Monday, August 30, 2010

Deeds, not Words: Difficult but Important

Over at Get Rich Slowly, there is a great post about the difference between a Doer and a Talker.

This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the TV show The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Young Indy has met a suffragette he is crazy about and her motto is "Deeds, not Words!" She constantly confronts him to do what he says, not just talk to her. For instance, saying that he loves her isn't enough if his deeds don't show it.

This gets at the heart of what is my greatest challenge--to move beyond simply saying I am going to do something and actually DOING it. I'm a great planner. I have all sorts of goals and ideas. I have a list that is a page long of stuff I'm supposedly doing, but most of them have had little to no progress.

Instead, I always have some excuse. I got busy on another project. I need to finish organizing this closet. I have to work on this. I'm too tired right now. It can wait till later. I'll just check my email first (and then maybe my RSS feed.....).

Even this blog is just all words. If I don't actually DO the stuff I talk about, my life won't get any better.

It's often hard. It's also very worthwhile.

My goal is to get better at being a "Doer" and not just a "Talker." I'll be working at that today. How about you? Just do what I'm going to do. Stop reading about doing things, and go do one thing that you've been meaning to do. Make progress on some important goal.

Be a doer. We can do it!

Friday, August 27, 2010

5 Month Update: Ups and Downs of a Rollercoaster Life

My life has been a series of contradictions since I started this blog on my 41st birthday.

I lost my job, but I'm so busy with (unpaid) work that I barely have time to do anything.

I often feel like a failure because I don't know what to do with my life, but I've been photographed and interviewed for multiple magazines, newspapers, and radio shows connected to my hobbies, a big event I organized, and my volunteering.

I say I want to be a novelist and have some grand plans for projects, but I've not gotten any of these projects or my novels started.

It's odd. I still don't understand myself that well. I often put off doing those things that I want most (my dissertation took FOREVER!). For a smart person, I'm awfully dumb about some things.

My house project went back to chaotic again when I was 95% done. That's because we pulled out another whole closet and made a big mess again. Instead of finding places for those last few stacks, I created more stacks from a new project and made a disaster area of our living room. It's discouraging but if I keep going I will be better for it.

For my list of "41 Things to Do Before I Turn 42" I have now eaten a new fruit (see my post on the tamatillo) and today I will be doing some sewing so we'll see how far I get in finishing a complete clothing item. I am also buying the ingredients for Cornish Pasty so that will be another item on my list. I've come close to rolling down a hill but chickened out since the clothing I was wearing and the setting I was in were not conducive to rolling around on the ground. Will need to be in a more informal setting. Still, the thought occurs whenever I'm near nice grassy hills, even when not the best time. I'll let go one of these days and do it.

I can't believe that it has been five months since my birthday (and loss of job). Time flies by so quickly.

I look forward to what this next month will bring me. I'm going to work harder at finishing projects. I'm good at starting things and planning things but not always good on the follow through. That's what I am working on this year. We'll see where it takes me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Social Networks and the Power of Word of Mouth

I learned the power of word of mouth when I was planning our big event in July. We went to a small Steampunk event to advertise and then later met a woman who was there. She didn't recognize us because she had run a table at the other side of the event but when she heard what we liked, she tried to recommend our own event to us. It was so cool to hear a stranger try to tell us about our own event.

On the same day I met a blogger whose work I enjoy. I told her about our event, just for amusement's sake, and then gave her some help on a project she was doing. The next thing I know she is linking to our event on her blog (which has major traffic). We got over 100 hits that week just from her site, which isn't even related to our topic at all.

I blogged and tweeted about our event to many people, and to my surprise some people responded. I got national attention from two tweeters with large followings. We had over 300 hits in one day from one person's link to us alone.

It is amazing what reaching out to others can do for you. That's true in our personal lives, as well as when doing publicity for an event.

That's one of the reasons why I don't think Facebook is evil, like some people say. True, Facebook's security is lax and their default settings allow too much personal information to be visible to strangers. It is also true that too many people post stupid things on their Facebook page as if they think they are private sites. It's not private; it's the internet. By definition, you should presume that anything you put on the internet or in email might get out to the whole world at some point.

