April 17, 2020. Day 34, in the Age of Coronavirus – Observations and Thoughts…
Crap, I have writer’s block…again (how to get out of it and/or beat procrastination)
How can I write when each day looks exactly the same, when my usual places for inspiration are off-limits, when I have no quiet time or space to breathe or for contemplation?
This is not an exaggeration when I say that I am typically interrupted every five minutes throughout the day. Many interruptions are necessary; kids needing help with school work, dog needing to go outside, etc. But with an irregular work schedule right now–which is beholden to the needs of the kids’ schooling, the availability of the office for writing, and the unpredictability of my migraines–I feel I’m not able to get to the things I need to do or want to do.
So what’s a girl or guy to do?
1. Start small. I’ve been stressing out, thinking I need to write every day during our COVID-19 shelter-in-place order for both posterity and my sanity. But, before this, I didn’t write every day. For me, my life is too chaotic, I have too many interests, and my health is unpredictable enough that I am unable to write every day–nor do I want to.
Prior to COVID-19, I committed to writing twice a week and the only goal I set for myself in each of those writing sessions was to write for 15 uninterrupted minutes. I would set a timer and go. I didn’t stop until I hit 15 minutes or finished the topic I was writing, whichever came first.
Unless I was really in a flow or was going to forget what I was writing, I stopped when the timer went off. Otherwise, I’d allow myself five more minutes to complete my train of thought.
This goal and time commitment is small enough that it has been easy for me to maintain, which I’ve done faithfully for seven months…until COVID-19.
2. Write three (3) bullets about what you’ve just finished and what is coming next. This is the biggest tip I can give anyone for how to beat procrastination or writer’s block. It’s also the biggest tip I most often neglect, only to go back to it when I am stuck.
It is difficult for the human brain to transition to new tasks; procrastination can set in. Either our brains are totally wrapped up in the task/project we’ve just finished or we don’t know where to start on the project we’re about to pick up.
This is where three bullet technique works. It’s my amalgamation of what the Bullet Journal creator Ryder Carroll suggests for “rapid logging” & note taking (see his tips on bullet journaling here) and advice from writing coach Cynthia Morris on jotting down three words about one’s experience after each writing session. Here is what it looks like:
Bullet One: Jot down in three words how the task/project went. This is very important and is what helps you stay motivated to keep going. Writing coach Cynthia Morris teaches all her students to write three (3) words about their experience after they’ve finished writing. This can be what the person feels or what s/he has learned. My three words (picture above) for this blog post are re (lief, confusion, and direction. After starting on this post, I feel both a sense of relief for finally putting a few words to paper and direction for what I need to do next. I also feel somewhat confused because I had to stop in the middle of this post and thoughts are swimming in my head.
Bullet Two: Jot down the date and brief plan for next time you pick up the project you just finished. For me, I plan to get back to this post after the kiddos start school. I will add pictures, edit, and publish the post. For me, this step is the most helpful because I don’t need to remember where I stopped and what my next step or thought was. This step is also what has allowed me to stay on my writing schedule, as I put an appointment in my calendar for the date and time I wrote down.
Bullet Three: Jot down the specific next steps you’ll need to complete to start the next project/task. The next project I’m moving on to after completing this blog is working on a birthday video for my oldest daughter. This has turned out to be a daunting project as our pictures and videos are a jumbled mess, stored on various different media. I’ve been dreading this and need a way to get started. So I listed the very simple, immediate things I need to do to get unstuck: 1) Arrange the pictures I’ve found by year, 2) Make sure I have a photo with each family member in it, and 3) Search for pictures and videos for the first two years of our daughter’s life. By breaking the overwhelming project into a few, simple next steps, I am able to quickly get moving and break out of my writer’s block or procrastination.
3. Go back to (or create) a realistic goal. Small, doable steps reap big rewards. I was reminded of this fact when I was doing a color-by-number picture in the Happy Color app (Google Play, App Store) last night. The picture I was coloring contained the phrase “A little progress each day adds up to big results.”
I felt immensely successful when I was writing just 15 minutes, twice a week. I was able to keep to my schedule and could easily reach the goal of writing 30 minutes a week. Writing a little bit at a time like this allowed me to finish the first, very, rough draft of my book in just over six months.
I need to go back to what works for me and remember with very little, dedicated time each week, I was to able complete a draft of my book. If I can do that, I can do anything! I can carve out 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. I just need to shed my false view of perfection (which for me this past month has been to write and publish daily blog posts) and set small goals that make me feel successful.
