Wormholes, Best Trick in Beating Resistance, and Perfectionism

Wormholes
And here’s where the concept of Wormholes comes in. Wormholes, as I define them, are these little breaks of opportunity in my great wall of resistance. They’re the moments when I feel like maybe, if the circumstances were just right, I might possibly be talked into:
• Giving up bananas (they are SO not local)
• Organizing my office
• Writing a new song
• Doing more than just my one sun salutation in the morning
• Doing more than just 2 miles in my morning run
• Doing whatever totally heinous chore has been on my To Do list since two years ago Christmas (Today it’s finding a new stylus for our aged turntable; last week it was filling out copyright forms to register the songs on our new CD)

Now, if I take advantage of these miraculous wormholes, the impossible not only can happen, but usually does with remarkable ease, especially if I have a little grace and humility about it. I resist playing the guitar until I stop telling myself I’m supposed to be playing the guitar. Then, usually, I want to play it. I go through phases with it, and today I know that about myself. Some years I practice diligently, with love and great enthusiasm and creativity. Other years, I coast along. Even though I have made my living as a singer-songwriter who plays the guitar, I know I will never be a virtuoso. What I have done is evolved my own style, and today it’s good enough for me. And I got that style from a certain amount of “just doing it,” as a certain shoe company would say. Just showing up and gritting my teeth and pushing that Sloth to play scales and figure out songs. On the most wonderful days, actual enthusiasm would appear in the middle of a practice session, and I know there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than just joyfully banging away at my guitar.

Best Trick Beating Resistance
“Play till you feel like resting. Then rest till you feel like playing.”––Martha Beck

When I have a lot to do and I don’t feel like doing anything, I make a deal with myself. I say, “Okay, then: do nothing. But really do nothing.”
Doing nothing involves reclining on my couch and staring into space. I do not get to talk on the phone, read, check my email, or sleep. On the other hand, I do not have to meditate, count my breaths or practice any kind of spiritual discipline whatever. All I do is space out. Somehow, this always relaxes and refreshes me, and before too long, my spinning mind has a million things it wants my body to do. I jump up and start accomplishing all the tasks I was fixing to resist.

Perfectionism is the Enemy
So when I look back on my “goals” list, my IAP sees all the things I haven’t done and won’t ever do. (Not going to be the next Beatles. I am clear on that. Don’t think Harvard Div’s in my future either, but that’s another story.) My IAP can sometimes be quite disappointed. But the truth is, I played the guitar well enough to make a career that has sustained me emotionally and financially and artistically for the past 22 years. Instead of becoming the next Beatles, I have this fantastic patchwork life: a manageable, wonderful music career, and a life as a freelance teacher of writing, music and life. I get to write books, go to my kids’ assemblies, and have date night with my husband once a week.
Like the person who really wanted to be a gardener in Ogunquit, the Real Me chooses the life I have made over the life I thought I should have when I was 22. This life, as they say, is right-sized. But I am also glad I gave it my all and “went for it.”

From How to Be an Adult: A Musician’s Guide to Navigating Your Twenties, by Nerissa Nields, Mercy House 2013

Setting Goals and Resistence, part 1

Today, Katryna and I rehearsed (and even kind of wrote!) songs for our new CD. So my post is from my book How to Be an Adult: A Musician’s Guide to Navigating Your Twenties. Makes an excellent graduation gift. Just saying.

Setting Goals
Goal-setting is probably not new to you. Who hasn’t at some point tried to achieve something just beyond one’s reach? How does one do such a thing? By working a little harder, a little longer, a little more often, in a focused way. We can set goals for ourselves around almost anything: making it through school, training for a race, mastering an instrument, achieving a social status, winning a chess ranking, winning first prize at a Rubik’s Cube tournament. When I was 22, my goals were: to never have to feel lonely again; to start a band that would be the next Beatles; to write a hit song; to look great in a Betsey Johnson dress; to have a daily yoga practice; to run every day; to keep a daily journal; to (eventually—many years in the future) have a family; to go to Harvard Divinity School and be a minister living in western Massachusetts.

