5 Ways to Dig Into Dreaded Deep Work

Photo by  Emre Gencer  on  Unsplash

Photo by Emre Gencer on Unsplash

I’m a person who kind of relishes deep work. I like having solitary, long(-ish)-term projects that I’m working on, and I hate the feeling that I’m in an endless cycle of sending and answering emails, working on quick and discrete tasks, spinning my wheels in the mud of the daily grind.

Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s still often extremely difficult to get myself to dive into my deep work projects.

It’s like with many people and exercise – I know I’ll enjoy it once I get going and definitely after I’m done. But still, the barrier to getting started can prove insurmountable some days.

Part of it is that many of our work environments are physically and structurally designed to constantly distract us from getting into the deep work. There’s the constant urgent-and-important, “putting out fires” kind of work that pulls at us. There are demands on our time – from other people, systems we work within, and emails – that are urgent-but-not-truly-important. And then there are the other insidious factors that play on our tendency to procrastinate in moments of weakness – social media, push notifications, so many spam-y emails (not-important-and-not-urgent).

It’s much easier to allow ourselves to be distracted by these than to do the harder thing, which is to pay attention to the important-but-not-urgent work.

The projects that will really be meaningful in the long run. The ones that will push us to grow. The ones to which we often attach so many unnecessary emotions – to the point that we really can’t get started.

Photo by  Samantha Sophia  on  Unsplash

Recently, I’ve had to battle my procrastination demons in order to work on creating an online version of my Stop Settling in Your Career workshop. I’d known I had wanted to put together an online workshop like this for a while and had been collecting the footage in order to create a workshop with the best parts from my live workshops. I was excited about it, theoretically. I talked about it enthusiastically and couldn’t wait for it to be done and ready to share with people.

But when it came time to actually start working on it, I can’t tell you how many weeks I pushed it off for. I could not seem to get started!

Much of the problem was that I had attached so many extra emotions to it: dread, shame, fear, anxiety.

I was afraid to watch the footage I had collected. I was anxious about how I’d look, my nervous tics, my awkward movements. More than that, I dreaded hearing my voice. For many years I’ve had a serious aversion to hearing my voice on tape, which was mostly why I could not bring myself to review the video and audio for the longest time.

Finally, I realized that I’d be way off my target deadline if I didn’t get started soon. So I had to apply a bunch of different strategies all at once in order to simply start. Here’s what I did, in case it’s ever helpful to any of you too!

Photo by  Marvin Ronsdorf  on  Unsplash

Scheduling it into my calendar

First, I scheduled working on the online workshop into my calendar in two different ways. I made it a several-weeks-long event so that there was a bright banner across multiple weeks of my calendar reminding me that I needed to be working on the workshop. I also scheduled in 2-hour blocks of time each day to work on it and I did my best not to book anything else during or close to those hours (more on this strategy here).

Scheduling it in strategically

I also scheduled these blocks during the mornings, when, based on my circadian rhythm (more on this on this podcast, at the 1:05:00 marker), I have the greatest mental energy and capacity to do focused work.

Breaking it down

I also broke down what I’d need to do into much smaller tasks and chunks. Instead of: Make Online Workshop, I created a laundry list of bite-sized tasks like, Transfer videos from iPad to computer; Upload video files into iMovie; Find audio files; Transfer audio files into iMovie; Open notes documents from each live workshop, etc.

Putting all the tasks into a sensible order

Then I put them into some kind of a feasible order and put one or two onto my daily To Do list, sometimes broken down even further into micro tasks.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Clearing my physical and electronic work space

I also tried to remove visible distractions. I cleared things from my workspace so that I wouldn't be tempted to work on other things during my protected time. I would have to close my email tab on my browser sometimes (or even the entire browser). And I put my phone away from me and face down so that any notifications that did come up wouldn’t derail my work.

Troubleshooting obstacles

One of the hardest things about doing the video editing was that I couldn’t use one of my main go-to tools for focusing on deep work: listening to classical music. Whenever I have to do serious work, I stream my classical station, which plays random pieces of music (in a big loop; I’ve been listening to it for years, but it kind of helps that it’s often the same pieces over and over because it doesn’t distract me). But with the video editing, I had to listen to the audio – OF MY OWN VOICE. So I couldn’t use the trigger of the classical music to send me into a mental place of focus.

