To Do List Minimalist

November Chalkboard for crushin' goals. Note the two big priorities--one professional and one personal, because I'm balanced like that.

November Chalkboard for crushin' goals. Note the two big priorities--one professional and one personal, because I'm balanced like that.

People often associate minimalism with getting rid of stuff, a less is more mentality, and having more experiences over more things, and so on and so forth. All those things are great, fantastic even, and I try to incorporate them in my life. The most rewarding application of the minimalist philosophy for me, however, has been cutting the crap from my to do list and saying no to opportunities and obligations not in line with my goals and values (and I am so bad at saying no…it’s ridiculous).

I keep track of my to do’s on a giant chalkboard in my office. I got the idea from the Being Boss Chalkboard method (Being Boss is an awesome weekly podcast for creative entrepreneurs that I kind of love). I change it up from month to month to suit my mood. But I was creeping back into my "let's do all the things" mindset. In October, I had this huge long to do list where I had a bullet point for every freaking thing I was interested in accomplishing. And most of that stuff, I just didn't finish. Instead, that giant unfocused list made me feel scattered and all over the place. I didn’t make time for the stuff that mattered. 

So for November, I thought, “What if I focused on maybe one or two things? Could I be more productive, more successful at getting shit done?” My creative writing was sitting far too low on my to do list and I never got much written—starting and stopping a number of different novels, short stories, and essays (because heaven forbid I choose just one kind of project). Thanks to the added incentive of NanoWriMo 2016, I feel freaking amazing! It’s been a week, and I've written over 10,000 words towards my novel and busted my ass at the gym, culminating in a Sunday 5k for the hell of it. I think this minimalist approach to my to do list is working so far. I’ve already been more productive in a week then I was the whole month of October.  I don't have the “should have” guilt eating away at me each night when my head hits the pillow and I’m not waking up at 3 am in a panic that I’m wasting my life—I’m doing the things I want to be doing. 

There's always the stuff you've got to do like clean your house, buy groceries, go to work, etc., but what about the things that you want to do? Don't forget to make room for those! Maybe even put them at the top of your to do list every once in awhile. If we don’t make time for those goals, they will never get accomplished. As I’m already learning this month, all it takes is a little bit of time each day and a willingness to cut out the extraneous bullshit.

What I Learned About Myself by Following a Twelve Week Fitness Program

The sun through the trees on an evening walk.

The sun through the trees on an evening walk.

A little over twelve weeks ago, I made the decision to make my fitness a priority as a way to help manage my anxiety and keep myself in shape. In the past, I would do really well for awhile with running or yoga or something similar, but then lose interest. This time, I had a goal of building lasting muscle and a lasting routine. 

I found a fitness plan online that listed everything I needed to do each day for the next twelve weeks. And guys, I did it! And I did it on my own terms. I was pretty anti-gym membership but I wanted the weight challenge and diversity I could get from the equipment and classes. I had to find a gym that didn't intimidate me or make me feel icky, and was fortunate to find a great women-only gym. I guess that all-girl education model from high school stuck with me. Personally, I am more comfortable in that kind of environment. 

Beyond building muscle and amping up my cardio health, I learned a lot about myself, how I work, and what keeps me motivated. Here are my takeaways from my 12 week fitness experience:

  1. I gained so much confidence in my ability to follow through on a goal from start to finish. If I keep at it, I can complete something. Putting my body to use made me feel like I could take on other challenges, that I could build healthy habits and stick with them. 
  2. It helps to add structure to a goal. By following a schedule and checking off days and workouts I completed, I had small wins each day and the achievement high kept me coming back for more. 
  3. I grew stronger and more sure of myself, accomplishing things I didn't think I could do. For instance, around week 10, the program told me to do sprints, at a really fast rate. I thought there was no way. In the past, I would not even have tried if I didn’t think I could do it. But I tried sprinting at the fast rate recommended and to my surprise, I could actually do it. All those weeks before I had built up the muscle and stamina to support myself.
  4. It is helpful to stick to a day by day schedule and to pay attention to the daily routine. When I only focused on the big picture, I wasn’t giving enough attention to the steps it would take to get there and so I would become overwhelmed by that big daunting goal and never achieve it. Same with the fitness routine, when I looked what came in the next week or month, I was intimidated. In those moments, I would tell myself I just have to get through this day and then I can worry about what comes next. This was the biggest change to my behavior that helped me stay on track. Taking it day by day and gradually building, without freaking out about the end result, taught me to appreciate the process. When I saw the payoffs reveal themselves, I knew it was because of my discipline and hard work. 
  5. I discovered my best, most productive working style. I need structure and a dedicated space where I feel comfortable. I also need some spontaneity. For these twelve weeks, that meant changing things up and going for outdoor walks and jogs, exploring the neighborhood and parks, and having flexibility when life came up, like moving and travel. 
  6. I need to follow my gut. I took the fitness plan and molded it so it felt right for me and my lifestyle. Along with exercises and routines, they provided a diet plan. But they included very meat-heavy meals and as a vegetarian, my diet is already limited, so I ate how felt best for me. I try to eat pretty healthy, avoiding processed foods and eating lots of veggies (most of the time—I’m looking at you Ben & Jerry’s). 
  7. The importance of making goals a priority on my daily calendar. I discovered that excuses are bullshit. If it is important to me, I will make the time and find a way. I have yet to miss a Game of Thrones episode or miss the next book on my reading list. I engage on Instagram and read copious amounts of articles online. If I can find time for this stuff, I can find time for the stuff that really matters to me.
  8. Last but not least, the mind body connection is real! Busting my ass and achieving a goal has been so good for my mental health. When my body is off, my mind is off and I didn’t even realize the clarity and focus I was missing until I started pushing myself physically in this new routine.

I am eager to apply these lessons to other areas of my life—those goals that seem too hard or unrealistic, and even the simple ones that I constantly put off. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you push your boundaries, try a new approach, and see something through!

Scatterbrained, or How I Go After My Goals

You know all that talk about priorities and going after the life you want? I talked about here and here and here...okay, I talk about it A LOT. That shit is hard.

Talking is one thing, but taking action is a struggle. My biggest weakness: analysis paralysis. I research every method and read every article I can find on how to do something until I get so overwhelmed by all the advice that I can’t seem to put any of it to action. I get too wrapped up in the “right” way to do something when I could just trust myself, try something, and see how it goes (most of the time anyway). 

Instead, I do the things I think I should be doing and not the things that I want to do, the things that will lead to real change. Besides my tendency to overanalyze, I've got a few other personality quirks that stand in my way:  

  1. Debilitating perfectionism and fear of failure. I put off the riskier stuff that I know I need to do and stick with what I know, even though it won't get me anywhere. Yeah, the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. 
  2. Struggles with time management. Or more specifically, making time for the things that are important to me regardless if they feel productive right now. They are the necessary steps needed to get me where I want to be. 
  3. Trying to do everything all at once. Which again, I've tried in the past and never works out, but yet I still do it. 

Since its April, I figured it was time for a quarterly review of the goals I made for 2016. Some I started strong with and have waned, (like the blog) others have really built up momentum in the last few months (my workout routine). I’m proud of what I was able to do, and yet feeling guilty about the stuff I have put off. 

My goals look something like this:

  • Health: workout, eat well, be kind to yourself mentally and physically - I started off slow at the beginning of the year but I have been doing really good the past few months…go me! What got me going? Making a plan and sticking with it.
  • Career and professional development: create website and blog, freelance, writing/editing, creative writing for publication, make “you” your first client - Started off the year great in this category but got caught up in my analysis paralysis and froze.
  • Personal development: art projects, reading, writing, try new things - Reading never stops, it is the most constant thing in my life, but the rest is on and off because it feels too indulgent.
  • Travel more - Got a few trips coming up, feeling good here.
  • Improve your life where you are right now - I might dislike the cold but we moved to a more exciting part of Buffalo and I already feel my positive vibes returning, daily life in the Buff feels much more tolerable…of course Spring helps.
  • Hammer out financial priorities - Tackled this at the beginning of the year and stayed pretty constant, but this was already a habit so it was more manageable.
  • Take risks and have courage - This one is abstract but important for me to remember. It ties in directly with all the above goals, so sometimes I'm doing good here but could always improve.

Did you notice anything about the list? Some of them complement each other nicely, but others are vague and take far more time and commitment then I've been giving them. It's a lot to work on all at once. I am really only fruitful when I do things one at a time but I am impatient and feel like a slacker when I take that approach. I want to change and improve all the things now! But that doesn't work for me no matter how much I wish that it would. 

