An unintended hiatus

2014: My Three WordsLast year I started the process of taking a step back from many of my extracurricular activities — I stepped down from board positions and away from volunteer committees, I stopped doing pro-bono work, I (mostly) stopped attending professional lunches and dinners, and I paused some of my projects. Basically, I started to reduce the activities that were cluttering my schedule and making me lose focus. The intent was that it would free up space and attention for the things that were truly important.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

I did free up a lot of time, but somehow it’s been taken up with unscheduled, unexpected and (quite frankly) unwanted items. Family situations that cannot be avoided (and for which I’m very glad I had the time to be away); lots and lots and lots of overwork that’s threatening to leave me burned out of every achat en ligne casino iota of creative energy; and many other things that just weren’t planned.

Halfway through the year I find myself baffled by my complete deviation from this year’s plan. Did the new distractions pop up because the old ones were eliminated? or would they have popped up anyways?

One of the things I’ve seen is a massive decrease in a blogging schedule I was finally happy with, and which was getting me the results I wanted. I’ve had to decline on speaking engagements and opt not to pursue projects and opportunities I had planned for this year.

I’m hoping that some of this is going to start correcting soon. And for that to happen I have to stop saying “I’m too busy,” and start saying “I choose to do this.”

And, I think I need to start seeing people in real life again.

How’s your mid-year review going?

The Artist’s Way: Week 1

2013.12 Artists wayLast week, I wrote about beginning to work my way through “The Artist’s Way at Work,” and this week finds me posting about the contents and assignments from Chapter One. The first thing I realized as I read my way through the introduction and Chapter One was that I had forgotten how much the book focuses on your inner self and voice. The second thing I remembered was that one of the reasons I didn’t finish the book last time is that the assignments (the “Tools”) really are work.

There are three authors listed for this book: Mark Bryan with Julia Cameron and Catherine Allen. However, most of my friends and online resources will call this “The Julia Cameron book.” For purposes of my journey I am going to simply refer to Julia Cameron when writing over the next few weeks.

Introduction

The book’s introduction gives an in-depth view of the way the book’s chapters are set up, about the writers, and what the goals are for you. It even includes a “getting started” Tool, which is basically an assignment to get you going before you officially begin the 12-week series.

There are two quotes from the book I want to share. The first is about the importance of creativity in today’s economy; this applies in particular to those of us who are knowledge workers. (And let me take this opportunity to recommend that you read “The Rise of the Creative Class” if you haven’t already.)

Intellectual Capital — ideas as money, money as ideas – is today the real currency of the business world.

And:

This book is based on four ideas:

  1. We are all creative.
  2. Increased creativity is a teachable, trackable process.
  3. All of us can be become more creative than we are, and this will make us happier, healthier, more productive, and more authentic in everything we do.
  4. The business environment will increasingly reward those people who are able to be creative.

It is this belief that prompted me to once again try to make my way through this book.

TOOL: Entering the Gate

Before you start the 12-week process, Cameron recommends that you do some housecleaning. Take a blank sheet of paper and list “your fears, your angers, and your hopes” for the process you are beginning. Basically, write down what you want to accomplish and what you think is going to go wrong or get in the way.

The First Transformation: Part One
Week One — Emergence

The very first week you start the assignment that will last the entire 12 weeks: Morning Pages. This is perhaps the most identifiable Tool of the book. It’s certainly the one that I most remember. However, there are a handful of other assignments that are important as well; this includes creating a list of “secret selves” which represent different facets of your personality. You will use these “selves” as part of other assignments as you move forward.

If you haven’t already, please consider getting a copy of the book. You really need to get access to Cameron’s examples and the explanation on the tools and the basis for why each was set up in the way they were.

TOOL: Morning Pages

Three pages of longhand writing first thing in the morning. You should write about anything and everything. Don’t try to pick a topic. Don’t try to censor yourself. Write exactly what you feel and think in that moment. Remember that the pages are a safe place (you will not show them to anyone else). Just write and write fast; let the words flow. The idea is to let your words connect you to what you are really thinking and feeling.

There are a few rules to this (below are the ones I’m following, slightly modified from the ones in the book):

  • You must write three pages every day. If today you write more than three pages, then tomorrow you will still write three pages.
  • The pages must be 8 1/2 X 11. Small pages will not help you achieve the goal of the writing.
  • Write first thing in the morning. Don’t wait until after you’ve begun your day, had breakfast, or done your morning routine. And don’t write in the evening; writing in the evening will turn these into journaling and change the result.
  • Set your clock to start early. The pages are going to take time and affect your morning schedule. You will need to make time to get the three pages done.
  • Do not re-read them or edit them. Write them and move on.
  • Keep them private. Do not show them to anyone.

