Thursday, July 2, 2015

NEW ESSAY! The Only Constant is Change

Planning Time for the Unexpected
By Judith Cullen
© 2015

I remember my Franklin Day Planner fondly.  It is such a great system for learning time management. I used them for years.  You can still get them in their attractive binders as well as the now obligatory electronic apps.  I still use a lot of the methods from those Franklin days: making lists, marking what has to be done versus what could be done, open Os in front of things started but not completed, big Xs on things completed. I get great satisfaction from making those Os and Xs, like hugs and kisses all over my daily intentions.

Something has changed from those halcyon days of my Planner.  It is something I did not expect to happen, naturally, and I am not sure that there was a symbol in the Franklin method for marking it, denoting it, categorizing it.  Back in the old days, blurred into the haze of fond memory, it did not seem that things ever got totally out of control on any given day.  Somehow, there was a way to write everything down and make things conform to a plan.  But that’s not the same in my life anymore.  Sometimes something happens that just guts my entire direction.  It can be technical, emotional. How am I supposed to mark the unexpected?

I don’t live the life I lead that required a planner.  That was a time of 60-80 hour work weeks at things I cared passionately about.  I seemed to care passionately about everything in those days.  I got a whole lot done, too.  Crashing against the rocky shore of working that hard for decades takes its toll.  I live a much simpler life now, dictated in part by economics and in part by the desire to pursue that elusive reason I was put into this life, while there is still time to do so. 

I still make lists.  I still keep notes.  My daily task list now inhabits paper never larger than a half sheet so that I resist the urge to overwhelm myself with possibility. My small electronic device houses my appointments, and little notes to myself.  I have three computers: my main that is hooked to the internet and has two screens; my secondary which I use to do anything related to Photoshop, and which is hooked to my printer; and a laptop which I don’t keep any data on, but which also accomplishes a number of specialized tasks.  I have a handful of flash drives. 

I know the rules of working from home, and I bet they make a whole lot of sense to you too: 
  1. Have a purposeful place to work – none of this working from the kitchen table or in front of the TV stuff!
  2. Break up work into manageable chunks – no 8 hours marathons at the keyboard, even if your kidneys could stand it!
  3. Take breaks for healthy snacks and to do something physical: maybe a walk around the block, or a small household task like taking the trash out, shifting laundry, or sweeping a floor.
  4. Get the heck out of Dodge!  Get out on a regular basis to coffee shops, open share office spaces, parks even.  If you live where you work, a change of pace can be highly productive and help combat the residual feeling that just because you are home you should be working. (I also find if I go somewhere, choosing a specific task to accomplish there really keeps me focused
  5. Write it down. Keep lists – whether you use a planner system or not – make a list of what you intend to do, even when you intend to if that helps you, and mark things off as they are completed.I find crossing things off lists very satisfying.
Of course, the great thing about being your own boss and making the rules is, you have the power to decide when to break them too! 

While in my Planner days, my life revolved around paint brushes and bits of wood of muslin, and various other tactile compounds. Now almost all my work is on computers.  So when anything goes haywire with them, and entire morning or afternoon’s work can be undermined.  Here is an example . . .

Tuesday I met with a client in the morning, and confidently told them I could have the needed revisions we discussed for their project done by the end of the day.  It sounded good, and I totally believed it was possible.  Hours later, while extracting artwork from a document for this project and cursing at myself because there was a translation problem with the images, one of the images accidentally got embedded in my desktop which visually went haywire with things highlighting and looking totally out of whack.  I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.  I tried everything I could think of, Googled some help sites.  This little bit of the unexpected pushed me clean off the train of my productivity, which came to a screeching halt in a cloud of dark smoke and frustration.  Finally, I decided to just back away.  I turned off the screens and did something else.  Something where evidence of the unexpected was not glowing at me, taunting me, whispering, “I bet I wasn’t on your list, was I honey?”

I had broken work-at-home rules #3 and #4, and the price was my sense of calm in being able to deal with the inevitable – the unexpected.  When I came back I realized it was just colors, shapes, and it really wasn’t keeping me from doing what needed to be done.  I would figure it out eventually.  Within an hour, prompted by a simple comment from a friend, I fixed most all of it with one click – POOF, it all went away and everything was back to looking normal.  I worked late into the evening and managed to get the promised revisions done without too many more expletive exclamations.

So when did the unexpected become a to-do item on my daily task list?  Have I really lost so much productivity as I have aged that such things completely disable me?  This is not about decrepitude, no.  This is about recognizing that my work world of yesterday is not my work world of today.  I am different, the work is different.  There are many things I can control, and I need to make room for those things that I cannot.  They will emerge whether I want them to or not. I need to be serious about structuring my day with the proviso that things can change.  The key is to be balanced between discipline and flexibility: not so structured that you can't take advantage of shifts and opportunities, not so formless that you end the day or week wondering what you accomplished.

So I am sticking with my lists.  I fall off the wagon every now and again, for weeks at a time.  I kid myself that my brain has it all under control and I can handle it, only to clamber back on the list wagon again and feel a sense of relief.  So I am going to keep on making that list, and I think that I will add “unexpected" to it.  It will remind me that I need to be prepared for felicity or crisis, both of which are an opportunity in every day.

Oh heck!  If nothing unexpected happens, I can still cross it off my list!


The ART INSPIRED STORIES Project has been invited back to Proctor ArtsFest  for a second year this August.  I'll be viewing the works in the Juried Art Show and writing 100w stories on selected entries.  10 of those stories will be read at the Art Show at 2pm on Saturday, August 1st. The artists of those selected works will receive a certificate with the story to keep, and all the stories written will be posted here on my site.

I had such a great time doing this last year, and I am very much looking forward to doing it again.

Check out last year's project HERE

Check out all the amazing coolness that is Proctor ArtsFest HERE

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