Ways to Avoid Procrastination as a Freelancer

Working from home has an abundance of benefits. There is really nothing better than being able to create my own schedule and work in the comforts of my own home. However, with the beauty of this freedom, there also comes the hazards of working in a space that is also your living space. There are always things that I could be doing that are not working. Working at home, they are all here at my fingertips. I could clean the bathroom or finish the last chapter of my book... it is sitting right on my bedside table. However, I know I need to concentrate on my work in order to be successful. Therefore, I have been working on ways to eliminate these temptations and focus on my work. I thought I would share them with you here!  

Organize

This one is pretty obvious. Though one of the hardest for me. My life has been generally lived in a whirlwind of getting by through improvisation and last-minute dedication. This hasn't always worked for me, but I have survived somehow. Just ask the Immigration Officer who told me I wasn't allowed to go back to Canada because my visa had expired. She didn't think it was so charming that I was convinced she would give me an extension so I could get my immigration eggs in order last minute. But hey, she couldn't get me down for too long! I am legally back in Canada and awaiting my Permanent Resident card. 

Therefore, I have had to do a couple of different things to organize myself. And, almost more importantly, keep up with that organization. 

Bullet Journaling

I have always loved journals. The feel of a fresh empty book is always laden with inspiration and potential. However, akin to my deeply unorganized self, keeping them has been a struggle. There always gets to be a point where I lose the motivation to maintain it. Usually, because it ends up feeling overly self-obsessive. I don't even want to read about all my day to day goings on let alone anyone else. However, I love the idea of them. 

Which introduces my solution to both my organization problem and my journaling problem: Bullet Journals! Or Bujo's if I want to just get sickenly kitschy. 

They are a way of organizing that is completely up to you. There are some great ideas out there and inspirational people like Tiny Ray of Sunshine and Boho Berry who are just creative goddesses. I like it because I can have a weeks itinerary set up and not regulated to a specific deadline. If I miss a deadline that I have assigned myself than I often will never get back to it. If I have it as a task that I want to complete during the week I am much more likely to get it done. 

It also becomes a creative outlet that has continued to keep me coming back to it. I use it because I have an interest in it that isn't purely organizational. When I was a kid my mother, who is much more organized than I am, always encouraged having a planner. She'd give me a school planner at the beginning of every year and hope that I would use it. Even with good intentions, I don't think I kept up with it for more than a week. However, because there is something soothing about trying to come up with creative ideas --- even just simply coloring in my doodles--- I keep using it. It encourages me to keep up with my good habits and remains a great way to organize my work. There is something oddly satisfying about looking back on a week full of color and doodles that indicate that I had a productive week. 

A Do Later List

One thing that I do and have found really helpful is having a "Do Later List". There are so many times that while working an idea will leap to my mind and demand to be resolved. It is usually something silly like "I should go get the mail" or "I need to look up that recipe for dinner". However, because it is so easy to convince yourself that doing anything but work is important the idea will dominate my brain until I resolve it. So now, instead of going down those procrastination rabbit holes, I will write it down on my "Do Later List". So I know that once I am done working, I can begin working on all those little things that need to get done that are not my work. Most of the time, the heavy importance of them seems trivial by the time the workday is done. 

Break Down Tasks

One of the best pieces of advice that I was given was if I am avoiding a task because it is dauntingly big, just break it down into do-able tasks. So if I am planning on writing a large piece that has real research needed to be done it can feel daunting. So instead of thinking about it as one big task, think of it as lots of little tasks. 

If I am still avoiding the little tasks, break it down even further. Turn the little tasks into even smaller tasks! So, if using the example of a long researched article I would start by looking at it as a whole:

One Huge Article! 

Then break it down into smaller pieces: 

Premise

Outline

Research

Write

Edit

Edit Again

Edit One More Time, Because Why Not?

Submit

if I am still struggling to get these done. I can break them down into even smaller tasks. Like, Research can be broken down into smaller bit

Find Articles

Verify Sources

Read and Take Note on one Article

Repeat as needed

Evaluate Information: Summarize

See How it Relates To Subject Matter. 

All of these smaller tasks can be done in one sitting and it doesn't feel like I am devoting my entire day to the process. They are doable and manageable. Which means they are more likely that I will do them and do them well. No more rushed jobs and all-nighters for me. My college days are over. And while I loved them, I am so glad I am not in that mindset anymore. 

