Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kickin' It Old School

Anyone with a mood cycling condition can tell you that concentration is an issue, especially in a hypomanic phase. It's shiny object syndrome at its worst. You get tons of great ideas and if you're lucky you write them all down, but then you have so much to do that you don't know where to start. So you don't. Instead, you get anxious. Maybe you go on Facebook and think that if you just play for a few minutes that your brain will settle down and you can start one of these tasks. It might work, but it might not. It leaves you with a lot of great ideas and nothing to show for them. When you finally get started, the alarm on your calendar or task list goes off to remind you of some impending appointment or "must do" and there goes your concentration. Or alternatively, if it's not an imminent task, you click "remind me later".... indefinitely.

I love technology, don't get me wrong, but I'm a visual, tactile person. I need to experience things. I make lists. Lots of them. On my computer, in a notebook, on sticky notes on my computer, on the white board on my fridge, in my head. The obvious issue with this is that I have 100 notes in seemingly as many places, and once again I'm overwhelmed. Why don't I put them all on the computer? Well first, I hate to have my calendar clogged with items like "check the mail". Really, I shouldn't need a note for this, but indeed I do. I want to look at my calendar and see the important items - client meeting, doctor appointment, best friend's birthday (ok I know this one by heart but still, it's on there). I make lists on a to-do app, but again, there's that issue with the "remind me later". And then it's not factored into my actual day. I need to see it laid out, with all the other things I have going on in my day, in order to establish a productive rhythm.

So yesterday, I went to CVS and bought a day planner. Yep, you heard (read) me right, a good old-fashioned day planner like I carried in high school.  Then I wrote down every project I had and broke them down into tasks. I looked at the entire week in my day planner, and day by day, hour by hour, I scheduled tasks. Every day from 9 AM to 9:30 AM is email check. This way I can adjust tasks for the day early on if something comes up in my inbox that needs immediate attention. I built in several 15 minute breaks for the day and 45 minutes to an hour for lunch depending on the day. It doesn't take me an hour to eat, but it gives me time to take my dog out, check my social media for personal purposes, and provides some wiggle room if a task really must extend it's allotted time. I also am building in "flex time" (I forgot to do this in the initial plan and need to adjust). If a new client contacts me, a new project comes up, or I just mis-judged the time certain tasks needed, I can use this flex time.

So far, I'm loving it! I feel so, so much more productive. Now when people ask me what I'm up to that day, I actually can tell them!  I can track tasks and see how much time I spend on various aspects of my day. It also limits my email and social media addiction, since time for that is scheduled in, and eliminates coffee-break procrastination (don't worry coffee breaks are scheduled too!). It's keeping me on track with tasks and I feel fulfilled and productive.

If you're having some concentration troubles, I highly suggest kickin' it old-school, day planner style. Have you discovered other tricks to help with this? I'd love to hear!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Give It A Rest

Last week I flew home from a two week trip to the Middle East. It was a wonderful but exhausting trip full of busy days and lack of sleep due to time changes and such. The second to last night of my trip, I flew from Istanbul to Dubai, landing at 1:30 AM and checking into my hotel around 3 AM. Twenty four hours later, my flight home took off at 3 AM. That's right, AM not PM. Thanks to the numerous screaming babies on the plane (and worse, the parents who screamed back at their kids instead of trying to calm them, making it doubly loud) I slept maybe three hours total, in 20- minute intervals, on the 13-hour flight back. My flight landed at 8:30 AM New York time, which was 4:30 PM Dubai time, meaning that I'd more or less been up for about 33 hours.

My jet recovery plan was simple - do a whole lot of nothing the day that I got back, as I knew my schedule for the rest of the week was pretty non-stop. But instead of nothing, I came home and unpacked my whole suitcase, cleaned, did laundry, went to my corner cafe and caught up on emails, folded laundry, picked up some groceries, made my to do lists for the rest of the week, and didn't go to bed until about 10 or 10:30 PM - which according to my body clock still on Middle East time felt like 5 or 6 AM. While none of these tasks seem especially grueling, they aren't particularly restful, which is really what I needed.

