09
Mar 17

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips to Help You Fight Overwhelm

When the things that need to be done start to pile up, I know I need to create space to breathe.

We’re smack dab in the middle of grading season. Or, more accurately, procrastinating grading season. (Every day I manage to tell my students they shouldn’t procrastinate with a straight face. I have no business doing that.)

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips

Normal adult activities like cleaning and grocery shopping have fallen by the wayside because I feel like I don’t have time to do it. And while I may not have time to do it all when I need to get 116 papers off my plate, I know I have time.

I firmly believe that busy is a choice. But I also know that there are times when you have more to do than others. And grading season is definitely that time for me.

In the past, I’ve wasted time feeling like I needed to be cooped up and cordoned off — away from the world and working diligently to get things done. But the problem with staying inside all day and looking at a computer screen is that it very much makes Marisa a dull girl. And if I’m being honest, it makes me hate my job and my students, which isn’t really productive at all.

So, this year I’m taking a more strategic approach and making an effort to create space to breathe. I feel like I have to this semester, especially since I’m teaching 5 classes this time around. I’m also at an age where I can’t be productive when I cut corners. So, fast food isn’t an option since it doesn’t really fuel my body anymore, so much as shut down the whole production while I lay down and attempt to digest. And there are no more all-nighters for me. In fact, I’m in bed at the same time every single night.

I know some of my coworkers can stay up late to get things done and still teach the next day. Or they can fuel up with nothing but coffee and donuts. But that ain’t me.

So here’s what I’m doing to create space to breathe during this busy time.

001: Going for walks.
Through a wellness initiative at my university, full-time faculty and staff received a free Fitbit. And while it’s not he first step tracker I’ve owned (I used to be a Garmin Vivo Fit user) it has definitely made me way more competitive when it comes to getting my steps in. Not only do I see my friends and all their steps within the Fitbit app, but I also see everyone on the university’s fitness portal. Because of this, I know how much more other people are doing, and I want to do more.

Now, there are only so many hours in a day, so it’s not like there is plenty of time for me to walk all over the place. Instead, I’m using my lunch breaks during the work day and walking around campus. Thanks to global warming, it’s been so unseasonably warm, and that has definitely made it a lot easier for me to traipse around campus during the day.

Not only is the walk good for me, but it enables me to take a moment away from the computer. I truly get to use that time to decompress from grading, lectures, and emails. It’s perhaps the most relaxing thing I do all day.

002: Eating my lunch outside.
I’ve got a bad habit of holing up in my office and eating lunch in front of my computer. I know this isn’t good, but it’s so hard to make myself go elsewhere. Plus, it’s not like I want to be the irrelevant old professor who rolls up in the cafeteria and tries to strike up a conversation with students in hopes that they let me sit with them.

I’m a 100% introvert, so I need time in my day when I’m not interacting with people. That’s usually why I eat my lunch in my office with the door closed. But the other day, I walked to my favorite spot on campus after I purchased a sandwich. I was delighted to find that no one was sitting on my bench, and very few people were passing by.

Naturally, I parked right there and enjoyed my pastrami on naan sandwich with an over-sweetened iced green tea. The best part? I could hear a choir rehearsing in Carpenter Hall.

003: One-on-one talks with good people.
I’m very fortunate in that I’m surrounded by a lot of deep thinkers. We can discuss a lot of things, and I never feel like I’m stuck in very surface-level conversations, which I HATE. It may seem counterintuitive, but when I’m stressed out, it’s nice to talk through some difficult concepts. If we stuck to just the small talk, I think that would stress me out more.

Over the course of this past week, I’ve talked about writing pedagogy, race relations and the biases we carry, whether or not a Ph.D. is actually worth it, and why we buy into the systems and institutions that we do. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I live for these kinds of discussions. And by taking time to have them, I feel better through the day because I’ve interacted with a human on a meaningful level, and haven’t stared a screen all day.

004: Turning my brain off by 8 PM.
I’ve found that the best way to be productive and get through a really busy time is to clearly delineate how I will use my time. By that, I mean I need to set aside time for work and time for shutting down and relaxing.

I mentioned that I’m in bed by the same time every night, But I also have to start relaxing and winding down at the same time so that I can get to sleep more easily. At around 8 PM ever night, I put away all my school stuff. I may write or blog or journal, but mostly I’ve been too fried to do that. Instead, Chris and I cuddle up on the couch with Rosie, and we’ve been watching Twin Peaks (I totally hate this series — sorry nostalgia fans) or Desus and Mero (bar none the best late night show on the air).

Oh, and yeah. I’ve had a big ol’ glass of red wine each night.

 

So there you have it. That’s how I like to create space to breathe when I feel overwhelmed. What do you do when you’ve got a lot to do? How do you create space to breathe?


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?


06
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?