Happy Sunday, everyone!
I just wanted to get some feedback from you this week. I’m trying to make an effective posting schedule without bogging you down with too many posts. Let me know!
If you’re new, you can start here.
Happy Sunday, everyone!
I just wanted to get some feedback from you this week. I’m trying to make an effective posting schedule without bogging you down with too many posts. Let me know!
If you’re new, you can start here.
We all know what it is like to be overwhelmed. Our parents, siblings, or friends may have events for us to attend. Our bosses, colleagues, customers, or clients demand a certain level of performance. At work, home, and in our relationships, we commit ourselves to activities and tasks that seem important. Sometimes, significant people in our lives ask us for favors, to complete a job, or for our help.
Sometimes the assignments arrive at the last minute, while at other times we have had a project looming over our heads for months. We intend to fulfill our promises, to deliver on the expecatations of our peers. And we do. . . when the conditions are favorable.
But what happens when all of it is important?
For many, a sense of panic creeps into the day, or maybe a less-intense mental fog takes over the brain. While there are a select few people who thrive in a busy environment, over-committing your time and effort to multiple objectives can cause overwhelm or burn out.
My life is fairly busy, and I tend to enjoy it. At least, I enjoy being busy to a point. I’ve learned how to create a happy work-life balance in my own corner of the world. Seven years of teaching helped me. But I’m not perfect. I’m still adjusting the formula, and I still encounter busy times.
Even when the number of your commitments is fair, it is still possible for the milestones of your projects to converge. This nexus of obligation can make even the most organized people stressed out.
Sometimes, all of the important tasks are hard to accomplish. Worse – they can prove difficult to prioritize. Everyone’s life is a complex network of obligations, commitments, and responsibilities, but moving through them does not have to be complicated.
In fact, you could move through them gracefully.
My life is full of complications, obligations, and commitments. It’s May and I have fifty more essays to grade, 340 mini-journal entries to read (that’s one week of journal entries from 68 students), and a novel to finish writing. I also want to spend time with my fiancé, visit my brother and parents, and occasionally relax.
On top of that, the laundry is piling up, the dishes need to be washed, and I have a wedding to help plan.
Usually, I have routines in place to take care of these activities, but this week, it seems like my ability to stick to routine has fallen apart. I know this is normal. Why? Because I talk to other human beings. This situation occasionally happens to all of us. The details are different, but the reality remains the same: we have many roles to play and only so much time to play them well.
When everything piles up, my main goal is to stay sane while trying to fulfill all of my responsibilities.
Here’s what I do.
I focus on two key habits: 1.) Prioritizing, and 2.) Reflecting.
These two habits may seem simple, or daunting, depending on who you ask. If at the end of the day, I have spent time doing both, I can rest knowing I have at least moved a step closer to fulfilling my objects.
I want to do everything, every single day, but the truth is . . . there is rarely enough time to do everything in one day and remain healthy. So, I must prioritize.
There can only be one priority at a time, but with a list of commitments, we have to decide how the items rank. Your number one priority will be a mix of what is most important and most urgent.
I read a book by two Navy SEALS a few months ago: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win. While reading it, I came across the phrase “prioritize and execute.”
Jocko talks about prioritizing objectives and following through in their execution. Most of the time, this is just a matter of silencing your anxiety and cultivating enough discipline to activate a task. This was not a new idea for me; however, both authors emphasized one piece of the time management puzzle that I was lacking.
They spoke about the importance of perspective – knowing how your actions affect others when you are making your priorities. Without perspective, without a sense of the bigger picture, these priorities could result in neutral outcomes, or worse, negative outcomes.
When prioritizing, be sure to think about the bigger picture of why your particular project, activity, or task needs to be accomplished. For example, I am writing a novel series. I am doing this to communicate ideas that I have and stories that need to be told.
On a larger scale, writing these books is about fulfilling a larger dream of engaging with my life and work on a deeper philosophical level. It may be through the lens of fantasy fiction, but it is the lens I have chosen. If I forget why I am writing, any activity I do could have the potential of negatively impacting this process. I could accidentally over-invest my time in trivial activities, instead of putting my effort towards meaningful action.
I do this at home – especially when I am too tired to tackle any task.
With your list, you have a number of directions you could take. Personally, if you’re about long-term change, you should consider investing time in figuring out why you are doing something. All of a sudden, some of those tasks will make their way up the priority list.
At this point, I suggest doing the NUMBER ONE thing on your list for at least ten minutes. If you finish this task, move to the next, as long as time and health permits. Don’t hurt yourself.
