As an ambitious person, I tend to go overboard when it comes to setting goals. A good goal should force you to stretch yourself to reach, but still be doable. They require real effort. This is a good thing. Reaching for a goal means that even when I don’t complete it in its entirety, I still work harder and get more done than if I hadn’t set the goal at all.
The problem I keep running into is setting too many goals at one time. When this happens, I spend each day scrambling to try to reach the most important ones and lamenting the ones I didn’t have time to work on. It’s a nasty cycle. Without fail, I’ll say stupid things to myself like “I can catch up on that tomorrow or over the weekend” fully knowing that the time fairy isn’t going to grant me more hours, even if I promise to slip her into one of my stories. Sometimes it’s not time that causes the problem, but energy. It doesn’t matter how much free time you have if you’re too tired to think or work.
I started July like I start every month, by looking over what I really wanted to make progress on and then setting goals that would help me do so. Turns out there were plenty of things I wanted to be more consistent doing that included house and yard work, personal health goals, and of course, authoring pursuits.
When I counted the things on my list today, I found sixteen different tasks that I needed to accomplish if I wanted to reach all those goals today. Some only take a few minutes, but most take anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours each. It doesn’t take a genius to do the math there. Even on a great day, there’s no way I’d have the time. Especially since I’ve also got the kiddos at home and need to give them attention as well, not to mention keep everyone fed.
Yep, just thinking about it is stressing me out a little.
Will I learn my lesson when I set goals for August? I surely hope so. The good thing is that every time I work through one of these challenges, I do learn a few things. This time I learned that tracking that many goals becomes stressful and tedious. It’s best to limit goals to the things that are truly important and then do the best you can with the rest.
My question to you is, are you a goal setter? If so, what does your goal setting practice look like?
Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.
We all remember the story of the tortoise and hare. They both had the goal of crossing the finish line but the tortoise won because he simply kept moving while the hare stopped and goofed off, believing that he could make up for lost time later. Lately my own work has felt a lot like the story of the tortoise and the hare, except I’m playing both parts. There have been days during this whole COVID thing where my inner hare wins. On those days I find myself saying dumb things like “I’ll have more time tomorrow” or “I’ll wake up early and get this thing done.” Neither of which happen.
Then, there are the days where my far more sensible inner tortoise wins. I know what my goal is and that taking small consistent steps, no matter how broken up they are, will bring me closer to reaching that goal than not taking the steps at all. It’s these days that make all the difference in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of crazy inner hare days where I do end up in a dead sprint towards a goal I’ve procrastinated on. This type of rush feels icky and the work that comes out of it is less than great. At the end of a spring I am exhausted and often can’t bring myself to do any sort of work towards the goal for days, if not weeks, afterward.
Looking back, taking the tortoise approach makes much more sense. Maybe there is only fifteen minutes to spare in that space between lunch and a meeting. Maybe it’s a half hour before bed, or right as you wake up. Using these small chunks of time might not feel like much, but as the work they produce accumulates, these small efforts can really add up.
Another perk of having a tortoise mentality is that it helps you seek opportunities that you might not consider otherwise. If you are always waiting for that perfect evening, or that free weekend to work towards your goal, it might never happen. On the other hand, if you are content with the small pockets of time you can find, you stand a much better chance of getting things done.
Dean Wesley Smith has famously talked about the idea that you should always set optimistic goals with the drive to get as close as you can to reaching them. He talks about it at length in his article Failure Must Be An Option. He says the only way to move forward is to try, and fail, and try again, over and over. This forces us to lose the hesitation of trying something new, or doing something that frightens us. Growing requires trying lots of things and failing as many times as it takes before we learn. Failure is an option, quitting is not.
Often those of us who haven’t quite figured out how to reach our goal will look on those who do and how easy it looks. It’s like watching a professional ice skater, they make ice skating look so effortless and dreamlike that it seems as natural as breathing. What we don’t see is all the hundreds of times they’ve fallen and the thousands of hours it took to get to where they are.
