Life — Scheduling a “Catch Up” Day

Recently my life has been so busy that I’ve had things piling up more and more. The sort of things that aren’t urgent but do need to get done, like ordering textbooks online, or talking to people about future plans, etc. This sort of thing is almost never in the forefront of my mind, simply because there’s always something more pressing, and when there isn’t, I’m too tired to do it.

So, how do you make sure you don’t let those things fall by the wayside? It’s pretty simple, really. Maybe you’ve heard of the priority analogy called “The Jar of Life”. Important things like livelihood, family, friends, etc. are ping pong balls, less important things like your job, house, and hobbies are marbles, and the trivial stuff like what you do with your free time is sand. If you start big and add the unimportant things in later, you’ll have room for everything. If you fill the jar with sand first, you won’t have room for ping pong balls.

Now, this analogy is intended to teach you about priorities, so it’s not entirely relevant, but bear with me. These side jobs that need to handled but aren’t important for your direct, day to day life can often be forgotten. They’re marbles, but they are also a source of stress because they can be unconscious baggage on your addled mind. You know you’ve got lots to do, but you’re too busy to get it done, and when you get home you know you won’t have the energy to do any more, so it becomes a vicious cycle.

Here’s how I handle it. I keep track of everything I need to get done. (I put this list on my phone so I always have access to it.) Then, I resolve to spend the most convenient day off working on those errands. I don’t treat it as a day off at all, in fact. For that day, all of those errands have top priority, and I need to get as much of it done as possible. Depending on how quickly errands pile up, this “Catch Up” Day could be weekly routine for you. Otherwise, you might only want to schedule it once you have enough stuff to justify spending the day doing them.

This accomplishes two things. One, knowing what you have to do and resolving to do it all at once will get it done quicker. You won’t have to worry about squeezing in an errand between work and relaxation. Two, it is extremely relieving to get everything done. You may not consciously perceive that burden of things you know you have to do, but once you clear it up, it feels great. You can rest easy knowing all the non-urgent stuff that needs doing has been done.

Personally, I’ve found this to be a great conclusion to the week, because when I get back to work/school the next day, I’ll feel like I’ve already been extremely productive. Even if, realistically, it means discarding my only day off, that one carefree night of sleep is worth the trouble.

Learning! — Writing for Yourself (345)

One of my biggest fears with whatever I wrote used to be my “target audience”. I read a lot of young adult fantasy, but I wasn’t sure if the grammar I used was good enough to be considered “YA” at the time (which wasn’t even a real concern). I used to think I had to write middle grade because, as a bad and inexperienced writer, I couldn’t weave a story complex enough to captivate an older audience more well versed in my genre.

But over the years, I learned that the first person you should write for is you. Don’t worry about your audience. Don’t worry about your voice. Don’t worry about how poorly the words are being translated from brain to page. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t find a level of satisfaction from the writing you produce, then you’re doing something wrong. If you’re anything like me, this is because you’re worrying too much about producing a level of quality you can’t yet attain rather than writing something you want to write.

This is a problem that a lot of aspiring writers encounter: They spend so much time trying to make their writing enjoyable to other people that they end up hating it. Let me tell you, it is really hard to write something if you don’t like it. That’s the primary reason I’m not working on any novels right now: I get bored and stop liking it, so rather than leave something half-finished, I’m writing shorter pieces I know I can enjoy writing.

You see, this doesn’t just apply to genre. Yes, being a fantasy geek makes me want to write fantasy stuff. You should always “write what you love”. But it goes further than that. I don’t write anything until I find a way to get excited about the prospect of writing. This was a foreign concept to me a year ago, and admittedly this isn’t always simple, but if you aren’t itching to sit down and get started, maybe it’s not interesting enough.

The first book I had ever planned for the universe of Nacre Then (whose main character was the seed the entire universe sprouted from) has never gotten past the “basic plot” phase. I’ve written his prequels, and tried my hand at writing a few of the first scenes, but I’ve never even tried to begin the first book in his series because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a way to structure the plot to make it exciting for me as its writer. The book is full of awesome magic, interesting characters, and some amazing plot twists, but to this day I have never figured out how to order them in a way that both makes sense and gets me rearing to go.

So, as simple as that, the most I have to show for this book I’ve been planning for over half a decade is a thrown together, half-finished outline of some major plot points. Am I mad? Not in the slightest. If I’m not excited to write it, maybe it’s just not ready to be written yet.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to stumble across three stories that are each compelling enough for me to want to write them. Will they be interesting reads to anyone else? Who knows? But that doesn’t even matter. If anything, I know they will be better reads than scrambling together that huge book I’ve been planning.

If the author isn’t sold on it, you can bet it’s not going to sell anyone else.

Life — Spring Semester Plans

In preparation for the spring semester, there’s a few things somebody will need to keep in mind in order to both do well and not die from the stress. In college, every semester is going to come with its own challenges, so its important to learn from the past and look at your own capabilities when signing up for classes and the like.

As always, the two things I always do when signing up for classes is to find classes I’ll enjoy that line up with my schedule. Ratemyprofessors is a great source that helps identify good from bad teachers. I won’t sign up for a course unless the professor scores over a 4/5 on this scale. It’s a great way to avoid getting into a bad class. (This does often narrow down the eligible classes when signing up, so if you don’t have a very open schedule, you’ll have to way the stress of taking bad classes versus completing the courses you need in a timely manner.)

When signing up for these classes, you also have to look at the schedule you’re building for yourself and other things you might need to do that day. If you’re taking over three classes, you’ll need to give yourself a lunch break, and only sign up for classes you’ll be mentally prepared to take. (Taking six classes with the first starting at 8am doesn’t work. High school is not college!) On top of all that: ask yourself this: do you have a time slot to do homework or study? If you need to do things every day, like go to the gym (or write a blog post!), when can you fit that in?

For last fall semester, I didn’t give myself proper time gaps in my schedule, so I was under a lot of stress. If you can’t breathe because you’ll be so busy on certain days, maybe you should drop a class or two. Don’t be afraid to give yourself time to relax (that goes for all aspects in life), so know your limits. That part, unfortunately, mostly comes from experience.

And I’ll always bring this up because its a lifesaver and every college student should be aware of this: Thriftbooks. Imagine buying all your books online for a fraction of the cost, and I’m not just referring to textbooks here. I bought seven books last semester for around thirty-eight bucks. This isn’t a marketing scheme or anything: its just amazing. They don’t sell new books, so you probably won’t find the newest edition of a title on it, but in all honesty I don’t bother buying the newest edition of a textbook just because a professor tells me I have to. Older versions have always worked out okay for me. It’s a bit extra work for far, far less money, and I’d highly recommend it.

Also, after having been in college for a few semesters now, I can tell you you’ll save time buying your pens, binders, whatever before school actually starts. You’ll always need the same things, so you might as well buy it before everyone else starts rushing to buy their stuff!