch with a friend, or a sewing project vs. spending time with my grandkids.

Here’s the thing. Being busy in and of itself is neither intrinsically good or evil, but the choices we make on how we occupy our time might be better spent. I still need to set priorities. You’d think at this stage of the game, I’d have this mastered, but alas, I’m still at the stage of just getting better. That said, I think that’s a good direction to go. 😊

Am I there yet?

Pilot gty_pilots_cockpit_airliner_ll_120718_wgMy husband is an aviation enthusiast and reminded me of this illustration. Before commercial or corporate pilots take off, they file a flight plan which includes, among other pertinent details, the destination and estimated time of arrival. Once they take off, however, wind, air currents, storms, turbulence, etc. work against the aircraft so that they must continually make corrections in order to remain on course and reach their appointed destination. Pilots understand the necessity of regulating the route, anticipating and performing the process to achieve their ultimate goal – a safe and punctual arrival.

This course correction is often needed throughout life, but too often I only recognize it after I’ve become discouraged that my project or goal is not working out right. For example, when I began my adventure into semi-retirement, I had so many ideas about what I would do when I grew up. I have many interests – Bible study, business, embroidery, friends, gardening, grandchildren and their parents, people, reading, sewing, teaching, writing and so much more – so I wanted to make my choice fit within the parameters of the things I enjoyed as well as discover a niche where I could concentrate my efforts so that I spent my time wisely.

I started out enthusiastically, doing a little bit in each genre, yet it didn’t take long to realize that I had too many things going on. I needed to prioritize my list. I thought that since I was good at multi-tasking in the workplace, I could come up with a workable solution if I concentrated on only three things. Not so. The three things were still too large, and I finally realized that I had to narrow my concentration further, yet with an interesting twist. One project remained my main focus while the other two became secondary. In other words, I did not give up on them, but I just take little chunks of time and do something that will advance their completion. It may only be reading an article, watching a video or jotting down ideas, but I am moving along in the right direction. Eventually I will get there – I will realize my goal. At that point it will look like an overnight success, but I’m not there yet, and it’s okay. This has helped my level of frustration.

Maybe when you’re asking yourself the am-I-there-yet question, knowing it’s acceptable to continue along your desired path, regardless of speed or apparent success, will help you as well. Just keep going.

Picture credit: gty_pilots_cockpit_airliner_ll_120718_wg

Are all writers stackers?

For someone who loves summer as much as I do, Labor Day evokes some sadness. Yet along with the turning leaves and entourage of school buses, the coming of fall does seem to bring a semblance of structure and renewed purpose, and I can certainly use some of that. So on this day when we are supposed to honor hard work, I chose to perform some and begin the season with some organization in my office. My problem, however, is not getting organized, it’s staying that way. Does that problem resonate with any of you?

Because I enjoy writing for both fun and profit, I spend a lot of time at the computer. I find, however, that I frequently have stacks of papers, articles, and notes on either side of the keyboard representing various projects I’m working on. It seems if I put them into a file drawer, I forget that they’re there, and soon they all come tumbling through the proverbial cracks.

Interestingly, I have been talking with a few other writers who have the same problem. They want to work in a neat and orderly environment, but the stacks appear almost out of nowhere. (Maybe it’s not our fault.) Like me, they’ll block out time and expend the effort to start the reorganization, but it’s not long before the piles of files reappear. Is this a problem characteristic of writers or just those of us who have “messy” genes lurking in our ancestry? Is there a secret known to the rest of you who have pristine desktops? If so, please share and let the rest of us in on it so that next Labor Day, all of us can enjoy the day off.

Happy Labor Day all!

Picture credit: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_zSVIqFYOHCk/S58ZNvyTMsI/AAAAAAAABiU/LTfvWqv38io/s400/stack_of_paper.jpg

Creative types: Take heed

Do numbers scare you? Do they threaten to rob you of the joy you experience from the creative process? If you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer or involved in a home-based business, take heed.

One of the most important things you can do is accurately record your time and expenses on a regular basis. I know, I know. The creative juices need to have free reign so that ides will flow for your writing project and your eyes and ears need to be every ready when that perfect photo or paint-worthy subject comes into view. And of course you need to be unencumbered when the inspiration for a new musical score comes to mind. Believe me, I get that, but keep in mind, starving artists of any genre profit no one.

Consider these next few words of caution as a new opportunity for your innovative world. Taking the time to develop a workable plan to record your material, time and travel expenses can help put food on the table and provide the means for you to continue your work. I can’t say that I’ve arrived at the perfect method, yet I am well on my way to a system that works for me. You need to find one that will serve your needs and lends itself to your personality and field of artistic expression. Regardless of your creative outlet, you’ll have three key elements to consider, and they’re as easy as ABC.

A = Awareness

Look around you to see how you are spending your time and money. Are you traveling to the store to pick up supplies? If so, capture your mileage and time spent as well as the material expense on your phone, iPad, journal or some other recordable option. The key factor is to realize how you are expending your resources so that you can leverage them for your economic advantage at tax time. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ron Mueller’s book, Home Business Tax Savings Made Easy, is an excellent resource to open your eyes to the right items to track.

