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Finding Focus

I’m sitting here on my ottoman, a whole list of things I want to get done, not doing any of them (at least not until I started writing this blog post), and wondering why I spend so much time thinking about what I want/need to get done as opposed to actually *doing* it. I do this everywhere…though I am somewhat more focused at work when I can be (which isn’t as much as I’d like, because…other people).

That said, even here at home, by myself (well, just me and the dogs), I am…unsettled. Unfocused. I know what I want/need to do, but I can’t decide what to do first, or for how long, or what to do when I get interrupted, or…well, you get the picture.

Part of the problem is that I’m interrupted so often (even here at home), that I have trouble getting into anything because it seems futile. I know that happens a *lot* at work, and here at home with the dogs too. I’ve gotten so used to that, and it’s so disruptive to being “in the zone” with anything that I often just don’t even try. I pick at things, piecemeal, afraid to get too deep since an interruption is inevitably just around the corner instead of really focusing. It’s far less efficient and less satisfying than being able to actually put my head down and work steady for a good couple hours on the same project, but it’s often all I can do to actually make progress on anything.

Even just now, writing this post, I had to get up to let the dog in, but when I sat back down, I checked my email before coming back to this. Is there anything else that needs my attention? Do I need to shift focus again? Is it okay to try to get back in the zone for another twenty minutes or so?

I’ve trained my brain to be like this, to just work shallowly around all the interruptions throughout my day, and I get stuff done, but not nearly as efficiently or satisfyingly as I could if I were able to actually focus, even for just a full hour at a time.

Thing is, I probably could, it’s just that I hate being pulled out of the focus zone so much, and it’s happened so often, that the fear (or certainty) of it happening again keeps me from allowing myself to really delve into anything at all. And I’ve trained myself to give into that fear, unfortunately. Which means to “fix” it, there are a couple of things I really need to work on.

The first is planning. I’ve gotten lazy about both keeping track of projects and scheduling the smaller parts of the whole. The only way to be able to focus on anything is to first know what it is I wanted to focus on in the first place. I have a ton of projects to keep track of for work, and also a bunch for both the house and my writing. Today I wasted a ton of time just trying to decide whether to clean first, or write this blog post, or do some editing, or rearrange furniture…and that’s only four different things! If I had a running list of to-dos, and then either late last night or first thing this morning, I looked at that list and my day and actually scheduled when I wanted to do what, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time. I would have had a plan to follow, and even if I was interrupted or thrown off the schedule, I still would have been able to pick it back up from the last undone thing, and could have continued from there.

I have the tools to do this. I have a main calendar program and a list program that is easily used for automated reminders and scheduling. I also have a digital paper tablet that I can hand-write on (which often works best for me when making initial lists before they get scheduled into the automated one). The only thing I don’t have? A routine habit for maintaining the system.

The second thing I need will arguably be more difficult, and that is to somehow get over the fear of being interrupted, and learn to get into the “zone” of focused work more quickly so that even when I am interrupted, I don’t lose so much time. Part of that is knowing what I need to do when, but the other part is just retraining my brain so that when the interruption has been dealt with, I just check my list, figure out what I’m supposed to be working on next, and then just slide right back into it. That is a discipline thing, and it’s going to mostly involve using my to-do list to “trigger” my brain into focus-mode. It’s going to involve a lot of willpower.

I’ve been employing that throughout writing this post. Whenever I feel myself losing focus, I close my eyes briefly, remind myself that I’m writing a blog post, and then continue. I think what I’m going to do after I’ve finished this is to rearrange the screens on my cell phone so that my to-do list is the only thing on my home screen. That way, after any interruption throughout the day, I can unlock my phone, my to-do list will be right there, and at the top will be whatever is scheduled for the day and not yet checked off.

I think doing these two things – maintaining a to-do list/calendar and using it to trigger/ground my focus after every interruption, I can alieviate at least a little stress from my life, and hopefully spend more time actually focused on tasks rather than wondering what I should work on next or picking at things piecemeal throughout the day.

