I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines. Deadlines are easy to despise. I bet you can list dozens of reasons you detest them without breaking a sweat. I was not a fan until I understood the secret powers inherent in well-crafted, targeted completion dates. Now I am a convert, and I am becoming a firm believer in tight deadlines.
Call me crazy, but seeing a finish line and a checkered flag gets me moving. It’s even better when I combine an element of competition. Who doesn’t enjoy bragging rights and the thrill of winning? Setting clear, defined objectives with milestones and endings is exciting and provides a source of inspiration, ideas, and possibilities. It gives me purpose. My personal goals up the ante for my motivation. These are the promises I make to myself and seldom share with anyone else. They rise to the top of my priority list, and I work diligently to meet those drop-dead dates. Who wants to look in the mirror and admit failure? Not me.
Success does not come without a cost. I can’t commit to every opportunity. Choosing one activity often means I must say no to others. It’s painful in the short term. I would love to binge-watch the latest Netflix release, but it doesn’t feed my sense of accomplishment. It only creates nasty feelings of guilt. Winning, finishing early, is a reward that keeps on giving. I celebrate a job well done, and my accomplishment fuels my desire to start the next project.
The absolute best aspect of deadlines is they give me a specific place to stop. Time’s up, step away from your keyboard. As a perfectionist, I could tweak, rearrange, adjust, and spend hours running down fascinating rabbit holes with nothing to show for it. Deadlines force me to release insignificant minutia and focus on the key elements. They compel me to decide and move on.
But every well-conceived deadline needs a buffer for the unexpected. You never know when you might be sidelined by a fever and head lice.
Interruption Central — if you have blood pouring profusely from your head, a bone sticking through your skin, or a tool lodged where it shouldn’t be, please proceed to the front of the line. All others kindly take a number and wait.
Yes, Wednesday was one of those days. I sit at my desk, compose my thoughts, lift my fingers to type the first part of a brilliant sentence, and bam – speed bump, train derailment, clean up on aisle three. I read a study that says you require15 minutes to return to productivity after an interruption. I believe it. Where was I? What was my point? I haven’t a clue. It looks like I’m starting over. Again.
No matter the challenges and the obstacles blocking my way, I maintain the item at the top of my list as a non-negotiable. Yesterday I wrote 381 words.
The problem with beautiful falling snow is the need to shovel it from sidewalks, driveways, and car windshields. It is one winter task I relish, especially when I can complete the work in nighttime silence. I tried, stayed up late in hopeful anticipation, but when I fell asleep in the morning’s small hours, it was still snowing.
The alarm slowly penetrated my hazy dreams. With reluctance, I let them slip from my mind to meet the cold, bright morning. Frigid might be a better word since my thermometer read a whopping sixteen degrees as I pulled on a hat, jacket, gloves, and sunglasses to start my day. A little voice told me to dig out my time-tested Icelandic wool coat, and I paid for my laziness with bone-cracking chills for the duration of the required work hours.
All was not lost. A steamy hot pot of Good Hope Vanilla tea, a warm vanilla sugar cookie, a cozy fire, a thick blanket, and a short restorative nap was all I needed to set the world right again. Bitter winter weather spurs me to act, often for self-preservation reasons. Freezing conditions demand forethought, action, and contingencies to account for the worst-case scenarios to preserve life. Writing may not hold such dire personal consequences. But inside me, a glowing ember of desire burns, driving me to produce stories when there are few distractions and an atmosphere enhanced by inspiring vanilla winter waves.
Do you prefer writing in the summer or the winter?
Wind chill drops our real-feel temperature to 16 degrees. Gusty winds buffet the house, and I snuggle under a warm wool blanket and pull on my favorite pair of soft cashmere fingerless gloves. They were an impulse buy, a decadent splurge, and they make me so incredibly happy. No more blowing on my fingers like poor Bob Cratchit had to do. Now, I can hunker under my blanket, pull my hoodie over my head, balance my laptop on my knees and work in a blissful cocoon of warmth. The only danger I face is falling asleep after a long day.
No matter the challenges and the obstacles blocking my way, I maintain the item at the top of my list as a non-negotiable. Yesterday I wrote 462 words.
In my periphery, just outside my window, something floated and swirled while I focused, concentrating on my screen. It moved again. Annoyed by the unexpected distraction, I glanced from my document to a scene grounded in reality and not the fantasy in my head. Small and white, barely visible against the backdrop of last week’s accumulation, snow flurries drifted. They appeared as almost imperceptible bits of fluff, but a few tiny dancing snowflakes never amount to anything. I dismissed them and returned to my task. Several hours later, I discovered a very different world. Those insignificant flakes were unrelenting in their objective to cover every bit of previously plowed, shoveled, scraped, and cleared surface. My weather app confirmed total snowfall of one to two inches.