4. Remember what brings me (you) joy and motivation. Here’s my list: early mornings in a quiet house, my daily devotions, coffee, beautiful music, being in nature, creating art, tennis, cooking great food while listening to music, reading and exercise.
When the weather is bad in Colorado as it has been this past week (and magnified by the shelter-in-place), I tend to forget there are still many things I can do that bring me joy. Poor weather also affects my health, as barometric fluctuations wreak havoc on my migraines. I can tend to fall into a tailspin; the bad weather and claustrophobic shelter-in-place have led to multiiple migraines and feeling lousy, which can often lead to lack of motivation, which can lead to procrastination (and the past few days led to my epic binge play on theHappy Color app), and can ultimately lead to despair. I can then tend to get stuck in this sadness until the weather changes or my migraine subsides.
On the opposite side, when the sun returns or I have an exceptional night sleep, my migraines tend to improve, which often leads to my early rise from bed in the morning, which typically leads to a quiet house, which leads to time and space for me to read, think, and create, which can lead to an explosion in motivation, which can lead to exercise and improved eating, which releases endorphins that can lead to tackling the tasks I’ve been avoiding and breaking through my writer’s block, which ultimately results in a sense of fullness and wellbeing.
So, the grand ole question is, if I know what drags me into the pit of despair, why the heck can’t I stay out of it?
Good question! At least I know the things to do to get out of it, once I recognize I’m there.
Due to all the hype, I have had The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse on my reading list since it was released last fall. I finally read it this morning and I’m glad I did. This book in a lot of ways reminds me of Who Moved My Cheese(by Spencer Johnson), with its encouragement to keep going in spite of the unknown or our fears. Yet, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse is an even quicker read than Who Moved My Cheese and is even more simplistic, being easily read and understood by adults and children alike.
The sentiments and encouragement contained in The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse could not be more applicable than if the author wrote this parable today–during COVID-19. The story chronicles four friends on a journey home. The older, wiser characters comfort and teach the boy along the way; ultimately resulting in the boy feeling braver, more loved, and able to handle whatever adversity comes his way.
My favorite quote from the book is spoken by the horse. He encourages the boy with his wisdom;
“Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.”
How simple and yet how complex.
As the end of the school year approaches, I realize I’m mourning the loss of the last few weeks our family will spend in grade school. A chapter of our life is closing and neither our youngest daughter nor my husband nor I will be able participate: no last field day, no last day of school, no continuation, no saying goodbye to the teachers, staff and friends we’ve made the 11 years we’ve been at our neighborhood elementary school. It’s sad and I am realizing I feel a strong sense of loss.
To make things worse, I feel guilty about my sadness knowing others are dealing with more difficult things like loss of health, employment or a loved one. I can often do this to myself, berating my feelings as not justified or valid because others suffer more greatly. But, a few additional words of wisdom shared by the mole in The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse encourage me this morning:
“Being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindnesses.”
“Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself.”
Right. It is okay for me to be easier on and forgive myself. To drive that point home, the final realization by the boy strikes me like a ton of books:
“‘What’s your best discovery?’ asked the mole.
‘That I’m enough as I am,’ said the boy.”
A reminder for me as a sinner; through Christ, I am enough. My prayer during this tumultuous time is that I remember to give grace to others and myself, knowing that we are enough.
Be prohibited from worshipping in church on Easter Sunday. I understand the necessity but it pained me not to be able to go to church or take communion and to have to worship at home yesterday, on the most important of Christian holidays.
A question keeps creeping into my mind: if the government can disallow worship in a church during an “emergency,” how much in danger are we of a slippery slope? One of the greatest tenets of our nation, in my opinion, is the freedom of religion. I am both concerned about the infringement on that freedom and understanding of the dire importance to #stayathome right now. However, how might this edict threaten our religious freedom in the future? In the short term, I am relieved to see that in Colorado, at least, the Stay at Home orders have been amended to allow Houses of Worship to remain open, so long as they follow distancing requirements.
Celebrate a holiday without extended family. With the majority of both my husband’s and my families in town, we’ve never spent a major holiday or birthday alone without the company of at least some of our extended family. It’s a privilege I took for granted and now dearly miss.
Color My Children’s Hair. Necessity meet boredom. Necessity dictated the haircuts; boredom, well, you can see what I mean by the adjacent picture. It’s a good time for kids to try new styles and colors. Still, I never thought I’d be the one doing it.