Dealing With Resistance
The problem with setting goals is that as soon as we do, 95% of us come up against the source of all evil: Resistance. [For more on Resistance, you must MUST read the excellent Steve Pressfield’s The War of Art.] Resistance, as I am defining it here, means not doing something you know you want to do, ought to do, love to do, and won’t do––yet have no logical reason for not doing. There is something about the nature of resistance that speaks to the very heart of this question of maturity. We all know resistance in some aspect of our lives; we all know that huge creature slouching toward the mall, if not Bethlehem, this three-toed sloth who sleeps all day in the cool of the trees and rouses itself only to eat and excrete. We all know the frustration of setting a goal—to keep our living room tidier, to jog three miles in the morning, to practice the guitar, to send out that resumé, to straighten out our finances––only to watch as the weeks go by and helplessly observe that sickening refusal in some deep part of ourselves to participate. What is it? Where does it come from?

I have no idea. All I know is that I recognize this sloth in myself, and it baffles me that I have accomplished as much as I have, given its hegemony over me. But I do have some observations.

Of course, if we never set goals, we’d never have to deal with resistance. I tend to see the whole issue of resistance to goals in myself as a conversation between a very willful, creative child and a very ambitious parent with the “Real You” stuck somewhere in the middle.

Sigmund Freud uses the terms “id,” “superego” and “ego” here, but some of us have problems with old Siggy, so I’ve provided some alternative jargon for you. Perhaps your resistance is actually healthy and self-protective. What if the goals you are setting for yourself are the wrong goals anyway? What if these particular goals do not support your true dreams and desires? What if the Real You––your true self before socialization, the unique person you were meant to be during your brief sojourn on this planet—what if this You does not care about glamour and fame and money? The Real You might think your perfect manifestation to be a gardener in the town of Ogunquit, Maine. The Real You might fall in love with an overweight, illiterate cab driver with eyes like Tom Hanks’ and a heart as big as Canada. The Real You might just want what it is meant to want.

Your Inner Ambitious Parent (IAP), on the other hand, is who and what our peers, People magazine, The New York Times and perhaps our actual ambitious parents tell us we should be––what we should look like, how much money we should make and what we should accomplish in our lifetime. Your IAP has been told to follow in the family business, or to be a doctor or a lawyer or something (please, God) that will provide our parents with some security upon retirement. Your IAP might want you to be straight, though sometimes, in some communities, gay. Your IAP wants you to contain your feelings (unless it’s Italian, which means it wants you to be extremely emotive, operatic, and a good cook and lover to boot. Pardon the “boot” pun). In short, the Real You and your IAP might be worlds apart.

Maybe the reason you keep procrastinating on your screenplay or sleeping through your morning workout is that you don’t really want to be an award winning documentary filmmaker or a triathlete. Maybe your house continues to be a disaster area, even though you subscribe religiously to FlyLady , because you don’t really want your house to look like it sprung from the pages of House Beautiful. Maybe this resistance is some kind of divine protection, a cry from the dark saying, “This is not me!”

The Willful Child on the other hand is not that helpful either, though some of us in our teens and twenties champion our WC and follow her on a long goose chase to degradation (see The Prodigal Son and a bazillion other characters in literature). The Willful Child is not that keen on making money, friends, or attending to personal hygiene. She’s fun for awhile, but not for a lifetime. You really don’t want her running the show, or you’ll end up like one of my actual willful children who, on occasion, refuses TV and candy simply because their actual IAP (me) is offering it to him or her. Or in my case, the WC is that same sloth spoken of earlier who doesn’t so much stamp her foot but rather curls up on the couch for an entire season if left undisturbed. Life, of course, is a process of finding that balance between chaos and rigidity. The balance point changes over time, which is why we need to practice balancing a lot.

(For tomorrow: The Problem (For Some of Us) About Setting Goals)

Time Consciousness

Time Consciousness

I like the term “time consciousness” better than “time management” because we don’t really manage our time. We think we can, and this causes all sorts of frustrations and forms of mental illness. It’s the illusion of time management that leads to all manner of anxiety and uptight behavior. How can you manage the sun rising and setting? You just have to surrender to it. Besides, as an artist, one of the first rules I learned was that serendipity (which is, by definition, that which is out of one’s control) was the very best song-giver. At the same time, I found early on that the way to be open to serendipity was to leave myself designated times to create, to even go so far as schedule “write songs” into my day planner. We’d be in the van driving around, and I’d start to get that anxious feeling that I always get when I haven’t written a song in awhile. I’d look around quickly and confirm that it would be impossible for me to pull a guitar out of the attached trailer while driving 65 mph down Route 80, and instead sigh and write “songwriting week” into my calendar during the second week of March, the next time we were off the road.