Another challenge was the tedium. It was high-level brain work, in a sense, because I had to figure out how to combine the variations of what I’ve presented at live workshops into one cohesive, sensible, “best of” workshop. But on the other hand, the actual manipulating of video and audio files and combining them with slides got extremely boring after a while. For this, I had nothing to rely on except my longstanding tendency to attack things with brute force. My work motto used to be: “Just do it till it’s done.” (Yikes.)

So to counter balance these obstacles, I told myself I’d be allowed to do something fun after, as an incentive and reward.

I’d give myself 15 minutes to send personal emails, 15 minutes to waste on the internet, let myself work on my puzzle later that day, or spend some time doing a mindless administrative task that I found at least a little fun. (Go ahead, judge me on how I define fun lol!)

Predictably, just like with the exercise dread, once I dove into the video editing and hit a groove, I started to enjoy it – even the most tedious parts!

All I had to do was get started.

Photo by  Samuel Clara  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Clara on Unsplash

Summertime!! Time for some Summer Goals!

Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo  on  Unsplash

As we roll into another summer, it struck me that I often start out each summer with lots of exciting ideas of all the fun activities I want to do. But, pretty much every time, by the end of the summer, the opportunity to do all those fun things has come and gone and I won't have done any of these fun things.

I’ll have put them off and put them off, until it’s September and there’s no way I’m going to devote time to them.

Here’s an example of how this happens. At the beginning of the summer, I’ll tell myself I’m going to go roller skating. I really like roller skating, it reminds me of my childhood in that fun, carefree kind of way, and I even own roller skates! (Yes, the ones with four wheels, or “quads” for those in the know.) I also want to support roller rinks because they’re going the way of the dinosaurs and print media.

Photo by  Josh Edgoose  on  Unsplash

Photo by Josh Edgoose on Unsplash

Every year, I say I’m going to go. Do I ever? No. 

At least not for the last few years. Sometimes I even make a plan to go with other people that inevitably falls apart. Or I never even make a plan because I’m always preoccupied with work (of which there is always more!), other people’s events, being lazy, or sleeping.

This year, I’ve decided to take a different strategy. 

Since I’m extremely into goal setting, I figured why not use goal setting for fun things (or not-so-fun, but still important things that are, say, health-related) that I tend to procrastinate on?

For updates on my progress and actual proof that I’m achieving my
Summer Goals, go to my Instagram and check out the
Highlighted Stories labeled

Well, one obvious reason is that it’s such a dorky – and seemingly un-fun and uncool – thing to do. But this is me, after all, so why the hell not?

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about what I wanted to focus on. There were lots of discrete activities I wanted to experience this summer, but I wanted to figure out what my overarching mission was with these Summer Goals. As I reflected on it, I figured out that everything I wanted to do fell under 1 of 3 subgoals:

  1. to have more fun
  2. to take care of my relationships, and
  3. to take care of my health.
Photo by  MI PHAM  on  Unsplash

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

For now, I've narrowed it down to the following 18 specific sub-subgoals (a nice #18for2018, if you will!):

Have More Fun | Take Care of My Relationships | Take Care of Myself

  1. Do 1 outdoor activity per week (can include: hiking, camping, working, journaling, drawing, walking outside)
  2. Take a road trip
  3. Go to archery once
  4. Go roller skating once!
  5. Take a pottery class
  6. Make another cork board
  7. Do another printmaking project
  8. Paint or draw something once
  9. Give 3 high-quality hugs per day (with consent, of course!) 
  10. Call my parents once a week
  11. Send a postcard to someone from any / all of my trips 
  12. Send a handwritten letter to 1 friend per month
  13. Do 1 phone date per month with a friend
  14. Do more physical activity (can include a light, at-home workout, my physical therapy exercises, doing a weekly tap class in the summer, doing a fun workout class)
  15. Eat at least 1 fruit and 1 vegetable per day 5 days out of the week (I know, this is kind of a sad goal)
  16. Go to the eye doctor (I haven’t been in over a decade!! 😱)
  17. Donate my clothes and things that I don’t use or love anymore
  18. Wear clothes that make me feel good, instead of simply picking up what’s lying around

I’m really excited for these goals and am hopeful that having specific benchmarks will help me have more fun, strengthen my relationships, and improve my health! I also anticipate adding additional sub-subgoals going toward these 3 meta categories, but I didn’t want things to feel overwhelming and turn into something NOT FUN, so I’ve left it here, for now.

