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Seeking Balance: Technology, Please?

rocksIt’s been a while since my last balance post. Yes, life has been busy, and yes, posting has fallen off the list of most important to-do’s. I’m not big on excuses so I probably wouldn’t even mention it. However, my delay is an excellent case in point. It’s essential to know what’s important when seeking balance. Wise advisors suggest that one shouldn’t start a blog if they don’t mean to keep it up on a very regular basis. Same with Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and various other social networks. I disagree.

I’d much rather have an irregular interesting post from one of my creative friends than not ever see a post from them. But creatives NEED their offline space and time. They can’t commit to constant online chatter. If we’re being honest, we know it’s nearly impossible to predict when a creative storm is coming on and we’ll need to disengage to hole up in our art spaces and imagine. Would any of us really want our creative friends to feel they should stop in the midst of that most-fabulous flow to post on their blog?? No, of course not. We don’t care that they’ve made a basic commitment to post on Tuesdays. We’re not watching our inboxes to see when they’ll post and fuming about this lack of responsibility on the part of these artists. We just check back later. And would we want them to take down their blog and never post again because it’s impossible for them to keep their implied commitment? No.

The current reality for artists is that we need to be online. The old ways of experiencing art: museums, libraries, etc, are all still around, but there are thousands of new ways, too. Part of being an artist is participating in the conversation. Throughout history, artists have soaked up what’s current and experimented with new mediums in order to innovate. For those reasons and others, most of us want to be online in one way or another. We like hearing about our friends’ successes and sharing an insight here and there. We enjoy having new ways to connect with our audience. We like the inspiration and creativity that comes with all the access we have to our friends, to information, to inspiration. What we don’t want is the guilt.

Guilt is one of the key reasons most creatives feel unbalanced. We carry it around with us and let it fill up all the mental space we need for creativity, thinking about all the things we SHOULD be doing. Guilt makes it impossible to work with a clear mind. Since there are programmers creating apps and social networks and thousands of avenues through which to connect and reach out and share our friends’ successes and put good ideas out into the world, not being able to do it all is a fact, plain and simple. Thus, guilt is the default.

I say, let technology work for you on YOUR schedule. Participate in the conversation when you can, and when you need space, trust your artist friends to pick up where you left off. Believe in the power of community. We’ll help you, and we’ll forgive you, and we’ll come back later. Diving into your creative cave is nothing to feel guilty about. We’ll return, we promise, when you’re ready for us.

All right. Manifesto complete. Now, on the topic of technology… It should work FOR you. In order to keep your life balanced, particularly with so much to juggle, some technological systems are likely to help you keep your life in order. Here are some programs that I like best.

Daylite: This Mac software is one of the most amazing I’ve ever used. The program allows me to organize my projects, appointments, contacts and to-do’s all in one database. Between tagging and linking, one can create a network of connections so that I can see all the emails that have to do with a particular project, all the people involved, all the emails from a particular person, all the tasks that have to be done on email, and more. Using Daylite, I’ve been able to keep my work out of my inbox, and when I do have snatches of time to do work, I can easily order my tasks and get them done rather than spend all my time trying to find them.

Evernote: I use Evernote as my virtual filing cabinet. I scan mail into it, notes from events, use it to collect PDF’s and online research and more. I also use the business feature to connect with my team and make even better use of any of our research time. When I need to find a document or note, I no longer have to search through stacks of paper, but can just search Evernote to find that one thing I thought I found that one time. As long as I know a word that is in the document, Evernote can find it. It’s a fabulously powerful tool.

Journal: I keep a journal with me at all times and keep all meeting notes, journal entries, quick notes and thoughts on paper. I know, it’s not technology, but I tried note-taking on my iPad with all kinds of apps until I realized the apps weren’t the problem. I missed the feel of pen on paper. My brain needs that physical connection. Sometimes simple is better, and you have to go with what works for you.

Also, on the journaling/note-taking front: I’ve been experimenting with info-doodling, so the journal is fun to look at, with images and words all mixed together. I can make more sense of what I wrote at a glance, rather than having to wade through words and more words trying to find that one note. One excellent resource to explore info-doodling is the book, The Doodle Revolution, by Sunni Brown.

Habit List: Habit List is an app that helps create a daily to-do list and keep you up to date on the things you want to do more regularly. I use it to keep track of the social media things I’d like to do daily, every other day, weekly and monthly. Having reminders in this list allows me to know what to do when I have those few moments to get online and be social, to help me make the most of the time I spend.

