Saturday, May 6, 2017

In Which My Planner Makes Me Face The Truth About My Schedule

Things I have learned about myself since I've started using a Passion Planner:

1. Mondays are my best day (so now I know I need to seriously frontload my week)

2. If I fall out of the habit of checking in nightly, I fall apart in a completely disproportionate manner.

3. When I take the time to add stickers and happy-making tape, I'm happier and feel more organized.

4. I have too many things going on.

5. I have too many things going on.

6. I have too many things going on.

There is nothing cute or brave or impressive about having too many things going on, especially when you struggle with time management like I do. And I seriously do. I've been living my life in such an oblivious way for SO long, but anyone who knows me realizes that I am never on time, I am always doing things last minute, my house has to be terrifically filthy before cleaning becomes a priority, and I have no way of measuring how long things will take me to complete. I am just learning how bad I am at this part of my life. 

I sat in an IEP meeting for my son yesterday and read pages of gorgeously written reports about the way his brain and body work. Comparing what he can do in a separate tiny room to what his teachers see in his classroom and what our family sees at home. He's smart and strange (the reports are peppered with weird things he said or did over the course of his testing, it's amazing) and struggling. Sitting in a room of professionals who know him well, we realized that he doesn't have the planning skills he needs to succeed. He knows a lot, but doesn't know where to start. And sometimes really simple tasks seem so hard that he gives up and throws an out-of-scale temper tantrum. It's supposed to be ridiculous behavior. And I sat there thinking, "Me too, sweetheart. Me too."

I'm loving using a Passion Planner because it calls for constant self-reflection, and one of the biggest truths it's showing me right now is that I am taking on too much and doing a lot of things poorly as a result. I'm not doing a good job of regularly blogging here, maintaining the book club, keeping up with my Book Riot duties, participating in my novel writing group, planning my sister's wedding festivities, running the school newspaper, and still being a good friend, a present mother, and holding down a full time teaching job. Writing down that list, I started getting the weird pride rush- Look at everything you're doing! This is the problem. It seems like a badge of honor. I have to remind myself that I'm doing very few of those things WELL. And most weeks, by Thursday, I am so overwhelmed that I shut down and pull the blankets over my head before it's even dark outside. I am not thriving.

Ways I'm pulling back:

1. I put out a call on social media last week for people to share their reviews of the March selections for Be Your Own Book Club, and from here on out, the book club will exist on social media, but not with official blog posts. 

2. I've taken a step back from my novel completely. I had been miserable when I didn't write and felt extremely stale and forced when I did. I get The Check In, a Tiny Letter for writers written by one of my favorite authors, Amy Spalding. A few weeks back I replied to her Tiny Letter, and she wrote back (which was a fangirl moment for sure). Her advice was to take a break, maybe even work on a different project, and try to actually miss your characters, So I've taken it out of my rotation, at least until my next excerpt is due to my group in June.

3. Posting will continue to be sporadic here. After The Lady Project Summit, I was really fired up to be more consistent and try to interact more, but I think it will have to remain my free-association journal and random confessional for awhile longer.

4. I'm publishing two more issues of the school newspaper, and then using the summer to decide if a school book club would be more beneficial to myself and the students in my school, or whether to revamp the way I run the newspaper for next year.

5. When I schedule exercise like an appointment, I pay attention, so I'm going to do the same for one-on-one time with my kids. It has to be as much of a deadline as my other work or the guilt of not hanging with them will crush me. It also has to fit within the limited lines of a daily time block- if the block is full of various other responsibilities, the family time won't happen.

Some things that won't change: 

1. I'll still be active on Instagram and Twitter (because I like it and I meet a lot of friends there) 

2. I'll be focusing more on my Book Riot duties (because it pays and has opened so many doors for me and because I'm so proud to be a part of it)

3. My sister's wedding year is still a huge priority for me (because she's my best friend and because it's really fun).

None of this is NEWS, per say. It's just me thinking out loud, because that's what I do best. It might be a nice reminder for you, if you're forgetting that you can constantly adjust or that you need to give yourself permission to do less. Anyone else feel like confessing? Are you taking on too much? What can you pull back from? What are your non-negotiables? I'd love to hear I'm not the only deluded one. 

*Passion Planner notes: I'm obsessed with this thing. I'll write more about it at a later date, but right now there are some great sales you can take advantage of. Through May 8th, the colorful undated planners are HALF OFF. If you enter XANDRA10 at check out, you'll get 10% off (I got this code from Heroine Training when I bought mine), and if you enter as your referral email, I'll be forever grateful. All images in this post are from the gorgeous Passion Planner Instagram account. I am in no way affiliated with Passion Planner, just REALLY into them. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Five Major Bolts from The Lady Project Summit

It's been exactly a month since the Vets Memorial Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island transformed into a center for extreme female-identifying power. I attended the Fifth Annual Lady Project Summit in March at a moment when I felt equally overloaded and paralyzed. I knew that I had a lot of irons in the fire and I knew that I wasn't necessarily ready to release anything, so even though I was already struggling to keep up with my contributing positions, novel writing group, and Be Your Own Book Club, I jumped at the chance to cover the Summit. I went to take notes, to get some good stuff to share with you readers. I left completely fired up, inspired and clutching a list of tips to support my hustle at home. With enough time passed for me to really absorb the dizzying array of speakers and panels I heard at the Summit, I wanted to share five of my favorite messages. 

1. Speak up again, and again, and again
Among the first people Summit attendees heard was the female governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo. Opening with the statement, "You could say it's an interesting time to be a woman in America," Raimondo called on women to use their voices and continue to dissent. The reminder that our power comes from our conviction was well timed. Throughout the day, the theme of rejecting the ingrained narrative that "good" girls and women are quiet and submissive kept rearing it's gorgeous head.

2. If you do the thing, you are the thing
One of the words I heard a lot at the Summit was "hustle." Originally I understood this in the context of "the side hustle," as in, your pet project/passion/hobby that you pour extracurricular hours into, but throughout the day, I came to the realization that this is the way many women are running their entire lives. One of the best panels I attended was run by a woman named Kate Zielger, and one the most valuable slides in her presentation outlined her different jobs, projects, and commitments over a span of ten years. Zielger talked about how each different part of her (packed) schedule fed a different part of her, and how the different sections ebbed and flowed, taking precedence or a back seat according in changing seasons. She shared this quote from Ruth Bader Ginsberg that struck me:

"Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that my classmates trained only on law studies lacked."

The idea of separate parts of life providing respite from the others is comforting me to, and speaks to a compartmentalizing that I'm really striving for. But one of my favorite takeaways from Ziegler was the declaration that taking credit for the things you do, whether or not they're classified as your "job," is vital.  "If you do the thing, you are thing." That statement makes me want to get started immediately.

3. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
This is one of those annoyingly pressing messages that the universe sent me several days in a row. My yoga teacher said it, and then Lisa Jakub said it during her powerful keynote, and then Jennifer Romolini said it during her lunchtime chat. Over and over, the reminder that it is okay for things to be hard. It's okay to feel awkward, to get rejected, to stay up late, to push it past what feels cozy. Past what feels possible. Lisa Jakub spoke about facing anxiety head on, instead of hiding away from it. Jennifer Romolini talked about starting from absolute scratch, mothering and working and going to school all at the same time and sometimes feeling miserable. All of it was necessary. All of it sparked growth.

In an age of enlightenment around women prioritizing their needs, I feel like the distinction between self growth and self care needs to be carefully made. Self-care does not necessarily mean doing whatever feels good at the moment, but damn it do I let myself get away with a lot of avoidance and use the term to justify. The message, spoken sweetly and with encouragement, that it is okay to feel like it's a slog, was received loud and clear.

4. Being a writer is something people are viscerally afraid to want
A lot of what was communicated at the Summit was familiar to me- ideas that I understood but needed help actualizing, or things that were adjacent to truths I already held. It was a supportive, comforting feeling. But this point shocked me. Several times, women shared stories about incredible acts of bravery- ending marriages and wildly successful careers, starting over on their own terms- and then admitted that they were still too scared to call themselves writers. 

Like Cheryl Strayed tells us, writing is not coal mining. It's not surgery and it's not frivolity. We let it hold too much power- we're not good enough or we don't do it often enough or we haven't hit a certain arbitrary milestone that lets us claim the title or it's too silly to say out loud. I thought this recurring theme of people struggling to call themselves writers was really interesting. I also found it interesting (encouraging? amazing?) that both women who directly shared stories about being afraid to call themselves writers have books coming out this year.

5. The company of other women who hustle hard is energizing and worth the effort
I wonder how many of us who were there that day are introverts on some level. A lot of the people I knew or recognized were from Instagram or Twitter, contacts I might have made the last time I attended the Summit two years ago. It's clumsy, when we're used to shooting out one liners and appreciating each other's contributions with simple "likes." But it is so important. There was a physical power in being together that day, literally brushing elbows, making small talk at lunch, hearing each other laugh and seeing each other nod. By the end of the day, keynote speakers were commenting on how much vulnerability and community support they had witnessed throughout the Summit. 

