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Posts tagged ‘productivity’

Paper and pen still can’t be beat

Lifehacker is conducting ongoing surveys to determine a variety of “best” tools. Recently, Lifehacker asked readers to select their favorite journaling tool. Old fashioned pen and paper came out on top, by a wide margin.

Which Journaling Tool is Best? (Poll Closed)
  • Microsoft Word 8% (338 votes)
  • Pen and Paper 38% (1632 votes)
  • Microsoft OneNote 13% (548 votes)
  • Evernote 13% (564 votes)
  • WordPress 16% (702 votes)
  • Other 11% (489 votes)

Pen and paper also won in the recipe management department, despite a bounty of digital tools designed for that purpose.

How about you? Where do you rely on paper, and where do you rely on something that runs on electricity?

Cathy: And now for something completely different

I’ve been so wrapped up in the idea that I need to finish my manuscript, that the feeling has resulted in much the same as shooting one’s self in the foot, can’t win for trying, or a hundred other clichés. So when I saw the opportunity from Elizabeth Beck to be a part of Do Not Leave Unattended! by Judy Beckett of, I jumped at it.

It reminded me of last spring to summer when I discovered Kerri Smith’s Wreck this Journal. I was so stuck, I hadn’t worked on the manuscript since about three to four years prior, even though it had never left my mind. I had let life get in the way of art, and I needed to find a way back. I discovered the way back to art through Wreck. It has everything to do with being able to be free about it, make it messy, have fun with it and play. Because of that little tome and my use of it, I was able to return to the manuscript with a renewed sense of fun and inspiration about it. It didn’t matter if I made it work, what mattered was that I was writing about kids and what they go through in sixth grade, and that even if some of it is hard, it’s also fun to be a kid, have a family who loves you, even when they’re a pain, have friends who stick by you, even if you’re not exactly sure why, and that no matter who you are, you can do something great, maybe even change the world a little.

So, now that I really am right at the end of the ‘first’ draft (which has already been through practically word-by-word edits), like two to three scenes from the end, I find myself trying to make it work, or avoiding doing so, or whatever so that I won’t finish. I took a moment to breath, to get messy, to create something completely different and let it go out into the universe, especially not perfect. Here is the result:springjournal2


I wanted to feel like a kid, so I played with markers, I wanted the sense of youth and fun and something new and had been thinking a lot about spring because it’s spring. On my dog walks and in my gardening, I’ve been noticing lots of itty bitty wildflowers, like confetti all over my lawn and around the public areas in my subdivision. I thought about them being fairy footprints left behind after a night of dancing. I wrote a haiku. Then I free wrote in the journal about spring, how it’s about change and new and color…

So it looks like a kid did it, and I’m glad. I needed to feel more like a kid to finish writing about one. And I put a lot more productive hours into my manuscript the week i did this page. Letting go and playing in creativity really can set you free.

Who wants to be next?

Miranda: Drive-thru motherhood

waiting_for_spring1So, the move is over, and we’ve had a month in our new home. We’re slowly moving out of the “getting settled” phase and into simply “living.” I still pinch myself every morning, amazed at our good fortune and that the whole grueling sale and purchase and moving processes are over. The kids are healthy and happy. I have a steady stream of client work. (And I heard a rumor that spring is actually coming to New England someday soon, even though this photo shows you what the world looked like from my front door on Tuesday morning.) All things considered, life is good. Very good.

Still, as I always have, I struggle with my intense desire to get things done and the reality of motherhood. It was hard for me to accept that I couldn’t just go crazy and unpack the entire house in four days, as I have in the past. This time around, I have two very young children in addition to my three older ones — and the domestic front is just too demanding to ignore for very long. Then there’s the sleep deprivation; until this week my 10-month-old baby was still waking to nurse three or four times a night. While my capacity to be productive is on the high side (the way too high side, according to my husband), even I can only do so much.

And then there are moments when I realize I’m misguided in my determination. Getting things done may make me feel good, but even I know that the point of life isn’t simply efficiency. Having a to-do list with every item checked off doesn’t do much to make me a better person or a better mother. I feel guilty about not spending enough time with the children, not giving them enough undivided attention, not giving them enough good memories. I tell myself that I’ll have more time to get on the floor and play “after the holidays” and then “after we move” and then “after we really get settled” and then “after I finish the tax planner” and then “after all the birthday parties” and then “after the big client project” — and now that I am approaching 40 years old, I am finally accepting that there is no “after.” There is only now.