Your goal is to finish the tasks in the order of their importance and urgency. If time allows, move on to task number two, three, four, five, etc . . . If your number one item is a large-scale project, then it may help to break that project down into manageable tasks that make sense for the day.
If you are having trouble figuring out why something is important, then maybe you shouldn’t do it, or maybe it is truly unimportant busywork. At the end of the day, you will know what is important to you.
This is just as important as prioritizing in terms of keeping yourself sane. At the end of the day, or idealy while I am finishing tasks, I keep a log of what I have done. This is a list of victories from the day, big and small. This helps overcome overwhelm.
Here are some simple questions you can ask yourself at the end of the day:
You should celebrate your accomplishments daily. That way, when you think of work, you think about the small wins that total up instead of all the little mistakes. While it’s healthy to reflect on failures, it’s important not to beat yourself up.
Being intelligently critical is different. If you are able to self-criticize without losing your momentum, then you are at a great advantage in accomplishing your goals and commitments. This type of reflection is helpful. Thinking about how you can improve and how to improve is always useful.
Sometimes you need to be honest with yourself.
Most of the time, your dreaded important task takes less time than you would think. By prioritizing what is important, following through, and then reflecting at the end of the day, you will decrease the amount of overwhelm you feel.
If you are trying to do too much, try setting an upper bound, as James Clear notes in his article, “Do Things You Can Sustain.” Read it here. While I’m at it, here’s another good James Clear article on marginal gains.
I’m applying these same strategies to help balance my work and writing commitments this week. I hope this helps you as much as it helps me!
For the last two weeks, I worked on promoting and participating in a 7-Day Reading Challenge. This summer, I plan on challenging myself with an experiment that I call Minutes to a Better Book. This long-term experiment involves dedicating 300 hours towards writing my books. Here’s why I’m doing it:
My goal is to dedicate as much time as possible towards my book series. You can read about my new personal challenge here.
The truth is, I’ve spent much more of my time doing other things – and for good reasons. By day, I’m a teacher. I grade papers, read young adult novels, and help kids develop their reading and writing skills. When I get home, there are nights of my week dedicated towards grading, reflecting, reading and planning for my classroom. This is the case for many teachers.
Even finding twenty minutes to write my fiction has seemed harder these days, and I think I know why. I have been avoiding my novel. More specifically I have been avoiding ending my novel.
The reason is simple. End a novel is hard.
Ending my novel would mean passing judgment on a project that I have worked hard on, put off, and returned to over the course of a year.
It would mean that the manuscript was ready for full revision – a process I actually love once I get started. I feel like my worst procrastination habits come in two places: right before the start and right before the end of major tasks and activities. Novel writing is no exception.
With my first novel From One to Another, I wrote a short, 50,000-word young adult realistic fiction novel. To be honest, it was pretty awful, which is why it will never see the light of day in published form. I have since had practice writing, but I noticed that I am most enthusiastic when I start stories and novels.
In many of my major projects, I encounter resistance around the 75% mark. One factor is time, and another is commitment.
I have fifteen days before my students end the year and fourteen more before I am finished with training, meetings, and other important school-related work. My brain will be free to write for hours on end when the summer comes. If I’m organized, this could be a great chance. I will have more time and mental space to write!
I would be a fool, however, if I didn’t admit that this will take discipline and follow through.
Why is this different than any other summer?
In the past, I didn’t set a specific goal for writing my books. Now, I have one. I want to dedicate 300 hours to my books this summer. This is different than setting a word count. I noticed that I am more productive just setting aside time for the task, rather than an arbitrary outcome or word count.
When the summer hits, I’m aiming for three or more hours a day of writing. In the next 30 days, that will be hard to find, but after the next 30, it will definitely get easier. Don’t worry. I will still post about other subjects, and not every post will be a process post.
Right now, it’s a push for as many minutes as I can contribute to my novel, no matter how small. It will all add up. 300 hours is just a worthwhile mark to hit.
Let me know what you think!
Today marks the end of the 7-Day Reading Challenge.
At least, it marked an end to the official days. . . Here’s what I learned from hosting a 7-Day Challenge over Twitter, Instagram, and WordPress, and what I plan on doing next.
I spent the last seven days of my life reading for 20 minutes a day and posting to Instagram, Twitter, and WordPress about my reading experience. This was an attempt to start building a stronger reading habit while connecting with others about the joy of reading. You can read about the challenge here.
I thought that building the reading habit would be the hardest part. It was not.
The most difficult element of the challenge was keeping up with a consistent posting schedule across the three mediums. The process taught me so much.
