Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Hustle Culture is Destroying Your Creativity – Avoid the Burnout

I’ve been lucky the last couple of years to work with dear friends and amazing people on a variety of projects. One thing we’ve told each other a lot this past year is that we have to remember to rest. I have a tendency to try to fix one more thing, or do one more project, which feeds into a habit of working all the time.

This year, it finally caught up with me. I had two months where I just did not want to write or create anything. I felt like my creative well was completely dry, which honestly freaked me out because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in things like “writer’s block.” I do believe that our creative energy is finite to an extent. A few years ago I saw someone refer to it as your “creative cup” and that you have to be mindful of what is drawing from it.

For the first time in years, I completely drained that cup and this time I had no idea how to fill it back up. I tried my usual methods, start a new story, clean a space in my house, etc. Nothing worked, I was just drained. I was also working incredibly hard, on-call for a community I had built 24/7 that was fine a few years ago but now it had grown so much I could not just answer every call or try to fix every problem. For some people, this would be the point where they put down firm boundaries and stopped jumping at notifications. I am not able to do that. Because of the way my brain works, I tend to want to answer notifications/emails/etc. immediately, so I realized I had to step out of my position in that community and take some time to re-connect with myself.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in the last few years. I loved the space and I loved the people I worked with, but I knew what I was doing was not sustainable and that the people I worked with had better boundaries than I did.

I realized it was time to take a real break and figure out what came next.

I had to change my strategies for filling my creative cup back up, and these were the questions that helped me work out what path I needed to take going forward.

  • What do I want my daily life and routines to look like? For me, I didn’t want to be on call 24/7 anymore. I wanted to wake up and choose the routine to start my day. Right now, it includes figuring out theme for my day, 3 tasks to focus on (research says that’s really all you can do in a day), writing down what I plan to do for exercise and ways to relax/play each day.
  • What was the most draining about my past projects? Can I avoid those aspects in the future? My choice on this question was that I will not take on volunteer projects unless A. I love the project, I’m excited about it and it’s helping me move myself/my career forward. or B. The project has to work with my schedule and pay me for my time. If it doesn’t fit that basic criteria, I can’t take it on.
  • Will I be happy I did this in five to ten years? I’ve seen a lot of posts that ask you to think about when you’re old and gray, but I want to go a bit less forward. If it is not something I think I’ll look back on and smile in five years, I need to approach the project carefully and decide if it is worth it.
  • Am I working with someone who values my work? If the answer is “no” one thing the last year has definitely taught me is that it’s time to get out. I’ve spent too much time building up people who take my work and effort for granted. If they can’t say “thank you” and recognize my skills, it’s time to step out.

Lastly, thank the people who have supported you and recognized your need for growth. Also, if they do recognize your skills but it doesn’t fit with your vision for your life and future, remember to tell those folks how much you care about them and thank them for the ways they’ve supported you. For me, I’ve worked with some amazing people in volunteer positions that I’ve had to step down from as I grew as a person. As my career progresses, I want to keep them in mind for projects that I need to hire people for. I firmly believe that rising tides lift all boats, but that we still need to remember that everyone needs rest and support as we flow through those tides.

Productivity · Time Management · Writer Self-Care

How to Know When It’s Time To Move On

I hate big changes. I kind of always have, when I was kid and my parents would mention they were thinking about moving, I would immediately begin to cry. We moved a lot when I was little, I went to four different elementary schools. Each move came with new struggles, bullying, and loss, so for me I began to just despise the idea of big changes.

I’ve spent a lot of my life outside of my comfort zone, there are times I definitely cling to it. But as a person and a writer, I know the times I’ve grown the most are when I step outside of that comfort zone. Still, I’ll cling to that comfort for a long time before I realize it’s time to move on. I’ll also pour myself into spaces with little to no return, because they’re comfortable. I also like to stay busy, so I tend to volunteer to help support different projects and communities often.

I’ve noticed some signs though, that tell me it’s time to move on, and I’m going to share them with you in case you would benefit. These may apply to a job or a volunteer position, but they could also just apply to life as a whole.

