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I took a hiatus from my 75 Day Writing Challenge. I made it eight straight days without missing any of the tasks I had set for myself. I wrote every day for 30 minutes. I read a book on writing for 30 minutes. I wrote my blog post, and I read another 30 minutes. Then, Day 9 hit. On Day 9, I had my last formal observation for the year. I spent three hours that morning preparing. By the time my lunch break rolled around, I was spent. As I started to reach for my notebook and journal, my brain rebelled. It just wanted to rest. I thought to myself, What’s the harm in taking a lunch break? I’ll do my writing routine tonight when I get home. When I got home, however, my son needed help with his homework, and, by the time I could sit down to write, it was already after 8:00. I was exhausted, so I thought to myself, What’s the harm in taking an evening off?

Here I am after my 21-day break. I think to myself, What do I do now? Do I give up and just quit? Do I start my challenge again? Do I have to start over at Day 1? What are the rules for this? A soft voice replied, You make the rules. Do whatever the hell you want. So that’s what I am going to do. I decided that five tasks every day maybe too much while I am teaching full time. Yesterday, I sat down and wrote for 30 minutes and then read my book on writing for 30 minutes. I read a novel for another 30 minutes. Today, I am using my lunch break to write this post. Tonight, I will try to write for 30 minutes or read a few more chapters of the novel I am revising, but I also need to help my son build a cross-staff. That may take some time. I’ve decided that yesterday was Day 9 and today is Day 10. It’s my challenge and I don’t want to deny what I did accomplish by starting over. In fact, my little hiatus did me some good. I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to take the novel I’m writing and the hiatus gave me some time to mull it over. I now have a direction that I think is better for my story than the original idea. So, I am not starting over but merely beginning again. Here’s to Day 12.

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Eight days and counting. I’m continuing to focus on my 75 Day Writing Challenge. I get a little antsy, though, because there is so much I want to do. In addition to becoming a writer, I want to make art as a regular part of my life. I want to clean and organize my house. And there is the ever-present issue of my health and weight. I know that if I try to work on all of this at once, I won’t have the focus to complete anything.

This 75 Day Writing Challenge is going so well. I thought that when I finish it, I will start a new challenge. I think my next challenge could be a 75 Day Health and Wellness challenge. I still don’t want to do 75 Hard, but I could choose five tasks that fit with my personal goals and fitness level. After that I could do some sort of arts and craft challenge and maybe a home organizing challenge.

I am hoping that completing these challenges will help me to build in the habits I want to establish in my life slowly. At the end of six months or however long it takes me, I will have a more balanced and productive life. When I get tired or discouraged, I remind myself that the time is going to pass anyway whether I’m working on the challenge or not. By the end of the 75 days, at least I will have something to show for my effort.

Today, I completed these tasks…

  1. Wrote for 30 minutes
  2. Read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes
  3. Read The Scottish Prisoner
  4. Read and took revision notes on Sins of the Father
  5. Wrote this blog post
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A couple of days ago, I asked myself, “Will I ever be published?” The answer was a resounding NO! Because I’m not writing–at all. I have a lot of excuses for why I don’t write. I have too much work to do. I’m too tired. I don’t feel like it. But, until I stop finding excuses to avoid writing, I will never publish anything.

A few weeks ago, I heard about a challenge, called 75 Hard. In this challenge, you do five things every day. You follow a meal plan. You work out for 45 minutes twice a day. You drink a gallon of water. You take a five-minute cold shower. You take progress pictures every day. This challenge is not your typical fitness challenge, but is purported to increase mental toughness. For some reason, I keep thinking about this challenge. It’s definitely not a challenge I would undertake. I am not going to drink a gallon of water a day or take a cold shower, but I like the idea of sticking with something for 75 days and keeping track of my progress. What would happen if I stuck with something for 75 days? How much progress would I make?

I have decided to launch my own 75 day challenge. My goal is to write every day for 75 days, without missing a day. Following the 75 Hard tradition, I am going to complete the following tasks every day:

  1. Write for 30 minutes every day
  2. Publish my progress in a blog post every day
  3. Read a book about writing for 30 minutes every day
  4. Make five revisions to my completed novel every day
  5. Read a mentor text for 30 minutes every day

As I review the five things I am committing to completing every day, I realize this challenge is going to be hard, but that’s the point of the 75 Hard challenge. While my tasks aren’t physical, they represent a tremendous mental workout. Wish me luck! I’m counting this as my Day 1.

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Since the lockdown began in March, I’ve become obsessed with planners. I’ve purchased four or five different planners hoping to find the one planner that would finally motivate me to achieve my goals and get my life on track. My most recent purchase is called “The Perfect Notebook.” It is customizable and streamlined. Surely, a perfect notebook would be the key to ending my procrastination. When the perfect notebook arrived, it sat in its envelope for three weeks until I finally opened it. Then, it sat on the coffee table until it grew dusty. I decided that I needed stickers to decorate it, so I ordered a bunch of stickers. Then, the notebook and the stickers sat on my coffee table until they grew dusty.

