Right Now: Want to uncover your superpowers? Take a nap.

Not long ago I spotted articles here, here, and here that led me to one conclusion:

Science is finally catching up with me. When it comes to my philosophy on naps, I mean.

I believe in naps. Every day. More than once a day, if possible. That’s not laziness talking. That’s proper energy maintenance.

You see, our energy ebbs and floods throughout the day. Sometimes the energy is high, sometimes it’s low, and it has nothing to do with how many “energy drinks” are consumed. (By the way, I’m not a huge fan of those “energy drinks” – which is why I put it in quotes – but I’ll go into all of my reasons in a future post.)

Back to the peaks and valleys of energy. My high-energy time is first thing in the morning. After a good rest, I bounce out of bed and am ready to get the day going. (The one exception, of course, is if I’m sick – and that requires a completely different system of energy management.)

So if my energy is high when I wake up, then taking a nap means I get two mornings out of one day, effectively doubling my high-energy output.

And no, it’s not that simple. I won’t automatically be able to do twice the creative work. But taking that break in the middle of the day (at a time when my energy level has ebbed down to its lowest) has three distinct benefits:

  • A reboot. Sometimes there’s a lot going on, and the day gets busy and frantic and occasionally overwhelming. Those are the days when a nap is like a mental reboot. Shut down and start back up. Most of the time I reawaken from a nap in a much calmer state than my initial morning wake-up.
  • Possible inspiration. Naps are great for solving perplexing problems, even the heavy emotional ones where you can’t see a way out, over, under, or through. It doesn’t necessarily work every time, but more often than not, my subconscious will sort through the tangled mess and come up with a doozy of a dream. Then, depending on how sharp my dream analysis skills are at the moment, some things will start to make sense.
  • Off-the-grid. Many studies (again, topic for a future post) point to how harmful it is to our bodies to be constantly plugged in. And honestly, most of us don’t need a study to tell us that it’s not okay to carry your phone everywhere or check email all the time. Getting away from the electronic connection to Every.Single.Thing.In.The.World is mental health must. And the fastest, most efficient way to do that is to take a nap. Get unconscious for 20 or 30 minutes, and there’s no way you can check your email. Fact.

Just like the energy grids that bring light, heat, and A/C into our homes, proper energy management for the body means working with the body’s own efficiencies.

Instead of pushing through the low energy periods with caffeine or chocolate or a brisk walk around the block – things I often did in the past – why not give your body some respect? Take a nap. Your body will thank you for it later.

Right Now: A tale of two projects – or, there are reasons why some things take longer than you think

I recently worked on two similar projects – both journal books about the same size, both self-published (laid out and produced by me), both going up on Kindle/Amazon.

And I was equally excited about working on both.

One is a guided journal for the season of Lent. The other is a morning-and-evening guided journal about gratitude.

Logic says both should have taken about the same amount of time.

They didn’t. I have a few ideas why.

Firm Deadline. The Lent journal had an unmovable deadline of the week before Ash Wednesday. The prayer journal had no deadline. For me, a hard deadline is necessary. If the project has no deadline, I’m more likely to meander my way to completion. In cases where there isn’t an external or calendar-related deadline, I might need to set an agreement with a colleague to finish by a certain time.

Clear Focus. The Lent journal, obviously, is focused on disciplines, study, and introspection. The morning/evening journal went through several iterations because I had to find the precise way to invite the reader into the pages. Taking time to get the words right isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that the Lent journal already had a pre-defined focus, whereas the other journal had more of a blank-page beginning to the project.

Certainty About Audience. In both cases, the audience consists of those who like devotional books, introspective journaling, and writing prompts that lead to contemplation. The difference is that the Lent journal is aimed toward those who are familiar with the church seasons, and the other journal can be useful for a wider audience, including those who have no experience with churches or any religions. The second took longer in part because I wanted to be sure the book was engaging and valuable for the wider audience, which meant getting feedback from several people. Again, not a bad thing, just a different set of factors that determined completion time.

Have you noticed similar comparisons in your own work? Did discovering the differences help with future project planning? Tell me about it in the comments.