Yearly Calendar: Also, not technology. I have this paper year-at-a-glance calendar on my desk so I can see what to expect in upcoming months, and also so I can keep track of ongoing and changing goals. Here’s a link for a PDF, if you want one too. Blank Yearly Calendar

I’ll share more tools in upcoming posts, but these are some with which to start. I find that too many tools too quickly is worse than no tools at all. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What tools help you maintain balance? What are your thoughts on how artists can revise their relationship with technology and social media to erase guilt and allow creative fresh air?

photo credit: Viewminder via photopin cc
 

A New Sadie Video!

An Interview with Holly Schindler: Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

I’m thrilled to feature Holly Schindler, author of The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, as part of her book launch tour!

Holly_Schindler_SML Junction1.1

Drumroll, please… and now from Holly:

Nothing is more satisfying, as an author, than sending your finished book out into the world.  I’m especially excited to send my girl Auggie (the main character of my debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY) out for readers to meet.  She may very well be my favorite of all my main characters.  I could go on for hours describing who she is, or I could just let you meet her yourself, through a couple of vlogs that contain passages from the book!

First, a few excerpts:

Second, a video on Auggie’s voice and the use of simile / metaphor in the book.

Additional Info / Links (Includes a Giveaway!):

About The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky:

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” meets Because of Winn Dixie in this inspiring story of hope.

 Auggie Jones lives with her grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” But Auggie is determined to prove that there’s more to her—and to her house—than meets the eye.

What starts out as a home renovation project quickly becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time.

Holly Schindler’s feel-good story about the power one voice can have will inspire readers to speak from their hearts.

Reviews:

“…a heartwarming and uplifting story…[that] shines…with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Axioms like ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ and ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ come gracefully to life in Schindler’s tale about the value of hard work and the power of community…Auggie’s enthusiasm and unbridled creativity are infectious, and likeminded readers will envy her creative partnership with [her grandfather] Gus.” – Publishers Weekly

“Determined to save her home, Auggie [uses] pottery shards, vivid glass, and metal sculptures [to] transform the house’s exterior into a vibrant expression of the love within its walls. In Auggie, Schindler creates a spunky, sympathetic character young readers will engage with and enjoy.” – The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Book Studies

Links:

Twitter: @holly_schindler
Facebook: facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor
Author site: hollyschindler.com

Site for young readers:

Holly Schindler’s Middles – hollyschindlermiddles.weebly.com. I’m especially excited about this site. I adored getting to interact with the YA readership online—usually through Twitter or FB. But I had to create a site where I could interact with the MG readership. I’m devoting a page on the site to reviews from young readers themselves! Be sure to send your young reader’s review through the Contact Me page.

Group Author Blogs:

YA Outside the Lines (yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com) for YA authors and Smack Dab in the Middle (smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com) for MG authors.
THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY Trailer:

Don’t miss the Giveaway, running Feb. 13-20:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Buy The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky on Amazon

The next stop on the tour is: The Hiding Spot  Visit on Feb. 19, 2014!

Fascinating…

Artists often struggle with marketing. There are many reasons (and excuses) that we all give, but the fact of the matter is that if we don’t get better at marketing, no one will know we’re creating anything. Artists need audiences for many reasons. The deepest, most important one, I think, is that art is made for an audience. Books and paintings and songs and culinary creations, at best, are conversations. Artists start to feel isolated and lose perspective on what they create if they don’t have anyone with whom to share.

Of course, the other issue is that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. If we need to eat and sleep and make a living, making art ends up in the nooks and crannies of our lives. If we can earn at least part of our living from our creative efforts, then we have more time and energy to give to those efforts. Thus, learning to market is a key part of the life on an artist, be it painful for us or no.

There’s a lot of noise out there in the world about getting online, about shouting your message to the world, over and over, anywhere people are listening. I’d rather approach marketing as a way to share my passion with the world, in my own unique way. I’m an artist, after all.

One tool I’ve found very helpful in gaining perspective on how to think about my marketing is the intriguing research Sally Hogshead has done on Fascination. On her site, one can take a test to learn about what unique triggers we unconsciously use to influence and lead others. Understanding those strengths can make creating a marketing plan a comprehensible task. You’re not doing what everyone else would do. You’re doing what YOU do. Also, Sally’s test will help you see what you may be unconsciously doing that is undermining your message.