TOOL: Creative Colleague

Find a trusted friend to work this process with you. For my purposes, those of you on my social networks and on this blog will be my creative colleagues.

TOOL: Secret Selves

Cameron describes how we all have multiple inner voices. The assignment is this: Take a blank sheet of paper, number from one to five, and list, name, and describe your secret inner selves. Try to identify the voices that influence how you make decisions as well as the ones that try to tell you that things won’t work out. Try to be kind in your description of these inner selves; remember that they are you.

TOOL: Listening to the Chorus

This is where you refer to your list of Secret Selves. “Ask” each to write an insight or opinion on your current work environment. Try to get into the “character” of each self when you write the insight. Pay attention to the differences in how each “views” the situation.

TOOL: Inner Mentor

You are going to need to set aside 45 minutes and you will need quiet, privacy, a pen and paper. “Ask” your older, wiser Inner Mentor to write you a supportive personal letter. The purpose is to start getting you to provide “good” dialogue from an inner voice. This is going to be a change for many of use who are more used to having our inner voices channel negativity instead of support.

TOOL: Creative Contract

At the end of Chapter One is a creative contract that you are asked to fill in and sign. Among the things you need to commit to are “excellent self-care” (adequate sleep, diet, exercise, and comfort) for the 12 weeks of the process.

Good luck!

And so it begins… I will begin my morning pages on Monday. Good luck to us all!

* * *

My “The Artist’s Way at Work” journey:

  • A new year, a new project: navigating The Artist’s Way
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 1 — Week One summary and assignments
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 2 — Week Two summary and assignments, and review of Week One
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 3 — Week Three summary and assignments, and review of Week Two
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 4 — Week Four summary and assignments, and review of Week Three
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 5 — Week Five summary and assignments, and review of Week Four
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 6 — Week Six summary and assignments, and review of Week Five
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 7 — Week Seven summary and assignments, and review of Week Six
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 8 — Week Eight summary and assignments, and review of Week Seven
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 9 — Week Nine summary and assignments, and review of Week Eight
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 10 — Week Ten summary and assignments, and review of Week Nine
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 11 — Week Eleven summary and assignments, and review of Week Ten
  • The Artist’s Way: Week 12 — Week Twelve summary and assignments, and review of Week Eleven
  • The Artist’s Way: the last week — review of Week Twelve

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Blogging goals for 2014

2014 blogging goalsI know that I just posted that I don’t actually write out goals and resolutions any more. I’ve learned that for me, personally, I do better with themes to help direct my year. My blogging, however, needs something more than that. I’m not going to set a goal of how many visitors I want or what kind of increases I’m aspiring to, but there are a few things I’d like to accomplish in 2014.

Create a style guide. I keep having to remind myself whether I need to place something in quote marks or in italics, when to link to an outside source, and how to source images. For a lot of the decisions I fall back on the Associated Press Stylebook (I can’t get away from my training as a public relations professional). But I find that sometimes I’m making decisions based on what’s best for the readers, then trying to remember what I did last time. A written, compiled style guide for my blog writing is essential at this point.

Pay attention to the editorial calendar. This year I created an editorial calendar for the blogs and the mini-blogs. The problem is that I keep missing my own deadlines. Effective blogging, I’ve found, requires discipline. Others may be able to have a more casual approach and be successful; that’s not working for me. I’m too easily distracted, too quick to ignore the new updates.

Master analytics. I don’t want to live and die by the numbers, but I do want to be able to use Google Analytics better. There are new features and options that have been added over the past few years that I’m not using. There are features that would benefit me for PR campaigns as well as for social media and blogging.

Go mobile. This blog isn’t optimized for mobile devices. A few of the other sites on which I collaborate or administrate aren’t either. This is no longer an option. I must make improvements that will enable the sites for optimal viewing on multiple device types and sizes.

Add an email component. When readers opt themselves in, email newsletters are still an effective way to provide content and pull readers back to your site. Adding an email component to Hispanic Houston is one thing I think would benefit the site and the readers, so I’m adding this to my 2014 “to do” list.

Be visual. I am at heart a writer. The words are easy, the images aren’t. I’ve pushed myself to add a visual component to my writing. I need to continue this, and improve on the visuals provided. I also need to improve my presence on image-based networks, including Instagram.