Curious how this is going to go?? Me too!

For updates on my progress and actual proof that I’m achieving my Summer Goals, go to my Instagram and check out the Highlighted Stories labeled 🎯!

If you want to do your own Summer Goals project along with me, drop me a line at cynthia@embracechange.nyc! We can hold each other accountable!

Advice Can Be The Worst

Over the past month, I’ve had the great pleasure of talking to a lot of new folks with big dreams and lots of questions. It was exhilarating and fulfilling and I loved it.

As I spoke to these folks, I realized I could see myself in their position – eyes and ears wide open, trying to absorb every piece of advice, intensely scribbling down notes.

Here's how I am with advice. I can be very easily swayed and, sometimes, thrown off by it. “You should start a Facebook group.” “You should be a certified vendor with the City.” “You should join this networking organization.” Ahhhhhhhh.

Almost everybody has an opinion about what you should do (or, worse, what you should already be doing), especially when you’re transitioning into something new.

Photo by  Oleg Laptev  on  Unsplash

Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash

The “shoulds” can be endless! It gets incredibly overwhelming incredibly fast – particularly for those of us who are more deeply affected by what others say. Some of us take the advice and feedback of others very seriously. I happen to think it’s a great quality of depth, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness.

But it can also lead to a spiral of self-doubt, insecurity, and stuck-ness. Put another way, for some of us, it’s challenging to integrate what we’re told, what we hear, and what we absorb from the outside without losing ourselves in the process.

Since I am one of these people, even now, when others give me advice or feedback (solicited or not), the rational part of me knows that these are all simply potential opportunities to grow and improve. But, I often hear them first as criticisms (“Shit, I should have known this,” “Why didn’t I already do that?”). I immediately feel defensive, ashamed, and start questioning.

Photo by  Aaron Burden  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

On the one hand, I know I need to keep asking and keep my eyes and ears open wide because I want to get better. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean I ultimately act on every single piece of advice and feedback I get – I still reflect on it and weigh it against all the countervailing factors. Each person is the expert on themselves and their life.

Of course, as I was having all these conversations this past month, I was living on the other side of all this. Which is why I’m also writing this as a reminder to myself that the way I say and frame things to others is important.

I need to take care with my words, tone, and nonverbal communication. 

Which is why this post might also be a bit of atonement for those rushed and pressured conversations I had with folks recently. Where I didn’t have the luxury of time to ask all the contextual questions and have the deeper, exploratory conversations I’d normally have. Where I was doling out pieces of advice practically assembly-line style. Granted, I had spent a lot of time preparing the nuggets of advice ahead of time, carefully choosing the most widely applicable and generally useful ones. Realistically, though, I can only hope that the ones I shared with each person and the way I shared them will actually help more than hurt.

I would never want what I say to someone – especially someone who’s in this brave, but vulnerable, position – to send them into a spiral of self-doubt, insecurity, and stuck-ness. I know all too well what that feels like.

Photo by  Isaiah Rustad  on  Unsplash

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

For those of you who are like me in this way: Let’s not forget that whenever we get advice or feedback – solicited or not – it’s always ultimately up to us what we decide to do with that. We can choose to incorporate it, in whole or in part. We can choose to reject it after considering it. We can choose to reject it flat out. We can choose to table it, recognizing that timing is always a relevant factor.

The bottom line is:

Always remember that it’s your choice what you do with advice –
including when it comes from me. 

When You’re Unsure

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Do you ever feel like you’re moving through life in a fog?

Or stumbling around in the dark, unsure of where to step or whether you’re actually going around in circles? This happens to me every so often, and I suspect that it happens to everyone at some point or another (whether we want to admit it or not).

I’ve been in one of these phases for the last few weeks. It got so bad that I started questioning and second-guessing every decision I was making, wondering if it was a step in the “right” direction – whether it was the “right” thing for my business – or not. It’s the perfect opportunity for self-doubt and negative self-talk to swoop in and take over.

It’s definitely not fun, constantly wondering if you’re doing the right thing or not.

As if part of you is micromanaging the other part of you. Things feel stunted, lurching, like stop-action clay-mation (but less cute and entertaining because it’s your life!).

