The Chaos Whisperer

Helping you tame the Chaos at Home & Work


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A New Site and Fresh Start

Are you a fan of The Chaos Whisperer? Have you worked with Rebecca Ahn, and found her help valuable to mastering and managing the chaos in your life or business?

Well here at The Chaos Whisperer, we have been re-examining our business model and brand, with the goal of giving it more clear and defined direction. And we’re happy to announce that we’ve finally found it!

The Productive ArtistIntroducing The Productive Artist! Yes, the team behind this new brand are ourselves “productive artists”. But so are you – or at least you can be!

The Productive Artist is the new home for all the great tips, tools and resources you found previously here at The Chaos Whisperer, or from any work you’ve done with Rebecca Ahn and The Chaos Whisperer team.

So go check out our new website at TheProductiveArtist.com, and start your journey towards becoming a more Productive Artist with us!

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Time To Take a Step Back

Due to the disappointing lack of feedback response to my last post, and my resulting inability to yet properly evaluate the usefulness of my weekly posts for my readership – or to even know whether I have a steady readership – I’ve decided to take a different approach. This subject still requires a great amount of review and analysis if I am going to continue devoting my time and demanding your time to this blog.

True I am still passionate about the subject matter, and I do still want to provide a way to help my fellow victims of life’s Chaos. But before I go any further, I must determine if this blog or these weekly posts are the best vehicle for providing such help and guidance.

So to that end, I’ve decided to take a step back and a short hiatus from my weekly posts. Rest assured this is not just an excuse to zone out on a vacation and ignore the subject altogether. Whenever I pause to take a set back from something, I always plan to use my time wisely and effectively – as is one of the core messages from the Chaos Whisperer.

So I will be spending my newly freed up time to evaluate this blog, analyze the responses, do some targeted outreach to my ideal audience, and brainstorm other avenues for making the impact I want to have on this subject.

And then hopefully in 2 months time, which is the exact duration I am granting myself for this back-step, I will be able to return to this blog with some solid answers.

Until then, thank you for your continued (or sporadic) attention — whichever it has been, I still appreciate it. And I hope you have found any kind of value in these entries and such content as I’ve been able to provide thus far. 

If you have any suggestions on ways I can improve the site, more effectively deliver advice, or better help creative folks like you in your Chaos management endeavors, please don’t hesitate to comment or write me.

Thank you so much and I bid you a temporary (2 month) adieu.


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How To Tell If You’re (I’m) Wasting Your Time

Feedback – that’s how!

I’m taking a momentary pause from my weekly blogging regimen to check in with my readers (that’s you) and determine whether this blog has been a waste of my time – or more importantly, a waste of YOUR time.

You see, I’m not really much of a writer, and I never had dreams of becoming any kind of pro blogger. Plus, it’s just a good idea, as you are barreling along on your journey, to stop and have a reality check with yourself every now and then. Ask yourself, is this the path I want to be on?

In order to figure this out for myself, I’d like to ask you the following:

  • Have you found this blog interesting and insightful?
  • Do you find these posts measurably useful in managing your day-to-day Chaos?
  • Is this the best method of delivery for the advice I have to share on the subject?
  • Do you have recommendations for better ways you’d prefer to consume and utilize what I have to share?
  • And above all, is this the best use of our time, yours and mine?

If you feel compelled to respond to any or all of these questions above, please feel free to comment below and let me know! I am happy to receive any kind of feedback on any particular point you wish to make.

I figure I’d like to evaluate this now, before I spend too much of my time and potentially waste too much of yours. I need to make sure this is indeed the best path for me to be on right now and the best way for me to share my passion for managing Chaos and channeling it into your creativity. Most importantly, I need to make sure what I’m doing with this blog is actually measurable and actionable for you, my readers.

So please do tell, has this blog been a waste of our time?


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How To Set Boundaries

It’s a perilous quest to try and find balance between one’s work and one’s play, and many a brave soul have been lost to the beast of burning the candle at both ends.

If you can relate to this dilemma, then they key to your salvation is to learn how to set boundaries. Not all boundaries are created equal, and it can be unhealthy to have too many, but I do believe that a few are necessary to effectively manage your time and maintain order in your work-life balance.

In order to determine what those boundaries are that best suit YOU and your needs, I need you to answer this question first:

Which type of person are you – someone who works to live, or someone who lives to work?

If you work to live, then you believe your work is more a means to giving you the freedom and means to live the life you want to live. In this case, you will want to set boundaries that enable you to leave work completely behind when you finish for the day – a stronger separation of work and life.