However, if you take basic precautions, I think that places like Facebook can be good for us, in moderation at least. It allows us to maintain wide social networks. I can appeal to my Facebook friends for advice or let them know the latest project I am working on this week. I also recently gave away somethings that I thought would be better going to friends rather than Goodwill. In this way I helped strengthen my social network. My friends might help me later because I've helped them now. In this way, we both gain. They got some good DVDs and other stuff I didn't want, and I get a closer connection to some friends I don't see very often. Maybe they will help me later, maybe not--but I lost nothing by giving them these items.

People can help, by spreading the news about you (for instance, I am still job hunting and I remind my friends to be on the lookout for a job for me), or by doing other favors. In the same way, I try to help my friends.

Networking is a wonderful thing; it's not just for computers anymore!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Heatwaves and Lethargy

It's that time of year. It's hot, darned hot, across much of the U.S. In my own area of Southern California we are just starting our hot weather which may get worse by October. The average temp is 88 F during the afternoon.

I've never liked hot weather. There are really only so many clothes you can take off. When it is cold, you can fix that with extra clothing and blankets, but no matter how much I strip down to the bare essentials, it is still too hot in our house since we don't have air conditioning.

The main problem with this heat is that it tends to encourage procrastination. You feel tired and unwilling to do anything strenuous. If you stray too far from the fan, you feel miserable.

Every year I face the same problem in my home. It's too darned hot to want to work.

Here's what I am going to do. If you are in a hot place, I recommend you do it too.

1. I've got lots of water cooling in the frig. I have to remember to drink more water.

2. I bought a ton of great fruit at the store. Cool grapes and other fruits out of the frig help a lot in this heat.

3. I have fans in the major rooms. Air circulation is key.

4. I plan more physical activities for the mornings when it is not as hot. Computer work and less physical activities are better for the afternoon and early evening when it is warmest.

5. I acknowledge the heat and its power on me but balance it with a reminder of my goals and why they matter. I keep working but I take plenty of water breaks and stay within reach of the fan.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Buying Two: The Wastefulness of Clutter

Since we were nearly done with our big cleaning project, we decided to go ahead and expand our reach a little by pulling out things from our dreaded "Storage Closet." We have turned one of our closets into long-term storage and it is filled with boxes.

I was a little upset when I pulled out a box with a collectible and said, but we already have this in the other room. Sure enough, we had bought the same collectible twice. One we put away in storage and one we put on display.

That's the problem with having too much stuff. The stuff that is put away may be forgotten and we'll buy it all over again.

We don't have that sort of money to waste.

We'll try selling it on eBay but we may not make the money back since people can still buy it new. We'll almost certainly end up losing money.

It's maddening.

It's also why we started this project.

Sometimes when you get too much stuff, you end up not remembering stuff that you have. It's been nice to pull stuff out and it is almost like it is new to me.

It's also be rather discouraging. I shouldn't be surprised to find we own something.

If you are like me and you have a lot of stuff stored deep in closets or boxes (or worse, storage containers), I highly recommend going through this stuff from time to time. Decide what you really need to keep, and keep a better inventory of the stuff you have.

This will keep you from wasting your money and rebuying an item and also make it easier for you to find when you need it.

I'd also suggest you get rid of a lot of stuff. However, since this is the part which I have the most difficulty with, I will understand if this is a struggle. It certainly is in this household.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Progress Made: Sticking To It Till the End

I'm 90% through my sorting papers project which started about three weeks ago. The first week involved pulling out everything in the office, kitchen, dining room, and living room which didn't have a proper home or was otherwise disordered. Then I stacked everything by category. I've been sorting through categories, recycling a lot of paper and then finding homes for those papers I still need.

I'm down to just a few small sections now and am almost done. My house looks basically back to normal.

It would be easy to call it quits right now and call it a job well done, but I'm not going to do it. The whole point of this procedure was to improve things, not to bring them back to a status quo.

I think this is a temptation in many projects--to end when things are "good enough." We aim for higher but when the real work begins it can seem like finishing at 90% is a good deal. The pain that the last little bit of work brings often doesn't seem worth the effort. That's a huge mistake.

It is the last bit of effort which takes a project over the top--and pushes it into the really useful and extraordinary. I think we get too used to accepting the Pareto Principle and saying that 80% of the success comes from 20% of the effort and using this as an excuse to say that we don't need to put in the last bit of effort because we'll get diminishing returns.

That last 20% of effort is really where most of the success comes from. The Pareto principle is about making ourselves more efficient but it should not be an excuse, as it too often seems to be, to give up when 80% done. "Good enough" is not great.

