The Additional 30

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What would you do if you were given thirty to sixty minutes extra to your day? First of all, would you need them? And second, how would you spend those minutes?

On Monday, like a fairy godmother, I gifted myself those extra minutes.

You see, after a few days of thinking, I decided to take a break from social media. Facebook but especially Instagram, to be specific.

For a few years now, I’ve lived my life consuming a minimal amount of time on social media and without sitting down to catch up on the daily news. Of course, in the society we live in today it’s almost impossible to live without some news coming in one’s attention or altogether without any information related to social media, but in my opinion, I’ve done pretty well.

However, when I started writing this blog in July last year, I decided to create an Instagram account to go with it. After all, many bloggers use Instagram as an additional media to share more details about their lives through photos and short captions, and it seemed to be a part of the whole thing.

Also, many writers are active on Instagram, sharing their writing related tips and experiences and in that way creating a community for writers, something I had been longing for. As I was on my own with the hushed mission to write my very first real novel, Instagram seemed like the perfect place to share and care about writing without having to keep the first draft as a complete secret.

Help, Tips and Inspiration

Being a writer on Instagram has many positive aspects. The community of writers on this platform is huge and many of the writers share actively their writing journey, describing the ups and downs, the achievements and the setbacks. In this way, I got support and perspective to the whole writing process. There is also a number of writing experts who are there to help you, answer your writing-related questions and cheer you on – for free!

In addition to this, Instagram has worked as a place for inspiration and especially motivation to keep on writing every day. It has also been a place where I’ve found many tips for fictional books, books about writing and helpful Youtube and Instagram accounts to follow.

In addition to that, I’ve used Instagram to get ideas for different meals and ways to do self-care. The platform really is great. I spent a good deal of time posting my own photos, writing captions, liking and commenting the photos of other users – and getting that warm and cozy feeling of a community.

But still, something with Instagram made me doubt if my efforts there were worth my time, thoughts and energy.

Time, Action, Trouble

When it comes to following people on social media, I’m quite picky. Especially on Instagram, I didn’t want to follow anyone whose content didn’t feel natural or similar to my own style and preferences. Therefore, I only followed approximately 90 different people on Instagram.

Although this isn’t that much (as many tend to follow up to 500 people), for me the feed very often felt like an information overload. There was so much to see, so much to reflect upon and maybe comment upon that after my morning scroll through Instagram, my brain felt fuzzy. And this was right before I was supposed to dive into writing a new blog post or continue writing Yellow Tails.

Also the amount of inspirational and motivations quotes, writing tips, book recommendations and thought-provoking questions became too much. Almost daily I took several screenshots of things I wanted to check up on later but that I always forgot until I every few days scrolled through my photos and wondered what all the screenshots were about. There was too much information, too many ideas that eventually led to more passive consuming rather than active creating of new thoughts and ideas. And stress because when was I supposed to find the time to go through all those books to read and videos to watch and skills to learn?

Instagram counts the minutes you spend on the app and tells you how much time on average you spend on scrolling, liking and commenting photos. For me, that number was somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes every day. On days when I published something the minutes ticked away quickly and especially after the New Year when I decided to put some effort into my Instagram Stories, I really started to spend time on the platform.

However, I saw few if any returns for the additional time I invested on spending on Instagram. Only a few more clicks to the blog, only one-tenth of my followers actually saw those Stories and I got no more followers, no matter how I tweaked and turned the content.

In addition to this, many of the principles behind creating a successful Instagram account don’t fall into my personal and beliefs which made it hard for me to get motivated to ”do the right things to get more successful”.

It felt as if I was wasting my time when I could have invested those minutes into doing something off-screen or learning new things. And this made me think if it was time to quit Instagram.

Peaceful and Productive

With these gut feelings and thoughts (what did I give to the platform – and what did I receive?), I decided to dig a little deeper into the social media detox and what the talk around it was about. I watched two videos, this and this, and read this post by Seth Godin. And in a nutshell, this is what I ended up with:

Social media is one form of entertainment but the platforms are made as addictive as possible, making them into some sort of personal slot machines you carry with you in your back pocket or your bag. The platforms invite you to check them every now and then, as often as possible, which leads to your attention becoming fragmented. And this attention fragmenting aspect of social media can permanently reduce your capacity to concentrate.

These facts sounded convincing to me. My attention span is one of the most important things to me as a writer and I certainly didn’t want to have it fragmented. And I wasn’t too excited about the thought of personal slot machines, either.