Feel like I’m living on the Wild Frontier. It’s such a crazy time. Jokes and memes abound about the unprecedented situation that encompasses us. Perhaps one of my favorite memes is the one at the top of this post, which was making its rounds on social media the week quarantine started. “Well, what a freaking year this week has been.” Could anyone have said it better?
To me, living in this strange era is also like living in a modern-day version of the Wild Frontier.
Bobcats? This past weekend, we heard rumors of a bobcat living on our street. Apparently, neighbors were awakened to the animal in question morbidly devouring another animal and there are reports that this has been going on for some time. We don’t live in the wild, just in a regular suburb of a big city.
Bears? In the fall, my husband and I were awakened by the sound of a black bear rooting through our neighbor’s trash bins below our bedroom window. For many weeks, we saw and heard about this bear making our street its home. For almost 20 years living in this neighborhood, we’ve neither seen nor heard bears or bobcats. The closest we’ve gotten were a couple of foxes and a coyote.
Hambone Soup? With the shortage of some foods and requests to limit our visits to the grocery store, we’ve had to be resourceful about meals. Last night, I made hambone soup from our Easter dinner leftovers. Before COVID-19, I would have never considered making this soup. I love to cook; don’t get me wrong. But this isn’t my style, takes a fair amount of time and preparation, and I’m not a huge fan of pork. However, this meal turned out way better than I expected and we didn’t waste a thing.
Children schooled at home? All parents of school-aged kids are all living this one right now, aren’t we? Makes me appreciate modern-day education and teachers, as well as all the responsibilities and hardships the early pioneers had. We have the benefit of modern technology, communication, and medicine. How would we endure without these luxuries?
Going only as far as I can walk on foot? If you would’ve told me six weeks ago that I wouldn’t use a car or step foot in any building outside my home for a month or more, I would’ve thought you were crazy. And yet, here I am; taking very long walks just to get away from my block, driving nowhere, and not entering any other facility.
Consider “taking a shower” my biggest accomplishment of the day. I have good intentions and generally I’m very “Type A” (as I’m sure you’ve gathered) but the longer quarantine goes, the less motivated I am to do basic things like shower or keep up my routine.
At dinner last night, my kids and husband were giving me a hard time about staging too many photos on my blog. “It doesn’t have to look perfect, Mom. That’s not real life!” “You take candid pictures of us but want better pictures of you.” “You told me to take another picture of you without your glasses because you looked like an old lady.” “You staged a pile of games that we didn’t even play for a blog photo …” and so on.
It was good-hearted teasing but I felt humbled. And, you know what? They were right. So, in honor of my kiddos and husband, the picture below is the real quarantined me; donning “loungewear” (aka PJs), unwashed hair, and no makeup. The photo is untouched; no use of filters, cropping or editing.
Funny thing is, as I study myself in the picture below, I actually think I look better without makeup, not trying so hard or frankly at all …
Howling at the Moon? About a week ago, our neighbors told us a story about people in Denver howling at the moon every night at 8pm. What an event that would be to see and hear people venturing to their doors and windows to participate in a nightly, communal howl. Sounds very primal doesn’t it?
Well, two days ago, my kids came in from outside and said they heard people howling and couldn’t get out dog to stop howling back. People howling…what, why?
As the article states, many might also use the nightly howl to show support for the healthcare workers daily risking their own health to fight the COVID-19 Pandemic. Supporting those on the “front lines” as Rose puts it, even if it’s in such a small way, might certainly makes me feel joy.
Appreciating Others’ Adaptability. Last night my daughter’s jumprope team hosted a Zoom workout. At first my daughter resisted but then she fully got into it; setting up the iPad outside for her virtual practice. She switched Zoom to gallery view so she could see her teammates while she followed along. Double bonus; our daughter got exercise doing something that she loves and connected with people outside our famliy. Her good mood and smile that followed filled my cup.
Laughing at the Dog. Our dog is very, very, high energy and extremely needy for attention. Sometimes this can be quite draining, especially with all of us at home these days. But walking by her kennel yesterday, I discovered her totally chill position (see picture at right). I had to laugh at our silly dog.
Likewise, in this picture below, our dog wouldn’t let our daughter do situps on the ground. Anytime any of us lay on the floor, our dog has to lay on top of us. How can that not make you smile?