Once you know your strengths, the next step is figuring out what the core message you have to share is. Not the product you’re trying to sell today, but the underlying contagious idea that you’re passionate about sharing. You have one, you must, if you’re an artist. Another post on that topic soon.

For now, though, I recommend checking out Sally’s site and taking the test. There’s a small fee involved, but it’s worth the cost in self-revelation.

Guest Interview with Erin Dealey

Deck-the-Walls-cover-by-Erin-Dealey-218x300Check out Erin’s fabulous series on “What to Expect When You’re Expecting… A Book!” She’s featuring me and series writer, Chad Morris, author of the fantasy/adventure series, Cragbridge Hall (Shadow Mountain), in part six of her series.

Also, a big hurrah to Erin Dealey, herself, whose book, Deck the Walls (Sleeping Bear Press), will be releasing on Sept. 20.

Blog Hoppin’ Around

A huge thank you to Marsha Qualey, one of my Hamline Creative Writing MFA faculty, for inviting me to this blog hop! I enjoyed thinking about these four questions and the opportunity to peek inside the writing process of my author-friends. And speaking of author-friends, don’t miss the three talented authors I’ve featured at the end of this post!

And without further ado, a little Q and A…

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: I’ve just dipped my toes into the water of writing a new novel which is so new that it doesn’t even have a working title yet. I’m revisiting characters from a work I recently completed titled Reflecting Hours. I’m in the stage of writing where I’m not even trying to write scenes in sequential order yet, instead simply accumulating scenes in order to hear the voice of the story. Soon, very soon, I need to take the plunge and dive into the deep water of the book, but for now, I’m giving the creative process space and giving myself room to play. It’s an interesting creative tension, the drive to finish a book and the need to enjoy the journey. One important lesson I learned through the process of writing and publishing the four-book From Sadie’s Sketchbook series is that to be a working author, one needs to take joy in every stage of creation, not just in the moment when one holds a finished book in one’s hands. Those moments do come, but the reality of being an author is that when you finish a book, the process starts over again. The beginnings of a book whispers to you, and you start to scribble it down on whatever paper you can find, until after weeks and possibly months, you have a draft to revise and polish and reshape. One of the most essential tasks of being an author is finding one’s rhythm, and I feel like even more than working on a book right now, I’m working on that even more important task of shaping my life as an author. Im working on finding a workable pace that will allow me to grow and develop with the writing of each new book, while still finishing the process in a reasonable amount of time.

Q: How does it differ from other books in the genre?

A: Reflecting Hours and it’s untitled sequel are what I’m calling “Chem-Punk.” Similar to Steam Punk, the books are set in an alternate reality where science has progressed differently than it has in our world. However instead of relying on steam power, the world of Reflecting Hours is built on advances made through chemical technology with deep roots in alchemy. The line between technology and magic has always been thin, being that one generation’s magic is another generation’s invention. Such is the case in these books. Magic clashes against science and Elixia, who has magical abilities she doesn’t fully understand, is faced with impossible decisions that have no simple answers.

Q: Why do you write what you do?

A: When I first started writing, I thought I’d only ever write fantasy. My writing heroes are Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis, and my bookshelves are stuffed with Cornelia Funke, Anne Ursu, Edward Eager, and Susan Cooper. However, I also have a full set of the Anne of Green Gables books, and many other books that explore the magic in real life by authors such as Sharon Creech, Shannon Hale, Kate DiCamillo, and E. L. Konigsburg. What I discovered as I learned the craft of being a writer, is that what I really want to do is explore the space between real and magic, those thin places where we ask, “Is it possible that…?” For me, life is fuller, deeper, more adventurous, when the answer to that question is, “Maybe so.”

Q: What is the hardest part about writing?

