Time Crunches and Opportunities

Did I tell you I live by two axioms. Well not just two … oh you know the rest.

There is never enough time in the day.

Things always take longer than you think.

But this blog post is not about making the time to take advantage of opportunity. No. This is about, when time is limited, seeing that limitation as an opportunity.

I am fortunate enough to have a somewhat predictable ebb and flow to my busy times. The word, somewhat, being of course open to a very loose interpretation. But I can look at my year and reasonably predict when my time will get taken over by atypical onerous duties I have no control over.  The rest of the time, however my schedule gets eaten by the usual predators; household, family and job. Still these demands are by and large, reasonable. I have made certain lifestyle choices that allow this, choices that I know, having had some intense conversations about it, others are not keen to make. To each his own. Everything costs: time, money, sanity, soul. Pick what is important and what you are prepared to pay and pay it. Did I say I love axioms? Or maybe I just have too much time on my hands. Not likely.

My previous blog was all about managing the time you’ve got. Key elements are:

  • Plan, but schedule wiggle room – allowing an easy pace to your activities will not only help quell the stress, but may allow you to accomplish more.

  • Discipline not to act, is just as important as the discipline to stay on track.

  • Flexibility depends on knowing the demands of your individual activities – seeing the micro and macro and being able to adjust what can be accomplished in the time allotted.

  • Forgiveness is not making excuses – it’s acknowledging the limitations inherent in our lives.

My biggest fear is having time crunches pull me off track completely. I know. I know. I’m the one all about forgiveness and being easy on yourself… yadayadayada… But I worry that it will be so much harder to get back on the path again. So I try not to stray. That might sound a little exhausting and maybe a little unrealistic. Remember I myself wondered how anyone can keep the pedal to the metal indefinitely, but just because I’m going doesn’t mean I’m going at the same speed, all the time. This busy season I was determined to not stress myself out, but also not let myself down regarding my art.

I explored two challenges this past month. One was a version of NaNoWriMo, called Camp NaNoWriMo that happens in April and July. As you may or may not be aware, National Novel Writing Month occurs in November during which, writers attempt to write a 50,000 word first draft. The cool thing about Camp NaNoWriMo is you create your own parameters for success. Want to write an outline for a new novel or revise a draft, or create a world bible for your new fantasy story? This is your chance. You can use word count or even hours worked as parameters and you decide what constitutes ‘winning’.

I chose hours and committed to 2 hours a day of working on a draft of my current WIP [work in progress]. I did not get nearly as far as I wanted. Ah, axiom number two. How disdainfully you rear your head. I did however succeed with my hours. So, good on me. And again, was I religious about the two hours per day? No. My weekends carried the majority of the load, however even those few minutes during the week helped to keep me chugging along and feeling positive about my progress, slow as it was.  I could have so easily let my manuscript hit the back burner for the month and really been totally justified, but come May, the ole jalopy was going to sputter and steam and give me all kinds of grief getting back on the road. This May not only did I not lose momentum, I was rearing to go.

The second thing I did was the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day Challenge. More writing, I hear you scream at the screen. More?!!! What are you nuts? Now hear me out. While I have been working on short stories, my primary focus has been novels. You know novels – huge gargantuan undertakings, a kin to pushing boulders up hills? Yes. Novels. Poems I thought would be much smaller boulders and might offer a sense of completion far quicker than novels. So, challenge accepted. And completed! Yes, I did a poem a day, every day [except for one day – but I made up for it the next] for the entire month of April. Oh, it isn’t good poetry but it is poetry – some of it, atrocious, some of it, meh, some of it, not half bad. I also used the time to get to some lyrics for songs I have been meaning to finish. [Have I mentioned I’m also a musician – I know, I know – I’m a sucker for punishment]

As an AWADJ time management is crucial. Sometimes though, a crunch is inevitable. Instead of getting squeezed maybe try these [sorry – totally did not mean to rhyme – darn you poetry challenge]:

  • Look for inspiration; activities to galvanize action, challenges that will gently but firmly kick you in the butt to keep you going

  • Focus your efforts: work smaller projects to enhance specific skill-sets

  • Set time limits: narrowing your parameters can give you a manageable quantifier, while committing to a month allows you to get in the flow, make up time, if things get extra crunchy, and create distance from larger projects

  • Embrace change: adopt a flexible mindset to make use of, or create opportunities.

Art doesn’t have to be spelled ‘ART’. It can be ‘art’. A little bit is better than none. Besides, you can make excuses, or you can make art. Which will it be?

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Time Management

I live by two axioms. Well not just two but for the purposes of this article we’ll say two. One: there is never enough time in the day. Two: things always take longer than you think.  So how do we get to everything we want to, in the limited time we have. That is a question I think we all struggle with.

