The past week had me sharpening my organizing skills as I tackled two major “before and after” projects – one in a busy office, the other a two-bedroom condo. Both the kind of jobs I used to do on a daily basis that left the client thrilled and my lower back screaming for days.
They were the jobs that, while the lessons in my book are helpful, needed more than motivational insights – they needed immediate full-on triage. Instances where the piles had piles. Where “paper mountain” avalanches were common. And where one had to take caution before opening a closet door for fear of something falling on your head. (Remember Fibber McGee?)
How does stuff take over a life? Usually without warning. Maybe health issues, a job loss or possibly depression. Truthfully, it may not matter how it happens, but the point is we are all susceptible.
Which is where I come in. I am Ray Donovan and Harvey Keitel rolled into one pint-sized “Cleaner.” There is no judgment as I fill garbage bags faster than the client can spit out their first, “Buh-bye,” motivated by progress, pushed by the certainty of how they will feel when we are done – free of chains and free to have more time to decide to do what they love.
Inevitably the bad stuff goes away and in its place a system to keep it from happening again. There is often emotion involved. Sometimes tears, but always, always relief. That’s what keeps me going and going and going.
Last week I spoke as part of The Naked Challenge: Creative Mastery Global Summit on mastering creativity for writers, musicians, filmmakers and others. My talk gave tips on how to make the time to write, not find; proving that even in a busy life, there is time for doing what you love.
10 TIPS TO GET YOU WRITING (or whatever you enjoy doing)
- SCHEDULE THE TIME. Put it in your calendar. When you have a dentist appointment, you go, yes? The same with writing. Treat it as an appointment… to write. Just as you’re committed to your teeth, be committed to your writing.
- BE MORE ORGANIZED IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE. Our stuff is a big culprit in the time-suck of our days. We spend time cleaning stuff, putting stuff away and working to pay for stuff. Get rid of stuff that’s taking up valuable time. The stuff left over is the stuff you want and need and should have a place so you can find it quickly.
- DON’T WASTE TIME. Checking Facebook and watching YouTube videos of cats eats up valuable time. Take control and use it wisely. Have a lunch break? Write. Have a long train commute? Edit. Or wake up one hour earlier and write. Writing takes concentration, as opposed to checking Twitter. If you’re making the commitment to write, give it your all.
- CREATE A ROUTINE. Studies show a new habit takes 21 days to become routine. Put in your schedule book: “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3…Day 21.” Do it every day, even if only for 15 minutes. Get used to the daily event, even the chair, until you begin to look forward to that time. And if you think, “I’ll just skip today,” don’t. Do you skip brushing your teeth? Even if you just reread something you wrote the day before or jot down ideas, get in the seat. The rest will come. We are starting a new habit and that’s not easy. But nothing worth it is.
- COMPLETE LITTLE TO DO’S. Before your scheduled time, spend 15 to 30 minutes completing easy tasks like making the bed or replying to emails. Tackling these small tasks first removes the distraction that inevitably pop up of “I need to do this” when you sit down to write. It’s also an incentive toward the larger goal: writing.
- ELIMINATE DIVERSIONS. Shut. Off. Your. Phone. Ringers and notifications can take you away from your writing. It’s easy to get distracted, but remember you’ve got a scheduled appointment. Stick to it.
- HAVE A DESIGNATED WRITING AREA. Whether the living room, an office or Starbucks, try to get the same seat if possible to help get you into the proper mindset. Also, have writing supplies ready to go, including drinks and snacks. Don’t let thirst or hunger stop your process. Another suggestions, wear a writing cap or fuzzy slippers. I used to wear an old cowboy hat (don’t laugh) and it felt like I was getting into character. Whatever works for you.
- WARM UP. When you play basketball, you stretch first, right? Same with writing. Open a new document or take a blank piece of paper, think of a topic, maybe a childhood memory, and write for a few minutes. If you want to keep going, then by all means. You might toss it when you’re done or it may lead to a chapter idea. Either way, it helps “warm up” your subconscious thoughts, settles you down and gets you in the writing mind.
- BREAK IT DOWN. Just like a marathon is made up of steps, books are made up of chapters, chapters are made up of sentences, and sentences are written word by word. Breaking it down makes any task less daunting and more attainable. Little accomplishments net greater results by keeping you coming back again. Here are some ways to break it down:
- GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE. Deadlines are great motivators. Think of each deadline as your editor telling you what to do. If your editor said, “Chapter One is due Friday.” Guess what? You’d have Chapter One done by Friday.
