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A Big Part of Time Management is Learning How to Decline Unwanted Invitations…

...which writer Harold Pinter knew how to do LIKE A BOSS. … [Read more...]

RIP Billy Dawg 2003? – 2019

We lost our cherished Billy Dawg last week. He died at home, surrounded by love. Here is a picture his dogsitter sent us. She captioned it: "Here he is motivating me to complete my senior project!" (Like mom, like pup!) Billy was (we think) at least sixteen years old with some of the usual senior dog issues, but when the end came, it was pretty sudden and unexpected. He deteriorated *very* rapidly over his last three days, and the whole experience was, as you can imagine, intense and mostly awful. But there was one incredible moment: Contrary to the above image of Billy adoring his dogsitter, he generally didn't shower you with affection. He kept a bit of distance, played it a bit cool. But on Saturday night, in the midst of a terrible weekend during which he was mostly "out of it," he suddenly pulled himself together, got very focused, and gave my partner (the true center of his universe) a look of the purest, most intense, and most melting love. It was as if Billy knew his time were … [Read more...]

The “Tiger Mom” Revisited

I've written before about Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua and her odious 2011 book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the thesis of which is that you should punish, humiliate, and otherwise coerce your kids into being high achievers. As I wrote at the time it was published: A few weeks ago [Chua] had a firestorm of publicity around her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she boasts of her authoritarian and coercive parenting methods, which include not only insisting that her daughters follow a narrow course of “success-oriented” classes and activities, but punishing them harshly – via withholding, threats and insults – when they don’t toe the line or achieve top-level success. (For instance, she deprives them of bathroom breaks, threatens to burn their toys, and calls them “garbage.”) She got a major boost when The Wall Street Journal featured her in an admiring article. What Chua considered her branded form of tough-love parenting, however, many considered nothing more than child abuse. There … [Read more...]

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...]

Perfectionism is All Lies and Oversimplifications, Part One Million

This tweet has it all, from a perfectionist standpoint: It: Sets an impossibly high standard for success. (You should be as successful as Apple's Steve Jobs, etc.) Is shaming. ("What's your excuse?") Makes specious comparisons. (Between you and these ultra-successful outliers, most of whom also achieved their success decades ago, in a very different society and economy.) Offers zero guidance on how to actually achieve the level of super success it's promoting. AND IT'S WRONG. Perfectionist narratives, including the "rags to riches" and "bootstrap" ones so beloved by the business press and conservatives in general, are inevitably oversimplified and dramatic. As you can read in Historic.ly's brilliant takedown of the tweet, the founders of the companies mentioned were overwhelmingly rich and well-connected. And, with one exception, Mattel's Ruth Handler, they were/are all white men, so the tweet's implied claim that, "anyone can do this" is, on its face, bogus. The perfectionist tweet … [Read more...]

Roll Over Beethoven!

At a recent performance of Johannes Brahms’s First Symphony, the conductor told how, when Brahms was just starting out, the elder composer Robert Schumann praised him to the high heavens. Here’s the story: Brahms was only twenty years old and as yet little known….Robert expressed his admiration first in a letter to Joachim, and then in an article for the Neue Zeitschrift, entitled “Neue Bahnen” (“New Paths”). He praised Brahms in extravagant language, proclaiming the arrival of a young musician “called to give expression to his times in ideal fashion: a musician who would reveal his mastery not in gradual stages but like Minerva would spring fully armed from Kronos’s head. And he has come; a young man over whose cradle Graces and Heroes have stood watch. His name is Johannes Brahms…” Partly as a result of Schumann’s extravagant praise, many considered Brahms the natural successor to Beethoven, and predicted that his first symphony would be “Beethoven’s Tenth.” It took Brahms 21 years to finish that … [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...]