The never-ending house remodeling project creeps along at a snail’s pace. I face the constant challenge of delayed components, contractor’s schedules, back-ordered items, and extended lead times because of the pandemic. Progress seems glacial. Yesterday a friend stopped by, and she expressed complete amazement with the improvements and the number of projects completed since the last time she was here.
I am not a patient person. I enjoy digging in, getting work done, and reveling in the finished piece for a hot minute before moving to the next item on my list. To say my daily recorded word counts have been disappointing would be a gross understatement. I have much bigger goals in mind. Three to four hundred words a day sounds paltry when you compare them to the thousands some authors claim to write. But those two previous incidents made me curious, and when I checked my spreadsheet, I discovered a total of 8,000 written words so far this year. If I maintain this rate, I will log 150,000 words by year’s end.
What small steps, taken today, will accumulate and change your world?
Tuesday proceeded along the same trajectory as Monday. The busyness of the day job grind leaves me exhausted at the day’s end and wondering where I discover energy, motivation, and an invitation to sit at the feet of my muse. I know she is there, tantalizingly just beyond my reach. Her grace, her whispered words of wisdom, do not inspire prose to jump with alacrity from my fingertips to my blank document. I slog through mud, write, erase, rewrite, delete, try again, cut, copy, and paste fragmented ideas and disjointed sentences from one section to another until they resemble a circular sort of logic. Don’t be fooled by assertions to the contrary. Writing is no simple task.
No matter how deep I need to dig, I find my guiding lights, and I maintain the item at the top of my list as a non-negotiable. Yesterday I wrote 409 words.
When does the future begin? A popular theory says “right now” is three seconds long. So does it start in four seconds or next year? Studies by Hal Hershfield at UCLA and Sam Maglio at the University of Toronto conclude the answer depends on you and how connected you are to your future self. Individual perceptions of when the present ends varied from “right now” to a year from now. Those perceived time frames influenced current choices and, by extension, held a significant impact on their futures. While individual perceived timeframes tend to remain stable, external factors can change them.
The research suggests that the closer we imagine the future to begin, the more compelled we are to act. Counting time in days versus months or years changes your context. Ninety days feel closer than three months or the first quarter. The future events importance, a wedding, graduation, saving for retirement, planning a trip, do not matter as much as how we interpret the time-matrix. People who thought of their retirement beginning in 10,950 days instead of 30 years started saving four times sooner. Thinking of an event in days made the future feel closer and connected to today.
The more future self-continuity you feel, the more likely you will decide to take action today to affect your future self. By now, most New Year Resolutions have disappeared in the mist. I wonder if we would experience improved results if our resolutions lasted for a month or a day?
Yesterday we launched week three of the New Year. I hoped tuning the calendar would close the book on the implausible horror show of 2020 and let us open the unlimited possibilities of a clean slate. Maybe it’s too soon, but it feels like we are still shaking the detritus of a nightmare from our shoulders.
Historically, Mondays presented a traumatic transition from an enjoyable weekend to a demanding workday grind. But now, normal daily pressures are heavier, and both my mind and my body are weary.
Each day’s activities suck motivation, energy, and passion from my soul. Circumstances do not extinguish their light, they lie buried among the ashes, and we must search to discover them.
No matter how deep I need to dig, I find my guiding lights, and I maintain the item at the top of my list as a non-negotiable. Yesterday I wrote 305 words.
Making tea is an art. A Japanese tea ceremony is an elaborate affair. The host sends invitations, prepares a room within specific guidelines, and creates a menu of yummy snacks. At the appointed hour, the hostess greets her guests, ceremoniously cleans the implements, makes the matcha, and all parties observe rituals that date to the 14th century.
Rooted in Zen Buddhism, the participants embark on an inner journey similar to meditation. Science upholds the idea, confirming the ceremony brings deep calm and even spiritual reflection to those who are involved. The specific steps engage all five senses and both sides of the brain. With each sense engaged, the mind works in unison. Living in peace and harmony, free from competing interests, we reduce our stress levels and relax. This intersection is where the world opens, and reflection runs deep.
When I take breaks, my goal is to reestablish balance. Mini vacations let me step away from my work. Alternate activities keep me occupied on one issue while allowing answers to another problem to find a home. But first, I need a cup of tea.
What rituals restore you and allow you to finish your projects?
Everyone needs a day off from chaos. We all use an excuse to pull the covers over our heads, ignore the world, and sleep. We can’t discount the restorative powers of sleep. I don’t ascribe to the theory that quantity of sleep outweighs quality, but I won’t pass on an opportunity for a restorative nap. Yesterday, I slept late, indulged in not one but two impromptu naps, and went to bed early. Consider it priming the pump for another busy week.
No matter how demanding my life becomes, I maintain the item at the top of my list as a non-negotiable. Yesterday I wrote 433 words.