One of the best quotes to come out of Indiana Jones is, “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage”. It’s not time that grants us the experience we need to finish a big goal, it’s sitting down and doing the work and being willing to mess up and fail from time to time.
So, when the days feel like they are crawling by and you aren’t making much progress, remember the tortoise the hare. Lots of little efforts still add up and being willing to try matters.
I know you’ve felt it, heck, you might be feeling it right now. There are different flavors of being tired. The one most associated with the word tired is that fatigue that results from lack of sleep or doing too much. If your stress levels have been like mine, you probably have had bouts of insomnia to accompany the whirlwind that is adapting to everyday life, which in turn makes the vicious cycle of being tired that much worse.
Then, there is the tired that actually means overwhelmed. This is when there are too many items on the to do list, too many thoughts in your head, and too many responsibilities that you feel you can’t possibly meet. Often it’s not that there are actually too many things to do, it’s that trying to wrap your head around doing all of them is downright scary.
It gets even worse when any of those items are frightening by themselves. Lately, some of the simplest things have become scary. Before COVID, I never liked grocery shopping and treated it more like the Grand Prix; prepare ahead, plan my route, get in, get fueled up, pay, get out. The faster the better.
Going to the grocery store now has an extra layer of scary. Nothing like the chance of catching a horrible case of death to spice things up, right? There are all sorts of new rules that people should be following, but everyone you see are doing their own interpretation. Psst … the masks go over the nose, people.
This entire week as been filled with the dreadful anxiety that comes with being overwhelmed. This time it’s not the perpetual hedonistic treadmill that is policing my darling kiddos through the rigors of online school, we got that all figured out. It’s not even the ever growing pile of dishes that seem to spontaneously reproduce in the sink and then vomit out all over the kitchen. They’re annoying, but they don’t make my blood pressure go up.
Nope, the biggest source of my overwhelm tiredness hamster wheel is reaching the ‘you better get it done stage’ of releasing book two of the Stonebearer Saga. I’ve made so many promises to get it out earlier this year and I’ve broken everyone. After having to adjust my timeline so many times already, actually committing to something makes me break out in a cold sweat. The goal was to have it out in March. Yeah, that March – you know, the one when the world closed it’s doors and the economy started to slip down the drain.
If I commit to a release date again, I have to complete it. But this time, I’m armed with a manuscript that’s about five hours away from being called completely done. Which leads me to make the following announcement.
Drum roll please …
Stonebearer’s Apprentice will be released June 12 come hell or high water.
For early bird access to the cover reveal and preorders, come join my Fantasy Reader Community. My readers get everything from free ebooks from authors around the world, sneak peeks inside my writing world, random advice about life, and the occasional opportunity to help me shape the concepts I use in future stories.
This announcement also means that YES, I am looking for reviewers and friends on social media to help me spread the word. If you are interested, let me know and I’d love to work something out!
The process of learning hasn’t changed, like ever. You must decide what you want to know and either find someone who knows how to do it, or find a book written by someone who knows how to do it. Today, you might add looking up a video of someone who knows how to do it. The idea remains the same, if you want to learn something, you’re best off finding a teacher in some form or another.
No one starts at Master
Writing is one of those hobbies where some people believe they need no guidance, where the words in all their power and beauty are hiding within them and it’s simply a matter of allowing them to flow forth. Perhaps you’ve met a few of these people, heaven knows I have. There are one of two things that happen with those who carry this belief.
The first outcome is that they simply let the words fly and fall however they may. The first draft is the only draft they make. There is no need to return to correct or improve anything because what is written is as perfect as it can get. Reality tends to blindside these people hard and fast. They try to find agents and publishers and are met with radio silence and polite canned rejections. No one understands their brilliance and in the end they often choose to self publish this unedited pile of thought to the unsuspecting world.
The second outcome is more probable. The writer tries to write their book believing it to be a fairly straightforward process. They’ve read lots of books like it and feel they have a good idea how everything is supposed to look and feel. When they start writing they find they get stuck while trying to make the words do their thing. Maybe they can create settings but not dialogue. Maybe they can do action, but not internal monologue. What’s important here, is that these writers realize that they are struggling and then reach out for help.