For some, the in-person connection is a necessity, and for others, it can be terrifying, I am one who would typically choose an evening following along via the hashtag to being out among the people, but I recognize the importance of physically being there. The conversations and connections I made during the day drove home the feeling of community, an element that can be reached online but is deepened when women gather together. Driving home, I thought of how lucky I felt to spend a day completely surrounded by powerful ladies who all made the choice to spend the day together getting even more badass than they had been that morning. 

Does this connection sound appealing? You don't have to wait for next year's Summit to get a taste. The Lady Project has groups around the country and they meet for events on a regular basis. Check out the nearest chapter and consider a membership. Meet up for a book club discussion or crafting night or a seminar on creating a mission statement. The benefits of gathering with other strong women are felt immediately and will likely still be on your mind a month later. I know that was the case for me.

I was given a pass to attend The Lady Project Summit in exchange for honest coverage of the event. Opinions are my own. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pomodoro Your Life

One of the best gifts I ever got was a Kindle. Ben got it for me for Mother's Day in 2012, and at first, I didn't really think I needed it. Over time, I started finding more and more uses for it- there were cute apps my kids loved. I could get the next book in a series when I was too impatient to wait for a library hold. Food prep was more tolerable when I spent the cooking time accompanied by my favorite shows on Netflix. Soon, the Kindle was one of the most used things in our house. And like all well-loved things, it started wearing out. It got to the point where apps would only work properly if I turned the thing completely off and started it up again. Today, I still use this strategy when my favorite show won't load on the Netflix app. The Kindle works. But most days, it needs a hard reset to get on the right track, and I end up wasting a lot of time time coaxing it to do the thing it's designed to do. The Kindle is me.

I've been down and out for month. For the past few years, I've been in a pattern where I go through long periods of time where I feel unmotivated, sluggish, overwhelmed, and generally terrible. I might have a breakthrough for a day or two, but it usually takes a hard reset for me to get back to a bare minimum. Even then, I can't guarantee that I'll still be in working order the next day. I'm entering a new season of my life, and even though the external pressures seem easier than ever (my kids are older, I'm well finished with grad school), for some reason, everything seems harder. I know I feel better when I'm active and that I am a creature of momentum, so I'm trying to swing the pendulum back to vibrant Ashlie. I'm gathering a new set of tools to coax myself into a positive routine, and one of my favorite efficiency tools is The Pomodoro Technique.

The idea behind the technique is really simple: short bursts of focused energy, followed by a small break. It's the embracing of the rules that is extremely helpful. During your 25 focus block, you are ONLY working on the objective that you set for yourself. Time your break as well as your focus time. After four blocks of focus time, take a longer break. Before you know it, you're powering through blocks of productive time with very little distraction.  

On a recent day of blog/personal organization work, I used Pomodoro to make a mind map of personal goals and assign due dates to action steps, draft 2 blog posts, add images and schedule social media for the posts, fill out my planner at the month view, fill out my planner at a week view, and develop and then implement a habit tracker. This added up to 8 focused work periods, which seems like a lot and a little at the same time. Even with no personal distraction, this amount of focused time was TIRING.

I used a few tricks to make my Pomodoro experience even more successful. I thrive on Gold Stars, so I needed a way to get points for not being distracted during my 25 minute focus blocks. Enter the Forest app. I use this often when I need a forced distraction from my phone. When you start up the app, a little tree begins to grow, and until your chosen time period is up, you have to kill the tree in order to get past the screen and into your apps. I set the Forest app to be in effect during my focus blocks, and also used a Google timer on my laptop to track the time and utilize a loud noise to mark the end of a time period. Because a focused day of using Pomodoro can mean a lot of sitting, I used Go Noodle to fill some of my 2-5 minute breaks. We use Go Noodle for brain breaks in my classroom, and I've used to get rid of energy with my sons, but I never thought of using it for myself. The videos are short and you can choose Zumba, silly campfire rhymes, yoga, mindfulness, and a bunch of other themed movement activities. It's accidentally Pomodoro perfect. 

I find Pomodoro to work best when there's a large block of time and a big list of tasks to tackle, but it can be used to stay on track for singular focused bursts, as well. I love seeing how other bloggers use Pomodoro- Xandra from Heroine Training has a great video about how she uses Pomodoro and Sarah from Yes and Yes mentions Pomodoro in her post on ways to increase your attention span. 

Have you used the Pomodoro Technique? How do you claw yourself back into an upswing? Let me know! Wishing you productivity.