B = Buddy

I hate filing, but I understand and appreciate the value of keeping receipts, etc. and having them readily accessible should I need them to track a purchase, locate a vendor, or prepare my taxes. One of my buddies is my husband. We call him Mr. Clean because he is a master at keeping tings orderly. (I drive him crazy.) Nevertheless, I give him the important paperwork, and he files them away using an envelope system until he needs them. The envelopes, a Franklin Planner or other method can also be your buddy. The key is to find what’s right for you.

C = Consistency 

In order for your creativity to flourish, you need to be able to support your efforts as effortlessly as possible. Just as slow and steady won the race for the tortoise, so consistent tracking will provide what you need when you need it without stress and without monetary loss.

As you begin with these simple steps, you’ll see ways to tweak it to your needs and specific projects. The goal is to be proactive and eliminate the starving artist syndrome.

Do we have a date?

Dave Ramsey is one of my favorites in both business and the financial world. Based on Scriptural principles, he takes a no-nonsense approach to finance, leadership and life (just ask his kids). He draws a line in the sand and strives (nobody’s perfect) to walk what he talks, and it works! I took advantage of some travel time in the car on the way to a meeting and listened to one of his CD’s on leadership. The concept he shared about making decisions proved simple, but profound.

Many decisions in life are easy to make – what to have for lunch, which container of milk to buy, how to subscribe to an e-zine, or whatever other similar choices affect your life. Hence, you needn’t spend a lot of time on the process of making your decision. On the other hand, if you have saved for a long time to buy a new car, you want to ensure you spend adequate time to make the right selection.  Your choice will be with you for a long while, hopefully.  In other words, small impact decisions require less thought than their weightier counterparts because they have a greater long-term impact. The amount of time you take to make your decision should be proportionate to its impact.

As one of those people with a million ideas, I can get bogged down in the process which sometimes leads to procrastination, a sense of being overwhelmed or a good idea falling through the proverbial cracks. Ramsey suggests when you have to make one of the heavier decisions or if you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, grab your calendar and set a date to decide. Don’t drag it out. Weigh the pros and cons, decide and move on. Setting a date relieves the stress because, if nothing else, there is an end in sight.

Your date may reflect a deadline that is either real or self-imposed. Either way, you’ll need to evaluate the facts, opportunities and challenges and then act. Based on your decision, you can adjust if the results are not immediately satisfactory. Whether you’re purchasing a new home, a piece of equipment or determining if you should open or close the doors on a business, Ramsey’s method has worked for him and countless others. I think I’ll give it a try. What do you think? Do we have a date?

Can you learn from an 8-year old?

Have you ever seen a large-ticket item you feel you’d like to have, maybe even needed, but have no idea where to start to make it happen?

Some people seem to be born with focus. They know what they want and go after it, usually with success. Those on the opposite side of the continuum seem to float their way through life aiming at little and becoming confused by the less than desirable results. Although you can pay a lot of money to find and read a host of books, get training or attend seminars on setting and achieving your goals, you might also like a more simplistic approach.

Instead of trying to remember what each letter of a SMART goal stands for, you can follow journalism’s 5 Ws and an H – What, Why, Where, Who, When and How. With these questions you can define

  • what you want
  • why you should have it and what challenges will need to be addressed along the way
  • who needs to be involved
  • where to find resources
  • when it should take place
  • how to make it happen

You can adapt the questions to your specific purpose.

Without any help from adults or older siblings, my 8-year old grandson came up with his business plan to obtain a trampoline and prepared it in the form of a proposal to his parents. You might like his method. The last I heard, he’s still working on the second phase. I think you’ll chuckle at his wisdom.

ETHAN’S TRAMPOLINE

Why we need a trampoline is because:  It will help with heaLth. How it will help is it will give us leg muscles and we will play outside.

Where will we get the money? How we will get the money is it will be a birthday present from Dallas, and Michael, Sabrina, and Grandma, and Grandpa, and you guys (his parents).

Where will we put it? The options of where we could put it if we got it is:  In the back yard or on one of the sides of our house.

Safety: Make sure it has a net and has unlimited weight.

Other: We can move the basketball hoop towards the trampoline. We can save money because we won’t have to go to the workout gym.

6 Steps from Memory Lane

Do you remember singing the song Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush? It’s definitely for the pre-school set, but the interesting thing is what it teaches us as adults.    

The original lyrics included a daily to-do list with each day dedicated to a certain task or priority.  For example, they dedicated Monday to washing clothes; Tuesday, ironing the clothes; Wednesday, scrubbing the floor and so on culminating with Sunday, going to church. Back then multitasking was out of the question. It actually took all day to scrub the clothes, hang them outdoors to dry, take them down, and prepare them for the next step in the process – ironing, also an all-day event. 