You might have noticed recently, I have not been posting as frequently as I have been in the past. That’s because I’ve been going through that holy-crap-is-that-really-the- time- where-the-hell- did-the-day-go time of my year.  We all have these. Some may believe it’s their every day.  If so, my hats off to anyone who can keep that pace up, without end in sight. I do wonder however how long anyone can realistically do that and if that is even good for you – but that’s a conversation for another day.

As an AWADJ, justifying an activity that may appear frivolous to the average person, that you also don’t get immediately paid to do, allows for a lot of doubt and self-recrimination to seep into the mindset of an ‘Artist with a Day Job’. So time management has even deeper meaning and regarding your efforts, significant consequences.  Regardless of whether you’re an AWADJ or just someone with a lot of demands on your time, I think we can all agree that life is busy. So how do we manage our time effectively?

Planning

You can’t know what you’re dealing with until you take stock. It isn’t hard to take a calendar and fill out every little slot. You might even feel a sense of relief. Look. There’s all the proof you need for that stretched like a worn rubber band feeling plaguing your every waking hour.  But what you’re really doing is trying to get a handle on your schedule, not fill it.

Have you ever scheduled appointments only to realize later that you didn’t account for the time it would take you to get there? Maybe that seems an obvious mistake. What about the time it may take to come up with a solution to a problem. This is an act of creation. Creation can’t be rushed. It’s one thing not to take into consideration google maps or your gps, but how can you account for your ‘thinking’ time. That’s why leaving ‘down-time’ in your schedule is very important. Yes you’ll need to recharge and relax but you also need time to reflect.  Time to reflect without your schedule pushing you to act may allow you to catch errors before they become obstacles to getting things done.

Plan but schedule wiggle room. Allowing an easy pace to your activities will not only help quell the stress, but may allow you to accomplish more.

Discipline

I write this word and I know what you’re thinking. Yes. I must have the discipline to get done all I say I will, to stick to the plan, to stay on schedule. Sure but you know what’s even harder than that? The discipline to be able to set aside interruptions not on the schedule. To prioritize is all well and good but if you succumb the first time some unforeseen issue shows up to rob your time, your plans will quickly fall apart.

That’s not to say that things won’t come up. And if you’ve built in wiggle room you may have the resources of energy to react. That’s not the only issue however. You might be tempted to sacrifice recreation time activities or down-time crucial to that recharging we need. The wisdom you have to learn is when to adjust and when not to. It might be a hard lesson and one that can only be done through trial and error, but to start with, you need the discipline not to get swayed the minute an ‘emergency’ pops up.

Discipline not to act is just as important as the discipline to stay on track.

Flexibility

Look at the schedule from a distance, the big picture. Day to day time management is important; all those steps be they big or small count on the journey. But if an hour a day of writing is what you are shooting for it doesn’t have to be each day. Think weekly if that works better into your schedule. The goal is to get to what you need to do, but in making long–term progress, allow for variation in both the allotment of time and how it is distributed.

Dissect your activities. There may be some that demand a good two hour stretch, while others can be negotiated into smaller chunks. Understanding what those are goes a long way to utilizing your time. And again, don’t discount the need for relaxing, recharging and reflecting. It may not feel like you are doing anything, but you may be surprized at how those three ‘r’s can help you get things done.

Flexibility depends on knowing the demands of your individual activities – seeing the micro and macro and being able to adjust what can be accomplished in the time allotted.

Forgiveness

You are going to stumble. Plan and be disciplined all you can but bank on being human. Life happens. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Control what you can, manage what can be managed and then take the rest of it as it comes. Yes you can look back and say would have, could have, should have, but regret really isn’t very helpful, unless you can use it to learn something useful going forward.

Forgiveness is not making excuses – it’s acknowledging the limitations inherent in our lives.

Artistic endeavours rest completely on the shoulders of the artist. So time management is a skill as necessary as the most rudimentary skills your art demands. After all, if you don’t make the time to get to your art, it isn’t going to get done. It’s as simple as that.

Understanding Workplace Culture

Perhaps it is the recent economic upsets that have us thinking less about money and more about quality of life. Perhaps it is the immediacy of media, and the amped up technology at our disposal that allows us to share our experiences so much more easily. Perhaps it is both of these things, prompting us to individually and collectively examine our work-lives. Whatever the reason, I am finding discussion and debates regarding workplace culture increasingly present.

So what is culture and why should we care about it?

