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?

Dec 16

Guest Post: Kick Start Your Morning in 2017

Kickstart your morning in 2017

Kieran contacted me after reading How to Be a Morning Person, and offered to write this guest post about how to kick start your morning in 2017. A big thanks to Kieran, and may we all have very productive mornings in 2017!

2017 is fast approaching and it’s the perfect time to kick start your mornings and get a head start on 2017! I know loads of people who wish they could embrace the morning instead of groan through it. And I fully understand why! Many successful people are always talking about the things they achieve before 9 am has even rolled around!

But the turn side to that is that becoming a morning person can be hard. Luckily I’m going to share with you 5 easy steps that can transform you into a morning person! I’ve put them together into the infographic you can see below.

Kick Start Your Morning in 2017

These steps might not seem major enough to really have an impact, but trust me they will. Let’s start with hydration, possibly the most important step on the list. Being dehydrated in the morning is the most common cause of morning fatigue. Even if you’re getting a full 8 hours of comfortable sleep dehydration will still make you wake up groggy and tired.

5 easy steps that can transform you into a morning person! Click To Tweet

That’s why having a drink of water before bed is so important. A glass of water before bed will keep you hydrated through the night letting you wake up refreshed after a good sleep. Just make sure to get the balance right. Too much water and you’ll be spending half the night running to the bathroom!

But now you’ve made it awake without a feeling of regret you need to keep the momentum going. So have your damn breakfast! Seriously, it makes a huge difference to keeping your energy levels up, you haven’t eaten anything for up to 12 hours so your body definitely needs an energy boost! Way more than it needs a caffeine hit. So make sure you have your breakfast as soon as you get up so the fatigue doesn’t catch up to you.

Next the alarm clock. It may seem an obsolete item of the past since the rise of the smartphone but I’m an advocate that some of the old ways are the best. Smartphones are great as an alarm clock if you can resist the temptation to play on them when you go to bed. Otherwise, you can easily while away an hour scrolling through Facebook that would have been much better spent sleeping.

Besides mobile phones completely ruin how you fall asleep and stay asleep. As well as other things they stop melatonin being produced which is the hormone that helps you fall asleep. 

So if you get an alarm clock you can easily leave your phone out of reach and out of mind.

Finally, you need to be getting a consistent 7-8 hours of sleep at night. This is the optimum amount you need to function properly as an effective human being. Some people have different sleep cycles but on the whole 7-8 hours is what you need to be getting no matter what. Go to bed earlier or get up later whatever it takes.

This goes hand in hand with the bedtime routine. Now it has probably been many years since you had a bedtime, let alone one you wanted to stick too, but it’s an important part of becoming an effective sleeper and starting your mornings properly. Your bedtime routine should consist of enough time away from screens as well as an activity to wind down, my favorite is reading, and it should get you to bed in good time to get your 8 hours of beauty sleep.

And there you have it! 5 simple steps that will kickstart your morning in 2017. Please give them a try and let me know how you get on in the comments below!

Kickstart Your Morning in 2017! Click To Tweet

Kieran MacRae Blogs all about sleeping in the UK at The Dozy Owl and would love for you to come visit and say hello on Twitter!

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?

Dec 16

The Yoga Approach to Life

I’ve written about a transformational experience I’ve had in yoga class before, but I think the real change comes with adopting the yoga approach to life.

The Yoga Approach to Life

What is the yoga approach to life? Well, firstly, it’s not like a thing in the official sense, unless it is a thing and I don’t know about it. What it is though is a way you are supposed to approach your yoga practice. And I’ve found that approaching life the way I approach my practice can make an immense amount of difference.

The Yoga Approach

In yoga, you are encouraged to do what your body needs, not what you think your body should be capable of. It’s very easy to think “I did this thing last week, so I should be able to do it for twice as long this week.” That’s terrible thinking because our bodies don’t conform to logical progressions.

For me, there are days when my arms feel so strong that I can hold a plank for minutes, and my chaturanga is fluid and smooth. Hell, I’m even able to hug my elbows to my ribs, and slowly flow through it. But, there are other days. And on those days, I have to stay on my knees through the plank. And my chaturanga is a terrible caricature of a belly flop. But that’s okay.

The thing about yoga is that you’re constantly evolving as a practitioner, which means your practice is constantly evolving. And like real scientific evolution, it’s not a straight line progression. There are weird forks and offshoots and strange mutations. And that’s okay. It’s your practice, and the yoga approach is to appreciate your body throughout your practice, and to do what your body and spirit need.

I can’t force my arms to be strong on days when they’re so sore from all the tension I carry in my shoulders. I can’t force myself to do a handstand just because all the other women in the class are doing one. I can’t force my body to do things it can’t do. And it’s a complete waste of time to get mad about or stew over things your body can’t do.

