Friday, January 15, 2010

Is there a way to do it all?

Thank you Melinda and Corrie for leaving those great comments for my last blog post. You got me thinking about how we creative types juggle our families, jobs and writing. What is the secret for "doing it all?" Can a woman write a book, raise her children, work a full time job, and keep her sanity all at once? Back in October, 2008, I wrote a blog post about taming my to-do list. Today, I'll write about taming my life.

Growing up in the 1970's, we girls heard over and over that thanks to Women's Liberation, a woman could "do it all." Be a mother, have a professional career, a thriving sex life (according my mother's Cosmopolitan magazines which I secretly read), be creative, master aerobics and gourmet cooking, and look great doing it.

Yeah, right.

Maybe we can do it all, but I have yet to meet a woman who is, let alone happy doing it. But I obviously keep trying. I am the mother of a teen-aged girl with multiple disabilities, requiring extra paperwork and energy just to keep things organized so she gets all the support she needs to thrive. Plus, she's a teenager with all the typical angst, joy and worry. I'm also a full time graduate student which requires me to travel to San Francisco once a week for classes. When I'm not raising my daughter and studying, I publish books and manage my company. And then, if I've stayed supremely organized, I grab a few hours a week to work on my own writing. I've been managing this crazy schedule for over a year with some success, and now I have extra gray hair to show for it. People ask me how I do it all, to which I say, "I just do." Not very helpful, I know. This time, I'll do my best to write down some of the things I've learned that allow me to keep working so hard.

Doing it all while keeping a semblance of sanity

1) Read the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, by Stephen Covey, and follow his advice. His system of identifying what is Urgent, Important, and not Important helped me learn to prioritize successfully. It was after I read his book and then completed the accompanying workbook that I was able to successfully create a publishing company.

2) A lot can be accomplished in only 15 minutes. You don't have to wait for a free hour: grab a few minutes to work on a task. 15 minutes is enough time to load the washer, respond to a few emails, jot down notes for a story idea, edit a paragraph, write a few sentences, pay some bills, read a few pages of my textbook... not all at once of course. Those 15 minutes stack up throughout the day and before you know it you'll have several things crossed off your list.

3) Don't worry about perfection. I can do a lot, but I can't do it all perfectly. Sometimes "good enough" needs to be enough. Know when to let a task go and move on. If you spend all your time fretting over the details of one task, that single task will eat up your whole day. I keep all the Medusa's Muse paperwork up to date as much as possible, but that doesn't mean it's all in perfect order. As long as all the receipts are in one place and I keep an ongoing tally of sales, I'm ready for tax season. I could spend hours updating and tweaking my Excel files, but for what? My records are organized, but not exactly pretty. The same goes for my writing, or when I'm working on a manuscript for the press. I can spend (and have spent) hours revising a page, changing wording, adding and deleting sensory detail, fretting over every comma, until days have passed. It's important to create your best work, but it's also important to know when to stop. Let go and move on.

4) Appearances don't matter. My house is clean, but not tidy. I'm a stickler for a clean bathroom and kitchen, and since I'm allergic to dust I vacuum and dust regularly, but otherwise, I don't worry so much about the clutter (I'm writing this during a major de-cluttering project, so obviously I do have a clutter tolerance level). I haven't washed a window in two years and my yard is full of weeds. When I have time, I pull some of them and clean something that really needs it (the wall behind the garbage can sure needs it!), but for the most part, I don't worry about what the neighbors or my mother think. Am I really going to waste some of my precious time fretting over the fact that my car needs washing? When I have a spare 15 minutes, I'll wash the car. Otherwise, I let my neighbors gossip all they want.

5) Decide what's most important. Prioritizing is the key to getting things done. And those priorities can change from day to day. Is it more important today to update your blog, or edit your manuscript? Of course both are important, but which one takes precedence NOW. Do you need to organize all your receipts for H and R block, or balance your check book? Do you need to watch The Lord of the Rings, or clean out your closet? Sometimes, watching a movie is the priority.

6) Be nice to yourself. Occasionally you'll need to flop on the couch and zone out with a movie and a bowl of popcorn. This is important brain down-time. Do not beat yourself up with guilt for watching a movie; guilt will undermine the purpose of brain down-time. Tell yourself, "Right now I'm going to watch this movie and when it's over I'll return those phone calls." Then fully enjoy that movie.

7) However, procrastination is the enemy. When you need to get something done, do it. Don't sit on the couch and watch TV when there's an important task needing your attention. At the end of the day you'll feel guilty for not getting anything done and your to-do list will keep growing until you feel completely overwhelmed, which can create the urge for more procrastination. Do what needs doing.

8) Take care of your body. Don't allow yourself to sit at your desk and snack on cookies and drink coffee all day. Drink water. Avoid sugar. Go for a long walk. It's easy to skip exercise because you think you don't have time, but remember what I said about 15 minutes. If all you have is a short burst of time, then crank up the tunes and dance around your living room. Doing this will not only help your body feel good, but will shake the cobwebs out of your brain from staring at a computer screen too long. I find that the better I care for my body, the more she'll do for me.

9) Keep your sense of humor. If that goes, you're done for. You need to laugh at the chaos and at yourself now and then. When I've got myself in a tail-spin because I've decided that 6 things on my list are urgent but there's only time to get 4 tasks done, I laugh at myself for trying to be Wonder Woman. Instead of hyperventilating, I laugh loudly, which breaks through the stress and helps me see things clearly again. Laughter has carried me through some hard exams and a few very long nights.

10) But most of all, ask for help when you need it. I know it can feel like a personal failure when you get stuck and have to ask someone to help you, but it's the best thing you can do for yourself. There is no failure in trying your best and needing support. I ask for help all the time, from my writing group, my husband, my copy-editor Jane, the publisher's associations I belong to, my brother, my college professors, my therapist, people on the internet, and my real world friends. Without all of these people and their various expertise, I would be unable to do 1/4 of what I do. It is through their support that I am able to go to school, be a publisher, take care of my child, and keep writing.

That all being said, I've recently discovered one more important thing about doing it all: sometimes you simply can't. There are periods of time when you'll be forced to make some tough decisions because your life is too complicated. Despite your best efforts, it will be impossible to accomplish everything you're trying to do. Sacrifices will have to be made, and it will become extremely important to know where your priorities are. For me, I discovered that I can't publish any more books until I finish grad school. This was a hard decision because I love acquiring new manuscripts and working with authors. It's the whole reason I started the press. However, no matter how much I love the work, it is impossible to keep publishing right now. I'm not shutting down the press, I'm just not accepting any new books. Instead I'll focus on school, my child, and my own writing for a while.

My own writing. That could be fun.

What helps you stay creative while juggling all that you do? Any good ideas on keeping your sanity?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have given some excellent points here and offered very worthwhile advice. I have a chaotic life too, probably because of all I try to cram into it. Having a child with autism doesn't, surprisingly, add to the chaos, it just makes it more interesting.

I'm so glad you touched on appearances! My house is permanently in need of a clean and I very rarely do it. I'm not a dirty person but I just find that other jobs take priority. And the dust, oh my, you'd need a face mask if you came to my house!

I do have to laugh at myself often. Otherwise I will definitely lose my sense of humour.

I think it is possible to do it all, so long as you realise you won't be able to do it all to perfection.

I always make time for breaks during my day, time away from the computer to give my brain and my eyes a rest. And time to eat, breakfast is so important to me.

CJ xx