I have too many unfinished/incomplete projects around my house to believe that 80% done will be satisfactory. That's why I will push to figure out that last bit of my current project. If I am right, it will make a big difference in how I see my home and how I use my papers.

Sticking to a project right through the end, now matter the time or difficulty, is the true sign of a person who will succeed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Taking Control

For much of my single life, I'd get up and shower as soon as I was out of bed. When I got married, my husband changed a number of my habits, including my morning routine. For years now I've gotten up, had breakfast, read the paper, done computer work, and generally shower and dress as the very last thing in the morning. This often meant leaving the house with wet hair, but he preferred to get ready to leave at the last possible minute. I would try getting us going sooner, but in general the shower and dressing part of the day was always last minute. He would decide when we moved from the living room (where we live most of our day) to the bathroom and bedroom to get ready.

I'm one of those people who simply doesn't feel awake until I've showered. I also don't really want to do any work around the house until I've showered.

By delaying the shower, I would often waste time goofing off at the computer because I was waiting until he was willing to move on to the next part of the morning.

The other day I decided to change that. I took control of my own schedule. I got up on Sunday morning and showered as soon as I was up. After I got dressed, I had breakfast and read the paper. I did the same this morning.

It felt great. I was awake and alert, my hair was dry by the time I am ready to go out yesterday, and, even better, I feel like I've got control over my own time again.

I'm not really sure how we developed the routine we were in or how I had ceded control over my schedule to wait until he was ready to move on. It is especially weird since he really prefers to do work for as long as possible and resents interrupting it for showers and such. I'd rather shower and then get back to work, feeling refreshed and ready. We have opposite points of view but I was letting him decide when I did things and resenting it.

I don't know if I will continue this new schedule for every day or not. But at least I know that it was always my option to do things at my own pace. I don't have to resent things like this. I can take control and change my schedule and not have any problems. Instead of stewing over how waiting for the shower made me feel, all I had to do was take action.

Taking action can seem hard sometimes. Perhaps it is easier to think that "this is the way it has been and I can't change it" or to put the blame on other people, but for many things that bother us in life, we could make changes for the better--if we just took control and took responsibility for our own life and happiness.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Small Victories Upon Small Victories

We tend to want big victories. We set big goals and celebrate big milestones.

I think this can be a mistake. There are plenty of small victories which deserve recognition.

For instance, I've been organizing my house for two weeks now. The first few days were triage. We pulled all of the chaos out into the open and we set up a triage system where we gathered it into piles by type. We needed to see just how bad each category of paper was--for instance each of my groups which I volunteer with got its own pile. Some of these were quite huge, others small. None of these papers had a good home so things had been out of control for awhile. As I've stated at least twice in the past two weeks, the mess this system caused was extensive. We had stacks of papers everywhere where before some of it hadn't looked as bad; now it looked horrible. It felt like I had made things worse.

For the past two days, I've been working hard on various stacks, and I'm celebrating a small victory--the reduction of the piles! There are 40% fewer piles than a few days ago.

I'm not done, of course, but it seemed important to me to recognize my progress.

Too often, I think, people only look at the failure side of things. I had been thinking how bad the house looked right now. I am still less than half way finished. That sounded awful to me. Then I realized. I did 4.5 stacks yesterday. When you compare where I was when I started, I'm about 40% finished sorting and finding homes for what we are keeping (we are recycling a lot of paper--the blue can was full when it went out this morning!).

I'm not suggesting that, as a society, we need to go down the path that leads to celebrating every little victory. I think some places have gone too far, with huge parties for kindergarten graduations, trophies for participation instead of winning, and "everybody is a winner" attitudes. I'm not suggesting that at all. Don't celebrate false victories, but it can be important to acknowledge what we have done. It is not a failure to be 40% done with my organizing project. As long as I don't leave it at this stage, that is a great milestone I can be proud to reach. It can encourage me to keep going, knowing that I am getting there (slowly, yes, but getting there).