The week of March would arrive; I would come downstairs first thing in the morning with my cup of coffee, notebook, and guitar, and I would write all week until the songs were written. It seemed to work pretty well. But during the interim, I acted like a little video camcorder, taking everything in, jotting down ideas, and humming tunes into a tape recorder. Whatever crossed my path turned into potential material for my songs. This is still pretty much the way I write. I go around figuring the universe is trying to tell me something, so I’d better listen.

The other reason I like the term “time consciousness” is the way it connects to the marvelous truth that all we ever have is this moment, and another way of saying that is all we really have is time. And maybe not as much of it as we assume. I try to hold this loosely, so that I’m not neurotically thinking “must get this done before I die” in a freaked-out, Type A kind of way; neither am I just lolling about eating bon bons and watching American Idol (though Katryna might be). I try to keep a schedule and also an eye open to the plans of others, in case they have a better idea of what I should be doing with my time than I do. Sort of like that excellent 38 Special song “Hold On Loosely.”

To buy the book, go here! Available as an ebook or a paperback!

Time, Resistance and Priorities–From How to Be an Adult

This chapter starts with what I consider some important skills to develop when moving from the carefree, fake-cheese eating world of adolescence to the kale omelet world of Adulthood. These skills are:
1. An ability to know who you are, so you know what you like, so you know what you want, so you know what you need, so you know what you must do.
2. An ability to work with the currency of Time
3. An ability to deal with the related issue of inner resistance, otherwise known as DPI (Desire to Procrastinate Indefinitely)
Now, some of you soon-to-be-adults will have no need for the chapters that follow, and if that be the case, skip ahead to the practical sections on exercise, food and sleep, and knock yourselves out. Your problems (if you have any) may have more to do with sitting back and relaxing rather than kicking your own butt, which may be sore from all the lunges and squats you’ve done over the years. There’s a section just for you a little later on. It’s called “Eight Cheap Forms of Therapy.” For the rest of us who know a little something about sitting in front of the TV for five days straight eating nothing but microwave popcorn and diet Shasta, read on.

Know Thyself

Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that.
––Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Everyone seems to know that Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Very well. What most people ignore is that the character who says this oft-quoted line is the big blowhard and hypocrite and oh, by the way, spy, Polonius. In the context of the scene within the play Hamlet, what he really means by this bit of wisdom adopted by the New Age, is, “Make sure whatever you do, you look appropriate and protect your interests.” Still, there’s a reason the New Agers (and many Hallmarky-type cards and refrigerator magnets) have sold this quote. It’s valuable advice. Even so, because as a teenager I really hated Polonius, I prefer Socrates’s “Know Thyself,” which is more succinct.

How do you know who you are, anyway? Until you do, you can’t really do much. You just kind of whirl around in circles, following whatever is the most sparkly (or safe) person, situation, trend, idea, diatribe, religion. You get your idea of self (usually) from your family of origin, or perhaps from your social group at school or elsewhere. But what if they are all saying things that don’t ring true to you?

Get out of the house, and get out of town. Or at least, begin to question: what feels unharmonious to you about the messages you’re getting from these people? Are they walking their talk? More importantly, are you? When you listen to that core set of values deep inside yourself, does it match how you are behaving on the outside? When your inside matches your outside, we call this “integrity.” Look for others with this quality. Get to know them. These people are the real deal. As Gandhi says, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Figuring out who you are and what you like and what you want and what you need is a lifelong pursuit. Some get clarity earlier than others; you might already have a very good idea of who you are and what you do best and what you like and what you want and (sometimes hardest of all) what you need. If you know these things about yourself already, use your knowledge to be—to paraphrase Dr. Seuss–– the Youest You you can possibly be. If you don’t, take some time to find out. It does take that most valuable resource: time. I first took this kind of time the summer I turned fourteen and was leaving the school I’d attended for seven years to move on to high school. I lay in my bed every morning, thinking, “who am I really?” And by the end of the summer I’d made some important discoveries. First, that (like my heroes, John Lennon and Bob Dylan) I was an artist, and therefore (necessarily) different from everyone else. And second, that therefore I didn’t need to worry about “fitting in” anymore. Eventually everyone would catch on that I was hip, but for now, I could march to the proverbial beat of a different drummer. With these empowering discoveries, I had a huge surge of energy and creativity. I began writing songs; I spoke out about what I believed; I started to wear a lot of red and purple, and also strange hippie garb from the Salvation Army. “I have found myself!” I announced audaciously to anyone who cared to listen. (I really impressed my mom, but my sisters told me later that they were horribly embarrassed for me.)