Being willing to learn is the mark of a successful apprentice
You can’t start out any skill as a master. Even if you have lots of experience watching and reading about something, there’s something very different in actually doing it for the first time. Back in medieval times, young people would start their apprenticeship around the age of 12 when the opportunity presented itself. They would live in the home of the master and follow in his footsteps learning as they went. This apprenticeship lasted around 10 years until the master deemed the apprentice good enough to go out on their own.
That was when they became a journeyman and were allowed to use what they’d learned wherever they could find work. With time and careful practice, they’d reach a skill level that would make them worthy of being called a master and then the cycle would repeat itself.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Hemingway, the master of less than ideal advice for young writers, held the belief that writing was something that no one could master. Everyone had their own set of vices and strengths with which to deal with and throughout the course of their life they’d steadily improve as long as they were willing to put the work in to do so.
In this I wholeheartedly agree. While any writer might produce what is called a masterpiece, that work will still have it’s flaws, at least to some eyes. There is always something to learn more about and to work on.
There’s always room to grow
So, if this message is finding you frustrated at where you are at in your writing career, remember that you must take the attitude of apprentice and allow yourself to learn and grow. There are thousands of writers who have gone before you who had to pass through the same frustrations and can guide you in their writings and classes. Never stop learning or growing.
What have you learned recently?
For me, I had a surprising realization about the importance of making all characters interesting and not just the main cast. Every character should feel unique and have something that sets them apart.
There’s something inherently soothing about listening to a story. It brings back memories of comfortable evenings curled up on a couch and having someone read to me, or listening to tales spun around a campfire under the glittering stars.
Lately, I’ve been indulging in audiobooks as an escape from the mundane. It makes doing housework and yardwork an excuse to get away from the well worn sights and complaints of being stuck at home. With a story in my ears, I can let my mind wander to a new place and step into someone else’s shoes for a while. Sometimes these places are fantastical and dangerous, sometimes they are familiar. It’s a nice change while it lasts.
A week ago I spotted a new trend in storytelling and I kind of love it. It might be my new favorite idea ever. Just the thought of it makes me smile. Celebrities are reading bedtime stories to anyone who wants to hear them on the Calm app. Imagine that soothing comfort of being curled into a blanket and listening to a story, but this time it’s spoken in the warm tones of a character’s voice you love.
The celebrity that caught my attention was Jerome Flynn of Game of Thrones fame. He was the morally grey sell-sword who enters service as a bodyguard to Tyrion, one of the princes of King’s Landing. He’s got a deep calm voice with an ever so appealing soft Scottish accent. I wouldn’t mind drifting off to sleep listening to him tell a story one bit.
The Calm app is something I’ve used for meditation off and on. There is a little bit of everything in there so everyone can find something that works for them. I usually use the guided meditation with music portion of the app but am seriously considering listening to the bedtime stories next time I fight a bout of insomnia.
While there are plenty of different people reading bedtime stories, here are the ones that caught my attention –
Jodi L Milner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
The other day I stumbled on a phrase that caught in my brain and has refused to let go.
Be the least interesting person at the table
At first it sounds horrible. I mean, who wants to hang out with a boring person? But as I peeled back the different layers, a truth started to emerge that I found not only insightful, but downright liberating.
That truth? You are not required to prove yourself to anyone
Think deeply for a moment. The people that are by far the most obnoxious at any gathering are the ones who are always proving how awesome they are. They talk about important or famous people they’ve met, the amazing projects they’re involved in, the classes they’ve taken, and the people they’ve bested in any way. Not only is it hard to listen to, it often kicks off a ‘proving’ match among those present as everyone tries to best each other.
There is an equally obnoxious counterpart to those trying to prove themselves as awesome, and that is the person trying to prove how hard their life is. Everything is a burden, no one has it worse than they do, they have a laundry list of complaints and issues that they are eager to share with any sucker willing to listen. Sometimes we call these people emotional vampires because they tend to suck people’s energy dry.
