I have been the absent-minded professor lately. It’s the worst feeling in the world. I’ve lost the beautiful silver and rope badge holder Randy gave me for my birthday, can’t find my earbuds to my phone (which means no talking in the car, I need to be hands free to handle the new behemoth I’m driving, ie: the foster truck), misplaced the receipt for a very expensive blouse that needs to be returned. I stepped in as a media escort for one of my literary heroes, Diana Gabaldon, and ended up driving the wrong way three times, made wrong turns, nearly ran a red light. And that’s just the past week.
Knowing I was becoming a stress puppy, I signed up for a virtual Zen retreat. I know that’s an oxymoron, but the concept is sound – the retreat consists of emails with podcasts, discussions, guided meditations, just like you were at an actual retreat. One little problem. I’ve been too busy to open the emails and actually participate.
In and of themselves, nothing on this list is world-ending. Add them all up, though, and it’s indicative of a more serious problem.
I. Am. Distracted.
Why am I so distracted? Now, there’s a good question. Stress over the new book, which isn’t exactly writing itself? Stress over trying to keep the marketing and promotion side of the business under control, coiled for the perfect opportunity to strike and get my name in front of millions of people? (Okay, thousands. Hundreds. Ten?) Stress over maintaining some semblance of normalcy while traveling all over the country to attend conferences, trade shows and literary festivals? Stress about personal issues that I have absolutely no control over?
You get the idea. Things are a little crazy around here. Randy’s business has taken off and he has more work than he can handle. I feel the same way. And the response to having more work than you can handle is… you work all the time.
We writers are a rare breed. Every moment of our day is related to our work, even when we have full-time jobs. Every conversation is loaded with possibility, each chance meeting, traffic jam, song on the radio… anything and everything triggers our internal senses. Commit that shaft of light to memory, the look on that woman’s face, the smell of the wet asphalt, the indescribable color of that fallen leaf. It’s no wonder we go on overload sometimes.
I already knew the bane of being self-employed is getting yourself to stop working and actually focus on living life. I didn’t realize that everyone seems to be having this problem until I read this article in the Wall Street Journal, which I found via Karen Doherty on the wonderful Quo Vadis blog.
We are a twenty-four/seven world now. We are immediately accessible not only to our bosses, our friends, and our family, but to strangers as well. Facebook, Twitter, e-mail etc., is our main path of communication. And they don’t close for business at 5 p.m. five days a week. Being self-employed is even worse. Instead of having a set schedule – in the office at 8:30, lunch at 12, home at 5:30 (or 9) – we have to mandate our own time. Some folks are brilliant at this. Some can’t find enough hours in the day.
That’s what being driven is all about. Who can fault that?
The WSJ article was a wake up call for me. I wrote a few weeks back about how social networking is killing our creative spirit. I see now that’s its much more than that. Our inability to turn off, the relax, to let things go for a few hours. That’s what’s killing us. I don't know about you, but I'm on the computer pretty much from the moment I get up to the time I go to bed. Yes, I turn it off for TV and reading, but it's still an all-consuming presence.
When’s the last time you took an hour to yourself? No kids, no music, no planner, no computer. No multi-tasking, not even slipping a few minutes of reading in. Just you, living in the moment.
Yeah. Me too.
What’s the solution? Well, the WSJ article’s suggestion of one day a week completely unplugged is a good start. I can do that. With a thorough understanding of what I need to accomplish during the week, altering the allocation of time should be relatively simple. I use a time map anyway, I’ll just shift some things around. Cuts will have to be made, and there’s no question where those will come from – online and the social networks. I’ve actually been pretty good lately, (it all feels so superficial anyway) so that’s not a big loss.
Slowly but surely, I feel like I’ll be able to take my life back from stress and worry. Will I be able to shut my brain off for a whole twenty-four hours? That’s doubtful, but so long as I have a notebook near me, I can write things down as they occur and move on. I won’t be setting a slew of new goals—I agree with this premise on Mnmlist.com that setting too many goals, too stringent goals can mean we’re determining our happiness based on whether or not we achieve those goals—but I am going to try to unplug for a day a week.
We'll see if that helps.
What about you? Have you already come to the realization that being plugged in 24/7 is bad for you? Or are you still grasping, trying to find the right balance? And are you sick to death of these types of articles? I know time management isn’t exactly mystery oriented – well, it is for me, because how I manage my time is directly proportional to the quality of my writing, but you know what I mean… : )
Wine of the Week: 2005 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva