Tag Archives: time

Tips for the Work-at-Home Crowd, and Other Monkey-Mind Procrastinators

Tips for the Work-at-Home Crowd and Other Monkey-Minded ProcrastinatorsRecently a friend asked for advice on staying focused and organized while working from home. I’ve been doing that for several months now and have some practices that work well for me. If you work from home, or if you work for yourself and find it hard to stay motivated, or if you suffer from monkey mind/lack of focus, perhaps some of these things will help.

A caveat. I like to joke that every parenting book should contain the words “My Kid” somewhere in the title.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… My Kid.
Parenting My Kid with Love and Logic.
Etc.

What works for one person doesn’t work for another, and this list is not one size fits all. That said… this stuff works for me and maybe it will for you too.

I also accidentally stood someone up on a phone call this morning. So clearly I have room for improvement.

Anyway:

It starts with a comprehensive to-do list. The to-do list is the backbone of getting stuff done. Notice I say “a” to-do list. If you’re using your email as an adjunct to-do list, you’re bound to miss stuff. (Plus you’re forever combing through your inbox, leading to distraction and inefficiency.) Get all of your items into one place. I use Things from Cultured Code and it’s simple and clean and functional and let you organize by project. But there are probably shinier new tools out there. And a paper to-do list gets the job done fine too.

But the to-do list is useless by itself. To-do items must connect with your calendar or they will sit on that list, stubborn, refusing to budge, forever. So each evening I look at the next day’s scheduled items in Google Calendar, then I look at the to-do items I want/need to tackle, and I merge them into a single written document. I use a small sheet of paper—the size of a grocery list, something I can carry in my pocket or purse so I don’t need to have my phone or laptop handy—and write out an agenda. For each block of time I will list an appointment or a task.

Think in terms of 90-minute blocks. I recently heard a podcast lifting up 90 minutes as the magic unit of time in terms of productivity. That’s about how long we can focus on a task without needing a hard reset. Since then I’ve been trying to think in these terms. I used to covet 3-4 hour blocks for writing, and I’d smoosh the rest of my life together to give myself those long expanses of time. I no longer do that. If I have the luxury of 3-4 hours, I still break it up into 90 minute chunks.

Break your time blocks into Pomodoros. Sometimes 90 minutes is too long to focus on one thing without getting distracted. The task is hard or unpleasant, or you feel scattered in your thinking. I love the Pomodoro Technique, in which you work for X amount of time and reward yourself with a short break. I like 12 minutes of work, 3 minutes of break. Pomodoros trick your brain by breaking a large scary task into small pieces. You can do anything for 12 minutes, can’t you? And I often find by the fourth or fifth Pomodoro I’m so immersed in the task, I bag the break when it comes.

And yes, there’s an app for that.

Celebrate what you accomplished–specifically. I like the sheet of paper for the feeling of crossing stuff off. But sometimes interruptions rule the day, or your energy takes you in a different direction than you’d planned, and it’s discouraging to look at the day’s agenda and see how many things did NOT get crossed off. To combat that discouraging feeling, at the end of the day I will turn that piece of paper over and make a list of things I DID do, even if they were things I hadn’t planned to do. (I think there’s a spiritual practice in there somewhere—one side, your best intentions; on the other side, the reality. Then you recycle the piece of paper and start anew.)

Think energy management as much as time management. This is an idea I got from Dan Blank. You only have so much control over your time. But you have more control over what you give your energy to (although that too is often dependent on other people). And when you’re energized by certain kinds of tasks, you can pursue them all day without feeling as drained–giving you some fuel in the tank for stuff you aren’t as jazzed about. For example, today I was meeting with several moving companies. I knew that process would drain me (in addition to taking time) so I decided to keep the rest of my goals modest. So instead of tackling that article I needed to write from scratch, I decided to do some editing instead. I’ll tackle the article another time. And I know it won’t fall through the cracks because I:

Do a weekly review and schedule blocks. Because I do both freelance writing and author-based projects, it has helped me to take 20 minutes every Friday to look at the following week’s appointments and to-do items. Then I will designate certain days as “freelance days” and others as writing/speaking work days. Do they often bleed into one another? Do I find myself swapping and adjusting? All the time. But even if your intentions get shot to pieces, I find this weekly big-picture time to be essential.