I continued through the rest of my week full of business and personal appointments and gatherings, not getting caught up on sleep whatsoever and diving right back into life. But now, my dizzy spells, which managed to disappear for about three weeks, have returned. I've spent the last two days feeling rather out of it, weak, and just not myself. I'm convinced I over-extended myself, instead of giving myself a break. Now it might seem silly that one needs to give themselves a break upon returning from vacation, but I did. Travel, jet lag, changes in climate and diet can take their toll, and you need to allow yourself to adjust. And this just doesn't just go for travelling.

We tend to push ourselves to extreme. I once sat in an airport listening to two business men compare how many hours they'd worked on how little sleep, each trying to one-up each other. It was ridiculous. I feel like our society puts entirely too much pressure on us to be super woman (man), continually increasing our work and responsibilities while decreasing our sleep, meal times, and time for ourselves and loved ones. People may think that this results in increased productivity, but in reality it results in burnout - physical, emotional, mental. It's up to us to say "no" and give ourselves the time that we need to keep healthy in each of these aspects. So next time you feel like your day-to-day life should be set to the Benny Hill theme song (if your'e too young to remember it, here you go), take a couple of minutes and jot down some ways, and times, that you can give yourself a little break. Look at all those things on your to do list - do they have to be done today? What will be the consequences if they are not? Realistically, is it worth running around with barely enough time to take a breath, let alone a meal, to avoid those consequences?

I'm curious - when was the last time you really allowed yourself a break? What did you do? How did you feel afterwards? 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Eyes Wide Open

It's been a while since I've written. I was traveling through the Middle East for two weeks, during which I barely had time for a bathroom break, let alone a blog. But I'm back now, and my experiences in these parts of the world were so incredible, that I feel the need to not only blog about them on my travel blog (naturally), but here as well.

Every time I travel I learn a lot, both about the destinations I'm traveling to and about myself. However, I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever had such a learning experience as I did on this past trip. Part of it was probably due to that fact that it was a region of the world more or less unknown to me. I've never been to the Middle East, and I admittedly didn't know nearly as much about the history or culture as I'd have liked to before I went. I think this ignorance, in the true sense of the term, is also one of the reasons I learned so much about myself on this trip. Because of it's impact, I thought I'd share a few of those thoughts here.

  • I was very embarrassed to realize that for as much as I hate being the subject of stigma and ignorance, I'm guilty of it too. I'd say at least 50 percent of the things I thought I knew about the Middle East and Islamic culture were absolutely wrong. Now in fairness, these were things I'd read in travel information and research to prepare myself for the trip - not media hype brought on by past events and such. Regardless, this trip openend my eyes on so many levels when it came to the culture, the religion, and the people of the region. 
  • I learned what a difference wide open spaces and lack of clutter can make. Coming from the city, I'm used to crowds, noise, and busy-ness, and I admittedly love it. But driving through the expansive desert, being the only car for miles, and watching a camel caravan roam by, you realize what "space" really means. And how much the lack of it can cause tension and stress. 
  • I observed which of those people in my life made the effort to reach out to me by some method or another while I was away. Two weeks is a long time to be out of people's everyday lives. It's interesting (and sometimes humbling) to see who you do hear from, and just as telling, who you don't. 
  • I realized I could handle more than I give myself credit for. I had a major client issue within my first two days there. Half way around the world (literally), an 8 hour time zone difference, and a necessary website that I was told was "not available in the UAE",  it seemed almost impossible to deal with this. But I managed to take care of it. I won't say I wasn't stressed out, but I did it. 
  • I was reminded how lucky I am. As we rode along with our private guides and hung out in our 5-star hotels, I realized that I truly am amazingly lucky. Not only monetarily, but in the fact that my family is so close that I thoroughly enjoyed a two-week vacation with my parents. I know a lot of people who cannot say that, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to be able to say that my family members are also my closest friends. 
  • I learned that even a world traveler misses some things at home - like a good cup of real American coffee, instead of Nescafe. 
  • And for fun - I realized how much of my wardrobe involves tight clothes and low necklines. I actually had to go out and buy new clothes in order to be able to dress in a way that I felt was appropriate and respectful of the cultures in the countries I was visiting! 