However, one of the reasons I got on Instagram as a writer (and a future author) was to create a platform through which I could market my book and share my journey. And I thought this: if I quit Instagram, will it have a negative effect on my future success? If I quit, will anyone find my book? After all, word of mouth is one of the most effective ways for a book to find its readers.

After a few days of thinking, I would like to answer my own question:

1) If I put my time and attention to post things on Instagram instead of investing that time in working on my book, I won’t have a book to talk about, and

2) I already have this blog which is month after month showing me that you people are interested in what I talk about (hi every 58 of you!) so why not invest more time on writing these entries instead of putting my energy in writing short captions few seem to read and react to anyway?

In other words: if you chase two rabbits at the same time, you’ll probably end up with nothing.

So, my worries of not having a Instagram account when I become an author are completely irrational and unnecessary. At the moment, at least.

Instead of spending time on these energy and time-consuming platforms, I can focus on doing things that I like and love (and get deeper into something called deep work which I hope to be able to get back into later on) and let the other things follow. Living without tiny but constant interruptions can help me be more productive and more peaceful. I have fewer things to divide my focus between, to check, to keep up with.

The additional 30 to 60 minutes per day I gain to my day when I’m not on Instagram or Facebook can be invested into learning new things, writing, learning to meditate… anything I can think of!

I mean, those minutes add up to 3,5–7 hours a week and 14–28 hours a month – that’s a good deal of time. It’s a huge amount of time. And I just gave those minutes, those hours to myself, like a true fairy godmother.

What would you do with those additional hours in your week or month?

The Benefits of Writing a Journal

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I’ve adopted a new habit: writing an almost daily journal. Almost, because I try to write it every day but Sundays tend to become the exception to the rule. However, I still call it a habit because it’s ingrained in my system: from Monday to Friday I wake up at 6 AM and after showering but before breakfast, I write my journal.

I keep my thoughts to two pages per day – I’m afraid that in the modern world the hand muscles aren’t what they used to be. But it’s a 30-minute exercise in concentration and a great way to start one’s day. Let me tell you why.

(But first, I’ll shed some light on my history as a journal writer)

An On/Off Habit

Ever since I was little, writing a journal has been some kind of on/off habit for me. I can’t remember why I began writing in the first place – I was probably inspired by some character in a book that kept a diary and I wanted to be like him/her. The first journals I’ve kept are from elementary school when I was in second grade. The cute, pastel yellow Winnie the Pooh notebook has lost many of its pages and is barely holding together. But the important things, the diary entries about my dance practices and who of my class mates I liked the most, are still there.

After that, I’ve written a journal of some sort through the years up until this day. I’d like to declare I have something from every year from my life written down, with a date and a few thoughts about life, but I’m not quite sure. Some years might be missing. But in that case, it’ll only be a few.

For this post, I perused my old journals. There are three different time periods when I’ve written actively, i.e. on a daily basis:

  • In 2010: I wrote three pages every day for six months or so. I have no idea where the idea came from – maybe I wanted to prove something to myself or be able to tell everyone I wrote every day. But I did, and held on to the habit for an impressive amount of time, considering I was a teenager filled with angst and confusion.
  • In the Fall of 2016: one to eight pages daily. This was the time I spent in Ireland. Writing about my exchange period kept me sane and also had the function of making the time there more memorable.
  • Now, in Fall 2018 (which I guess we can start calling Winter as we just got our first snow in Southern Finland and it’s less than four weeks until Christmas): two pages on a daily basis. It is an effort to try to document my thoughts and feelings, trying to dig deeper into what I know and feel, what I want and how I want it.

Analyzing my more sporadic journal entries from previous years, I seem to have picked up my pen and put black on white when I’ve been 1) overwhelmed by feelings, may that be love, hate, sadness or confusion; 2) feeling guilty about not exercising enough and only eating candy and chocolate, or 3) when I felt like I needed to get out all those thoughts about people, school work and life in general, and didn’t feel like telling about them to anyone else (or writing about them on my LiveJournal blog that has been gone for a long time).

Focus on Depth

Today, however, I have a different approach on writing a journal. Actually, I only recently realized that I haven’t actually been writing a journal all these years. I’ve been writing a diary – a book where I’ve recorded events as they happen and that have included feelings and moods. That I have done, for sure – all that foul language, teenage hate towards others and myself, crushes on cute guys… And a play-by-play descriptions about my plans and what I intend to do later that day or the next.

But now it feels like I have become a grown up – I’m writing a journal. A book where I record, not events or what other people say and do, but ideas and thoughts. I try to focus on depth instead of just telling what I did that day or how I felt. I’m actually digging deeper into those emotions, trying to concentrate on what’s on my mind and find out why it’s on my mind.