A: For me, the hardest part about writing is the hardest part about being an artist, or maybe even about being human. It seems like my whole life has conspired to slam me up against the truth: you can’t grow unless you’re willing to fail. Actually, you don’t only have to be willing; you have to truly fail sometimes, too. You don’t aim to fail, of course, but you take risks that put you in a position where you aren’t sure you can succeed. Sometimes you succeed at the new challenge and you grow at a steady, predictable pace. But sometimes you fail, and how you handle the failure is the crucible for exponential growth. For a person like me, a down-to-the-bones perfectionist, even the possibility of failure (particularly public failure) brings with it heart-thumping terror of a kind that should be reserved for giant spiders, tight enclosed spaces and things that go bump in the night. When we write, we put our hearts on the page with as much skill as we can. Despite our efforts, sometimes we don’t communicate what we’d hoped to say. Other times, we say exactly what we meant, and we rile others up. Sometimes the story that we see is on a far-away vista that our current skill can’t help us to reach. Most failures are much smaller, though, the daily moments when I read the words I wrote yesterday and I have to admit: I can do better. These private, small moments are the ones in which I build the muscles I need to become the kind of writer (and person) I long to be. I want to be a person who looks at my efforts and says, “I did my best yesterday, and now, today, I’m going to do even better. It’s okay that I’m not perfect the first or fourth or twentieth time. I’m growing and learning and becoming who I’m meant to be.” This kind of thing is much easier to say than to do, and I’d never want to become the kind of person who gave in to being adequate. It’s not that we shouldn’t dream big or aim high. We should. And because we do dream big and aim  high, we won’t always get it right the first time. The important thing is what we do when we see that we’ve fallen short. Will we get up and try again? Getting up, trying again, that’s the hardest part of writing for me.

And now, drumroll please… here are those three amazing authors I was telling you about. All of these lovely ladies are celebrating upcoming book releases!

First, Erin Dealey, whose book, DECK THE WALLS, A WACKY CHRISTMAS CAROL is coming out this September. This picture book is for the whole family and celebrates the joy of family and tradition and fun.

Second, Sue Fliess, whose picture book ROBOTS, ROBOTS EVERYWHERE (can you guess what it’s about??) has just hit the shelves.

Third, Holly Schindler, whose THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY for middle grade readers is scheduled to launch in February 2014.

I hope you’ll visit their blogs and check out their books! And if you’d like, I’d love to hear from you about what the hardest part of writing is for you. Share away, below.

Seeking Balance: Projects and Habits

organizeSo, have you come up with your areas of focus?

If you’re anything like me, once you have these shiny new buckets, you want to put the system in motion, feel as though some new breakthrough is happening. You need to SEE movement, growth, or evidence of this new-formed balance.

This post is going to be very practical. Before I go into specifics, though, I want to point out that research shows new habits take thirty consecutive days to form. Not thirty days helter-skelter. Thirty days in a row. So, if you really want to create a new thinking habit in which you stop berating yourself for all you’re not doing and you start celebrating the very interesting balance of the many factors in your life, you’re going to have to commit to it and stick to it for at least a month. When those pesky, “ACK, look at all I’m not doing” voices begin clamoring, you’ll have to assure them that you’re in process, you’re doing things one at a time, and that ultimately, balance is the measure of success, not the amount of tasks done.

I bet you’re nodding your head, saying, “Yep. I’m going to do this.” Unfortunately, nodding your head isn’t enough. You’ll forget that head nod when the going gets rough. You’re going to have to write an agreement with yourself. Here’s what should be on your agreement:

1. What are your areas of focus?

2. How will you know if you’re tapping into each? Will you journal at the end of each day, or do a mental check in before you fall asleep? Will you blog about your journey?

3. What will you do when you lose focus or balance? How will you move yourself back onto the course you’ve set?

4. How will you feel in 30 days after you’ve stuck to this commitment and given yourself daily acknowledgement for your successes?

Put this agreement somewhere that you can access easily, and look at it each day for your 30 days. The reminder will keep you on track, especially when things go awry.

Okay, now that you have your commitment, you need a more specific plan.

You’ll probably want to look back over your list of to-do’s that you used to figure out your areas of focus. I bet a lot of things on your list are parts of larger projects. Some may not be able to be done until others are done. See if you can make the list more manageable by naming the projects and listing any to-do’s you’re currently thinking of under those projects.

For instance: Write the Novel will likely have tasks involved, such as do a character interview, make a pinterest board to explore my setting, write chapter one, etc. SIDENOTE: Do not get caught up here trying to detail all the tasks you can possibly think of that go with this project. The point here is to make sure that anything that’s on your mind now, clogging up your mental space, is written down and in it’s proper place.