As of writing this post, the Instagram hashtag garnered about 26 public posts. This is a relatively small number considering what is possible during a challenge. However, this made no difference in terms of how fun the challenge was.
Some people are still continuing the challenge, and that’s unbelievably cool. Others are just starting, like this user, @blackbird_reads, who is creating a story highlight for the challenge.
I had the opportunity to connect with people I didn’t know, inside and outside of the challenge, simply because we were consistently reading and posting about our reading experience.
Hosting the challenge gave it an extra edge, as I had the opportunity to see the process grow. I was pushed by social pressure to make sure I completed my 20 minutes of reading a day. Social pressure also encouraged me to post daily on WordPress and Instagram – a habit that I would like to continue whenever possible.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I found myself checking Instagram far too much, and I needed to check in with myself about how much social media time was healthy. I know I may sound old saying this, but there definitely is a limit to how much Instagram a person should consume before it consumes you.
Still, it wasn’t wasted time. Last week I didn’t even know what a theme or aesthetic was for an Instagram feed, and now I’m learning how to post more visually-appealing content.
The reading challenge not only pushed me to read for 20 minutes, but it also pushed me to think deeply about my own reading. As a result, I took a longer amount of time to process my reading each day. For that, I am happier.
Whenever someone told me about a new book, project, or ARC, I felt like we were building a small community around reading. I know that Bookstagram and other communities exist for readers, but this felt more personal. Maybe it was the size, or maybe it was the specificity of the challenge.
The smallest conversations somehow felt bigger, like we strangers were reaching across the internet and building bridges.
Hosting the challenge kept me focused on these tasks:
I only promoted the challenge for a week before it started, and I honestly have a very small following of people at this point. This didn’t discourage me when I started the challenge, and it doesn’t discourage me now. In fact, it’s rather encouraging. I’m keeping the hashtag open, and I will post regularly to it, just in case someone else decides to take on the challenge and #readwithcurtis.
I organized all the 7-Day Reading Posts on a new site page. You can check it out here.
I’m going to post about my reading regularly to the Instagram hashtag #readwithcurtis , and I will update the #readwithcurtis site page when I write articles about specific books.
I’m sure there will be days when this won’t be possible, but I think setting the intention is important.
A New Challenge
I’m planning a new challenge, just for me. It’s more of an experiment than a challenge. You can follow the experiment via this blog. Of course, you are welcome to join in too!
For the next season, I am going dive into my fiction writing. I will post about it regularly on my Instagram feed as well under the hashtag #MinutesToABetterBook, and I will, of course, create process posts here on WordPress. I want to see how quickly I can get to 18,000 minutes (300 Hours) of time dedicated to just writing fiction, specifically my books. Read more about Minutes to a Better Book here.
I’m would like to complete that writing time by the end of the summer. It will take many early mornings, and probably some late nights, but the story must be told.
Want to try the 7-Day Reading challenge? Read more about the challenge here.
Today’s post is for the Day Six of the #ReadWithCurtis 7-Day Challenge. Today’s bonus task is to binge read or sample new books.
Read all of my 7-Day Challenge Articles here.
This week has been great. While I have mostly stuck to reading two books Fragile Things and Tolkien’s Ring, I have found the process of reading daily and posting daily to be not only fun but also extremely sustainable. It’s nice to connect with friends, family, and complete strangers over what’s being read.
For day six, I’ve already started amassing my next list of books to binge read. In a few hours, I am heading over to my mother’s house for Mother’s Day, so I won’t binge read until tomorrow – sometime between grading papers, doing the dishes, and writing A Thousand Watchful Eyes.
I’ve continued reading Tolkien’s Ring as a start, and I hope to budget more of my time tomorrow towards knocking out books on the list.
Do you have any book recommendations to go on my list? I’m looking especially for short fantasy fiction, as I am doing some writing experiments within that genre.
Today’s post is for the Day Five of the #ReadWithCurtis 7-Day Challenge. Today’s bonus task is to connect with another reader!
Read all of my 7-Day Challenge Articles here.
This challenge was about connecting with readers while forming a stronger reading habit. In a way, I have been trying to do this since the beginning of the challenge. To change things up a bit, I’ve decided to talk to more and more people. I want to connect with others about what I am reading, what I am writing, and share the enthusiasm for both! To help with this, I am participating in a few more challenges and communities online. #BookstagramTogetherInMay is a one example.
I am finding that I often stick to my own comfort zone when it comes to connecting with people, and sometimes I need to take a risk and reach out. I’m hoping to make as many meaningful connections with people as I can. I’ve already gained solidarity with the people who have joined the challenge, and I am happy for that.
Have you started the challenge? What are your reading plans?