- TIME’S UP! Set a timer for an hour (or however long you want) and when it goes off, stop, you’re done. This removes the pressure of thinking you need to sit there all day. It also gives you structure. You get a lot more writing done in one hour than NOT writing for one hour. Oftentimes, after the timer goes off, you’re in the groove and sit for another hour.
- DON’T STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES. When you’re writing don’t worry about spelling or grammar, just let the words flow. Even if you think you’re going off on a tangent or it’s not making sense, don’t hold yourself back. Editing can be tomorrow’s goal.
- HEAR ALL ABOUT IT! Tell people you’re writing a book. It adds pressure and accountability. Even better, ask a friend to read your work. This gives you incentive to get something written, since you’ve asked for their critique.
- REWARD YOURSELF. Rewards add incentive. Tell yourself, “When I finish my writing time today I will go for a walk, get an ice cream, watch an episode of “Ray Donovan.” Whatever it takes. Of course, writing itself is a reward…
- SAY “BUH-BYE” TO EXCUSES. Why do they always say, “Give a project to a busy person”? Because having a lot to do makes you spend your time more wisely. Saying, “I don’t have time” is just an excuse. Finding ways to carve out time is key. So what if the laundry doesn’t get done today, you know it’s going to eventually get done. Or maybe throw the laundry in and use the wash time as your writing time.
Sometimes you need to sacrifice something else for what you really want, but I promise, when you’re looking at your finished book, nothing will feel as good. Not even having clean laundry.
My parents live on a beautiful private street. It’s a circle actually. Twelve homes, some hugging the edge of a pond, all vary in style – cottages, colonials and a couple of ranches – each with towering trees filled with songbirds. It’s a great street to walk around. And around.
Once around is a quarter mile. It’s not as exciting a walk as, say, the streets of Manhattan or along the beach, but it’s a different kind of walk. Whether at first light as the day awakens or after dinner, when the dishes are done and the day is settling into night, this reflective stroll lets one contemplate anything or nothing.
Last December, after both my grandfather and uncle passed away, I came home for a visit. It was cold, but I knew my mother needed to get fresh air. I suggested we walk the circle, saying the cool air would do her good. So we bundled up, unrecognizable in layers, and walk we did, over and over, round and round.
I knew, however, after I returned to the city, my mother would need some incentive to continue the walks without me there to push her, so I came up with an idea.
“Okay,” I said, picking up four broken branches from the front lawn. “Every time we complete a lap, we toss a twig into the woods. This way we don’t have to count, just walk. Plus,” and I knew she’d like this part, “we’re cleaning the yard at the same time!”
In the weeks and months after I left, my mom would tell me over the phone, “Dad and I walked eight times around the circle.” Some days it was twelve. Some sixteen. Some days she walked alone, the twigs her veiled incentive. As winter turned to spring, and spring to summer, those twigs allowed my mom to walk without counting, focusing her attention instead on the memories of her father and brother, while at the same time giving her a goal and bringing her back to herself.
Every goal or journey begins with a first step, but it’s that first step that is the hardest. It’s easier to sit still, grasping on to despair or anger or whatever may be holding you back. But here’s the beauty of that first step, once you’ve taken it, you’re one step closer to where you want to be.
This week my blog post “Want to Get the Most Out of Your Day? Begin Your Morning Routine the Night Before” was published at EverydayPowerblog.com, a great motivating website.
With the official start to summer just a few days away, what will you be looking forward to? Walks along the beach? Mini golf? Wearing shoes without socks? Not only was I lucky to have grown up on Cape Cod, Summer’s Headquarters, but I’m even luckier that I get to return each summer.
“The whole summer?” friends ask. “How are you able to swing that?”
“Simple,” I say. “It’s part of my Living Large philosophy.” Of course that is the result of an unintentional living experiment in which I resided in a shoebox for five years.
“Yeah, but I’m not going to move into a tiny space,” they respond.
Here’s the good part: you don’t have to. Living Large does not require one to live in 90 square feet (collective sigh of relief), but it does require you to ask yourself, “What makes me happy?” and then find ways to achieve that.
Living in a tiny space helped me to answer that question. Doing what I love is more important than having things to love. Take for instance my car. I call her Edna. She’s a 2001 Honda Accord LXI that still runs like a dream. Could I go out today and buy a brand new car? Yes. Am I going to? Absolutely not. My Honda has less than 100,000 miles, a retractable moon roof, a 6-CD holder and a tape cassette. But the best feature? My bicycle fits perfectly in the backseat.