I tend to put off my creative projects in the same way that I put off my children. If motherhood and creativity are two of the most important elements of my life, how do I let that happen so often?

Baby steps. I’m learning.

Some of you have heard me observe that my 18-year-old is just months away from leaving for college and the start of life as a young adult. I gobble up most opportunities to spend time with him, painfully aware that they are waning. That’s an easy one. What about the other children?

On Sunday, despite having “tons of stuff to do,” I took my nearly 15-year-old out for some “middle child time.” He’s not really the middle child anymore, seeing as he’s number two in the string of five, but he’s in there somewhere — and he’d been looking forward to some one-on-one time. We go to KFC, his chosen destination. We hit the drive-thru and park the car. Mainly our conversation centers on my son’s relationship with his girlfriend, and his many questions. I find myself sounding like a taller, American version of Dr. Ruth. As my son forks through a family-size container of mashed potatoes, I study his hands. I don’t know his hands well enough. I knew them so well when he was a baby, and now they are somewhat foreign to me. I have not paid enough attention. I need to learn them better. I need to know all my children’s hands by heart.

This Monday was my preschooler son’s fourth birthday. As part of the fun, I promised him a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts after his morning at school, before our trip to the grocery store. The morning had been tough for me — too many things to do and a baby who decided not to take a nap, which I had been counting on (silly me). Of course, as soon as we got back into the car and headed to school for pickup, the baby fell asleep — and stayed sleeping as we arrived at school and his older brother clambered into the car, excited about our trip to Dunkin’ Donuts.

I recently switched the baby to a front-facing seat, so my days of easily removing him from the car while he sleeps in the removable infant carrier are over. I wanted him to get a good nap, but I wasn’t sure I could easily placate the birthday boy, who was eager for his doughnut. What to do?

God bless Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, even if we did have to drive way out of the way to reach one. Ironically, it was right next to the KFC that I’d taken my other son to the afternoon prior.

My 4-year-old prefers to go inside and select his doughnut from the available selection, but I managed to convince him that the drive-thru was our best option, given that his baby brother was sound asleep. In a flash of flexibility, he agreed to try it. So we ordered him a “sprinkle” doughnut and a half-caff for me (bliss in a cup!) and found a spot in the parking lot.

As my son munched on his doughnut and my hot coffee fogged the windows over, I worked on the grocery list. The morning had been so hectic that I hadn’t had time to plan the week’s dinners or make the shopping list. I normally make my list when I’m at home so that I can inventory what we already have in the cupboards and the fridge, but oh well. I forged ahead, trying to remember some of the things I cook for dinner. (Nineteen years of “homemaking” and I’m still always stumped by the dinner menu.)

The doughnut devoured, my son started getting antsy. I put down my list. (I am not by nature a playful or spontaneous person, but every now and then I have a moment.) I reached out to the windshield, now fully opaque with condensation, and drew a birthday cake with my forefinger. “What’s this?” I asked my son. He perked right up. “A birthday cake! With four candles!” Then I drew a wrapped present. My son was enchanted. I drew balloons. He was thrilled. I was surprised by the level his excitement; you would of thought I was conjuring up REAL cake and presents and balloons. We then brainstormed all the things that were missing from our two-dimensional birthday party, and I drew them one by one. When we couldn’t think of anything else, my son asked to be released from his seat so he could climb up front and draw too. He showed me that he could make a 7, which is new — and I showed him how to make a 4, which, based on his reaction, was apparently like learning the location of the Holy Grail. (Note to self: spend more time working on numbers and letters with son.)

It was just a simple thing, a blip in the middle of a busy day — an event that many of you probably wouldn’t have found noteworthy in the least. But for me, it was a reminder that there is fun and laughter in letting go. A minor creative opportunity turned out to be something wonderful, because it was wonderful to my son. The rest of the day followed in the same vein of delight and enjoyment (despite the nearly inedible Spiderman cake).