Writing for me has always been something I’ve had to force myself to do. It’s not a natural daily yearning for me to write down my thoughts and pick on them with a stick to find out what these thoughts really are about. Sometimes, I also find the process somewhat frustrating: it takes time to write by hand compared with writing on a computer which means the process is slow, while at the same time my thoughts are running around like the crazy dodos in Ice Age. It feels like I lose the track of thought before I’ve managed to write everything down.

(And let’s not forget about the hand – it does get tired which means the writing won’t be as pretty. A thing that tends to matter to me.)

But never have I regretted sitting down to write my daily two pages. Some days, I know exactly what I want to write about. Last week such clear thoughts were about self-care, thoughts on why I’m writing my thesis, and how I deal with anxiety that comes from school work. And on those days when I have no clue what I’m thinking about – I write about that and try to figure out why I don’t have anything to say.

During this new in-depth writing habit of mine, I’ve experienced some of the benefits of daily journal writing:

  • I realize new things about myself and my though processes that I might not have realized if I hadn’t written them down.
  • I take a moment to focus on what feels important in my mind at the moment: what thoughts are constantly there?
  • I listen to myself: how do I feel today? Am I anxious, motivated, tired, stressed or energized?
  • I improve my concentration by focusing on a single, manual task for thirty minutes or so. It helps me focus on projects at hand during the rest on the day.

Retrospective Reading

And one of the huge benefits of writing a diary or a journal, when regarded in the long run, is the retrospect one gets when reading old diaries and journals. As I’ve been reading those old entries, especially from 2009 onward, I’ve understood myself in a different way than I did before.

Of course, I remember many of the big things I wrote about (and forgotten many of those that felt so big at the time but that lost their meaning in a few weeks or months). But the events and the people aren’t that important – it’s more about how I wrote about them. I’ve realized how much built-in anger I had when I was a teenager, and how I had no way of letting it out. So I wrote these awful things in my diary, and yelled at everything and everyone on paper – instead of confronting them in person.

Reading old entries gave me a refreshed view of my younger self – what was I insecure about, what events and happenings did I consider being important enough to write about, and what did that mean, on a deeper level? My findings have been thought-provoking.

What I’ve thought about is this: what if I had never written a diary? What would I know about myself today, what kind of image would I have about my childhood and being a teenager? In his book Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari speaks about the experiencing self and the narrating self.

The experiencing self is the person experiencing the emotions, thoughts and feelings in the moment. The experiencing self is able to tell exactly how one feels, giving a realistic, although subjective, description of the current state of life.

The narrating self takes over when the experiencing self is taking a break – and builds up a narrative, a story, that tells how the situation was. The narrative self tends to bend the curves, put a filter on what the experiencing self just told and transform the memories into something else, something nice and less complex.

In one way or the other, the narrative self distorts the real experience and creates, in the long run, a not-so-truthful perception of oneself and the happenings that occurred.

This doesn’t help us understand why we have become the people we are today. What events formed us, who had a great effect on our thoughts and opinions? Here, the diaries and journals come to our help. They are the reality check we need every once in a while – how was the experience really, was it as good or as bad as I remembered? What did I think of this thing previously, has my thinking shifted?

Writing a daily journal helps to understand our own progress and who we are. This, however, requires patience and self-discipline: in order to have something to analyze, you need to take the time to write down those entries. But it pays off in the end, I’d say. What do you think? Is it worth your time?

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Why do you write a journal, if you do? Or what is keeping you from it? Can you relate to any of the benefits I mentioned in this blog post?

Things Will Change For A While

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It’s Tuesday and it’s time for a new blog post. However, this will be the last Tuesday post for a while. Let me tell you why.

For the past 16 weeks, ever since the beginning of H.E.R. (that’s more than three months!), I’ve been writing three blog posts every week. One on Tuesday, one on Thursday and one on Sunday. They all have their own theme: on Tuesday I share something more personal, on Thursday I connect that personal to something more abstract or theoretical – to things seen from a wider perspective. And the short-stories I publish on Sundays conclude the week, or prepare for the beginning of the coming week: the day of Still Life Sundays.

Until now, I’ve been able to put down the time and energy to write three posts a week. But things have been somewhat different lately.

