Have you noticed? Productivity intentions mimic a child immune to lectures. I can tell myself to do something; or, I can incorporate a guaranteed smile-inducer into the endeavor, tossing resistance. Joyful obsession blossoms from a seed of delight. Like ivy vines snaking a wall, delight infects all it touches—including mundane tasks. What I love grabs/ holds/ propels me—here, in the direction of my agenda. Outside of family and cherished friends, the following details the nature, and impact, of my four primary joyful obsessions.
Estimated Reading Time: 14 minutes
Photography: Birds & Nature
True story: I once spent a year devoting free-time to digesting the Bible. That was back when the Internet was so new, brown boxes marked “Internet in a Box” lined the shelves of local CompuServe stores Netscape, hot dang! Among my lingering questions: does God have a sense of humor? Electronic searches failed to reveal passages with “Jesus” and “smile” derivatives hanging out in the same ‘hood.
Years later, the answer materialized in the form of a critter scampering across my front lawn: the ubiquitous squirrel. I defy anyone to closely observe a squirrel and walk away without a smiling heart. Can’t be done. Birds offer this same gift, and I can prove it.
✧︎︎︎ Despair Gives Way to Delight
Our family moved to North Carolina to tend to hubby’s mom. The man is the quintessential momma’s boy, in the best sense of the phrase. Those early years found us in the emergency room of numerous hospitals, not to mention rehab areas of follow-up care facilities. Moans, groans—the places overflowed with palpable despair. To give myself a much needed respite, I’d tiptoe outside the building to chill with Nature. Surrounded by lush greenery, I’d lose myself in the infinite hues of who-cares-if-it’s-summer autumn hues.
One evening, my left peripheral vision caught a fleeting sight of blue. Peering in that direction sparked a knee-jerk “bird” confirmation. The difference: this time, I paid close attention. I memorized certain parts of my new feathered friend, determined to make a formal identification. Yet I always seemed to hone in on body parts ignored in assorted “identifying traits” listings. Grrrr! One identification book soon multiplied three-fold. Still at a loss, I purchased what was to become the first in a long line of cameras. Resolved: “take pics from every friggin’ angle, BrainGirl!” This, from a gal who sported cameras from the hanging display of a drug store. Mission accomplished (blue grosbeak!), I mentally strutted, courtesy of my growing bird-naming prowess.
We always knew we were destined to lose our battle against Nature. We lost my darlin’ mother-in-law 4 years later, on an early April morning. Bird photography proved my Xanax, a way to tame the grief. That Thanksgiving, as usual, I drove to Philly to pick up my mom. Hey, a queen deserves door-to-door service! Mom loved hotels, explaining my habitual conversion of a 7 hour road trip into a two day fiesta, stopping just outside of Richmond for a hotel check-in. We had scheduled her return trip for a few days after the New Year’s holiday. Another road trip because the lady loathed planes. Plans. Ha!
Maneuvering in the bathroom during the wee hours of January 2nd, mom fell, smashing her rib cage against the porcelain toilet. Shards pierced vital organs. We spent the next two weeks pacing the hallways of the intensive critical care ward, praying/bargaining/pleading with my Main Dude. Spared, Mom made it through. But soon we realized: mild dementia jumped into 5th gear. A year later, I travelled to Philly alone, disposing of her furniture and shutting down her home. Mom would be with us, until…
Assuming the role of 24/7 caregiver ain’t for the faint of heart, folks. The brutal emotional rollercoaster threatens the stability of all in its path. But, as they say, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. All indications strongly suggested I was destined to morph into a Suma wrestler.
Throughout the following years of ongoing torment, my camera saved me. Dementia/ Alzheimer’s yields its own special brand of heartache, punishing loved ones unrecognized by the “patient.” Looking through a camera lens to capture a targeted bird removed all else from my head. That, in turn, provided just enough rejuvenation to gas my tank, allowing me to continue with dedicated determination, if not gusto. Another war with Nature. And then, another excruciating loss— in late April. No matter how many decades you’ve breathed, losing your lifelong cheerleader unleashes the two-year old tantrum-throwing child within. In my case, tears were few, I’m guessing because some pain runs deeper than tear ducts can reach.
