How to tame the unruly beast that is the to-do list

How to tame the unruly beast that is the to-do list - www.alliepottswrites.comTo-do lists can be so cute when they are young. When they look at you with those big shiny eyes, begging for your attention, you can’t help taking them home. As you stroke its fur and listen to it emit those adorable sleepy sounds of contentment, you can’t help think of all the wonderful things the two of you will accomplish together.

Then one day when you aren’t paying it enough attention, it piddles on the floor or gnaws a hole in your favorite shoes. Your sleep gets interrupted by late night whimpers or whines demanding your immediate attention. It nips at your fingers with sharp baby teeth and scratches your legs with its razor-sharp claws.

But you let this behavior go. It’s a baby to-do list after all. Mishaps happen. It’s annoying, yes, but all part of the process. You tell yourself it’s no big deal.

The next thing you know, that baby is one hundred fifty pounds of pure muscle more capable of taking you on a walk than you are taking it. The floors are ruined as is the couch, the blinds, and the contents of your closet. You stop having anyone over, too embarrassed to let them see what your list has become. You dread leaving your home, worried about what mess it’ll make while you are gone. What if it gets out? Even worse, what if it finds another list out there and multiples?

It growls at your family. It snaps at your dreams and each day you do nothing your to-do list only grows larger, meaner, and more wild. It’s no longer annoying. It’s quality of life affecting.

You might be tempted to take the to-do list out to the woods and be done with it, but then you remember back to those eyes and the sweet little baby it once was, and you decide to give it one last chance, but deep down you know something has to change. That something is you.

It’s time to take control and tame that unruly beast.

Step 1: Put that list on a diet.

If you aren’t sure of your to-do list’s ideal weight, ask a trusted friend, but chances are you have been feeding it far more than is healthy. Start by cutting back on the filler treats that might make you temporarily feel good, but in truth don’t provide any nutritional value, like agreeing to judge a hot dog eating competition at the local state fair when you also have three missed deadlines already and no experience in the world of professional competitive eating.

Focus instead on limiting your list to three to five lean but high-quality meaty goals and keep your list active with plenty of exercise. Once your list is back in a manageable weight class, you can reintroduce the snacks provided they remain in moderation.

If you are not sure how to do this (it’s harder than it sounds), you may want to check out The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals (affiliate link). Yes, it is a business book, but I treat achieving my big goals as a business and so should you.

Step 2: Establish and Enforce Boundaries

Expect whining from your to-do list, especially in the beginning as it is used to getting its way, but remember its reign over your house is over. Spray bitter apple on things that shouldn’t be chewed. Invest in a fence or limit its range to only certain rooms. Purchase a timer or create a schedule. However you set your boundaries, make sure they work for you because once set, you’ll need to remain firm and let what doesn’t make the list go. As long as you don’t mind the language, I recommend reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (affiliate link)

Step 3: Enlist the help of a trainer

Your to-do list just knocked over Grandma Maude’s vase with its tail.  I get it. Adding more books to read to your list isn’t helping. You’ve maxed out on what you can do alone. If this is the case, I recommend finding an accountability partner. This can be a friend, spouse, colleague, or even a random person you’ve stalked built a relation with online (facebook groups related to your interests are a good place to start). The ‘who’ doesn’t matter. What they do, however, does. This person should be able to regularly help identify priorities and be trusted to hold the leash with a firm hand when your to-do list starts pulling away as it is apt to do.

Step 4: Reward your progress

How to tame your to-do list - www.alliepottswrites.com

Asana Screen Shot

Positive reinforcement works wonders. Just as a dog can learn to associate the sound of a clicker or over-the-top expressions like “whose a good girl/boy? You are!” as praise, your list will respond to seeing tasks getting checked off. Treat each check mark like a big deal it is. If you prioritized your tasks properly, they will be. Don’t keep your accomplishments in your head. Write them down and display them for all your family to see.

Some people might be comfortable working from a scratch pad or a pile of post-it notes, but I prefer using an app like Evernote, Trello or Asana. All have desktop and mobile versions as well as limited, but free-to-use plans. I also like these tools because it makes it easy for me to share my list with my accountability partners, set due date reminders, and upload files related to a task, so pulling it all together later is one task I don’t have to add to a list.

Step 5: Accept accidents will still happen

No matter how well-behaved your list becomes, its heart is still that of a wild beast. Accidents, like forgotten commitments and missed due dates will still happen. Don’t rub your list’s nose in it. Don’t dwell on the failure and whatever you do, if your goals are important enough, don’t ever give up.