What lessons have you learned when you've taken yourself out of your comfort zone, into a new situation, culture, or location? I'd love to hear about them! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dream Weaver

The letter today is D. As in Dream. I am a whole-hearted believer in the power of dreams of all kinds. Today's blog, however, will focus on the type of dreaming that you do while awake, as opposed to the mysterious and intriguing stories that invade our brain in our sleep. I could write numerous posts on that aspect of dreaming alone, so I felt I'd narrow it down.

People often distinctly separate the importance of dreaming and doing. That yes it's nice to dream, but in order to achieve anything you need to do. And I do agree with that. In fact, I posted about it in a recent blog. But that blog was also about balance, emphasizing that both aspects in your life need to have give and take. Therefore, I'd also argue that in order to Do you need to dream. Not "do" as in get up in the morning, put on your pants, make some coffee. That type of action is almost mechanical. And I'm not even talking about writing those reports that your boss requires, even though it's your least favorite activity possibly ever. Again, that's one of those kind of necessary evils, at least if you want to keep your job. But I used the capital D in Do to differentiate it from the rote, routine tasks that we go through daily. I mean that kind of doing that really makes a difference in your life, in the long term. That type of doing, to me, requires dreaming.

Why? Because, quite simply, without a little dreaming - you can even call it daydreaming if you'd like - you wouldn't know where to start your doing. Think about it. If you woke up tomorrow with a clean slate and were told that you could be anything you wanted to be, that you had the skills/talents/ability to become anything you wanted,  how would you know what to do? You'd have to think of something. You'd have to reach into your mind and your heart, and say to yourself 'well what do I want to be, what do I want to do, if I have my choice of anything?".  Basically, you'd have to dream. And then, you could do. But not before you dreamt.

Dreaming, though, doesn't have to be so drastic. Our minds wander every day, numerous times. Daydreaming gets a bad rap - as in "she wasn't paying attention in the meeting she was daydreaming." And yes, it can be distracting, especially for those of us with conditions that already challenge our ability to focus. But it can also be an internal guide. If you find your mind wandering over and over again to something, or someone, there's a reason. It's something that resonates with your mind, and your heart. And it shouldn't be tossed aside as just a daydream. Because while you most likely won't wake up one day with amnesia and the superpower to have any talent you choose, your life also doesn't have to be a set, immoveable track. You do have the chance to create a fresh start. And if you're sitting at a meeting in your current job which bores you to tears, daydreaming about "if only I had taken this path and done this instead", perhaps it's time to give that some merit.

With some work - and yes, it requires work - you can start to turn that daydream, into a life dream. You can start to stop thinking of it as some fantastical idea that takes your mind off of a boring task, and start thinking of a way you can get to it. And if you don't think it's feasible entirely, think of how you can get there partially, or how you can satisfy that dream in another way. For instance, if you dream of being a touring rock musician but have little musical talent, can you take lessons for your instrument of choice? Or is there another creative outlet that you do feel you have talent in that you can use to have more creativity and play in your life? And, finally, are you sure you have no musical talent, or are you just judging yourself too hardly?

So yes, we need to do. We can't reach our life goals without effort on a regular basis. But in order to know where to start, we need to dream. What dreams do you want to follow? Why are these dreams so present in your mind? Is there a way you may be able to achieve them - and I mean not a probable chance but even the slightest? If you feel not, what else could you do to start fulfilling the need that this dream represents? Once you know this, you can start with baby steps. One tiny thing a day. And soon, that un-scaleable mountain of a dream starts to look like a more manageable hill.