Culture can be perceived as the climate of the work environment. It goes beyond what your company does, and instead, defines its character or personality. It is made up of the values, beliefs, traditions, behaviours and attitudes of the people that work there. In short, culture is the unwritten rules that govern an organization. As such, culture cannot be mandated. It evolves from the minutiae in every action and interaction that goes on in an office, sales floor or factory line.

Most importantly, culture is unique to your situation. So while this article is titled Understanding Workplace Culture, and it implies an explanation of the term, the deeper implication is; are you understanding your culture? Have you honestly examined the actions of your senior team members, managers, directors, and partners? Have you considered the attitude of your staff? What aspects of your workplace culture might be prompting their attitude? As a leader, are you with purpose and consistency actively involved in fostering an effective culture for your organization?

Culture has a cumulative effect, reflecting leadership, engagement, productivity, creativity and growth.  One might say, workplace culture, like a specimen in a petri dish, is growing all around you. All you have to decide is: are you going to create a culture that enables your organization to thrive, or one that won’t.

By the way, the photo today is courtesy of Tasha Sturm, Cabrillo College. It is an actual hand print on a large TSA plate from her – at the time – 8 1/2 year old son after playing outside. Cool, huh.

Better Teams, Better Companies – in 3 Books

We all find ourselves, at one time or another, growing dissatisfied with our present work situation, wandering over to the “100 Best Companies to Work For” list and wondering how do I get a job there. It is a well-accepted fact that people don’t quit jobs, they quit people; sometimes managers, sometimes co-workers. And while it might feel nice initially to just point the finger and take all the blame off yourself, this approach won’t be the most effective way to go about getting to that ‘best company’. So before you go updating your resume, what about creating that ‘best company’ where you are. But how?  I think it might be possible in three books.

Three books? Only three? Which three? Where can I buy them? Tellmetellmetellme. Whoa. Slow down. Before I tell you which three, I need to tell you why three. What strikes me, is that there are three premises that are key in developing a company that might be list worthy.

Premise 1: If you don’t know yourself, how can you work with or, more importantly, lead others?

My pick: Growth Mindset by Carol S Dweck

The unique opportunity presented in this book is a good hard look at what attitude you might have that gets in the way of success. I stress, hard. We all want to think that we are well put together, positive thinking individuals without that liberal layer of ‘crazy’ lurking beneath the surface. Remember: without honest self-reflection there is no growth.

Premise 2: If you don’t know group dynamics, how can you participate, create, or lead in an effective team?

My pick: 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Partick Lencioni

This book starts out with a fictional story that is so startlingly accurate, you may find it hard to believe that Lencioni wasn’t sitting in on your last team building workshop. It is followed up by an examination of the five necessary functions of a team, why they are important, and how to go about encouraging them in yourself and in others.

Premise 3: If you don’t have perspective, how can you gage your effectiveness? And everyone needs inspiration to keep going.

My pick: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

Whether you work with what Catmull calls ‘smart creatives’ or not, his guiding principles, his efforts to be actively engaged in managing, and his successes and failures are both inspirational and instructional.

Now, are these the definitive books that are going to set you on your path toward company bliss? I don’t know. Part of the adventure is figuring out which are your three. There are plenty to pick from. Just remember; you work as part of a team, there are other people in that team, and don’t worry, great teams are out there to learn from. Hasn’t it been done before? Isn’t that list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” right there in front of you? Don’t you want to be on it?

What three books do you think might help develop constructive management skills, positive team mindset and get a company on that list?

Turning The Legitimacy Corner

What do you do when something you do, that you are passionate about, that occupies your every waking moment, is seen as a hobby by others but a vocation by you?

How can you expect people to take you seriously, when your job is described as playing?

When do hobbies turn the ‘legitimacy corner’ and become jobs?

Not only do I consider myself a writer but I am also a musician. Awesome. Double-whammy!

I can’t tell you how many times, after I’ve shared my musical and authorial endeavors, I have been told that’s a nice hobby. Each time, I would have to grit my teeth and bite back a response. I wanted to explain my situation, defend my position, justify my stance. Maybe it’s my age, but now I just smile and nod and make my deposit, or cough and wait for the stethoscope to move to another spot on my back, or kiss my family member on the cheek. I suppose it’s hard for others to appreciate that although this ‘music/writing thing’ is not my day job, it is my career. I treat it as such. I have in fact been paid for it in the past. I endeavor to one day be paid for my efforts again.

This is often the case with art; you create and hope that at some point you might be able to make money from it. This is not as unusual as it may sound. And it certainly isn’t unusual to me. Art as a vocation is fraught with rejection. Rejection means that for whatever reason they don’t want what you’re selling. And when that happens, whether it is losing out on a gig or not finding a publisher for your story, you don’t get paid.  There are no guarantees that any of our efforts will be financially rewarded. That’s just the way it is.