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The funny thing is, a few weeks ago, I went on this kick of urging my clients to listen more to their gut, to tune into their intuition, and use that as their ultimate guide.

Ever heard the saying, “We teach best what we most need to learn?” Well.

Clearly, I was preaching something that I was having a lot of trouble applying myself! It happens. Part of us knows, on some level, what we need to be doing. But another part of us resists for whatever reason. So how do we clear that resistance and regain some feeling of confidence, coherence, and flow?

The short answer is, I can’t tell you. Because it’s different for everyone. But you probably know. So it becomes a matter of excavation, maybe confronting some difficult issues, digging up some stuff, and then trying some things. And it ain’t easy. I know.

I’m lucky to have had support during this most recent foggy period. And lucky to have a sense of what I need to do in these times of confusion: Journal it out, dumping all my thoughts out on paper, no judgments or filters. Hold on tight to my meditation practice. Listen to music that I find soothing. Consult with a few trusted colleagues (as opposed to my old default – talking about it ad nauseum to anyone who would listen, which always left me feeling more confused and unsure than before).

But the most important thing was reminding myself that I had to pay attention to my own feelings and watch my instinctive reactions to things and TRUST THEM.

Many of us – especially women and people of color – are socialized to second guess ourselves all the time. I had let that socialization hold me back from freely following my internal compass. I was letting the what if’s and self-doubt hold me back like a sticky web.

So the next time you feel this way, ask yourself, what do I need to do to support myself in this time?

What can I do for myself? What can I ask from others?

And what does my intuition tell me?

Photo by  Tachina Lee  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash

If you can’t hear your intuition at first, don't panic. Ask yourself, what can I do, where can I go – to find it, to reconnect with it, to amplify it? Sometimes the answer is to do certain helpful things. Other times, the answer is to do less.

Regardless of what you choose to do, or not do, remember that nothing is permanent. Not the good things, not the bad things.

So, if you’re in a bad patch, hold on. Because this, too, shall pass.

I'm so tired!

Last week someone asked me how I was doing and my response was, "Things are going really great!! But this week has been so packed and I'm tired. I just need to get through till Friday." I felt happy as I responded. But then I realized that this has been what I've been saying to people for a few weeks in a row now.

The thing is, I honestly do feel like things are going really well. But every week, I tell myself that next week things are going to let up (schedule-wise, demand-wise, energy-wise). Inevitably, once I get to the next week, I'm repeating the same thing to myself: "Just gotta make it through this week!"

Photo by  nikko macaspac  on  Unsplash

What's happening?

I thought I had permanently left behind that feeling of being in a rat race, of constantly running from meeting to meeting, commitment to commitment. And for a while I had. I felt much more balanced. But, of course, nothing is forever. Things are always changing. So we have to keep adapting too.

This is one of those times when I need to recalibrate. If you feel that way too, here are 3 things to try to better sustain yourself over the long run:

  1. Schedule yourself a REAL BREAK. If you've been working full-speed since January, you need a vacation! I myself was reminded of this when a few people mentioned that they were taking vacations at the end of February or early March. "Oh yeah," I thought, "It probably is time for a vacation..." So put something on the books for yourself ASAP if you haven't already. I always recommend longer vacations rather than a long weekend or 2.
  2. If you truly cannot schedule a vacation soon, or if you need something to sustain yourself in the meantime, you may need to strengthen your boundaries. Those of you who know me by now can probably predict what I'm about to say. You need to Say No more. For some of us, it's simply a matter of reinforcing our boundaries, but for others, we need to readjust them to better protect our time and energy. For others of us still, we need to define the boundaries in the first place! Whichever it is, use this worksheet to help you!
  3. In the meantime and for always, start or continue your Gratitude practices. My favorite Gratitude practice to recommend to busy clients is: Before bed, write down 3 things from your day that you are grateful for (you don't have to even use full sentences!). Here's a worksheet to help you with that. And another version of this that I recently heard of is from Gretchen Rubin's podcast, Happier: Keep a running list (on paper or electronically) of all of your favorite things.

That's it! Try 1, 2, or all 3 of these tips to regain some control over your time, energy, and sanity in an otherwise busy time.

Now please excuse me as I go work on these myself...! :)

Until next time – hang in there!