21
Sep 17

How to Stop Procrastinating: A Fool-Proof Way to Conquer the World

For the majority of my life, I felt I didn’t know how to stop procrastinating. I fell into the trap of putting stuff off, and kept telling myself that I needed the pressure to actually get shit done.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Original photo by Milos Tonchevski

This is stupid and false, and the same damn trap my students fall into right before they stay up all night to binge-write that brilliant paper that will earn them a  low C if they’re lucky.

Why I needed to stop procrastinating

So, I’ve been trying to open up an Etsy shop since spring. And now it’s September. But because I live in Oklahoma, I had to get a sales tax ID to sell physical products online so I could charge my customers sales tax.

This shouldn’t be that hard, so I filled out the paper work and submitted my application. Then, I waited for everything to come in the mail.

When it arrived, I got a notice that I wasn’t approved because of the classification of my S Corp. My S Corp sells creative services, not products, and I’m listed under a specific industry code for services.

I stared at that rejection for like a month. There was a spot to write some information and send it back. Only, I didn’t 100% understand what I needed to put there.

One morning, I called the Oklahoma Tax Commission. I was literally on hold for 2 hours and 48 minutes. (I just left my phone on speaker and went about grading papers.) When I finally spoke with someone, they didn’t know what to do either.

I’m not kidding about that. If you’ve ever dealt with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, I suspect you have a similar story.

So I kept putting it off. Sure, I wanted to get my shop set up, but like, there are always 18,000 other things that can be done too. And then I moved, and unpacking took roughly ONE THOUSAND HOURS.

But a couple weeks ago, I finally just emailed my accountant. And in less than 48 hours, she gave me the simplest answer. She told me EXACTLY what I needed to write. And then I did.

And yesterday I got my sales tax ID in the mail.

It was so easy, but I built up this big wall in my head. And I waisted MONTHS.

It was so easy, but I built up this big wall in my head. And I waisted MONTHS. Click To Tweet

Do you need another example of why I need to stop procrastinating?

This week, I gave my students their first test. Some students take their tests in the class room, and some students take their tests in the disability resource center. While the test in class is given online, some students who test at the disability resource center need a paper copy of the test.

It’s not a big deal to make a paper copy. It just takes time. And it’s something I usually have the graduate assistant do. However, after a big mess that is absolutely no one’s fault, we don’t have a graduate assistant this semester. This isn’t a big deal, because I don’t have a lot that I need them to do.

But I just wanted to have someone else make this test.

So I put it off until the last possible minute. And when I started to make the test, I took a look in a folder in the very back corner of my Dropbox.

Lo and behold, I had actually created the test last semester.

Had I thought logically about it, I would’ve realized this. I would’ve remembered doing that. But nope. I just shoved it to the back of my mind and refused to deal with it at all until the last possible second.

What I’ve learned about why I procrastinate

I procrastinate when things get a little hard or uncomfortable or inconvenient. I procrastinate when I remember how soft my couch is. I procrastinate when I remember that at the end of the day, I still have a day job paycheck coming in.

I procrastinate because I’m in love with easy shit. And I hate that about myself.

To be fair, I know that no one loves doing the dirty work or the hard things. But damn. I wish I could just bite my lip and make it happen.

Like had I gotten my sales tax ID sorted, I would have an established Etsy store already.

Or if I had tackled that test earlier, I could’ve sent it to the disability resource center, and gotten to bed on time the night I found it.

But let’s not dwell in what ifs. There’s no reason to be mad at past Marisa, because present Marisa is the same Marisa. So, I forgive you and your procrastination, Marisa. Just don’t let it happen again.

How you can stop procrastinating

For me, the first step to stop procrastinating is this: Realize that nothing you do is really that hard.

I mean, yeah. You do hard things.

But the daily hard things aren’t the big things that deserve to hang over our heads. Let the big life questions be the daunting things. Let them keep you up at night.

The daily hard things aren't the big things that deserve to hang over our heads. Click To Tweet

Those things that are mild irritations/inconveniences/hoops to jump through? Know that you can tackle them. Know that you’re making mountains out of molehills. Know that you’re giving way too much time and energy to a thing that straight up doesn’t deserve it.

I know it’s hard to think in those terms. As stated earlier, I’m basically the queen of putting things off. (BOW TO ME, PROCRASTINATION PEASANTS!)

So please. Learn from my nonsense.

Ask yourself if one person can answer the question you have. And once you get that answer, can you finally move forward? If so, YOU BETTER ASK THAT QUESTION.

