21
Feb 17

Dear Universe: I Need Something Big

Dear Universe,

I know it’s been a hot minute since I asked for something via this ol’ blog, but I got another favor. I need something. Something big. And I don’t even know what it is.

Dear Universe: I Need Something Big

See, here’s the thing: I’m running on autopilot. Everything is going smoothly. I can’t see a speed bump or a pothole for miles. And that’s good, I think. Except, well. Last week I jokingly said to my office mate that every week is the worst week of my life. And joking about something is the first step to admitting that you have hella problems, right?

I’m not asking for a whole lot, dear Universe. I don’t wan’t to win the lottery or to find a bag of unmarked bills at the park when I’m walking my dog. (Let the record also show that I don’t not want those things. I’m just saying that it doesn’t have to be those things.) I don’t want anything fancy or expensive. I don’t want some life-changing news. I don’t want to make a big decision.

I kind of just want a sign. I don’t know what for though.

Sorry. I’m trying here, dear Universe. But that’s the thing about this time of year. It’s the third quarter of the school year, and the third thing out of four things is always the worst. Like when you run a mile on a track. It’s only four laps. The first lap you’re fine. Your fresh. Your lungs are full of air. The second lap is okay. You’re doing it. You still have some energy. The third lap sucks because you’ve already done this thing twice and OMG can I just be done now? And the fourth lap is great because you’re almost done.

I kind of just want a sign. I don't know what for though. Click To Tweet

That’s where I am right now — smack dab in the middle of OMG can I just be done now.

So here I am, feeling antsy and anxious. I don’t know why. It’s been a hot minute since something big has happened. I mean, I guess I did buy a car on Saturday, but that doesn’t feel like anything. And if you know me, dear Universe, you know that material possessions don’t mean a whole awful lot to me. I’m looking for something that’s the spiritual equivalent of a marching band tromping down Main Street and playing Seventy-Six Trombones.”

I want big things and little words scribbled in notebooks. I want stories that make me stay up until 5 AM because I absolutely have to read them. I want words pouring out of my head and onto the page like an avalanche. I want to not feel so empty. I want to have thoughts worth thinking again.

I guess what I’m saying here, dear Universe, is that I want a little inspiration. I want to want to do things again.

Help me out here, Universe. Remind me why I’m here.


13
Feb 17

5 Steps to a Better Night Time Routine

I’ve written before about how to be a morning person, and Kieran shared with you how to kick start your morning. But there’s one crucial thing to being a morning person, and that’s having a night time routine.

Five Steps to a Better Night Time Routine

I’m fanatical about routines, and I absolutely love habits. I think rom coms tend to make people think they have to be spontaneous and easygoing in order to be viable people. But let’s get real. I hate spur-of-the-moment anything, and I actively work to build better habits because I know they make me a happier, more productive person. (If you call me at 8 PM and ask me to come have a drink, I will not only tell you no, I will also lecture you on why you need to schedule with me in advance. I DO NOT DO SPONTANEOUS.) So that’s why I’m talking about my night time routine today, and the five steps you can take to have a better night time routine.

5 Steps to a Better Night Time Routine Click To Tweet

001: Get Un-Ready.
When I say un-ready, I mean undo all the things you did that morning to get ready. I pretty much put my pajamas on the minute I get home from work so I don’t get dog hair on my work clothes. So, for me, getting un-ready means washing my face, flossing and brushing my teeth, and applying like 6 different moisturizers. (I work with 20-year-olds. I feel like a haggard, leather face all the time. Don’t judge me.) I try to do these things around 8 PM because that means I’m physically ready to get to bed. And this is such an important part of my night time routine because if I wait until I’m too tired, I may not wash my face at all. (I’m gross, I know.)

002: Be Aware of the Time.
How many times have you started something around 9:15 only to finish up around midnight, when you fully intended to go to bed at 10? It’s easy to get caught up in things like projects, movies, or to do list tasks. That’s why I’m always aware of time when it comes to my night time routine. Chris hates it when I say we shouldn’t start a specific show on Netflix because it’s too late. (He’s a total night owl.) But I’m fanatical about going to bed on time, and to do that I always have to know how much time I have until I’d like to be asleep.