These are my main organizational tools. I am always curious about how other people organize themselves, so please let me know in the comments what you do! 

Recognize 

There are some procrastination pitfalls that I fall into fairly easily. Some are the ones that a lot of people have to combat. Facebook, Reddit, Instagram... the dark, mindless tunnel that can be social media. I don't even have a whole lot of emotional investment in social media but I still find myself scrolling through endless feeds. Pretty much for the sole reason that it is something other than what I am supposed to be doing. 

There are others that I barely notice that I am doing. I find myself coming up with questions about what I am writing and then looking but articles to explain it. Normally when I have a question I can answer it easily. Google is incredible with the amount of succinct knowledge it holds. Now that I am working at home though, I find myself reading endless articles about a subject matter that barely holds relevance to what I am doing. 

I was writing a quick DIY tutorial about how to set up a guest room. It was for an HVAC company that wanted the main point to be that your guests should have their own personal heating and A/C unit.  I ended up reading multiple scientific studies on the effect of temperature on sleep and sleep disorder. Did you know that the optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60-67 degrees? I didn't until I wrote this article! 

Probably my biggest distraction is Ozzy, my cat. Which, I know, sounds like the biggest crazy cat lady admission I have made yet. However, it is the truth. Having a living, moving, creature that demands attention for the majority of the day can be a big time sink. 

We're figuring out a good balance though. He usually hangs out on my desk during the day but not directly in the way. Though sometimes he still tries to sit directly on the keyboard. 

Having him around, though, is so good for my mental health. Sometimes sitting at home alone can be taxing. Especially if there is a long period of refusals, rejections, or no answers. These are real aspects of this industry so being able to deal with them well is just part of the job. The best cure for dejection is cuddling with this furry little beast, even if he is trying to get away from mandatory-cuddle time. 

A more human-centric answer is working with others. Which, is probably a lot more healthy than getting emotional support from a clueless quadruped. Finding other people to work with is bolstering in many ways. Not only are you more accountable for your actions you get the emotional support of social interaction and solidarity. I spend far less time making myself cups of tea when other people are around, that is for sure. 

More than that though, it is inspiring working with people who are succeeding in their freelance careers. Especially as I am still trying to get my feet firmly wedged into the door, knowing that others are making careers out of their freelance work is heartening. These are not just faceless people I can read about, either, they are friends and peers. This inspiration really instills the belief that I will be able to do this. 

 I mean just look at that face?

I mean just look at that face?

Just Do It

The most straightforward thing to avoid procrastination for me is to just do it. I can work myself into a tizzy about avoiding work or jumping into a certain project. Once I start though, it really isn't that big of a deal. I can get a bunch done just by working steadily even when I am not feeling especially inspired. Forbes talks about this in their article about procrastination avoidance in a couple of manners. There are ways to kind of trick yourself into starting a project. For example, telling yourself that you are going to work on it for 5 minutes. Doesn't seem like it is a long time so you do the five minutes and then realize that you can keep working on it until it is done or at least a sizeable chunk is finished. 

Personally, I base my days on this. If I have in mind that I am going to start with a creative piece that is raw and personal, I never start. I'll do anything but settle down to work. However, if I start the day right at 7 o'clock with a quick iWriter assignment I can start easily. The content for iWriter at the base level is usually articles between 150-500 words that take minimal research or knowledge. They are usually pieces that are just filling out content to be more attractive on a website. Nothing remotely stressful and therefore easy to get done. Once I have finished one article it is easy to jump into the more intensive writing that I want to accomplish that day. 

If I still can't focus on what I want to be doing, there are always other things that I can be working on. Blog posts, research, writing out things for a longer novel, short stories, poems, writing anything is better than falling into avoidance techniques or cruising the internet for mindless drivel. All I have to do is sit at my desk, and just do it. So, on that note, I should probably wrap up this blog post and get started on my work! 

 

What are your ways of avoiding procrastination? 

Book Review: Wild

BOOK REVIEW

WILD: FROM LOST TO FOUND ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

wild photo.JPG

I was looking forward to reading this book. I found it in a thrift store about a month after I had finished a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. My feet were fully healed and the nostalgia for long distance hiking had set in. What would be a better way to reminisce than by reading about another long distance women hiker? However, reading it had the exact opposite effect than I was hoping. I potentially came about it from the wrong point of view though. I was nostalgic about my own hike and so reading about someone else’s hike was just frustrating because I truly just wanted to reflect on my own.