 

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When a hurricane comes a-calling

My grandmother, my father’s mother, was diagnosed with cancer when I was only a child. She was told she had only months to live. She wrote a note to the family and toured the world, I assume saying her last goodbyes to friends, before settling into a house on an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea known as St. Martin or Sint Maarten depending on which side you were on.

ST-Martin-026-Edit (8575653057)

By Chris Favero from USA (ST-Martin-026-Edit.jpg), via Wikimedia Commons

I visited her there once with my father, months, if not years, after her original prognosis. I guess the climate suited her more than the cancer. I remember her out on the porch under a brilliant blue sky in light summer clothes, though it was mid-January. She sipped her coffee, looked out onto the horizon, and said, “it’s just another G-D day in paradise.” Except she used the full phrase. My grandmother was not one to adjust her style for children.

And so it was – paradise, that is. So much so, that my aunt lived there at the time as well along with two of my cousins, both near my age. They invited me to visit their school so they could introduce their American cousin to their friends, but I couldn’t fit it in. There was simply too much else to do, like dodging incoming airplanes or sitting on the beach.

Maho Beach, near Princess Juliana Airport, Caribbean island of Saint Martin-8Feb2008 (3)

Not exactly the image of relaxing on the beach that immediately comes to mind (By alljengi from Edinburgh via Wikimedia Commons)

My dad rented a catamaran which my aunt helped crew. It was the most gorgeous boat (excuse me, yacht) I’d ever been on with window in each of the hulls allowing you to see beneath the turquoise waves and a mesh net over the top where you could enjoy the ocean’s spray as well as the journey.

We let the wind take us to another nearby island where engines and bits of WWII fighter planes still dot the landscape. To both my amusement and embarrassment, we also learned that particular island also happened to be a stop for a nude cruise, giving a whole new meaning to the term, history buff.

We spent the rest of my visit scuba diving where I was given the nickname ‘she who sings with the fishes,’ as I had come up with the brilliant (and I now know completely ridiculous) idea I could extend the oxygen in my tank by humming. That’s also how I learned sound travels farther in water.

I have beautiful memories of that trip and always intended to go back and share it with the family. Maybe we could go one year when our work isn’t so crazy or the next when the kids aren’t quite so young. One cousin still lives there. We had plenty of time to visit.

But a category five hurricane with 185 mph winds decided to beat us to it.

Wednesday, September 6th, I spend a good portion of the day stalking the social media feeds of my extended family. Hurricane Irma had made landfall. My aunt had lost contact with her son, my island cousin, around six am. His brother, now stateside, forwarded links to island webcams showing a vaguely tree-like shadow shaking in an otherwise gray nothingness. The image wasn’t exactly comforting.

I clicked on another link. This one had a slightly clearer picture and I was relieved to an extent until I saw a notice posted above the video. It was only a loop of earlier footage, taken prior to complete loss of power and connectivity.

Nearly the entire day passed before we got the news – my island cousin had checked in from the other side of the storm. He’d lost his roof but helped rescue another person stuck in what was left of their home. Looters roamed, but he was making his way across the island with a chainsaw and a 4×4. He was okay, though the same couldn’t be said of the island I’d once known.

In the US mainland, we waited as the hurricane hit Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, the US Virgin Islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, the British Virgin Islands as well. Then Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, which never seems to be able catch a break, the Bahamas, Turks, Caicos, and Cuba too, resulting in the deaths of 68 thus far [82 as of September 15th] and rendering thousands homeless. (Source: Don’t forget about us: Irma’s desperate Caribbean survivors, CNN & Irma’s Staggering Toll: At Least 68 Dead, Billions In Damage From the Caribbean to the U.S., The Weather Channel)

When the storm finally arrived on the mainland, no longer a category five, some people said they were unimpressed. However, I say, when a hurricane comes a-calling but decides at the last minute to turn away, the word you are looking for is grateful. Because as the last few days proved, when a storm like this comes to your door, it is anything but another day in paradise.

For those wishing to do more, I would encourage you to check out the facebook group SXMabroad which is a group whose goal is to A) provide a consolidated list of reputable organization to for the purpose of financial donations B) organize groups of people who have the time and ability go and help re-build and C) do whatever this group can to encourage tourism to rebound as quickly as appropriate.

When a hurricane comes a-calling www.alliepottswrites.com

Infrared storm image by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

 

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome - www.alliepottswrites.comA three-day weekend loomed in front of us and our plan was to have no plan. We’d sleep in as much as the children allowed. We’d stay in. After being away from home most weekends in August, my husband and I were looking forward to tackling a few projects but generally doing nothing more than relaxing. It would be a weekend to simply enjoy being a family.

