Sunday, March 20, 2011

Talking to My Deadlines

Yes, I have deadlines

photo by openDemocracy on Flickr

I’ve lived with deadlines for a long time. They rule my life as an indexer. The index is the very last thing that happens before the book is published. If you think about it, this makes sense—the index, which tells you what page things are on, can’t be created until what page things are on is absolutely final. After those last paragraphs the author wanted to add, and the illustration the designer decided should be a little bigger, which moved everything on the following one hundred pages over by a half page. Final.

Thus, by the time the publisher sends me the page proofs, they want them back yesterday. The printer is waiting, everything else is done. So---if you’re a good indexer, you don’t send in your jobs even one day late. Editors need to be able to count on you.

I’m a very good and reliable indexer. I’ve been meeting deadlines for twenty-five years. But I’ve never really come to terms with them.

And of course, the more endeavors I jump into (I’m a scanner, remember?) the more deadlines there are. Right now, besides two indexing deadlines, I have a CD-production deadline, a workshop-planning deadline, and a tax deadline. Then there are self-imposed deadlines, which help to move my projects along. I’ve promised my Right-brainers in Business support group that my new teaching website will be up by the end of March.

So there are all these deadlines.


And they scare me. When they’re far away, I don’t think about them and feel free. Yay, no immediate deadlines! And then all of a sudden they jump out at me and scare me. They loom. I feel oppressed, constricted, afraid. I worry worry worry. Oh no, I’m not going to get them done.

And I then use that energy to get them done. Not a fun way to live.

I’ve tried various strategies for dealing with them, some of which have helped a lot. I’ve made daily quotas for indexing. I use Getting Things Done and plan the next action for each project. I’m definitely better at spreading the work out over time than I used to be (which is good, because at 51 I’m getting too old for all-nighters!)

But they still scare me.

A conversation

So, inspired by Havi’s monster conversations, I decided to talk to them. Here’s the conversation.

Me: Hello, deadlines. We’ve lived together for a long time but I don’t think I’ve ever talked to you. Will you talk to me?
Deadlines: Sure! (crowded, talking over and shoving each other, very cheerful)
Me: Hmm, what should I say? I often feel afraid of you.
Deadlines: Hahahahahahaha!

photo by CarbonNYC on Flickr
 Me: I’m afraid that when you appear, I’ll fail. I won’t be able to do what I promised. Hmm—and I sometimes pretend you’re not there. I put you in a room and close the door.
Deadlines: We don’t like that! That’s why we jump out at you when you remember us! Boo!! (they’re laughing like two-year-olds just before a meltdown)
Me: Oh. Oh. You really are with me all the time—close or far. But I wish you would just go away.
Deadlines: That’s mean! You need us!
Me: What do I need you for?
Deadlines: To make sure you Get Things Done. That you keep your promises. You only do that when you’re worried.
Me: I DO want to keep my promises. And I WANT to do the things I’ve planned. But I don’t want to be worried.
Deadlines: (shrugging and punching each other) Too bad. That’s the only way.
Me: Okay, I don’t think that’s true. I think we can change this. Let’s see, you need to make sure I get things done. I need that too. I also need ease and smoothness, and confidence not worry. You know if I’m confident, I get more done? Oh, and I need STRUCTURE.
Deadlines: Structure?
Me: Yes, clear expectations for when I’ll do each thing.
Me: Maybe you can help me with the structure. Do you want to help?
Deadlines: Yes, yes, let us help! We can help! (they still feel like little kids)
Me: I need structure that doesn’t crush me. It’s more like awareness. The ability to make flexible plans.
Deadlines: Can we be there with you?
Me: Oh, is it a place? I wonder what it looks like?
I think it’s a place where I know I’m safe and I have all my tools around me. So I can plan. (Liking the italics button)
And yes, you can be there too. You know what? You feel like little kids. I think you need some cuddling. 
Deadlines: (crowding around, delighted) Cuddle! Cuddle! Ahhh. 
Me: I also notice that you’re shoving each other and interrupting each other a lot. What’s that about? 
Deadlines: We’re afraid you won’t notice us. We have to get in front. We feel desperate. 
Me: So if you each have a special cuddling place in my Planning Room and you know I will pay attention to you, that will feel better, right? 
Deadlines: (looking cute) YES. 
Me: Okay, I promise not to shove you behind a door any more. And you promise to be gently present and not trying to scare me.
Well, okay.

Well, okay. That gave me some directions to go. I’ve been sitting with the task of making a planning process (place) where my deadlines can be with me and not scare me. Where I can set up structures for myself that mean I can trust that I’ll get things done.