Wild won a couple of awards and accolades: #1 New York Times Bestseller, A Best Nonfiction Book of 2012: The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, A Best Book of the Year: NPR, St. Louis Dispatch, Vogue, Winner of the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. It has been turned into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon. Beyond that, it was well received by many! Lots of people loved it so I believe that because I was not in the right mindset to receive it I was a little harsh in my opinions on it. For to be frankly honest, I didn’t like it at all.

The story follows the memoir of Cheryl Strayed as she attempts to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in order to deal with her mother’s death and some life decisions she was trying to process. This was a familiar concept to me. Doing a long distance hike can do a lot for one’s mental health. There seemed to be two kinds of people on the trail, those who were running away from something and those who were trying to find something. There is truth to the fact that being outside can help improve people’s mental health. Stanford did a study on the effect of green space on mental health and how it can reduce depression. Plus, while hiking you have all day with yourself and very little distractions. Most hikers I know have gone through lots of introspection and self-reflection while hiking. There is very little else to do but think and walk. It is a strange lifestyle/hobby but it is an amazing one.

When I read about Cheryl Strayed’s I got pretty judgmental quickly. To begin with, the writing style was simple to the point of distraction. She was writing in a conversational diary-like tone, which does lend to a simpler diction but there can be much more depth than was used in this book. She was dealing with a lot of emotional battles such as grief over her mother’s death, estrangement from her family, drug withdrawal, and separation from her husband. These could have been explored in more depth, I felt. Instead, the writing style focused primarily on action to keep things moving. She used memories interspersed with narratives about the hike itself. As it was a first-hand account, she could have used this to fully explore any of these emotional trials. Instead, it came across as set up for a film – all action and very little depth. I was not surprised it was so easily turned into a movie.

When I started the book I felt like it was advertised as a memoir of a woman’s thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. However, I found out she walked about 1,100 miles of the 2663 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Including skipping one of the hardest sections of the part that she did hike. Which is still a hefty hike! Now, I don’t buy into the pretention of thru-hikers being better than other hikers. I am a big believer in everyone hikes differently and that is okay. It is up to you how you want to approach it. Some people do the whole trail in sections or all in one go. Sometimes people can only get out there for a week or two at a time, and I find it admirable that they persist year after year.  However, not ever hiker looks at it this way. No matter how many times people say "Hike Your Own Hike", people commented on other people's hikes.

There was a woman hiker who hiked around the same time I did on my Appalachian Trail Thru Hike. Her name was Wonder Woman, and there was some real anger directed at her by the other hikers on the trail. All the anger was because she was misrepresenting her hike. I personally really liked her as a person so ended up being okay with the fact that she was misrepresenting her hike but I understood why people were getting upset. She said she was a thru-hiker and was hiking from Georgia to Maine in one season. However, on her hike, she was continuously “yellow-blazing” or skipping sections by getting rides. To the point where she missed out on a couple of hundred miles.

For the people who were on the trail day in and day out it was pretty obvious that she was doing this. It is a pretty close knit community and you start to know how other people hike. You learn If other hikers are faster or slower than you, if they like taking zero day (days off the trail) or hike every day. So when you know that one hiker is slower than you and likes taking zero days, yet they somehow keep getting ahead of you on the trail it is easy to put two and two together. Some people got really mad at Wonder Woman for doing this.

When asked, it was because having someone “cheat” and still say they are a thruhiker feels like it can diminish their own hike. They struggled through the hard days and blisters and still made it to the end. Which not everyone does. Lots of people drop out, which adds to the pride when finishing a thruhike. You feel like you have accomplished something difficult. Something not everyone can do. So having someone say they have accomplished the same thing without dealing with all the difficulty can cheapen their own hike. Everyone can finish if they skip the hard parts.

 Personally, I think as long as you are out hiking you are doing something good for yourself. It doesn’t affect my hike at all. Some people can say that I didn’t do a full hike of the Appalachian Trail even though I hit every white blaze along the way. I even backtracked a .1th of a mile when I found out I had accidentally missed the trail. However, I did do some slackpacking. My parents live near the trail so when my partner and I were crossing into NH, we stayed at my folk's place at night and just carried day packs for about three days. Some people consider that cheating. However, I don’t. I hiked every single step of the 2190 miles of the AT and consider myself a thru-hiker. So I can see why some people were aggravated about Cheryl Strayed hike after reading the book. However, I wasn’t mad about that.

