“make mornings matter” in march!

“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, that will probably be the worst thing you do all day.” – Mark Twain.

Source: Frog by David Wagner

Source: Frog by David Wagner

Happy Thursday, friends! How is your week going so far?

The always-amazing Crystal over at Money-Saving Mom is hosting a really neat Early to Rise Challenge during the month of March. I have been inspired by her posts, and floored by her {and other participants} wake-up times: 5:33. 6:01. 5:45. A.M.!!

Now to some of you, that is a piece of cake. That is simply routine for you. 5 a.m. and sunrises are a normal part of your day. {My mom is one of those people. Hi, Mom!}

But I have always been a night owl. Maybe it’s related to writing — I often feel more creative late at night, when the world is quiet and I am close to dreamland. {In fact, I titled my short story collection 3 a.m. because that’s when I was up writing many of the stories in the book!} I’ve read that we all have natural body rhythms as either night owls or early birds, and I am definitely in the night owl category. I often joke with my Gramps, who lives out in California, that he and I are on the same time schedule — we go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time; I’m just three hours ahead of him on the clock! 🙂

Still, I like to feel productive, and I’ve found my mornings often set the tone for the rest of my day. If I have a sluggish morning where I wake up, head straight to my computer, check my email first thing, and browse around on Facebook, it will soon be an hour later and I will feel totally crummy. Then I’ll be rushing to “get a start” on my day and very likely the whole entire day will seem like a giant game of catch-up.

If, instead, I wake up, drink two glasses of water, brew some tea and cook a healthy, hearty breakfast, and start the day with one chore I do not want to do or have been putting off — just do it and get it DONE so I don’t have to worry about it anymore — then the entire day seems sunnier, easier, lovelier. I feel on top of things. I feel productive. Even if the task I’ve been putting off takes me a total of three minutes, like yesterday morning, when I called the mechanic who I had been been playing phone tag with the entire day before. I called him first thing when I got up, was done with the task in three minutes, and felt a sense of motivation and accomplishment that carried me through the entire day!

To paraphrase Mark Twain’s quote from the beginning of this post, what “frogs” are you putting off? Think how great you will feel if you get them done first thing and then have the whole day to not worry about it!

Another thing that really gets my day off on a great, energetic note is to do a little bit of exercise first thing in the morning. One of my goals for 2013 is to stretch every day, and I feel so much better the rest of the day if I take a few minutes to stretch my legs and hips when I first get out of bed. I am also trying to motivate myself to get into the routine of doing my sit ups and push ups first thing in morning, before I hop in the shower and eat breakfast. I often feel too tired or busy to do them at night, but I really want to work on building up the strength of my core, and so doing my sit-ups and push-ups are important to me. For the rest of March — and beyond — that is a small goal I am focusing on!

How about you? How do you make your mornings matter? If you’re looking for inspiration, I love this post by Crystal: “15 Things You Can Do Each Morning to Make Your Day More Successful.” I think she gives great advice! And whether your morning starts at 5 a.m. or noon, this is a no-judgment zone! It’s all about what works best for you and your lifestyle. 🙂

goals & meal plan for the week of 2/10

Last week absolutely flew by! It was a productive and balanced week — filled with work time, crafts, fun, friends, and lots of yummy food — but looking over my goals, I was feeling a little discouraged. How could I feel so productive all week, but then have so many uncrossed-off goals at the week’s end?

Then I found this amongst my school papers:

mind dump

It’s my “mind-dump” to-do list from the past couple of days. Whenever I have a lot of little things running through my mind, I like to get out a piece of paper and write everything down, which usually helps clear my head so I can focus better on my tasks for the day. This list is filled with tasks big and small — grading to finish up, a specific email to send, housekeeping chores, a fellowship application to finish up — and it was quite long! I was really happy to find this and see all the items crossed off, because it reminded me that I actually did a great job working towards my goals this week. Some weeks just have more unexpected tasks crop up than others do, and sometimes surprises take precedent over the goals you set at the beginning of a week or month. And that’s okay.

This week, I finalized some paperwork about my thesis defense, submitted short stories to three journals, went out on a date night with Mike, got together with friends for a lovely catch-up visit, talked to one of my young writing mentees over Skype, prepped for a workshop I’m teaching in a few weeks to fellow graduate instructors at Purdue, sold a couple of chairs via Craigslist, made pumpkin pie and a batch of chocolate-covered pretzels, started a Valentine’s Week series on this blog … all sorts of good things that were important and fun and necessary, but hadn’t showed up on my goals list for the week.

All this was also a good reminder that I tend to over-reach at times with goal-setting, biting off more than I can chew. In the past couple weeks, I’ve been setting ambitious goals to work on my YA novel manuscript AND revise large chunks of my thesis. It just isn’t happening. It’s not possible for me to do both, at least not right now when I’m working on broad, sweeping revisions to my thesis that require a lot of rewriting and additions of brand-new material.

So I’m stepping back a little and reassessing my writing goals. For the next three weeks, I’m going to focus all my attentions on my thesis novel and see how far along I get. I think I’ll feel better about my writing goals if I’m celebrating the work I DO get done, not feeling guilty about the writing I don’t have time to do {for me lately, the YA novel manuscript.} And from a practical standpoint, it is easier for me to immerse myself in one large project at a time. Trying to work on two novels at once left me feeling drained and a little lost between the different worlds, storylines and characters I was creating.

