Coasting Along

Whales & Nightingales Press

C.J. Al-Meten

C.J. Al-Meten
Astoria/Portland/San FranciscoCA, Oregon, USA
March 16
Whales Nightingales Press
Author, freelance writer, photographer, pastoral counselor

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APRIL 20, 2012 1:28PM

Spring Organizing: Establishing Creative Routines

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After an infusion of Spring weather, lengthening days, and light energy that kick starts all our systems, today's storm throws us back under the covers of wintery weather.  Spring in the Pacific Northwest is full of surprises, not the least of which are the rapid shifts in weather, light, energy, and focus.  Waking earlier as the sun floods in the windows and invites us to get up and go, if you're like me, my work day starts earlier and earlier as spring progresses. Today the Sun shifts into Taurus, a grounding, peaceful place for me...a place where my emotional temperment settles into the cozy routines that my home office and studio allow.

Now that my computer issues are mostly solved, and my health is on an even keel again (rest, good nutrition, exercise, and creating less stress and more harmony did the trick), I resolved to begin finishing up some of the projects that have been at various stages of development.  One of my desires not only with my personal life but also with my work was to establish a more balanced approach to working.  How was I going to create more balance while using my time and energy more productively?  I made a list of all the projects that I was currently working on (long term projects, and daily/weekly assignments, photo shoots, research, and interviews/field work).  This moved the ideas, plans, and concerns out of my head onto a list that could be used to create a manageable schedule.
  1. I prioritized the list, putting at the top of the list those projects most near completion and those assignments that were regular daily/weekly blogs or columns I write. Implicit in setting priorities was establishing priorities that directly related to the books, articles, and projects that I was most wanting to create.  Learning to put my own goals ahead of the expectations or work I often do for others, is sometimes a hard but necessary choice I have to make.  It is important for me to weigh the time, energy, and focus needed for an article that I write that benefits someone else if that time, energy, and focus takes away from a project that I value myself.  This process of discerning how to value my own work is crucial in establishing goals, guidelines, routines, and the overall commitment to the writing, photography, and counseling I choose to do. We may be able to do a lot of different things, but it is not always necessary or healthy to do everything. And we of course know it's not even possible. We have to make choices, set boundaries, and figure out what matters most to us. I'm learning to be picky about what I spend my time on.  This is crucial to using time wisely, I think.
  2. I assigned different tasks to different days of the week.  For example, I assigned the larger, more time-consuming/difficult writing/editing jobs at the beginning of the week. I find that my best time for concentrated, uninterrupted work are mornings.  Generally, I write and do other major projects in the mornings, taking a break around 1:00.  I start my morning work after my early morning routine of preparing breakfast, doing my daily journal, and walking or doing yoga. 
  3. When I take my break, I shower and dress, and head out for some fresh air. I head for my favorite coffee shop for a  Cafe au Lait, and a bowl of soup. I spend time with friends and read the local paper and do the crosswords.  
  4. Afternoons are for more creative activities.  Often I take care of personal business, read, clear clutter and organize, and wander around the neighborhood.  This is a time for gardening or decorating. I often mat and frame photographs in the afternoons because the light is so good. Late afternoons are for photography and relaxation.  I enjoy cooking, and prepare food for myself, and sometimes invite friends over for dinner. Often the afternoon is a good time to work on websites or reorganize my office.  Afternoons are also the times I make business and personal appointments. 
  5. Mid-week, I set aside at least a half a day for a photo shoot and a walk along the river, ocean, or local trails.  Given that we get a lot of rainy days here in Astoria, if the day starts out dry, I may rearrange my schedule to get out of the house and take advantage of the morning light for a  local photo shoot.  When travel is required, I may set aside a week or two to travel for photography and research projects. I plan this out ahead of time, setting my work calendar well in advance of seasonal changes and deadlines.
  6. One day of the week I devote to writing blog articles. I may write articles for 4-6 weeks in advance. Another day is devoted strictly to writing columns or preparing a manuscript to meet a deadline.
  7. I build in time daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly to rest, get proper nutrition, exercise, get together with family and friends, have fun, and just have down and alone time. I take the lessons I learned being in the academic work world and apply them to my life as a freelance writer, photographer, and intuitive counselor.  I keep to a routine (but maintain some flexibility within it). I plan ahead, so that I avoid putting myself under undue stress.  When I first started working from home again, I found myself edgy and nervous, pushing myself to accomplish too much and making myself feel upset and dissatisfied over what I was getting done.  I caught myself creating stress, and decided in order to eliminate some of that, I'd make a realistic, manageable schedule for myself.  Giving myself one-two main goals each day, frees me to focus more intently on the primary goals each day.  This frees my mind of worrying about when I was going to get other things done.  The priorities are set. The time is allotted for each project or task, and my mind is free to focus on the task at hand. Also building in breaks for food, exercise, water, socialization, and fresh air, force me to take better care of myself. I also stop working in the evenings (most of the time; tonight I'm inspired so I'm writing this after dark). I allow myself to read, watch a movie, listen to music and just relax at night.  I also have a relaxing bedtime routine, and I make certain I get plenty of sleep.  The spring energy sometimes makes me feel like the Energizer Bunny on Crack, so I have to build in calming activities (meditation, calming music, relaxing reading, herbal tea) before I go to sleep. 
Maintaining a routine helps me organize my time, use my energy, and get more accomplished than if I fly by the seat of my pants.  Working from a home office requires the discipline to stop working as much as it does to get to work.  At times in the past, I would work myself ragged, causing some physical problems and exhausting myself.  My academic career taught me a lot about how to organize my time and work, and how to break big projects down into bite-sized pieces. Whether teaching or administering programs, writing a dissertation or creating course outlines and syllabi for students, I learned to use my time and energy productively, and now I can use these same skills to create some of the projects that are bursting forth from me.  It is an exciting and fruitful time. 

Pier 39 Astoria, Oregon
The rains and spring blossoms of April, like the creative juices that are flowing within, are preparing me for a fruitful and productive season ahead. Preparing my whole self for the process of creativity and art, involves a steady and regular commitment to tending the garden of my own being with tender loving care.  As my friend Maria says, "Be gentle with yourself."  My Mother would say, "Take it easy; you'll live longer."  Enjoy being in your skin, and be grateful for whatever ideas spring from your heartful center.  Find ways to make your work more joyful, balanced, and enjoyable.  Appreciate what you accomplish, and be grateful for the opportunities, talents, gifts, and resources that fill your life. Keep your attention on these things, and you'll be less likely to notice what didn't get done.  Breathe and be glad.

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