Next up on today’s impromptu to-do list: Update the actual to-do list, and schedule a time (either late night or early morning) to pick the priority items for any given day.

This sort of thing is why I should take vacation days more often. I have a hard time stepping back, looking at what’s causing me stress, and figuring out how to fix it when I don’t have time and space to just be quiet and think. Evaluation/re-evaluation days are important.


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Time for a Retreat

I don’t know if it’s the year, or just the fact that I’m getting older, but I’m starting to have trouble keeping track of things. Work projects, personal projects, health stuff…things I really need to keep track of and could easily just track in my head previously. Call it age, call it pre-menopausal brain fog, or just the stress of the “Year of Constant Change”, but I feel like I’m catching up instead of keeping up more than usual, and I’m not gonna lie – between that and politics, I’m stressed out.

Stress isn’t good for us. Constant stress, even less so. And when I was looking at the top of my growing-out hair the other day and found that my natural part line was quite a bit wider than it should be, I did what any sane woman would do and freaked the heck out.

I did that quietly, because my husband is nearly bald, and there’s really not much to be done for male pattern baldness (that I know of). So I am trying to be sensitive to that, but whether we like it or not, society judges women more strictly than men on their looks, and hair is a big part of that.

Naturally, I went searching WebMD and YouTube for pics and information (I consider WebMD to be pretty reliable, considering I’ve sat in a doctor’s office and watched them look stuff up there on numerous occasions). And I found that my widening part is called female pattern baldness, it’s either Type I or II (hard to say from the pics) and while it can sometimes be genetic, there are several other things that can cause it – mostly internal health issues like thyroid problems, anemia (which I tend towards), illness, and *stress*. Best of all, most of those things can be treated and the hair loss reversed from the inside out.

Last spring I was very sick for an extended period of time. I got sick shortly before the pandemic became a “thing”, and was ill for over two months. I was in the middle of a very stressful work project when I got whatever it was I got (I don’t think it was covid, but who knows), and I didn’t start getting better until four weeks in when the project was finally finished (recovery was incredibly slow). But during that time, there was a day or two where I noticed actual clumps of my hair coming out in the shower. So I’m wondering if that’s when this slight baldness started. Maybe it was worse then – I wasn’t going to the hair dresser or dying my roots then, so I wasn’t really looking at the back/top of my head much, and I expected to get it cut again, so I wasn’t too worried about hair health.

I haven’t noticed any major hair loss since then, so hopefully I just need to get “de-stressed”, make sure my iron is up, get my thyroid checked (will happen automatically with our required wellness blood check for work this fall), and make sure I’m giving my adrenal glands what they need.

The medical stuff is all well and good, and all things I’ll definitely take care of and monitor. But the stress…man…this year, keeping that down to a managable level is nearly impossible.

*Nearly* being the operative word. I can do this, I just need to be very mindful of it.

I need to stop paying so much attention to the news…and FB is the worse place for that, I’ve found. Facebook just shoves it right in my face, so to speak – it’s hard to ignore or get away from it there. So I need to really limit my FB time, and when I am there, I need to ignore that little red dot on the “News” icon telling me there’s new stuff to scan. I know everything is currently running at near-apocalyptic levels without FB telling me every single hour of the day. I need to focus on my immediate life, and the day-to-day that I’m having trouble keeping track of. I’m hoping that not letting the news cycle get to me as much will also help me regain some focus both personally and professionally.

I know who I’m voting for, both at the federal and local levels. The pandemic is what it is, and I’m taking the precautions I feel the need to take while not panicking too much about it. I don’t need constant input or news for either of those two subjects – I just need to keep on keeping on. Stay the course, so to speak.

I also need to take some time off and regroup. Do something for me. Something that will overshadow everything else, and allow me to just focus inwardly for awhile. So I’m going to do just that Thursday of this week. I’ve scheduled vacation days for this Thurs-Fri, and next Mon-Tues (that tends to work better than to take one full week…I get called less by work if I’m not out for a full 5 days of any given week for some reason).

