Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pull It Together and Push It Through: How to Get It Done When You Think You Can’t (Brain Boosting)

Pull It Together and Push It Through
How to Get It Done When You Think You Can’t

Do you ever have semi-complicated projects or tasks to do that you just can’t seem to wrap your mind around, especially when you are tired? How about these? 
  • pay bills, evaluate insurance options, do taxes
  • organize a storage area or your computer files
  • research health and nutrition issues
  • make menu plans so you can have a decent “real” dinner at least a few times a week instead of frozen pizza and fast food
  • shop for back-to-school items or Christmas
  • switch out seasonal clothing for several children and figure out how to store what you are using now and what you aren't
  • plan lessons, grade, and keep records for home schooling or classroom teaching
  • figure out a new computer program or app
  • write a blog post, a research paper, a freelance magazine article, or a book
  • help your child with an extended school project or college application
  • plan a party or outreach event
  • ship out orders for a home business
  • revamp your resume and looking for a new job
  • prepare notes for a public speech or presentation
  • write proposals, evaluations, or project plans at work
  • plan events and accommodations for a family vacation
  • work through personal therapy issues
  • make and prioritize long-term and short-term goals
  • think through an upcoming life-changing decision

Whatever it is, your brain can freeze up and you might think, “I just can’t do this. I don’t know how. I can’t focus. It’s too complicated. It’s confusing.”

This happens to me quite often. Honestly, that’s when I’m tempted to procrastinate, and sometimes I do. But then it just has to be done, and I don’t want to do a shoddy job. I want to get it done on time. I want to do it right. That’s when I need to “pull it together and push it through.”

The “pull it together” phase is setting myself up for success. It’s the foundation, the groundwork, the prep time. The “push it through” productive phase is actually getting the work done. Ready, set, go!

Pull It Together
  • Tell yourself it has to be done. Now. Remind yourself why it is important. What reward will come from getting it done? If there isn’t an intrinsic reward – which comes naturally – can you choose your own "carrot" reward to motivate yourself?
  • Figure out what success looks like for this project. Are there any deadlines or specifications? How will you know you have done it well? What will that look like? Take a few minutes to picture this and lock it into your mind. You might need to ask a supervisor, teacher, spouse, mentor, or other interested party for input. 
  • Remember that you should have SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed with the complexity, try to demystify the process. Sort out the tangles ahead of time. What questions need to be answered first? What decisions need to be made? Have you done anything like this before? What worked? What didn’t? Are you afraid of failure or criticism? Are you being a perfectionist? Write it down! Brainstorm!
  • Decide what steps you need to take to do it right. Write them down in logical order. This is called managing the critical path. You don’t want to bottleneck your project waiting for one thing that could have been done earlier. You also want to make sure the key things get done. (Remember the analogy of the “big rocks” going into the jar before the “little rocks”?) Maybe they won’t be chronologically first, because they are dependent on earlier steps, but make sure that first task path leads to the first priority whenever possible. All other things being equal, also try to alternate more simple steps with the harder ones. Or schedule the more difficult items for a time of day when you usually feel freshest. You can also try “backwards planning” where you start with the goal and trace back what needs to be done in order to get to each step.
  • If you don’t know how to do something, try looking it up on the web. You might find a tutorial or an instruction manual. Or check out a library book.
  • Contact others ASAP to get information or other things you need, like consulting with other family members on what needs to go in next month’s budget. Figure out which steps you can do even before they get back to you.
  • Ask for help actually doing the project, especially if you aren’t familiar with it. Be clear about what you need, so that you don’t end up going in different directions and getting frustrated with each other.
  • Clear your work area so you won’t be distracted and so you can have room to lay out the materials you need. If your desk area is too cluttered, take a basket bin and move off anything that you don't need right now. If you need extra space to lay out your supplies, set up a folding table.
  • Organize your information into notebooks, file folders, shelves, or an electronic device.
  • If you usually have trouble focusing on your screen or on the printed page, check into the need for eyeglasses for that particular distance. I wear progressive lenses with three focus strengths, so this is really easy for me. In earlier years, I just swapped out different pairs of non-prescription reading glasses for each task. Also make sure you have the right lighting for your job. You will tire more easily and you may miss important details if your eyes are strained.
  • Gather your supplies. What do you need? Make sure you have everything before you get started so you don’t have to stop in the middle to go find or buy what you are missing. Having a desk with fully stocked drawers (so everything I need is right there) has made a huge difference to me.
  • Make a ToDon’t list of distractions to avoid while you are working. If necessary, get your computer to block web sites that sidetrack you and/or set up a separate computer desktop that has only the programs and files you need.
  • Check what you’re wearing. It should be comfortable and suitable for your task. If you don’t feel productive, dress for success. There are certain things I like to do in my pajamas, but others that I should not, especially since I tend to work better if I've taken a shower. I’m not saying you should dress up in a suit every time you do paperwork, but try to be professional. 
  • Put on background music that is cheerful but not distracting, if it helps you. Classical or light jazz might be good choices.
  • Take care of your comfort needs. Drink some water. Eat a protein snack. Take a quick nap if you are about to crash and can’t think straight. Drink something with a moderate amount of caffeine. (I don’t like coffee, so I use Crystal Light drink packets with caffeine.) Go to the bathroom.  Put another cup or bottle of water in your work area where you can reach it easily.
  • Get up early and work while it’s quiet and your brain is fresh.
  • If you have recurring tasks, set up a regular procedure of how you do it. You don’t need to rethink it every time if it is still working. When I was classroom teaching, I had template documents for my lesson plans and for record keeping. No need to reinvent the wheel!
  • If you have multiple related recurring tasks, plan a regular routine. Before I go to bed, I have to lock three doors, turn off lights, make sure the kids are getting settled in, wipe & tidy the kitchen, brush my teeth, etc. When I see them as a set, I’m less likely to skip one. I can almost do these on auto-pilot.