✧︎︎︎ Incorporating my Photography Passion
I’m not the same woman today as before the North Carolina relocation. But that’s ok. Nature photography, now engrained deep within my very soul, continues to salve my spirit. Small wonder then that bird photography is my go-to response when trouble erupts.
Wanna increase fidelity to performing evening routines at my home office desk? Coffee mug shaped like a camera lens; mini coffee brewer stationed to the immediate right of that desk.
KnickKnacks, in the form of assorted local birds, sit atop the bookcase adjacent to the desk. When desired words to polish a written thought elude me, one glance in the direction of my porcelain feathered buddies turns the corners of my lips upward. I guzzle the gas provided, returning to a now-friendly screen, and let her rip.
Stuck again, staring at a hostile screen, courtesy of a complete writer’s block? Grab a camera, sit in the backyard, take a few snaps → creativity returns! My spirit tamed, my brain cells react; I return to my desk, and write as if on fire.
Midori bird clips join some pages of my bullet journal, while a BookJig showing a smiling pelican provides the desired second book ribbon marker. Little things add up, tickling the kid within. Delight relaxes; relaxation births creativity.
Bird photography: the thrill of the chase; the challenge of getting a worthy shot; and, the joy of success. Unlike law, where finality eludes you for years, photography tells its final tale as soon as you see the snapped picture. Blew it? Fine. Tomorrows yield additional photo shoot opportunities.
What do I adore most about this hobby? Birds vary as much as people. I’ll never meet each species, but man oh man, what a thrill trying! And, the lingering dividends massage my spirit. Who knew a nature photography hobby could and would grease the creaky troublespots encountered during a typical work day?!
All Things Paper and Writing
✧︎︎︎ The Birth of an Addiction
I blame it on a grade school nun. With ruler in hand poised to strike tender fingers, she’d patrol classroom aisles searching for the woeful soul grasping a pencil “the wrong way.” Pretty penmanship demanded holding the writing instrument with its top pointing at a definitive angle over one’s shoulder. Petrified of her ruler, I’d keep a firm eye on my pencil while writing. Conclusion: pencils are boring as heck!
That oft-repeated scenario gave birth to delirious Septembers. While my buddies mourned a return to the classroom, I maintained a “Here’s Johnny” Jack Nicholson-style maniacal grin, knowing Mom would transport me to the office supplies aisle of Woolworth’s (← ask your folks 😆). Pens and copybooks and erasers, oh my! Who-cares splotchy-writing Bic pens gave way to pens with wider barrels and reliable ink; white erasers replaced the usual pink; black and white marbled copybooks stepped aside in favor of rock-yoe-retinas eye-candy notebooks. I’d 🎵 found my thrill 🎵 on stationery hill.
As a young widow, Mom couldn’t afford every pen kidnapping this then-kid’s eye. But when that kid eased into adulthood, oooo baby, the financial gloves slipped off—with a vengeance. Assorted academic scholarships and multiple jobs financed my college and law school tuitions, with JUST enough extra for snazzy pens, pencils, and paper items. Among the things law school taught me: the wonders of color-coded notes! Speed forward to true jobs, and y’all know dang well what happened to a substantial portion of that enhanced disposable income. 🤣😂
✧︎︎︎ Coaxing Consistent Bullet Journaling, My Premier Life Management Tool
By the time year 2015 eased up my chronological road, my home office cried out for relief. Decades of hoarding studied writing paraphernalia purchases created clutter zones throughout the house. I learned: a cluttered home office yields a cluttered brain, death to those of us who write for a living. But I tamed the clutter monster1, revamping until this writer’s hallowed ground sang with comforting allure.
Reaching for a favorite mechanical pencil (Kuru Toga), pen (Pilot Juice 0.38mm, Uni Jetstream 0.5m, Pilot Frixion 0.5mm), or fountain pen (Platinum Preppy 0.3mm, Pilot Prera Italic nib, Ohto extra fine nib) encourages braindumping into my bullet journal (Hobonichi Cousin Avec/ A5). Knowing the paper comprising my selected journal/planner respects any ink hitting it’s pages eliminates technical distractions. In short, because my writing paraphernalia addiction encourages my reach for a particular writing instrument, as well as the container targeted, I’m a faithful bullet journaler. Fidelity to a life management tool, combined with regular review sessions, keeps me on top of my goals-focused activities.