Ask yourself if you’ve been there before. And if you think the answer is yes, then ask yourself what you did when you were in that position. Rely on what you did in the past, because you can use that now.

Ask yourself if the thing that’s tripping you up is actually hard. Or if you’re just using it as an excuse to procrastinate. If you are, knock it off.

How to Stop Procrastinating Click To Tweet

What little things have you procrastinated doing? What tricks do you have to help people stop procrastinating? Are you as excited as I am for my soon-to-open Etsy shop?

P.S. Wanna make my day? Click here to sign up for my email list!


02
Aug 17

Transitions are Hard

Transitions are hard, y’all. And my job is full of them.

Transitions are Hard

Original photo by Sam X

Sure, I do the same thing every semester, but the way the school year works is weird. There’s so much build up to the fall semester where you get everything set and then power through, and then you push through to Christmas. You get a month off, and start it up again. I taught for the first time this summer, and it was like a third round of the same cycle.

Transitions are Hard Click To Tweet

I feel like I’ve reached a point in my job where I’m not only capable, but so many things are running on autopilot now. I’m able to anticipate what kind of questions my students will have, and head ’em off at the pass, so to speak.

(Teaching is mostly a battle, and getting college kids to write a well-reasoned, CONCISE paper is lot like executing a ancient Greek-style phalanx. You gotta have the metaphorical armed men and the spears to basically prod students into doing the assignment correctly. All’s fair in love and war. And education.)

But even so, the school year has a lot of wear and tear. And the schedule is brutal.

With the starts and stops of the normal academic calendar, I feel like this one scene in Beavis and Butthead Do America where they’re escaping the trunk of a moving car. They’re able to pry the trunk open, but Beavis is scared to jump out because “that road is moving pretty fast.” Butthead says it’s okay, and that Beavis should just run really fast when he hits the ground.

I’ve cued up the movie here for you if you’re one of those productive humans who doesn’t often find themselves quoting Beavis and Butthead and using it at a metaphor for life.

(Side note: Not that I mind you coming around, but like, if you AREN’T the type of person to use Beavis and Butthead as a metaphor for life, what the hell are you even doing here?)

Beavis and Butthead: A Metaphor for Life Click To Tweet

The reason I bring all this up is twofold. Firstly, if you’ve never seen Beavis and Butthead Do America, you absolutely must. It’s a cinematic triumph. And secondly, I’m bringing this up because I FEEL LIKE I KEEP HAVING TO RUN REALLY HARD BECAUSE THE ROAD IS MOVING REALLY FAST WHEN I JUMP.

As I was saying, transitions are hard.

So, each semester, I change schedules. I go from grading EVERY PAPER EVER WRITTEN IN ALL THE HISTORY OF ACADEMIA (or so it feels) to posting grades and having so much free time. Because I need a break, I’ll take some time to just chill and slowly let my brain melt and dribble out of my ears while I watch Netflix. And before I know it, I haven’t used my time off for any of the productive things I intended to use it for, and I’ve already jumped into the cycle of powering through a new semester.

If I could power through the transition, this wouldn’t be a problem. But transitions are hard and I’m trying to avoid burnout. And because transitions are hard, I feel the need to make a small confession.

I’ve been misrepresenting myself a little lately. Sure, life is going well enough, and I’m happy, whatever that actually means. I’ve been keeping in contact with friends, and I’ve had some very good hangouts the past few months.

And I’ve been reading, slowly but surely. Some books move faster than others, and some books make me pause and think about my life, and sometimes that’s too much. But I’m reading still, which is something I have to do lest I go insane.

But here’s where I have to make a confession.

I haven’t been writing.

I have zero writing routine to speak of.

(Please don’t send me a link to one of those think pieces about how if you don’t write each day you should just get out of the game now. I AIN’T HERE FOR IT.)

Summer would be the ideal time to bash out a project — to outline a novel, or create new character ideas, or to formulate research questions for that Ph.D. I’m always threatening to get.

But here I am.

And so, if you thought I was hella good at productivity, know that I’m not. If my life were a car, it would be a primer-colored POS with a dents and dings and loud-as-hell muffler. Parts are held on with duct tape and zip ties, and no one is really sure what happened to the back bumper — that’s how long it’s been missing.

And what’s worse is that I’m in the trunk of said car as it barrels down the highway. I’ve just pried it open and I’ve got to jump. And I should be good at it by now because I’ve been jumping for the past two years.

But no.

Transitions are hard. And that road is moving really fast.

So I haven’t leveled up to writing daily.

Yet.