A car study featured in Forbes magazine listed the top 15 features people want in a new car. Well guess what? Edna has three of the top ten, including the number one: power driver’s seat.
Instead of tying up my money in a new car that depreciates the minute I drive off the lot just so I can say it has heated front seats, I’ve got that money in the bank, available to cover expenses while I’m enjoying the summer writing, speaking at Tiny House festivals, cycling, playing with my niece and nephew, working out with my folks at the Cape Cod Canal, getting them to assemble jigsaw puzzles and more. To me, that is worth a lot more than heated seats.
What makes you happy?
It’s the end of the school year and that can mean only one thing… report cards! Time to face the music. Were you consistently above average? Did you show improvement? Will you graduate? For those of us no longer in school with a report card to rank how we’re doing, there is one way to check our progress – by rating ourselves.
I recently came across my 4th grade report card. Using those same categories, I took the liberty of upgrading them to reflect how we, as adults, could (or should!) be graded today. So go ahead and grade yourself, but be honest, this is for your own good…or so said Miss Kowalski all those years ago. (NOTE: The grading system used below is the exact same one from 1979.)
A: Consistently shows effort
B: Usually shows effort
C: Sometimes shows effort
D: Seldom shows effort
MATHEMATICS (adult version: Finances)
|Did you make money?|
|Did you save money?|
|Did you invest money?|
|Will you be able to retire on time?|
LANGUAGE ARTS (adult version: Emails and Texting)
|Checks spelling and grammar before hitting “Send”|
|Understands appropriate usage of emojis|
|Remembers to add attachment|
|Bonus points for writing a handwritten letter|
SOCIAL STUDIES (adult version: Geography)
|Arrives at destination on time|
|Knows and understands how to program GPS|
|Shows maturity when lost (a.k.a. doesn’t freak out and is manly enough to stop and ask for directions)|
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT (adult version: Social Media)
|Makes new friends easily (i.e. real friends, not those on Facebook)|
|Demonstrates Self Control (i.e. Sticks to gym routine, doesn’t devour entire jar of Nutella in one sitting)|
|Is courteous to others (i.e. Doesn’t make disparaging comments on YouTube)|
|Takes care of materials (i.e. keeps their closets organized)|
So? How’d you do? Would you post this report card on the fridge? If yes, then great! Consider yourself ready to move on to your next goal. If not, don’t despair, there’s always room for improvement. Like in my case. Turns out, in 4th grade I got a “C” in “Uses independent time wisely.” Crazy right? Me, Efficiency Queen of Time Saving. Anyway, not to worry, summer is here. See you at the beach!
June, the first official month of summer, has arrived. The warm weather is a welcome relief from a long winter. Smells abound. Cut grass, flowers in bloom, burgers on the grill. You feel lucky to be alive and life feels easier. June days seem endless and much longer than they do in January. It’s what To Do lists were made for. It’s what kids treasure when they play outside long into the night. It’s going for ice cream after dinner at dusk. It’s waking up before your alarm goes off from the sun seeping in between the blinds. It’s feeling like a kid again – even for a split second – imagining the end of school is near. It’s walks on the beach and summer love and water fights in the backyard. It’s wearing shoes without socks. It’s feeling like every day in June is a Friday, the anticipation of the weekend (Saturday=July and Sunday=August) still ahead. It’s reading a good book on a park bench or in a beach chair, the sunset dissolving in the distance. It’s a baseball game under bright lights, hot dog in hand. It’s flip-flops and tank tops and a cool refreshing shower at the end of a sweaty day. It’s a slow smile at the memory of other warm days gone by. It’s why we (in the north) put up with the cold, snow and sleet. It’s feeling invincible and young and strong and wanting the day to never end, but feeling secure in knowing there’s one more tomorrow. It’s appreciating each moment, knowing that time, as much as we want it to last, slips through our fingers like grains of sand that we carry home between our toes after a day at the beach. So here’s to June and to taking it one long luxurious summer day at a time.
Many people, city dwellers especially, know that space is a luxury. I’d bet most of us have, at one time or another, uttered the words, “I need space.” We might have been talking about our apartments, our office cubicles or even our relationships. Even people in large homes rent storage units. But wanting more space can also be metaphysical. We practice yoga to make room in our bodies and we do breathing techniques to create space in our minds. Yet with all this space accumulation, it never seems to be enough.
