A few weeks ago a colleague published a link to a study that suggested that spending the most of your time not moving kills you faster – and it only made a small difference if you were doing sports. Since then I looked deeper into the matter, and lo’ and behold, working at a desk is actually a surefire way to mess your body up. Staring down at smartphones isn’t helping either. The more research I did, the more I found that being static or repetitive is the problem, not so much the sitting. People who stand all day aren’t healthier, they just fight with other injuries.
Humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to do things in our preferred way. Change scares us first and few embrace it whole-heartedly. We like our routines. We like stuff being predictable.
I’m sure you ask what the one thing has to do with the other. My little brainwheels kept on churning, and right now I’m pondering if being static in your body and your mind is not your greatest enemy. I decided to rely less on routine, shake things up a bit, and especially get my body moving and my brain right with it.
I got off my beloved couch and started to do some yoga – especially this practice here, which is awesome for the neck and shoulders – because I believe in prevention and not treating symptoms when it’s too late. And I know my body doesn’t like sitting all day, my shoulder hurt, my neck hurt, I narrowly escaped getting a mouse finger (1) and I just realised: If I don’t start moving NOW, I’ll end up like so many of my colleagues, who suffer from chronic pain. As I can’t escape the sitting for 8 hours a day, I busted out my trusty wobbly cushion to keep my core muscles engaged, and I’m at a point when I notice that I’m hunching over and straighten back up. I still have to find a way to walk around more during the day. Because I love gadgets, I ordered one of those nifty little activity trackers, in the hope of being even more motivated. Let’s see how this goes…
(1) Since then I switch my mouse hand every so often, and it sure keeps your synapses working, I tell you.
Last week I spoke about the basics of self-organization, namely: Getting a planner and chosing a system that works for you. Today I want to address another topic that people who suffer from “Distracted by the Shiny”-Syndrome struggle with: Long-term projects.
I’m not going to lie, breaking down a complex thing into manageable tasks, and then sticking with it, is absolutely not my forte. Not when there are a gazillion other things vying for my attention that look like so much more fun! I also like instant gratification, that’s also something that long-term projects are frustratingly scarce with. So. How to do it?
Make a plan!
Ha, that’s what planners are there for, aren’t they? Take your nifty little brain dump thingy and pencil in when you want to do what. Maybe you need deadlines to get you going, maybe you’re on a tight schedule because of other commitments… do what works, and if it doesn’t – try something else. I learned that at any given time, I won’t be able to do more than one big thing of every main block (Book, House, Life) during the week. So if I want to write a 1000 words a week, I probably won’t work on anything else in the Book-Section that requires a lot of brain activity. I still scribble down three things every week.
Problem with being a creative perfectionist: You want to do it right, and that means in one go. Long-term projects have it in the name that they aren’t done in one go. It took me a very long time to learn that tiny steps lead to the finish line too. Sometimes as little as 10 minutes per day. But it works, and it doesn’t exhaust you and you can feel accomplished because you worked on the project.
No matter how intently you plan, life likes to throw you a curveball. Maybe your dayjob sucked and you have no energy left. You got sick. The dog puked on the carpet. That is okay. Things like this happen. Take your planner and see where you can re-schedule things. Just don’t get frustrated because things didn’t work out the way you planned them. Sometimes you just need a creative break.
Celebrate the milestones
Every 10.000 words or so I do a little celebratory dance. Squee on Twitter. Get myself a drink. Because I’m 10.000 words closer to the finish line. You should too. Admire your progress. You’ve come so far, that’s amazing! Be proud of yourself.
And with that I go back to my own long-term project. Happy trucking along!
After my last post about dealing with my perfectionism I was asked to write about how I make my plans. So this is it. And lots more. Because organizing yourself is a highly individual thing, and where non-creative people maybe would just use a run-off the mill planner you can buy in the store, creative brains rarely work with prefabricated grids and patterns. Still, life can be overwhelming and having some sort of support-system helping with that, can take a lot of anxiety out of pretending to be a grown-up, responsible adult. This post is by no means exhaustive, so if you have further questions, please ask!
What I plan to talk about:
- Choosing the right system
- Where to begin
- The Benefits of Colour Coding
- Sticky Notes
- How I do it
What I’m not going to talk about:
Apps and other computer-based means of self-organization, there are just to freakin’ many. And they don’t work with me at. all.
Choosing the right system
So. The creative brain. I often visualize mine as a mirror labyrinth filled with balloons, confetti and sparkle, unicorns, streamers and a billion of interesting knick-knacks. There’s a whole other universe hiding in there. Naturally, this makes it very hard to focus on this universe, and its demands and tasks. If I don’t (and I’ve slipped often enough to know this by heart now) put my ideas and tasks to paper, they vanish in this labyrinth to be never seen again. The tricky thing is to find a system that works for your brain and your days. I spent the most part of my day in an office, I don’t have a lot of other appointments I need to keep track of, and I have a complex long-term project running in the background. You might be a freelancer with deadlines and clients, you might need a place to doodle ideas for illustrations, etc, etc… Are you a highly visual person? Do you thrive with tick-off boxes? Do you need to monitor progress? There’s a lot of stuff to be taken into consideration.