If you live to work, then you believe your work is your greatest passion and purpose in life, and the most valuable use of your time and energy. In your case then, you will want to focus on setting boundaries that give you room to breathe and stay healthy, and help you keep your larger goals in mind even while you are happily getting lost in the weeds.

Now let me ask you another question, and this one may be harder to answer:

What are your Must Have’s?

What are the key things in your life that you absolutely cannot do without? What are your core principals, ideals, values that you want your life to stand for? (Avoid any short term visions or choices.)

To give you an idea, here are some of mine:

  1. I must have autonomy and flexibility in my schedule.
  2. I must have a sense of adventure and thrill of the unknown.
  3. I must have mutual respect, trust and loyalty in all my relationships.
  4. I must have some element of storytelling and performance I can share with others.
  5. I must have constant challenges that pushes my physical, mental and emotional limits.

Once you know these, you can start to get a sense of what boundaries you’ll need to set in order to protect these Must Have’s and give yourself room to enjoy them.

For example, I’ve realized that since I am a person who lives to work, and since I’m self-employed (which pretty much means I work all the time), I need to force myself to take 1 day off a week for endeavors other than my main work (such as writing this blog!). I also decided to give myself evenings off, so I can relax and eat dinner with my boyfriend instead of with my computer. And because I want to have a sense of adventure, and constantly push my limits, I have also committed to cutting out time for exercise and fun activities every other day.

So now you tell me – what are the boundaries you need to set in order to keep your sanity and lifestyle in check?

Once you know these, the final step is making sure you stick to them. Because if you’re anything like me, and a crazy workaholic live-to-work addict, you will need help doing this! And in my own journey, I found the following two tools to be extremely useful:

1. Google Calendar

I mean literally block off sections on your calendar for the time you decided to set aside for your personal Must Have’s, or non-work activities. I have scheduled weekly recurring blocks of time on my Calendar for the 1 day/week I want to work on other projects, as well as the times I’ve committed to working out and exercising.

2. Your Friends

This is the other extremely powerful tool that can help hold you accountable to your chosen boundaries. How about telling your closest trusted friends what your boundaries are so they can remind you of them when you start to slip. Putting your boundaries out there publicly will not only help you feel more committed and likely to follow them, but it can also help your friends and loved ones better understand you and help you where you need it most. I would include family in this category as well, but in my experience, I’ve found friends more reliable at being brutally honest with me about my boundaries – after all, they aren’t related to you, so they don’t HAVE to love you just the way you are.

So set smart boundaries, and then find people who are willing to challenge you to be a better person… and kid, you’ll go far.

The sky’s the limit… so long as it’s within your boundaries of course. 🙂


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How To Conquer Your (Paper) Inbox


In the battle against Office Chaos, paperwork is one of the more formidable foes. It spreads to cover every working surface while you’re not looking, and makes it impossible to find anything.
It’s constantly attacking – you get rid of one stack and there’s another one waiting in the mailbox. With such ongoing Chaos, how are you supposed to wade through the mess to identify the important info? If you simply ignore the whole problem, you’re likely to miss out on something very important, such as your bills or that registration renewal notice. Oops!

So how to tackle your own paper war?

It’s about setting up your own personalized inbox system that is based on action and prioritization. I already showed you how you can do this with your email inbox. So now let’s do the same with your paperwork.

Just as my Gmail star system allows me to sort my email based on the action and turn-around-time it requires, so you should have similar inboxes or trays in your workspace where you can immediately sort incoming mail in the same fashion. My recommendation (and what I’ve found most useful) is to have something like the following:

Inbox 1: To Do

This is the most important inbox, because it is for any and all paperwork that requires you to take action on it next. So this should be your top priority inbox, and where you should immediately put any papers you find that need your immediate action. And then this should be the first inbox you look through in the morning, to make sure you are addressing your most urgent papers and action items first thing. Some people like to break this out into two inboxes, one for Urgent To Do and one for Later To Do. But whatever you decide, just make sure you do have someplace to put these “action item” papers however works best for YOU.

Inbox 2: To Get Response

No doubt you have paperwork you can’t take any action on until you hear back from someone else, such as an invoice you need payment for, or a contract you’re waiting for agreement on. These should go in their own inbox so you can see at a glance what things you are still waiting for a response on, and be able to keep track of them. Call this inbox whatever you want, “Waiting to Hear Back”, “To Be Answered”, or anything else you like. Again, just make sure it works for YOU!