Answer yesterday’s email today. I know lots of people who claim to check email just once or twice a day. Frankly I think they’re lying. Or they have way more self-control than I do. I haven’t been able to kick the habit of checking email frequently, and honestly, I’m tired of expending the will power necessary to try and pull it off; it can be put to better use, like keeping me away from the canned frosting aisle of the grocery store. Instead, I check email at idle moments throughout the day and answer truly urgent ones then and there. Everything else gets a response the next day. I answer them all at once, which is more efficient than working in dribs and drabs all day long.

I can hear the protests from here. Yes, you are so very indispensable, or your industry is so fast-paced that it would never, ever work. OK fine. But some of you can do this. And believe it or not, you can train people to expect an answer the next business day. If it really can’t wait, they can use that old-fangled thing called the phone.

Put together an ad hoc staff. One of the hard things about working for yourself is the lack of accountability. Especially as writers. Nobody’s clamoring for that article I want to pitch to a magazine (though I hope they’ll love it once I do!). So find a writing group, or a bunch of fellow entrepreneurs, or whatever you need for your situation, and set up some accountability measures. I’ve got a small group of writers and we share weekly goals on Facebook. It’s just enough structure so I feel like I’m not out there all by myself.

Well, there you have it. My best wisdom (largely gleaned from others) that helps me get stuff done. What helps you? Would love to hear.

~

 photo credit: ABC-Analyse via photopin (license)

Days Like Grass

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It’s the first Ash Wednesday in 12 years that I won’t be dipping my finger into a small pot of ashes and tracing the sign of the cross on the foreheads of people I love and serve.

On the upside, I don’t have to make the call about canceling services tonight, as the threat of a snow squall looms right at evening rush hour.

Last night I brainstormed possible Lenten disciplines and came up with about fifteen different things I might try. Gee, overcompensating much?

It’s so easy to get into competitive Lentening. No spiritual Crossfit for me, though. In the next few days I will settle on a couple simple practices that draw me closer to God. For today I am pondering time and mortality.

Would you believe a clickbaity post–a listicle, no less–is part of that pondering? Thank you to my brother for posting this to Facebook, 23 Facts about Time. It’s light, but fascinating and even thought-provoking.

Things you think are eternal are not. Other things are more timeless than you might realize.

But in all things, remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

It’s one of the most important things we do in the church, to trace the truth of Psalm 103 on one another’s foreheads:

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
   they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
   and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of God is from everlasting to everlasting.

…longer than calculus, the Pyramids, or Betty White.

~

Image: a friend posted this to Facebook–I’m trying to find out the source for permission and attribution.

Would You Zap Your Brain to Live More “Sabbathly”?

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Yesterday I listened to a Radiolab podcast about trans-cranial direct current stimulation, tDCS. From the show’s description: 

Learn a new language faster than ever! Leave doubt in the dust! Be a better sniper! Could you do all that and more with just a zap to the noggin? Maybe.

In the last couple years, tDCS has been all over the news. Researchers claim that juicing the brain with just 2 milliamps (think 9-volt battery) can help with everything from learning languages, to quitting smoking, to overcoming depression. … [We] think through the consequences of a world where anyone with 20 dollars and access to Radioshack can make their own brain zapper. And finally, [we hear] about the unexpected after-effects of a day of super-charged sniper training and wonder about a world where you can order up a state of mind.

Access the entire twenty-five minute episode (called 9-Volt Nirvana) at the Radiolab website.

The show features science writer Sally Adee, who went through a sniper-training simulation, first without the benefit of tDCS, then with it (with an electrode attached to her temple and the other to her arm). The first time, she scored a paltry 15%. The second time? 100%.

Adee reported feeling relaxed, present and fully awake during the tDCS exercise. A twenty-minute training simulation seemed to take three minutes. She described her experience as one of “flow”—that state of mind in which things feel effortless, even graceful. And that feeling continued even after the tDCS was disconnected. (Others on the program cast doubt on this—the effects are usually short-lived, and there could have been a placebo effect.)

Many folks are interested in tDCS because of the potential for learning skills more easily. I’m more interested in the state of mind stuff. I talk a lot about flow in my Sabbath workshops, because that’s what living Sabbathly is all about. Jesus was a master of flow—the stories we have of him show a man who moved fluidly in time and space, who seemed to know what each moment required, whether it was contact with the crowd, healing someone in need, enjoying food and drink, or rest.