1. The joy is gone.

This was a big sign for me when I recently stepped down from a position I had held for nearly 3 1/2 years. I still loved the space/community, but fixing issues in it had started to give me anxiety. I no longer loved participating in the activities I used to adore there. I thought the feeling might go away, but after months it didn’t. That was the biggest indicator for me it was time to make a plan to step down, and hand the reins over to someone who still had the joy that I had lost. Passion, especially when it comes to volunteer opportunities, is so important.

2. You’ve hit the goals you wanted to accomplish in this space

I personally have a bad habit of jumping down rabbit holes that aren’t actually my rabbit holes. A friend says “let’s build this cool thing!” and I’m down to do it and willing to learn what is needed to make it happen. Because of that, I tend to consciously and unconsciously set goals for myself as we build out a new community or new space. These goals have been things like improving my coding skills, upping my graphic design abilities and creating a fun, low-drama space where people can freely write and create. With some of these spaces, you could always learn more, but if you feel like you’ve built the skills you needed to it may be time to see what comes next.

3. It’s time to do other things.

Sometimes projects stall or fail or you out grow them. It can be tempting to keep investing time into something in hopes of a different outcome, but there are times where sinking more hours into something is just wasted time. Try to recognize when you’re just treading water and start swimming toward something new.

4. Your efforts aren’t appreciated or your contributions aren’t recognized

I am so bad about this one. When I tell people about myself, I often say that I consider myself to be a real-life Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec. I will take on way to many projects and work my ass off to make them happen and make people happy while I do it. This has led to me working for or helping people who actually don’t care how much time and effort I’m putting in to bolster their project.

These people are usually easy to recognize, usually working for them looks something like this.

  • They never say “thank you” or praise the work you’ve put in. Ever.
  • If they do say thank you, it’s only because you saved their ass or made them look good.
  • They don’t put in much work themselves. You and others are always the one building things/improving things.
  • They don’t respond regularly to you, they often drop conversations and never get back to you.

If you’re building someone else’s community or helping them with a project and they can’t even say “thank you” to you once in awhile? Run. Run like hell and take all those skills you’ve built and build your own dream. Start your own project.

Don’t sink another month into supporting something that isn’t yours or isn’t something you truly believe in, especially if you aren’t being paid for your time.

Productivity · Writer Self-Care

5 Tips To Help You Stay Sane While Working From Home

For the last 6-7 years, I’ve worked from home as a freelance writer, project manager, and editor. A lot of people think that working from home is all about being in your pajamas and binging Netflix in the background, but it’s actually a bit more involved than that (though I do have some friends who still work in their PJs).

Because you never “leave” work it can be easy to fall into habits of working all the time and never truly relaxing…Or you can end up constantly trying to stay on task when you’re “at work.” It can also start to feel socially isolating because you get less face to face time with other people, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t moved forward much.

Do not fret! I’ve got 5 ways you can avoid these things, and I learned them the hard way so you don’t have to!

Keep a Good Routine – Don’t Work All the Time

When I first started working from home, I would basically make myself available to clients 24/7. If I got a request for a job or an email from a client at 9:30 at night, I’d rush to my computer to answer it. 

It took me several years of working from home to realize that isn’t feasible in the long term. You will wear yourself out super quickly. It’s pretty rare that any of these questions or tasks are urgent, especially if you’re in an industry like me, where most questions would be fine if you answered them in the morning.

Set work hours for yourself. Just like a real job, you need a routine of when you are on and off work. For me, I’m ‘at work’ at 8 o’clock each morning, whether I’m working on my own projects or projects for clients I work with. I usually work until noon, take a lunch break and then try to get back to it around 1 PM. From there, I’ll work until 2-3 PM. Sometimes it will feel like you’re not working the ‘full’ 8 hours, but I’ve spent the last few years really disciplining myself. If I’m working, that’s most of what I’m doing. I’m not checking social media or other distractions. When you’re in an office, some of those 8 hours are filled will chatting with co-workers or moments of being off task. 