  1. As you know, I’m juggling with three different writing projects at the moment: the blog, the thesis and Yellow Tails. That means I’m glued to my computer from Sunday to Friday, writing on or researching for something. Two of these projects, i.e. the thesis and Yellow Tails, have a more strict deadline (one dictated by the university and the other one by me) and require therefore more time and energy to get done in time. The deadlines are also closing in on me which means I need to invest more time and effort in these projects to be able to finish everything in time.
  2. In addition to that, there has been many social situations (and they’ll keep on coming) that have required a good deal afterward-processing. As a part of quitting my people-pleasing behavior but also practicing better communication, social awareness and analyzing the body language and words that are spoken, these social situations are filled with data. Processing that data takes huge amounts of energy and time. It might sound weird, being tired because of being social, but I’m not all that used to these situations, and especially not analyzing them as I am today. It is also something I hope to become better at, reading and analyzing people on the go.
  3. As a third thing, the Winter. Here in Finland the amount of light changes from 22 hours a day in the Summer to whopping 4 hours per day in the middle of Winter. We have been entering the darker time of the year for some time now, the daylight lasting for 8 hours and 54 minutes at the moment. The darkness in the evenings (as the sun goes down at 4:41 PM) and the shortness of the days make me feel tired and like there’s nothing I’d really like to do. It takes time and energy to get used to the darkness – and when you get used to it, the days will start to get lighter again (but it’s going to take a while before that period comes again – sometime in March maybe).

This is why I have decided to do the following: at least during November I will cut down the amount of blog posts from three to two posts a week. This means the Tuesday posts will fall off and the Thursday posts will become a sort of mix of Tuesday and Thursday posts, starting on this Thursday.

This way I will hopefully be able to keep things more realistic and not drown myself in my self-made to-do lists. One post less to write each week will hopefully also help me 1) finish my first draft by or in early December, and 2) finish the theory part of my thesis in the end of November.

In theory, cutting down one blog post a week doesn’t sound like anything major. But for me it feels like a huge weight being dropped off. It feels like I can focus on other things for a while. I’ll stay active on WordPress, still publishing twice a week, and will keep on updating Instagram – but I’m also allowing myself to refocus and steer my energy and time to things that need it the most.

So, this will be the last Tuesday post for a while. But as you know, I’ll see you again on Thursday. Have a good one!

 

Non-Creative Wednesdays

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Why is it that some days nothing seems to feel right? That you feel like doing absolutely nothing? Has it something to do with the balance in the universe, one’s hormonal cycle, or what kind of mood everybody else in the society are?

A few Wednesdays back I woke up, did my morning routine, took a shower and ate my typical muesli-with-milk breakfast. The usual drill, the things I do every morning from Monday to Friday. But as I was drinking my morning coffee and watching a Youtube video (also a morning habit of mine), I just felt as if I could sit in that armchair the whole day doing nothing but consuming things. Never getting up (except for food or water or because I would need to go for the toilet), and just read, watch and scroll.

I felt the yearning for simply consuming things the whole day, letting someone or something else consume my time and not the other way around. Instead of creating, writing and thinking, I wanted to take a break from every single project I was working on.

The feeling of restlessness was there in me right from the beginning of my morning. It was a familiar feeling from before, for sure, having had these lazy days every once in a while, but this time I actually questioned it. Why does that feeling of I don’t feel like doing anything come to me? Where does it come from?

Most days, when I see the bottom of my coffee mug in the mornings, it means that the work for the day is beginning. I start by writing my journal. After that I continue with my writing projects that are either this blog or Yellow Tails (most often writing 1,000 to 1,500 words on one project per day). But lately I’ve noticed some sort of feeling of fatigue if I write and create like this from Monday to Friday every morning from ten to twelve. As if I drain all my energy by writing these different projects as much as I do.

So, two weeks ago, in order to keep my creative flow and qualitative writing in order, I decided to try shortening my to do -list for Wednesdays. The day in the middle of the week that kind of divides the seven days into the beginning of the week (when I write blog posts) and the end of the week (when I focus on Yellow Tails). And for me, that day is now a day for not really doing that much. I proofread the blog post for the next day and then focus on my thesis, but otherwise, the Wednesdays are now free from creative writing.

And I have to tell you this: it’s been working out great. I haven’t had the same negative I don’t want to do anything feeling in the same way as before – because now I have a day dedicated specifically for not doing that much!

For some reason, I seem to need a non-creative day once a week (at least in my current situation of life). It’s a day when I let myself consume a little bit more Youtube, scroll a few minutes longer on Instagram, read a book or even watch an episode of something. I let myself, I let my time be consumed by these things – by the photos and videos, and by the people who have created them. It feels like I let my mind rest a little bit before I get back to my projects the next day.

