Tag Archives: effort

Bullet Journals are Fire

I added a couple adjustments to my Bullet Journal process since my last post on the subject. Here are a couple quick tricks that I think work for both the minimalist version and the artsy / time-consuming arrangements.

Track the workplace “fires” that you put out

If a task is REALLY frustrating, actual fire is also an option.

Office workers know the pain of watching your organized, planned-out schedule burst into flames as managers or circumstances bring you all sorts of “fires” to put out. Urgent tasks demand attention. Surprise emails reprioritize your day. The boss comes in and says “Drop what you’re doing, I need you on This now.” 

Bullet Journal is about tracking what you’ve done as well as organizing your future effort, so from the beginning I’ve written down the unplanned or unexpected tasks I accomplish. But I decided to capture these random “opportunities” with a symbol all their own: a little flame on the task. Not only does that identify the task as HOT but it also shows that I didn’t plan for this… which might explain why other tasks get migrated to the next day (yet again). 

Even more rewarding? When that surprise tasker is completed, I can draw a squiggle on the fire to show it has been put out properly. We joke about putting out fires all day—why not incorporate that into my BuJo?

Yep. I still hate the term “BuJo.”

Color code or number your top priority tasks 

When I first started my journal, I picked up a set of five ultra fine point gel pens with different color ink: black, blue, purple, red, and green. I thought I’d use them more often, but I prefer colored pencils for anything artsy. So I’ve had these things sitting in a pen case doing nothing. 

The other day, I think a motivational video or article suggested organizing or identifying certain tasks as the priorities for a given day, and hitting those first. I could use numbers, of course… but why not the pens? Now I look over my to-do list for the day and underline four tasks in priority order—red, purple, blue, green—as my primary focus items. It’s an added satisfaction to check those off as done.

Sometimes you just have to punch Monday in the junk.

Today, I knocked out everything on my high-priority list before my lunch break. Now I can get to some of the other tasks in the afternoon, with the satisfaction that the big items are out of the way.

Time Management

On a side note, when I reviewed February’s journal entries, I found a lot of references to using the limited time we’re given wisely. As I considered how to lay out March’s monthly calendar and tracker, I decided to incorporate that message into my spread as a constant reminder this month. I found a few sweet quotes that spur me on to do the most with each day:

And naturally, as a Whovian, I had to incorporate the Doctor and some items related to his adventures. Here’s my timey-wimey March page:

The trouble is, you think you have time. -Buddha

Some of the applicable motivational quotes that have come my way include:

  • The billionaire and the beggar each are given the same 24 hours in a day.
  • You will never “find” time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
  • We hold other people to guarantees and promises, like “30-day satisfaction or your money back.” Why don’t we hold ourselves to that standard? You owe you, you owe it to yourself to set such a standard.
  • It’s not a last minute “fire” task if it’s a “waited until the last minute” task. That’s just poor planning or poor execution. (That’s my own, in light of the fire symbol idea.)

You Didn’t Write That

I got an email from social writing platform WattPad celebrating my accomplishment in their recent 1-month writing challenge. “Congratulations! You wrote it!”

They ran an event for the month of August for their 2015 Wattys (their internal awards), using the slogan and hashtag #JustWriteIt. The goal? Write a story within a 30 day period, with at least 10,000 words. 
  
“Just ten thousand,” I thought, “that’s it? NaNoWriMo was fifty thousand words, and I completed that. So ten thousand is nothing. Easy-peasy.”

A little further inspection of the email made it clear no one had actually checked whether I really did write that much.

Which is good… 

…because I didn’t.

It was classic “the tortoise and the hare” stuff that brought me down. “So few words! I have all kinds of time. I can take a little break over here… the tortoise will never reach the finish line.” Days pass, then weeks. Then I see my word count isn’t where it needs to be, but busy schedules and competing priorities get in the way. 

“I have maybe one day left… if I sit down tomorrow and pound out the last 3,000 words, I could finish the 10K.”

But it’s a 30 day challenge, not a one month challenge… so what started on August 15th ended September 13th, not the 15th. 

The email arrived at 11:55 PM. The celebratory tone poured a little salt in the wound on my pride, and reminded me of the simple truth about writing or any other hobby we claim to take seriously. 

Writers write. 

They don’t just talk about writing, or talk about what they wrote in the past. They don’t just read about how to write better, or collect supplies and gimmicks and tips on cool, inspirational writing locations.

Being a writer involves intentional effort, effort that I failed to make.

So, what now? 

Well, I’m enjoying the Echoes story I started, and plan to continue it. It’s a nice side project if I want something I can break into smaller chunks (compared to working on a novel). 

And NaNoWriMo prep is in full-swing, with a little over a month before the kick-off. I’m going to be a Municipal Liaison this year, so I’m going to be encouraging others to accomplish the challenge while trying to complete my own. 

I managed to finish last time, and sure enough, it was all because of disciplined effort instead of any supposed skill. 

It took writing during almost every free moment. Beating a 1666 word goal each day before letting my hobbies distract me. Putting aside things I really enjoyed to focus on what I said I wanted. Avoiding the inclination to take a breather if some hard work over the weekend got me a bit ahead of the daily goal.  

For example, my wife started playing the new expansion to World of Warcraft when it came out in the middle of the month. I listened with eagerness to her descriptions of all the added features… then I kept typing the next scene in my book.

I finished the 50K a couple days early and finished the first draft of the book just before the end of the month. 

People balk at the idea of writing a book in a month. They hear the number of words and wonder if it’s possible. It’s both challenging and easy, in a way. You just sit down and write. Then keep writing. Then write some more. Then do it again the next day. 

We make time for what’s truly important to us. We make excuses when it doesn’t matter enough. And when we know something is easy, we may fail to put in the effort.