Work consumes time, and sometimes we need to work outside of our average professional day or work week. Whether your task is creative, administrative, organizational, manual, or a combination of the above, any one of these 31 questions may help. I hope they inspire you to embrace the challenges of your job, hobby, or side-hustle.
Even taking a silent minute to mentally answer or reflect on one of these questions may change your day.
It’s 6:00am on a Saturday, and I’m up. I have always been a little bit of an early bird, but today, I wake up early to have a long, reflective morning.
Throughout the week, I worked with my middle school students on picking books for an upcoming unit of study, graded papers, and participated in a variety of meetings. During my early-morning hours and after-school time, I worked out, wrote for this blog, wrote fiction, and spent time with my fiancé.
To say I was mentally exhausted from my activities would be accurate; however, I am happily exhausted. This Saturday will be a combination of work and play.
I hope to finish grading a stack of essays, to post a story draft and video clips to Patreon, and to further prepare for the start of the #ReadWithCurtis 7-Day Reading Challenge.
I enjoy being this busy. That is no secret. More importantly, I enjoy being productive and feeling fulfilled. Part of that feeling of fulfillment comes from a small ritual. On days that I am reluctant to start an activity, I ask myself a question from the list below.
I use these questions when journaling or drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Sometimes, I go for a walk with a question in mind.
These questions are not meant as anything other than a way to push your thoughts in a productive and positive direction. I hope they help you embrace the challenges of your own work/life commitments.
As a note of caution, if you are also a person who likes to be busy, that’s great; but, please be aware if your body and mind are sending you signals to rest. You may be too tired to work, or maybe even fatigued. The goal, I believe, is to feel fulfilled while being productive. I have bolded my favorites.
Did these help?
Changing habits has to be one of the hardest challenges that a person can face. Forming a new habit takes sustained effort, and breaking bad habits could prove even more frustrating. This is why abruptly changing is not enough.
James Clear writes about habit change and related topics. He has become a recent inspiration for me. You can find a link to one of his articles below, about a strategy he calls the habit creep. Essentially, Clear advocates for slow and sustainable change.
I first heard his work in one of his talks concerning marginal gains. Around that time I wrote the post “An adventure in goal-setting lead to this realization…”
In that post, I explored a newfound enthusiasm for building a routine around short tasks, and at that particular time in my life, I focused on different ways to change bad habits and build better ones.
Clear’s strategy for setting small, manageable goals (e.g. writing three sentences a day), was one of many strategies that shifted my perspective on goal-setting and habits altogether.
I’m sure he would agree with me on the issue that abruptly changing your lifestyle is not enough; in fact, abruptly changing your daily activity may do more harm than good. This is not to say that a quick change or boost, will be completely fruitless. Honestly, there have been times in my life when I needed an abrupt change to get me going.
Still, James Clear delivers something different. The tone is relaxed. I really enjoy the calm approach that he takes towards building lasting change. In my experience, setting smaller, more manageable goals often leads to better results. This seems to align with Clear’s ideas.
On the rainy days, when I feel exhausted and my brain is telling me to abandon my large-scale projects, I just turn to a small habit related goal. Take reading, for example. Next week, from May 7th – May 14th, 2018, I am participating in, and hosting, a 7-Day Reading Challenge. The rules are built around the idea of small, sustainable habit change.
In his article, “The Proven, Reasonable and Totally Unsexy Secret to Success“, Clear writes:
- Increase your performance by a little bit each day. (Most people take this to the extreme.)
- Change your environment to remove small distractions and barriers. (Most people never think about this.)
My initial goal was to read more and to post more because reading helps me inform my writing, and posting keeps me reflecting about what I read, how I communicate with others, and how I contribute to discussions around reading, writing, and thinking.
Both rules of the 7-Day Challenge involve a small, manageable step. The rules do not perfectly align to the habit creep, but I am convinced that they can lead better reading and posting habits.
Here are the two rules of the #ReadWithCurtis 7-Day Reading Challenge.
During the official dates, I plan on adding daily tasks to help people “incrementally increase the level of performance” in the challenge. Part of that involves changing our mental and physical environment in small, manageable ways.
I’ll post all the tasks here.
Whatever you are working on may benefit from the same approach. I recommend reading some of James Clear’s ideas and chewing on them for awhile.
Daily Prompt Post: Abrupt
Do you have a goal that you are working on? Are you joining the 7-Day Reading Challenge?
Feel free to comment below or link back to this post!
I was behind on my promises, both personal and public.
For the last twenty days, I have revamped my goals, improved how I follow through, and created habits to sustain a lifestyle that I enjoy, by taking a few simple steps.