You don’t have to prove anything
Both the pity seeker and the one working to gain social awesomeness are either consciously or subconsciously trying to get something from the listener. But, the thing they’re trying to get isn’t concrete. There is no trophy, no gold star, and no crown that goes to whoever wins. Usually all they get is a sense that no one really understands them or was able to give their accomplishments or burdens the attention they deserved.
This is why the idea of being the least interested person in the room is so compelling to me. After being around several of both kinds of attention seekers it’s clear that working to convince people of being cool or a sad sack doesn’t result in literally anything except perhaps coming off as a needy or conceited person.
So then, what’s the alternative?
Become the world’s best conversationalist. By shaking off the need to prove yourself, you open yourself to a wide range of opportunities to learn about everyone else. When given a chance, most people have things they’re dying to talk about but can never find an opening – possibly because a needy person is oversharing. They would love nothing better than someone to ask them an interesting question. If you ask the questions, you can steer the conversation toward topics that you find interesting as well. It’s a well known fact that the best relationships are built on what people have in common.
If you’ve never done it before, taking charge of a conversation can be a daunting task. This is where it might help to come prepared. Before the stress makes it hard to think, come up with a couple things that you want to find out. It can be as easy as, “Hey, you watch any of that Tiger King show yet?” or perhaps “What have you read lately that you thought was interesting?”
A cool thing happens when you lose the sense of needing
When the focus shifts from feeling needy to wanting to share and learn, the whole dynamic changes. A one sided monologue turns into a interesting discussion where everyone wants to share their experience or what they’ve learned. There is a special energy that you can’t find anywhere else when a good conversation is underway.
Be the questioner, be the listener, make magic happen
Not all groups will be able to make the sparkly energy flow, sometimes the people that are really good at having conversations like this need to be hunted down and brought into your circle. Or, perhaps they are already there, but need some gentle encouragement to open up. Regardless of how you find your next conversation, do your part by being the interested listener, the thoughtful questioner, and the least interesting person in the room.
When was the last time you had a terrific discussion? Please share!
Feeling locked up and need a short escape?
Grab my free alternate creation short story, “Breath” which asks, Is a life without love worth living?
If you are like the millions like me right now, you’re stuck at home far more than you’ve ever been before. Many of us are finding we have leagues more time on our hands than we know what to do with. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Those who find you have less time on your hands than before probably have children, like me.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of perks to having kids. Having free time isn’t one of them.
Many of you might be trying your hand at new skills. If you haven’t gotten a good handle on cooking essentially all your meals and are still trying to live on ramen, try adding a spoonful of peanut butter to it for some instant Thai food! If you’re feeling fancy, add a boiled egg. If you don’t know how to boil an egg allow me to introduce you to my my good friend Google and her twin sister YouTube. If you came to this blog for cooking advice, do I dare ask what you searched to get here?
There is this an grow belief that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it. I like this belief. It helps people feel brave enough to try things at least once. However, there is a far cry between learning something, and mastering it. I’ve heard quoted that it takes 10,000 hours of work to achieve mastery of any given discipline.
That sounds about right when it comes to a handful of fields, like coed underwater basket weaving in shark infested waters, or perhaps getting orchids to rebloom. But I digress. If you do the math – and why would you, that’s what I’m here for – that’s over twenty-seven years of spending on hour a day learning a skill.
Now that you are all sufficiently daunted by that number, allow me to propose a different formula.
100 hours of work to reach a goal.
That’s three months working an hour each day, twenty weeks if you work only weekdays, and a year if you work only weekends. Either way, you have to choose how to spend your time and what works for your schedule
The whole idea here is that if you aren’t willing to spend at least 100 hours toward a goal, then you probably won’t be willing to spend five hours, or even one.
Want to write a book? Plan on spending around 100 hours to create the first draft. If you get it done faster, great. For reference, it takes me about 80 hours to write the first draft of a 100,000 word book. Are all those words good, nope. I’m still in the part of my career where I still find myself rewriting way more than I expect.