003: Turn Off the TV and put your phone away.
Now, you know I refuse to let my phone run my life, but I feel I should admit here that I’m not super into TV either. Sure, I like watching shows, but I feel like TVs have become such an intrusive presence in our daily life. They’re so big and so loud, and I don’t need a theater experience to watch the local weather forecast or Jeopardy. Chris and I have even talked about how if our TV breaks, we may not get another one. (That’s a post for another time. Also, we have computers and tablets that we stream TV from anyway. Do we need a TV too?) For me, I like to turn the TV off because I like quiet. And turning the TV off (or, going in the other room while Chris finishes watching something) is a great way for me to slowly unwind and enjoy some quiet before I go to sleep. I also put my phone down, and have it set to go into Do Not Disturb mode every night at 9 PM.

It’s worth noting here that there are all manner of studies about how lessening your screen time before bed can help you sleep better. So I won’t harp on it. Just know that backing away from screens is a great way to improve your night time routine.

004: Hydrate.
I always have the worst sleep when I’m dehydrated. Whether I’ve been drinking too much caffeine or alcohol throughout the day, or just not enough water, I always try to chug about 10-15 ounces of water about an hour before bed. This generally rehydrates me and helps me not have massive charlie horses in my calves. (I get these all the time, and sometimes they work their way into nightmares where the hook-handed guy from I Know What You Did Last Summer hooks me right in the calf. Luckily, it’s just a charlie horse. But unluckily, ouch, it’s a charlie horse.) Also, one of the main reasons I ever get up in the middle of the night is because I’m thirsty and need a drink. Rehydrating prevents that from happening. Also, since I do it an hour before bed, I’m able to use the bathroom before bed, and I never have to get up.

I should probably note that I still keep my full Nalgene bottle on my bedside table anyway. Just in case. You know, when I need 32-ounces of water at 3 AM.

005: Read.
Okay. So. Real talk. Reading is a big part of a lot of my routines. But I like to read right before bed. I always have. It doesn’t matter what I’m reading — something happy or scary or adventurous — I just like to read before bed. Most nights, you can find me crawling into bed around 9 PM to start reading, so I can be safely off to dream land by 10.

I never have issues with falling asleep after reading something intense, and I’m not sure why. It’s probably because I’ve been doing it since the first grade…

What's your night time routine? Click To Tweet

What about you? What’s your tried and true night time routine? Anything I should add to my night time routine?


02
Feb 17

Saving My Life Right Now: Winter 2017

The winter has always been hard for me. And I always hate the third quarter of the school year — that time between the start of the spring semester and spring break. (I thought it wouldn’t be so bad as an instructor, but it still feels like being stuck in quicksand.) Then, couple that with the current political climate, and it’s pretty easy to see why I haven’t blogged in over a month.

#mybad

I feel incredibly small right now, and like I don’t matter. I feel like the words I could say to my readers are functionally worthless. And I also feel like so many are going through so much worse than me right now, so why doesn’t it even matter if I post something?

I know all of this is unhealthy thinking, so in an effort to get back on the horse, I’m linking up with Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy to talk about things that are saving my life right now.

001: My super tiny bullet journal.
I’ve written a lot about different planning methods I’ve used in the past, but this year I joined team #bujo. But I also knew I wanted to shrink down my planning as much as possible. So instead of using the standard-sized Leuchtturm 1917 notebook, I’m using a pocket-sized one. (I don’t think the world needs another blog post about bullet journaling, but I’ll probably write one very soon anyway.) I’ve been tracking the books I’ve read, what I’m grateful for, and what I’ve spent. I’ve really been looking forward to Saturday nights when I bust out the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners to make the spread for the next week.

002: Carrying a book with me.
I always used to carry a book with me, but got out of the habit when I was at the job from hell. I didn’t feel like reading pretty much the whole time I was there, so I never jammed a paperback in my purse to savor over lunch. Recently, I got back in this habit, and I’m happy to report I read 5 books in January alone. Also, office hours are great when they’re spent reading.

003: My Stanley travel mug.
I hate travel mugs that don’t actually keep the coffee warm. I also hate travel mugs that don’t have lids that close all the way. Luckily, Chris found this Stanley travel mug. He has one that’s 16 ounces, and I have the 12 ouncer. Not only does it keep my coffee warm for a few hours, if I throw it in my bag, it doesn’t dump coffee all over my laptop.