Push It Through
  • As you start to work, decide how much you are going to do right now. Estimate and set aside how much time it will take. If you need more quiet concentration, lock the door and let others know not to bother you unless it’s really important. Then get going on it.
  • If you start losing focus or getting confused, stop yourself for a minute. Ask yourself a few questions to figure out what the problems are. Review what you have already accomplished. Did it go as planned? Do you need to redo part of it in order to continue well with the rest of it?  Reorient yourself to what you are doing now. Look at your list of steps, and then remind yourself of what you need to do next.
  • Don’t over think or make the job harder than it needs to be. The simple way is often the best way. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be worthwhile.
  • Motivate yourself when you are losing steam. You can do this. You must do this. Tell yourself that you are capable, confident, clever, imaginative, and logical. Psych yourself up! Knock the fear and doubt out of the way.
  • Take a short "power up" break when you need it. Breathe deeply. Get up and flex your stiff muscles. Drink more water. Close your eyes for a few minutes, especially if you are doing detail work or staring at a screen. If you are hot, crank up the air conditioning. If your work area is getting cluttered, take a few minutes to reorganize for the next step. Just don’t start a completely different activity or get stuck in diversions on your break. Focus on what will help you get back on task quickly.
  • Pace yourself. If the job turns out to be more than you can reasonably handle right now, break the tasks into steps and plan specific times to get them done, maybe a little this hour (or day), and a little more the next.
  • Keep going. Push on through until you have completed the goal you set for yourself. Remind yourself that if you quit before a logical stopping point, it’s going to be that much harder to figure out where you left off once you come back to it. Make sure your train of thought doesn’t lose its caboose.
  • Clean up after yourself if you don’t have a dedicated spot to work on this project. Even if you can leave things out, at least organize them so that you can pick up your work again easily.
  • If you aren’t completely done with the project, leave a note (paper or electronic) to remind yourself what you need to do next. If others are involved, communicate your progress and what still needs to be done.
  • If you are so tired or flustered that you can't determine whether you have done the job completely and accurately, don't finalize it yet. This is especially true for make-or-break communications or projects, which may or may not need an extra day to gel. Wait until you can come back to it with fresh eyes, a calm soul, and an energized brain. Then make your own second opinion or ask for feedback from a family member or colleague.
  • Evaluate your work. Review what you learned and completed. Decide what to do better. Feel a sense of accomplishment. Enjoy your reward! 