It was a good plan.

I’d no sooner stepped out of my bedroom Saturday morning when I was met in the hall by my eldest son and his best friend, Biff. “Mom! Biff invited me to go with them to a mud run. Can I go? Can I?” I blinked. I hadn’t drunk enough coffee that morning to be able to process that level of excitement. It was a wonder I’d even gotten into my day clothes already.

I stalled. “Those things usually cost money.”

“My mom will take care of it,” Biff assured me.

I felt like there was something I was missing. Kiddo would be out of the house all morning? He’d be exercising instead of alternating between begging me to allow him to binge-watch his latest favorite cartoon (there are only six seasons, mom), creating Lego minefields, or complaining about how bored he was and I wouldn’t have to pay for it? It seemed too good to be true.

It was.

We learned no such offer had been authorized. Sure, Kiddo was welcome to come along (the more the merrier!) but the insurance waiver clearly stated that a legally responsible adult must be present along with every child. One of us, either my husband or I, would have to go with Kiddo else live with a weekend long case of ‘you are the worst parents ever!’ There went our relaxing morning.

My husband and I faced off like gunslingers at noon in an old western.

“It’s only a couple of miles,” my husband pointed out.

“You are the one training to run another marathon,” I reminded his father.

*do-la-doooooo wha wha whaaaaaa*

“Please?” I swear Kiddo batted his eyelashes. (Don’t ask me where he learned that trick).

My husband broke first. “I’ll go change.”

LT, our youngest, caught wind of the conversation. He had no idea what a mud run was, but his brother and father were going. He would not be left out or heads would roll (as would the rest of him as his tantrums are typically full body affairs). Then all four of us were at the starting line with the elder Potts guys in their work out attire and me and LT standing on the spectator side with a camera and their spare clothes.

A fog horn blew and then they were off.

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome - www.alliepottswrites.com

This is after he swam across a pond. My washing machine is demanding a raise

A short time later, two incredibly filthy smiling faces crossed the finish line. I know they were smiling because the only part that wasn’t covered in brown was their shiny teeth. The shoes they’d worn were tossed in a pile which would be industrially cleaned and donated to those in need. A large tanker truck provided the water needed to remove the mud from Kiddo’s ear. Speakers blasted music while LT grabbed fistfuls of grass and rubbed them into his hair and across his belly in order to look like one of the participants. We hadn’t brought a change of clothes for him, but I found I didn’t mind. Not one part of the morning had gone to plan, but it was still a good morning.

No. It was a better morning.

I am a planner by nature as much as by habit. I set goals. I track milestones. I know how to keep a program advancing, but though it is making me twitchy writing this, there are times you have to focus on the outcome, but let the plan go.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins

I was supposed to have another book out by now, but my characters rebelled. I found myself asking what was more important? My outline or my outcome.

I thought my outline was a good one. I’d put real thought into it. I’d spent hours if not days planning and pacing. I’d created character profiles and scene summaries. I’d researched setting. It should have worked, but it didn’t, and ultimately I allowed myself the flexibility to adapt moving forward. I picked outcome.

Though I hate that it has taken so long to get to this point, I have to admit my characters were right. I rewrote my plan. I altered my method. I’ve received my feedback from my beta readers and all that is left to do is a few manageable rewrites and work through my final edits before sending it out to the next round of advanced proof readers (if that sounds like something you’d enjoy, please contact me at allie AT alliepottswrites DOT com).

The path to publishing this book may have deviated from my plan. It’s taken a few twists and gotten messy along the way but my commitment has never wavered. With a little patience and a whole lot of support, I will publish this book and it may just be better than I ever planned for.

An interview with my muse – a fiction challenge

Diana over at Myths of the Mirror challenged writers to interview their muse after finding that hers had recently outsourced the job to a merciless mercenary for hire/part-time healthy life style disciplinarian. But upon accepting the challenge, I found my muse somewhat difficult to track down…


A fiction challenge and the investigation into the mysterious disappearance of my muse - www.alliepottswrites.comThe air was heavy with procrastination as I heard the door open behind me. I didn’t have to turn around to recognize her perfume, a mix of earth and chocolate spice. It could only be Moka. Moka Chino. She spelled her name with a k rather than a ch. She thought it gave her an extra shot of originality. I’d never had the heart to tell her I thought it made me question whether her head was on right.