When I lived in 90-square-feet it felt like I had all the space in the world because I was free. Free from the shackles of a 9 to 5, a high rent, and mounds of unused stuff.
We ourselves don’t need that much space, it’s our stuff that makes us think we do. I’m talking about the stuff we either outgrow or when our stuff’s usefulness is outgrown and we don’t get rid of it. Do you toss old sneakers or leave them in the back of a closet? I have a friend with three broken toasters in her living room. She doesn’t bring them out to the trash because, she says, “I’m too lazy.” Is it really laziness or a fear of letting go?
The bottom line is, it’s not about space or stuff – it’s about happiness. Does a large home with lots of stuff around you make you happy? Then great. But that’s not what people write or say when asking me for help. They feel overwhelmed by their stuff, not knowing how or where to begin to get rid of it. I tell them stuff should leave the same way it came in – piece by piece. Try one item a day or one full box. I also suggest they picture how they’d like their home to look and to hold onto that image as they chip away in small sections. Once you begin to create space, you will be motivated to keep going.
Please check out my newest book: 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more)
My parents moved into their current home in 1980. As the oldest I was given first choice to select my bedroom, and I picked the biggest, a sunny 17’ x 17’ room with three windows. But the real bonus was the two enormous walk-in closets. Who knew that decision would eventually shape my career.
Inside those closets I honed my organizing skills. Hours were spent removing the contents and putting them back, searching for the perfect configuration. Do sweaters take up less room if they’re rolled up like gym towels? Should jeans be folded in half or in threes? I even built my own shoe cubby from scrap wood in the garage. I’m not sure I ever achieved perfection, yet I don’t think it was perfection I was seeking. I just enjoyed the challenge. I still do.
Nevertheless, with all the changes the closet’s contents have seen over the decades: from tomboy to preppy to girlie to woman, there has remained one constant, one item I still use even today when I walk inside.
There’s nothing special about this mirror. It’s a run of the mill mirror that’s not even attached to the wall, but just leans against it. However it has shown me who I was at every stage of my life. Beginning as a lithe 10 year old who only wore alligator shirts and Levis cords, through awkward adolescence, puberty, the Freshman Fifteen, adulthood and, even today (gulp!) middle age.
But it is not just the physical stages this mirror has seen. It helped prepare me for many a first day of school. It has seen sunburns and chicken pox. It was there when I headed off to college, and it knows my darkest secrets, like where the goods are stored. It helped me get ready for weddings, bar mitzvahs and proms, and watched me perfect my breakdancing moves. The mirror even comforted me the time I sat huddled inside, door closed, soothing a broken heart. It’s been my biggest alley as well as foe, when things fit or were too tight.
Over the years, the reflection has changed immensely, yet I still see that 10-year-old girl, looking back, eyes full of wonder, excited about her future.
Life can sometimes be like a walk down the sunny side of the street. Birds chirping, a soft breeze against your skin. But then imagine a hole opens up in front of you. You’re not prepared for it, you had no idea something like this would happen, but it does.
Now maybe that hole is shallow and leaves you with nothing but a sprained ankle or a bruised ego. Maybe it requires a little more effort to get out, but because you’ve taken care of yourself for years, eaten right, exercised, you’re able to climb out. Sometimes though, the hole is deep and there is no way out.
It’s scary, dark and cold in that hole. There are strange, unfamiliar noises too. You can see the light above, the safe space, but it’s out of reach. Friends and family visit to lift your spirits. The worst part is, while you’re down there your mind races, wondering how you didn’t see the hole coming, and you berate yourself for not being better prepared. But sometimes the hole has nothing to do with how you took care of your body. Sometimes, often times, the hole was inevitable.
After a while, you wonder why you wasted so much time worrying about silly things before you fell into the hole, like bills or getting wrapped up in co-workers’ pettiness, or even your hair. You start to wish you spent more time with your family, more time riding your bike or reading that stack of books on your nightstand instead of checking email before bed. You wish you traveled more, hugged more, and smoked less.
Soon you will become determined to get out of the hole. You promise yourself that when you do, you will change your ways and appreciate the little things, because there’s more life to live. This is where Living Large comes into play. Living Large is about rearranging your priorities before the hole appears. It is about unloading the excess and spending more time doing what you love, instead of working to pay for stuff you don’t even use, because we never know when that hole will appear.
p.s. This blog was brought to you by my Shingles, which came out of left field two weeks ago.