Becoming more productive and taking more responsibility for myself and my family are ways that I am growing up as a mom and as a human being.

How about you? What do you do pull it together and push it through?

This is the second post in my Brain Boosting series. You can find the first one here: Brain Boosting: The Physical Factors.

Other related posts on this blog:
Articles on the web that I used as idea resources: 

Friday, July 18, 2014

When Life is Not a Bowl of Cherries

When Life is Not a 
Bowl of Cherries

The concept of motherhood seems so rosy cozy, yet for so many of us, it brings challenges and broken places. When I changed the name of this “mommy blog” yesterday, I wanted the capture the essence of the sheer amount of growth required to survive and thrive.

Today has been one of those days.

This morning, I took my son to a doctor’s appointment because of recurring abdominal pain. To rule out an unlikely case of appendicitis, they sent us over to another facility for an ultrasound and blood work and we prepared for a projected 45 minute wait. We sat there nearly two hours (child going insane from boredom) listening to world news about wars in Israel and Ukraine. What a relief when daddy brought a puzzle book and something to eat! Then, after all this time, I found out that we couldn’t get the ultrasound there, and I did something I never ever do: I snapped at the receptionist for not communicating clearly. Three times. I had to walk out to cool down. Yikes. What’s with that? I hate it when I act like a pouty little kid. I do need to grow up. (I later figured out part of it was PMS - a reason but not an excuse.)

After that, we decided to go to the hospital’s imaging clinic. While driving there, I had a strong desire to call my mother and hear her soothing voice. I completely lost it when I pulled into the hospital parking lot. Mom died a year ago in a hospital from malpractice. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of her death. I can’t talk to her, can only imagine her voice, the words she would say if she could. I wept in the imaging clinic, trying to explain my breakdown to the sweet people behind the desk who were valiantly but unsuccessfully trying to pull up any possible outpatient appointment today. No deal, so we’re on for Monday. (If we have trouble before then, we'll take him to the ER, of course. He feels OK now.) Kudos to Amy and Nick at Florida Hospital Winter Park for their compassion and all around awesomeness. But it still hurts. The tears still flow. And they will. I think I’ll just carry around a box of Kleenex this weekend. 

There’s other stuff going on, too. Way too much to write about. Lots of regrets for the past and worries for the future. (Think: impending lawsuit for long ago car accident. That’s just one thing.)

Erma Bombeck once wrote a book called, If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?  Well, life isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries for me right now. Sometimes it really is the pits.

Cherries in my mother's
vintage pedestal bowl.
Yet I see bright spots, too. A bowl of real fresh cherries for dessert. Strawberries, too. What else? The knowledge that I still have a very supportive dad, sister, and brother, even if my mom isn't with us. Text messages from a teenage daughter checking if her brother was OK because she cares so much about him. An offer from same daughter to plan her little sister’s birthday party. Bear hugs from a teenage son, accompanied by sweet words of affirmation. Spaghetti that tasted particularly good. (Maybe I can cook after all.) Seven of us actually sitting around the dinner table at the same time – a rare feat – and chatter like, “Butter comes from cow nipples!” The long evening nap under a quilt my sister gave me. The yummy aroma of a late night batch of snickerdoodle cookies from the teenage daughter. Yeah, she rocks. They all do.

So much we go through, the good and bad mixed together. It stretches our faith. It teaches us life lessons. It connects us to those who want to help us. It draws on our capacity to love others. It shows us where we need to put forth more effort.

Little by little, day by day, this mom grows up.

~ Virginia

~~ thank you,
Mary Engelbreit ~~

P.S. #1: When I imported the posts from the old blog, I also created two new pages of indexes for some of the major themes. You can find them here:

P.S. #2: You might like these posts, too.

P.S. #3: On Saturday morning, my daughter Julia brought over special treats: my grandson Lucas, and a big, beautiful, delicious cherry Danish!  Yes, I shared.