It was her complete lack of common sense on the trail that got me riled up! Which is judgmental of me. I can admit it. I know what it is like to be inexperienced when starting a trail. The first night on the Appalachian Trail, my partner, Sean, and I made it to camp and was just about to start a delicious dinner of ramen when we realized we hadn’t brought a lighter with us. Or matches. We had no way to start our little stove and that meant cold dinners for four nights until Mountain Crossing at Neel Gap. Except we weren’t alone out there, we were surrounded by one of the most generous communities I have ever met. Therefore, not only did someone light our stove for us, but they gave us a lighter.

When reading Wild it felt like she was continuously getting into situations where she needed help. She ran out of water and food multiple times, not always because of her own fault, and spent her money frivolously. I know how tempting getting a burger and ice cream can be when you have been hiking twenty plus miles a day. Especially near the beginning when that hiker hunger is driving you crazy with dreams of sweets and salty fats. However, giving into that base desire shouldn’t trump your basic common sense when it comes to whether you can feed yourself or not. The whole point of her going on this trip was to deal with her issues and see if she could survive on her own. If she wasn’t surrounded by the generous hiking community that surrounded the American trails, I don’t know if she could have!

She learned something about herself though. And came away from the hike feeling a little healed. Which in its outline sounds like a great story. I couldn’t help but feel like I just did not like the main character though. Which turned me off from the story. I know it was about a flawed human coming to terms with the fact that she is not perfect. Which is a valuable thing to know. However, in the delivery, the book left me feeling cold and judgmental. She addressed her issues and wanted to become the person she thought she could be before her mother’s death. However, it came across as looking at her past and accepting what she did without any guilt. It was not about how she would move forward but embracing her past, even the shadows.

Therefore, personally, I did not like the book. I found the main character distractingly unlikeable and her journey of self-discovery was one of accepting her faults instead of working on them. I was hoping for a nostalgic look on hiking but found her hike very removed from my own. Going into a book with specific expectations never ends well though. So I honestly believe that I might have liked it more if I started reading it with no ulterior motives.  It would appeal to an audience that was looking for a woman’s journey of self-acceptance. It does not appeal to a hiker looking for a nostalgic look at hiking a long trail. So, therefore, if you want to pick up Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail I would recommend going in with zero expectations!

Book Review: Barney's Version

Barney's Version
By Mordecai Richler
Vintage Canada 1997

 Image via Flickr by Pascal Gaudette

Image via Flickr by Pascal Gaudette

I picked up Barney’s Version on the way back to Montreal, Quebec. I had been away for about six months and so reading a book that was set in Montreal seemed like a good way to remind myself of the cultural milieu that made up the city. The first time I came across this book was actually in a Canadian Literature class that I took in the University of British Columbia when I was about 20. In six years my impressions of the book had vastly changed, and not just because I now live in Montreal full time.

The book Barney’s Verison is the fictional memoirs of an aging man. Barney’s life is dominated by four relationships: his three wives and Boogie, his best friend who he was accused of murdering. The main narrative is Barney trying to exonerate himself from the accusations of murder through the timeline of his three marriages. The story goes from when he was young with a group of “creatives” in Paris to Barney’s return to Montreal where he builds his career and family life. Throughout the meandering prose the story culminates in the trial where Barney was exonerated from Boogie’s murder and a revelation about Barney’s health.

The narrative is called into question many times by the unreliability of the narrator, Barney. He makes it clear from the beginning that he wants to dispel any rumors about his involvement in Boogie’s disappearance even while presenting himself as a known liar.  In addition to this his memory is often flawed. This is highlighted by a number of footnotes that corrects and points out discrepancies in the narrative. Richler did an artful job of making you doubt the narrative integrity of the storyteller without totally discrediting him. While reading it, you want to believe in what Barney is saying but there is always doubts.

This book contains many thematic elements that are often attributed to Mordecai Richler. There are comments on the Jewish community in Canada, anti-Semitism, the growing Quebecois nationalism in Montreal, and how Canadian artists are seen in a international forum. In particular, what I found interesting was the alteration of Montreal from a more Anglo-speaking city to the militantly French one. While the majority of citizens in Montreal are bilingual, the radically French by-laws set in place to preserve the Quebecois language and culture can still be seen today. Reading about how that alteration took place in the last 50 years and the accompanying politics was an intriguing part of the book.