You’ll want to be mindful of your time and aware of your distractions, but 4-6 hours of non-distracted work easily matches 8 hours of distracted work for me. I can walk away from 5 hours of non-distracted work and feel pretty accomplished and also pretty drained. Listen to your brain and body and don’t overwork yourself.

One other tool I use to stay on task is called Time Boxing. Planning out your day or week can help you stay on task and remind yourself “Right now, I’m working.” or “It’s time for leisure right now, I shouldn’t be working.” It’s important to make time to work and relax in pretty much equal parts, especially when your home becomes your workplace.

Practice Good Hygiene.

Get up, shower and brush your teeth. I have some friends who do work in their PJs, but they’ve turned that into a productive “work uniform” for themselves. They see PJs as the sort of clothing they create or work in, so being in a suit or something more formal doesn’t work the same way for them anymore.

I personally started wearing a nightshirt to bed and then when I get up in the morning after I do my morning routine, I change into new clothes. I still wear comfy jeans and a t-shirt most days, but it feels good to be in clean clothes as you start your day.

Socialize and Get Out of the House (If you can)

Okay, I totally get that a lot of you are working from home right now as a means of practicing social distancing. I’m proud of you! Thank you for helping us protect ourselves and our loved ones. I’m doing the same! But, this advice still holds, we still need to socialize even if it’s done over the phone or over the internet. Humans crave connection.

When the world is not impacted by a pandemic, I try to leave my house at least once every 3-4 days. Sometimes I just go shopping at TJ Maxx or I go to my Silent Book Club or other activities were my friends will be. If you’re not an extrovert, going for a walk or exercising outside is also a great option.

I’ve also found other ways to socialize thanks to the internet. I’ve played online games via console or my PC with friends and we use discord or party chats to speak to each other as we play. For a long time, I had a group of friends who met up almost every night of the week to game together. It was our version of ‘hanging out after work’ even though we were all doing it from the comfort of our own homes.

I also call family and friends and video chat with some of them regularly. We have a lot of applications and games out there that can help us feel a sense of connection and interaction with people, you can make good use of them.

Co-Work Virtually

A dear friend and I both work from home frequently, so we do a thing we call “sprinting” to help each other stay productive. We email each other when we’re working and we check in on the hour mark to see what we did for the hour. This both helps give us a bit of social interaction and it helps us stay productive and on-task during work hours. 

I’ve also read stories where artists used Skype or Discord to do video or phone chats with other artists, so they feel like they’re working together, like they might in an office. 

It can really help to motivate you if you know you have to tell someone else what you did for the last hour. I have another blog on Accountability Buddies if you want to learn more.

One word of caution with this though: Don’t let the socializing become the thing you’re “doing” for the hour. My friend and I use email because we’re less likely to pull each other off-task with it. I’ve had sprinting buddies in the past who wanted to keep talking while we were supposed to be working. If that happens, just do your best to stay on task and it might be time to find a new buddy.

Reflect on Your Accomplishments. It’s Easy to Miss Them.

I had a “friend” who used to make comments about how working from home wasn’t truly ‘working.’ I don’t think she intended to be mean, but she would often tell me I could take care of tasks she couldn’t because I had “so much free time.” I think this attitude will become less common in the coming weeks, because as more people work from home, more people are going to realize how hard it can be and how you can totally lose all your boundaries with work when it’s a room away, rather than a commute away.

The greatest way I’ve found to combat these negative comments or feelings is to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Did you finish a bunch of tasks? WOO! Were you supportive of the people you work with or students you work with? That’s awesome! Did you manage to learn something new or build on a skill you already had? YOU ARE DOING GREAT! 

Just because you may not have a boss or co-workers to directly acknowledge all the progress you are making, doesn’t mean you’re not still making progress. You are, trust me. Even adjusting to working from home is a huge amount of progress. Like I said, it’s taken me years to make these adjustments and feel happy and comfortable with my work/life balance. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them down below! I’m happy to share anything I’ve learned in the last few years, especially if it helps the people around me.