Do you have blogging goals?

2014: My new three words

2014 3 wordsAs I have every year, I’ve picked three words to help guide me in 2014. This is my third year choosing themes instead of resolutions or goals. I’ve been much happier with the results of this practice.

Last year’s words were: Reduce. Balance. Invest. And I did reduce some of the clutter in my life, in particular of the things that were distracting me mentally. I started including more time for fun, family, and friends (for Balance). I didn’t do as well in the Invest portion as I would have liked, but I did more than I had in previous years.

This year’s words: Comfort. Honesty. Growth.

COMFORT. I want to push myself out of my comfort levels and take more risks personally and professionally. I’ve just begun to do this and I’ve seen improvements in my “product.” I’m hoping to do more of this and to see its effects on my life.

HONESTY. I’m going to continue on the path of removing some of the filters that I’ve placed on my voice, my presence online and offline. Some of this is related to taking risks, but some of this is simply a desire to be more transparent.

GROWTH. In a follow-up to last year’s “Invest” I am going to make decisions to create growth in myself in all aspects of my life.

The idea is that all three of these words are going to move me in the direction I want. Wish me luck.

* * *

Related posts:

2013: The Year End Review

hello 2014!What did you want to do in 2013? It’s the end of the year and I honestly don’t remember what I wanted to achieve this year. I’m going to revisit my words and see where I fell, but I don’t create resolutions any more and my words are a direction, a theme, more than actual goals. I’m not sure I had actual goals this year.

The things I did accomplish this year fall into a few categories, based on activities. Here’s what happened:

I became a lifestyle blogger. In all the time I’ve been online, I’ve never been a lifestyle blogger. When I launched HispanicHouston.com I jumped the line on the type of blogging I do. Even with the mini-blogs, what I write was always mostly communications, business and social media. With HH I delved into reviews, recommendations and opinions. I didn’t think it through, didn’t realize that by doing this I’d get great insights into blogger relations, from the angle of the blogger. It’s been a great learning experience.

I stopped teaching. One of the things that rolled over from 2012 into 2013 is that I never went back to teaching. Once upon a time I used to teach social media classes at the local Small Business Development Center. I took a break for health reasons (in 2012). I didn’t return in 2013 because I’d made the decision to reduce my commitments and start to focus on specific areas of business. I miss it. I may have to look into re-adding a teaching element to my activities in 2014.

I stopped using other people’s metrics. I found myself making this mistake when looking at my career, my business, and my life. I kept using milestones and levels of achievement chosen by others as a measure of success. Realizing that I was imposing others into my view of my accomplishments was liberating. It’s allowed me to break the mold I was using and make decisions based on what I want for myself, now and in the future.

I found my voice. I actually should state that I’m finding my voice. Years of writing about professional topics, as well as for and about client projects, had forced me to suppress my personality when I write. I know that this doesn’t happen to all communicators, but it’s what happened to me. This year I began to push my boundaries, my comfort levels, and the result has been that I’m seeing more of myself in what I produce. I’m happier with it. I expect to continue with this in 2014.

I celebrated small milestones. I had a quiet year personally and a packed year professionally. I attended Hispanicize for the first time and worked on a committee to create TechStreet Houston. I revived my mini-blogs, and to an extent this one as well. I retired my netbook, moving fully to my iPad for all my mobile computing needs. I did my first requested review. I participated in my first sponsored event as a blogger. I started to end commitments that were distracting me. I practiced my craft.

I’m looking forward to 2014.

* * *

NOTES:

Looking forward and three words

Reduce. Balance. Invest.

2013: Reduce. Balance. Invest.

Every year I would pick resolutions and goals to help guide me in the upcoming year.
And every year I failed.

This year I picked three words, three themes for the year. I started this last year, copying the idea from other bloggers I read and follow. After years of making resolutions and abandoning them after a few months, I was ready to try something new. I hoped that this would prove to be a better influence in the long run.

I’m not going to lie… I did think that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. I thought that, ultimately, my “words” would off my radar after a few months, the same as my resolutions normally did.

I was wrong.

Last year’s words were: Simplify. Focus. Create. And somehow I managed to stay on track with these themes for most of the year.

This year’s three words are: Reduce. Balance. Invest.

REDUCE: This is exactly what it sounds like — I’m going to reduce the clutter in my life. And I do mean the things I have, the things I do, and the mental and emotional baggage I accumulate.