Sometimes it is important to celebrate the intermediate steps to victory in order to keep morale up enough to reach the end goal. If anything less than total victory is the only thing worthy of celebrating, we can too often feel depressed on the journey--feeling like a failure all the way until we reach the end. The journey should be as uplifting as the success at the end or the journey won't be worth doing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Of Stuffy Noses and Piles of Papers

Some days it is harder to be motivated than others. The past few days have been slow for me. I caught a cold. It is a mild one, to be sure, but it is slowing me down. Also, I've spent two weeks with stacks of papers everywhere and don't feel like I've made a lot of progress. If you go long enough without feeling like real progress is made, it is easy to become discouraged, throw your hands up, and say it will never get better. This attitude has been feeling tempting lately.

We all face it in our projects. There comes a point in time where we either have to forge ahead (pushing a little harder to do the work) or we can give up. This is the make or break moment for a project. If we persevere we get the reward. If we give up, we have a half started project that falls apart.

Most projects start off with good intentions and glorious dreams of success which get us through the beginning stages of the work. It is during the actual hard work that reality sets in. This will be hard. It will be tedious. It isn't obvious that we will succeed. It is taking longer than we realized.

This is the point when it is easy to give up. This is the point I have reached with my house organizing project.

The good news is, if one can push past this point, success lies on the other side.

Despite the overwhelming amount of paperwork still to go through and a stuffy head, I'm going to continue pushing forward today and see if I can make it through to the other side.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tamarillos and Other New Experiences

As part of my "41 Things to Do Before I'm 42" list, I tried a new fruit. It was a Tamarillo. I saw it at the grocery store and bought it, despite its high price tag. It was on sale, for $3.50 a piece. That's a lot for a fruit the size of a Roma tomato, especially when you are out of work, but I decided it was worth it to get the new experience.

A day later, in the late morning, I was feeling like a snack, so I got out the Tamarillo. I had already looked it up online to find out that the skin is inedible so I peeled it. The skin is bright red and comes off rather easily. Underneath is bright orange. It is like holding a bright orange softboiled egg in your hand and removing the red shell with a knife. The whole thing would hold together but feel squishy and move in my hand as I removed the skin. It was very weird.

Once peeled, I sliced it in half. The insides are a bit like a small pomegranate so that you have an orange fruit whose insides are mostly tiny red seeds (which I read were edible). I put each half in a bowl with a spoon and gave one bowl to my husband and sat down to have my new experience.

I took my time, smelling it (sort of like a tomato) and poking the seeds with the spoon. The color combination was certainly odd. Then I cut off a piece (texture: again, sort of like a roma tomato). When I bit into it, my face screwed up tight, and my feet kicked out. It was slightly sour and very weird. Kind of a cantalope with tomato seeds inside, but a little sour too. Each bite confirmed the experience. It was fairly hideous. I can honestly say, save your money on this one. I don't think the Tamarillo will be the next hot fruit to eat.

The interesting thing is that I don't regret my experience. I wanted to try something new, and I did. When I see this thing again, I'll know exactly what it was like and will have a strong, vivid memory of eating it. I broadened my horizons. That was really what my list was all about, anyways.

Not all experiences in life are good ones, but every experience teaches something and leaves a memory. Even bad experiences, when remembered later, can take on a warm glow of fond memory. Some of the worse travel experiences become funny stories later and some of our strongest memories.

I got my $3.50's worth of experience out of that tiny Tamarillo. I just won't be repeating it again anytime soon!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Things Get Worse...Before They Get Better

One of the worse parts of any organizing project is how things will often seem messier and more out of control while you are in the midst of a project.

Earlier this week I looked around this house in disgust. I had pulled out all of my loose paperwork, every unsorted project, every loose end in my life and piled them into two rooms. I then spent the next two days tearing apart parts of the garage to see what other messes I have.

Naturally this made things much worse than they had been before I started. End of the week and I have boxes and boxes stacked in my kitchen.

It is demoralizing, really.

The thing I have to remember is that I AM actually making progress. If I can keep going, instead of giving up because of the chaos caused by the process, I will eventually dig myself out of this mess and have something resembling an organized home.

I am probably not the first person who, faced with the mess this process causes, felt like giving up. It doesn't seem worth the hassle.

It is, though, and that's the thought I'm hanging onto right now.

The thing to remember when organizing a home is why you are doing it in the first place. I have to hold onto the goal despite the obstacles and with just a few more days of work, I will have more space and a cleaner place.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Always Behind? What to do when your To Do list is never completed.

Do you have trouble completing all of your tasks? Do you make long lists of activities which must be done right away and then find yourself perpetually behind on your tasks? Are you putting off important but non-urgent tasks because you have other less important but more urgent tasks constantly on your list?