However, as great as I think it has been working out for me, I can’t help getting a somewhat bad conscience about my non-creative Wednesdays. I notice this constant feeling of I should be doing more, that I’m wasting my time on these consumable things like social media, and should instead be working, creating, writing and thinking more. It’s as if I’m lazy – although I know I’m not. As if the two sides of my brain are in conflict with each other on Wednesdays.

I’m trying to work with the feeling, as I’m recognizing it to be a symptom of a HSP, and tell myself that it really is okay to take a break from creative writing in the middle of the week. But being a high-achiever and an efficient worker makes it difficult.

Finding the balance between consuming and creating is a tough one – it tends to become a thing of what one should do or what one shouldn’t do but I guess the right path can be found somewhere without the word should. There’s a need for both consuming and creating in life but finding the right amount of both is the thing that I obviously would benefit from the most.

It seems to be, once again, about self-development. Who knew? Or rather – was someone surprised by this information?

What Happens After 30 Days?

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This Monday was the 1st of October which means that for four days now challenges such as #inktober (thirty-one days and thirty-one ink drawings) and #preptober (thirty-one days of prepping for the thirty-day writing challenge in November) have begun.

It seems to be a pattern: new challenges kick in as a new month begins.

September was spent doing the #whole30 (resetting your nutrition for thirty days) or challenging oneself to live free from waste for the whole month. And in November one gets to challenge his or her writing habits with NaNoWriMo or let their body hair grow as a way of participating in Movember.

The monthly challenges give a rhythm to our year in the same way as Church Holidays did especially in the times before industrialization. Months fly by so quickly if we don’t pay attention to them, and by challenging ourselves with something new each month, the year gets twelve new meanings and time becomes more memorable.

Or does it?

For me it feels like there’s almost a compulsive need in the society to give a different meaning, a new theme for every month. We humans seem to have a need to find something to do with our time, with our energy, and the best way to do it is to challenge ourselves in a new way every thirty days.

(Or, actually, we have gone so far that almost every day of the week needs a theme: Taco Tuesdays, Throwback Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Screenless Saturdays and so on, but let’s not go there, not now.)

As I’ve been observing this thirty-day life cycle of the society, I’ve asked myself: what is the main reason behind all these challenges? And maybe most of all: when it comes to 30-day challenges, what are we trying to achieve?

Why We Participate

I wrote about the pros and cons about participating in NaNoWrimo on Tuesday and came to the conclusion that depending on the reason you’re participating, you are aiming for different things. The same logic goes for the monthly challenges as well.

I see two main paths that could explain why people take part in the 30-day challenges:

  1. The challenges are a way of discovering new things about yourself: you learn new things or skills, you create new habits and try things that help you find your path, your conviction in life.or
  2. The challenges are a way of making your life more interesting: every new month brings a new challenge which makes your life more challenging and exciting. The time goes by and you get to try the same things that others are doing at the same time (this way you get the inspiration, motivation and support while doing the challenge, you get to be a part of a community).

So, you try new things to learn something new and spice up your life. But why do you do it? Why do you put your time and energy into these challenges?

Are the thirty-day challenges a way for us to become better persons? Do the challenges lead to some kind of progress, development? Or are we just trying to spice up our lives, pass the time so that we get from one weekend to the other, this vacation to the next, from birthday to birthday or Christmas to Christmas, whatever it is that gets you going?

Because: what happens after those thirty days of zero waste/ink drawings/writing/squat challenges are over? What’s the outcome? And what happens next?

Big Change Equals A Shock

Matt Cutts gave a short but highly informative and entertaining Ted-talk in 2011 about how anyone can do anything for thirty days. In his presentation he talked about all the different things he had tried for thirty days – from participating in NaNoWriMo and ’becoming a novelist’ to biking to work and eating sugar-free foods for a month.

His message is clear: you can do anything for a time period of thirty days. You can do small things, such as drink more water every day for thirty days, or big things, like climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But he also said this:

”I learned that when I made small, sustainable changes, things I could keep doing, they were more likely to stick. There’s nothing wrong with big, crazy challenges. In fact, they’re a ton of fun. But they’re less likely to stick.”

And this made me think about the nature of the monthly thirty-day challenges: most of them are pretty big challenges, especially those that require a great deal of time and energy in order to make them happen.

Living a life of zero waste for a month can be a big shock for someone who isn’t used to thinking about his or her consumption. Suddenly you have to plan your grocery shopping and how you spend your time.