There are lots and lots and lots of ready-made personal planners to chose from, if your brain needs prefabricated grids and slots and your days demand a calendar for dates and appointments. They run the gamut from the customizable and very expensive Filofax-System, the Midori Traveler’s Notebook, the Hobonichi Techo and the Passion Planner to all the less sophisticated, but cheap solutions your local stationary shop offers you.
If your brain needs a more flexible thing, there’s an equally staggering amount of solutions to chose from. DIY planners like the Hipster PDA or the Bullet Journal, or sophisticated project management workflows like Kanban boards or Scrum (nicked from software development). Or you come up with a system yourself.
If stuff on paper is not your thing, I gently direct you to the app store of your preferred flavour to choose from one the many, many, many To-do-List apps that can be found there. They come with all the bells and whistles, and build in reminders, which can be useful.
What works for me: I never seem to be able to find a planner that suits all my needs, although I love the neatness of the stuff you can buy. I’m a perfectionist after all. So I took a sturdy notebook, and build one myself, which I’m going to introduce further down. My very few appointments and other time-sensible stuff lives in iCal and pings me if needed, and I also have all my contacts on my iPhone and Mac, because that’s where I need them.
Somehow this blogpost got out of hand and really long, so I put the rest of it under the cut. Continue reading
It is kinda funny, but judging from my own experiences and what others say online, writing seems to be a masochistic occupation. There’s always something to complain about, not feeling good enough about or you just have plain old writer’s block. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live a life of misery, so I set out to find the reason I wasn’t happy. The perpetual drama of having to split my time up between the dayjob, the chores, if I ‘m lucky the meagre resemblance of a social life and the writing was making me unhappy. See, I’m a perfectionist, and I always want to do everything right. Quirky as my mind is, it then also builds in some roadblocks. I can only do A if B has been done, but to do B, I have to get C out of the way.
For a very long time I thought being a perfectionist is more of a hindrance at enjoying life than anything else, but it doesn’t have to be. I think, wanting to do everything “perfect” is actually a great thing, the trouble lies in what we define as “perfect”. Working against yourself never ends well, so I decided to tackle the problem from the other end: What makes me feel like I’ve failed my own expectations? I came up with the following observations:
- I need a plan. Without a plan, I don’t function at all, and then I feel like I’m failing at life in general.
- I like goals. Word count goals, time goals, etc… works great as a motivation, but often I push everything else back to meet the goal. Reaching goals is dandy, not reaching goals is not, obviously.
- I can get a lot of stuff done in the morning. In the evening, after work, not so much and only with great effort.
- I love to tinker with things and details until they are polished to perfection, often forgetting the bigger picture.
In the last two weeks, I run an experiment. My daily word goal was a mere 143 words, adding up to 1000 for the week. That’s nothing. Not even half an hour of writing. So I tricked myself into reaching the word count everyday with putting the bar lower, leaving me not feeling guilty and actually free to do other things around the house and on my tricked out to-do list. It worked like a charm. I also forced myself to do bigger tasks in smaller increments, giving myself a whole week to finish them. Very often I don’t start something because it feels like way too much. Breaking it into smaller parts prevents that and doesn’t kick me into the “OMG, why haven’t you done this yet?” vicious circle of shame.
Of course, there are still set-backs, mostly because I’m really not able to do anything productive after I came home, and there’s not enough time in the morning to do everything. At the end of the week though I still get to check off a lot of my to-do list for the week and the house isn’t in total shambles, which counts as a win for me. If writing taught me anything, than that every little bit helps.
The question every writer is probably asked the most (by non-writing people): Where do you get all these ideas? The answer is never easy, because, well – everything is an inspiration. Writers are observers, and even the most mundane thing can become the spark for a story, a character trait, a scene…
Let’s take the Christmas Story, for example. The little cottage was heavily inspired by a house in the swiss alps, where I spent a weekend a few years ago. It had lots of snow there, it was really cold and it had an oven you could climb on. Bliss for a perpetually cold person like me. The glass peacock ornaments were inspired by actual peacock ornaments my mother has:
They are very old and very precious, but of course they don’t have the romantic background as in the story. The recipe for the tea Adelie has in the thermos flask is one my mother made all the time when I was a kid. I make it now all the time too. The whole story itself came from my wish for a picture perfect, “like in the movies” Christmas – only that I then had to spoil the fun for Nate and Adelie too. At least they had snow.
It is impossible to write in a vacuum, even when you write about made-up worlds, alternate universes and space ships with gravity generators. When I scroll through Ember I see quotes, designer dresses, landscapes, night skies, obscure scientific morsels like the fact that salmon semen can be used to pull rare earth elements out of waste, artefacts and art installations, pictures of people that look interesting… the list goes on and on. Everything that tickles my fancy goes in there. Of course I have to keep myself on a steady diet of interesting things in the first place – my main source for that is Tumblr at the moment. There are lots and lots of well curated blogs about everything under the sky, which is very convenient. And then there’s my notebook that serves as the catch-all for all the things that my brains cooks up out of the stuff I feed it. I still have to get better at actually writing everything down though, because it’s bit tedious to get it out. Maybe I should get a smaller one that fits into my coat pocket.
So this is a small glimpse in how I get my ideas, I hope you enjoyed the peek behind the scenes.