The truth is, I have too many goals, and a long list of projects that need my attention.
For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am currently working on a twelve-novel saga. I am also a teacher.
Managing time is paramount, and with this many priorities, there are days where I am left exhausted. Ask any teacher or author.
Managing time is a big deal. It is often the difference between excellence and mediocrity.
During February and March, I found it harder and harder to finish what I wanted to accomplish. I call this time of the year the “February slump” due to the nexus of days without sunlight that precedes all school-related deadlines.
Recently, I have worked on two lifestyle changes that have super-charged my mental health and approach to productivity: a clear morning routine, and a consistent journaling routine.
The newest changes were inspired by ModernHealthMonks video on a 7-Step Morning Success Routine.
After watching the video, I thought about how I lacked a productive morning routine outside of the usual “get ready for work and out of the house” plan.
In my case, the first step was sitting down and figuring out my personal goals.
I had to sit down and ask myself, if I accomplished three things this year, what would they be? They were:
Those translated into these three goals for the year:
Make meaningful contributions to the wedding and our future marriage daily.
Writing as many books as I can in 2018.
Creating causes and conditions for a healthy body, mind, and speech.
Next, I made three daily habits that aligned with my goals, as suggested by the ModernHealthMonk.
Check in with my fiancé and our wedding notes every day to see our next actionable step.
Write every day.
Do at least 10 minutes of with healthy movement or exercise, light or heavy, daily.
I then tried to find ways to work this into my daily routine. This was the easiest part to plan, but the hardest part to implement. Checking with my fiancé was easy. In fact, the wedding planning process feels better by the day. Health has been no challenge at all, and finding a consistent writing schedule has been the most challenging.
I have started every morning with a 20 minute Qi-Gong routine and replaced my coffee with green tea. For a point of reference, I was drinking close to a full pot of coffee a day. This little switch changed my mood considerably!
A Typical Morning
At 5:40 am, I do 20 minutes of Qi Gong movements.
My body feels loose and limber. The aches and pains from yesterday, the heart palpitations of the morning, and my endless barrage of thoughts leave me, almost effortlessly.
From 6:00 – 6:40, I have a series of five minute tasks:
By the time I leave for work, the routine takes me 90 minutes – less if I am in a hurry or need to cut back the time.
I have literally never felt more calm and ready to start my day after going through these motions. This routine ensures that I take care of my body, eat breakfast, and start the day accomplishing a few small, but important things.
A Consistent Journaling Routine
When I learn something new, I take notes. At 7:00pm, I journal.
There are no time constraints, and there is no minimum to be met. At 7:00pm, I just journal. I enjoy the simplicity of that idea.
If I know I will be somewhere at 7:00pm, I schedule journaling time into my day, wherever it fits. Usually, it’s best a few hours before bed.
The realization? I can accomplish what I need to if I truly prioritize my tasks and execute them within the timeframe available to me. Doing this takes discipline, but setting these goals and following through is definitely worth it.
Stay posted on my writing adventure via email:
Feeling a little generous? I have a Patreon. One dollar a month helps me make my books a reality, keeps this site ad-free, and leaving both you and I feeling good.
It may seem like small potatoes to some people, but Paper Palaces has just surpassed twenty followers. I am very grateful for this milestone. Those of you who currently read and follow Paper Palaces, thank you for your interest and support!
As we near 2018, I have many plans for this blog, and I will try to post meaningful content regularly. At the same time, I will keep my post frequency within 1-3 times a week for the sake of both quality and sanity!
For those of you who don’t know, I am writing a twelve-novel fantasy saga, and I will be documenting the process here on Paper Palaces. You can read preview chapters of these novels on Tablo. Or, you can join the Facebook Group: Books of Brylennia.
As I continue to write my novels, I will occasionally write in-depth posts on specific books, materials, and curiosities I encounter. These posts usually relate to fantasy, fiction, and my novel research. For example, I am drafting a post on medieval armor, as the topic is related to my series. Curiosity posts will focus on one aspect or subtopic at a time (e.g. design, character arcs, literary elements, crafting methods, etc…).
Much of what I read and write relates to one or more of my projects. As a result, some posts are blends.
If you want to staying updated, you could follow me on WordPress, and each post will be delivered to your email or reader. You can control the delivery frequency.
Alternatively, you could join the newly created Books of Brylennia Facebook Group. I will update this group with the most popular / relevant posts, news, and materials related to the process of creating and publishing my fantasy series. You can post your own content too, if you think our community will find it useful.
In all cases, I hope you enjoy the content. I’m very grateful for any readers.