And indeed, I had found myself. But then “myself” changed, and I realized I looked terrible in red and that I wasn’t really a hippie. We discover ourselves like the layers of the onion. It’s an ever-evolving process. We have to keep asking ourselves what we really love, and make sure we are not swayed by the opinions of others. If all our friends were suddenly abducted on a spaceship and we were left with a totally different crowd, would we adopt the new crowd’s preferences and predilections? Would we stay true to what we loved now that we are a part of the (now Martian) crowd? Or are we secretly glad our old buddies have moved onward and upward? In fact, you might want to listen carefully to those outside your strongest spheres of influence. If you are a diehard Christian, read the Koran. If you are a lifelong Democrat, read Atlas Shrugged. If you grew up listening only to classical music, try some hip-hop. Don’t let others define you. Make up your own mind. See for yourself.

Play a game of “What Do You Like Better?” Oatmeal or chocolate chip? Red or blue? Liberty or Justice? Urban or Rural? When in the day is your energy strongest? What makes you lose your temper? Which is harder for you: anger or sadness? Which is harder for you: your own feelings or the feelings of others? Do you really like jazz? Big drooly dogs? Ernest Hemingway? Short hair? Sci-Fi? Downhill skiing? Or do you just wish you were that kind of person?

To some of you who have strong, healthy egos these questions might seem ridiculous. But I must confess that when I was in my teens I “put on” a lot of likes, dislikes and opinions that were not quite true to who I really was—and I certainly believed I had a healthy ego, and I came across to my friends as a leader. Looking back, here are some of my “should likes.”

• Camping
• Rush (the band)
• Charles Dickens’ novels
• Soccer
• Lord of the Rings

And some “should not likes.”
• Tiny cuddly dogs
• Peter Paul & Mary
• Makeup
• Woody Allen (I know I’m supposed to hate him, but…)
• iPhones
• Starbucks

Some of these are things I realized as a young girl. I should definitely not like:
• To play with dolls
• To like fairy tales
• To wear pink
• To watch The Brady Bunch
• To re-read the Little House books when I was in 7th grade

And so I did these things in secret. I “put on” being a tomboy instead.

Even as I write this, I am cringing. I don’t want anyone to know some of my true likes and dislikes. But one of my favorite parts of Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful Happiness Project is her First Commandment (to “Be Gretchen.”) This reminds me of the Hindu observation that God dwells within us as us. Those quirks we can’t stand about ourselves––they are divinely wrought. And our work is not to eradicate them but to learn to love them.

The older I get, the more permission I give myself to love what I really love. Our twenties are a time when we start to put down the masks and stop trying on different personae. By the time you hit thirty, you should be well on your way in a lifelong game of Hot/Cold (“Warmer….warmer…hot! Hot! Hot! You’ve found it!”).

“Why try to be a Pekingese if you are a Greyhound?” Listen to the still small voice within. Get to know it. Take it out on dates. Write to it. Talk to it, but also listen. See if it has any better ideas. Some people have an Inner Child. (More on this coming up.) In addition to my Inner Child, I seem to have been gifted with an Inner Sneering Older Brother, whom I probably acquired from reading too much Creem Magazine when I was a teen. Some of my work today involves standing up to that Inner Sneering Older Brother (ISOB) and singing, “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow!” or some similar drippy 80s ballad. (ISOBs hate 80s ballads, 100% of the time.)