Right Now: If you aren’t sure about your path, check the oil

Battle of olive oil with olive branch in handmade clay plate over wooden table.

If there’s one thing that’ll stop my productivity right in its tracks, it’s second-guessing myself and my current path.

Is this what I should be working on right now? What about all those other things that are important? Am I actually doing what I was called to do? And the most distracting question of all: How do I know? (Along with its sequels: But how do I know that I know? And how do I know that I know that I know? – etc. until the cows come home.)

Those questions used to torture me until I discovered a reassuring way to know with some certainty:

Check the oil.

That probably sounds a bit strange, so I’ll unpack it for you.

When we’re inside God’s will, we’re anointed for the task. In Old Testament times, when people were anointed, the priest would pour oil on their heads, which signified God’s blessing.

Basically, they were oiled up.

So when we’re inside God’s will, we too are oiled up. Anointed.

Now, think of a car and what it means for the car to be oiled up. That means it runs smoothly, the pistons gliding inside the cylinders with ease, moving the vehicle down the road.

When the car has no oil – that is, when it’s not oiled up (“not anointed” for its task) – it’s basically metal against metal. Friction. Overheating. Sometimes complete engine failure.

In terms of knowing whether we’re doing what we’re made to do, here’s the clue: When we’re anointed for the task, even the struggles are easy to handle. When we’re not, even the easy things are a struggle.

The next time the questions swoop in, screeching and shrieking and dropping doubts all around your work, don’t let them bury you under their weight.

Just check the oil.

Right Now: Butt-in-chair is the only way

Advice on getting your work done is rampant.

I’m not kidding. Do a search for articles and books on how to complete your novel or screenplay or blog posts and … well, you might not come back up out of that rabbit hole. Maybe don’t do the search; just trust me on this.

I don’t have exact figures, but I’m pretty sure there are more write-ups on how to complete projects, how to stick to schedules, and how to get more paying gigs than there are actual things being worked on right now.

Ok, so there’s a lot of advice out there. That’s not a bad thing. Advice can be helpful.

What isn’t so helpful is that much of this counsel tends to skip the key ingredient that will ensure success:

You must get your butt in the chair and do the work.

All the reading about effective systems and chats with friends (even the well-intentioned ones who boost your spirits) and meditating on how to prioritize your 27 urgent projects — none of that will get the work done until you sit your butt down, position your hands on the keyboard, and start.

Or, in the words of the inspirational poster on the wall in my office:

Ass + Chair = Script

Truer words never spoken, my friend.

Not sure exactly what to write? Those words won’t write themselves. Get your butt in the chair and type until the words come.

Afraid it’s going to sound stupid? Maybe it will. So what? It can be fixed. (This is why God invented editors.) Get your butt in the chair.

Worried your plot might not be good enough? Guess what? If you don’t start, the whole thing will never see the light of day and, ergo, it won’t be good enough. Get your butt in the chair.

Stop the hemming and hawing, the planning and pondering, the dillying and dallying.

Stop talking about it. Stop wondering about it. Stop worrying about it.

Stop reading helpful advice – including this blog post. I mean it.

Butt in chair. Get to work. Right now.

Right Now: Stop it with the resolutions already

We’re into the third week of the year, which for most people means the new year’s resolutions are fading into the background.

And it’s no wonder, considering the mere statement of resolution is a bit lame and tame. “I resolve to…” Starting a plan that way sounds vague, almost wish-like.

And let’s be honest. If you do make resolutions, they can become high maintenance in a flash. They nag at you, remind you that you have unfinished business, and demand accountability – until you stop taking them seriously.

The reasons why resolutions tend not to work are many and varied, depending entirely on the complexities of the individual, but the fact that they transmute so quickly from imperative to ignored says everything.

Have I convinced you yet that I’m not a fan of resolutions? Good. Because I’m going to ask you to stop doing them. Right now. There are better methods out there that can help you chart a better course for yourself and kick your productivity into high gear.