Thursday at 2pm, I have an appointment at the tattoo shop to start a full back piece that will require at least four, maybe five sessions over as many months coming up. It will be a huge project, and will require me to focus on my own body, staying healthy, healing properly, and taking good care of the artwork.

For those of you sputtering, “but…the pandemic!” Yes, I know. Really. I truly did weigh this decision against the health risks quite heavily before deciding to schedule it. And part of the reason I have six days off is so I can isolate myself completely while the wound is fresh, and not be anywhere other people are until it’s healed enough to seal over. I have everything planned to where I won’t have to leave the house from Thursday night all the way through the following Weds, except to walk my dogs at night (I don’t come into contact with others while doing that). I can focus solely on taking care of my skin, and more importantly, keeping my stress levels down while I figure out how to get back on track and *keep myself there*.

Call it a personal, literal retreat.

The fact is, I need to do something drastic. Something that will get my focus off of everything for a few days and allow me to reset my mind in a better place. And I know from experience that getting tattooed gets me there. It’s a form of therapy for me – not just getting the tattoo (which requires focus and discipline to deal with varying levels of pain for hours on end), but healing it afterward. It’s what I need right now. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Are you stressed out or overwhelmed with the year? What are you doing to take care of yourself and “get centered”, so to speak? When’s the last time you “took time” to retreat from the world?


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Variety Pages – March 17, 2020

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Are you wearing green?! No pinching this year either way, I suppose. *sigh*

Alternate Realities: Animal Crossing

Springtime has come to Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, and I spent a lot of time growing flowers and catching bugs last week to get some very pretty and spring-y tulip themed items. I don’t have them up in my camp, because I jumped on the chance to use some of the themed items I got last year, but I may still add a few of them here and there this spring. It’s fun seeing all the bright spring colors and flowers…puts me in the mood for spring in real life, though that’s still quite a ways off – especially considering the snow storm we got this past weekend. There’s a fishing tourney going on this week, and even with everything that’s happening both at work and globally, I make time to play daily, just to get away from all the stress for a few minutes.

I’ve also been playing Animal Crossing Wild World, which was released for the Nintendo DS system in 2005. My husband brought home a DS Lite system someone at his work was giving away, and I wanted to play one of the mainstream Animal Crossing games before the new one comes out this Friday (yes, I have it on pre-order from Amazon). I was curious as to why most Animal Crossing fans were so down on Pocket Camp, and now that I’ve been playing Wild World, I can see where going from the mainstream game to the scaled down mobile game would be a disappointment.

But I also can see why Pocket Camp is scaled down – it’s made for people on the go to play in tiny bites, and for that purpose, it works well, in my opinion. All of this led me to thinking about why I love these games, and I came up with a few reasons:

– They’re absolutely adorable, which makes my brain relax and gives me a dopamine hit pretty much as soon as they load up, much like seeing my dogs.
– There’s a strong collection element to them, and I definitely have the “collectors” gene.
– I like making progress in them by helping the other villagers – being nice and helpful in these games is always a very rewarding experience, moreso than it often is in real life.
– I like connecting with other people that I know nothing about other than that they love the game as well. It’s fun doing what I can to help them meet their in-game goals, and having them help me meet mine. It’s all very socially rewarding without the actual in-person interaction, which seems like something that’s getting more and more important given current events.

Do you play? If so, send me your friend code (or ask me for mine)! Let’s play/escape together!

Puppy Pic of the Week

On Current Events

It’s impossible not to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic these days, and I’m no exception. I’m lucky in that my job isn’t really affected or threatened by the measures our government is taking to try to stem a tide that will keep on moving no matter what we do. I’m also lucky that I’m an introvert who tends to eschew human contact on an average day, so staying away from people is easy for me (I don’t just take the stairs to be healthy, I take them because I don’t like being stuck in small spaces with even a few other people).