So, that’s my big changes for goals this upcoming week! Have you ever needed to step back and reassess your goals? Is anyone else like me, sometimes biting off too much at once?

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:

  • write 10 more pages of my YA novel
  • revise next 4 chapters of my thesis novel {worked on some major revision, but it’s a little slower going than I thought it would be}
  • blog about Week 5 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • finish reading & blog about 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess {finished reading this; blog post coming soon!}
  • finish reading & blog about The Secret Keeper
  • finish the scarf I’m working on
  • clean out & organize filing cabinet
  • mail out my Valentines

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:

  • revise up to page 60 of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 6 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • blog about 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
  • clean out and organize filing cabinet
  • knit 25 rows of the new scarf I’m working on
  • make 3 changes/updates as part of the #28DBC

And here are some recipes on my menu for this week:

tilapia
tilapia with pineapple salsa
chicken with stuffing in the crock pot
teriyaki meatball bowls
mini hot cocoa cookies

What are your goals and meal plans for this week?

MPM-Winter

This post is linked up to Menu-Plan Monday!

marvelous monday: the magic of to-do lists

There’s something about the way my brain works that makes me really drawn to lists. These lists permeate my life and range from the motivating {goal lists, markets-to-submit-my-writing-to lists} to the mundane {grocery lists, thank-you-notes-to-write lists} but no matter what the topic, it all boils down to this: lists make me a happier and less-stressed person.

And the mother of all lists is the to-do list, which I write pretty much every day. I kinda feel bad for the to-do list. It gets a bad rap. People complain all the time about their to-do lists. {Sometimes I feel like people compete on the lengths of their to-do lists just to have more complaining leverage!} But I think the to-do list can be a really wonderful tool to boost your feelings of motivation and accomplishment, not to mention your sense of organization over your time, work and daily life.

The trick is to use the to-do list in a way that helps you, not hinders you. You want the to-do list to make you feel good about yourself, not stressed out or overwhelmed.

I think the first step in coming up with an effective to-do list system for your life is to take an honest look at how you spend your time. Is there something you wish you were doing more of? Is there anything you feel like you waste time on that you wish you wouldn’t? How much free time do you feel you have every day/week/month? Honesty is crucial here! I think the biggest mistake people make when writing to-do lists {and believe me, I am guilty of this too} is putting waaay too much on the list, more than anyone could possibly get done in a day, and then feeling bad about themselves when the day draws to close and there are still a lot of un-crossed-off items on the list.

So, Tip #1: Be honest and realistic with yourself.

Another thing that works for me is to break to-do list items up into categories of “big” and “small” … sometimes these categories morph into “things I need to do but keep putting off” and “things I need to do and actually like doing.” Then I try to even out these tasks throughout the week. In a perfect world, I’d do at least one “big” task every day, and one or two “small” tasks. When life gets hectic, a good balance for me is to aim for three “big” tasks every week, and maybe 6-8 “small” tasks.

Here are some examples of “big” tasks on my list this week {i.e. things I want to keep putting off but shouldn’t}: get my car in for an oil change; put some items up on Craigslist that I’ve been meaning to sell; go through my closet and weed out clothes to donate.

And here are some examples of “small” tasks on my list this week {i.e. things I should do and don’t mind doing}: go to the Post Office to send out play submissions with upcoming deadlines; try a new recipe I found for Morning Glory Muffins; write & mail a couple thank-you notes; order prints of photos from a recent trip Mike & I took to Chicago; hang up a new picture I got for the guest bedroom.

At the beginning of every week, I jot down a list of the “big” tasks and “small” tasks I want to get done that week, and then every day or every other day I choose a big task and a couple small tasks to tackle. This works for me because:

  • It really helps me focus on one thing at a time and not get overwhelmed by all the things I want to get done
  • It helps me structure the week {for example, maybe one day I’ll focus on running all my errands to save on gas & car time}
  • It makes it much harder for me to put off or procrastinate on certain tasks because I’m just focusing on one per day or one every two days.

There are also a few tasks on my to-do list every day! These relate to bigger goals I want to accomplish in the year. For example, one of my goals is to read 52 books this year, so reading time is on my to-do list every day. I also have a goal of writing at least 400 words every day {which I track on this super-motivating free website www.joesgoals.com — can’t recommend it enough!}

Chores I designate on a weekly basis, and I go through phases. Sometimes I like having a “chore/cleaning day” where I try to get all my cleaning/laundry/dishes/housework stuff done in a single swoop. Other times I’ll go for a few months when I prefer splitting up chores into smaller tasks that I will do day-by-day. I think it’s all about what works for you, how you’re feeling, and what your free time/schedule is like.

For years I’ve saved envelopes and written my to-do lists on the backs of them. Then Mike got me this pretty notepad from the $1 bin at Target — isn’t it adorable? How can you not be excited to tackle your to-do list when you write it out on paper like this? I still save envelopes though because I am always writing lists and I like to be eco-friendly!

It can also be helpful to keep a pad of paper somewhere you pass by every day so you can write down ideas or reminders when they first strike you. {If I don’t do this, half the time I completely forget!} I keep a notepad on the fridge where I jot down items to get at the store, reminders to myself of things to add to my list or places I need to be:

Do you write to-do lists? What sorts of tips work for you? What do you find helpful when organizing your daily or weekly tasks?

Have a marvelous week!
Dallas