Here are a few to consider:

Vision Boards

A vision board is a series of images clustered together, something  like a collage, that is used to help clarify and keep focus on the things you want to achieve or acquire. A vision board puts what you want into visual form. It’s not just written down: You can see it. There is something powerful about having your dreams in concrete form in front of you.

Benefits

  • Creating a vision board is a creative exercise.
  • You can change or update it as often as you want.
  • Working on a vision board can be revealing in that it might help tap into subconscious desires.
  • The vision board can double as a work of art. After you create it, put it on the wall.

Downside

  • It only shows the end results – the things you’re aiming for – without considering the means to get there.

How to get started?

Grab a poster board, some colorful magazines, scissors, some glue (or tape), and piece together what you want your future to look like.

Habit Tracking

Habit tracking is the act of monitoring specific things you do every day. These behavioral changes can help you achieve small goals that eventually add up to significant improvements in your life.

Benefits

  • Habit tracking provides the means to an end – or to other changes.
  • You can measure the progress you’re making; or, if you’re not making progress, the tracking might help you understand the reason why, and you can take steps to improve.
  • There are several habit tracking apps to help you keep track of your progress.
  • There’s a psychological reward in “checking the box” when you meet the goal.
  • When the habit is established (i.e., has become automatic), you can stop tracking it and move on to others.

Downside

  • Habit tracking is high maintenance, requiring constant monitoring and accountability.

How to get started?

Get a calendar, a dot journal, or a spreadsheet, and create a daily checklist of things you want to become a habit. Alternately, you can download a habit tracking app, and it’ll do a lot of this for you. Check the things you do each day; leave blank the things you don’t do that day. (Honesty is a must here.) Your progress will be easy to spot.

Intention Setting

Setting intentions is the practice of becoming “on purpose” in your daily life. With a starting point of “I intend to…” (and checking your fears at the door), your purposeful intentions essentially draw a map of where you want to go. Though they sound like resolutions, intentions are typically more positive-focused than resolutions and are therefore easier to commit to.

Benefits

  • Setting intentions helps bring your heart and mind into alignment, allowing you to consider the “why” behind your intentions.
  • Intentions begin with a focus on what you want to achieve, which can help you envision the means to get there.
  • You can develop a stronger sense of connection to your plans.
  • Intention setting involves appreciating the journey, not just arriving at the destination.

Downside

  • You must find a way to make the intentions measurable and accountable.

How to get started?

Open your journal book every day (I recommend doing this in the morning) and start with “I intend to…” and keep writing until all of your hopes, dreams, and desires are examined. Get into the “why” of it. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Why do I want this? Be ready to reconsider some of your intentions as you get the answers to these questions.

Goal Setting

At first glance, goal setting may sound like intention setting (which itself may sound like resolutions), but there are differences – the key difference being that goal setting is specific and defined, whereas the other two are often broad-based and vague.

Benefits

  • Goals involve specific achievements, which help lay out the path to get there.
  • Goals require action, which keeps them from being pie-in-the-sky wishes.
  • Goals are typically time-bound, which means there will be a deadline to meet.
  • Similar to habit tracking, there’s a psychological reward in “checking the box” when you meet the goal.

Downside

  • Depending on how many goals you set for yourself, you might become overwhelmed, creating unnecessary stress and pressure.
  • The goal must be attainable within a reasonable amount of time or you’ll set yourself up for failure.

How to get started?

Whether you use a calendar, spreadsheet, chart, or some other tool, there is one thing you must do: Write it down. Goal setting does not work if you keep it all in your head. Write down what you want to achieve, make plans for how and when you’ll work toward that goal, and track the progress. My personal favorite tool for goal setting is the comprehensive checklist I created, which you can check out here.

Test these out and see which fits your style. And you don’t have to limit yourself to one. You can do a vision board and goal setting, or habit tracking and intention setting. Or all four.

Whatever you choose, go with it at full speed and full confidence.

And remember what Mark Twain said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Right Now: A comprehensive checklist might be just what you need

I confess. I’m something of a to-do list fanatic. Give me some lines with checkboxes and I’m in heaven. This is how I keep track of everything in my life.