OK, so two of my best motherhood moments of late took place in the car, while sitting outside Dunkin’ Donuts and KFC. I’ll try not to read too much into that.

So I’m working on a new list. Me, the lover of lists. Spend time with your son today. Put the laptop down and play. Dance. Schedule home pedicures with your daughter. Be open to creative magic. Breathe and just be right here, right now. Even if you’re just sitting in the car after a trip to the drive-thru. Or, maybe, especially then.

Miranda: When does giving in mean giving up?

wave.jpgI had another book interview this morning, with a woman who was funny and candid. She works fulltime from home (doing a job she’s good at but loathes) with a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a workday chopped up between taking her kids to and from preschool, feeding them lunch, and putting them down for an afternoon nap, with a bit of help from her mother-in-law around the edges. Oh, and the kids don’t sleep much at night–they go down around 8:00 p.m. (with one parent lying in bed with each child–at which point all four family members generally fall asleep), and, assuming the kids do actually sleep, they wake up at 5:30. How can this woman possibly find time for her creative pursuits–painting, sewing, and knitting among them–which increasingly keep her afloat in the face of a day job she hates?

As we were talking, we hit upon a complicated issue that has surfaced on this blog. I thought about it some more after our conversation, and then talked it through with my dear business partner over lunch.

Here’s where I’m getting stuck. On the one hand, if you don’t push yourself a little, and make creativity a priority rather than leaving it to the bottom of the list, it rarely happens. When you’re in the domestic trenches and in some capacity working for a paycheck, simply getting through the day takes so much effort and mindshare that creativity is not something that just “surfaces,” even though you might be thinking about it. Many of us are sharply aware of the speed at which our years are flying by, and that at some point we must pull our dreams down out of the treetops and fashion them into some kind of reality. Sure, there might not be any gaping holes in the schedule, glistening with creative promise, but there are a few slivers of opportunity in there somewhere. Others have made it happen, within similar circumstances. Why not us, too? Just roll up those sleeves and make it work. As women, if we don’t make our own needs a priority, it’s doubtful that anyone else will do it for us.

So we think, let’s add some structure, let’s add some tangible and achievable goals, let’s schedule some creative time, and let’s stick to it. Let’s add a little bit of pressure, both external and internal. (All of those things are good–and they are things that many creatively productive mothers do do.)

And then there’s the other hand. The friendly voice that says: hey, your kids are young. You have a lot going on. There are “only so many hours in the day.” Be nice to yourself–go with the flow, enjoy the scenery, don’t push too hard. Kids grow at lightning speed, and the quandary of making creativity happen while your kids are still in diapers doesn’t, in fact, last forever. (Though it often feels like it will last forever.) Sure, when your kids head off to school, there are other challenges, but they are different challenges. Your brain and your heart may actually get taxed at a higher rate–and you’ll invariably put a lot more mileage on your car–but parenting older children isn’t usually as bone-numbingly exhausting as parenting infants and toddlers. Slowly, as the years pass, the opportunity for creativity increases. And then, the kids are gone. (Unless, like some of us, you keep having more and more children, assuring a lifetime of offspring in residence.) Just love your children, whatever stage they’re at. Relax, enjoy your family, and live in the moment.

Figuring out where those two hands can meet, and share a high five, is the challenge. For each mother, finding the right blend will be different. For those of us who struggle with this seeming dichotomy, how do we make it work? I know my own fear: letting go, giving in to the domestic tidal wave, means that I get sucked under the breakers and spit out on the beach (if I’m lucky). I know, because it has happened many times. I’ve been a mother for nearly 18 years, and I know that for me, “going with the flow” means being dragged offshore by a voracious riptide. It’s too easy to be fully distracted by the life I’ve established. If I don’t swim hard toward my goals, the creative self will drown. Telling myself to take it easy and not to expect too much feels like a cop out–and tastes like the first gulp of sea foam. I panic.

How then to move closer to the place where I allow myself room to enjoy my “domestic bliss,” while being flexible enough to bend with the challenges–without feeling like I’m just fooling myself? Acknowledge my overflowing days, without giving in? Accept that every now and then, I have to set my creative goals aside–just for a while, not forever–not that I’m simply procrastinating? It may simply be my type-A personality, but giving an inch here feels like giving more than the proverbial mile. I’m not sure how to bend without breaking. The result, when I can’t do what I want to do creatively, is general crankiness, anxiety, and a deep fear that I’ll never get back to the beach.