I’ve been feeling fairly isolated and blue the past few days, as I am sure many people are. There appears to be no end in site to our quarantine and according to the news the expected impacts of COVID-19 are massive. A large series of unknows lies ahead. Life as we once knew it is gone, at least for now. We’re all adjusting to a new normal, which includes staying in our near our homes for most of the time. I haven’t been in a car for three weeks. I do my best to get out every day and walk beyond my neighborhood to try to keep my mind and body active. Unfortunately, and especially when I have a migraine like I’ve had the last few days, there is still ample time for my mind to take a deep dive into the pit of despair.
Yet, as I read articles on LinkedIn and news outlets this morning, I saw great ingeniuty in the way companies and people are working to keep us connected. This led me on a search for things we could do from home to feel more like we’re living. Here are a few ideas I found that help us interact with the world around us…from home:
Adult Social Connection? Yes, Please! As reported in this NPR article, “Virtual Beer Pong Becomes An Emotional Lifeline for Workers,“by Yuki Noguchi, a number of companies are using virutal party games to connect employees, like Beer Pong in this article. This could easily be adapted for family and friends at home as well, using Zoom, Facetime, Facebook, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, Skype, or any other video chat service.
Virtual Happy Hour. My husband and I have kicked around the idea of hosting a virtual happy hour using some of the the same tools (Facetime or Zoom, etc). Marilyn Ong provides suggestions for “How to Host a Virtual Game Night,” in her article on WireCutter. She suggests making it somewhat formal in that you should send out a virtual “Save the Date,” include snack selections and even include virtual party games.
Online game night: Marilyn Ong also provides suggestions for hosting a great online game night in her article “How to Host a Virtual Game Night.” She recommends trying Jackbox Party Games for a wide selection of online games you can play remotely. Game nights can be for adults only or bring in family-favorites for fun for all ages.
From our experience, Uno, Yahtzee, Apples to Apples, Battle Ship, Connect Four, and Charades are also games that can be played in multiple locations, so long as each location has its own version of the game.
Trivial Pursuit can be played virtually and would only require one version of the game. You could probably also find a way to play Catchphrase or Heads Up in multiple locations.
Connecting with Family andFriends: I’m discovering there are also many things you can do as a family with friends or relatives who are in other locations.
For the Kids: Virtual Sleepover. A few weeks ago, our kids tried virtual sleepovers with friends. They used Facetime and Google Duo to make it feel like their friends were right next to them. They popped popcorn and got set up to watch a movie. Our youngest daughter tried to set up a Netflix Party so that she and her friend could watch the same movie at exactly the same pace. The Netflix Party extension (available only on computers) was a little glitchy and we ultimately abandoned it. They ended up doing their best to watch the same movie and start it at the same time, while using Facetime to talk.
Online movie night with friends or family. Although we didn’t have much success with Netflix Party, Tim Barribeau, also from Wirecutter, suggests some other alterntatives in his article, “How to Be Social While Social Distancing During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” He recommends using Discord, which is a messaging app like Slack, to host an online movie night. According to Barribeau, “On Discord, you can set up a screen share for up to 50 people, so one person can play a movie on their screen, and everyone else can watch it…” As an alternative, he also suggests doing what we tried, which is starting a streaming movie at the same time in each location and using some other app to video chat or text.
Exercise and Sports Training. If any of you know me, you are keenly aware that I have a passion for tennis and that I am absolutely lost without it. Over the past month, neighbors have seen me hopelessly banging a ball against our garage door, only to have to chase it down the street when the ball hits the corner of a stone on the face of our house or a break in the garage. They’ve also seen me attempt and fail to set up a mock tennis court in our street. That didn’t work well either. But, through research, videos sent from my family, and trial and error, I’ve found a few things that might work.
General Sports Training. My latest attempt at keeping a tennis connection is to watch and follow along with various YouTube training videos each week. I’ve found a video series by Essential Tennis, which provides free and quick drills on footwork, technique, fitness, coordination, and strategy. Here’s a link to the first in the six video series: How to Improve Your Tennis at Home – Video 1.
In doing a brief search on YouTube, it appears there are countless training videos for individuals to stay caught up on any sport they are involved in, not just tennis.
Sports Training Tools. I’ve also been suckered into buying a solo tennis trainer, which I just received in the mail. If you haven’t seen it, the trainer consists of a weighted base, with a bungy string attached to a tennis ball (seen in the picture to the right). This allows a player to hit the ball in the street or grass or basement (if it’s big enough) and have it come back to them–much like hitting a ball against a backboard. I had one of these when I was younger and hope this proves to satisfy my tennis cravings.