Aiming to write 1,667 words per day will get exhausting in the long run if you’re not used to dedicating an hour or two every day for writing (because it’s a good deal of time away from other things).

And going cold-turkey on meat for a month probably leaves you hungry for meat until October is over and you are, once again, ’allowed’ to be a carnivore (fun fact: in Finland the challenge for October is Meatless October, and in January the challenge is to eat only vegan food for a month).

These big, crazy challenges – as Matt Cutts put it – can be fun, and even make you a more confident person. But if what you managed to accomplish during that 30-day challenge vanishes into thin air when the month changes – what was the point in doing the challenge in the first place?

And this comes back to the two paths I presented earlier. Why do people participate in these monthly challenges? Are they aiming for self-development, trying to find out what they enjoy in life or could consider doing for the rest of their lives? Or are they just having fun while trying different things, simply trying to make their every-day life more exciting?

Does A 30-Day Life Cycle Get Us Anywhere?

Once again, it comes down to the ’why’. Why do we decide to try something for thirty days? Is our aim to find long-term habits that help us get where we want to be in one, five or ten years? Do these thirty-day challenges help us get to that thing we consider being the meaning of life? Or – –

Do they actually hinder us from getting there?

I feel strongly that many of the big thirty-day challenges actually distract us from what’s really important in our lives. Especially if you try out every single on of them, and if you enter them just for fun, instead of wanting to find out something about yourself (I mean – isn’t it the reason why we do these challenges, to learn more about ourselves?).

These challenges require a whole lot of energy, time and thinking capacity – and that’s time away from something else. Is your investment in these challenges worth your personal resources?

However, if you participate in these challenges with the aim of actually improving your life – living healthier or environment-friendlier, lowering the threshold for drawing and publishing them online – then I think the thirty-day challenges can actually be helpful. Then all those minutes and hours you put to the challenge can be useful and help you develop and get where you want to be in one to ten years.

Seen in this light, participating in a challenge for thirty days is a great way of trying out something, then cherry-picking the best parts of it and hopefully making them a part of your life.

(And, of course, it’s also good to remember that you are allowed to fail. You are allowed to try something and after thirty days decide that it wasn’t your thing. The thought was presented well in the Ground Up Show, a podcast hosted by Matt D’avella, where he had T.K. Coleman as his guest. Coleman said this:

”Conduct experiments instead of life-long commitments. Try something for thirty days – it’s not marriage, it’s not a new religion. It’s just thirty days.”)

The True Challenge

But as I wrote on Tuesday, simply because you try something for thirty days doesn’t automatically mean you become a pro at it or manage to create a habit that sticks. Challenges like NaNoWriMo can make one exhausted. Meatless October can make you more hungry for meat than you’ve ever been before. And a squat challenge works out as long as you have that thirty-day schedule to follow.

But the true challenge comes when the month dedicated to that challenge is over. Only then you’ll be able to see if the changes you made during that month were small enough to stick or if they vanish into thin air when the next month begins. So – the next time think about participating in a challenge that sounds exciting, I’d say this: ask yourself why do you participate, what do you wish to be the outcome at the end of the month?

Have you participated in any thirty-day challenges? Why did you participate and how did you feel about them in the end, did any of the habits created during the challenge stick? In your opinion, did the thirty-day challenge make your life better?

 

How To Get That Writing Done

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For the past couple of months I’ve had the freedom and pleasure to try being a full-time writer. It’s been working out great, or at least it feels like I’ve gotten a good start on the almost-daily writing (I tend to keep one or two days a week writing-free, usually during the weekend).

However, my sixth and last year of university studies started two weeks ago. Although I’ve managed to minimize the amount of courses for this final year, I still have the most important part of my Master’s Degree left: my Thesis. And yes, I use the capital-T because it is a big project and takes  t i m e  to finish.

As you can guess, this time is away from something else: working on my own projects (read: writing).

Before my Master’s studies began two weeks ago, I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed the full-time writing. I was able to invest all my creative energy on writing this blog and my book, but now, after pushing myself two weekends in a row to meet a deadline for school… Well, let’s just say I feel extremely motivated to be able to write full-time again in the future.

How To Manage Your Writing

As I’m struggling to find the time and energy for all three writing projects I have going on (the blog, the book, the thesis), I thought I could share some tips and insights on how I manage to do all that.

1. Be In Control Of Your Time

On Monday mornings, after I’ve had my morning coffee and written my journal (something I started doing again last week to have an outlet for my unedited thoughts), I pick up my notebook and write a to-do list for the whole week.