Then, last week, I learned that I was exposed to Covid. That same day, my mother fell and broke her hip. Just like that life changed. I thought to myself, What am I waiting for? I want to write, but I use a lot of excuses to avoid it. I have too much to do with my new teaching job; I have to help my son with his homework; I’m tired and it’s easier to sit on the couch and play video games then to write at the end of a long day. Life is passing me by in a blur of excuses.

I finally dusted off the perfect notebook and the stickers that I purchased. I set up the customizable notebook and began to map my goals. I realized that it doesn’t matter what planner I use: a $100 planner imported from Great Britain, a dot journal that I create myself, or The Perfect Notebook. The only thing that matters is me.

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Routine Meister

For the past two weeks since my summer school classes started, I have vowed that I would write every day. I found a new app called Routine Meister that helps you arrange the tasks for the day and develop a timeline. It has been helpful in reminding me what I need to do each day and helping me to focus on each task.

What it hasn’t helped me with is balancing all the areas of my life. Every morning, I enter all the tasks I need to complete for my teaching, writing, and other areas. By the time I am finished, I have a 14-hour day ahead of me. Once, I am finished setting up my tasks, I start my day. Inevitably, around my sixth or seventh teaching task, I run out of time and energy. Every day, my writing routine gets transferred to the next day. Every day, I get up and start the whole process again. After two weeks of this, I finally decided that I need to take control of the tasks, rather than having them control me.

Yesterday, I took out my expensive planner imported from Great Britain and began to plan my week. I realized I can’t possibly complete every task I set for myself every day. I need to prioritize. I decided to make a schedule. Certain tasks have to be completed at the beginning of the week, like attendance and grading. On Monday and Wednesdays, I have two Zoom classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I have to make time to do my lesson plans for next week, so I’m not working until midnight on Sunday night. I’d also like to do my nails on Sunday, instead of work! Instead of trying to squeeze everything into each day of the week, I divided up all the tasks I have to complete and scheduled a few for each day of the week. I did the same thing for writing and also scheduled some time for self-care. I want to learn to play the keyboard and have yet to unwrap the keyboard I got a month ago. I also want to pursue some art projects I started months (possibly years) ago.

Once I made my schedule for the week, I made a schedule for today. I wrote only those things I’d decided I was going to do today. I also gave myself permission to not finish everything on my list. When the time I’d allotted for teaching was up, I moved onto the next item on my schedule. Today, after two weeks, I was finally able to write 1400 words on my latest novel and create a post on my blog.

I think the most important thing I need to remember is that it’s okay not to finish everything on my list as long as I’m making progress. I can’t find balance in my life if I continue to work the way I have been working in a rigid routine. I need to start being more flexible and forgive myself for not being perfect. I need to continue striving for balance in my life, and when I fall, remember to get up and begin again.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

As I look toward the future and my new job, I need to remember to let go of the past. My last teaching job didn’t end very well, and I need to make sure that I don’t allow that experience to color my new experience. My last school was a very toxic place, and it affected everyone who worked there. The effect lasted even after I left. For months, I had nightmares about that place. Gradually the nightmares faded, but they would return whenever I had lunch with one of my friends who worked there with me. Just talking to her about teaching was enough to trigger the nightmares. Slowly, those nightmares faded as well.

I knew I was truly over that job the last time my friend and I had lunch. She was talking to me about all the changes the school district was making. As I listened to her talk about the new curriculum, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders, and I’m not being figurative here. I literally felt something leave me, and I felt lighter than I had in months. As we talked about her new school, I realized that leaving that district was the best thing that could have happened to me. Instead of hating my former principal, I actually thanked her for getting rid of me. I was so bitter for so long, it felt good to release the anger and to know I was in the right place of my life.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know if I will like my new school, but I realized that my attitude will determine my experience. If I go into the position expecting the best, I will likely receive the best.

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Three years ago today I started my blog on WordPress. It was the same year I lost my job at the middle school where I worked. After a fruitless job search that spring, I turned to writing. Focused on my teaching, I had pretty much given up writing. I thought about writing a lot and had ideas for novels, but I never followed through. I thought that if I couldn’t be a teacher, maybe it was time to focus on my writing. Since then, I have continued to work on making writing a regular part of my life. I found part-time teaching jobs at two local community colleges. At times, I became so busy that I again gave up my writing, but I have returned to it again and again.

This year, I gave up the search for a full-time teaching job. I let all my applications at the school districts in my area expire. I quit looking at the job postings. I had even decided I would no longer search for a full-time teaching job at the college where I worked. I had applied there several times and never gotten an interview. The last time, I applied I received an email from my department chair expressing his sympathy for me not getting an interview for the latest position that came open. He offered to give me feedback that would make me more likely to be hired at the college. I didn’t take him up on his offer. I work hard for the college. I’ve gone to countless professional development meetings and taken part in academic cohorts and equity training. My grading is up-to-date and my students always say how much they like the way I teach my classes. I’m not sure what else I could do to increase my “hireability.”