A cluttered mind (and to do list) can be just as distracting and unproductive as a cluttered space. So with that in mind, I'm going to go after less, refocus, and put my energy into a couple of key goals. That doesn't mean the goals I mentioned above go away, it means I hunker down and decide what to tackle next and give it my full attention instead of jumping around from one thing to the next until my brain resembles scrambled eggs. Just writing this post has helped me organize my thoughts and I can see clearly, in writing, that my professional and personal development goals are up on deck...need to prioritize and break these babies down into some step by step plans. If, like me, there is a ton you want to do but you are all over the place and can't move forward, try writing it out...sometimes the answers are hidden among the gibberish!

Friday Musings: On Success

When I first got this little orchid, it had three beautiful flowers. But within a month, the flowers had withered and died. I thought my orchid was a goner. But the leaves were still green, so I brought it to a new environment and continued to care for it. It took time, but my orchid has blossomed again. I think it just needed a change in perspective.

When I first got this little orchid, it had three beautiful flowers. But within a month, the flowers had withered and died. I thought my orchid was a goner. But the leaves were still green, so I brought it to a new environment and continued to care for it. It took time, but my orchid has blossomed again. I think it just needed a change in perspective.

I used to think success was:

  • Having a steady, 9-5 job in a prestigious field for the rest of my life 
  • Impressing others with my outward achievements
  • Owning a home and all the fancy stuff to fill it 
  • Having a lot of money 

As I strived for those things, I wasn’t happy, or satisfied, or fulfilled. I didn't feel successful. There is nothing wrong with the list above, but I realized they are not accurate measures of success. I was doing what society wanted me to do in the endless pursuit of "things." I realized I was following someone else’s path, not mine.

I’ve learned that my definition of success is something different. It's doing what I think is best for me and what aligns with my values, even if it isn't the norm or unpopular. I want to pursue my goals and dreams and succeed living in an untraditional way. And I want the freedom to change course and try something new. I want to inspire others to do the same… to be true to yourself.

Right now, at this very moment, my vision of success is:

  • Trying something different and succeeding 
  • Overcoming my fears and realizing I do have the capacity to do the things I want to do (like write books, and make beautiful designs, and live creatively)
  • Constantly feeling curious and invigorated by new experiences 
  • Working through the hard parts because of the satisfaction it brings 
  • Making a small difference to someone else

This vision translates in many ways. For family and friends, success means having an open mind and listening, mutual respect, and showing up. A successful relationship for me is supportive, honest, and generous. Success at work means making a positive difference and challenging myself to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Financial success is living within my means. Success in creativity means taking risks and trying new things.

To me, success is being true to yourself, being there for others, continuously growing, and always keeping an open mind.

So I guess what I’m saying is….Define YOUR OWN SUCCESS!

For more on defining your own path and determining what success means to you, see my post on Creating a Roadmap.

This Is Harder Than It Looks

For Christmas this year, I received a Calligraphy 101 online class and kit from Brit + Co., a company that provides inspiration and DIY kits for exploring your creativity. The class is available instantly to watch online and in a few days after purchasing, I received my calligraphy kit in the mail. It arrived in an amazing package. The box is meant for coloring, and inside, they give you markers in which to do so! I was freakin thrilled to say the least. The kit included a pen, two inks, tracing paper and a starter set to make greeting cards. There were also downloadable templates online with a grid and letters to practice with.

I have access to the class forever, which is nice because Im going to need to watch it repeatedly. Calligraphy is harder than I thought it would be! It is NOT just writing cursive with a fancy pen. The class was simple and straight forward, teaching the basics of holding the pen (this takes some getting used to) and forming the letters. The instructor made the lesson easy to follow and offered tips and suggestions to continue practicing and improving.

Though small, learning a new skill like calligraphy—something to practice, get better at, and use in the future—gave me a nice little perspective shift. It felt frustrating when I started, then exciting as I began to get the hang of it. Learning new skills and trying new things reminds me that even if I feel like a total idiot at first, in the learning, I grow from it. I can try new things and I can accomplish goals, no matter how big or small. In the repetition, you get better, and you continue to challenge yourself. 

Back to practicing—not quite at greeting card level, but I will get there!