It’s harsh, but it’s more true than the email celebrating my success. 

After writing about hopes and dreams and possibilities, it strikes me that I don’t want a lingering memory of “what if I had?” 

I want to look back with pride and joy, saying, “That’s what I did.”

Always Learning

I walked out of my brief doctor’s visit and headed through the lobby to my car. The hospital has a valet service, but I need to walk. After all, I’m going through post-surgery physical therapy, so I don’t use it.

The valet is a young man, maybe in his early 20s. He’s got a sketchpad and pen out, and he has a burly superhero-type man flexing next to a typical comic book female figure (the sort that would make Barbie feel unattractive).

Many visitors don’t take advantage of the valet service. Even when they do, the young man jogs out to retrieve the car, so he ends up with a lot of down time. And he’s using that to hone his skills, to build up his craft as an artist.

That’s worthy of respect. I made sure to catch him and pay him a compliment.

My daughter surprised us last night as she was getting ready for bed. She grabbed her violin and practiced for about five or ten minutes, playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for her brother to help him go to sleep. It didn’t work, but both Mom and I were pleased with her willingness to take a few minutes to practice. She wants to learn, and she shows that dedication in moments like these.

I think of the civilian in my technical school’s chow hall almost 20 years ago. When the customers were intermittent, he always got out a drawing pad and started working on some project, taking advantage of every spare moment, every opportunity.

That’s why I have a notepad or my iPad pretty much everywhere I go. Sitting for 10 minutes with ice on my ankle after physical therapy, I can write the majority of my next A-Z post. Waiting for the doctor, I can jot down a few ideas. When someone in public says something unbelievable, I take a quick note to save it for a future character.

There’s a need for scheduled practice time, just as with any pursuit. But I think one difference between having a hobby and having a passion is that desire to fill every available moment with effort to hone the craft.

Just something I noticed as I walked out the hospital door this morning. What’s your favorite way to take advantage of opportunities throughout the day or week? Maybe it’s a suggestion I, or another reader, will find useful. Let me know in a comment.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Grinding Gears

This morning I forced myself out of bed to honor a commitment.

My swollen Frankenstein foot is healing. I’m attending physical therapy sessions to strengthen it. But my whole body needs exercise. My speed has to improve, and my waistline must shrink so I can pass a fitness test.

Time to move.

The first hundred feet powerwalking feel like running a motor with no oil. Like trying to get my tires out of mud or gravel, and they’re spinning with no traction.

It’s like my old 10-speed after a long winter. I’d pull it out of the garage once the snow melted, and spray WD-40 over the chain and gears. But it still took a few minutes of pedaling to shake everything loose. Grinding metal. Sudden jolts as the chain stuck and snapped loose. Frequent rattling. Then finally, it became reliable.

Even then, when I shifted speeds, the chain would sometimes slip off. I’d have to stop, put it back together, get the chain back on track, and start up again.

Effort is the oil in the engine of greatness.

The Chinese understand this. Their word for “to add oil; lubricate” ( 加油 / jia you, pronouced “jah yo”) has the figurative meaning of increasing effort, pushing harder, stepping on the gas.

With this foot, I’m never going to be a marathon runner. I’ll probably never sprint very fast. I won’t be an awesome basketball player.

But I will regain and surpass the speed I once could achieve on this foot. And I will be able to shoot hoops with my daughter again. And who knows, maybe even I’ll go back to running a fitness test instead of merely walking.

Because I will wake up on cold mornings, spray some “oil” on that ankle, suck it up, and start walking. I will get on the bike, strap my feet in, and turn up the resistance. And when it gets easy, I’ll add another level or two.

What matters isn’t where you’re at now. Where you were before doesn’t matter either. What matters is where you’re headed, and what you’re willing to do to get there.

Writing–really, any creative effort–is similar. I used to say writing was a hobby. But I’ve put in effort and study to improve my craft. I keep doing so. I call myself a writer, because writing is what I do, what I will continue to do.

In fact, I call myself author, because I’ve written numerous short stories and devotionals. I’ve put over a hundred thousand words into a manuscript and I have composed over 150 songs. Maybe soon I will self-publish. With some hope, maybe I will one day have work printed in a publication or published by a professional company.

All I know is that today I will sit down at the keyboard and turn words into sentences, phrases into paragraphs, passages into chapters. Then I’ll edit and revise until it’s the strongest work I can produce today.

And I won’t be content with that, so I’ll make myself do better tomorrow.

I’m not saying I’m great. I’m saying I’m not satisfied.

What commitment to yourself are you going to honor today?

When the Iron is Hot

No, I did NOT stay up ’til 4 AM after a short catnap in order to finish a chapter of my current project. Haha, who would do such a thing?

I’ve read numerous articles (as I’m sure any aspiring writer also has) discussing discipline and honing one’s craft. We can’t simply wait for inspiration, then write. We have to carve out time and force out effort, knowing that even if the result sucks, at least it was a result that helps us get better in the long run.

Quantity of effort ensures opportunity for quality effort.

“Strike when the iron is hot,” so goes the saying. And it’s taken to mean we should take advantage of those brief bursts of creativity and inspiration. When an idea springs to mind, run with it. If a scene plays out in your head, start writing or typing, and put that image down on record.

But that understanding of the idiom is flawed. The iron only gets hot when the smith gives careful attention to the fire, ensuring the proper temperature to work the metal. The iron gets hot because of effort, not luck. Thus, opportunities can be created, not merely stumbled upon.

I’m curious. If you write or express yourself creatively (which you probably do in some fashion if you’re reading WordPress), what is your experience with the balance of Muscle and Muse, the interplay between forcing out effort and flowing with creative energy?

I do the former to find the latter. What’s your take?