I’m calling it Gentle Planning.

I think I have some ideas.

To be continued.

Join me in the comments! I'd love you to share your methods of dealing with deadlines, but let's give each other space to work through our own stuff: no unsolicited advice.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Search for the One Thing, or How Barbara Sher Changed My Life for the Third Time

Since I was little, I knew that I was put on this earth to Do Something. My mission, my gift to the world. (Okay, I was a little grandiose as a child.)

My favorite books about the childhood of famous people (ohmygod, I loved those books!) confirmed this belief for me. (I remember going to the library and being told “No, you can’t check out twenty Childhood of Famous Americans books.”) Those people just knew what great thing they were meant to do. They knew. And then they grew up and did it. I especially remember Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin. I was especially fond of Benjamin because he was a Quaker like me. Even though his family didn’t approve of art, he got to do it because he was So Good at it, and because it was obviously what he was Meant to Do.

For a long time I wanted to be a writer, like Harriet the Spy. I held onto that all the way into my first year of college. I was great with words, but I just didn’t seem to really have stories in me. And I think that my vision of being a writer was more about being Something creative than about a specific drive.

I got to college (which I did on the six-year plan with two leaves of absence in the middle). I couldn’t settle on a major. At first, of course, it was going to be English—I wanted to be a writer, after all, and I loved reading. But I really didn’t like lit crit. Eww. So I just kept taking courses from every professor that sounded good, in lots of different subjects. Anthropology! Sociology! Religious studies! Philosophy! Three different beginning languages! And history. My love and interest was most consistent in the history courses, so I decided to major in history. (I still love it!) But even then, I couldn’t really focus. At my college, with a New Curriculum invented in the 60s, you had a lot of scope in your major. I just had to take a bunch of history courses and tell how they were related. Well, let’s see. The American Revolution, Foreign Relations of the European Great Powers, early Chinese history, Social and Religious History of the United States, the English Revolution…surely they’re part of a learning plan! I made up a very creative one, but I don’t remember what it was.

All of a sudden I was about to graduate, and I didn’t have a plan. I took the Strong Interest Inventory, a career test that tells you which professions you are similar to the members of.

I wasn’t similar to anything. That should have been a clue.

Cut forward a few years. I found my freelance career as a book indexer. My scattered college career was the ideal preparation. Indexing is perfect for me because I never get bored! I get to read a different book every couple of weeks, on subjects like behavioral psychology, teaching English as a Second Language, the effect of globalization on social programs, human prehistory, and what it’s like to be deaf in Japan. This career has supported my family and brought me intellectual challenge and opportunities for the last twenty-five years. But something was still missing.

Indexing was (and is) a wonderful job, but it’s not what I was Put on This Earth To Do. It didn't tap something big in me that I knew was there. I started thinking about what that might be, which led me to Barbara Sher’s books (and the first two times she changed my life, which I’ll come back to in future posts). I got excited about quilting, gardening, composing, and several other things. But I ended up focusing on colored pencil art (while feeling guilty about all the tools for other interests that I’d left lying around).

And in 2005, at a place in my art career where, although I wasn’t making money, I was getting national attention and awards and was teaching successfully, I decided that this was it. I was an Artist. I knew that I liked to do lots of different kinds of work, but figured that all the different pieces of an art career would be interesting enough. I got a career coach. I started marketing seriously.

And then….guess what happened? I rediscovered the guitar. Riches of music started to pour through me in a whole new way. I found a new home in my folksinging group. Friendship, music theory, new songs—the learning was crackling through my body and mind.

And my first response? I said to myself, “Why are you wanting to play guitar? You’re not a musician! You’re supposed to be an artist! An artist!! Stop with all this music stuff!”

My visionary all-encompassing art life started to feel constricting. Even though I continued to create and teach art, I was panicky with guilt, feeling as if I was abandoning my commitment.

I had found my One Thing, and it wasn’t enough.

And that’s when Barbara Sher changed my life again. Just as I was feeling like a failure, a flake, a dilettante, I found her book Refuse to Choose.

She told me I was normal. That my bounding from interest to interest like a giant puppy was my strength, not my weakness. That One Thing would never be enough for me. That I wasn’t a failure.

Oh my gosh. I felt as if my brain was exploding. Wonderful things to learn flooded in. I could write songs! I could learn to cook on the campfire! I could read about early English Christianity! I could learn German again!

In the last few years I have made less art, immersing myself in music and now my new teaching business. I have allowed myself to let the art be, knowing that everything is connected and it will come back when it wants to.