But you will never regret the time you spend thanking your body for what it has done for you. You will never regret the extra rest you give yourself when you know you need it. You will never regret going to the gym for a quick gentle yoga session that will help your muscles relax. You will never regret those few extra minutes of meditation where your mind is still.

In yoga there is no comparison. There is no shame. (Even if you fart in class.) In yoga, it’s just you and what you can do that day.

In yoga there is no comparison. There is no shame. (Even if you fart in class.) Click To Tweet

The Yoga Approach to Life

So, what does this look like in your everyday life? Well, a lot of things.

For me, the yoga approach to life is about not beating myself up. So I accidentally overslept. So I ate a “bad” food I “shouldn’t have.” (Don’t get me started on how screwed up it is to put moral implications behind sustenance.) So I wasn’t able to crank out 5,000 words in one day. So I didn’t finish grading every last paper by a self-imposed deadline.

If any of these events occur, the sun will rise the next day. The world will continue going on as it always has.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I want for those things to occur. In fact, I will still work to prevent them from occurring. But what the yoga approach to life lets me do is not beat myself up about it. If I oversleep and miss a workout, I may still wish that I hadn’t missed the workout. But I won’t be mad at myself because there are probably thousands of workouts ahead of me. If I miss a self-imposed deadline, there will still be hours in the future where I can work on what needs to be finished.

If I eat a “bad” food, there will be plenty of healthier meals that follow it. And, to that end, if I happen to gain a little weight around a holiday, or I don’t look a certain way in an article of clothing I’m trying on, I DO NOT LOSE SLEEP OVER IT. My body is what is at whatever time it is. It will change shape all through my life. All I can do is nourish it by eating the foods that sustain me best, by resting when I feel I need to, and doing the sorts of exercises that make me happy.

Just Weeds in a Ditch

Recently, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some fellow bloggers, and I got to meet Dee. I mentioned to Dee that I’m kind of a failure when it comes to gardening. (You remember El Generalisimo and my ill-gotten tomatoes, right? Oh, and this orchid is still alive through no fault of my own.) Then, Dee straight up dropped some hard knowledge on me.

She said that my generation is so results-oriented that we can’t focus on the journey. (GUILTY.) Then, she basically said that gardening was like yoga because it’s a practice. (Perfect metaphor for me, Dee.) Not only is she 100% correct, but it made me stop and think about how much this “failure” mindset has poisoned my self-image.

If you think about it, yoga and gardening are both very futile pursuits. Sure, you may get fitter and healthier with yoga, but mostly you’ll feel very stagnant and like you’ll never be the girl in a Lululemon ad. And sure, you may grow a tomato or two in your garden, but you may also find that your soil is infected with some weird sort of Dutch fungus that is deadly when eaten but could potentially make a great substitute for penicillin. (Or something. Again, I suck at gardens.)

But that’s the thing about life, isn’t it? You could grow up to be the very best at everything and well loved by all, but you’re still going to wind up dead in the dirt.

So, it only makes sense to appreciate your time, and do what you need during that time, regardless of whether or not it meets your expectations.

It only makes sense to appreciate your time, and do what you need during that time, regardless of… Click To Tweet

Dec 16

The 10 Best Ambient Mixer Atmospheres for Getting Work Done

If you haven’t experienced Ambient Mixer atmospheres yet, you’re in for a treat. You’re also about to get a lot more productive.

The 10 best Ambient Mixer Atmospheres for Getting Work Done

I wish I were the type of person who could just put my headphones on, blast music, and get work done. Unfortunately, I’m not. I’m a rather persnickety person, in fact. It’s hard for me to write or grade papers if the music I’m listening to has any lyrics. I pick up on the voices and find myself focusing on those instead of the work at hand.

While I don’t have a problem with instrumental music, sometimes it’s not the vibe I’m going for. Enter Ambient Mixer. It’s a site that let’s you choose an “atmosphere” to listen to. Ambient Mixer atmospheres are anything from fictional locations to everyday places to completely unreal soundscapes. But the best thing about Ambient Mixer atmospheres is there’s one for functionally any mood you’re in or want to capture. And the kicker? You can amplify or diminish any particular element of the atmosphere by cranking them up or turning them down. Basically, you can customize these atmospheres to your liking.

Here are the 10 best @ambientmixer atmospheres for getting work done! Click To Tweet

So, in the spirit of getting things done and setting yourself up for success in 2017 (the countdown to 2017 is upon us, after all), here are the 10 best Ambient Mixer atmospheres for getting work done.

