The magic of 750

If you were to hack into my email account you’d find something very strange. For the past three weeks my fiance has been sending me a blank email with the subject line: done. I respond with the word ditto. You would have no idea that this simple exchange has helped me to write over 20 pages about Albert Einstein and has helped Mike create music.

Three weeks ago Mike and I were kvetching about how hard it is to motivate ourselves to be creatively productive – even though that’s the one thing we really want to do. We realized that one of the challenges is that it really doesn’t matter if we don’t produce. The world won’t stop turning, no one’s going to yell at us, and we’re not going to get an F on our report card. The only one who cares is ourselves, and when we don’t work on our creative endeavors it leads to guilt, and then doubt, and then we sit and wonder if we really want to be writers/ composers/ artists at all. It’s too hard to rely on intrinsic motivation. What we needed was some gentle external motivation.

That’s when I remembered an article I read in O magazine months ago. A writer made a pact with her friend that she would write 750 words a day, and when she was done, she would email her friend the word: done. She didn’t share the writing, just the simple fact that it was done. I didn’t think highly of the process when I read the article, but when Mike and I were trying to think of a way to motivate each other this came to mind.

Mike, who wants to compose music, said he would spend at least 30 minutes a day on it. I said I would write at least 750 words. We promised that we would each send each other an email when we were done.

I cannot tell you how much this has helped me. I had a very ambitious idea for a story, and I was too intimidated to start it. The first morning I checked my email and saw Mike’s done, I gritted my teeth and started writing. I had no idea what to write so I started writing about the character in my head. It’s been like this every day. When I get his email I reluctantly open my word document, but after about 200 words I’m totally engrossed. I usually end up writing far more than 750 words, but I still feel just as accomplished when I do the bare minimum – those are the days that I really didn’t feel like writing, so it means even more to me that I actually did it.

It’s a very small unit of work, but when done consistently it builds up quickly. The great thing about this tip is that you can do it with anyone since you’re really not asking them to do anything except receive an email from you once a day. If you start doing this, let me know how it goes!

Go to the dentist

Yesterday I faced my fears and went to the dentist. Nothing churns my stomach quite like the sound of dentist’s tools. Just the smell of the waiting room makes me nauseous. Fortunately  didn’t have any cavities, but the act of holding my mouth wide open with two people sticking probes inside feels so unnatural  and vulnerable, I made them stop after every tooth so I could calm down. Yep, I’m not his favorite client.

The worst part of going to the dentist is the mental video of all the possible forms of torture  that might happen. I have nightmares where my dentist looks at my mouth, shakes his head and says, “These have all got to go.” But going to the dentist is like all things in life: ignoring a problem will only make it worse. Don’t let a cavity become a root canal.

The only thing that made my visit better was the free goodie bag of oral hygiene products. I got the world’s fanciest toothbrush. It has “dual action, flexing probes,” “traction grip handling,” and “ergonomic modeling.” It makes me wonder how anyone cleaned their teeth before, but then I remember that all these extra features are just added so that you’ll pay $5 for a stick with some bristles.

Toothbrushes of the new millennium.

Toothbrushes from the 50s

Time is on Your Side

I don’t know how anyone gets anything done without a to-do list. If I don’t make a list I end up wasting the entire day. If you didn’t think I was nerdy before, I usually keep a macro and micro list. Here are some tips:

1. Start your list for the next day in the afternoon. I have found that writing the list during the day time helps me sleep better. It gives me plenty of time to add the random things I remember so I don’t stay up thinking about what I need to do tomorrow.

2. Keep a weekly to-do list. I don’t like making daily lists because then my days feel to structured. On Sunday I’ll write down all the things I need to do for the following week. Every day I go over the list and pick the things I want to do for that day. If a friend calls and wants to have lunch, I know that the list is still there and I’ll be able to catch up tomorrow. Keeping a weekly list allows for some spontaneity but also ensures that everything gets done.

3. Plan for the future. This tip comes from my dad. This isn’t necessary for most people, but if you have a big goal it’s hard to keep track of your progress if you don’t make a Macro-to-do list. Figure out when you want to accomplish your goal, make a list of everything you need to do to make that goal, and then assign a deadline for each of those tasks. If you don’t do this it’s easy to let things take longer than they need to.  My dad is a big fan of Parkinson’s law : Work expands to fill the time allotted.

4. Write it on paper. I never got into using my phone for to-do lists. First of you have to remember to check your phone for the list. And I guarantee that every time you check your phone you’ll get distracted my a text message, or an email, or low battery. I keep my list right by my computer so it’s visible, and I can easily add things. Plus it’s so rewarding to cross something off my list. When I’m done with my list it looks like a scribbled out mess. If you’re really against pen and paper, I suggest google tasks. It’s simple and easy.

5. Include some fun things. I always include some self indulgent activities on my list. It reminds me that taking care of myself is just as important as filing my tax return.

I hope this helps you get more done!