Also, my friend I virtually co-work a lot with has written a companion piece to this blog about different apps and tools you can use to help you stay productive and on task while working from home.

Go check her blog out here: https://virtuosity1111.wordpress.com/ (I’ll update the link when the post is up)

Motivation · Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Why Failure Isn’t A Bad Thing

One of my favorite hobbies is playing video games. I’m one of those silly adults who actually really enjoys games like Fortnite, and when I first started playing the game, I was pretty bad at it. I would only use one kind of weapon, because it was the only one I thought I was good at and for a while, I told myself it was not worth trying to get better at other types of weapons. 

Eventually though, if I wanted to continue to get better, I needed more options. So I started learning how to use the sniper rifle. And then I figured out how to use a shotgun. I was honestly trash at them when I started out, but I kept at it. I learned how to use the scope and time my shots. Nowadays, I can hit a snipe in Fortnite about 50-70% of the time.

The reason I was able to improve and get better at the game, is because I changed my mindset. I went from a “fixed” mindset, where I had concluded I could not get better to a “growth” mindset. When we have a fixed mindset we believe our skills are sort of set in stone. If we fail, we decide that this thing we were trying to do just isn’t our thing.

With a growth mindset, we see failure as part of the learning process.

You learn from your failure and you try again. I’ve met a lot of writers who struggle to take feedback, because they think that failure is the end of their journey. It’s not. If we have a growth mindset, we can look at that feedback and we can see where we have weaknesses. Once you know where your issues are, you can try to improve them. 

I know for a fact that I struggle with really well-written descriptions. When I edit the first draft of my own work, I watch for sections where I could really improve the descriptions. I still don’t rewrite them until I’ve gone through the entire draft, but eventually, I hunker down and flesh them out. It still does not come easy to me, and I sort of doubt it ever will, but that’s okay. I’m constantly improving my writing practices. 

We can only learn from our weakness and build our skills if we know what they are and are willing to try to overcome them.

I’ve been reading a great book on this subject called “Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani. She specifically talks about how a lot of girls and women are socialized to have a fixed mindset. If you want to change your perspective, you could definitely check out her book or watch her TED Talk here.

I’ll end this blog with one of my favorite quotes about failure:

Motivation · Writer Self-Care

4 Ways To Get Unstuck Creatively

This year, I’ve felt stuck and unmotivated to write or work on my writing projects more times than I would like to admit. There are a variety of reasons for this, sometimes I feel like no matter how much work I put in I’m not moving forward quickly enough, other times I don’t have the creative “flow” I wish I had. I’ve found some strategies to help me keep moving when I feel stuck though and I wanted to share them with you in case your struggling with the same sorts of feelings.

Make a list of what you’ve accomplished over the last year or so. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if they’re small.

I say the last year or so because sometimes it’s easier to look back at a longer portion of time, but you can go shorter if you need to. You can even review your goals for the year and take some time to pat yourself on the back for the things you’ve achieved. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you forget to stop and smell the roses and recognize the things you’ve accomplished.

Give yourself credit. Seriously, even if you’ve only hit 1/10 of your goals, hitting that one goal still puts you closer to your dreams than you were if you had not tried at all. You can also look at things other than your goals. This past April, I went to Wasatch Comic-Con, a smaller convention that focuses on creators. I went to workshops and hung out with creators in the industry I aspire to be a part of, I got great advice and I was brave to go to those workshops and do things outside the comfort zone. That experience has moved many of my comic projects forward and has helped me grow as a writer and creator. I may not be moving as fast as I wish I was in terms of getting things finished/published, but I can look back on that experience and acknowledge it helped me move forward.

Talk with other creators or creative friends.

This can be hard for those of us who spend a lot of time on our own during our creative process, but I’ve found that reaching out, especially when you feel stuck, can help immensely. Sometimes your friends can help you see your story or plot from a different perspective or by merely talking about what you’re trying to create, you can work towards clarifying your vision.