004: The Beach Body App.
I did a little survey on Snapchat the other day (username: GentleMarisa) and asked people what their favorite workouts were. The overwhelming response was that people liked the Beach Body app. My friend Liz sent me a discount link, and I signed up. This past week I’ve been doing Focus T-25 in the mornings, and the 3-Week Yoga Retreat in the evenings. And the best part of it is that I don’t have to leave the house, which is the hardest part about working out in the mornings in the winter. Seriously. I refuse to go out in the cold so I can get sweaty.

005: Good coworkers.
It’s just good to know when you have some coworkers who are like your comrades in arms. I probably have the most ideal working situation of anyone in academia, and any time I think about that, I’m just overcome with how lucky I am.

 

What about you? It’s important to remember that self-care isn’t selfish. What’s saving your life right now?


20
Dec 16

Busy Is a Choice

Busy is a choice you make.

When I worked for the Institute of Reading Development, we had a very intense pep talk from the head honcho. It was intense because he read some amazing literature to us, and because he dropped the sort of knowledge that I don’t expect from bosses. (Granted, I have worked for all the worst companies in Oklahoma. You can read about the job from hell here.) Essentially, he told us that we had to be on time for the job. But what’s more, he said that being on time is a choice. And I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with anything more.

The reasoning behind it was that you know what time you have to be somewhere. You know how long it takes to get there. You know that there are factors that could inhibit you actually getting there. So you do the math and work out when you have to leave. And sure. This should be a subconscious process. Everyone should be capable enough to arrive on time. Except, think about how many people you know who aren’t.

I’m not talking about the people who are occasionally late, because we all are. What I’m talking about are the people who are ALWAYS late. These are the people who have never figured out how to calculate the time it will take to get where they’re going.

I believe this sort of lack of awareness is pervasive. For surely as there are people who are always late, there are people who are always busy. And these are the people who do not understand why they happen to be that way.

Busy Is a Choice

Now, let me explain. I understand that everyone has a lot of things going on. Balancing work and life is hard enough. In fact, there are days, perhaps weeks or months when that balance is non-existent. But we’re capable adults. We make things work. And we get through the busy times because we know there will be time off soon. And without those busy times, would we fully appreciate the time off? Would we still marvel at the novelty of sleeping in, or reading a book from cover to cover one Sunday afternoon, or enjoy a Friday happy hour with friends? I maintain that we would not.

Without those busy times, would we fully appreciate the time off? Click To Tweet

And I don’t want anyone to walk away thinking that I don’t acknowledge that some people are busier than others. I do. In fact, I will also acknowledge that if your busyness is a choice, it’s probably because you possess a privilege that others don’t. After all, if you’re working two jobs to keep the heat on through the winter, then it probably doesn’t feel like much of a choice.

If you are that person, I hope something gives and you’re able to live comfortably without having to work so much.

But I suspect the majority of my readers aren’t that person. I’m not that person, and that’s why I can proclaim from the top of the mountain that busy is a choice.

When We Don’t Choose Busy

I’ve been cutting way the heck back on my busy lately. I think a lot of the need for busy I felt came from a place of anxiety. For so long I had to work multiple jobs to keep the wheels from falling off. And for so long I had gone to school full-time while working full-time. My brain was apparently incapable of existing in a world where it wasn’t busy to the point of exhaustion every day.

I don’t do that anymore. I’ve significantly cut down on the amounts of extra things, especially since I spent the majority of the year as a writhing burn out monster. And I do that for my sanity. I do it so I can write what I want to write. I do it so I can devour a book or more a week. I do it so I don’t constantly feel that fight or flight stress. I do it because busy is a choice.

So, if you’re always busy and you have yet to analyze why, ask yourself what choices you’re making. Are you busy, or just manic? Can you cut something out for the sake of your sanity? The answer is almost always yes, and you almost always should. If you feel behind, constantly overworked, or like you’re spinning your wheels, remember that busy is a choice. No one else can get you out of that but you.

I think, by now, the pop psychology of the day has instilled in us the notion that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. So, I would like you to apply this to busy. Are you saying yes to busy because you’re saying no to a manageable lifestyle? Are you saying yes to a second job so you can afford something that you might not actually need? Are you saying yes to helping someone even though it means saying no to working on your own stuff?

Are you busy? What can you cut out right now to choose a less busy life? Click To Tweet

To bring it all back around again, just as we all know that person who is perpetually late, we also know that person who is perpetually busy. I used to be that person. I refuse to ever be that person again.

