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Issue 13


In this issue ~~

* Working Hard vs. Struggle

* Getting Organized

* FREE GIFT! Time Management System

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf


Working Hard vs. Struggle

While some of us have trouble motivating ourselves, others have a tendency to push ourselves relentlessly. It may come from a feeling that what we do isn't good enough, so we have to keep doing more. It may come from having an abundance of ideas and interests to keep up with. Or it may simply come from the myriad of tasks we need or want to accomplish in this age of busy-ness.

My parents grew up during the depression. My grandfather worked two jobs, and his family did well. But in that time when survival was of utmost importance, personal preferences were not even a consideration. You did what you had to do to feed your family. My grandfather passed his relentless work ethic on to my mother, who passed it on to me.

Working hard has been ingrained in me since early childhood. Being responsible and disciplined is something I do naturally. But I began to realize that I was making my life a lot harder than it had to be. I made my hard work into a struggle. I've had the good fortune that never in my life did I wonder where my next meal was coming from or where I was going to sleep. I trust that most of you are in the same position. But I continued to behave as if I were in survival mode rather than enjoying the privilege and luxury of being able to choose work that nourished soul and spirit as well as body and mind.

Now, there's nothing wrong with working hard, and I want to pause a moment here to make the distinction between working hard and struggling. When you struggle, it's painful and gives you little or no pleasure. But working hard can be accompanied by a gratifying feeling of accomplishment. You're pushing your limits, but enjoying the process, or at least the outcome.

Recently, a friend sent me a copy of an interview with Frank Darabont, writer and director of The Shawshank Redemption, that appeared on the Wordplayer web site. Darabont claims that while his job does have a certain glamorous aspect, the work itself is very un-glamorous, with long, grueling hours during production. But he also says that he's not asking for sympathy. He realizes how lucky he is to have realized his life's dream. And he contends that "there are potentially more talented writers and directors than I working in shoe stores and Burger Kings across the nation; the difference is I was willing to put in the nine years of effort and they weren't. More to the point, it took Thomas Edison a thousand attempts before he got that damn light bulb to turn on. Imagine if he'd gotten discouraged enough to quit after only nine hundred and ninety nine tries."

Some of the New Age media has led us to believe that once we get on the path to our "right livelihood," the rest will be a piece of cake. It's true that once we commit, opportunities often come to us that we never expected. But it's a half-truth that it will always come easily. Sometimes it does, but even our chosen path can involve hard work. But if we love that work, it doesn't have to be a struggle.

If you feel that you have been struggling, try some of these:

~ See where you can simplify. Eliminate tasks that contribute little to your life or find a way to accomplish them more efficiently.

~ Reframe your tasks so that you enjoy them. Perhaps do them at a different time of day, in a different way, or enlist someone to do them with you. Or simply change your attitude about them.

~ One of my pitfalls has been that when things come too easily, I feel guilty, so I make things difficult to avoid the guilt. I've taken to reminding myself that I do work hard and deserve to reap the rewards that come from my work, even when they seem to come "unearned." That way, when things just show up for me, I can enjoy them.

~ Watch out for perfectionism. I've found that most perfectionists are talented hard workers, so your work is probably more than good enough already. If you want to go the extra mile, do so for the love of excellence rather than needing to be perfect.

~ Acknowledge your limitations. If you're always tired or sick or resisting your work, you're probably pushing yourself harder than your body or mind can handle. Take a hard look at where you can eliminate or make changes. There isn't much pleasure in worldly success if you're paying for it with your health.

~ Reassess what you're doing. Are you doing work that you've chosen or something that your parents wanted for you so that you could make a lot of money? Consider whether a career change is in order.

~ Remember to feel and express your gratitude for having the privilege of choosing work that nourishes you. Many people spend a lifetime trying to find their calling. If you've found it, whether it be vocation or avocation, you have a lot to be grateful for.

Struggling doesn't add value to your accomplishments; it simply takes more of your energy. So work hard, but do it because you love what you're doing, or find a way to love it. And if it comes easy, so much the better. Enjoy it. You deserve it.


Getting Organized

One of the effects of being creative is that you tend to have a lot of ideas and interests. These often blossom into piles of books, papers and projects that build up around your home. And since you often have several ongoing projects, you want to leave everything out where it's easily accessible. This can result in a lot of clutter.

If you're anything like me, your home is "organized chaos" -- filled with piles of papers that seem random, but as long as nothing is moved, you know exactly where to find almost everything. But despite my periodic attempts at clean-up, the piles seem to procreate, getting bigger and more numerous, while the size of my apartment, much to my dismay, remains constant.

In Organizing for the Creative Person, authors Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Lamping explain how creative "right-brain" types negotiate their world differently than thinker "left-brain" types. Left-brain types tend to be verbal, logical, sequential, structured and analytical. They're usually not junk savers, forming fewer sentimental attachments to objects and, therefore, finding it easier to throw things out. They find it easy to create and implement organizing systems.