Once you’ve sorted projects, you’ll have remaining tasks. Some of them are just miscellaneous one-off things. For now, you can ignore these. Others are important things you want to try to do on a regular basis. I call these habits. For me, some examples are: run, write, sketch, choose a new book, plan meals, email friends to check in, etc. These are the things that aren’t on my t0-do list, and consequently, the parts of my life that suffer when I’m busy. Also, notice that they are the things that are most likely to help me stay healthy, creative, calm and connected. It’s no good to cram all of these into a day and then ignore them for another two months.

For each of your areas of focus, you should have at least one habit, and you’ll probably also have projects.

Use colored markers or pencils or a fancy program to categorize these. In a future post, I’ll share some of the techie tools I use to manage these kinds of lists, but for now, the important thing is seeing your life on a macro level.

Here’s what I want you to do. Focus for the next week on the habits. Make sure you get to each of them at least once this week. We’re all used to completing tasks and taking care of our to-do’s, and most likely you’ll get around to the projects on which you can make reasonable forward progress. But make the habits a priority. Do that, and stick to your commitment, and see how you feel after a week. I predict that your feeling of success will lead you to commit even more fully to your 30 days, and then what? Possibly a true life-transformation. A life in which you prioritize what matters to you. Worth the work? I’d say so.

photo credit: AForestFrolic via photopin cc

Seeking Balance-It’s in the Thinking

SONY DSCI want to pause before elaborating on how I use these categories in my own life.

I was asked a good question about overwhelm and how I do so many things. It’s true. I do a lot of things in my life, mostly because I wear many hats. But what we’re talking about here isn’t about doing more things. It’s about the way we think about the things we do. The brutal truth is, no matter how many experts write books on task management and how many researchers explore efficiency, no one will ever discover a magic solution that will allow one to write a chapter of a novel while also answering email, paying bills and working out. I know, it’s disappointing news. I remember my similar disappointment as a child when I finally accepted the fact that short of recording multiple tracks, I would never be able to sing harmony with myself no matter how I manipulated my vocal chords. Being human… it’s tough.

Sometimes one can order tasks differently to speed things up, but in the end, we can honestly only do one, or maybe two things at one time. (If, say, we’re listening to an audio book and running at the same time.) But wouldn’t you say that attempting to pack more into every second is the opposite of balance? For me, balance is having a steady measuring stick that reassures or challenges me. I can easily look back over my day or week and say with clarity: I’m paying attention to the things that matter. I’m not a puppet being pulled by the strings of my life. I’m taking stock, adjusting, and while I’m never going to be perfect, I’m rather proud of myself for where I am right now. And perhaps, tomorrow, I should pay more attention to that big-picture priority that I seem to be avoiding.

I believe that overwhelm also starts in the thinking. It starts when you wake up with the to-do list scrolling through your mind, and that tiny inner voice whispers, I’ll never get it all done. You’ve started your day already behind, and you race through, trying to get to everything, and when you lay back down at night, you scold and berate yourself: I didn’t get it all done! I’m a complete disaster-mess.

Here’s the truth: you’re not going to get it all done. There’s far too much interesting, exciting, important stuff to do in our lives, and we’re just not capable of experiencing or accomplishing all of it. I used to tell myself this in one breath and in the next wave it away with a: Yeah, but I’m different. I might just be able to… Maybe you’re superwoman or superman, and you’re different from all the rest of us. But unless that’s the case, every day is going to be a fail until you change the way you think.

What I wasn’t willing to do was to simply accept that I wouldn’t get it all done and let myself be buffeted by the winds of chance and my overflowing inbox. Other people shouldn’t have the power to determine what you do with your time. Other people probably don’t want to. They haven’t sat quietly and set overall life goals for you and thought about priorities and considered your whole life. They’re just trying to make it through their own. The person who needs to reflect and consider and pray and contemplate to determine what’s important is you. And once you’ve set your priorities, you can ensure you’re dealing with the important things with the frequency they require. So, that’s why you need a list of your core priorities. But please don’t think of this list as a new to-do list. Call it your priority list or your essentials list or your “what I can’t live without list.”

I’ll write more soon about how I use my list in case you want tips for what to do with such a list once you have it. Until then, peace and balance to you.

 

photo credit: Vvillamon via photopin cc

Seeking Balance:Dealing with the Mess

paper pileThe day I realized I had a serious problem, I had an uninterrupted expanse of time stretching in front of me, no meetings, no deadlines and yet at dawn my heart was already galloping out of control with the panicked feeling that I’d never get everything done. I took out my journal, spilling panic and chaos onto the page, and realized that it was time for an intervention.