Are you busy? What can you cut out right now to choose a less busy life?


13
Dec 16

Setting Your Own Agenda

One of the most frustrating things is the feeling that you aren’t setting your own agenda. The day gets away from you. You feel obligated to do things for others. The line between your day job and your home life blurs. It’s all well and good to intend to set your own agenda, but how do you keep it?

Setting Your Own Agenda

The Problem

Logically we know that there are 24 usable hours in every day. We know that we have to sleep for about 8 hours, and that we probably have to work roughly 8-10 hours. Then, that leaves anywhere from 6-8 hours for our own pursuits.

So how is it that days pass and it feels like we’ve got nothing done?

I used to find myself in that weird time warp all the time. See, I’m a procrastinator by nature. (Or maybe it’s nurture. I think I started doing it in high school as a way to take control of my personal agenda and rebel against how my parents thought I should be using my time.) I can take any little thing and turn it into a full-blown project if it means that I’m not working on the task I should be working on.

Example 1: Once, in grad school, when I needed to be writing a novel for my novel writing class, I completely arranged my bookshelves by subject, and then alphabetized them by author. (It is worth noting here that when I was in library school, I didn’t engage in that sort of behavior at all. Again, I can’t be made to do the thing I ought to be doing.)

Example 2: Remember the perfect storm? Yeah. I totally wrote a blog post instead of writing my course schedule.

Anyway, I have this tendency to put off what needs to be done. I like to do that by taking up other activities. And since I’m a first-world consumer with access to functionally everything I need, plus like 98% of the things I want, that means I have all the distractions I could want.

So, how do you get away from reading the internet for hours or scrolling through your phone when you should be working?

The Key to Setting Your Own Agenda

I wish I could say there was a way to cut out distractions easily so you could focus on work. There isn’t. But there are some good workarounds.

If you find that your phone sucks you in when you only intend to like a couple of Instagram posts, then may I recommend this super simple phone hack? This won’t stop you from reaching for your phone when you’re bored, but it will stop you from always feeling like you need to reach for it. Cutting out notifications was key for me, because it allowed me to focus on my own agenda, rather than letting my phone set it for me.

It’s been about 8 months since I first posted about that phone hack, and it’s definitely changed my relationship with my phone. I no longer feel obligated to respond to notifications simply because I don’t get them. And when I do stop to check my phone, I can do it on my terms and at a time when I have a moment to do so.

Oddly enough, the sun still rises and sets just as it always has if you aren’t constantly checking on who liked your tweets.

But maybe your problem is the internet in general. Maybe you find yourself sitting down at the computer to get to work, only to lose the first hour to nonsense. I totally get it. The struggle is real.

But here’s how I tackle that. I have a three-tiered approach.

Firstly, I only check email after I’ve completed at least three things on my to do list. If it’s a day I’m teaching, that means I may enter grades, scan student papers, and lesson plan before I check any emails. I also try to only check my email two to three times a day. That way I’m not babysitting my inbox all day, hearing notifications and adjusting my schedule to meet that of those who happened to send me an email.

Secondly, if I know I really have something to get done, I use the Strict Workflow Chrome Extension. When I click that little tomato in the upper righthand corner of my browser window, it gives me 25 minutes of focused time by not letting me access social media. Then, once that 25 minutes is complete, I get five minutes of break. And I repeat that as many times as necessary. It’s really good for grading and editing sessions.

Thirdly, I try to drown out all distractions. I used to exclusively use Stereo Mood for all my ambient music needs. They had some great channels with instrumental music that were ideal for writing. Now, I either find an instrumental station on Google Play, or I find a fantastically rainy soundscape on Ambient Mixer. (Check out my favorite Ambient Mixer atmospheres!) When something is playing, it’s much easier for me to ignore all the other sounds that usually become distractions.

Setting Your Own Agenda Is an Uphill Battle

Now, here’s the thing. You have to make yourself set your own agenda. My three-tiered approach and phone hack won’t do anything if you aren’t fiercely trying to control your time. You have to have the willpower of a saint, and you will have days where you fail miserably.

But remember, everything is a process. Don’t be hard on yourself if you lose an hour to creating the perfect Snapchat story. (I have been known to do that.) Take the yoga approach, here. You’re growing. And each new day is a new day to put some of this into play.

 

What about you? How do you go about setting your own agenda?