BALANCE: I am going to start including more time for fun, family, and friends. I need to start going out and actually doing things, living life, instead of reading about it. In addition, it’s hard to write about interesting things if you’re not doing interesting things.

INVEST: I am going to make an effort to invest time and money in myself. This includes the more formal personal and professional development and the more whimsical things that will feed my creativity and spirituality.

And I’m hoping that 2013 is a more productive and successful year.

 * * *

UPDATE: I’ve started a Storify board with stories and resources for these themes. Hope you enjoy it.


What I learned in 2012: I am not indispensable

Thank you, 2012

2012 ended up being a very different year than what I was expecting. This year my personal health challenges dominated everything, and impacted most of the year. I was either preparing for surgery, out for an extended leave because of surgery, or recovering from it. I honestly feel like I just got back to normal in time to ring in 2013. Great timing, I guess.

Despite the challenges of the year, or maybe cause of them, I had moments of clarity… aha! moments that made me sit up (figuratively) and take notice of things for which to be thankful, things to change, and things to share. Sometimes it takes big events to makes us take a look at the little things that shape our lives.

A few things I “learned” in 2012

You are who you friend (i.e., grouchiness is contagious).

I’m not talking about social networks, or rather I’m mostly talking about real life. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but the group of people I see and with whom I spend time in my offline life is slightly different than those with whom I interact online. I’m referring to those people who can take one look at you and tell that you’ve had a bad day, who you can call at 2am with an emergency, who will pick you up at the airport and possibly even feed you afterwards. Friends.

There’s a saying in Spanish: Dime con quien andas y the dire quien eres. Loosely translated it means that I can tell the kind of person you are by who your friends are.

I’ve realized the truth of that recently. I’ve found that if I spend my personal time with friends (beloved friends) who encourage me to dwell on the negative aspects of my life, I don’t crawl back out of that mood. And, slowly, the negativity becomes normal… an everyday occurrence. Then somehow the new personal projects don’t get started, or don’t get finished. If I spend my time with friends (and family) who are out creating, encouraging me and others, providing emotional and even virtual support, I’m more productive.

There’s no science behind this (not for me). Just the observable truth comparing 2012, and my friending habits, versus previous years. 2012 was more challenging, had bigger hiccups and roadblocks, and yet I accomplished more. More importantly, my reaction to the challenges was more positive.

Your support system is esential, at home and at work (i.e., you WILL need help eventually).

I am a very independent person.
I don’t like to ask for help, I want to do things myself.
I hate needing help; I don’t want others to see that I can’t do everything myself.

I had to ask for help.

If you’ve ever had to recover from major surgery, you know that there are days, weeks, months where you need to be nursed. Family members made it possible for me to simply recover without having to deal with the everyday details that would have added stress to the recovery.

Did you know there’s nothing good on daytime television? Friends made it possible for me to disconnect from personal relationships without boredom kicking in by providing entertainment on demand, and many many visits (when I was feeling better).

In the many weeks of recovery, I didn’t get one single “emergency” phone call from work. Colleagues made it possible for me to disconnect from work completely without having to worry about pending projects or emergencies.

I hope none of them ever need me to do the same for them, but know I will gladly step up and help them when it’s needed.

Other people don’t live inside your brain (i.e., write it down).

One of the most interesting things I realized this year is how much of my job processes I keep in my head. Since I work in an organization that achieves miracles with very few resources, it’s become almost mandatory that everyone take on many roles.

Because I had advance notice, and was able to schedule the time away from work. I was able to get everything set up for my absence. I wrote instructions, and more instructions, and guidelines, and style manuals, and best practice documents, etc. And I held training sessions, provided feedback on early transition projects, identified what the backup systems and people were, and put everything into place early.

If I had been hit by a bus, there are many projects that might have hit a snag because the plans were in my head.

Work will survive without you (i.e., you are not indispensable).

I was away from my office for seven weeks. Once I came back to work I wasn’t at full capacity for a few more weeks. Guess what? They survived just fine without me.

I tend to be that workaholic who stays another 30 minutes because “I really gotta finish this tonight.” I would stress over the workload that I still had pending, mostly without giving myself credit for the work that was successfully finished.

What I’ve seen since I’ve been back is that, while the deadline is still there, I’ve been better about prioritizing what actually has to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow. In addition, did you know that others can handle the hard stuff too? {{grin}}

I am not indispensable.
It’s a great feeling.

What did 2012 teach you?

My 3 Words for 2012

Simplify. Focus. Create.

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