Transitions are hard. And that road is moving really fast. Click To Tweet

And with that, I turn to you, readers. How do you keep up habits in the face of big transitions? How do you keep your schedule going when your work schedule changes about every 3 months? Have you ever jumped out of the trunk of a moving car?


11
Jul 17

Writing for an Audience: One Simple Writing Trick That Will Save You Every Time

In all my grading rubrics, there’s a specific percentage of assignment points allotted to the audience. Basically, I want to see how well my students have addressed the concerns their audience has. Because writing for an audience is all about making sure you’ve addressed what your audience needs.

Writing for an Audience

Because if you haven’t addressed the concerns of your audience, why are you writing in the first place?

When you write, think about what your audience wants. Click To Tweet

Have they answered all the questions the reader will ask about the topic? Have they made it clear to the reader what it is they’re trying to say? Are they addressing the reader in the appropriate manner?

These things are hella important when you’re writing for an audience, regardless of who that audience happens to be. And, in my humble opinion, will save you oodles of trouble in the future.

When I write on this blog, I write casually, to be sure. But that’s the proper tone for this place. When I write for work, it’s definitely more formal. And when I write fiction, I adopt whatever tone is necessary for the story I’m trying to tell.

It’s kind of like how you change the tone of your writing when you email your boss vs. when you text your bestie.

But that’s the thing. We’re always writing for an audience.

We're always writing for an audience. Click To Tweet

(Except maybe in journals. But I’m also a megalomaniac, and assume that 100 years from now, historians and scholars will go through my journals — at least the ones I haven’t thrown away — and appraise what I’ve written.)

So, this begs the question. How can you put this into play? How can you ensure your audience is getting what they need from what it is you’re writing?

I’ve got your back, homes.

Writing for an Audience-email

When you write an email, ask yourself what you want to recipient to take away from it.

Are you scheduling an appointment or meeting, or trying to get Bob from accounting to finally respond to your request for funds? Either way, think about how you can make sure your audience gets that from your emails. Because people tend to be inundated with emails:

  • Use bullet points for main ideas, tasks, and action items.
  • Keep it simple. Cutesy detail and jokes gets really annoying when you’re on a deadline.
  • Highlight when you want to emphasize a point.

Writing for an Audience-reports

When you write a report for work, whether it’s a travel/expense/quarterly report, anticipate questions.

In each section of the report, go paragraph by paragraph and ask yourself what questions you anticipate the reader having about what you’ve said.

  • Have you included all the necessary details?
  • Are all requirements of the report being met?
  • Based on past experience, what sort of questions will the audience have regarding your report?
  • If you can’t elaborate on something, is it clear to your reader that you’re working with the only information you have at the time?

Writing for an Audience-directions

When you’re writing directions or a process, think about how your audience will use these directions.

It’s easy to think about a process that you’ve engaged in multiple times, but can you succinctly and concisely explain it to a total noob?

  • Follow each step of your directions TO THE LETTER to see if you’re getting from point A to point B the way you’re supposed to. If you need to, edit to add extra information you may have left out initially.
  • Ask if the information is vital. Cut anything that isn’t 100% relevant to what you’re writing to avoid confusing your audience.
  • Fine an impartial person to test your directions. If they can follow them without any extra information from you, then you’re good to go.

You can pretty much apply any of these strategies to any writing you have to do daily. Take some time to focus on what your audience needs, and that will get you 98% of the way there.

And always, keep in mind that this isn’t Mrs. Palmer’s sixth hour English class. Don’t worry about what Mrs. Palmer would want you to do with your writing. She taught you English writing, which is FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT than the sort of writing you do in the professional/real world. You don’t EVER have to adhere to any rules that she set for you. In fact, I would argue that a lot of English teachers lied to you as you were growing up, and you’re wasting time doing what they said to do.

(They didn’t do this out of spite or for malicious reason. They were just underpaid and trying to wrangle kids to do an assignment when said kids would’ve rather been neckin’ behind the gym. Also, let’s be real. Kids take the DUMBEST things away from lectures, and hold onto them like nuggets of gold, when in fact it’s generally throwaway lines from teachers who just want you to start the assignment at least one day before it’s due.)

Your English teachers lied to you. Stop following their writing advice. Click To Tweet

So what about you? What fool-proof writing trick do you use to make sure your audience gets what you’re saying?


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?


08
Feb 17

American Public Education Made Me Who I Am

I went to public schools growing up, and because of this, American public education functionally made me who I am.

American public education made me who I am.

