Slow Down to Speed Up! Also, Bonus Moving Story.

Sorry for the hiatus - we wound up moving on somewhat short notice. Now we're (mostly) settled in a bee-you-ti-ful new apartment (still in Kalamazoo), so it's time for another newsletter. After the move, I was surrounded by mountains of boxes, mountain ranges of boxes. It would have been easy to get overwhelmed, but I made a deliberate decision to stay calm because panic never helps. (As the late, great problem solving guru Jerry Weinberg said, "The problem isn't the problem. The problem is your reaction to the problem.") Our reflex, when faced with an overwhelming and/or unpleasant task, is often to speed up, with the goal of getting it done as fast as possible. But that's actually the opposite of what you should do. When we rush, the task not only gets more unpleasant, we're also more likely to make mistakes. Instead, you want to slow way down and savor the details. Treat every box (or paragraph, or piece of paperwork, or other work unit) as if it's the only one, and really take your time. When you … [Read more...]

Nope, “Perfectionism in Moderation” Isn’t a Good Thing

Writer Lindsay Ellis recently tweeted about imposter syndrome (where you think you aren't up to the task, have everyone fooled, and are destined to be revealed as a horrible fraud). Unfortunately, she gets it wrong. She writes: "Because the thought patterns that lead to imposter syndrome need not always be a net negative - on some level, it is a form of perfectionism, but perfectionism can be harnessed as energy to create better, more thoughtful work. Perfectionism in moderation need not be destructive." You won't be surprised to hear that I emphatically disagree with that last sentence. My responses below. As someone who specializes in helping writers and others overcome #perfectionism and procrastination, I have to respectfully disagree. I believe perfectionism is always harmful because it disempowers you.... https://t.co/I4mzUPwx4t — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) March 1, 2019 Perfectionism's main tools are harshness and coercion - including imposter syndrome. They are inhumane and thus immoral … [Read more...]

Nonperfectionism in a Single Sentence

Nothing is as humbling, to a writer, anyway, as when you've used a lot of words to say something, and then someone comes along and nails it in a single sentence. But also nothing is more of a gift, so I guess it evens out. :-) It happened to me with my book The Lifelong Activist. Somewhere in the midst of writing a 400+ page tome on how to live a sustainable, balanced life that includes a serious political mission, I found this quote by the French writer Gustave Flaubert that pretty much summed everything up: "Live your life regular and orderly like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." (Of course, Flaubert doesn't tell you *how* to do that great thing, so I guess my book is still useful!) These days I spend a lot of time helping people overcome perfectionism. And for my work-in-progress, Joyful Productivity for Undergraduates (due out this year!), I'm happy to say I've come up with no fewer than nine great solutions, which I'll share in a future newsletter. But … [Read more...]

Now Do an Email Sprint With Me

Here’s another good technique: email sprints. Take a clicker* and use it to keep track while sending out ten QUICK emails in rapid succession. I love doing email sprints. You can fit them easily in between other tasks and they clear out your inbox like nothing else. Sprinting also gives you a wonderful little productivity “lift” and helps you practice the valuable skill of sending terse emails. Here are some good quickies to send: A thank you. A check in with a professional or personal contact. A reply to a scheduling email. A reply to a question. The key, as mentioned above, is “terse.” No more than three sentences in each mail, and bonus points if you can get one down to a few words, as in: “Yes-thanks!” or “Not a good fit--sorry!” or, “7 pm OK?” or, “Thought you’d like to see this!” Now, of course it’s possible to get too terse—but making that mistake occasionally is far better than overdoing all the dozens, or hundreds, of emails you’re receiving every week. Like most productivity … [Read more...]

The Best Productivity “Tool”

Just a little Tweet thread I came up with after seeing someone ask what the best productivity tool was. Hope you like it / find it useful! Follow me here, and also on my Facebook page.   So many people searching for the ultimate #productivity tool but no tool works as well as the abilities to: (1) turn down unwanted work (and other obligations) and (2) trim the scope of your projects. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   Delegation is crucial, too, but still takes time and energy. Saying no and trimming scope >>> delegating. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   And delegation, done right, takes more time than a lot of people think. It's not simply handing stuff over and "poof" it gets done. You have to train, support, manage, check the work, follow up. More like investing five hours to get ten or fifteen back from the "delegatee." — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   If time is the ultimate luxury, it is also … [Read more...]