 Image via Flickr via Jason Thibault

Image via Flickr via Jason Thibault

While I could appreciate the artistry that went into Barney’s Version, I was not especially captured by the book. In reality, I liked it much more the first time I read it. However, at that time of my life I was more accepting of listening to misogynist white men talking about how difficult it was to be an artist. The main character and narrator of this book fits that description to a T. Often belittling woman around him, he was condescending of all three of his wives, even the third, Miriam, who he purported to love dearly. He is a man who openly talks about how he didn’t want his wife to go back to work even though she was dissatisfied with being a mother and homemaker. Purely because it would be inconvenient for him. Obviously, Richler was working with this arch-type to create a main character that was severely flawed and familiar. Yet I still felt like it was another voice in this saturated field of white, male voices. There was no character growth where he was even attempting to overcome this, throughout he was more considerate of his own needs than any female character around him.

However, if you can get beyond that Barney’s Verison is a well articulated novel that exemplifies many of the causes that made Mordecai Richler a controversial and famous Canadian writer. While I didn’t find it an enjoyable read, I could recognize the craft that went into it and the appeal for other readers. So if you are interested in a Jewish Canadian voice from the mid to late 20th century, this is a book you should check out.

The First Days

8-22-2017

This is the beginning. As of Monday morning the 21st of August at 9:00 exactly my journey to become a freelancer began. Armed with my brand new shiny website, a whole lot of bookmarked websites and an updated Paypal account I dove in head first. Beginning a new journey is always so exciting. There is so much out there and you know you don’t know everything, but with time and dedication I firmly believe you can figure just about everything out.

Sometimes I ask myself when did I begin to want to be a writer. It is hard to say. Ever since my family first got a computer, one of these clunky grey macs with a tiny screen, I was typing in a Word Processing application. My brothers used to want to use the computer all the time. They’d play games and go through the time consuming effort of getting on the internet. That noise of the modem connecting to the internet through the phone lines is burned into my young memories. And anything my brothers did, I had to do as well. However, I was little and their games were too advanced for me and there wasn’t much on the internet that I could access. So I wrote stories.

I’ve always loved stories. Hearing them and telling them. They come in all sorts of fashions and I truly believe that all have value. Though… some more than others. But even the gossipy stories about who is doing what, or why. I still love to hear others talk about even the minutia of what they are doing and what they think about subjects. People have told me I am a good listener, but I think it is mostly because of my love of hearing people’s stories. Even their very real, true life stories that maybe don’t have a whole lot of action in them.

MacintoshPlus.jpg

When I was little I had a voracious appetite for books and make believe. I’d get in trouble for lying because sometimes my fantasies would trickle into my own life and I wouldn’t want to make boundaries that separated them. They were pretty obvious lies though, often a dragon or two would show up unexpectedly. Because who doesn’t want a dragon to show up?!

Even when I got older, I always had stories that I loved to spin in my head. I’d type them out and redraft them over and over and over again. The characters became friends and the environments were as familiar to me as my own home. Even today, when I struggle to go to sleep I find myself outlying old stories and imagining what happened to these characters next. They even became a sort of catharsis. They were worlds that I had complete control over.  So when things were tough in my own life, I could find refuge in a world that was always comforting.

I knew that I struggled with self discipline though. Becoming a writer would take a lot of work and I didn’t know if I was cut out for it. So when finishing school and the aftermath, I tried to think of other professions I could do that still seemed related. I played with idea of library sciences, editing, publishing…. All sorts of ideas that never really panned out because my heart wasn’t truly there. What I wanted to be doing was writing.

 

So here I am. Writing my heart out at every prompt I am given. I started my search through freelancing websites that have compiled lists of employers looking for writers. Websites like this Entrepreneur site that lists 101 Places to Find Freelance Jobs. There are resources all over the internet. I have signed up for newsletters, job posting boards, and freelance writing advice columns. In short, I have been trying to dive head first into the water and work as hard as I can every day.

Mostly, as I need to build up my portfolio, I have been applying to content mills. Content mills are companies that employ tons of freelance writers in order to be able to produce a significant amount of content for all of their clients. Mainly this is SEO (search engine optimization) text based material. So all of those websites with thousands of click bait articles that are designed to keep you jumping from site to site under the same heading. They are the articles that come up when you type things into google. Simple answers to questions, in easy to read formatting. All stuff that, hopefully, will eventually pay my bills.