Then, last week, out of the blue, I got an email from a school I interviewed with last year. They said they had another opening and they were so impressed with me they wanted me to be part of the candidate pool for their current opening. I thought to myself, if they were so impressed with me why didn’t I get the job last year? I sent my resume and transcripts to the human resources person. The next day, they emailed me for an interview. We interviewed over the internet last Tuesday. I was worried that my interview was impacted, because my virus protection blocked my camera from working and they couldn’t see my face. I thought the interview went well despite my technological gaffe. On Friday, I checked my email. They had said they would give me an update about the hiring process by the end of the week. I was going through my email, thinking to myself, Just as I expected, no email. I kept scrolling. In Thursday’s email, I saw it–Offer letter from CEC Parker. I couldn’t believe it. I had gotten the job.

After three long years of scraping by on part-time wages, I will finally have a full-time job. I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but I missed being in the same school every day where I was a full part of the staff, not just a part-time employee. I don’t miss my last school, but I missed being a full-time teacher. While I am looking forward to being a full-time teacher again, I don’t want to give up writing. I want to make both parts of my life blend together. The last couple of weeks, I’ve really worked on making time for my writing, and I have found that I can write and teach at the same time.

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I like this picture, because it reminds me of the most important part in accomplishing any goal-beginning. One of my constant struggles is procrastination. I have a task that I have to do that is difficult and daunting. The more I think about it the more difficult and daunting it seems to become. If I just force myself to begin, then the task becomes more doable.

Tonight, I sat here contemplating the white screen with the blinking cursor. I had no idea what I wanted to say. The cursor continued to blink at me, daring me to make a move, to begin writing. That’s the hardest part of writing for me–finding an idea. I know I want to post in my blog regularly, but what do I write about? What do I want to say? What is the brand I want to develop for my blog? This is what I struggle with, but I know I need to decide on a focus for my blog, so I can keep posting.

I have established three goals for my blog:

By May 30, I will develop a 90-day editorial calendar.

By May 15, I will develop a new weekly feature that I will publish every week until the end of the year.

By May 30, I will assess my theme and develop a focus for my blog.

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To stay on track while working from home, I have been following the “eat a frog” approach to task management. The “eat a frog” approach is a method for curing procrastination. Procrastination I feel is the biggest challenge I face to my success. The “eat a frog” approach advocates completing your least favorite task first, so that you have the rest of the day to work without worrying about the onerous task. With this approach, I decided I should do my teaching tasks first, then work on my dissertation, and then my writing. Of course, if I am being truthful, my most onerous task right now is my dissertation. I should probably work on that first every day and then get on with things. I’ve noticed a pattern, however with this method of task management. As the week progresses, I lose my motivation and momentum. By the time, I’m finished working on my teaching duties and my dissertation, I don’t have a lot of energy or creativity left for writing. Then, writing becomes the one thing I procrastinate. Writing is the one thing I want to do in my life and it is always last on my to do list. By the end of the week, I am cranky and sapped of energy. I end up avoiding everything and sitting on the couch playing video games all day. While the members of my guild love my dedication to the game during guild challenges, it doesn’t really help me achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.

Prioritize your big rocks.

While reading 52 Small Changes for the Mind, I was reminded of another analogy for time management. In this analogy, important and less important tasks are compared to rocks and sand. The rocks are the important tasks that you need to complete and the sand is the minor tasks. The jar represents the time you have on any given day. If you prioritize the less important tasks and complete them first, you end up running out of time for the important tasks. If, however, you focus on the big rocks first, you can fill in the gaps of time in the jar with the sand and smaller rocks. Using this analogy, I decided that I have three big rocks: my writing, my teaching, and my dissertation. My smaller rocks and sand are all the other less important tasks, like checking my email, making phone calls, and chores. I thought to myself, as long as I put all the big rocks in the jar every day, what does it matter what order I do them in? So, this week, I am trying an experiment. I am writing first and then working on my teaching tasks and dissertation. While proponents of the “eating the frog” approach say doing an enjoyable task first will lead to procrastination, I disagree. By writing first, I am honoring my commitment to becoming a writer. When I write, I lose all sense of time and place. Why would I deny myself this pleasure merely because it’s enjoyable? In the long run, I think I will have more success fulfilling my other obligations, because I will no longer be denying myself the one thing I love to do.

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I have been following a diet plan called Noom for the passed 14 weeks. On Saturday, I posted to my support group about my committing again to the program. I berated myself for straying from the program yet again and having to commit myself again, but then I stopped myself. I have made a lot of progress on the program. I have given up a lot of junk food and am making better choices. I have lost 16 pounds so far. Why should I be mad at myself?

I always get mad at myself for failing to follow a program like Noom perfectly. I also get mad at myself for having to restart my writing routine. This weekend, however, I realized that I haven’t given up like I usually do. I continue to re-commit myself to my health and to my writing. One of my friends told me a while ago that she was really impressed by how much I had accomplished with my blog and how I was inspiring her to write. She said this at a time when I was feeling bad that I had quit writing my blog. Again, I had overlooked what I had already accomplished. I was mad at myself for letting my writing slip, but here I am, again, starting to write.

Whenever I think about changing the theme of my blog, “Beginning Again,” I realize that we are always making new beginnings. No one is going to pursue any activity perfectly, never missing a day. The important thing is that we keep coming back to our important pursuits–that we don’t give up. We keep trying.