Recommendation: CBD Oil for Insomnia

I've battled insomnia for decades, often losing the battle. For many years I took trazodone, which seemed to help. But then, as often happens with sleeping pills, one day it just stopped working. I've also tried other pills, over the years, with poor results. For the last few years I've taken Natrol time release melatonin pills. (Available at many online and offline stores.) Melatonin, like all supplements, varies a lot in quality from brand to brand, but Natrol seems to work well for many people. But for me it only worked around half the time. The other half, I was up all night, miserable and desperate to get to sleep. Oh yeah, and I tried all the "sleep hygiene" solutions, too - blackout shades, "blue blocker" lightbulbs and screen filters, cooler room, lots of exercise, limiting caffeine and electronics use, podcasts, etc. (Did I leave anything out?) Nothing worked. Until now. For the last couple of months I've been taking Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil and it has helped better than anything else I've … [Read more...]

Inspiration from Michael Jordan and Garry Kasparov to Start Your Work/School Year

I hope everyone had a fantastic summer! Let's get the work/school year going with a great quote from Michael Jordan:             I quoted chess champ / democracy activist Garry Kasparov saying something similar in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: "Years ago, I was fortunate to hear one of my heroes, former world chess champion and current Russian democracy activist Garry Kasparov, discuss important lessons he had learned from chess. Here’s how he began his talk: “I have won hundreds of chess games, and lost thousands. You have to have the courage to fail." The courage to fail. What an amazing phrase—and coming from a hypercompetitive chess champion it takes on a special meaning. Kasparov probably hates failure more than just about anyone—in fact, as his use of the word “courage” implies, he probably fears it—but he had to develop a tolerance for it to reach his goals. That he chose to begin his talk with this point only underscores its … [Read more...]

You’ve Got Time…

Our society tend to fetishize early success, but lest we forget... Toni Morrison: 40 Mark Twain: 41 Marcel Proust: 43 Henry Miller: 44 JRR Tolkien: 45 Raymond Chandler: 51 Richard Adams: 52 Annie Proulx: 57 Laura Ingalls Wilder: 65 Frank McCourt: 66 Harriett Doerr: 74 Harry Bernstein: 96 No, you’re not too old to publish your first book. — Allison K Williams (@GuerillaMemoir) August 19, 2018 Perfectionism is impatient, but it's never too late to start a project that's important to you. My number, by the way, is 48. (And thanks to D. for sending me the tweet!) … [Read more...]

Why an Anime Girl (or Raccoon!) Might Be Your Next Productivity Buddy

Back in Cambridge, MA, where I used to live, a group of writers used to meet regularly to get some work done. After a quick hello - no chit chat, latte ordering, or other delays - they all sat down and started working. It was so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop, and everyone got tons done during those sessions. That's all it takes to do your work, in many cases: someone sitting next to you doing theirs. They don't even have to be doing what you're doing. Someone could be sketching or doing their travel receipts while you're writing or studying and it's all good. While it's okay to check in with your buddy once in a while, or gently offer advice and encouragement if they're stuck, mostly what you, and they, are providing is presence. My theory about why this works is that we're such intensely social creatures that, for many of us, the solitude needed to do our work is itself an obstacle to productivity, raising feelings of isolation and even abandonment. Add to that a bit of resentment--as … [Read more...]

Productivity Secrets of a “Supergenius”

A friend was discussing her fears around her writing, and, in particular, of taking on bigger projects than she could handle, when she came up with a great comparison: "I feel like Wile E. Coyote when he goes off the edge of a cliff. Then he looks down and realizes he's gone too far, but it’s too late, and down he goes." She was conveying a real sense of fear. (Falling off a cliff, even in a cartoon, is scary!) And yet...something about the comparison felt off. I thought for a moment, and then pointed out: "But he always survives the fall, doesn't he?" She paused. "Uh, yes. I guess he does." "And then he goes on with the chase?" “Yes!” I think it's fair to say my friend's attitude shifted at that moment. In fact, her comparison was more apt than she realized. As a creator, it's actually your job to “run off the cliff”—i.e., take risks. And that, by definition, means you’ll fall (a.k.a., fail) a lot. It's essential you not overreact to those failures when they happen. Even better, stop … [Read more...]