I also tend to be of a lazy “prepper” mindset when it comes to food and such, so we have plenty of food and toilet paper for several weeks…and we have that on an average day, not just one where people are going out in droves to buy crazy amounts of paper products, soap and beans. So while it’s an annoyance to find the shelves clear of baked beans/bean salad (and a little uncomfortable considering I need a lot of fiber in my diet), we aren’t going to run out of food anytime soon.

I’ll go to work until I’m told I can’t, except for this Friday, which I’m taking as a vacation day because…Animal Crossing. And also because I really, really need a day where nothing needs to be done, I don’t have to stress over some project at work, and I can just sit and let the stress that has my shoulder pinched in a very uncomfortable way roll off and with any luck, right down the drain. I need a break – not only from work, but from the world. Both my mind and my body need to just relax. Chill. Play with the puppies and wander around a deserted virtual island.

For now, I need to work harder on getting enough sleep. It’s the little things that will determine how or if we survive this: sleep, hydration, nutrition, relaxation. The basics.

Life is changing, and I suspect it won’t ever be the same as it was after we’re done. No matter how much we like to think we’re in control or give ourselves that illusion, we’re not, and nature is not kind or unkind, it just…is what it is.

Excerpt of the Week

The Pact

Michelle sat on the old, cold stone steps of the abandoned building, arms propped on her knees, head down, stringy blond blond hair covering her face. A black beanie hugged her head, damp from the rain.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting there. Hours, certainly. This was the address she’d been given and she couldn’t leave. Not yet.

There was a big clock tower in the center of town. It was old and simple, made of rough hewn stone blocks, with big copper bells that tolled on the hour, as they were doing now. Two pm.

She lifted her head and looked at the chipped address tiles again. Twenty-two hundred Barnaby Street. Just as her note had said. It had been 10 years since they’d made the pact. He probably wouldn’t even remember, but she didn’t have anywhere else to be, and this…well, this could be her chance. Maybe the only one she’d ever get.

If he showed up.


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Stress, Death, & Sleep

Good to rest after a nice walk in the rain…

It’s been a few weeks, hasn’t it? If I remember correctly, two weeks ago I was busy wallowing in writerly self-pity over not making/taking/finding the time to do all I want to do on the writing side. So then instead of writing a blog post, I tried to work on my fiction, and ended up coming up with a plan to work in some sort fiction, which failed miserably in the first week (keep reading).

Then last week, there was a problem at work that required quite a bit of extra troubleshooting hours, which pretty much tanked both the ultra-fun weekend I had planned and bled over into the week. Such is life, sometimes, and at those particular times, life sucks.

But not nearly as much as when you have to say goodbye to a furry friend, as I did last Wednesday afternoon. I had our vet come to the house and put my quirky Mica-dog to sleep after watching him decline rather quickly over the week or so before that. He was older, around 10 or 12 (hard to say for sure with a rescue), and had many tumors and some other health problems that finally made it so he couldn’t leave the property (not that he’d get in a car…he’d refused to do that for the past few years, but he loved to go for walks), and while I wrestled hard with the decision for three days after scheduling the appointment, I knew it was ultimately the right choice when I looked into his eyes that day.

Mica-dog…on guard!

I sat on the floor of our living room with the vet and the nurse, and held his head as he closed his eyes for the last time. It never gets easier (and it shouldn’t), but unlike a few of the other five times I’ve done this, I don’t think I’ll have any lasting guilt or agonizing over whether I made the choice either too soon or too late. This is one of the few times I’ve been at peace with the timing after the fact (it’s never going to be a peaceful process to get to that decision, and again, it shouldn’t be). So there’s that, I guess. I still miss him – he was loud and demanding and persnickety and sometimes really annoying, but he was also the best couch-cuddle-buddy and one of those dogs who just wanted to be with his people and keep his “pack” in eyesight.