Aside from the benefit gained as children burn off lots of energy singing the song, think about what you can learn (or relearn) from the lyrics. Although the days of one task per day are long gone, a key message is prioritize. If you’re one who is easily overwhelmed by things that need to be done or procrastinates on projects taking you out of your comfort zone, try these tips to help you focus. 

  1. Make a list of what should and can be done in your day. Be realistic.
  2. Assign time frames for each item on your list. (This is often a good way to reduce its size.)
  3. Dedicate a certain amount of time to one task or phase of a project and work on that.
  4. Use a timer. Besides providing a measure of accountability, you can see there’s light at the end of the tunnel as well as how much you can accomplish in your time allotment.
  5. Ignore rabbit trails or interruptions seeking to divert your attention. Unless it’s a matter of life or death, it can usually wait.
  6. Stick to it until the time is up or you’re finished. 

The self confidence you’ll gain from your achievement will be well worth the time it takes to prioritize your day and focus on what’s most important. 

If you still have little children around, see what other benefits you can gain from their songs. By the way, today’s version of the Mulberry Bush ditty addresses hygiene issues so feel free to continue to sing it with your kids.

Spring for change

Do you get excited about making a change in your life only to become discouraged because the results don’t come fast enough? Whether you’re starting a new business, ramping up an old one, writing a first-time novel or trying to lose weight, it can be easy to get discouraged when the transformation to success seems negligible or slow in coming. (Feel free to add your own desired changes. I know I’m not alone in this.) 

If you live in an area where you experience the cold of winter, you know how excited you get about the tiny changes that bring spring. Even a blade of grass that turns from its brown winter coat to brilliant green shouts to all who notice that spring is definitely on the way. One sign provokes a search for additional ones like buds popping up on trees, perennials poking their way through the hard earth, and of course, birds singing from high branches. Each day is part of the transition, whether we see something happening or not, yet you relish the fact spring is coming. 

Why is it then that we humans become so discouraged when we don’t see what we want overnight? If we are consistent in following the right paths, won’t we see results? Perhaps I should take heart in the lesson God teaches from nature. If it takes Him days, weeks or months to complete the process, who am I to give up so early when I don’t see the finished product? 

The next time I get down about my slower-than-desired progress, I’m going to remember the time element involved in spring. Then I’m going to spring for change … in me.

What’s the use?

If you’ve had the opportunity to visit a botanical garden like Longwood Gardens in the outskirts of Philadelphia, you know firsthand about the fantastic displays both indoors and out. It is an awesome experience. You make your way through the various buildings and flora-lined walkways, but as hard as you try, you just can’t take it all in on one visit. 

Can you imagine how many people and how much effort goes into making each garden bloom on cue according to the seasons? (You don’t grow poinsettias in April or daffodils in October.)  They do all of this while maintaining the grounds and facility in readiness for a vast number of tourists seven days a week. Think, too, about the challenges these horticultural wizards face between the elements of time and weather alone. It goes without saying they tackle other obstacles on a daily basis. Yet they achieve outstanding results because they continually focus on the plan. To the outside world, it looks easy. 

As we go through various seasons in our lives, we, like Longwood Gardens, must adjust to new expectations. At times, this requires a total makeover. All of this reinvention requires prayer, organization, time and action in order for a successful change to take place while life goes on and business continues as usual. Some days you can remain on task and schedule, while on others it seems you meet obstacles at every turn. When this happens, return to the plan (or make one if you started off without one), refocus, make adjustments as necessary and move forward.    

Doing this may be difficult. You could find a host of people and situations to blame or throw your hands in the air crying, “What’s the use,” but that won’t get you Longwood results.

Keep plowing or bury the book?

From a writer’s perspective, how do you decide if you should continue reading a book? 

If you’re like me, you’ve started books that no matter how hard you tried, the story or information couldn’t hold your attention. You’ve likely picked up some where you had to read the first 100 pages before reaching the point of no return, while others hook you in the first few sentences and compel you to keep on reading.    

As an aspiring writer, you may hope for the latter scenario, yet the truth of the matter is the first two situations will more likely become reality at least once before we succeed. (After all, John Grisham received 25 rejections before he was successful in finding someone to publish his first novel.) The point here is not to discuss rejection, but to discover what makes a book worthy of reading it to the end in order to reduce time spent in the learning curve and number of returned manuscripts. 

The criteria for continuing to read will be different for each person, but an analysis may prove to be an enlightening assignment. Good writers can learn from their own reactions to another author’s work. Unless it is self-published, you recognize at least one editor liked it. The publisher hopes others will also. What makes it read-worthy then becomes critical to prospective writers.

It might be helpful to keep a log of the books you’ve read and list what you liked or disliked about them. This way you can determine what worked well – genre, pace, characters, authenticity, clarity … – as well as what to avoid when you work on your next piece. Writing is like any other skill. You need to use the right tool for the job, and learning from other craftsmen can speed up the process. So before you bury the next volume, keep plowing long enough to see what insight you can gain.