I have also seen other types of tools for other sports advertised. There are “smart” soccer balls; nets for softball, baseball, and soccer; wiffle balls for golf, softball, and baseball, etc. And, for basketball, a person can throw the ball up against an outside wall to practice shooting technique or practice dribbling in the street or basement. I’ve tried to get our son to try my husband’s old hacky-sack, to keep his footwork up…but he’s not much intterested.
My son’s soccer club and my daughter’s jumprope team have also posted weekly training plans and videos to help keep the kids interested, in shape, and busy from home.
Bottom line, if you are looking to train at home, you may not like the options but there are plenty out there.
Work out For Free – Online. Finally, I found countless YouTube videos, many of them free, that provide in-home workouts and conditioning.
Dodgers Live Workout Series: My latest obsession is a live-streaming video put on by the LA Dodgers Director of Strength and Conditioning, Brandon McDaniel. It’s called the Dodgers Live Workout Series and is broadcast every Monday and Friday from 8:00 – 8:30 am PT. This is a full body workout, consisting of cardio, flexibility, and strength and can be done without any major equipment. McDaniel offers suggestions for alternatives if individuals do not have free weights, bands, or jumpropes, etc.
BRIT+CO – If you subscribe to BRIT+CO, each week they push out wellness tips and access to various workout and art classes. Last week, they offered a discount on at-home yoga videos from one of their favorite LA Yoga Studios. Check out their website, BRIT+CO. It contains many classess, suggestions, and links to promote overall health and wellbeing. They also have an extensive library of at-home art classes, which may still be discounted as well.
After reviewing what I collected above, I am struck by how enormous the list of things to do at home is. Wow! I now am realizing that there are so many things I can do from home, and most of them are free…and I didn’t even touch on the plaethera of online art exhibits, museum classes, and the like.
Today, life is very different for all of us. Some may be facing serious illnesses and are afraid to seek treatment in the hospital. Some of us may be infected by COVID-19 or know someone who is. Some of us may have lost people close to us. Some may be braving the scary risks to provide us healthcare, safety and food. Others are dealing with disabilities or chronic conditions and the anxiety that brings. And many others of us are either experiencing job loss or the imminent fear of loss of wages or employment. We have anxious children, spouses, parents. Everywhere fear exists and the unknown is great.
Yet, in the midst of our suffering–and I’m writing this mostly to remind myself–we have opportunity for enjoyment, to improve our health, and to connect. When I’m sad or scared or unwell, I find I withdraw and don’t want to engage in the world around me.
I am slowly learning that I need connection, physical & mental exercise, variety, and hope to navigate this uncertainty. All of the tools above can offer me (and hopefully you) that…if I choose to allow them.
You can take the girl out of consulting, but you can’t take consulting out of the girl.
My husband laughed at reading my blogpost yesterday. He said it sounded so much like a consultant, with all the charts and graphs. I didn’t realize it at the time but after rereading it, I have to admit he’s right.
I love me my charts, graphs, spreadsheets and lists. Even when writing about my personal experience and how to adjust to life in the time of COVID-19, I use graphs, charts, and lists to organize my thoughts and share some advice. These tools have been so deeply ingrained in me that they now course through my veins. Are there any consultants you know who are not obsessed with these things?
I am drawn to buzz words. There’s a reason Dilbert comics are still going strong. They are grounded in reality and many of its comics poke fun at consultants, like the one below. Whatever the hot topic or acronym or term of the day (think “pivot” from my post a few days ago), you can be sure that consultants are adopting it. There’s a reason the term consultant-speak exists.
Dilbert Comic, February 8, 1993 //www.dilbert.com/strip/1993-02-08?utm_source
I love tech, cool gadgets, and office supplies. It’s a dirty little secret that consultants are always on the hunt for the best pens, notebooks, calendars and to do lists (whether it’s a paper planner, hot new app, or hybrid…which is my method).
My latest obsession is the Rocketbook Fusion notebook. It is the perfect melding of the flexibility of handwritten notes, charts, to do lists, calendars, etc, with the accessibility and readability of a cool app. If you’ve never heard of it, you must check out this quirky promo video from its creators: https://youtu.be/0SiR_7u9Rps
Believe me when I say I have tried and abandoned dozens of notebooks, planners, apps, and software in search of nirvana: the perfect, customizable system that manages and stores my planning, notes, art, and writing. Until 12 months ago, I would’ve said no such thing exists. And then my husband introduced me to The Rocketbook. Cue sounds of angelic voices singing.