Inbox 3: To Reference

This is for any paperwork that doesn’t require anyone’s immediate action, but relates to current and important projects that you may need to reference and take action on in the near future. I often break these inboxes or trays into separate ones labeled for each current project I have going. So however many, and of whatever variety, of projects you may be working on yourself, make sure you have a place to collect any papers that are relevant to those and to YOU.

Inbox 4: To File (No Action)

You no doubt get lots of paperwork that has no required action or immediate relevance, but is important to hang on to nonetheless, such as your banking statements or old contracts. This inbox allows you somewhere to toss those papers in the moment, so that you can go back and file them away as you prefer later when you have more time. I won’t go into detail on a system for filing those papers here, but make sure you at least organize your files by category (work, car, medical, credit card, etc) and/or date (2011 taxes, 2012 taxes). And if you really want me to cover this in more detail, let me know in the comments, and I’ll happily write a separate post on this!

Inbox 5: Receipts

These seem to be the hardest type of loose papers to keep track of or keep in one place. They tend to spread all over the house, not just in the office, and can make balancing your accounts and updating your finances a real hassle. So I highly recommend designating a box top lid or other smaller sized tray for ALL your incoming receipts. That means every time you would have tossed them on the table or inside your purse, put them in this inbox instead. And then when you have more time later, you can go through and sort, file, balance, etc as you ordinarily do.

Remember, these are just my suggestions for general types of inboxes or trays you should have for your incoming papers. Now I want you to take these recommendations and mold them into a system that works for YOU and how you naturally operate in your workspace.

So happy inbox-ing and paper-tackling, and let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, feedback or ideas of your own!


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How To Stick to a Daily Routine

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” -Aristotle

I frequently hear the same nugget of time-management advice repeated over and over, that we should all set a daily schedule and stick to it. But for many of us, especially those blessed with the creative gene, that is a task much easier said than done.

So being a creative mind myself, but also unusually obsessed with schedules and systems, I thought I’d offer my advice on how you can set a daily routine that works for YOU, and then actually stick to it!

The bottom line that you need to start teaching yourself is that if you want something to get done, you need to schedule it. Somehow, somewhere, in some format – if it isn’t scheduled, it isn’t real. However works best for you, you need to have time set aside to complete that task, or it will not get done. And if you’re finding that you don’t really want to schedule time to do it, then it’s probably not something you actually want to do. So be honest and use your schedule as a reality check for yourself. You can share it with someone else you trust too, so they can help hold you accountable!

Now the hard part, how to create that daily routine that works for YOU?

Solution A:

One popular method advocated by many I admire is to set a daily timetable, with non-negotiable windows of time for each set of activities or tasks you need to complete in your day.

For example, mine looks something like this:

8am-9am: Wake Up, Stretch & Light Breakfast
9am-11am: Workout, Shower & Dress
11am-1pm: Outline Day’s Agenda & Clear Email Inbox
1pm-2pm: Lunch Break
2pm-4pm: Work Time
4pm-5pm: Mid-Day Break
5pm-7pm: Work Time & Day’s Wrap-up
7pm-8pm: Dinner
8pm-10pm: Quality Time with Family & Friends
10pm-12am: Read, Relax & Regroup
12am: Bedtime!

This is just one example of how you could schedule out your day. The point is to consider these times non-negotiable, so you will actually stick to them. And if you ever absolutely HAVE to skip one of your scheduled windows (i.e. if an emergency comes up), my rule is that I will never delete that time window — I can only move it to another time when I can get it done. That way, I always complete everything I’ve committed to doing in my daily routine, even when it requires a little flexibility.

Also make sure some of these time windows are specifically for non-reactionary work, so you can be fully productive during those times. And remember, if you do choose this method, the key to success is to edit this to fit YOUR lifestyle! Your daily routine can look however you want it to, so that it works best for YOU and how you naturally operate.

Solution B:

Some people might find the daily timetable to be a bit too restricting, and would prefer a formula that still embodies the same idea of breaking down the time you spend on different activities, but with more day-to-day flexibility. So I came up with what I call my Priority Percentage breakdown. Basically, I take a full 24 hr day, or 168 hr week, and breakdown how much of that I will spend on each activity based on my priorities.