She sashayed into my office as if it hadn’t been years since we last met. Though I tried to keep my expression neutral, I couldn’t help drinking in her appearance. “What brings you to the old neighborhood?” I asked as she removed a pair nutmeg shaded glasses, revealing mascara stained eyes underneath.

“It’s Latte. She’s missing.”

Latte was Moka’s cousin. Tall and skinny, though just as smooth. I’d met her at one of Moka’s parties and we’d spent the next hours in easy conversation. Latte’s side of the family wasn’t nearly as rich and she’d offered to help with the occasional job or two for whatever change I could spare, which was never much.

It was worth the expense. Her contributions might cause me the occasional heartburn, but they never failed to get results. She was reliable that way. It wasn’t like her to disappear without leaving a trace.

“So, can you help me find her?”

A lock of white slipped from her frothy up-do. I fought the urge to inhale her scent, as I helped sweep it back into place. She was bad for my health. Some might argue, toxic. I knew it. It was another reason I’d kept my distance. But I also knew she didn’t need to ask. Moka was someone I could never say no to. The problem was, she knew it too.

Latte spent her time between gigs in the editorial department of a local publishing house. It would be my first stop.

“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” I said to Latte’s boss, B.K. Caffé, a huge man with a complexion as dark as his current expression and crushing arms.  I extended my hand.

He didn’t take it. “You’re late.”

“I apologize. I was given the wrong directions in reception. Has anyone ever told you guys that this place is difficult to navigate?”

“You said this was about Latte?”

“Yeah, her cousin says she hasn’t seen her in awhile. Looked worried.”

“Yeah, well I haven’t seen her lately either. Now I’ve got senior management roasting my beans. I’ve had to bring my sister’s kid on board just to deal with the slush.” His scowl deepened as he glared as something or someone behind me. “But now I’m beginning to wonder if I was better off.”

A kid who must have traded his diaper in for an overpriced suit stood there. From the slicked back hair to golden pinkie ring, he could pass for an extra in the Wolf of Wall Street. He marched across the room like I wasn’t there. “We need to talk about my assignment.”

“Not now.”

“But Uncle B, I really don’t think you are recognizing all the benefits I bring to the table. I should be in charge out there.”

“And yet I still don’t have a publish-ready novel from you, now do I.”

“If you’d only listen -”

“We can talk later. Now do the job I’m paying you to do.”

The kid left, slamming the office door behind him. “Kid thinks he’s bulletproof,” B.K. said more to himself than to me, shaking his head.

“So Latte.” I took out my notebook, bringing his attention back to the matter at hand. “You saw her last…”

“Weeks ago. We sent a draft off to beta readers and a crew went out celebrating.”

“Including you?”

“Not my scene.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. “I’ve been told I can be a bit of a buzz kill.” Someone knocked on his door. B.K. looked at his watch. “Are we done? I have a schedule to keep.”

“One last question. You wouldn’t happen to know where they went to celebrate, would you?”

“Where else: Quotable Potables.”

I was familiar with the hot spot. Signs of wear on the bar’s exterior were beginning to show. Even so, it still maintained a stable of regular customers thanks to its welcoming atmosphere. I made my way to the back where a makeshift karaoke stage, stood. It was also where I knew I’d find the Pinot Sisters.

They were seated at a nearby table, ready to launch into song the moment the equipment came online. I pulled out a chair and handed them a picture. “I’m looking for a gal named Nila Latte. You didn’t happen to see her here recently, did you?”

Both girls had the kind of legs that made you want to laugh or weep but were just as known for their bubbly personalities. Usually, the trick was getting them to stop talking, but neither offered a word. “Yes, you did.” I tapped the photo again. “A gal like that, on your turf. Yeah, you noticed.”

“We don’t remember.” Nora, the red head, pushed the photo back at me. “Okay?”

“You don’t remember seeing her, or you don’t remember what happened that night?”

Gio, the blonde, began to sweat, “She was iced!”

Nora covered her sister’s mouth. “We don’t know that.” Her gaze swiveled around the room as she looked for who else might have overheard Gio’s outburst. “Really. We don’t. Most nights are a complete blur. Ask anyone.”

It was clear that the girls were spooked and weren’t going to tell me anything more, but they’d given me an idea as to who to talk to next. I left the bar and took a turn down Memory Lane. I’d get to the bottom of this story.

It’s my job.

I’m a writer.


Those who are interested in seeing more of this story (or future short stories) are welcome to join my mailing list here and selecting short stories under interests.

One foot forward – what a summer vacation can teach about determination

One Foot Forward - www.alliepottswrites.com #vacation #determination

Background image by rpertiet (The Stairs) via Wikimedia Commons

“Are you combing your hair with your toes?” is a question I never thought I would need to ask, but when your child is the human incarnate of a Gumby doll, I guess anything goes.