You may know that I used to run my own business, Society of Young Inklings–now I’m Executive Director as we’ve become a nonprofit, but the role is similar. I also write books, create curriculum, consult with young writers and adult writers, and am now Regional Advisor for my chapter of Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators. The point is, though I do have to pay attention to responsibilities such as paying my mortgage, I don’t work for anyone else. I determine my own pace in nearly all of my roles. Thus, when I woke up, completely losing it, I had no one to blame but myself. No boss with unrealistic deadlines, no pressing publishing deadline. I realized: If I don’t do something, the rest of my life will be just like this.

Ick.

The trouble is, when you talk to friends, they suggest wisely, “Maybe you ought to slow down,” or “Just quit something.”

If you’re anything like me, sitting down and prioritizing only makes everything worse. To me, if I’ve dreamed it up, it’s a priority. I end up with a list of three hundred flagged items with no more focus or calm and all I’ve done is wasted an hour looking at my list.

On the other extreme end, if I use my inbox as my work-flow manager, I’m hopping to everyone else’s list of needs and to-do’s and what I really need is lost in the minute interruptions. Big projects, deep thinking? Forget it.

On this panicked day, I had a new idea. Instead of prioritizing, instead of looking at my to-do list, I was going to sit on the floor, take out my pens, and playfully list all the projects and ideas that were currently important to me. I tried to think about all parts of my life. Business, responsibilities to family, fun, creativity, health, chores, every single thing buzzing around in my brain. I ended up with a crazy list, with tasks such as “choose a new cable company” alongside “write a new novel.” While I wrote, I did a little color coding, whatever came easily, such as everything that had to do with health in one color, creativity in another. But I didn’t worry too much about what color something should be if it didn’t fit anywhere, really. Once I had the giant list, I looked at my list and tried to build a “dream life.” If my goal was to have strong abs, I’d need 10 minutes a day for sit-ups. I’d need some time each day for a workout, for writing, for emailing and doing day to day business, etc, etc, etc. I discovered that I needed about three days per 24 hours in order to do all that I expected from myself.

Hmmm.

This is the point after which I usually put my color-coded papers into a folder and avoid looking at them, as they are a dream I cannot achieve. But this day I did not. I refused to wake up the next day with that same horrible feeling, not when the only person causing it was ME.

So, I read over my list. And read it again. And again.

And I took out a new paper. In my dream life, I’d clearly be creative. Maybe I’d be working on that novel, or drawing, or dancing, or going to an art museum. But not all in the same moment. In my dream life, I’d also be healthy. I’d run, drink water, learn to cook healthy meals, maybe grow veggies in my own garden. Again, not all at once. In my dream life, I’d be responsible. I’d handle the busy tasks of life and get them done, out of my space and move on to what I cared most about. People would know they could count on me when I committed to get things done for them. I kept going, and my list ended up with the following six categories:

1. Creativity

2. Health: Body, Mind, Spirit

3. Responsibility/Earning a Living Wage

4. Spreading the Word about What I’m Doing

5. Visioning and Big New Projects

6. Spending Time with Friends and Family, Having Fun

As I looked over the tasks on my to-do list, I realized that without any of these parts to my life, I’d be unhappy. Writing a novel only, with no time with friends, no time spent working out or being healthy, no dreaming about what was next, no money coming in, and no one knowing about the books I’d already written, would feel empty. It didn’t matter how much I loved writing. I couldn’t just write all the time. In fact, with any of these six elements missing, I’d realized I’d definitely feel out of sorts. And over time, neglecting any of these areas would cause me to lose energy, momentum, and ultimately become blocked.

So, I decided to try an experiment. Instead of evaluating my day on the QUANTITY of what I did, I’d evaluate my week on the balance of these areas. If a certain day was 80% creativity, then the next might be 80% responsibility. The only goal was having some kind of balance between the six areas over the week. Since I wanted to make my check-ins easy and appealing, I decided my list needed better names for the categories. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Creativity

2. Core

3. Commitment

4. Cultivation

5. Casting Dreams

6. Connection

At week’s end, I used a page with these categories labeled to evaluate how I was doing in these areas and if anything important was being left behind. My measure of success slowly started to shift. Sometimes, I’d have to take an unexpected trip to an art museum to make sure that I was addressing my creativity. One day, I sent an out of the blue email to someone I admired to take a first step toward my dream of helping the Inklings grow. My task list and getting things done felt more like a scavenger hunt for pieces that fit rather than an overwhelming pile that I wanted to hide behind the closet door.