001: Stormy Front Porch

I love the sound of rain when I’m working, especially when I’m writing. And I love the idea of having a big, covered porch that I can sit on with my laptop while I finish up a short story. This atmosphere is great if you’re trying to douse loud sounds, like music playing in another room, or if someone is talking right outside your office.

002: Hogwarts Library

Real talk: I went to library school, and I’m still pissed that Madame Pince hasn’t retired from Hogwarts because that’s the library job of my dreams. The best part of this Ambient Mixer atmosphere is the scritch-scritch-scritching of the quills on parchment. I recommend this atmosphere if you’re in a quiet space, but need a little sound so your allergy-induced tinnitus doesn’t become unbearable. (What? That’s just me. Oh. Listen to this anyway.)

003: Scottish Rain

What? I like rain. I stumbled onto this one by just clicking through to see what Ambient Mixer had to offer. I love the way the rain sounds in this one, but heed this warning. There’s a church bell in this one that really freaked my dog out. It’s set to ring every 10 minutes or so. Every time it would ring, Rosie would bark in the living room and then sprint back to my office to make sure I wasn’t being attacked. By a bell. So, if your dog is also a chucklehead, you may want to turn down the bell.

004: In Rivendell

I spent an absurd amount of my teen years imagining what it would be like to visit the last homely house east of the sea. I also spent a lot of years imagining that I was dating Tom Bombadil. (He’d be an amazing boyfriend, guys.) And, hell, I even spent a lot of time dressing like Frodo. This atmosphere is everything you could hope for when it comes to ethereal harping and the perfect bird sounds. Also that waterfall…swoon. I think this may be the perfect atmosphere for practicing yoga too. (I bet elves are hellagood at yoga — all handstands and impossible balance asanas.)

005: Victorian London

What, you want more rain? YOU GOT IT. While I think it would be absolutely terrible to live in the Victorian Era, I do like cobblestone streets. And, well, if I can hear the sound of horse-drawn carriages making their way over those cobblestones, I’m a happy camper. This is the perfect atmosphere to listen to while you’re reading, especially if you’re reading some Dickens.

006: Haunted Castle

Okay. So, lately, I’ve been way into ghost stories. I’ve spent way too much time in r/nosleep, and I’m kind of obsessed with creepy things. This Ambient Mixer atmosphere is exactly what it would sound like if you happened to find yourself inside a haunted castle. There’s a choir droning sound in this one that reminds me of the music in one of the first Tomb Raider games right when you’d turn a corner and be onto something. However, if you’re sensitive to squeaky sounds, you may want to fiddle with this one. I didn’t mind it, but Chris could only hear the squeak and nothing else when he was in the other room, and he found that pretty annoying.

007: Quiet Jazz Bar

If you’re the type that needs a little noise to get to work, you may enjoy this Ambient Mixer atmosphere. The tinkle of glasses and the quiet music balance really well with the general murmur of voices. I don’t think this one would be great for writing, but it’s definitely good for when you’re doing data entry, or formatting documents. And an added bonus is that when you listen to it, you can imagine yourself walking into a private eye’s office at the beginning of a noir film.

008: The Year 1612

This is another creepy one, and it’s ideal for writing scary stories. (Trust me on this one. I’ve been doing it a lot lately.) You definitely get the “misty woods at night” vibe from this one, so I don’t recommend listening to it while you’re home alone. This would also be a great one to play in the background at your next Halloween party.

009: Monastery at Night

I have a very elaborate fantasy where I go up into the mountains and live as a silent member of an artist’s colony for a year. This Monastery at Night Ambient Mixer atmosphere totally gives me that vibe. If you need to reset your brain a little and calm your anxieties, I think this is a great one. It’s something I like to use in the evenings when I’m transitioning from working on teacher stuff to writer stuff. I could also see this being a great atmosphere for shavasana, or just falling asleep.

010: Scottish Coffee House

I swear I don’t have a thing for Scotland. Well, okay. I do. But I wasn’t giving it preferential treatment or anything with this list. This is just the best coffee shop of all the Ambient Mixer atmospheres. It has rain against the window, a fireplace, and Autumn Leaves. Fair warning though: There’s a little not-so-seamless cut in the audio loop on this one, so it sounds like either a record scratch, or the sound of Slender Man coming near. (Did I mention that I’ve been reading a lot of r/nosleep?) If you aren’t a jumpy scaredy cat, this probably won’t bother you a lot. If you are a jumpy scaredy cat, you may have a heart attack each time it loops through.

Do you have a favorite Ambient Mixer atmosphere? Click To Tweet

So, what do you think? Do you have a favorite Ambient Mixer atmosphere? Any atmospheres I didn’t mention that you think need some attention? What do you listen to when you need to get work done?