You will never “find” time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
Charles Bruxton

Dressing the part

I read a wonderful little book about living in the moment and enjoying life. Here’s a tip that I really liked from Jamie Cat Callan’s  Bonjour Happiness:

“Yes, even sweeping the kitchen floor can bring you joie de vivre, if you take your time and focus on the rhythm and motion of the broom, the whispering-whisking sound it makes and how this connects you with so many others before you who have swept a kitchen floor. And if you “dress the part,” perhaps by wearing a kerchief around your hair, you can add a little more fun and whimsy to the experience. ( pg. 23)”

I absolutely love this idea. When you dress up it’s almost like a game. My mind wonders and I imagine I’m someone else cleaning someone’s room. Characters and stories start to evolve. I finish mopping and I have an outline for a story already. Don’t worry, it’s not about mopping.

Well this got me thinking. Where else can I dress the part?

I started wearing this beautiful, blue silk scarf I got in Turkey. This is my magic writing scarf. Whenever I wear it I have to write.  Now when I take a break to get some water, I can’t clean the dishes. I don’t want to get my pretty silk scarf dirty. The dishes are just going to have to wait until I’m done being creative.

Here is me writing this very blog entry. That’s my blurry cat, Marla, in the foreground. If I make typos it’s because she’s sitting on the keyboard.

Now I just need to find a magic red beret to wear when am I’m painting. And a magic cute apron for baking. Too bad my birthday just past.

Here’s a link to Jamie Cat Callan’s blog. This is someone who really follows her HeSo and exudes happiness and confidence!

How do we let fear stop us?

I’m a coward. I wrote the first post about a month ago and it took me that long to make it public.  Was it hard to start a blog? No, that took about three minutes. Was I editing, and fine-crafting my writing? Definitely not. The truth is I made it very clear what my goals are, and by making them public I stand to make myself a public failure if I don’t achieve those goals. Isn’t it enough to have a good idea! Why can’t I just stop there?

I made plenty of excuses. Here are some of them:

Maybe I should try making money before pretending to be an expert.

I’m going to Spain for a month. How am I going to blog while I’m there? It’s not like they have the internet way over in Europe, right?

My computer’s really old, I should wait until I get a new one.

I can’t spell, and I get comma happy,,,

I need to dust under the couch. In fact my apartment is so dirty I’ll never have time to maintain a blog.

It’s a (insert day of the week here) and everyone knows it’s bad luck to start a blog on a (insert same day here).

BUT my boyfriend kept at it, and I couldn’t stand him coming home every night with that expectant look. “Did you start your blog yet???” He would ask EVERY day. Sometimes twice a day. So really I just started it to get him to stop bugging me.  If I ever make money from this, I will owe him a huge chunk. Shoot! Did I just put that in writing?

Well, let’s take a look at why we are ruled by our fears. And, yes, I know I’m not the only one. I am currently reading How to Do What You Love for a Living by Nancy Anderson. Ignore the cheesy cover, it’s actually really insightful. In addition to the great exercises and anecdotes she gives, she analyzes why we stay in jobs that we hate. Here are some of the basic fears that control our lives:

1. Fear of poverty

2. Fear of Criticism

3. Fear of loss of love

4. Fear of old age

5. Fear of death

If you think those fears don’t effect you think again. When I first read the list I didn’t think they applied to me. After all, I’m not poor, I’m pretty confident, I’m surrounded by unconditional love, I’m young, and I’m not dying anytime soon (knock on wood). However, when I read over the descriptions again with an open mind my head was bobbing up and down so much I hurt my neck. I’m just going to go over the first two. If you want more info read the book yourself. Click on the picture of the book to connect to Amazon.

When considering a new job, or a big change have you ever been slowed down by  indifference, worry, indecision, overcaution, and/or procrastination? These are all symptoms of a fear of poverty. And this fear can effect people with money even more than people without. When you know what’s at stake it’s a lot more scary. What does money mean for you? For me, it means control, independence, and freedom. Remember the first time you went to a store with your own money? Remember how good it felt to get exactly what you want and not have to beg your parents for it? When I was 12 I won a $100 and I spent it all on candy at CVS. I got what I wanted and didn’t have to ask for it. If I don’t have money, how will I ever get what I want? I will be at the mercy of other people’s charity. How would you feel without money? Bad enough to continue doing something you don’t like?

Have you experienced self-consciousness, lack of initiative , lack of ambition, and an inferiority complex? I can hear you saying yes. Well then you have suffered from a fear of criticism. I remember going to a brainstorming meeting with my brother. After hearing the initial pitch, I had some ideas but I thought they were pretty lame. I decided I would observe for a while, let my ideas mature, and then maybe share them. As the meeting went on people kept sharing the ideas I had but never vocalized, and everyone would applaud and say, “that’s brilliant!” At first I thought those people were just idiots, and I shared this with my brother afterward. He then said something that shook me to the core. “Are they idiots, or are you just under-estimating yourself?” That’s one point for my brother. How often do you hold back what you’re thinking because you’re afraid someone will think it’s dumb, unoriginal, or not funny? The more successful, powerful people I meet the more I realize they are not smarter, more talented, or hard-working than the rest of us underlings. They just speak up. In middle school I was upset that I didn’t get a solo in chorus and I asked my teacher why she choose another girl instead of me. My teacher told me that I had a better voice, but that the other girl was louder. I probably would have gotten a lot further in life if I just learned that lesson back then.

And so, I am going to finish this post with a wonderful quote from Nancy Anderson. A sentiment that is guiding my entire HeSo project. “When you know exactly what you want and have the emotional strength to go after it, your mind and heart work together as you give your plan enough time to come into being.”