Okay, this has been a long post, so I want to bring it back to you. I don’t think you should take my categories and try to run with them. I’m a visionary personality, so “casting dreams” has to be on my list. It may not be on yours. Your priorities and how you think about them (and label them) should be part of the game. I’d suggest you start from the beginning and let your list emerge from your life. I think it would be okay to have only four categories, or maybe seven, but I think seven is the very maximum. And three is probably too few.

Here’s the steps I’d suggest  (ACTIVITY):

1. Gather materials that feel playful–paper, crayons, colored pencils, colored pens, stickers, whatever appeals to you. Sit on the floor or somewhere other than where you work and make sure you can be entirely alone for at least a half hour.

2. List everything you can think of that’s important in your life. Responsibilities, dreams, projects, people: they’re all important. You can color code or be very helter-skelter. If it will help you to set a boundary, time yourself for twenty minutes.

3. Read your list. Read it again, thinking: what’s REALLY important to me here? Now, read it again, thinking about categories. What big areas do you see?

4. If you only have a half hour, now’s the time to take a break and let your thoughts germinate.

5. When you’re ready, write down your categories. Don’t try to be clever with names to start. Once you have your list, then you can start into labeling creatively.

6. Make a playful page that you can use for a review at the end of your week with your new categories. Keep in mind that things might change as you launch into this process. Maybe you’ll combine two categories. Or add a new one. Stay open, and explore. Make copies of your page, though, so it’s easy to review for a few weeks in a row.

 

And that’s it! This part is just the start, though, so come back soon for more on how to trouble-shoot when difficulty arises, and for how to take this process further.

Seeking Balance: Intro

flame in handsIt’s time for a new blog series, one I’ve been planning for quite some time.

I hear it all the time in conversations, and the same longing echoes in my own heart. I want balance. I want a joy-filled life. I want to do meaningful work, to help others, to be creative, to be healthy, to have time for friends and family, to have fun time, and on and on the list goes. I don’t want to answer every “How are you?” with “Ugh. Too busy.” I especially don’t want to answer every “How’s your writing?” with an “I just never seem to have time.”

When I work with writers, young and young at heart, I hear the same story. “I want to have time for writing, but…”

Just bypassing the creative block isn’t enough. Or maybe it’s just that it’s not the start. I think the starting place is wrangling one’s life. Now, I have to tell you, working on this project has been a ten-year, maybe more, project for me. Thus, I’m not about to tell you that I’ve stumbled across some simple magic fix for balancing one’s life. Balance isn’t simple. Yet, I have spent hours and hours of trial and error, and while my life still isn’t perfectly balanced, I’ve learned some important lessons.

1. It never WILL be balanced. There’s an ebb and flow.

2. Throwing in the towel and just going with the ebb and flow isn’t the entire answer. That approach leads to either a blocked or lazy or overwhelmed life.

3. One needs a system, but it has to be loose enough to actually work with the ebb and flow. And the system absolutely can’t lead to guilt, or you’re back to the blocked, lazy or overwhelmed life.

So, what do you do when you need a system and you also need to flow? A kindergarten teacher would say you need color-coded buckets. While what’s in the bucket might still be chaotic, when you can train the kids to put their toys away at the end of play-time, there’s always that moment at the end of the day when everything is back in it’s place, where the class can take a collective breath. Then, the next day, fresh decisions can be made, new games can be invented, and everyone trusts that at the end of theday, everything will find the way back into the buckets. A spectacular mess simply can’t be made when you’re afraid it can’t be dealt with later.

It’s a simple concept, and at first glance, it may seem too simple. But why not try it out with me and see what you discover? Here’s what we’ll explore in the next few posts. I’ll tell you my story and share the exercises that worked for me… try mine, or let them inspire ideas of your own.

Part One: What buckets do I need? How do I even start sorting with the giant mess I’ve got?

Part Two: Fine. I’ve got buckets now. How do I keep track in the ebb and flow?

Part Three: Technology please? There’s got to be an app for that.

Part Four: What happens when days go by and I’ve totally lost sight of the buckets?

Part Five: Umm… I have all this creative energy now. What’s next?

Ready to dive in? Look for Part One over the next few days.