The difficulty is the average person doesn’t have a frame of reference for this. They go to work and every two weeks, there’s a paycheck. Easy, peazy, lemon squeazy.  There is a clear line of sight between work and remuneration. So not only don’t they understand what it takes to do what you do, they don’t understand why you are doing it. You aren’t famous. You aren’t making lots of money. Why bother? Even the mere existence of your day job calls into question whether you are really committed. So, to be fair, the confusion of friends, family and strangers is understandable. It’s just not helpful.

Perhaps they don’t see the uncertainty and confusion that we wrestle with every time we step up to the easel, sit down to the computer, or strap the guitar around our necks. They aren’t there as we struggle to find the right word, or melody, or inspiration. For the most part, if we’re lucky, they only see the end result, a finished (or nearly so) piece of art without all the messy false starts, crumpled up pages and plethora of profanity that goes along with the previous. Often, the one thing we are sure of is that we are quite sufficiently skilled in doubting ourselves and our art. And the biggest doubt is about where the heck is that legitimacy corner and when will I turn it.

So if you are feeling exceptionally doubty in the deep, shy, insidyness of you, check out this podcast from Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl. Shawn has a way of putting your doubts, if not to rest, at least to their room for a nap. You might even share it with a friend or family member. Listening to it might help to give them perspective on what it means to be an artist and to relieve some of their own misgivings about your endeavours.

Regardless of others’ opinions, in my heart of hearts I know my art is my true vocation. I am in good company. Many great artist have had to support their art with day jobs. Some art didn’t make any money  until well after the artist’s death. Not that that is something I’m hoping for, but it does, in a strange way, help me to keep the faith (and eat my vegetables and get exercise so that I can live long enough for others to appreciate what I do). And regardless of whether or not I make boatloads of cash, (enough to be able to tell all doubters to suck-it) I know I am treating it as my profession.

Look – you are not going to be able to convince everyone that your art is legit. They’ve got their own baggage. And really why would you want to. You are too busy working your craft, improving your skills and fueling your inspiration. They don’t have to take it seriously. Only you do.

Artist With A Day Job

I have mentioned that I am an AWADJ –  Artist With a Day Job. And the truth of the matter is that until Blockchain Technology or some system that can ensure compensation for intellectual property comes into play, most of us while endeavouring to secure paid work, probably have other forms of employment. But I’m not here to complain about that. The reality is artists or artist-preneurs or author-preneurs or whatever label seems apt, must often supplement or support their vocation/career with a ‘day job’. This also includes jobs that are shift or at night. In fact the new paradigm might be to have multiple jobs at the same time and we artists have been doing this forever. So instead of bemoaning the fact, I have chosen to look at it as a welcome reality.

Reasons Why We Need You

Money – duh. You can easily google stats on what the average artist makes a year and without supplementing or supporting our art, it isn’t a living. There is however another advantage to the artist than the money and stability [and maybe even health benefits] a day job offers; the outside world. We can get so locked into what we are doing that we forget about the world. Not only is this harmful to our mental health it is harmful to our art. Without some inspiration often found just outside our door, it is hard to create. Where better for the writer to find inspiration for that twisted character? Where else can the musician experience angst for that poignant lyric? Where else can an actor study people? A day job forces an artist to step through their door and into the world.

Reasons Why You Need Us

Some artists have day jobs in the same field as their vocation. A musician might teach music in a school. A writer could write copy for an advertising firm. A visual artist might be a web designer by day.  Here, the benefit to an employer is obvious.  Some artist however opt for something that allows creative energy to be saved for after work.  What’s the benefit to the employer here? Someone happy to do a mundane task, satisfied that they are getting paid to do something necessary to the success of the company but perhaps not the most glamourous of jobs. Don’t however overlook these employees. Even while sorting mail or answering the phone, an artist might see problems differently, and in so doing create a solution using outside the box methods that bypass the group think that can manifest in some industries.

What You Might Have To Put Up With

You might be worried about artists being flighty or non-committal or easily distracted. Other words for these are creative, adaptable and curious.  These are key soft skills most employers site as desirable. Now, I’m not saying all artist will absolutely bring these skills to the table. Artist are as diverse as any other group of people. However, by the nature of being an artist, they do tend to engage these soft skills. Of course, there are other real dangers to having an artist in your employ. You might find yourself cornered in the lunch room with requests to see our play, buy our cd,  come to our art show, or read our story but as any of these art forms take a long time to produce, it’s not like we’d be hounding you every week.

If only we were lucky enough to gig that often, well, we wouldn’t need the day job now, would we.

