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. 

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Coffee and Blogs No. 28

Coffee + Blogs took a much longer break than I ever anticipated. I'm always trying to adjust to the ebb and flow of life, and I'm trying to find it interesting rather than alarming to see the way certain things fade out and bloom back. This weekend I am in a particularly delicious place, staying in my sister's house while she is on vacation. It is silent here, and I finally broke out of my reruns/pajamas slump to get some work done. A new planner, the Pomodoro Technique, and Spotify playlists are kicking my butt in the best best best way.  Without further ado, here are some lovely things to read.

1. Do My Friends Secretly Dislike Me? This is such an important read for the anxious mind, and pretty much every person ever who has had a moment of insecurity about their friends and acquaintances. (Let me just reiterate for the 100th time that I wish to god Rookie had been around when I was a mess of a teen)

2. How to be a good listener: the expert's guide Being a good listener is on my lifetime skills-to-learn list. It took me a long time to realize what a terrible listener I am, and now I love reading about ways to get better. After a few frustrating interactions lately, this advice really struck me: It took a while for me to understand that if a friend is in a dark place, the most compassionate thing we can do is to climb down into that place and sit with them for a while.

3. What's Your Happiness Recipe? And How To Create One To be completely honest, sometimes these articles weary me. I get it, I get it, I need to remember to drink water and take a moment for myself and light a candle. But then I find myself three days past my last shower, sucking on my fifth coffee and crying in the living room because I can't remember how to summon the energy to turn the TV off and stumbling to bed seems too hard, so I sleep on the couch. THEN THESE ARTICLES DON'T SEEM SO GOOFY. I think the biggest step is to actually write stuff down.

4. The Strange Case of the Reincarnated Egyptian I love stories of children connecting with past lives and find it incredibly interesting to speculate about reincarnation. Do you believe?

5. One Thing At A Time An adorable comic about a girl who gave up mulitasking.

6. How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind I'm not sure if I've already shared this, but I think this is an important monthly read. I've been falling way behind on issues, overwhelmed by my personal problems, and relying on Twitter for my news WAY too much. This article outlines important steps for adjusting yourself to the new realities of resistance to keep yourself from burning out, and most importantly, TO KEEP TRUMP FROM SEEMING NORMAL. He's not. This isn't. Don't get used to it.

7. On a similar note, here are some tools that have been extremely helpful to me in staying connected without feeling flooded with information: The Skimm is a M-F news update delivered to your inbox with an overview of the news and links for further reading. Countable is an app I've used for awhile to keep track of issues that are important to me. You can share how you would vote on issues, discuss in forums, and directly contact your representatives from inside the app. I've fallen out of the habit of calling my reps, and I am going to remedy that. 

8. True Story: My Husband Used To Be A Woman I love Sarah's True Story series, and this one was great. I'm trying to normalize different family narratives for myself,  and Nick and Anna's story was touching, real, and romantic. 

9. This photo series celebrating iconic black women during Black History Month is gorgeous and enpowering. 

10. I've been calling my sickness/apathy/inefficency over the past few months everything from a slump to a minor depressive episode. I've blamed it on overbooking myself and my medications. But in my deepest core, I know that hand-over-hand work is the only thing that can pull me (I am not diagonsed with depression, and I know that some people cannot just "try harder" to "snap out of it." I, on the other hand, cannot use mental illness that is not mine as an excuse to not put the work in) out of the hole I've lined with blankets and crawled into. In that vein, here are some articles that slapped some sense into me: from Rookie, Rethinking Self Care (what a beautiful and dangerous phrase) and from Xandra at Heroine Training, What To Do When You Don't Feel Like Doing Anything . I'm in the middle of reclaiming some discipline and taking some responsibility, and these articles have helped me see the light.

That's what I have this week! Follow me on Instagram to see what I'm reading/buying, and on Twitter to see what hilarious hot takes I'm retweeting. 

image credits (1, 2, 3)


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

February Be Your Own Book Club Recaps and March Book Reveal!

February was not a hugely successful reading month for me, despite having a vacation and a few snow days tucked in there. I'm here to share my triumphs and failures around our February Picks.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon- I adored this cute YA pick. It only took me a few days to read and the fluffy plot was exactly the amount of tension that I needed (read: almost none). There were aspects that I found SLIGHTLY unbelievable, but I was 1000% willing to suspend disbelief because I enjoyed the characters and the romance so much. I'll definitely see this movie when it comes out. I've heard that Yoon's second book, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR, is even better, so it's on the list!

HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Shetterly- I failed here. I tried to get into this book. I wanted to get into this book. When print didn't draw me in, I tried the audiobook, and in both formats, it just didn't grab my interest. I was supremely disappointed in myself for awhile, because I think this book is important and I'm proud of the conversation around it and I wanted to educate myself. Then I took a deep breath, recognized that it might just be the timing, and gave myself permission to put it back on my Want To Read shelf. 

I think that's a pretty important message to stress for anyone trying to keep to a reading list or a reading habit or participate in a book club- it's okay to bail on a book. Sometimes it's an indication of the book being "good" (oh, the tangent I could get on about what that even means), but more often it's timing, your personal preferences, your stress level- anything can factor into why a book isn't a great fit for you at the moment. You don't need my permission, but if you're beating yourself up about, consider this your pass: you can put a book down at any moment with zero hard feelings. 

One trick I use when I'm trying to get into a book that I think just needs a solid chance on my end is to start reading in a place where I can't stop. I'm in the middle of COME AS YOU ARE, an amazing nonfiction book about women's sexuality. I took it with me when I was going to get a pedicure- I couldn't very well leave and switch out the book if my mind wandered and I started craving some fiction. This trick also works if you read at the gym or on a commute. But then sometimes, all tricks aside, you need to put it down.

For March, I've stuck with the formula of picking one fiction and one nonfiction title. 

Fiction- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

From Goodreads:  A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel's recovery--the piece of the American Dream on which they've pinned all their hopes--will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles.

At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamá fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she's sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.

Nonfiction- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling 

From Goodreads:  In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it's falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you're constantly reminded that no one looks like you. 

In "How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet's Confessions", Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, ("Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn't the land of appropriate-this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman s traditional hair color is honey blonde.") "Player" tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. ("I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.") In "Unlikely Leading Lady", she muses on America's fixation with the weight of actresses, ("Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they're walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.") And in "Soup Snakes", Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak ("I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.") 

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who's ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who've never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

I'd love to know how you're feeling about the book club picks. Is there something you'd like to see more or less of? Would you like more interaction, question style? I'm still triyng to find the best format for discussions during and after reading, and would love to hear your thoughts.