For example, my Priority % breakdown looks like this:

Sleep:                          8 hrs/day — 56 hrs/wk — 34%
Work (Film & Other):    6 hrs/day — 42 hrs/wk — 25%
Meals:                         3 hrs/day — 21 hrs/wk — 13%
Exercise & Training:     2 hrs/day — 14 hrs/wk — 8%
Relationships:              2 hrs/day — 14 hrs/wk — 8%
Reading, Writing & Self: 2 hrs/day — 14 hrs/wk — 8%
Relaxing & Fun:           1 hrs/day — 7 hrs/wk — 4%

This can provide a more flexible way of committing to a daily routine, without the guilt you might get from slipping up on a more rigid timetable schedule. I keep my breakdown handy at all times, so if I start to feel unproductive or uncertain what to do, I can check in on that and align myself with what most needs my attention.

I recommend this avenue for someone who is perhaps better at staying on task on their own, without the strict guidelines of a daily schedule. So if you are already a strong self-starter, but just need help keeping in mind what your priorities are and how to best allocate your time based on them, then this would be a good solution for you.

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OK now you’ve got 2 solid solutions for creating and sticking to your own unique daily routine. Whichever method you use, one of the above or something else, remember that the key to sticking to it is making it fit with how you already naturally think and tick. If you find it doesn’t suit you, make adjustments and keep trying until you find the right formula for YOU.

And as always, feel free to leave comments or questions below, and I’ll be happy to help you navigate whatever Chaos is holding you back.

Happy scheduling!


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How To Find Your Unique Voice

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” -Judy Garland

Judy had it right. We are all wired to be different, unique individuals, and that’s what makes each of us so special. So why not appreciate that, and embrace what makes you different in how you communicate and contribute to the rest of the world’s unique individuals?

Besides Judy Garland, I also consider Marie Forleo an expert on this, with her remarkable success building her own unique voice and business brand, and now her work helping others to do the same.

Like Marie says, “Most ideas are already out there. So it’s not so much about WHAT you say, it’s about HOW you say it.”

It’s so important to know how to get your message out there in a way that feels original and authentic to YOU. There is always more than one way to express an idea, but there is only one way that will be the best expression of YOU. So if you feel yourself getting stuck, or are having trouble discerning your own unique voice amidst all the great examples from colleagues and mentors around you, try these steps to find your own voice:

1. Define yourself! Pick the 5 best words that describe your personality. Pull from how you see yourself, and how others have described you in the past. These will help you keep your unique voice in mind as you start to formulate your messaging.

For example, I’d have to say that 5 fitting words for me are: Energetic, Passionate, Bold, Practical & Organized. Armed with these, I know that any communication I write should and will demonstrate elements of offbeat energy, frankness, practicality and very organized structure.

What are 5 that fit you, and what does that say about how you communicate?

2. Create 5 different ways to express one idea. Take one of your latest and greatest blossoming ideas and phrases and try explaining it 5 different ways that fit the 5 descriptive words you chose above.

For example, if my idea is: “Chaos can be fuel for productivity” — then I might try saying it like this:

#1 Energetic: Embrace your Chaos!

#2 Passionate: You can’t deny the power of your Chaos. It’s what you do with that power that will decide your fate!

#3 Bold: Quit whining and take control of your Chaos!

#4 Practical: Chaos can prove quite useful to your productivity.

#5 Organized: Try these simple steps to channel your Chaos into productivity.

So what’s one of your key ideas, and how can you express it in your 5 unique ways?

3. Draw from your experiences, not your research. Your messaging will be so much more compelling if you talk from your own stories and your own life.
This also automatically negates any chance of you mimicking someone else. Recall your favorite anecdotes or life lessons, find your own favorite catch phrases or metaphors. I know you have them, and your friends probably hear you use them all the time, so what are they?

4. Write your content in silo. During your research stage, it’s fine to pour over and note down the words of other artists and writers who inspire you. But when it comes time to sit down and create your own messaging, you’ve got to put all those other sites and resources away, and focus solely on your own mind. If you want it to sound like you, and not like those other artists and writers coming through you, then you will need to ignore all other voices and write in total mental isolation.

5. Do a reality check. When you’ve finished selecting and developing your choice messaging, read it back and ask yourself – “Does this sound like me?” And be honest! Is this how you would say it to someone else? Do the people who know you the best agree?

Do these steps above and you’ll find it much easier to identify who you are, what you have to offer and how you can appeal that to the rest of the world. It’s a crucial part of finding your own path for success in your creative business.

And what’s more, having clarity around your voice and message will also help you clarify WHO your message is intended for – i.e. your target audience!

So go on, get down with your unique voice! Find the kind of messaging that works best for you and what you want to offer the world!