Ideally, it’s great to do this over the phone or face to face, because as humans, we’re social creatures and that social contact can help lift our spirits. For me, I live in a tiny, rural town so that’s not an experience I always have easy access to regularly. Sometimes I will contact a friend via email, Discord or other means and ask if I can chit-chat and bounce ideas off them for a bit. It always amazes me how sharing my ideas helps me improve them and make them more clear.

Read the stuff you enjoy.

I set a new goal for myself in the last couple of months where I try to read at least two books and two graphic novels a month, as well as trying to read for at least 30 minutes a day for pleasure. I have a terrible habit of feeling like reading is the time I could spend being productive, but by making reading for pleasure apart of my goals, it feels more like productive time. If you want to be a writer or author or creator, it’s good to consume books and graphic novels you enjoy so that you can see what other writers are doing and admire their accomplishments (and perhaps, learn from them).

Take a break. Or take some time to free write.

It can be tempting to sit at a desk and punish yourself for not being productive enough. If you find yourself doing this, step away from your work and try doing something else you enjoy for a while.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling stuck, but you still want to write something, try freewriting for a bit. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be great, you’re just putting words down on the page and acknowledging that you may have to edit or delete a good portion of them. Something I’ve discovered over the years is that self-punishment isn’t productive and it doesn’t help me motivate myself to do more, so sometimes I sit down and write for a bit, even if it’s not connected to my current projects. I’ve found that once you start writing, it’s easier to switch gears to one of your more cohesive projects and get going on it again.

Productivity · Time Management · Writer Self-Care

How To Declutter Your Digital Life – Digital Tools Vs. Digital Distraction

I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” over the last few weeks. Like many people in their 30s, I started using social media in my early 20s and I’ve just continued to use it, without realizing how much digital clutter was making its way into my life. I did not realize the negative impact digital clutter was having on me. Our social media apps and programs are built to be addictive and to make us feel like we’re engaging and talking constantly with other humans.

There is some value in social media and other tools of the digital age, but not all of it is equal.

In Newport’s book, he discusses the concept of choosing your digital tools wisely and decluttering the tools you use that may cause you to become distracted or put you in a feedback loop for online approval. This hit me really hard last week. I have a wonderful husband who who has been really supportive of me lately. I had a sudden impulse that I needed to share how wonderful he was on Facebook…Instead of simply turning to him and telling him how much I appreciate his support. Sure, sharing on Facebook would show others how I appreciate him, but the point was to be grateful to him, not to showcase my gratitude to the world.

I think Digital Minimalism has some great lessons to teach, even if I don’t feel like all the lessons fit perfectly for me. Since a lot of the work I do is online and through social media, I can’t abandon those tools entirely, but I can make them better tools and less distracting.

Digital tools add value and help us live better lives.

Digital distractions keep us from living that better life.

I definitely recommend checking out Newport’s book, but here are some ways to get started tossing out the digital clutter:

Delete The Apps That Aren’t Serving You

I went through my phone and removed applications that I don’t regularly use and I removed some that I felt like didn’t really add value to my life. I have a handful of “games” I play when I need to de-stress or take a breath, but I also had some games that had started to feel like an obligation, something I had to log into every day. Those went bye-bye.

I also deleted apps that I had downloaded with good intentions but hardly used or never used. If there comes a time that they server a purpose for me, I can download them again later.

Unfollow, Unfriend, Unlike and Leave the Group

Last night, I went through all of the groups I was in and pages I had liked on Facebook. I removed any group or page I felt like didn’t add to my digital life. I’ve already done this sort of thing with Instagram and Twitter. I joined a lot of these social media applications early on in their existence and over the last ten years or so, I’ve liked and joined so many groups and pages on a whim that add nothing to my life.

While these apps can still be more of a distraction than a tool for me at times, at least know the content I’m viewing when I use them is catered to the life I currently want to live.

It’s a lot like clearing out an old box of stuff from ten years ago. The woman I am now doesn’t have a use for some of the things she would have dearly loved in her 20s. It also helps me make space for groups, pages and people who actively add to my digital life and help me keep my focus on where I want to go in my real life.