Now is the time to do something wild and crazy. Join the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or teach English abroad. Move to New York City or Los Angeles and live the life of a starving artist. Move to Bhutan and become a monk or nun. Go to Europe and be the founder of a political movement. Start a rock band like I did and travel around the country. Or, if you know you are going to end up being an artist, take a few years to do something totally different. (One of my friends from college became a cop. He’s now a writer. What amazing material he got during those years!) You will never be this unencumbered and free again! And your back will never enjoy sleeping on other people’s floors as much as it does now! Seize your moment!

This of course assumes you have your college loan situation under control. Mindful of paying off the bills, do so—in the most adventurous way possible within your comfort zone. And use your weekends for exploration. Take a weekend to be alone. Go on a Vision Quest. In Native American tradition, youths are sent away with no food (usually) to spend a period of time communing with their spirit guide. At the end of this period, they come back to the tribe clear on what direction their future will take.
Can you find a way to do something similar? I am only asking because, adult though (I think) I am, I wish I could say that I have done a Vision Quest. Everything about it terrifies me: the wilderness, the fasting, the insects, the boredom. That’s why I think it might be necessary. Next edition, I hope to report back.

One more thing about my crazy vision quest idea: it is worth noting that in every ancient tradition on every continent the young males went through some kind of initiation rite (the young females did not because they were usually impregnated at that point and/or breastfeeding, and believe me, motherhood is a pretty thorough initiation rite in and of itself). The point is, people have known for millennia the necessity of taking time apart to know oneself so that one can find one’s place in the community, make choices that are true and right and not end up like Zelig, the famous Woody Allen character who, chameleon-like, became whoever the people he encountered wanted him to be. Too many of us fail to buck peer pressure even when we’re well beyond Junior High. “Know thyself” is an ongoing project; the work of a lifetime.

To buy the book, go here! Sale this week: ebook=$2.99!

Also, which cover do you like most? This?

Or this?

10 Things I Know About Time Management

Somehow, against all odds, I have become a pretty good time manager. This from a girl who used to lie on her back helpless under the weight of the world, AKA procrastination. For many years, I was unable to do the things I most wanted to do, namely my homework, any kind of exercise, or to practice my instrument. The needed effort to get up for any reason other than to open the refrigerator to forage for a snack just wasn’t there. But people can change.

I just celebrated my 45th birthday. 45 is a prodigious number, and for women it holds special significance, as 45 really is (usually, anyway) the age after which we won’t be having (any more) children. But I spent a lot of time on my birthday remembering another turning of the year: the birthday when I turned twenty. That was the year I began to grow up, the year I planted a lot of seeds that have been coming to fruition ever since. I told the blogging class I teach to do a practice post in which the writer offered some bit of wisdom or information in her/his own voice, concisely and with some humor. I thought I’d try to do the exercise too, so today, here is what I know about my topic du jour: time management.

Ten Time Consciousness Maxims

1. Get really clear on priorities, and do first upon awakening the thing that matters most. Getting clear on priorities is actually the hardest part of time management. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t do it. (More on this coming up.) Instead, you’ll race around doing what others want, or you’ll be like I was, flat on your back or glued to a TV screen with one finger in a jar of almond butter. How do you find out what you want? Get to know yourself. For me, this meant writing in a journal (another thing I wanted to do but couldn’t–until I took advantage of a wormhole.) Eventually, I just made myself write first thing when I got up in the morning. It was like having a therapy session with myself. The writing was awkward at first, but over time I got to like it. And more importantly, I got to like me. What mattered most? It changed over time, but when I was twenty, it was music. So on songwriting days, I’d pour the coffee and sit down on the carpet with my guitar and notebook. Later, it became journaling. Then exercise, then meditation. Now it’s my husband and kids; I am sure to give them my full attention when they first wake up.
Conversely, to find out what doesn’t matter, do this exercise: make a graph of a week and systematically write down exactly how you spend your waking hours (and how much you sleep, for that matter.) Don’t try to edit your actions. Honesty is key here. If you spend 14 hours a week watching TV, write it down. At the end of the week, see how much time you actually spend working, exercising, emailing, Facebooking (who knew that word would become a gerund? Sorry about that.) See where your “lost” time is. With this knowledge, you can move forward and make the changes necessary to do the activities you really want to be doing.