Fishing line, anyone?

Jenn: Chapter 4. Check.

I came to my parents’ house for the holiday, in part to go to a postponed holiday party, and in part to finish Chapter 4, which I just finished and sent to my students. I’m having moments of “this is going to be GREAT,” and moments of the-Emporer’s-new-clothes I’m just a stupid little girl who can’t possibly compete with the venerable old male scientists who are my soon-to-be competitors. Right now I’m in an upswing.

I went to Starbucks this morning in an attempt to be productive. It didn’t work, but I’m glad I tried. I really need to be in a silent room without distraction. Starbucks had this GREAT music playing, a little too loudly. And I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on all of the patrons. People’s cell phones rang and loud conversations ensued. Some huge man at the next table had on eye stinging amounts of cologne. I forgot my flash drive. I couldn’t connect to the internet. But I did manage to do a fair bit of reading.

The more I write, the more I realize I have to write. Little sidebars, glossaries, introductions, etc.. It’s still fun, but it’s a LOT of time. Now I’m thinking of taking my Eating and the Environment class up to Maine to work on an organic farm during spring break. My plan *had* been to put the finishing touches and edit one chapter a day for the 10 days of break, then send the first 9 chapters to the publisher. Far too many fun things to do in this world and far too little time. WHY don’t men seem to have this problem?

I’ve also found Wikipedia to be a GREAT help, and both USGS and NOAA have tons of figures and photos I can filch for free. Yay. And I’m organizing a “movie night” at school for the senior geology students. I’ll lure them with free food, show a film of a natural disaster (Twister, Deep Impact, Volcano, etc.), then we’ll discuss fact from fiction and Brittany will take notes on the computer. Each will be a sidebar in a chapter.

Next up: Volcanoes. There was just an eruption in Colombia that forced the evacuation of 8,000 people. But by the time I go to press, I’m sure it will be a distant memory…

I hope everyone else is being productive and finding time for fun and balance as well.

Miranda: Walking the walk (and stumbling)

stumbed.jpgWell, I was hoping to finish Chapter 3 by Friday. In the end, I didn’t spend more than two hours on Chapter 3 last week. I also spent some time revising my short story, but mainly, I was so distracted by life and work that I forgot about Chapter 3 until Thursday. Then I told myself I could make up the difference over the weekend–but that didn’t happen either.

It is strange to be organizing interviewees, talking to people about my book (on how to manage creativity and motherhood), and tending to this blog daily and yet still manage to “forget about” what I’d intended to accomplish.

Sure, there have been “legitimate” distractions: The new snow blower died in the middle of the last storm, so our driveway is an uneven glacial challenge, which I’m trying to keep navigable with sand and snow-melt. Most household members are recovering from various viral ailments; we’ve been spending time and effort getting the house ready for listing; we sunk half a day in dealing with a heating system problem on Saturday (which at least did NOT turn out to be a frozen pipe, as originally diagnosed). My back is bothering me, so I went to see my chiropractor for an adjustment. Then my mother came over to help with Project Basement on Sunday–followed by the playoff football games (and I actually like watching football). We also learned that my mother-in-law was hospitalized, which is a real worry, although she seems to be OK right now. And of course, being nearly 6 months pregnant, I’m pretty tired at the end of the day. With regular work and domesticity poured on top, driving kids around, there just wasn’t a lot of time on hand for anything else.

The bigger issue though is my mental framework: I want to work on the book; I’m in the middle of Chapter 3 and having fun writing it. But I think I need a hard and fast writing schedule, because without one, there is so much going on that I won’t get to it. I’m too distracted. That isn’t to say that I don’t actually have the time, because I think I do, it’s matter of claiming that time before all the other bonfires take over.

Any suggestions for how I can improve my focus and productivity? I almost feel like I need a live-in coach to continually point out the best way to use my time at any given moment, and keep me on track. But the only coach I can possibly hire is myself–and I don’t seem trustworthy at the moment.

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