Combating Catch-22

Double-edged swords. Catch 22. Every rose has its thorn.

These are all expressions used to explain that good things also have their bad counterpart. This is not the case for everything, of course, but I have started to see my life in terms of this recently as I look upon my lack of effectiveness the past few weeks.

I don’t mean to boast or to “toot my own horn” but I know one thing that I am quite good at is meeting people. I am a people-person. Chances are if you are reading this right now, you have probably connected me some way in the past and have probably thought about me this same way. I’m just friendly, and I love love love meeting new people. That is why I’ve been traveling and teaching abroad now for three to four years. It’s also why I’m an author. People fascinate me. I, for better or worse, need them. I thrive off of their energy and I love to be surrounded by friends.

While this is a great trait, and I’m glad to know so many outstanding individuals and have made a positive impact on some of those individuals’ lives as well, it also comes with a trade-off: lack of productivity. Now reflecting on this thought, I look back at my time in Santiago, Chile. It was my first time living abroad and with the Latin American culture being so open and welcoming anyway, I found myself constantly interacting with more and more people. This was great. And I constantly refer to my year in Chile as the best year of my life, and a reason that I would love to return to South America, but it did mean one thing for me: Ineffectiveness.

That year I didn’t work as hard on my second novel as I could have. In fact, it took me another two years to publish The Curse of Pirini Lilapa. It didn’t have to be this long. But, it did take this long and that’s because I didn’t focus on publishing for the future or advancing really my career at all. I was focusing on my social charm, my social status, and that is fine in some cases, especially at the age I was. Now, I find myself in a similar situation here in China and I am not running away from it. I’m not being an introvert. On the contrary, I am learning to manage and organize my days better around my priorities. If you have never read the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” I recommend you read it right now. The author, Stephen Covey, details a way to organize your schedule so that you are more effective and I have been using this method now for the past few weeks and it seems to be working decently. He recommends organizing and prioritizing based upon a weekly schedule, not just a daily schedule. I find it being very helpful for me to plan out when and who I can make time for. It could be working better, but I am still getting used to it and still finding that balance that is all too necessary for an extravert like me who has a bunch of introvert time they need to dedicate (to writing).

So, why have I been focusing so much time on socializing now? Well, a part of it is how I personally deal with pain and hurt. As a people-person I need others around me to talk to and just feel some sort of connection. I need this now, more than ever, after the breakup between me and a recent ex. But, this has left me in a rut of inactivity (in terms of my author career). Well, not inactivity, that isn’t necessarily correct, I am getting things done, but not AS much as I could get done. And, although I am self-cognizant about this fact, I have been reluctant to change, but I plan on making some pretty big decisions in my life by the end of the month (stay tuned in future blog posts for what those are). So, right now I am kind of in this limbo-state where I am trying to accomplish all of my goals in all areas at all times. Some of these goals do not add up. How can I be social and network and market, while at the same time be an author who wants to publish a novella later this year, while at the same time trying to inundate himself into the role of a student in another language?

To be honest, I can’t.

Unless, of course, you make some of those things become habits. For example, every Tuesday and Thursday I go to Salsa and Bachata class. Every morning I wake up and learn a little bit of Spanish. I am scheduling time for film rehearsal and production for a short movie I will be releasing later as well (more news on that to follow in a future blog post as well). I am continually taking care of my body by going to the gym 4-5 times per week. And now I have an idea of how to tackle balancing my social life with my author life, and it’s simple (in theory). I’ll have to schedule my days out on days that can allow me to do two things at once. For example, every Wednesday and Friday they have a Salsa night at various bars. I plan on going to the Wednesday event now (and occasionally Friday) because it not only gives me an opportunity to further practice my skills, while I continue integrating myself into Latin American culture, but it allows me to network and to potentially meet new people for possible ventures I’ll be undertaking in the near future (again a future blog post). Although it’s tempting to go out on Saturday nights, I am most likely going to decide to stay in from now on and write, only allowing myself to leave if I have hit my word count goal for the day/week. By not going out on Saturday night, I am more receptive to go to church on Sunday, to not waste my day with a needless hangover, and to get the fifth day of my workouts in while still leaving me time to write, to grade papers, and to plan for the next week.

By planning a weekly schedule now it has allowed me to change some of these things into habits, and it’s something that I will continue to do as I move writing into one of my weekly habits instead of socializing. This is called proactivity. Stephen Covey mentions this in his book. In future blog posts, I’ll continue to be referencing this book, but I just highly recommend you read it anyway. It has given me a tool. A very useful tool because in the months ahead my life will become very very hectic. Tune back in for more big news in the next few weeks as I discuss big projects that are ahead of me during the crazy months of April and May.

I included a sample of my own schedule here for reference. As you can see from the picture above, I am quite organized in my day-to-day activities. You’ll notice to the left that there are arrows with a word written into each one. For example “business” or “church” or “individual” or “teacher.” These are hats that I wear. These are the goals that I have for the week that I want to accomplish (or start). So, it’s all about writing them out, and then finding the time for them within your schedule. Goals that have a checkmark next to them are ones that I have accomplished. You’ll notice that not everything is checked off and that is because: (1) it is still early in the week. (2) sometimes you don’t get all of your agenda done and that is what you roll over into next week as an even higher priority item.

This. This whole idea of planning a weekly schedule and prioritizing my goals is something that is slowly becoming a habit for me as well. So, I am thankful for that. Again, this is still in the very early of development for me, but I feel as though I am getting more accomplished and not wasting time like I used to. And that, my readers, is one of the most important things. Not wasting time. Time is our most valuable currency so don’t squander it. Allow yourself to become a creature of habit as they say, by being organized and staying organized, and finally say goodbye to unproductivity. I know that’s what I’ll be doing. –

-Michael E. Thies
Author of Guardian of the Core series

P.S. If you want your own weekly planner like I have check out this website:  

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