The first step of most of these websites is a test. I have done more grammar tests in the past two days than I have since Middle School. Even when I was taking that Reading and Rhetoric class in high school. And certainly, my university classes didn’t have grammar lessons but I definitely peer reviewed some papers that could have used it. Heck,  I probably could have used it! It’s kinda fun looking for punctuation mistakes and making sure I know the proper distinction between its and it’s. The test have gone very from very basic principles, things that any native English speaker would be able to tell right away, like if you can detect the readability of a sentence. Most people would recognize the incorrect choice immediately. There was one test though that really made me think that I might need to brush up on my grammar. It was highly specific and while I passed, I didn’t get the 100% I wanted. And it is a competitive market out there so not having perfect grammar might be the difference I need.

FullSizeRender (19).jpg

The prompts I have been writing have been all over the place: I’ve outlined the merits of pet sitters, written about a local landmark (I chose the big cross at the top of Mont Royal and the cities origins as a catholic missionary camp), and debunked the myth that celery has negative calories. Pretty much, I’ll write about anything they ask me to!

Now I just have to wait for some answers! Well, I’ll still be frantically applying to everything I can. But it will be good to hear back from some of the companies that I have applied to. Even if it is a no, I can look at the submission I gave them and see if I can figure out where I went wrong. So far I can see that the waiting is going to be the hardest part. I’ll let you know how it goes when I know more!

Baby Steps

2017-08-17

 
 

Readjustment has been the main goal of the week. That and setting up a foundation for beginning my freelance career. It has been less than two weeks since Sean and I finished the Appalachian Trail. The differences of lifestyle are noticeable. We went from living in the woods and walking all day every day, to our urban apartment in Montreal. Not that this is a bad thing. I love our two story townhouse in Little Burgundy. It has got all the character and space I could ever wish for. Therefore coming home felt wonderful. It certainly is different though!

Mostly the readjustment has been focused on creating a schedule and goals that I want to maintain. Creating good habits, staying active, and being productive were just natural results of doing a long distant hike. Now, though, I have to actively work on them to maintain that lifestyle. Which so far has been a pleasure! As I’ve mentioned before, there were times while on the trail that I dreamed of the most basic domesticity routines and now I get to implement them. It has been interesting scheduling my days without the natural routine of work to dictate it. This is how I have done it so far:

GOOD HABITS

FullSizeRender (22).jpg
FullSizeRender (21).jpg

I’ve done some reading that talks about the best way to make a permanent change in your natural routine is repetition. That if you make something a daily habit you will begin to do it without thought and it will become a natural part of your day. I’ve heard about theories like the Thirty Day Challenge where if you commit to doing something at the same time every day for thirty days you will do it for ever after. This seems a little optimistic but I’m going to give it a try.

To organize this process and keep myself accountable I worked on creating a daily schedule in a physical journal. I’m a tactile person. Tangible things that I can interactive with are important for me to keep focused. It is why sometimes I do not get the full satisfaction with things that are on a screen. I can engage only so much and therefore sometimes I lose interest. For instance, logically I love the convenience and ease of an e-reader. There is something to say for having a whole library at your fingertips on a device that weighs absolutely nothing. However, when it comes down to it I don’t know if I could ever fully give up the tangible nature of a physical book. It’s not just the smell and nature of the book. It is the purely tactile nature of it. That you have to turn the pages to progress, the weight of it in your hands, the feel of the paper against your fingers; all subconsciously important aspects for me. Therefore having a physical journal that I write in daily was important to me. I could have used my smartphone, and I know there are a wonderful myriad of habit tracking apps out there, but it made sense for me to buy a notebook for this process.

The main organization of it is broken down into parts: This week’s goals, my daily schedule with supplemented weekly chores, an ideas section, and a daily record of activities. I looked around on the internet for ideas of what to keep track of and how to implement them. There are some beautiful journals out there, I do have to say!

For my weekly goals, I wanted a way of representing them in a non-binding manner. As in, they were goals that I wanted achieve over the course of the week and not regulate them to a specific time or day. I find that if I say I am going to do this on this day, if I don’t accomplish it on the day in question it is more difficult for me to reschedule when I am going to do it. If I have a more fluid idea of when I want to accomplish something I have more of a chance of getting it done. So if I have some time on Tuesday evening when I thought I might have been busier, I have a chance of accomplishing one of my weekly goals. Therefore I use the method of drawing a circle with the goals spiraling around it. When I accomplish one I can indicate that it is done by coloring in a block. It makes it aesthetically pleasing for me and gives me the satisfaction of seeing my goals getting accomplished as the week progresses.