The to-do list contains the writing goals for my projects I have for the week, such as word goals and finishing and editing blog posts. But I also include my weekly yoga-practice and the fun free-time activities to the to-do list. Every day of the week gets its own to-do list, from Monday to Friday and one for the weekend. The altogether six to-lists fit on one page which gives me a good overview of the whole week.

The weekly list is extremely helpful to give me a sense of how much I need to get done this week and how much time I have for everything. It also helps me plan when I should do what. For instance, I do my creative writing in the morning before lunch because that’s when I’m most creative and motivated, and leave the more scientific writing or researching for the afternoon. Yoga-practices, fun free-time activities and tv-series I leave for the evening when I’ve used up most of my energy for creative or more rational thinking.

2. Efficiency

Because there are only twenty-four hours in a day, I have to plan my time well. How much time will it take to write a blog post? Can I manage to write 1,000 words of Yellow Tails in an hour-or-so? How many hours can I dedicate to research for my thesis?

When I have my time limits and estimations figured out, I can start working. But as we all know, holding on to those time goals is easier said than done. We humans are easily distracted by our phones, our environment, our own thoughts. To be able to focus on the task at hand, one needs to minimize those distractions while working.

(I’m a big fan of singletasking instead of multitasking, especially after seeing this video.)

Find a working space that works for you. If you need quiet, go to a reading room in the library. If you are distracted by your phone, keep it in your bag or another room, put it on sleep mode or airplane mode to minimize all the distractions (I don’t have the notifications on for anything except for chats, which is also helpful even if I would check my phone while working). And if you seem to get distracted by your own thoughts, write them down and continue working.

This kind of efficiency and focused working requires both practice and self-discipline. But every day you’ll get better at it, I promise, if you just keep on practicing. Every time you notice your focus fleeing to something else, come back to your work and refocus.

3. Be Realistic

”We overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year.”

If I want to see a completed to-do list in the end of the week, I need to be realistic about the word or project goals I have for the day and for the week.

For me, word goals work better than time goals. I tried the Pomodore Technique for a few weeks during the Summer, but realized that I work better when I measure my productivity in words written rather than time used on a project. The Pomodore Technique might come in handy when I start writing my thesis in order to come for air every 25 minutes, but when I’m working on a blog post or writing Yellow Tails, I opt for word goals rather than time goals. Try different methods and see what works best for you.

However you measure your progress, be realistic. Remember that we usually overestimate how much we can manage in a day but underestimate what we can do in a year. Instead of deciding to write 1,500 words per day on your book, try putting a word goal of 10,000 for the whole week. One day, you might feel like writing 3,000 words while another day you only manage to produce 500 words. No harm done, if you still meet your word goal in the end of the week!

(And even if you wouldn’t, learn to be okay with that too. Instead of beating yourself for unfinished goals, try figuring out what went wrong. Was 10k too much, should you try 8k next week instead?)

By the way, the thought of we underestimate what we can do in a year motivated me to make a long-term plan for Yellow Tails, to plan my finances for the year to come and make some other plans for the whole year as well. So: be realistic about what you can achieve in a day, but also about what you can achieve in a year.

4. Find Balance

No matter how efficient the to-do lists are, life isn’t only about completing tasks. As important as your word/time/project goals are, it’s just as important to take time off your to-do list. Do something fun, be social, let your Word-documents or blog posts rest for a while.

I’m definitely still struggling to find a balance between leisure and all the writing and planning of the writing. I have my Thursday yoga practice and I’m determined to not write anything in the evenings. However, it’s still hard to be able to put aside the to-do list in the evenings.

Especially keeping my late evenings blue screen free has been a challenge. As almost all of my writing gets done on the computer (after which I usually check/update my Instagram, also on a screen), I’ve noticed how I in the evenings often have something I’d like to call a ’blue screen brain’. It’s that numbness, whirring feeling in the brain after you’ve consumed too many hours in front of a screen. It isn’t healthy, for sure, but I’m struggling to find a balance between getting things done and minimizing my screen time. If you have tips on that, I’d love to hear from you!

Finding balance is also about prioritizing. Sometimes you just have to put yourself first, or sometimes your creative projects might have to come before your school/work projects. Or the other way around. Prioritizing also has to do with being realistic: what is the most important thing for you to accomplish today? When you have that figured out, great, do it, and if you don’t feel like you have the energy to do anything else that day – take a break. You’ve done the most important thing for the day and that’s all that matters.