Want to lose weight? I’ll bet you if you you commit to spending 100 hours spread between planning meals, exercising, and researching the best way for you to work with your body’s needs, that you’ll probably do great.
Want to run a marathon? Spending 100 hours building up strength and endurance will see you all the way to the end.
The list goes on and on and it can be applied to literally anything.
Utah is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. From barren deserts to looming granite mountains that scratch the sky, from the majesty that is Arches National Park to the bizarre formations of Goblin valley. During the stay at home order, my family has been doing more exploring of the wild to stave off cabin fever.
The goal of many hikes in Utah is to reach a summit or stunning outlook. The hike itself is usually uphill and starts in one of the many valleys or canyon floors. From the canyon floor your view is limited to the walls of the canyon itself, which can be quite dramatic, but isn’t what you’re there for. You’re there for the view at the top of the hill.
These trails can range from sun baked expanses to tree choked narrow pathways. They can rise up and over huge distances or climb jagged rock. Often they snake back and forth up the side of a hill too steep to climb otherwise.
While on the trail, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the trail itself. This is especially true when the trail is less than lovely or too hot. Countless feet of the people who came before you keep the dirt beneath your feet bare. Sometimes the sun beats down on your back and your legs burn with the effort to keep stepping forward on an unending uphill climb. Sometimes there are people you are traveling with that aren’t thrilled to be there.
But, when you get to the top it’s everything you wanted and more. Even more so, it’s better because you worked hard to get there.
Dearest readers, this situation we’re in is very much like climbing a steep uphill trail. We are in a narrow canyon between two mountains and it’s hard to see where we are going and how long it will take to get there. We aren’t sure if the lookout will be worth it. The trail is difficult with plenty of switchbacks and rocks to stumble over.
Let me encourage you to find beauty in the trail itself. Since we don’t know how long we might be on this journey or how many miles we have to go, it’s a good time to find ways to find joy along the path.
And if you can, get out somewhere beautiful while you do it. Let this be a time of self discovery.
There’s been an unexpected complication to all this social distancing and working from home. Whereas last week I covered how all you extroverts might find ways to survive being away from groups of people, this week I realized us introverts might be struggling as well. Suddenly, that time we used to have to ourselves is gone. All the times where we used to be able to send kids off to go play or attend classes have vanished. For some of us, we are now homeschooling for the first time ever.
It’s a big change and I’m feeling it far more than I expected I would. I expect many of you are the same. As an introvert, I refuel in the somber silence of my home turf and my cozy spots. Most weeks, my system works wonderfully. There were times of the day where I knew the house would be empty and quiet and I used this time to find my center again – that, and actually get some work done.
Don’t get me wrong, I love having my family at home. But with them here ALL THE TIME those chances to find a little peace and quiet have been ripped away. After five days of it, it’s the closest I’ve come to having a full on panic attack in years because I wasn’t doing a good job of taking care of my needs.
This is for all of you introverts out there who are struggling to find balance with all this change.
Mark your territory
Everyone needs a spot where they feel safe and able to relax, introverts especially so. Be intentional in choosing yours. It may be a chair, it might be your side of the bed, it might be a home office or a large beanbag. Remind yourself that it is your safe and quiet place where you can recharge, even if there are other people around. Keep a pair of headphones nearby and some great music ready for when you need to take a few moments and recenter. By being intentional with this space, you can train yourself to associate it with peace and a sense of well-being.
Redefine what your “you” time looks like
Change means compromise. The way you’ve always done something might not be possible with the whole family stuck in the house with you. If you’ve always taken a shower the second everyone leaves the house, you might find yourself frustrated because no one is going anywhere. You might need to wake a touch earlier to ensure a peaceful experience. If that’s not an option, search out ways to make those moments you used to enjoy in silence special. Light a candle. Indulge in special treat. Turn on your favorite songs.
