I’ve taken a long break from the blog, partly because I second guess everything that I want to write. Is anyone interested in reading it? Hasn’t everything important already been said by someone else? I stop myself before I finish because I think it won’t be perfect.
I think this is a hurdle for a lot of people. And I think the only trick for this situation is to start again. And then again. And keep starting again as many times as it takes, which is…maybe forever?
But there is another consideration that I often forget.
Sure, I haven’t been posting anything. But I’ve had lots of ideas, written scraps and scribbles of future posts, taken in new experiences and information, and basically been marinating in the good stuff that eventually ends up here.
As the saying goes, to everything there is a season. Whether it’s the weather, the decades of a life, or, in my case, a personal creative endeavor.
Imagine you are a person who loves shoes. Sure, some people are able to get along fine with, say, 3-5 pairs of shoes. They have some sneakers, a few dressy pairs for work, and some sandals. They keep them in the bottom of their closet. They don’t think about them much.
But not you. You LOVE shoes. You have more than 50 pairs of shoes. You are always on the lookout for the newest styles. You see other people wearing interesting shoes and you ask them where they bought them so you can get a pair for yourself. And everyone in your life knows you love shoes, so people are always telling you about shoe sales or wanting your advice on what’s in style.
You have a problem, though. You have tons of shoes but no way to organize them. You certainly don’t want to get rid of any, but you also don’t want to be the kind of crazy person who has a dedicated walk-in closet for shoes. That seems over-indulgent, too cumbersome, too complicated. So instead, you keep a mountain of boxes in the corner of your bedroom. Every day, you pull a pair out from the middle and the whole tower collapses. You curse the shoes. They are always in the way! But what can you do? You’re stuck. You don’t want to limit yourself to five pairs of shoes, but it seems like so much trouble to create an organized home for the shoes. You’re in the gap, and it’s painful. If you can just accept that you are the kind of person who wants a fancy shoe closet (and why not?!), you can put things in order and enjoy all those wonderful shoes to the fullest.
Now, let’s rewind our story and replace those beautiful shoes with delightful new technologies.
You are a person who likes to be connected. Sure, some people have a Yahoo email address and a Facebook account and they call it a day. They don’t think about it too much.
But not you. You want it all! Beautiful photos, apps that track your workout or your goals or books you’ve ready. You need Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram (oh, HE-llo old high school frenemies)! You take photos of your fancy dinner out and your dog while he’s sleeping. You read blogs (Jenna’s Workshop every day, of course!). You write reminders in note apps and start to-do lists and make lists of books to read and articles you want to circle back to because you haven’t had the time to read them and on and on and on. The possibilities are endless!
But you have a problem. You have 1,000 photos on your phone and can never figure out how to organize them. You have so many apps vying for space that you have to conduct a monthly Hunger Games-style culling to keep from running out of storage. You have accounts on over 100 apps and websites, and you try to remember as many passwords as possible (or use the same one for all of them, YIKES!). But you don’t want to have a photo organization system, or use a password app, or have a process to keep your email under control. That seems like overkill, too cumbersome, too complicated. You have so many apps already, you don’t need MORE! But you also don’t want to jump on the minimalism bandwagon and miss out on all the great things technology has to offer. You are stressed out!
You’re in the gap, my friend.
But don’t despair! I’ve got some ideas that will help you bridge the gap and make your way to the other side, where a little bit more of the RIGHT technology can make a world of difference. And I’ll be sharing some of these ideas with you over the next few weeks!
In the meantime, sign up for my inaugural (and occasional) newsletter so you never miss a post! I’ll also include some fun extras that aren’t on my blog!
Stores like Michaels, Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond will send out great coupons if you’re on their email list. But they’ll also clog up your inbox with an annoyingly large number of promo emails (sometimes up to 5 a day!). And unless you’re fully in the throes of blank notebook syndrome, no one needs that many trips to Michaels.
If you want to keep getting store coupons but don’t want to see the emails, here’s a handy hack for Gmail:
Log in to Gmail from a computer (you can’t do this on your phone or tablet)
Find an email from the store in your inbox and check the checkbox to the left of it.
Click the Moreicon at the top of your inbox
Select Filter messages like these.
Confirm the email address appears in the “From” section, then click Create filter
Check Skip the Inbox and Mark as read as your actions
Click Create filter
Now, whenever an email from that store comes in, Gmail will automatically archive it and you’ll never see it in your inbox. The next time you head to that store (perhaps to buy supplies for your Saturday tub?) just open your email on your phone and search for the store name. You’ll be able to see all the emails that have been archived and use that snazzy 40% off coupon like a boss.
Some stores might send emails from more than one address, so you might need to set up a few filters over time, but it’s so worth the effort. If you try it, let me know how it goes. And Happy Couponing!
Maybe you’ve memorized all of the U.S. presidents since George Washington. Or you can instantly recognize any type of flower and remember it by name. Whatever the subject, being a “minor expert” can be really gratifying and a lot of fun.
What’s a minor expert?