Right-brain types, on the other hand, are nonverbal, abstract, holistic, simultaneous and unlimited. They tend to be junk savers and, when working on projects, like to see things laid out around them. There's nothing inherently wrong with this mode of operation, but you can see how it could lead to clutter. While I would find a Zen-like environment a little cold, I do find that when my clutter gets out of hand, it steals my attention and my energy.

We live in a world that demands at times that we engage in left-brain activities, such as time management, paperwork and finances, whether we like it or not. The degree to which you are right- or left-brained is on a continuum, and it can serve us right-brainers to learn to move the dial a little to the left.

Let's look at two aspects of getting organized: managing your time and managing your space.

~~Managing Your Time

One of the best rules of thumb I've found for managing time is presented by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey uses two criteria for prioritizing tasks: urgency and importance. Tasks that are both urgent and important would obviously assume the highest priority. But where many of us go off course is when we assign "urgent and not important" the next highest priority. This essentially leaves us "putting out fires." It's the category of "not urgent and important" where we find the projects that will forward our lives and our goals, along with the relationships that sustain us. Staying in touch with this can help us prioritize in a way that will benefit us most. Doing the wrong thing efficiently will not make us more effective.

Have some kind of time management system so you're not filling the edges of your computer monitor with post-it notes or trying to keep it all in your head. Use a calendar or electronic scheduler, or create a system of your own. (See "FREE GIFT!" below to receive a free copy of a system I developed.) By getting your scheduling out of your head and down on paper (real or virtual), you free up your mind and reduce the risk of forgetting an important appointment, and you can accomplish your tasks more efficiently as well as effectively.

~~Managing Your Space

If you've already accumulated a lot of clutter, you need to deal with that. But in the process, if you set up organizational systems for yourself and begin using them immediately, you can prevent future clutter while making it easier to organize the existing clutter.

~ Handling Clutter

* Zoom in on one area and focus on that. This will help keep you from being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.

* Visualize how the area will look when you're done.

* Work for only an hour or so at a time to keep from burning out, but for that hour, focus completely on cleaning that area. Choose a time of day when you have the energy and focus to stick with it.

~ Organizing and Filing

* Decide on a filing system that you like and buy supplies. This may require a filing cabinet, "milk crate" filing boxes, manila folders, a hanging file system, wall slots, etc. A stationery catalog will be particularly useful for determining your style, as most stores don't openly display all available systems.

One system I like is using manila pocket folders for my main categories (you can also use hanging file folders or wall slots for this purpose). I can then set up sub-categories in regular file folders that fit into the pockets, making things easier to find.

* Start going through a pile. Discard what you don't need. Be brutal (remember, right-brainers easily become attached to objects). Sort what remains into categories.

* From the sorted piles, create a file folder for each category and file each item. As you continue, you'll have some folders already set up, so you can simply file.

* If you have a lot of paper and limited space, consider scanning papers into computer files and filing them electronically. This way, you can name and organize your files in a way that's easy to retrieve them, and computer disks take up considerably less space than stacks of paper.

* A great way to organize ongoing projects is a "project box." These have several slots big enough to insert a stack of 8-1/2 x 11 papers, and you can assign one or more slots to each project. It keeps your work organized and accessible without taking up a lot of tabletop space. You might even use the cardboard shoe organizers available in housewares, but be sure the slots are wide enough.

Your clutter may have reached a point where it seems beyond hope, but it's not. Tackle the job a step at a time, while doing your best to avoid future clutter by using your filing system. As you begin to see spaces open up, the lightness you'll feel will help motivate you to continue.



Time Management System

I have created a project and weekly planner system for Microsoft Word. To download the file, click here.


Creative Tip

If you're having trouble getting started with a project, get into it any way you can. Organize your tools, gather notes, jot down ideas, do mechanical tasks related to the project that don't involve thinking or creating. This will help get you on track and focused in a way that you can begin to create.


Wise Words

"Writing's not terrible, it's wonderful. I keep my own hours, do what I please. When I want to travel, I can. But mainly I'm doing what I wanted to do all my life. I'm not into the agonies of creation."

~ Raymond Carver

"Your work is to discover your work, and then with all your heart to give yourself to it."

~ Buddha




(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Life Was Never Meant to Be a Struggle . . . Stuart Wilde

Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life . . . Gregg Levoy

Organizing for the Creative Person . . . Dorothy Lehmkuhl & Dolores Lamping

Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life . . . Julie Morgenstern

File... Don't Pile!: For People Who Write: Handling the Paper Flow in the Workplace or Home Office . . . Pat Dorf, Edith Hope Fine, Judith P. Josephson


© 1999 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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