So laugh at my stationery nerdiness if you’re so inclined. This little momma enjoys her daily groove, respecting my scheduled Evening Routine’s review segment as I travel my goal achievement path. Incorporating my all-things-writing obsession fuels consistency and hence, my steps up the I-WILL-do-it mountain.
Music: Old School Motown-Era & Smooth Jazz
✧︎︎︎ The How: Music in the Morning Mutes Mourning
Someone asked me, “GirlFriend, every day… at 4:15a.m.?? WithOUT an alarm clock? How? Why? What in the world makes you a consistent early riser?” I wanted to say “self-discipline!” Honey, puhleeeeeease! When sheets nestle this body and only darkness greets a partially cracked retina, ain’t that much self-discipline in da woooorllllld. Self-lectures, mental vows—yeah right. In my very best Foghorn Leghorn Looney Tunes voice: Ah say, Ah say the one and onlyest thing guaranteed to get me up and outta bed every dang morning, Ah say → Motown funk!
I confess: it’s downright weird. The woman propelled into a room for a certain purpose, who dissolves into mental Jeopardy upon arrival (Alex, I’ll take “why the heck did I come here????” for the win), is the same woman requiring a mere 3-4 notes of a decades-old tune to start singing the full lyrics. Go figure.
Here’s the Cliff Notes explanation: when the toes get ta tappin’, don’t want more nappin’. As my peepers pop, my first words utter: “Alexa, play my Motown playlist.” Her confirmation, “Playing the Motown playlist”, ushers in my little version of a hallelujah choir. The opening rifts snatch my ears and race down through my body, causing my tootsies to commence their beeboopin’:
🎵 Oh mmm I know a place
Ain’t nobody cryin’
Ain’t nobody worried
Ain’t no smilin’ faces
Mmm, no no
Lyin’ to the races
Help me, come on, come on
Somebody, help me now (I’ll take you there)
Help me, ya’all (I’ll take you there)
Play your, play your piano now 🎵
G’on! Try! I doubleD dare ya to remain still in your bed, hugging the covers, as this badboy diddy wafts through your bedroom.
I wind down my wanna-be Soul Train moves as song #2 pushes me toward the shower: Paul Hardcastle’s Rain Forest.
As I exit, the tempo slows, the music now reminding me of core priorities.
✧︎︎︎ That’s the “how” of faithful early rising. The why?
- No. Distractions.
- No. Excuses.
- A defanged inner critic
- A unique sense of calm, with its BFF companion creativity smiling in my direction
Family? In various snore states, if not at work (hubby works the graveyard shift on a rolling 4-successive-nights on/off schedule).
Political irritations? Confined to an off-state t.v. and ignored Twitter Trending Topics / browser apps.
Early rising gifts a silent inner critic. That sucker never berates me when I’m up & at ’em pre-dawn. But oh Lawwwd, the days I instead pull the covers over my head and remain in bed past my appointed hour? It’s like someone pumped the fool with verbal Wheaties! 😡
The blanket darkness stills this soul, converting everything into Pam’s World. As I exit the shower, I ask Alexa to “turn on the office coffee.” By the time I arrive at my home office desk, the mini coffee maker (2 mugs) situated atop a bookcase to its adjacent right has brewed. After pouring my cup, while rolling back the ultra-comfy high-back chair to situate myself, I tell Alexa to “play my morning routine playlist.” Instrumental-only smooth jazz tunes embrace my spirit, providing musical Xanax.
I perform my standard a.m. review, then check in with Twitter’s #5amWritersClub, joining others worldwide for a one hour 5a writing session.
Additional desk-bound endeavors bury me for several hours. By noon, I’ve accomplished a comparable 9–10 hours of work. The “why” comes down to this: enhanced focus triggers and massages intense productivity.
Baby steps, marching up the mountain to my goals. I’m not as far away from achieving each as I was yesterday, and tomorrow’s Agenda will push me still closer. Music. My ace in the hole!
You’ve already met Alexa, the invisible lady playing maestro to my workdays. … And Spotify, Exxon to this woman’s spiritual daily driving machine. … Time to meet a few more soldiers in my get it togetha! army.