P.S. #4: On Saturday evening, Ben and I did end up going to the emergency room because he had a few sharp flare ups. After blood tests, ultrasound, and CT scan, everything looks good, though we still don't know what is causing the pain. After not eating for 11 hours, he was delighted to hit the Steak 'n' Shake drive through at 11 PM on the way home.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Welcome to This Mom Grows Up!

Welcome to 
This Mom Grows Up!

I originally named this blog "Come, Weary Moms" in 2009 but I'm ready for a new name in a new space, so here we are at "This Mom Grows Up!" in 2014.

I wanted a blog name to reflect the fact that motherhood is a dynamic process. I've been a mom for over 27 years, and I am still learning as I go. The youngest of my ten children is just turning nine, so I have a long time to keep growing up as a mom. In recent years, I've especially seen the need to step up in areas that are new to me. It's quite a challenge! Can you relate?

I am importing all (or at least most) of the old posts here. Please note that all links to these previous posts will probably send you over to the old blog! I just don't have time to change them. Thanks for your patience!

I'll be twiddling with the blog format, and maybe even shifting the focus a bit. Let me know what you think. I really appreciate your feedback.

Feel free to visit my other blogs, too!




Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Adding Wisdom to Strength

Adding Wisdom to Strength

As an often overwhelmed mother of many, I crave inspiration where I can get it. I’m also a word person, and a single word can sustain me for a long time.

While on my way to a family reunion with my younger kids, we visited a coal mine tour in Pennsylvania. I wanted them to have a sense of their family heritage, since my great-great-grandfather Heinrich Hess, a German immigrant, was a coal miner in that area.

In the gift store after the tour, I found a bin of engraved rocks with words on them. Many of them – such as “Organize” and “Simplicity” - appealed to me, but I decided to narrow my choice to a single one: “Wisdom.” Right now, wisdom is the crying need of my heart.

So today, as I unpacked our vacation treasures, I placed my “Wisdom” stone next to the “Strength” stone I had picked out last year on my birthday as a gift from my daughter. The juxtaposition of the two stones together reminded me of a key principle in life: 

We need to always add wisdom to our strength. 

There are so many things we cando, that we have the power to do. I am glad of that. In the past year, I have needed the strength of courage, energy, and focus to step up and do things that needed to be done. Strength is good, but we desperately need wisdom to make right choices and apply our strength to the right things. These are not always obvious, even when reading the Bible. The Holy Spirit can guide us more specifically as we listen closely with a yielded heart.

I sat yesterday to read my old leather bound Bible and write notes in my Scripture journal. I opened to 2 Corinthians 1, where I had left off my study, and read verse 12.

“Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God.  We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.”

I thought about this as I wrote:

“This is what I want to be able to say as a Christian.  This requires consecration to God, and wisdom about what he requires. I need to think of this verse as I make decisions for the future, especially ones that affect other people. Some things may seem godly which are not. Some things may seem worldly which are not. What will bring the most glory to God? What is the best way to show his redemption and rescue in my life? How can I lead my children in the ways of the Lord?

[Side note: Are you curious why I said, “Some things may seem godly which are not. Some things may seem worldly which are not”?  We must not be na├»ve in our attempts to please God. In the garden of life, we need to be careful not to be snagged by the thorns, even ones that seem pious. Remember that Jesus himself said in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  You can read more at the bottom of this post: Follow the Way of Love.]

As I contemplate my future and the choices I need to make, I know I need both wisdom and strength. I want to live with sincerity and holiness in the midst of a world of heartache and confusion. Pray for me, will you? Write to me, and I'll pray for you, too!

Some of my favorite wisdom verses to ponder: 

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, but deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy or selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  James 3:13-18

“Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.  The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Ecclesiastes 9:15-17

As Heinrich Hess wrote at the end of his 1886 memoir,

"At my confirmation I selected this verse, Psalm 143, verse 10, "Lord, teach me to do thy will for thou art my God.  May your good spirit lead me on a smooth road."  The Lord has lead me up to this point and I know that He will also lead me further on if I will only believe in Him.  My wish and will is to make myself subordinate to Him and to be true to Him until my end."

Thank you, Heinrich. That's a wise word for me 128 years later in 2014.

Wisdom and strength,

Virginia Knowles

More rocks here!  Stones of Hope and Joy