I know that all of that describes my life lately. I have a number of organizing tasks I have begun (and a longer list of things waiting) and I find myself disappointed at how slow I have been to get these out of my way so I can begin working on my novel.

After my big event, I needed to get my house reorganized (the event burdened us with a bunch of boxes to store and finding room in our house can be difficult--meaning a number of rooms need to be reorganized and sorted so the new stuff can be put away for storage). I also pulled out stuff from my office (so I could begin cleaning it) which left a bunch of unsorted papers in the dining room. I also am behind on laundry, have a large stack of clothes needing sewing (buttons and other small issues), and a garage which needs a major overhaul as we can hardly walk into it anymore thanks to new boxes. In the meantime, we've had some sort of small moth infestation get into our kitchen by unknown means so I'm disgusted by this and need to clean the place out (and possibly bug bomb the house).

After just over two weeks, my list is just getting longer and the house more messy (I look around the living room and a house that was quite clean 4 weeks ago now has every surface covered with crap).

It is time to figure out what to do when my to do list gets out of control.

1. Sometimes this happens because I overestimated how much I could get done in a short amount of time. I made too long of a list and then expected to get it all done. Dialing back my expectations can be useful here.

2. Keep on track. Part of my problem is that I started projects while still working on others. When I knew I had a problem with the new boxes, I shouldn't have added to the mess by digging out the paperwork from the office. The office had waited this long, it could have waited until I had a better handle on other tasks.

3. Prioritize. I need to figure out the most important tasks to get me back on track and stick to these. I should not allow myself to feel guilty for delaying less important tasks until later.

4. Don't over commit. My list was simply too long for the amount of time I gave myself. And I had promised myself I would be through with it so that I could start my novel. I took on too much. This is the other side of the 1st point. I had too long a list for too short of a time.

5. Give yourself some wiggle room. As you do a project, you may find other issues. I didn't expect the moths in the kitchen. I had no idea that they would suddenly appear two nights ago. I just know that every evening I go into the kitchen and there are a bunch of small moths. It means I need to do a lot of organizing and cleaning and maybe go to the trouble of bug bombing the house to get rid of them. My list was too crowded to give me room to add this unexpected extra.

Basically, it boils down to don't try to do too much in too little of a time. Choose your battles wisely, give yourself time, and then add new tasks later.

My list tip I am considering: do the important but not urgent task of writing the novel NOW and not wait until I'm finished with these tasks. My problem before was that the novel was always "next." As in, I'll do that next, after I finish this organizing project. The problem is that there always seems to be another project to push it off. I need to find at least small amounts of time to do my writing, in between these much needed organizational projects.

Otherwise, my to do list will be an never ending source of procrastination on the one item that I say is most important to me. That doesn't make any sense at all, when you think about it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reining in Anger

Sunday I realized that in one of my volunteer groups, I've become overcome with anger. It has been brewing for quite some time, as the group (which I really care about and have been involved in for years) has had some nasty politics and I got caught up in them. Part of the problem is that I was an officer for the group and yet I was frequently kept in the dark about things. Some older members of the group run things like they always have, ignoring some of the younger members. Also, I'm one of the few females and I feel slighted many times by older, rather chauvinistic males.

Sunday I was tired and hungry, and I think that only increased what has become my default emotion there--bitter anger.

The thing is: I didn't like myself while I was there. I didn't like the way I behaved, the things I was saying, or the feelings I had. I also don't think it helps anything. People aren't changing. If anything, I'm more out of the loop with things in the group than ever.

I need to find a way to be less angry. I don't want to leave the group, as I really care for what we are doing and the place is such a big part of our lives. That means I need to find a way to deal with my anger and come to terms with how to work with this group.

I took the first step by stepping down as an officer a few months ago, but I have only grown more angry and bitter since then. Now I feel like the ones causing my difficulties won. And the people causing the problem have stopped many of my projects that helped organize us. That is certainly frustrating.

So now I need to figure out how can I continue working there and feel better about it? How can I change my default ways of interacting with these people? How can I be less sensitive to things which are said which I find remind me of my anger and hurt?

It's a difficult lesson. I don't think these people will change so I can only work on my reactions to them. That is the only thing I have control over. I clearly have no control over these other people and the group.

Any tips out there for changing my mindset and calming my anger?