*sigh*

So. Throughout all the pity-party and work stress and losing-a-best-buddy stress, one thing was very, very noticeable to me. I wasn’t sleeping much, and not only did that not help, it created even more problems, from digestive issues to being hungry all the time (and subsequently making poor food choices), and then also not performing as well as I sometimes can, and also not communicating as well as usual. Stress is a killer, and certainly no fun to deal with, but when you haven’t gotten a decent 6 hours of sleep in nearly two weeks…yeah. Things start to slip. The body starts expressing displeasure. And while sleep can’t fix everything, it sure can go a long way toward helping you deal with whatever’s stressing you out. Especially when it comes to making good food choices (what and how much to eat, specifically).

I’d always read that sleep was that important, but it was never so evident to me as during these last few weeks, mostly because I’ve just been hungry *all the damn time*. I was doing so well at maintaining a lower weight and even moving down on the scale here and there…and I’m on the cusp of being seriously derailed all because I didn’t go to bed (and this past Sunday night, just because I couldn’t sleep for some reason – nothing on my mind, even, just…no sleep).

In any case, I have one more night with less-than-optimal sleep to go (gotta be at work an hour earlier on Tuesdays), but after that, the only thing stopping me from a solid 6 hours is…me, choosing not to go to bed on time. So often I don’t make the right choice there, because I don’t want to lose any of my precious alone-time at the end of the night, but…sleep is important. Rest and mental rejuvenation is important. I need to make better choices when it comes to getting enough sleep.

Rest well if you can, dear readers. And for my Mica-dog…rest in peace, buddy.


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On New Cover Art, Stress, & Priorities…

First up this fine Monday – the last serial novel (now in editing) formerly known as Under His Wing now has a new title, and new cover art! I think it’s pretty spiffy, but I’m biased…
FandS_400

Flame & Stone will be out later this month. Good stuff!

I saw a meme on FB last week (yes, I know, we all saw at least several) that was talking about how a heart attack feels for women (which is often much different than what a man feels). Towards the end, it was noted that one of the leading causes of heart attacks in women is actually stress, rather than something like high cholesterol (so one shouldn’t assume they aren’t having a heart attack just because they have low cholesterol).

For me, stress is a control thing. I get stressed when I feel like I can’t control some part(s) of my life. I get even more stressed when I want something or want to do something that will require me to give up something else that’s important to me – which is an issue of selfishness colluding with my control-freak nature. It’s one of my worst personality traits, I think, but it’s fostered by that innocent little statement that “we can have it all” if we just work hard enough.

Honestly – no, we can’t. Life is a series of decisions that require give and take, and a day only has so much time in it (same amount for everyone, obviously). The decisions we make determine how our life progresses, but unless you have very small goals/very few interests, it really isn’t possible to have “it all”. Facing that particular realization has been…a bit difficult for me. One might even say stressful.

One thing I always forget is just how much a good 20 minute exercise session can help. It’s good for my body, of course, but more than that, I find it extremely mentally clarifying. It doesn’t take much time, but it does require the decision to make it a priority, which pushes something else out of the way. It’s very important though, and without it, I have little chance of making good choices in other areas of my life.. Funny how that works.

I’ve been doing a lot of re-prioritization lately…deciding what’s truly important and what can either be dialed back, or let go of altogether. It’s not an easy process, but it’s necessary, and once it’s done, I’ll be happier for it. Obviously working out has to be a priority, as does writing, and from there, things get a little gray for me. But I’ll figure it out. It seems like I go through one of these cycles every few years, and it’s just something that has to be re-evaluated as we grow and change.

Change stresses me out…and not changing can too. Weird how that works. I’m just glad that my personal cycle of change seems to be dialing back down to “low” again. Stress is a waste of time…and apparently, bad for my arteries too.

If you’re interested in some of the changes I’m making on the writing/publishing front, check out The Writer’s Desk (formerly The Drafting Desk) for this week’s writing/publishing report.


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