July 20, 2012

Discovering yourself through to-do lists - blog #amwriting

We all have favorite self-evaluation tools. Some people love the Myers Briggs MBTI type. Some tell me they're a "red" or I'm a "blue" or something. I don't really get that one. Then of course there are various Zodiac assessments. Personally, I enjoy the Gallup Strengths Finder program.

Many of us use these and other methods to determine who we'll date, what we'll eat, or what career path we'll follow.

Several years ago, I discovered a different way to focus my career path. I call it the To-Do List Method.™

Early in my career, I became a jack of all trades. I ran a tech pubs group, programmed, ran a tech support group. I found things to like and things to loathe about every job I had. But I was at an inflection point in my career--to progress for real, I'd need to turn myself in one direction and go for it. Marketing? Writing? Programming?

At the time, I happened to be director of marketing at a company that made embedded system software for routers. (Not everyone can successfully market embedded router software, you know. Check out my portfolio; you'll find some articles I authored for technical journals during that time.) But as with all startups, and with every job I've had since, my daily to-do list was longer than the available time. Every day I'd start with, say, 25 tasks, but I had time for only 20 of them. Some of course were mandatory, and those always got done.

Over a few months, I paid attention. Rather than chastise myself for not getting everything done, I studied those items and realized that nearly all those leftover tasks had a few things in common. Most of them involved the telephone. A lot of them involved salesy activity. Nearly none of them involved creative output--design, writing, or problem-solving. And other things.

I also found that this method highlighted my strengths. Communication, creativity, storytelling were among them. I always thought I was bad at those things because I hate hate HATE talking on the phone. With anyone. Ever. But that's just the phone. I was a whiz at tasks that used those skills in writing. Press releases? Mine were really good. Support collateral for the sales team? Awesome. Brand development? Check.

My career has developed in directions I never planned or predicted since then, but I've helped it along by knowing what tasks will fall off the list at the end of a busy day. I avoid jobs that have a lot of them because if you have 25 tasks you enjoy, doing 20 is easy. But if you have 25 tasks you hate, doing 20 will make you miserable.

This came up recently online when someone opined on whether writers are born or made. Someone said, "People who love writing will find time for it." NaNoWriMo winners often joke about leaving the laundry and dishes unwashed for weeks at a time to get the word count. So yeah, I agree. If you have talked about writing for five years and haven't actually done it, you might do a little to-do list analysis of your own. Stop being miserable about wanting to write and focus on the things you do love. And if it feels like 100% of your daily tasks are mandatory obligations for someone else, then you need to reprioritize your life, not just your tasks.

For me, writing is one of those things I find time for most days, most weeks. Even if I don't write, I'm thinking about my stories, spending my downtime in writing mode. And I'm a happier person when I can do that.

Look at your to-do lists for the last few months. What things do you consistently leave undone? Don't be afraid of or embarrassed by them. Treasure them, because they are the buoys that mark your safe channel. Thank them, because they tell you what jobs and activities to avoid in the future. And if you care to share, let me know what they are in the comments.

July 14, 2012

DC mini travelogue - with photos!

The first time we took my older son, Ethan, to Washington, DC, he was less than a year old and it was a week before Clinton's second inauguration. The weather was like ten degrees out. Kelvin. We saw a few monuments but not much.

The most recent time we took him was last week. He turned 16 while we were there, and the weather was like 102 degrees. Celsius.

No, seriously, it was hot. And humid. Hotter and more humid than the jungle in Nepal.

This time, though, we saw tons of stuff. Way more than we expected, and everything was awesome. And accessible by Metro.

We did the basics like the Capitol tour (disappointing; we saw only three rooms and didn't see either chamber of Congress, which I'd hoped to see) and the Air and Space Museum.

 That's the Capitol. I have better pictures, but I'm not authorized to show them because the person in them doesn't like the way she looks even though the rest of us think she looks beautiful.

It's actually shocking how few photos I have from the Air & Space Museum, given how totally freakin' awesome it is and how enthralled all us boys were the whole time.

We also saw a few unexpected gems, though. The US Postal Service Museum, for example. Free and shockingly interesting. Cool exhibit about the Pony Express, a very interesting look at the automation and logistics of this enormous organization, and a stuffed dog. No, really. A taxidermy-stuffed dog.

Another unexpected gem was Newseum. I'd never heard of this before, and it's not free like the Smithsonian museums, but I could have spent a week there. They have some awesome displays of original documents from the last three hundred years, a big section of the Berlin Wall, a neat video analysis of political campaign ads through the years, the most incredible gallery of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, and a moving 9/11 exhibit, among other things. Well worth the time and money spent.

Plus, they have this awesome patio looking at the Capitol building. You can't tell it's 95 degrees, can you?

My favorite of the week, I think, was the Library of Congress. What a gorgeous building, and all devoted to books and history and learning and creativity and culture. It's a true monument to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. We had a fun docent and got a great tour. I like this place so much I would consider moving to the Capitol Hill area of DC just to live in walking distance of the reading room.

The front of the Library of Congress.

Our tour guide, Robert, asking Sam some questions.

Me in a not so great picture with the archway behind me.

The Library from across the street as we left the Capitol building.

Since we were in Washington, DC on July 4th, we thought we should see the fireworks over the Mall. Although it was insanely muggy and kind of hot, we went anyway, and I'm glad we did. Fortunately, the fireworks were awesome and lasted more than fifteen seconds.
Where we almost stopped to watch them, but I don't think we'd have seen anything here.

Waiting patiently, with iPod Touch in hand.

Cool to see the fireworks with the Washington Monument in the background.

We also visited the National Institutes of Health where my brother cures cancer for a living. We saw his lab late at night when we wouldn't bother any of the workers. Security was impressive at the gate, but they let us in even when they learned he was my brother. Here's Dr. Dudley showing Sam how to use the microscope:
Fortunately, he keeps his lab cleaner than he kept our shared bedroom when we were growing up.

We also saw many other things, some of which we photographed and some we did not. For example, the Holocaust Museum was astonishing and gut-wrenching and beautiful. The International Spy Museum (privately run) was fun and interesting, but I might have preferred watching a marathon of History Channel specials on espionage and spies from WW II and the cold war. And some photos from other places we visited:

The Supreme Court. No oral arguments were being heard while we were there, but we got to see the courtroom, and the building and hallway exhibits are interesting in their own right. It was neat being there only a few days after the big Obamacare decision.

The Hirshhorn modern art museum was far more interesting than I expected. We only breezed through a small portion of it, but it was interesting and fun. I generally am bored by modern art, but this was well put together.

We walked through most of the monuments on our last full day, Monday, July 9th. The great thing about this was that the heat broke, so it was only about 90 degrees. It felt quite comfortable. This photo is from the Korean War monument. We also visited Lincoln, MLK, Vietnam War, and World War II (below).

I can't believe it took me 45 years to see these things. Even though the weather was terrible (if you ever go, try to go during the cherry blossom season even though I think it gets insanely crowded), every museum and monument we visited was beautiful and very well done. Be prepared to have water and food taken away (every museum had a security checkpoint), and be prepared to spend $15 a person on a meager lunch. But also be prepared to be amazed and inspired by the history on display and the grandeur of the experience. Simply amazing.

July 2, 2012

Donation report for June #ebook #contest blog with photos from camp!

You all might remember that I'm running two contests during the summer, and also that I'm donating all my royalties from all sales of SEMPER between June 9 and August 18.

By any measurement but mine, the response so far has been, well... Underwhelming. Disappointing. Pitiful. Lame. My measurement, however, indicates that things are going really well. Because, well, some people are reading my book, and there were two new unexpected 5-star reviews posted to Amazon recently. Plus, the effort I've put into promotion has been, well... Underwhelming. Disappointing. Pitiful. Lame.

You might see the cause and the effect there, if you look really hard.

Anyway, on to the Results So Far (excluding free downloads):

Semper e-book sales (US) 19 copies $32.64
Semper e-book sales (other) 0 copies $0.00
Semper print sales 5 copies $13.58
Total 24 copies $46.22

So, not a lot. The good news for all of you is that there are very few contest entries so far, and the contest runs another 6 weeks or so, so you've got plenty of time to win a $50 donation to a teacher, and a $10 gift card for yourself.

Oh, and I had the very, very great satisfaction of learning that the boy scout camp where my kids go one week every summer has a library. So of course I inscribed a copy and donated it to the library. I hope some of the kids read it.

Sequel Update
Going well but slowly. I'd hoped to have it out in November, but that's looking unlikely due to things like Day Job obligations and really awful stuff like spending quality time with my kids in the wilderness of the Sierras (last week) and the heart of our nation's capitol (next week).

Photos from camp!

The Program Office and flags

Lovely mountains surrounding this gorgeous valley on the Stanislaus River

Finally arriving at camp after 2+ miles hiking!

The boys getting ready to break down camp after a week.

My truck. Probably the only 1994 Toyota SUV in the country with
stickers for Obama, Glacier National Park, and NaNoWriMo.