My youngest, LT, has hypermobility, a condition that allows him to perform fun party tricks like the one above, but at the same time made it difficult to build up the muscle definition needed to sit up, crawl, or walk. He spent almost a year of his life in physical therapy mastering skills which other kids picked up naturally at a half (or a third) of his age. At times it seemed he would never gain the knack, until one day the pieces fell into place, and he took his first step.

It is now time for him to take his next first step – into kindergarten.

To say that I am a wee bit nervous is an understatement. Thus far he has spent his entire life surrounded by those who have known him, his abilities, and his limitations from birth. But as of next week, he’ll be in a classroom of twelve to twenty children, each with unique talents and challenges of their own. Has he caught up to his peers? How will he cope? How will his teacher? We will soon find out.

As the last days of summer break wound down a group of us (eight adults, six children under the age of ten, and two dogs) decided to head to the Outer Banks, which is a series of naturally forming islands off the coast of North Carolina where pirates once sailed and wild horses still roam.

After two days of red flags, signifying a dangerous riptide in the water, we decided to take in the surrounding sights and made our way to the Currituck Beach Light.

Currituck Beach Light - www.alliepottswrites.com

Currituck Beach Light –
Just in case you wanted to know what 1,000,000 bricks look like

Currituck’s lighthouse is not the tallest lighthouse in North Carolina, at 198.5 ft (60.5 m) that distinction goes to the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, but it would do.

The sun beat down on us as we waited in line. Sweat formed as the staff advised it would be another twenty to thirty minutes wait before we could go inside. The kids scattered across the green while the adults held their places. I watched as my eldest and one of his cousins started playing tag. LT attempted to join in but he couldn’t compete with their speed and soon the game lost its appeal.

LT returned to my side and guzzled down the contents of my only remaining bottle of water already showing signs of tiring. I looked at the tower. 220 spiraling steps awaited us, constructed prior to any form of building safety code (or air conditioning). Some of our group discussed sitting this one out as the crowd waiting increased along with the temperature. I looked at LT. There was no way I would be able carry him to the top were he to slip or give up mid-climb.

The line moved. Our group was next. It was time to decide who was going and who was staying on the ground. LT didn’t hesitate to join his brother and cousins at the front of the line. His face was set. His decision was made. I guess mine was too.

The majority of our group disappeared up the stairs within seconds of our entry. I hung back ready to react as I could as my youngest grabbed the handrail and took that first step forward. I watched with laser focus as he took another. Then another. We reached the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs. Eight more flights to go. LT didn’t look back. We rounded the next. The inside of the tower narrowed.

Halfway up, another group appeared at the top of the next landing and began their descent. I made the mistake of glancing down. It was all too easy to imagine what might happen if LT were to slip now. Maybe it would be best for us to stop to wait with our backs against the wall while they squeezed past. I hesitated. LT did not. Instead, he kept climbing.

We met more and more people the higher we went and each time my stomach twisted along with my heart, but LT never looked back, never complained, never asked me to do the work for him, and never once stopped.

Currituck Beach Light - www.alliepottswrites.com

View from the top

Then we were at the top of the stairs and roughly 150 feet (45.72m) from the ground. A small doorway through the brick wall opened to an external landing, which circled the lighthouse and provided an unencumbered view of both the ocean and the sound separating the island from the mainland. But the most beautiful sight for me was the smile on LT’s face as he joined the rest of our family on the rail.

It was enough to make me forget we had to still go back down. Well … almost.

We reached the bottom with LT leading the line of children behind me. After exiting, I turned and looked up once more, amazed again at how far this one little guy had gone on his own and reminded once more of how much can be accomplished one determined step at a time.

How would he cope with this next stage in his life or any goal he sets his mind to for that matter? I had my answer. It was the same way any of us should – with one foot forward.

Other random facts

  • Built in 1875, Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of eight official lighthouses in the state of North Carolina, though there are more than twenty if you include replicas like the Roanoke Lighthouse and converted offshore rigs like the Frying Pan Shoals Light, which also serves as a bed and breakfast for a truly unique off-grid travel experience.
  • Also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic due to the number of shipwrecks, the sea bed around the Outer Banks can shift quite dramatically as evidenced by the sudden appearance of an entirely new island earlier this year.
  • The shifting sands and storm erosion also required the Cape Hatteras lighthouse to be moved 2900 feet from its original site in 1999, which was a feat of engineering and worth reading about.