Sure, there were things my parents did that shaped my education. My mother, an avid reader, always kept books around and took us to the library whenever we wanted. My dad would read to us when he got home from work, which I consider to be one of my most important memories. My brother and I had toys, but all of them required an immense amount of imagination. There was never a moment in my early childhood when my brain wasn’t in use.

So when I got to school, I was ready. I remember feeling very inadequate on the first day of kindergarten when I didn’t know the difference between left and right, but overall, I was pretty much ready for anything. (Except the rich, blonde girls that plagued me for the entirety of my student career. No one is ever ready for them, though.)

American public education made me who I am. Click To Tweet

With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about American Public Education and what it’s meant to me. Or, I guess I should say, what it’s given me.

001: A Path.
When I was eight, I decided I was going to become a writer. I had just finished Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8. And for the first time, I felt that I had seen a real-life family being portrayed. In the early 1990s, there was a lot of garbage sitcoms that showed perfect families with stay-at-home moms, gigantic houses, and literally no one ever talked about money. But in the first chapter of Ramona Quimby, Age 8, it’s made clear that money is tight in the Quimby house. Later on, Ramona’s parents get in a fight. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer, and proceeded to buy several blank journals at the dollar store the next time I went to the mall.

I was in Ms. Galloway’s second grade class when I read that book. I checked out a copy of it at the school library before finally buying a copy at the school book fair. To this day, when I think of Ramona Quimby, I can smell the cherry Mr. Sketch markers I used daily in that class.

002: Perspective.
I’m constantly thankful that I was never homeschooled or sent to some elite private school for rich kids. Why? American public education gave me perspective. Because I was never cloistered away or kept from a broad cross section of my peers, I was always aware of expectations and benchmarks. My ego was never artificially inflated because I never got to the big fish in a small pond. I never got to pay my way into anything. I never got to assume my best was good enough because there were always students better than me.

I'm constantly thankful that I was never homeschooled or sent to some elite private school. Click To Tweet

Because of this, I learned quickly what my strengths were, and what I needed to work on. I can remember as early as first grade being told I was a good reader. And I can remember my junior year of high school when I worked my ass off and finally rose to the top of my Algebra II class. Without that perspective, I wouldn’t have known what to work on, or what I was good at.

003: Next-Level Emotional Intelligence.
I consider myself a communicator extraordinaire. Not only am I great at reading body language and the emotions of others, I have been known to charm my way into promotions, or coveted spots. How? Well, because I went to public school, and you absolutely have to learn that on the fly if you want to survive. And luckily for me, I had teachers who were fantastic at not only teaching the academic lessons, but who also pushed socialization.

And this didn’t end at elementary school. I can remember these lessons occurring as late as high school. Teachers didn’t hesitate to call down students and explain to them why they needed to phrase questions differently in order to achieve what they wanted, or why their body language was incorrect for their statement. At the time, it was incredibly stressful. But I am so thankful for it now, and I consider myself to be a master communicator because of it.

004: A Career.
True story: My high school freshman Spanish teacher asked me if I planned to go college. I straight up said no. I couldn’t see a need for it, and at the age of 14, I totally had everything figured out. Well, she didn’t let that comment rest, and four years later, I went to college. But I cannot stress how much the American public education system played a roll in my enrollment in college.

Without AP classes, teachers who cared way more than they had to for what they were paid, and the perspective to know that I would excel in the college environment, I wouldn’t have gone. This may not seem like that big of a revelation, but it is. Since first enrolling in college, I’ve earned a bacherlor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and now I literally teach college sophomores. ALL BECAUSE OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM.

Let me rephrase that.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the American public education system.

I’m not saying I loved every single day of school, because nobody ever does, and I’d gladly erase fourth grade all together. But I am saying that American public education has made me who I am.

I also need to state outright that my experience in the American public education system was nearly ideal. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the best districts in the state where the textbooks were never more than three years old. I debated about whether or not I should write this, just because it feels like bragging. When it comes to schools, I won the metaphorical lottery, and I know that many people can’t say that they got as lucky as I did.

But I also know this. The American public education system is flawed. And it may need an overhaul. But what it doesn’t need is a person who has never been a part of it at the helm. Betsy DeVos’s advocacy of school choice and school vouchers, I fear, will spell the end of the system that made me, a system I was hoping would make my children too.

Betsy DeVos is the end of the system that made me. Click To Tweet

I’m not ready for the American public education system to implode, nor am I ready to think about the consequences this will hold for me as a college educator.

What was I saying about nobody really being ready for the rich, blonde girls?