2. Maximize Your High-Energy Time Zones. You might already know when in the day you have the most energy. Then again, you might regulate yourself by dosing up with caffeine and beer. This might work for now while your body is at its vigorous peak, but sooner or later your circadian rhythms will take over, and at this point it will be very helpful to (in unison, please): Know yourself.
One miserable summer between sophomore and junior year, I decided I might as well sleep between 1-6, whether am or pm. I seemed to thrive from sunrise to about lunch, and then wilt until dinnertime. Undaunted, I just drank some more caffeine.
Later, I solved this problem by taking a fifteen-minute power nap at about 12:30pm. And then drinking some caffeine. But I still tend not to schedule anything very important during what I think of as my low energy zones: 11-1pm and after 9pm (though if we have a gig, I am usually still onstage at 9pm.
I do notice that my energy is highest when I first get up. (I recognize that this is not true for everyone). So I like to use this high-energy time to do something I might not have the wherewithal to do later. In the beginning, I chose to journal every day first thing. Later, this switched to meditation and exercise. After many years, I know that I write best in the evening, and that midday is a great time to read or watch a portion of a video. My appetite peaks at 7am, 11:30am and 5pm, so that’s when I eat. I used to eat dinner at 7pm when my parents always ate, but this meant I was “dalling down” (my daughter’s phrase for starving to death) and snacked like crazy in the late afternoon. Now I just cut to the chase and serve everyone dinner then.
Notice your own high and low energy zones. Eat when you’re hungry, rest when you’re tired. Don’t hitch your rhythms to anyone else’s and see what comes naturally.

3. Find a planner and get married to it. Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out strongly suggests choosing just one, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s when I write the kids’ friends’ birthday parties down on my wall calendar and neglect to put it on iCal that I get into trouble by double booking myself at a reading in Brookline. Keep all dates and to do lists in one place.

4. Your datebook and your to-do list are like Donnie & Marie. Apologies to those born after 1977. What I mean by this is that your to-do list is useless if you don’t schedule in when you are going to do each to-do. To this end, the first event you need to honor is an hour a week of planning time, and then five minutes a day following that up, with calendar and to-do lists in hand. I look at my week on Sunday night, and I write down what needs to get done and when I am going to do it. I refine this process each morning, going day by day.* Inevitably there are surprises: my manager will email me to remind me that I need to send out a newsletter to our fans, and then my two hours to write my novel or find my summer clothes in the attic gets postponed. I go through phases where housekeeping is more important, and phases where it takes the back burner. Ditto the amount of time I spend trying to look presentable. But I always make time for family, exercise, writing, music and reflection. (In fact, there usually ends up little time for anything else. Oh, well.)

5. Schedule Down Time and Family Time or Risk Burnout and Fallout. And Possibly Divorce Enough said.

6. Leave Space for God/Chance/Lila/Sh*t Happens. Whenever I schedule myself to the minute, I get tripped up. I am not running the show. If I don’t give myself big margins in between the things I want to do, nothing in my life seems to work. I have a strong sense that God wants me to help out. So I leave space to make phone calls, take phone calls, make a meal for a friend in need, pick up someone’s kid for a play date (and this means leaving space and margins in my kids’ schedules), have an impromptu date with my husband.

7. Wisely Use Small Pockets of Time. For things I don’t like to do, I work well in tiny increments, say 15 minutes or less. Any more makes me anxious. So I trick myself by saying, “I don’t feel like cleaning up the dishes right now, but I’ll just do it for 5 minutes.” Then I set the timer and go. Usually, if/when the timer goes off, I ignore it because by then I am immersed in my task, it’s almost done and I have a rage to finish it. Here are some things I can do in small pockets/packets of time:
-make one phone call
-meditate (15 minutes, sadly, is really my limit, even though I have been a meditator for almost 15 years and honestly believe it is the key to all happiness)
-run around the park (I shoot for 20 minutes of running per day or 30 minutes of walking)
-ablutions (5)
-dishes (I say 5 but it’s usually 10-15)
-my daughter’s violin practice (30 though I trick us both by saying “short practice today”)
-guitar practice (my own, sadly, 10 minutes, once in a blue moon)
-check in/snack with husband (every evening, 20 minutes)
-“reading” audiobook on iPhone (every chance I get, especially while cleaning or running)
-yoga (5-7 minutes-good for one sun salutation or the stomach series in Pilates)
-journaling (Dar Williams gave me a Five Year Journal five years ago. It’s the best. I can only write about 1″ by 2″ worth of text per day. But over time, I can look back and see what I was doing the previous year(s). I used to write 3pp of long hand every day. Not so much since having kids.)

