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.
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.
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.
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.
So much for having balance in my life. I got so behind on my work for my teaching that I had to focus exclusively on that for a while. Now, I’m starting to get a handle on it again, and can finally get back to writing. One thing that is still holding me back is procrastination. I waste a lot of time that could be used to work on my teaching or my writing. Last week, I started to work on scaling back on time-wasters and focusing on work that should take a priority. Instead of binge watching shows all week-end, I focused on working for a couple of hours each day. I didn’t work all day on both Saturday and Sunday, but I worked enough so I could maintain the progress on my work last week. I vowed that this week I would get back to writing again.
Over the week-end I received an advanced copy of a book on writing from Martin Meadows, Self-Discipline for Writers. I will be posting a review later this week. In his book, he suggested several time-management tools. One method is called Pomodoro. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. The man who devised the Pomodoro method uses the word pomodoro for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he uses to time himself. The Pomodoro Method is structured in 25 minute increments. You set a timer and work for 25 minutes on a task. Then, you take a short five-minute break. When I read about this method, I thought to myself: I can do anything for 25 minutes. I downloaded a free Pomodoro app and gave it a try this morning. Using the Pomodoro timer, I worked for 50 minutes on revising my novel, and now I’m writing my blog post. It’s only 11:00 in the morning! I haven’t been starting to work until afternoon in previous weeks! (Procrastination again).
Another piece of advice Meadows shares in his book is to focus on one project at a time. I tried to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this April, but instead of focusing on my novel revision project, I started a new one. I didn’t really make any headway on either project. I’m going to shelve the romance novel I was planning for a while and focus on finishing this first novel.
The past couple of weeks have been hard. We are surviving on one part-time salary. I’ve tried applying for teaching jobs and writing jobs, but have not had any success. I decided to begin treating my writing like a business, another piece of advice from Meadows. I am going to write every day until my novel is finished and then I’m going to focus on self-publishing it and earning some money. While I know I’m not going to get rich, I think I can create a supplemental income if I’m willing to work at it.
It seems like I’m always starting over on my goals, but that’s the point of my blog, Beginning Again. I need to remember that even when I slip up, I can always start anew.