5. Hold On To Your ’Why’

This might be the most important thing when trying to get all that writing done. Whenever you feel deflated, tired, unmotivated or irritated about all the things you have on your to-do list, try to recall why you’re doing all this. Why is it important that you reach your word goal for the day? Why is it important that you show up everyday at your computer or work-in-progress no matter what?

For me, having these three different writing projects means I have three different ’whys’ to hold on to:

Writing my blog is an outlet for my thoughts about the society, people, behavior and self-development. It works as a balancing writing project for my fictional writing. Writing H.E.R. is also a way for me to connect with people who think similarly or want to question the same things I do.

Writing my book is the most fulfilling and fun thing I’ve done in a long time. It just feels right to write fiction and especially to write Yellow Tails. It’s one the most important projects I’ve ever had and reminding me of that helps me write that 1k almost every day.

Writing my thesis… Well, it’s the way to go if I wish to complete my studies, and I do want to complete them and get my Master’s Degree. It might help me get a job in the future if I needed one, it might give me more credit/respect than I would get if I didn’t have a Master’s Degree, and it shows that I’m capable of handling big writing projects (which is funny because I think my other writing projects tell more about me than my thesis, but let’s not go there right now). My ’why’ is a bit foggy on this one which is probably the reason why I find it hard to prioritize time for working on my thesis.

If You Read This Far…

This became one of the longer blog posts I’ve written on H.E.R. If you made it this far, then awesome, thank you for reading! I hope you got some thoughts from this list and maybe you are able to manage and divide your time better between different projects in the future. If you want to share your own time management tips or share your thoughts on something I wrote, go ahead and leave a comment. I’m always interested in hearing what you think about the things I think about!

At the moment, I’m still trying to find a way to get my thesis writing into my writing routines but I believe it will take some time. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to work on the thesis as efficiently as I do with these blog posts and writing my book. We’ll see how I manage. I guess it’ll show on my to-do list in the end of each week…

But now, I’ll leave you to your Thursday. Have a good one!

 

True Progress: Life After Quitting

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Tuesday one week ago would have been the last day of my summer job as a radio journalist. When I saw the marking in my calendar (Last day at work!) which was, of course, struck through, I felt incredibly satisfied.

If I had carried through the whole deal, which means I would have worked for thirteen weeks from June to the beginning of September… well, I don’t know how I would be doing.

I know I would still be in this town, living in this apartment and would have a bit more money on my bank account. But how I would be feeling, what would I be thinking, what would the overall mood be like?

First of all, many of these blog posts wouldn’t have happened. Honestly, I don’t think a single one of them. For instance, although some of the Still Life Sundays existed before starting out H.E.R., many of them have been born in the progress.

I wouldn’t have read some of the great books I have come in contact with (latest one being Butcher’s Crossing by the amazing John Williams) or written my own book project (which now has more than 47 000 words and 111 pages – and is still going strong).

The hikes we’ve done, the weekend of sailing, all the thinking I’ve done, the creative ideas I’ve had… I have a hard time believing any of them would have happened if I had stayed at the job.

As I looked at the Last day of work!  mark in my calendar, I felt the satisfaction that comes from making a good decision. That day, on Tuesday, I had had a very productive, creative and fulfilling day, instead of being at work and doing something I wasn’t enjoying (although for that day I’d probably have baked a cake to celebrate my last day, and cake is never wrong, but let’s not shift our focus here).

By five o’clock that day, which would have been the time I usually was done with work and would have been on my way home, I had done following things: my morning yoga routine and a short muscle workout, written 1,5k on my book (which always gives me the greatest boost of calm and satisfaction), eaten a good lunch in nice company, read thirty-something pages of a well-written book, published a blog post and accepted the invitation to join a few friends for a beer that evening.

And that day was more or less the definition of how I’d like many more of my days to look like. Of course, every day won’t be a successful day of writing and so on, but the structure of that day was functioning and satisfying. It made me happy.

Last Thursday we had a go-through of the internship with rest of my fellow journalism students. We were asked to come up with three things we liked about our internship, three things we didn’t think functioned very well and an aha-experience (i.e. a realization) we had had during our internship.

Before the go-through I was actually pretty nervous, wondering if we were going to talk about me quitting my job, or if a cloud of disappointment would hang in the air through the whole thing.

However, no one seemed to judge me for my decision. As I presented my list of likes and dislikes and my aha-experience (how it felt like I really learned how the working life of a daily news journalist looks like), I felt pride and strength in my decision. I knew I had done the right thing and no one could make me change my opinion about that decision.

It was as if I had already moved beyond that, like I was already on the next step while everyone else were still hanging out on the previous one. It felt like true progress.