My daily schedule is more rigid. To create daily habits, doing the same activity at the same time each day is important. Most importantly for me is to maintain a sleep schedule that keeps me productive. I love to sleep. I love my bed and the feeling of being cozy under blankets. Therefore if I let myself, I would happily sleep the day away and fill up the rest of the time with Netflix and KD. I have done it before. And while in the moment it is hedonistically gratifying, it always felt depressing if I did it for too long. Weeks where I didn’t really do much and accomplished little are not the weeks I look back on fondly. Though every now and then a cozy day is pure bliss.

However, right now I am working on a productive habit inducing lifestyle. For me, I am most productive in the morning and so I wake up at 5:30 every morning. So far, it’s been wonderful. The light is just turning into that early morning glow and by the time Sean and I are out for a run the city is flooded with pink and golden light. It is incredibly beautiful and gratifying to be up and about so early. I am worried that as the sun rises later and later that it will become more difficult to maintain. Getting up and out for a early morning sounds so much harder when it is still fully dark outside.

There are a couple of things I have organized that I have to do daily. Things like wake up at the same time every day, drink water first thing, take care of the cat and all his various need… etc. Things that should be done every day for me. Then other things I have organized that I should do five times a week or other things less. Things like, I want to exercise five days a week and allow myself a break sometimes; I want to clean my house but it doesn’t need scrubbing daily, so I have specific rooms to be deep-cleaned once a week; and I want to make sure I do something creative during the week but only really need to set time aside for it a couple times a week. All this organization is tailored to my needs and what I am expecting of myself. To keep track of it I have unmarked boxes beside each task and can colour them in as I do them. Secretly I am still a child and need gold stars to feel productive so seeing the week slowly get filled and more colourful helps keep me on task.

An idea section was important for me because hopefully I will be pursuing a career that is based on my own ingenuity. To have a place where I can jot down things that come to me in a moment is important. Even ideas that I think are brilliant, can be forgotten by me in the hustle and bustle of my day to day if I don’t write them down. Therefore, nearly half the page is reserved for space where I can write down anything I wish.

I think the most important section that I have in my new journal is where I record everything I did today. It is the most traditional aspect of a journal and keeping it to bullet points makes it easier for me. I can quickly jot down what happened during the day and it helps me recognize if I spent the day productively or not. It keeps me accountable to myself. So far it has also helped fulfill my sense of satisfaction when I do have good days. I don’t believe that every day has to be productive but my Calvinist ancestors have left me with a sense of pleasure at a day well spent.

Also, I had met a woman on the trail who had talked to me about quantifying life aspects. Things like keeping track of mood and productivity can give you a perspective on your rhythms that would be hard to see otherwise. Therefore as part of journaling at the end of the day I record things like the weather, something that made me happy that day, if I drank enough water through the day, food intake, expenses and happiness levels. I’ll see if I can notice anything significant about these recordings over time.

So far my journal has been a success. It helps me keep an idea of what I want to accomplish and if I am working towards those goals. I do have an issue with keeping journals over a long time, but I think the daily planner aspect of it will give it more purpose than the cathartic scribblings I have done in the past as journalling.

STAYING ACTIVE

Sean and I went from burning nearly 6000 calories a day (speculatively, we never actually kept track of calories while on the trail)  to potentially burning none. We had heard stories about people leaving the trail and finding themselves in a depression. Mostly from the drastic change in exercise. Most cardio based exercise promotes the creation and release of serotonin and can really affect one’s chemical happiness levels. Therefore we wanted to maintain an active schedule upon coming back to Montreal.

Luckily we have the most beautiful running paths right near our house. We live a couple of blocks away from the Lachine Canal and the city has built the perfect park for morning runs. We have a circuitous route that follows the water and over bridges. It is flat, it is well maintained, it is perfect. So our main source of exercise is morning runs at the moment.

That and, surprise surprise, walking. Currently we are getting closer and closer to broke and therefore any unnecessary fees we can avoid seems like a good idea. Therefore, we both have been walking everywhere. Transit tickets add up over time. Especially in these first two weeks where we have given ourselves a break from working, we kind of have all the time in the world. Therefore if it takes an hour and half to walk to the Parc where I am meeting a friend, why not!? We have had plenty of practice walking in the last six months. Therefore, walks that used to feel like they were needlessly long and uphill have turned into nice strolls. It gives us a little reminder of the trail as well. We spent months walking side by side all day, every day. During this time we got into the habit of falling into conversations about things trite and important depending upon what was on the mind. There was also a sense of comfortable companionship about walking together in silence. These walks around the city revoke these companionable feelings and give a continuity to our life this year. Integrating aspects of the trail in our Montreal life feels like a wonderful way to feel connected to that period of our lives.