And you know what? That flood of riches is still flowing. I am an artist, yes. I am a musician, chorus singer, songwriter. I am a really good indexer. I am a writer and a teacher. And who knows what I’ll be next? I’m a scanner. There is room in my life for everything I love.

And writing this post is making my pieces in process, "The Holiness of the North Wind" and "Questioning the Air" wake up again inside my mind. My colored pencils are already out as I design the header for my new teaching website. I can feel my fingers itching for the feel of the paper under the pigment.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Digging for Treasure: Getting Real

Photo by woodley wonderworks on flickr
Here we are again, with the ninth post in the Digging for Treasure series. (I just reorganized and re-labeled them a bit. Because that’s who I am.)

I have been busy helping people actually go through this process—and it WORKS! I am so thrilled!

So! You’ve got your structure: buckets to put all your treasure in. And you’ve gone back and done some jewel gathering, filling up missing spaces in all the buckets with the things your learners will need. You found the detailed instructions for installing Wordpress. The funny story about do lists. The examples from designing an abstract painting.

What’s next?

It’s time to fine-tune your structure, and put it in order. Because you’re getting really close to being ready to plan your workshop, write your book, film your video. You’re almost ready to share your knowledge.

What do you want your learners to take with them?

I’m going to share the little tool that has helped me immensely in all of my teaching experiences. It’s called the AIB system, and it helps you to think about your goals for your learners.

  • A is for Attitudes. What attitudes do you want them to learn and adopt? Every part of your presentation should model and encourage these attitudes.
    • In my workshop A Taste of Colored Pencil, I wanted participants to experience colored pencil as a fun and accessible medium.
    • In the Digging for Treasure program, I want you to value what you know and feel empowered to share it.
  • I is for Information. What do you want them to know? Basic information in your field? Rules to be mastered before being broken? A step-by-step process?
    • In A Taste of Colored Pencil, I taught specific strokes to use when applying colored pencil to paper. And I gave information about basic tools and resources.
    • In Digging for Treasure, I teach a step-by-step process for unearthing and organizing your subconscious knowledge.
  • B is for Behavior. When your learners leave you, what do you want them to do? Do you want them to actually try the activity or skill you’re teaching? Do you want them to change their lives? How?
    • In A Taste of Colored Pencil, I wanted my students to go get some colored pencils and make some art!
    • In Digging for Treasure, what do you think? I want you to move forward in teaching or writing about your knowledge and expertise!
As you fine-tune your structure, put it in order, and start to see your presentation as real, keep these goals in mind.

Now you'll take another look at your structure.

Floating Details

Let’s take another look at your structure. Do you have some details, examples, stories, yummy stuff that you dug up that still doesn’t have a bucket? There are several possible reasons for a floating detail.

• It’s a representative of a category that needs more details. In other words, you need another round of jewel gathering.

• It really belongs in an established category. Try thinking about the detail from different angles to see if it fits somewhere.

• It’s a sign that your categories need to be re-sorted. For instance, when I added a discussion on cross references to my indexing workshop, I spent some time trying to figure out where they should go in my existing structure. I realized that, along with subheadings and double-posting, they were a way that categories were connected in the index. Those three topics deserved to be together.

• It can be discarded. I always save these in case I can use them in a future project! They’re still treasure, after all…

Looking at order

Order. You’re going to put your buckets in order now. When you stand up in front of the room, what are you going to say first? What will your first blog post be about? I told you this was getting real! (If you feel the ground shaking under you a bit, go back and read my posts on What’s Scary About Teaching.)

Order is important because it helps people learn. If they can move from one point to each other in some kind of logical way, they’re able to hook onto the information, remember it, and make connections between different parts of it. (That connection-making part, according to current brain science, is just about the most important part of learning.)

Well, duh.

Okay, maybe right now you’re saying, “Well duh. I have my order already. It’s the steps of my process. Why is this such a big deal?” Well good! Write it down! Some subjects lend themselves to an obvious order more easily than others. And do look at the ideas below in case it needs any tweaking.


Otherwise known as, things you have to know before you can learn something else. Do you have any of these? Think about each point you want to make. Is there something people need to understand before they’ll be able to get it?

Is there a step, a task, a priority, a reason that trumps all later decisions? Put it first. When I was planning this very lesson, I realized that this very point needed to come almost first (right after duh, the order is obvious). (Yes, I know, we’re getting very meta here. I’m putting in order my points about putting points in order. Sorry, this is my life these days. It’ll get less confusing when I go on to teach about mindmapping or something.)