The Rocketbook is infinitely reusable and customizable. Notebook pages are easily scanned and then sent to folders in various cloud apps for storage and accessibility. The best part is that the scans use OCR (Handwriting Recognition), so the handwriting on your notebook pages is searchable in whatever app you send your notes to.
The notebooks are a bit pricey, about the price of a decent planner. However, I have used the same notebook for over a year and have not abandoned it nor have I needed any other notebook or planning tool. I love that I can create my own permanent or temporary templates. When I run out of pages, I simply scan the completed pages, erase them, and start over. My scanned notes are easily searchable and accessible as well. I’ve not found a better product that so completely meets my needs.
I can not help but give advice. As I’m writing this post that pokes fun at my inner-consultant, I am chuckling. Even in a fun post, I cannot keep myself for giving advice or offering how tos. It’s present in everything I do. I’m a hopeless case.
Time for a New Plan. What do I do when I don’t know what to do next, you ask? If anyone reading this blog post knows me, I bet you can answer that question: I make a plan.
As I wrote about a few days ago, when going through change I like to consider myself a quick adapter. However, that rapid movement to action often precedes a swift, downhill slide into sorrow, frustration, and melancholy. But thankfully, there’s such a thing as a change curve. Many experts use the Kubler Ross change curve, which I’ve drawn above, to represent the typical path individuals take when experiencing change. And although I think my change curve looks more dramatic, like what I’ve drawn below, there’s still good news for me. What goes down, must come up. Right?
I would say right now I’m somewhere between recognizing that “Being angry & frustrated isn’t good for me” and self-reflecting with “What can I learn from this?”.
In the beginning, when it looked like we were going to have to quarantine, I saw opportunity in being homebound and having a quieter schedule as a family. I knew I would have more time to write and finish projects around the house. I was excited about what this new change could bring in terms of personal and community growth.
Then came my disappointment that others were not adapting as quickly; and frustration as I saw many people flouting the CDC requests for social-distancing and quarantine. I was frustrated with the schools for not appearing to be attentive to the immense pressure students and families were feeling. I was angry at the amount of work and time on the computer my children were expected to complete. I felt we were buckling underneath the enormous weight of all the instant change put upon us.
I felt hopeless with not being able to talk to someone about these concerns. I have a learning background and have both created and rolled out online learning, and in very large, global organizations. I have experience with managing change and was frustrated because I felt others were not open to listening to suggestions that could ease some of the stresses in the remote learning rollout.
I have advocated for change to the point that it was affecting my health. I have felt sad and hopeless, wanting to stay in bed all day. I have listened as God told me to “Be still.” And, most recently, I have forgiven myself for being impatient and forgiven others as well. I am starting to remember that everyone goes through change in their own time and own way. In general, my empathy is returning…and that’s a place where I like it most and feel best about myself.
Now, I’m ready to move on. One of the best ways for me to get to “moving on” is to write it down. Get a plan on paper. Set a goal to use my new plan for a month, noting what works well about the plan and what needs to change.
Start Small: For others just starting out on a change journey, I would not recommend trying to keep a plan or a schedule for an entire month. Rather, I would recommend trying something for just a few days, jotting down what works and what you would change, and then tweaking your plan. Then I would try that new, revised plan for a few more days, note what works and what should change, tweak again, and so on.
For me, however, my professional career has been all about managing change and driving completion of goals. I have had a lot of practice with planning and learning what works for me. Though, I still fall prey to sitting in indecision, avoidance, anger, and sadness when going through change. But when I can finally recognize what I’m doing and where I’m at, I can usually quickly reset.
To Reset, Write it Down or Draw it Out. Resetting and creating a new plan works best for me when I write down a few thoughts about what I’ve learned, what I want this new normal to look like, and how I want to feel. I then scribble out a new, loose weekly schedule that reflects these thoughts. It usually takes a few iterations until the loose schedule feels right. The new version of my schedule is shown below.