Over the years I’ve looked into a lot of different systems. And while I haven’t ever found one system that works, I have discovered that I can pull pieces of many different systems and make them work for me.

And that’s what it all comes down to – what works for the individual.

I offer here what’s been working for me (i.e., my compilation of various systems) in the event any of you out there want to take this and incorporate pieces of it for yourself.

This is what it looks like:

MITgrid1

I track six days’ worth of activities, and my week is Monday–Sunday, so Saturday and Sunday are lumped together.

After keying in the specific dates (i.e., WEEK OF 1/11 – 1/17), I list in order of importance:

Row 1 – Most Important Things (MITs). These are, as stated, most important. They’re the things that will move my career forward, win the deal, give me a sense of accomplishment, etc. If I accomplish nothing else during the week, I want to hit these.

Row 2 – Tasks. These are not as mission-critical as the MITs, but they’re things that must be done, so I don’t want to lose sight of them.

Row 3 – Routine Items. These are everyday things that I might forget if I get too busy. Plus, I like checking them off. On my list, I have things like doing blog posts, exercising and taking vitamins. (Yes, I am prone to forget to exercise and take vitamins. Seeing it in print is a good reminder.)

Below the three to-do rows is where I list info on my current projects to keep them in front of me.

At the bottom are two “parking lots” where I keep track of things that need to get onto the calendar (i.e., usually into the MIT or Task rows) eventually and the list of long-term projects (e.g., pruning the berry plants, which I won’t do until the Fall).

The page is laid out on 8.5×11, landscape. The gap in the middle of the grid allows you to fold the paper without creasing over any text.

For some people this might look like overkill to the Nth degree. But it’s a system that works really well for me.

Want a free Word version of this to tinker with on your own? Drop a comment below.

Right Now: What sparks you? What are you doing about it?

This is the mini-chandelier in my foyer. Cute little sparky thing, isn’t it?

Today is Epiphany in the Christian church calendar.

Now, I’ve already mentioned the significance of this in terms of holiday decorations, but today I refer to Epiphany for an entirely different reason: It marks the start of a new Wednesday feature called Right Now.

This new feature is all about productivity, time management, and energy management. Essentially, it’s taking a butt-in-chair approach to getting projects done.

Which is where I am this year. I’m on a dedicated mission to get my articles and other assignments filed, my blog posts posted, my books written, my ebooks published, and my screenplays to “fade out.”

But you and I both know that those words aren’t going to write themselves. It’s going to take management to do it, and by that, I mean serious management of my time and energy.

So what does this have to do with Epiphany?

This holiday, in the Christian church calendar, is also known as Three Kings’ Day, when the magi visited the Christ child, bearing gifts. So, metaphorically, this focus on industrious use of time and energy can be a gift to myself and my projects.

Or, without delving too much into the theological aspect, the word epiphany also means manifestation or showing forth, a sudden revelation or insight, a transmuting of a belief into a realistic experience.

Which is a bit like taking thoughts and making a blog post or an article or a novel out of them, right?

Or, to narrow it further, it’s an emphasis on light and vitality: the spark! And when there’s a spark, energy naturally flows.

In these Wednesday posts, I’m going to talk a lot about sparks and energy management. There’s a connection between enthusiasm (the spark) and energy. Have you ever noticed that when you’re pumped about a project, the energy to get it done is almost self-generating? It’s true.

I believe maintaining positive energy is the key to seeing a project through all the way to completion, especially long-term projects like novels and screenplays.

And that’s how the mission gets accomplished.

If you choose to come along on these Wednesday adventures, and I hope you do, here’s your first assignment. Give some serious thought to these two questions:

  1. What sparks you?
  2. What are you doing about it?

Search your heart. Journal about it. Throw the questions out to the universe. Ask close friends what they think the answers are.

And then come back next week for more ideas and insights on how to keep the creativity flowing.

By the way, why am calling this feature “Right Now”?

Because there is no time like the present, as the saying goes.

Because putting off your creativity does not serve you or anyone else.

Because the world is waiting for your work, and there is not a moment to waste.