A toolbox

Here are some examples of logical orders from my toolbox. I have a nice long list of them. I find that I don’t actually use the list directly—I get the types into my mind and then they’re there to be accessed.

  • Process or step-by-step order. There’s our “duh” example. But it’s not all that simple. You could start with the finished product and work backward, showing people how each step built on the last. Here’s a wonderful party. What did the organizer have to do to make it happen?
  • Feelings or attitudes to concrete details. If I was teaching about living with rheumatoid arthritis, I might talk first about what it feels like to have this disease before going on to offer practical advice.
  • Practical issues to feelings. On the other hand, you can do it the other way around. I could tell about the steps you need to follow to sell your house, and then address the feelings that it might bring up.
  • Classification. Types of things! Reasons children get into conflicts with each other, and how to address each kind of conflict.

You might need a combination of orders. For instance, a video on building a cabinet might basically follow the step-by-step process, but have an introductory section on the tools and materials you need for the project.

My process

I’ve done this ordering thing many, many times. If there was some time in between (as there was before I got going on Digging for Treasure) I might forget what I always do. Then I have to reinvent it. It always comes out the same. Here’s how I do it.
1) List my categories (buckets). Usually at this point they’re sections in a Word document with all of their treasure collected in them. So I have to pull out just the category names and make a list. 
2) Write each category on a card. Lay out the cards on a table or, usually, the carpet, and move them around. Make a tentative sequence. 
3) Talk or write through the sequence. I talk to the Magic Imaginary Person in my head. This person is marvelous because she’s dying to know anything I can tell her. I start telling her my points in order. 
4) And I find out whether the order works or not. I find this out by listening to what I actually say to the Magic Imaginary Person. Sometimes I find myself saying, “So, the first thing to think about here is…” and what comes out of my mouth is not the point I thought was first. Huh.

When I was planning this lesson (here we go with the meta-meta again), even though I had put something else first, I found myself saying “here is a toolkit of logical orders.” (That was the first time I called it a toolkit. The Magic Imaginary Person often helps me to name things.) And a toolkit really ought to go first, because you want to have your tools from the beginning. So I moved it up closer to the beginning.
Sometimes I learn about my order by hearing the transitions between points. Because you can list a bunch of points, but if you’re actually going to talk about them, you end up with transitions from one to the next. So after I finished telling the M. I. P. about the toolkit, I found myself talking about how you might need more than one order. That just naturally followed. And the order fell into place.
5) Then I go back to my Word document and move the whole sections around to their new order. It’s helpful at this point to note any transitions you discovered!
Oh my goodness. You’re done.

If you’ve done all of the parts of the process as I’ve outlined them in these posts, you should have the makings of a presentation. You’re ready to take your beautiful treasure, your knowledge, skills, experience, and give it to people.

What next???

It’s time to think about the first form your presentation will take, and look at the next steps for that particular form. Call the community college to find out how to apply to teach a workshop. Sign up for my Workshop Workshop course. Teach yourself Powerpoint. Register a domain name for your blog. Read the books on self-publishing. Join a writer’s group.

One more thing though:


At this stage of the process, it’s useful to start writing about it. Actual sentences. Paragraphs with topic sentences. So if you haven’t started already, start now. Explain things. Write down the succinct, expressive phrases that come to you in the night. (Most of the really good sentences in my indexing book came to me when I was falling asleep.)

If you’re planning to write about your subject, this is your next step anyway.

If you’re planning to teach, writing is still useful. you’ll need to compose what you’re going to say. I usually write it all out and then condense it for the cheat sheet I’ll actually be looking at. And you’ll will probably want written support materials.

Your Magical Imaginary Person can be very useful here, especially if writing feels intimidating. Start explaining things to her, and tape yourself. Transcribe it (or use voice recognition software). Ta-dah! Beautiful writing, straight out of your mouth.

Digging for Treasure in your life

The Digging for Treasure process gets internalized. You go along through your life, and you notice what you know. You value it. You’re aware of your knowledge and skills on a deeper level. And that enriches your life.

And especially if you find you enjoy the actual experience of writing or teaching, you find yourself doing the process again with a different subject, and taking it out into the world.

That’s what I’ve done—with a whole bunch of different subjects, and more in the future. I’m launching the website for my teaching business, and I’m giving it a really broad description (contrary to the niche marketing advice). Because who knows what else I’ll want to share?

Who knows what you'll want to share?

Here are the posts in the Digging for Treasure series, in order:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge
The First Digging: Observation 
Into the Baskets!  
Sorting Your Treasure
Jewel Gathering