Let’s Talk About “Situational Perfectionism”

“Situational perfectionism” is when something causes your perfectionism to spike above its usual levels. (Which usually, in turn, causes your procrastination to spike!) It’s a common phenomenon, with many causes. Here are a few: A prior failure. Often, when we perceived we’ve failed, we get more afraid of future failures. (The solution is to not make such a fuss over failure.) But, paradoxically... A prior success can also do it! That’s because you feel (often rightly) more scrutinized. Second Novel Syndrome is a classic example of this type of situational perfectionism, and even J.K. Rowling experienced it after the success of the first Harry Potter book: “For the first time ever in my life, I got writer’s block...The stakes seemed to have gone up a lot, and I attracted a lot of publicity in Britain for which I was utterly unprepared.’” Fortunately, she got over it, but many writers and others, alas, never do. Labels can be a problem! Labeling your project “urgent,” “important,” or “difficult” … [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on “Genius” – a Not-Very-Useful Concept

There's been a spate of writing about "genius" lately. Here, in Tweet form, are some of my thoughts on that concept. Hope you like them, and I welcome your comments, on Twitter, Facebook, or below. - Hillary For millennia #genius has been gendered male, and used to justify everything from boorishness to rape and murder. Women were relegated to the role of muse and we were all expected to celebrate and exalt the female suffering that enabled some guy to do his thing. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, 2018 So in bios of #DavidFosterWallace, his ongoing abuse (including assault, death threats, and stalking) of #MaryCarr were relegated to interesting, "illuminating" anecdotes. https://t.co/x4msfpSUMk — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, 2018 So what is "genius?" What a boring-ass question - albeit one that obsessed me when I was younger. Now I know that you just do your work with as much integrity and spirit as you can, and hope for the best.— Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, … [Read more...]

Does Writer’s Block Exist?

A coupla tweets for your delectation: Lookee here! Another guy--and they almost always seem to be guys!--claims #writersblock doesn't exist. They seem to come out of the woodwork every once in a while. https://t.co/Eb5deQQdG1 — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 7, 2018 "Writer’s block is a delicious myth" How callous and condescending, not to mention, #clueless, can you get? #writersblock #writers — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 7, 2018 Here's the full quote from the original article: Writer’s block is a fiction. That’s not to say I always feel like writing, or that I have some big idea percolating. I don’t know if you can force out good sentences or great ideas, but that doesn’t mean you cannot write. You can always write garbage; goodness knows, I write plenty of that. Sure, there are days I don’t feel like looking at my computer or picking up a pencil. Such days, I read; reading is inextricably linked with writing, so you can grade yourself on a curve and say that counts. And there are … [Read more...]

Stuck? Lose Your Label!

Here’s a useful piece by Austin Kleon on How to Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Chaotic Times. I like #3 a lot: “Forget the noun, do the verb.” Calling yourself a “writer,” “artist,” "activist," "scholar," “entrepreneur,” or any other label can invite procrastination if you use that label perfectionistically. For example, if you think of a writer as someone who is supposed to: write many hours every single day sacrifice everything else to one’s art happily starve / live in a garret be smarter about all things writing-related than anyone in the room (or anywhere!) write fantastically all the time, and, enjoy writing all the time Then you’re inevitably going to fall short, and feel miserable about it. Here are some other labels that get people into trouble: “good parent" (if you think "good" means you must sacrifice everything for your kids) and “dutiful child" (if you think "dutiful" means you must do everything your parents ask). In these cases, you should forget … [Read more...]

Dogs Don’t Like Perfectionism Either!

This piece by Nancy Tanner on how impatience ruins dog training is brilliant: When I am asked what is the biggest problem I see in dog training today, it is the same problem I saw fourteen years ago, and thirty years ago, it is the misunderstanding of time. It takes time to learn how to be a teacher to another species. It takes time to learn how to learn from another species. It takes time to build understanding. It takes time to learn how to observe and how to apply what you observe. It takes time to build a relationship with trust. It's not just dog training! Ask teachers of any craft or skill what their #1 challenge is with students, and the answer will inevitably be, "getting them to slow down." While (speaking generally) you want to do your work at a steady clip and not get bogged down on any one detail, you also don't want to rush through the important details--and they can take way longer to get right than many of us think (or want). Even now, after decades of serious writing, I'm … [Read more...]