The Difference Between High Standards and Perfectionism

Where does "high standards" end and perfectionism begin? When it starts to cost you. A recent New York Times piece by Karen Crouse recounts the trials of figure skater Gracie Gold, an Olympic contender who suffered mental illness, including eating disorders, in large part from the pressures of competing.  Gold's perfectionism, according to the article, started early. "Throughout [her] childhood, she was fixated on being first, and flawless. In the classroom, she would furiously, and tearfully, erase an entire sentence if she misspelled a single word. By second grade, she had found an outlet for her compulsiveness, taking formal skating lessons at a rink near the family home in Springfield, MO." The absolute hardest thing I have to teach people is that perfectionism never helps and always hurts. The lesson can be hard to take in because: Perfectionism--whether in the form of harshness, punishments, and/or deprivation--has a superficial logic. "Just work harder, Sally!" Or, "No breaks till you're … [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 Conversation You Have With Your Work

Creative / scholarly work is actually a conversation between yourself (your ideas, emotions, perceptions) and your materials and influences. Or, as glass artist Davide Penso recently put it in an interview in Glass Art Magazine: "I didn't and don't presume to work in glass, but to support it and assign it the task of molding me. Glass enhanced my best characteristics and emphasized its own. In silent agreement, with respect, we use each other." It's probably the best encapsulation of the creative mindset I've read. Perfectionism can get in the way, however. If you start... trying to control the outcome ("I'd better do fabulous work!") rushing ("It's going too slowly!"), or instrumentalizing (seeing the work as a means to an end, as in, "This should get me an A," or "I really want this to be the Great American Novel.") ...then you derail the whole process. Now it's true that we often do want to do great work, meet our deadlines, and impress our audience (teacher, editor, gallery owner, … [Read more...]

An Extreme Exercise in Nonperfectionism!

A fun exercise for overcoming perfectionism is to send emails with intentional errors and silliness in them. You're basically practicing toleratting your errers, and having others see those errers. (It also helps with time management because once you stop trying to perfect every email you save a lot of time. And yes, of course I know that some emails need to be as perfect as possible. I'm obvusly not talking about those.) The more upset someone gets at the prospect of sending out an email with a few intentional typos, the more perfectionist I know they are. (And some people get plenty upset!) Even *I* would be taken aback by this typo, however: Coping with that would be an extreme exercise in nonperfectionism! Happy holidays, and if you want to send me a silly email I would love to get it. Best, Hillary Related: Why email is such a difficult time management challenge. … [Read more...]

Thunder Tea Saga

So, Jan and I were treated by Professor Henry Horng-Shing Lu (provost of National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, where Jan is a visiting professor) to a visit to Beipu, a traditional Hakka village. Hakka are descendants of mainland Chinese settlers who came to Taiwan over the past few hundred years prior to the 1949 Civil War. While there, we visited a traditional Hakka "thunder tea" (lei cha) house, where you’re supposed to grind your own tea. You’re given a big bowl (mortar) containing a small amount of green tea, and a smaller bowl containing a blend of peanuts, pistachios, and sesame seeds. (Yum! And healthy!) You add the latter to the former, grind it all into a fine (key word) powder, add boiling water, and enjoy your tea. And so our saga begins… We pour the small bowl (nuts & sesame) into the big bowl containing the tea... Grinding... (Note Jan’s look of extreme concentration.) Need more muscle, time to stand. Eventually, Henry takes … [Read more...]

Scooter Dogs (Hsinchu, Taiwan)

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Back from Taiwan! And some great links!

Dear Friend, My books and coaching will help anyone get a strong start in 2019 - both make excellent gifts! (Coaching hours usable for up to a year after purchase, and you can be located anywhere.) I recently got back from two fantastic weeks in Taiwan, where I visited my partner, currently a visiting professor at National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) in Hsinchu. While there, I also gave a presentation to a group of faculty and students on Catalyzing Student Productivity. (Some will recognize the procrastination / perfectionism framework I've been using, and teaching, for years. I never tire of it!) I loved Taiwan! The people are incredible nice, and they also love dogs, so I felt a real sense of kinship! While I was away, some great productivity links came in. Please see below for a few – and whatever you are planning to celebrate, this month, I hope you celebrate it to the max! Hillary Here are the links: If You’re Not All-In About a New Opportunity, Just Say No  Someone at … [Read more...]