Contemplations on NaNoWriMo

When’s the best time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo.

December 1st

Wha-wha-What???

No, seriously. If you want next years’ experience to be a success, I suggest you sit down and have a good hard think.

December 1st

Because that is the point when all the trials and tribulations are over, but the bitter tang of ire and frustration are still on your lips. When you can still smell the acrid ink and stale coffee. When fresh is the recriminations and tears. And that’s if you manage to win.

December 1st

Because, let’s face it, between now and next year there are all these months in which to do one of two things. Either, you work the trauma up in your mind to a point where just thinking about writing 50,000 words makes you want to run in the opposite direction, or you have adequately lobotomized yourself into thinking it’ll be a walk in the park, only to end up lost and on the wrong side of town. Save yourself either of these delusions. There’s a more constructive path available.

Whether you managed to eke out those 50,000 words or not, you have learned a lot going through this experience. What better time to take note of all the things you should have done, what didn’t go as smoothly as you’d  hoped, and to come up with an approach that ensures that they do the next time around.  Adversely now is also the time to pat yourself on the back. You’re going to want to remember all the smart moves you made that helped you along the way, so that you can recreate them next year.

Here are some suggestions you might consider, to make your next NaNoWriMo easy peezy lemon squeezy – well not exactly, but you know what I mean:

Use Tools

You’d think that a writer might not need to think about this. Tools however could be anything from a great writing software like Scrivener or yWriter that actually organizes your writing, to apps that organize your time. And time seems to be the biggest issue. As there is no tool that’s going to add two more hours to a day, the key is to use the available time more effectively.  Are you an AWADJ (Artist with a Day Job)? Maybe next year strategically schedule some vacation time. I take off every Monday in the month of November. Having those three days is a great way to get into the groove of writing and a much needed chance to catch up on all those low word count days.

Seek Help

Of course, you’re going to seek help from friends and family. They can be a great resource for not only emotional support but practical assistance with a busy schedule.  One of the great things about doing NaNoWriMo, however is there is a whole community out there doing the same thing, going through the same challenge, rising and falling and getting back up again. It is a community of writers who all have tips and tricks and different approaches to writing and the writing life. Some of their solutions might just work for you. But don’t wait for November. This community offers many solutions to help you prepare for, not just get through the challenge.

Get your Head in the Game

This is the hardest thing to do. Doubt, guilt, and fear can plague us. Those are often the things that pull us away from giving ourselves fully to NaNoWriMo. You have to decide whether or not you’re going to let them. Getting great suggestions from other writers and managing your writing time is important, but until you can feel positively invested in NaNoWriMo, you might be the biggest obstacle of all.

But hey, don’t sweat it. You’ve got a whole year to prepare.

When Life Hands You… Mushrooms?

I am an AWADJ. An Artist With A Day Job. And I know there are a lot of us out there. You know who you are. And as an AWADJ, some of you might have heard the following saying; employees are like mushrooms; feed them crap and leave them in the dark. It’s called Mushroom Management.

There is a considerable amount of inaccuracy when it comes to this suggestion for mushroom cultivation. I’m sure not a few mushrooms have been harmed in the propagation of this myth. More importantly however, it is the belief system that probably does more damage.

With stats on employment engagement low, workplace bullying alarmingly high, and the desire for increased collaboration and team work prevalent, the mushroom management technique can only grow anxiety, paranoia and animosity. Why anyone would think those desirable traits in a workforce boggles my brain, but for whatever reason in some places, the mushroom management technique is a common and accepted practice. I mean it’s got its own name and slogan for crying out loud.

But is it all bad? Aren’t mushrooms delicious? Why pick on mushrooms?  I love mushrooms. So does my husband. And yes they are often grown out of decay and found in the shade of some large tree. But they are beautiful things whose colour and architectural grace defy imagination. It can’t just be for their hallucinatory properties that they inspire thoughts of fairy rings and the caps on goblins.

As a bit of inspiration I’d like to offer up a little mushroom montage, courtesy of my husband and his unique eye and of course his appreciation for mushrooms.

skagway-hike-2-006-c-2006-trlskagway-hike-1-012-c-2006-trl dewey-lake-hike-3-004-c-2006-trl dewey-lake-hike-3-041-c-2006-trl  dewey-lake-hike-3-042-c-2006-trl mushroom-3-c-2006-trl

I’m not sure why we feel that feeding anyone crap and leaving them in the dark is a good way to go, but it happens. Just remember, when life hands you crap, you can use it to grow. Like mushrooms. Beautiful, pungent, don’t-give-up mushrooms.

And for those of you fond of that saying, remember, some mushrooms are poisonous.