I first heard of the term a few years ago on an episode of the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. As a minor expert, you don’t know everything about a subject, but you know more than the average person. And it seems that whenever you dig in deeper to any subject or pursuit that you’re interested in, you want to continue to learn more.
The key to identifying an area where you can be a minor expert is that you genuinely LIKE the subject and are curious about it. Otherwise, it’s just no fun. There should be no forcing yourself to learn about the Civil War if it bores you, or trying to learn about trendy whisky cocktails if you prefer gin. But if you follow your natural interests wherever they lead, you really can’t go wrong.
A trick to help you on your way
One trick I’ve found to easily absorb chunks of information associated with minor expertise is to keep the information out in plain sight, where you can interact with it on a daily basis. It’s a trick that teachers use all the time. My third grade teacher listed all of the helping verbs (there are 22, in case you’re even remotely interested) on a chalkboard and left it up all year. Every time I was bored or my mind wandered, I’d look over at that chalkboard and those verbs. Eventually, I could recite them from memory. And I still can! In high school, I’d stare at a banner that snaked around my math classroom with the first 20 or so digits of pi, and after a while, I could remember way more of that number than any mass communications major would EVER need to know.
Holy crap Jenna these are SUPER nerdy examples. Get it together. The point is, even random, not-so-interesting stuff sticks if you’re exposed to it enough.
If you prefer your inputs to be audio-based (and not as nerdy), you could replay a song or a podcast or a recitation of a poem. They key is repetition and familiarity. Personally, I’d like to learn how to tie some fancy knots, so I think I’ll dive into this website and print some photos to keep by my desk!
Whatever your topic, becoming a minor expert can help you meet new people, discover new interests and increase your confidence in your abilities. Because the goal of becoming a minor expert is not just the knowledge itself, but, as Gretchen Rubin asks, “where will it lead?”
Are you a minor expert in something, or do you want to be? I’d love to hear!
I’ve been thinking about an often-cited quote from Ira Glass, host of This American Life:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
― Ira Glass
I’m feeling the gap, BIG TIME. And the only thing that seems to help me keep moving forward is to not think about where it’s going or who likes it or who hates it or if anyone even notices it.
Let me set the scene. It’s Saturday afternoon, and you are determined to power through your consistently mile-long list of tasks around the house. You decide that it’s FINALLY time to hang that holiday photo you had framed three months ago and that’s been sitting on a side table in the living room ever since, silently mocking you and your best laid plans to finally have a nice house, dammit. Well, no more. You will get this done TODAY.
First, you have to track down a hammer. You find the toolbox in the utility closet, but it’s too high up for you to reach, even on your tip toes. So you head to the laundry room where you keep the step stool. You notice that the dryer cycle has finished, so you pull the towels out of the dryer to fold them. The first towel you pick up has frayed and left a long string, so you head to the kitchen junk drawer to get some scissors to cut it off. When you get to the kitchen, you see the box on the table for an Amazon return you need to make, but it needs to be taped up, so you go off in search of some packing tape, which leads you back to the utility closet, where you realize you forgot the step stool and still can’t reach the toolbox. In the span of a few minutes, you’re now juggling FOUR unfinished projects in your brain (and around the house) where there was once only one. THIS IS EXHAUSTING. And also, very Phil Dunphy:
On one particular Saturday, when this particular series of events happened to me, I decided that there had to be a solution that could help me better focus on the task at hand and stop being so scattered. And try as I might, it was not going to involve some aspiration goal of “mindfulness.” So I grabbed a tub that was holding some cleaning supplies, emptied it out, and kept it with me as I worked my way through all the tasks that I had unwittingly piled on myself.
That day, as I finished task after task that appeared as I worked my way through the house, I added whatever tools I used into the tub. Once I finished hanging the picture, I put the hammer, a small box of nails, and some the 3M strips in the tub. Later, when I needed a pair of pliers to break the seal on a bottle of glue, I put those in the tub as well. And so it continued.
notepad, to write down longer tasks I noticed but couldn’t finish that day (you COULD use your phone, but beware of distractions!)
step stool (this obviously didn’t fit in the tub, I just kept it with me as I worked my way around the house)
The Saturday tub has changed a small part of my life in a big way. Now, whenever I’m in GET THINGS DONE mode (Saturday or otherwise), instead of passing by an item twenty times, and feeling that small ping of stress from an unfinished task every time, I can stop, pull out the tools I need from my tub, and finish the task.
The genius of the Saturday tub is not in what it adds, but what it takes away: DISTRACTION. Instead of trying to change the way my brain works, the Saturday tub helps me to keep my focus on one task at a time. It is a gentle nudge in the direction of focus. A tactile reminder that I don’t mind working hard, but the right tools can help me work smarter.
“It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.” -Samuel Johnson
Would you consider creating a Saturday tub? What would you put in it? I’d love to hear!
P.S. If you’d like more great tips like this one, sign up for my (occasional) newsletter so you never miss a post! I’ll also include some fun extras that aren’t on my blog!