✧︎︎︎ iOS Apps
The lion’s share of my daily writing transpires on my iPad. I tap LogCalendar, then it’s customized WritingPG button, starting the timer. I flip to Ulysses, a dream of a writing app, especially given its publish-to-WordPress no-fuss no-mess feature. When my session completes, I flip back to LogCalendar to stop the timer. The act of stopping the timer causes LogCalendar to auto-toss the skeletal basics of my completed writing mission into a dedicated Google Calendar, dWS.Writing: WritingPG: 4:56-6:03a.
Oodles of time trackers litter the iOS App Store, and I’ve tried/discarded most. Rather than providing an assist, they demand hopscotch-like data entry before I can get my party started. I demanded simple and quick. LogCalendar—alone—delivers.
To massage the skeletal data inserted by LogCalendar, I open CalenGoo. Targeting the new WritingPG entry, I add the flesh of substance, details sufficient to inform during review sessions. Example, with my manual entries appearing without boldface:
- WritingPG: 4:46-6:10a/ 1239 wc→ new: #1676. Joyful Obsessions (free flow, no edits)
Result: tracked writing sessions.
Aside: Mindful of potential confusion waiting to attack those of us who rely on both digital and analog tools, I instill harmony between those two distinct worlds with a numbering scheme. One example: as I start drafting, I check a Bullet Journal sidekick dedicated to logging aspects of my online social presence. It includes my Articles Log, comprised of all articles written with this blog in mind, tracking the phases of each from maiden draft through final proof for publication. Each line holding an article title includes a number. The Articles Log reveals available numbers ripe for assignment, I choose and insert a number into my Ulysses document (as a “comment” following the title), and pencil the temporary title into the Articles Log. This explains the 1239 you see in the above entry.
Self-employment, from a companion home office, thrills with perks. But the downside is an inner critic inspiring procrastination and other ills. Because accountability forms the key to locking that fool in a soundproof room, I track myself in multiple ways throughout the workday. Here, the focus is my calendar-based writing record.
The bullet journal is my best friend in terms of productivity. But technology has its place. My motif: exploit the best of both the analog and electronic worlds, to effect a better me.
Each of my four joyful obsessions plays a critical role throughout my workday.
Bird photography, in the form of bird knickknacks and a camera-lens coffee mug, sit nearby as I toil, silent friends shouting encouragement. And, if a writer’s block stymies me, I know it’s time for a change in locale. I may grab a camera and plop into a backyard chair. Or, I may grab my car keys, and slip my Out & About EDC work bag over my shoulder (EveryDay Carry), knowing it holds my pocket size Sony HV90v camera. A good day, weather wise, pushes me to a local park. Dicey weather instead propels me to a local mom & pop coffee shop, surrounded by trees… with birds. Regardless of location, the result is the same: block unleashed!
Writing paraphernalia keeps me faithful to bullet journaling, the one life management tool guaranteed to satisfy per its biggest claim to fame: flexibility. I love reaching for certain writing instruments throughout the day, and I appreciate the fine paper quality comprising each of my chosen note receptacles. The high influx of such notations naturally induces scheduled review sessions. I don’t want the overflow resulting from missed review dates. Read: I’m faithful.
Motown music pumps me out of bed each morning, while soothing smooth jazz instrumentals keep me at my home office desk or in the nearby lounge chair. Despite periodic breaks, I always return to this hallowed ground, these days without “should” lectures. Because I took the time to conjure my dream work area, I gravitate toward, and remain at, that space until the day’s Agenda is satisfied.
Technology, in the form of Alexa and assorted Mac/iOS apps, performs the precise tasks needed, when desired—no more, no less. My previous digital lunacy—involving upward of 18 apps on a DAILY basis—cured, I now rely upon only a handful of apps. That puts me in a much better position to harmonize digital with analog tools. Simplicity compromises nothing, while enhancing everything.
Call to Action
Is your dedicated work space hallowed ground? What can you do, specifically, to elevate it to that desired status? And, at what precise time and date will you implement each step of your related plan?
Yep, the revamp will eat serious time. Bummer! But if you truly crave consistent skyrocketing productivity, you’ll indulge the pain to enjoy the gain.
- April 24th through the 30th = National Stationery Week. Come on back next Thursday when the walk-through will greet you: How To Embrace a Stationery Obsession with Organization. ↩