Category Archives: Anecdote

(Small Things) To-Do List

Ever have days when you feel like a motivation sloth? What you believed was going to be a productive-go-get-’em afternoon has quickly turned into you sitting on the couch at eight o’clock with nothing on your list crossed off?

Well, don’t fret–we’ve all been there before. I may not have a one-time solution for how to be more productive, but I’ll share one of my strategies with you.

If you’re struggling to get motivated first thing in the morning or later in the evening (before starting a project, etc.), tackle a (small things) to-do list. Don’t weigh yourself down with that big assignment you have to finish, the work revisions you have to get to, or the book you’ve been meaning to read–start with something small.

I love to go jogging, but I know it’s important to warm up at the beginning, do some stretches. Imagine that these “small things” are just warm-up exercises for your ol’ productive self. What kind of small things do I like to tackle? Well, here’s just a sample:

– Send a card to my brother

– Update personal calendar

– Check dates for summer concert tickets

– Transfer  photos from camera to computer

– File papers on desk

– Unload dishwasher

As you may notice, nothing on my list is really time-sensitive, which allows me to get to each item in my own time. Sometimes the biggest burden of a to-do list is that it exists; it stares us down with its presumed urgency. Ideally, my small things are pretty straightforward tasks that require little forethought, effort, or time. Most things don’t take me more than 5-10 minutes, so even in a half-hour block, I can knock out several things. When I can’t get a move on things, this little push of productivity really helps set the tone for the rest of my day.

If you have any similar tips or strategies to share, feel free to leave a comment! In the meantime, I’m going to go write a note to my brother :)

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Three Strangers (and Me)

I will preface this post with the fact that I have officially been awake for about 24 hours now.  I am crazy and irresponsible–I know.  Regardless, school manages to throw you in odd schedules, and I’ve just never been the type of person who maintains a steady sleeping routine.  I am banking on the fact that this will indeed change when I am working a 9-5 job, cooking dinner in my non-work clothes, and relaxing without homework or assignments to stress me out otherwise.

So when I don’t sleep much, I usually like to treat myself to a hearty breakfast at Le Peep, a restaurant in Evanston that is menu-wise the equivalent of Brigs (a hometown reference for all you native Caryites who read this blog).  I stared at the menu for a good while; I teased with the idea of trying their dutch apple oatmeal + a bagel, but fell back on my usual habits and ordered eggs benedict.  (Breakfast was great, I caught up on news via the RedEye, and then I made my way to Barnes & Noble a block or so away.)

Pretty certain that I would fall into a food coma stupor, I got myself a coffee and settled into a  table upstairs by the windows; it’s an ideal people-watching spot.  Anyway, I was rereading over old passages I wrote yesterday, and eventually, the coffee took its toll and I needed to take a break.  Not wanting to leave my “valuables” behind, I packed up my netbook, Ipod, etc. but left my jacket, a couple notebooks, and the book or two I’d been using for my research–all decent placeholders for the table (hey, it’s not easy to get a table at B&N during Reading Week!!).

I realized during my quick bathroom break that I was getting increasingly tired, sleepy–yes, I am not superhuman, and the lack of sleep does eventually sink in.  In the back of my mind, I thought of how some in-person conversation would actually be a good pick-me-up.  I had spent the morning (and let’s be honest, the entiiiiire evening), awake and by myself, so some socializing was definitely in order.  Without thinking much of it, I headed back to my staked out table by the window.

To my surprise, all my things were there–with the addition of two total strangers eating cinnamon sugar bagels with butter and cream cheese.  I have no idea what Mike and Tracy do, but I do know they were waiting for some friends to get out of “group”; they left just before noon to meet up with them.  Regardless, I had a small chat with them when I found my way back to my seat.  They asked if I minded them being there, I asked them if they minded me being there–and no one minded.  Mike has a daughter who was on the Dean’s List all through her undergraduate and graduate career; she never went on to get her PhD because she had her daughter, but she is now a professor at the University of the District of  Columbia.  Mike lives in Waukegan, has high blood pressure, and is most likely type II diabetic.  Tracy was this super petite woman with clothes about 1/3 size too big for her; she had the sweetest demeanor about her.  (I admit that I sat and “read” my book for a good forty minutes, but I found myself so intrigued with just secretly listening to their conversation; Mike and Tracy were soon joined by a third woman, whose name I never caught.)  Tracy has two children, a daughter who is 17 and a son who is 13; Tracy lives with her boyfriend, and she doesn’t think that cream cheese mixed all too well with the sweetness of the cinnamon bagel.  Just little things you pick-up along the way?

Trying to keep a mutual privacy among the otherwise non-private scene of my table, I sat here and read my book while they sat and conversed; I felt like a fly on a wall in their living room because they were fairly unphased by me, and I was entertained by this whole situation.  (Right after meeting Mike and Tracy, we ran through a quick list of the usual inquiries–am I student around here?  what are my majors?  where am I originally from?  do you live anywhere around Charlotte?  how did you take to the Chicago winter? [oh, you have to get used to it, eventually] how long have you been up here? [almot four years now…finishing up in June] oh you know, then, that you have to get used to the cold!)

In the short time that this group of friends let me in their life, I was a little humbled.  I was certainly caught off guard when I returned to my table with a couple strangers there to greet me, but it proved to be a really refreshing hour.  From everything I could gather, they were all from a lower-income to working class background.  I don’t know what “group” they all know each other from, but it was obvious that they were all friends.  Something about watching that connection unfold and show itself was very real and under-appreciated.  The conversation jumped from the tragic shootings in Alabama, the cultural implications of the female body in the Middle East, the dangers of starch-heavy, sugar-loaded diets, and a number of other topics; it was pretty impressive how sporadic the conversation was, and although their information did not always seem to be the most accurate, it was conveyed with such integrity and interest that one couldn’t help but wonder if what they said rivaled the facts that you know in your mind.

I am much more awake after the hour of conversation, most of which I was a silent player in, though the big takeaway is that we need to keep an open mind with people, strangers, our friends, family.  The sense of humility and compassion that we gain from these unexpected moments are surprisingly valuable, and while it seems like such a random episode in my day, I now can’t imagine what I would have done with that hour otherwise (probably fallen sleep drooling on the latest issue of Cosmo that I  had grabbed from downstairs).  But really, keep that all in mind.  And yes, Dan, I considered your blog from the other week in the back of my head (see “Saying ‘Hello'”).  For everyone else, my brother has a lot of insightful advice to offer about how to gain more reflection, change, and balance in our daily lives.  Shameless plug: visit his blog at Lifecatcher.net.

I hope that even just a little bit of this entry has been insightful, and if not, perhaps it provided a mild dose of amusement (if only for a  moment?).

Have a good Wednesday, friends :)