8. Don’t Kill Your TV. That’s what I did. Yes, I’m way more productive, but I miss out on all the cool shows. I am hopelessly behind on Downton Abbey, and I have never even seen Mad Men. When I used to watch TV, I would multitask. I would knit and mend clothes and sew on buttons, or I’d prepare a mailing. Since I don’t have TV, I don’t have any pockets of time to do these sorts of tasks, and so I don’t do them at all. Plus, there’s something really great about watching a show with your honey. Then again, there’s something really great about actually talking to your honey, which is what I get to do.

I’m being a bit facetious, of course; and partly I am reacting from having just read Laura Vanderkam’s awesome book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think in which she makes many good arguments for killing one’s TV. I did stop watching TV, about 10 years ago, and I don’t miss it (that much). Vanderkam’s book is excellent at showing how to minimize wasted time, and she defines wasted time as driving around to do errands, cleaning up one’s house, making meals, doing laundry. She says that if you can afford to, offload all these chores onto someone else. But I’d argue that some of these tasks can become “found” time, the way I used to “find” time to do my knitting while I watched TV. Here is what I do while simultaneously doing housework, including laundry.
-listen to an audiobook like Laura Vanderkam’s
-listen to music or a podcast or the radio
-catch up with myself
-think about a song idea or plot for a novel
-cultivate mindfulness
-talk to my husband or child
-make a phone call
-plan my week

9. Do It Now. My parents taught Katryna and me this major life lesson when we were wee lassies. They had it embossed on some Scotch glasses (naturally), and I must say, they modeled that behavior pretty darn well. The idea behind Do It Now is that you are and you will be busy. So busy that if you don’t do it now (“it” being, let’s say, a bill from the phone company, and “do” being “pay it”), it will become an annoying piece of paper in your inbox whose little burst of energy has been lost. It won’t get paid on time, and you will end up paying a penalty. Same with answering email: if I read the email and don’t respond right away, I inevitably lose a bit of my enthusiasm for the response. (Though sometimes, if the email invokes a too strong response from me, it’s probably better for me not to do it now.)
Whenever you get the idea to do something worthy, at least consider doing it now. This works really well if you’re in the kitchen and have just finished a meal and there’s not a lot else going on and you remember that you need to call the plumber to fix your toilet. It doesn’t work so well if you’re in bed with your lover and you suddenly think about alphabetizing your books.

The other big time management life lesson my parents taught, which went along with Do It Now, is “you’ll feel really good about yourself if you do what you’re supposed to do when you said you would do it.” Of course, this might come under the category of “brainwashing,” but it was an effective way to internalize a strong parental directive.
One caveat: I am especially keen to organize my systems—RIGHT NOW– when I have a project due, especially a book. If I am supposed to be writing, I suddenly become very interested in organizing my spice rack and sorting through my children’s clothes. There is a reason for this. The creative part of one’s brain feels safer when it’s in a structured environment. I have no idea if this is true, but I do know that every writer I’ve met agrees that, helpful or not, they feel compelled to clean house before they sit down to write. It seems the very act of cleaning and sorting gives the brain a burst of serotonin and energy. After de-cluttering, I write like a fiend, have fantastic conversations and am prone to do spontaneous handstands.

10. Give Perfectionism the Boot. Perfectionism, says Anne Lamott, is the enemy of the people. It’s a sad, evil lie, the single worst foe of all creative types. Perfectionism is the Devil Incarnate. Perfectionism whispers to us, “This is your one and only chance. Don’t blow it.” And then we’re stymied. God tells us, “I’ve got your back. Go for it. You’ll learn from your mistakes. There are no wrong turns, as long as you follow the dictates of your heart and stay honest.”

*By “I” I actually mean Julie Morgenstern. If I, Nerissa Nields, were to actually do this step, I’d be so evolved and productive that I would probably not be writing this blog, having realized that it’s impossible to both maintain a blog and write songs and novels and other books. But I have not planned well, and so here you have this post.