So I listened to the Radiolab episode with great interest, and great ambivalence. For me, living Sabbathly is a lifelong endeavor. I get it wrong all the time. Is it a cheat to zap our brains into a more balanced or receptive state? And if we do think it’s a cheat, how is that different from a person who takes anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications?

One might respond, “Well, those medications are for diagnosable mental illnesses.” Fair enough. Then how is tDCS different than aromatherapy, or massage? How are those things not “cheats”? (For the record, I think there is a difference between tDCS and massage. But what is it, exactly?)

It should be said (and was said in the podcast) that tDCS is waaaaaay in its infancy in terms of scientific study. People are experimenting on themselves with DIY kits and YouTube instructional videos. I’m not anywhere close to jumping on this bandwagon. But if we could live more Sabbathly with $20 of spare parts? Would we want to? What would be gained and lost?

~

Image is from an Intro to tDCS website.

~

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The City That Disappeared

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“Many years ago, on this very spot, there was a beautiful city of fine houses and inviting spaces, and no one who lived here was ever in a hurry.  The streets were full of wonderful things to see and the people would often stop to look at them.”

“Didn’t they have any place to go?” asked Milo.

“To be sure,” continued Alec; “but, as you know, the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.  Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly.  Soon everyone was doing it.  They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.

“No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster; and at last a very strange thing began to happen.  Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear.  Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible.  There was nothing to see at all.

“They went right on living here just as they’d always done, in the houses they could no longer see and on the streets which had vanished, because nobody had noticed a thing.  And that’s the way they have lived to this very day.”

“Hasn’t anyone told them?” asked Milo.

“It doesn’t do any good,” Alec replied, “for they can never see what they’re in too much of a hurry to look for.”

The Phantom Tollbooth, pp. 117-18

~

photo credit: Éole via photopin cc

What Time Is It? The Six Year Old Knows.

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The final Advent reflection, sent this morning to my email list. If you’d like to subscribe and haven’t, click here. Blessings of the Season to you…

I love so-called “Freudian slips”—those mistakes in speech that often uncover an unexpected meaning or layer of humor. But I’m not sure I want to give Sigmund Freud the credit—rather, these flubs often seem the work of that holy trickster, the Spirit of God.

One of my favorites happened several years ago at a church conference. During a prayer before communion, the speaker meant to say “love is stronger than death.” Instead, whether because of a typo in the script or an error on her part, she said, “love is stranger than death.”

And I thought, Yes. That’s the heart of the Christian story, isn’t it? Love does not follow the rules as we understand them. Love has its own illogical logic, that of grace and new life. It’s truly strange, is it not, that the God who created nebulas and quarks and manatees and sequoias decided to pour into the flesh of a human being, live for a time, die without putting up a fight… and then three days later, that person’s heart starts beating again, neurons begin firing, breath pumps in and out of resurrected lungs. It makes no sense. It is strange.

And it’s here at Christmas that that strange love has its beginning—with an unmarried peasant girl, a confused fiance, a birth in a cave, and a bunch of simple shepherds, mouths gaping open at the holy surprise of the thing.

God became a human being. Amazing.
And that’s the story we participate in this Christmas.

Today James gave me another slip of the Holy Spirit. For some reason, we were talking about what time it was, and he said, It’s heaven o’clock.

Whether he meant to say seven, or eleven, or was simply making a rhyming joke by saying “heaven,” I’ll never know, because he saw my absolute delight at the phrase and repeated it again and again. That’s what time it is, in this season of Advent expectation, as the hour grows close when Christ will be born in our hearts again. It’s God’s opportune moment. It’s kairos time. It’s heaven o’clock.

I told the small crowd at our Blue Christmas service last night how perplexing it is to me, that the first day of winter would also be the day that the days start getting longer. I understand it geologically. But spiritually it seems all wrong. You’d think that (here in the northern hemisphere anyway) the coldest season of the year would also be the one with the least amount of daylight. But no—all winter long, even while many of us experience colder and colder temperatures, the light is returning, bit by little bit each day. It’s a holy disconnect, but one I find tremendously hopeful. Even when we feel discouraged or spiritually cold, even when we shiver against the darkness and pull our blankets and cloaks tight around us, the light is making its slow, relentless way back into the world.

Check your watches, folks—it’s heaven o’clock. Love makes its way toward us again. Thanks be to God for that good, strange news.

I wish you all a most Merry Christmas.

~

photo credit: YlvaS via photopin cc