Include What is Important To You. From experience, if I don’t have time reserved on my calendar, whatever the goal, task, priority, it doesn’t get done. Through many bouts of trial and error, I have learned that a successful schedule for me needs to include:
God (prayer, devotion, and online church)
My health & wellbeing (meditation, PT exercises, and other exercise, and daily rest and decompression)
Tennis (right now that’s visualization, cross-training, and watching tennis videos)
Work (writing, art, advocacy)
Running the Family LLC (cooking, cleaning, buying groceries, maintenance & repairs)
Plenty of unstructured time
I feel claustrophobic if too much of my day is scheduled, so I leave plenty of time for uncertainties, and also my health. That way, if I have a migraine, it won’t totally derail me
Mornings: I don’t plan anything in the morning before school starts. This is my quiet, coffee time. Oh! How I love coffee! I have a routine I follow but this also allows for any reading, listening to music, creating art, or other cup-filling activities I want to do
Afternoons: Right now unstructured time in the afternoon and evening allows for the uncertainty of quarantine, including helping kids with schoolwork, getting outside for a health break or exercise, dealing with emotional issues, discussions with my husband, connecting with family and friends, spending time together as a family, etc…and completing any unfinished work
Flexibility is King: The biggest key, and I repeat the biggest key, to the success of any plan is flexibility. I have learned that if something doesn’t get done in the time I’ve allotted, I need to either let it go or roll it over to the next block of time I’ve allowed for that activity. I don’t try to make it up somewhere else. If I don’t finish an article on Tuesday, then it rolls over to Thursday. If all the cleaning doesn’t get done on Monday, it doesn’t get done. I may try to pick it up again on Friday but I won’t try to fit it in somewhere else. In the past, this created a feeling that I was always behind and never had time for anything. Now, I try to celebrate what I could do and let go of the rest.
Use Mind Tricks: I also have to play games with myself, setting very short timers to keep me on task. I avoid setting a timer for more than 15 minutes. This keeps me hyper-focused and prevents me from feeling overwhelmed. If I think a task is going to take too long, I won’t do it. Plain and simple. I’ve had to learn to trick my brain by saying as my grandpa used to say, “Fifteen minutes. I can do that. I can stand on my head for that long.” It’s amazing what can be done in 15 minutes, when I put my mind to it.
Most of all, have patience. Change doesn’t happen overnight, unless we are talking about the impact of COVID-19. But the change I’m talking about is personal change; adopting a new way of doing things or new skills, under normal, non-life-threatening circumstances. That change does not happen overnight. But, with patience, sticktoitiveness, a plan, and a willingness to adapt your plan, change will ultimately occur. And it’s very important to note and celebrate the progress you make along the way. This is what helps you feel successful and stay motivated.
I believe purposeful small steps, with constant self-encouragement and reflection, are the way to see impactful, permanent change. It takes time but it can be done.
Time to “pivot.” I have recently seen a number of business and strategy leaders on LinkedIn using the word “pivot” to represent the concept of companies and employees quickly adapting to meet the ever-changing needs and economic uncertainties of our current time.
It reminds me of the concept behind the book, “Who Moved My Cheese,” by Spencer Johnson. This book has long been a “Change Management” staple in the business world and is often used to help employees and company leadership understand the need for and benefits of quickly adapting to change. However, the lessons contained within this book are applicable to any person going through any type of change.
There are four main characters in “Who Moved My Cheese”: Sniff and Scurry (the mice), and Hem and Haw (the humans). The whole book is a simplistic illustration of the typical ways people adapt to change. In “Who Moved My Cheese,” change is personified as a wedge of cheese that, for a great deal of time, sits in the same location of a maze in which the characters live. The mice and the humans come to depend on, expect and feel entitled to the cheese being in the same place every day.
One day, however, the cheese is gone. The rest of the book chronicles how the mice and the people deal with the cheese’s disappearance (change). Sniff and Scurry, as their names denote, loose little time thinking about the fact that the cheese is no longer in the same location. They do not bemoan the fact that the cheese is gone nor do they feel angry or entitled. They do not blame each other for the missing cheese. Rather, they quickly leave–or pivot–in search of new food.
Hem and Haw, on the other hand, continue to go back to the location where the cheese once sat. They become frustrated, blaming each other for the cheese’s disappearance. They did not notice that because four characters were daily eating the cheese, the cheese was getting smaller. When the cheese is finally gone, they are shocked and angry and bewildered. They did not recognize the warning signs and did not prepare for a loss of their cheese. As a consequence, it takes Hem and Haw significantly longer to accept the change and start looking for new cheese. At one point, they are in danger of starvation because they refuse to accept that the cheese is gone and they need to find new cheese.
