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How to Do One Thing this Summer

kids' summer schedule planningIn the Northern Hemisphere, it’s warm and the days are long. The kids are out of school. We hope for leisurely days, hours spent outside, lots of reading, cooking on the grill, and hopefully a bit of actual time off — whether that means a staycation, an exotic getaway, or something in between.

Unfortunately, we still have to get crap done maintain some level of productivity.

If, like me, you work from a home office and have cobbled together a variety of childcare options for the next two months, your schedule may be turned on its head. Those with fulltime jobs outside the house must also navigate seasonal schedule changes. With the load of juggling that summer requires, it can seem near impossible to get through even a few things on your daily task list — despite the extra hours of sunshine. On top of your workload, you still have to maintain a vague semblance of functionality on the home front, keep everyone fed and clothed, and serve as cruise director. So we shoehorn the necessities into as few hours as possible in order to get the kids to the pool or go for a hike or spend some time working in the garden.

As you already know — all too well — when there’s a time crunch, the first thing to go is the stuff that matters only to you. Creative work, personal practices, personal care. The things you care about but that no one else particularly notices. There may be an indirect effect, as in, if you’re doing your creative work and meditating every morning you’re nicer to be around (as opposed to when you skip those things for too many days in a row and you morph into a raving lunatic get a little grouchy). But on the whole, these are the things that directly impact only one person when ignored: you.

morning freedom reminderDecide on One Thing that you’re going to focus on during the next two months. This could be a creative practice, such as writing or drawing for 30 minutes every day, or it could be that you’d like to complete a specific project during this timeframe. You might decide that your One Thing is a midsummer artist’s date; four hours on a Saturday afternoon to visit a museum by yourself, browse in a bookstore, or sit outside with an iced soy latte while you journal. Maybe you want to save one evening every week to enjoy that pile of magazines that never get read. Or you might be pulled to the self-care category: Perhaps you’d like to do yoga at home every morning. Whatever it is, pick One Thing that is important only to you, and claim it.

Can you pick more than One Thing? Of course. But One Thing, if chosen wisely, is accessible and doesn’t spawn overwhelm. Set yourself up for success. Make your One Thing something that is exciting and doable; realistic while pushing yourself just enough to feel your muscles stretching and strengthening. (I don’t recommend committing to write an 80K-word novel this summer, for example, unless your kids go to overnight camp for two months and you’re barring the door at a remote cabin. You get the idea.)

What’s my One Thing? At present my creative practice is rock solid (I haven’t missed my 500-word daily quota in more than six months), so I chose something that supports “focus,” one of my three words for 2013. I decided to enjoy my mornings and evenings without the distraction of social media and e-mail. This means no facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, or e-mail before 9:00 am or after 7:00 pm. Not on my iPhone, not on my laptop. When I adhere to this boundary, I avoid getting sucked into the vortex and have more time for things that matter. Social media is a amazing tool for connectivity — and I manage social media accounts for several clients, so actually get paid to be on facebook, ha ha — but on the personal front, idle social media usage that too easily too easily turns into an hour of wasted time. So the ban is essential — framed as something positive (which it is) as opposed to deprivation.

evening freedom reminderThe three steps to ensure that you do your One Thing:

  1. Put a stake in the ground: Write your One Thing in your calendar or daily schedule, as appropriate. If you have a project goal, decide how much time you’re going to devote to this work on a daily or weekly basis and add it to your calendar as you would an appointment.
  2. Create accountability: Since you already know how easy it is to skip out on what matters only to you, accountability is essential. Share your One Thing here as a comment. Then come back at the end of August and tell us how it went.
  3. Establish reminders: Write down your One Thing on sticky notes and place them in obvious locations around your house. Use reminders on your phone. Or use an app just for this purpose. I’m using the app Intention, which allows you to create visual reminders to keep you on track (the images that accompany this post are from the app; available for iPhone and iPad). The combination of intention with positive visuals is powerful. (For the record, I’m not a paid spokesperson.)

So pick your One Thing, follow the three steps, and enjoy the next two months.

I look forward to seeing what you chose for your One Thing, and supporting you in your success!

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Creative New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s a Must-Have iPhone/iPad App

Goal_StreaksI’m an iPhone app junkie. But not all apps; productivity apps. I’ve tried so many different habit-supporting and time-management apps that I’m scared to think about how much cash all of those “little” purchases add up to. And I’ve deleted nearly as many, when they invariably fail to knock my socks off. But here’s an app that’s truly a keeper, especially for those of us who are bent on maintaining a daily creative practice: Goal Streaks. This app is a terrific motivator for all the new habits you’d like to develop — and is unusually flexible, allowing you to track virtually any frequency intention (not just daily). At right is a screen shot that shows the first three goals I’m tracking (I have ten in total at the moment — all in the creativity and well-being categories).

LifeHacker loves this app too. Here’s an excerpt from the LifeHacker review:

Goal Streaks helps you set and track repeat tasks so you can form habits and achieve long-term goals more easily. The idea is to chip away a little bit each day, but Goal Streaks is incredibly versatile and can handle just about any more complex schedule you care to throw at it.

Earlier this year I solved my procrastination problem with Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret, otherwise known as don’t break the chain. The “secret” is to put up a calendar and mark everyday with an X each time you complete a specific task (e.g. exercise, cook, clean, etc.). Since then many apps have surfaced to help people implement this method of getting things done on their smartphones. While pretty good, none of them were dynamic enough to allow you to create very specific rules. Perhaps you want to be able to do something four days a week and it doesn’t matter to you which days that task is accomplished, or you need to take vacation days from certain tasks (e.g. exercise and work). Goal Streaks allows you to create and schedule tasks with that level of specificity, making it capable of managing pretty much any situation. The only type of schedule it currently can’t handle, as far as I can tell, is something along the lines of doing something for four weeks and then taking a week off. That said, you can give it exception rules so you can skip certain days without penalty.

Goal Streaks is very easy to use and offers a feature tour to introduce you to all the things it can do. The app is responsive, nice to look at, allows you to set daily reminders, and just works better than the others. It may be late to the game, but it’s a better player than what we’ve seen so far.

The fact is, this app WORKS. When you get a couple of days of X’s in a row, you want to keep the chain going. And then you have three weeks of X’s in a row, you actually WANT to stay up past your bedtime to get your 500 words written because if you don’t, you’re back to zero.

Cost: $3.99. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 6.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5. Grab Goal Streaks here. Then get rolling with your creative resolutions and intentions for 2013.

If you don’t have an iPhone or an iPad, my condolences! 😉

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