I also want to do yoga periodically. I love the feel of stretching and strengthening muscles using a routine and traditional poses. I am not particularly a spiritual person though and I know yoga is a traditional and spiritual activity. I do want to respect that and not just do the colonialist white washing of a cultural staple so I am trying to educate myself on the subject as much as I can. It is such a wonderful way of creating a physical routine of strength and flexibility.

I think with these different ways of exercising and adding movement to my routine Sean and I will be able to stay active and stave off some of the post-hike blues. Coupled with access to fresh fruits and vegetables which we have been starved from, we have been building a foundation of general health. I physically had never felt better than while on the Appalachian Trail and therefore it would be nice to keep that lifestyle as I transition into an urban freelancing life.

BEING PRODUCTIVE

I think this aspect of the life I am trying to build at the moment is going to be the most difficult for me. Innately hedonistic and distracted, I find staying focused and on target a really difficult thing to do. I am constantly admiring my partner’s ability to create goals and steadfastly work on them until completion. I feel like my life is littered with projects begun with so much intention and passion and abandoned after any hardship or fatigue. All in all, self discipline is not my strong suit. And it is going to be the most important aspect of starting a freelance career. Having my salary be based on the amount of work put in is going to be the make or break aspects of this next stage of my life.

 

One thing I did learn about myself while hiking on the Appalachian Trail was that I can overcome this basic desire to abandon ship when the going gets tough. There was a time when I felt that I was done with hiking. I had gotten everything enjoyable that I wanted out of the process and would happily go back to Montreal then and there. However, we still had one state and 300 miles to go before the trail was officially done. And I wasn’t just at the bored- with-this-I’d-rather-be-doing-other-things stage. I was emotionally struggling with the concept that there was still so much to be done. To the point where, after a particularly bad fall into the boggy mud that periodically was the trail, I was fighting back tears of frustration while trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When we came across a sign that said we still had 298 miles to walk before completing our goal, I burst into uncontrollable sobs. It seemed a daunting amount of distance to go when my heart was no longer in it. However, even though I knew it was going to be hard, in no way did I have the impulse to quit. The need to achieve this goal was more important to me than making myself feel better in that moment by admitting defeat. It took a couple more weeks and some sore feet, but in the end, we made it to Katahdin and can officially call ourselves Thru-Hikers. And I learned that I can be self-disciplined when it means enough to me.

Therefore, I think that I can achieve this goal. I just have to be wary of those moments of non-productivity and not allow myself to fall into bad habits. This week has been interesting because I have not had my computer. It is currently at the Apple store having a hardware issue fixed. My laptop is the tool in which all my writing and research is done on. Not having it has nearly stopped any progress I could make on being productive. So I have had to become creative with how I am spending my time in order to avoid falling into bad habits.

FullSizeRender (20).jpg

Some of it is a little ridiculous and I know it. I spent a solid couple of hours creating a shelving unit out of an old ladder purely on a whim. It took time to paint and find the materials I needed to be able to create it but in the end, I think it turned out looking like I wanted it to. And, now I have a place to put all my little trinkets and various miscellaneous items that I have kept over the years.

However, I have also been working on the foundations of building a freelance career. If you are reading this, you have presumably discovered my website which I read is an important aspect to cultivating clients. I am not the most tech savvy so it has been a little bit of an ordeal to create but I am so happy with the results. Both the intuitive design of Squarespace and my wonderfully patient partner have been instrumental in making it look how I want it to. I have done research on the financial side of things and written down many helpful resources I want to use. Now I am just waiting for the return of my computer to begin!

I do believe that the first steps, the baby steps, to start my endeavor of becoming a freelance writer is to make sure my life is in a good state to begin. Making sure that I am creating a lifestyle and schedule in which I can succeed is the only way I will begin to be able to accomplish this. So with the trifold approach of examining my habits, health, and productivity I am trying to build a foundation that allows me to build on it. If anyone has any advice I would absolutely want to hear them. For now, my next big step is to start! Wish me luck.