As I’m reflecting on our current time and the massive amount of change we are experiencing, I realize that I personify all the characters of “Who Moved My Cheese.” In the beginning, whenever a new change, issue, or situation presents itself, I am typically very quick to assess my options and pivot; like the mice in the book. I almost think I like being the first to accept the change and adapt.
However, when I see that change is not happening the way I think it should or is occurring slower than I think is reasonable, I can often become indignant that other people are not changing as quickly or are digging in their feet, or I become angry with the bureaucracy holding things up, etc; thus, morphing into Hem and Haw, the people in the book.
After a great deal of distress followed by a good dose of self-flagellation and hopefully self-reflection, I can then typically and slowly accept the pace at which change is happening and accept that everyone goes through change differently–in their own way and in their own time.
My Pivot: This is not a pretty picture I paint of myself, I realize, but it, unfortunately, is the truth. A key benefit of reading books like “Who Moved My Cheese,” is that it helps me and hopefully other readers understand how I/we deal with change. Once a person knows how they go through change, they can alter their course and actions. I am now more aware of what I do when going through something new. My next goal is to shorten or alleviate the part where I go back to “Hemming” and “Hawing” during the change.
I would be so much stronger mentally if I could realize I’m going to have some frustrations and that’s okay…and that I need to be patient with the people around me, leaders in our schools, and leaders in our government to come along. I realize it’s not common to quickly adapt to change and get moving. I need to also realize I’m an outlier and because of that, I need to help others gently through this personal change (as I do in a professional environment), rather than becoming frustrated with the slow pace.
If any of these struggles sound like you, I highly recommend reading “Who Moved My Cheese.” It’s a quick read, suitable for all ages and, hopefullly, you’ll learn something about yourself in the process like I did.
There can be such opportunity in going through change. It forces us beyond our comfort zone and can result in learning new skills or ways of doing things. Most importantly, go through difficult times can help us build confidence, endurance, and perseverance.
The sun will rise again. Funny what a difference two days makes. In my Diary of a New Normal – Day 18 post, I wrote about not being able to do any work on my blog. I was avoiding writing, wasn’t able to sleep, and generally felt hopeless. I think probably half the people on the planet have felt the same way sometime during the past two days.
For me, much of this sadness and gloom was due to the ongoing issues we have encountered with remote schooling. I was feeling helpless and hopeless with the workload and the stress it causes our children, despite advocating for change and providing what I hoped was respectful and constructive feedback. I had been struggling with understanding why so much work is necessary or appropriate given the current state of the world and the enormous amount of change every person is sustaining.
However, as I wrote a couple days ago, I felt strongly that God was telling me to “Be still…” (Psalm 46:10). Over the last few days, through prayer, I have worked to let go of my frustration. I have asked for strength to trust God and to stop worrying about how schooling could be less demanding or stressful and tried my best to just focus on the present. And God always proves to be faithful. A number of amazing things happened:
1. Two teachers for our oldest daughter reached out to us and offered some very timely assistance and accommodations
2. I was able to do my scheduled counseling session, which we conducted by phone call. My counselor helped me to reset and gave really good advice. He suggested the following:
Try to maintain a calm demeanor and avoid going into crisis mode, especially around the kids. Remember that we WILL get through this and everything is going to be okay.
Communicate to children that while school is important, it’s not the most important thing right now. And remember this ourselves.
Remember that everyone–students, parents, educators– is learning how to work and learn, while also learning to care for themselves in this new normal.
Take things one day at a time and don’t give too much importance to any one hour, day, or situation.
3. We found out that our school district will complete the rest of the school year online. Initially this was very upsetting, especially when we realize all the rites-of-passage our kids will be missing. However, having a sense of “closure” on that question helped us settle in and know what to do next. It’s weirdly comforting knowing we’ll be doing this for the next seven-eight weeks.
4. An impressively strong message of leadership from our school district’s superintendent accompanied the announcement of the prolonged remote learning. His message was something you might expect to hear from a great leader during war time. I was calmed and my frustration was quelled by his message, for it contained:
Acknowledgement that there are still many unanswered questions
Clear direction for what comes next, communicating confidence and hope
A call to stand together
A direct request for feedback from students and parents in the form of a survey
Resources for community members; be it where to get assistance with food or access to mental health professionals, and the like
I don’t know why it continues to surprise me when God answers my prayers and addresses my concerns. And it still surprises me that this often seems to come when I feel He is “ignoring” my pleas for what seems like an eternity. Then, when I am “still and know that [He] is God,” my answer comes.