There will be people in your life that just can’t understand why your “you” time is so important. If you find yourself getting anxious, tired, or upset more easily because you can’t find a good balance between being around people and being alone, you need to be able to share this with the people around you. If you don’t they might start assuming things that aren’t necessarily true. Start with the obvious. “I’m having a hard time always being around everyone this much.” Then, work towards asking for help getting what you need. “What would really help is having an hour to just read without interruptions.”
Stay in tune with your brain fairies
Things won’t be perfect. There will probably not be as much quiet alone time as you really need. This is where it’s critical to stay in tune with what your brain and body are telling you and coming up with methods that work for you to maintain your cool. If you are feeling anxious, practice a breathing exercise. If you need quiet, go take a walk. Having a plan will give you the tools you need when things start getting overwhelming.
Be gracious with yourself
Above all, this is most definitely not the time to beat yourself up about anything. Being frustrated and anxious because there is change is normal. Allow yourself to feel all of this while telling yourself that this is a normal response to what is happening. Let these cues help you make the right decision for what you need to do to take care of your needs. Pretending everything is fine when you are secretly falling apart, will only hurt you in the long run.
You’ve got this
We’ve all dealt with big changes before and survived. We’ve gotten married, separated, started a new job, changed schools, and lost people dear to us. Sometimes adapting to a big change takes a while. Things might not be comfortable for a while and that’s okay. In the end, with patience and introspection we figured things out, just as we will figure things out in our current situation. The sooner you can accept this new normal and find ways to make things work for your unique needs, the faster you will start feeling more centered and at ease.
Check it out, free reads!
Robin Glassey, a friend and fellow author gave me this heads up about some free science fiction and fantasy ebooks that are available for a limited time.
The world is gripped it in a pandemic fueled frenzy. If you’re experience is anything like mine, I’m sure you are all experiencing events being canceled, gatherings being rescheduled, and hand soap and toilet paper almost impossible to find in grocery stores.
It’s a bit scary, I’ll admit. The people I feel the worst for are all you extroverts out there. Being around other people is what gives you energy and fulfillment and your opportunities to do so have now been greatly reduced, if not completely eliminated.
Never fear. We introverts have been preparing for this moment for literally our entire lives.
I have some pointers
Find things to do
Boredom is everyone’s enemy. Introverts tend to handle boredom a bit better because our favorite activities can easily be done at home. Should you be quarantined, this is a perfect time to finally tackle some of those projects you’ve been wanting to work on. Pull out a board game to play with the family, dust off that old gaming console, or pick up one of those books you always been meaning to read.
Take time to introspect
When was the last time you took a walk with nothing but the silence to keep you company? Being under quarantine doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself inside. Find somewhere beautiful and take a walk. Allow your mind to wander. If you get ideas or insights, jot them down so you don’t forget. If you tend to be a tactile person, you can do the same thing by a writing down your thoughts long hand and letting what ever your brain wants to tell you to flow out. You might find things that surprise you.
Celebrate what you have
It’s really easy to fixate on the things you want but don’t have. Why not use this time to cultivate a new respect and gratitude for the things you do have? An abundance of stress lowers the immune system’s ability to to fight off illness. However, gratitude and a positive outlook have been proven to reduce stress. Take a few minutes as often as you can to consider something you are grateful for.
Honor your body’s needs
It’s really easy to let a huge change in schedule throw everything off, especially if you are trying to work from home for the first time. Pay attention to what your body needs. Get enough sleep. Drink lots of water. Balance work and play. Don’t binge on junk food. Set clear boundaries between when you need to work verses when you get to relax.
When all else fails, there’s always social media and online games
If you end up in quarantine, what a good age to have it in. We have everything we need to stay in contact with loved ones. There’s Skype and Facetime, there’s the full pantheon of social media outlets, there are masses of online gaming communities. For every itch, there are lots of scratches if you are feeling lonely. Try something new.
Regardless of what happens
Please observe common sense cautions. No, really. Doing the easy things is often forgotten. Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and use common sense. We’ll get through this, I promise.
If you just happen to need something to read, you can totally download my free short story right now straight to the device of your choice. It’s so easy, just click this link.