[video] Hair today, books tomorrow

[youtube] [Long-ass video clocking in at a whoppin' 5:05]

Salutations, and apologies for the distinctly lengthy, somewhat self-indulgent, purportedly "useful" video above. In my defense (and I'm nothing if not defensive), I'm both: (a) woefully (or not) out of practice; and (b) pressed for the kind of time needed to write a shorter letter. We're looking at a rather tense couple of months here at communicatrix HQ, deliverables-wise (after which time I'm sure my essays will return to their previously scheduled interminability; my videos will return to a brisk conciseness; and my newsletters will return, period.) (Kidding. I think. I mean, I should be putting out a newsletter next Wednesday, but don't quote me on that. But you can sign up here, if you want to roll the dice.)

This video—which you may have to click through to watch if you're reading this somewhere other than on the web and an actual computer—contains two main sections.

Section the First is just a hair update. While very little has changed, hair-wise, since September, amazingly (as is abundantly evident via this video), it takes me A MINUTE and THIRTY-NINE SECONDS to state this very obvious fact. I suppose part of the issue is that I'm taking a little time to say howdy and to provide context, and another bit is that I had to shill show off my fancy new Wahl cordless electric all-in-one hair-clipper thingy. Lots lots lots more to say on this whole being-bald(ish) thing, but those are stories for another day—a day which has not quite made it on the publishing calendar yet, but which certainly will at some point.

The second section concerns books. Not just any books, but a particular ritual of reading certain books—one I've been engaged in for some time, and which I've found to be extremely helpful in keeping me focused/on-track (a perennial challenge) and non-depressed (ditto, and how).

I've actually written at some length about daily reads in my marketing column for actors, so I won't belabor it here except to say this: the daily devotional has its place in the secular world, too. Some kinds of change are particularly slippery and elusive, and the right words (i.e., from people who've been working on this stuff longer than you, and are further down the road, and are maybe not too preachy) in a manageable, portion-controlled size (for me, extremely small), repeated at the right intervals (in my case, daily) can be great helpmates. Two of the books are listed in the column I link to, above, but for your convenience, they are:

Think and Grow Rich Every Day, a carving-up of the Napoleon Hill self-help classic by two enterprising fellows, and more power to 'em. Each month focuses on a particular aspect of Hill's teachings, with one month lumping together two of the shorter chapters ("The Subconscious Mind" and "The Brain"). The authors claim to have updated the language a bit from the fusty original text, but damned if I can tell much difference. And that chapter about the sex urge is just nutso; you'll want to take October with a grain of salt, or a pinch of saltpeter, or something. But it's eminently more readable in these bite-sized morsels, and has helped me to keep my eyes on the prize. And as I mention in the video, this book was, in a weird and witchy way, partly responsible for the success of 50-for-50.

One Day at a Time in Al-Anon, a compendium of teachings from the 12-step recovery programs for the friends and families of alcoholics, who (boy, howdy) generally suffer from their own addictive, self-destructive tendencies. I hope you don't need this one. I hope that you have no boundary issues or co-dependent b.s. or any other of the narsty, sticky residue of self-loathing that growing up in an alcoholic (or xholic) home can leave. But if you do, and you can put up with a little Higher Power here and there, you may find it not only steadying in stretches, but shockingly illuminating. I have taken in a few days' entries with the wonder I can only imagine Helen Keller must have felt by the family pump.

The third book I cannot conscientiously recommend yet, as I've only been playing with it since the start of this new year. (Which somehow already seems old at four days in—how weird is that?) But in the month or so since I finally got over my squeeginess over the covers, I have become quite taken with the output of Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, aka SARK, reading a full two books' worth and well into a third. (I put down another one a third of the way through because the erratic typesetting was making me seasick.) But in case you want to check it out—which I did, literally, from the library—here it is.

But really, with all of these books, I'd suggest test-driving them via your amazing public library before committing your hard-earned dollars and even more precious attention. Unless you are filthy rich, in which case please buy them and anything else your heart desires via my Amazon affiliate link.

Okay! This post is already too long and my to-do list isn't getting any shorter. One short request before I go: if you have any daily-devotional-type books you LOVE, feel free to leave them in the comments. Right? Right!

And happy new year, while I can still say it.

xxx c

While this is probably obvious, for the purposes of 100% transparency, this post contains a shitload of Amazon affiliate links. Feel free to buy ANYTHING through your local bookseller, or to test-drive via your local library. Except for maybe that hair trimmer. Because (a) doubtful that anything but a chain store will stock electric clippers or that libraries carry them at all and (b) ew, gross.

Book review: The Shadow Effect

cover of "the shadow effect" + pix of authors + pic of human shadow

There is a truism in acting that you cannot play a villain if you view him as such, because every character is central to his own life story and never, ever sees himself as a villain. The first thing you are supposed to do as a good actor doing responsible script analysis is to comb through the text looking for ways in which you and your character, villain or hero, are the same. Only once you've grounded yourself in those do you go back through and seek out the differences, to add color.

And if you're honest, whether you're playing a villain or a hero or, most often, for most actors, something in between, you will share most if not all of the qualities of that person, although they may manifest themselves in different ways. The most common example, thrown up the first time you have to play a killer and wonder how you can do it if you've never killed, is to take yourself back to some moment of murderous rage: in the car, at being cut off; at a mosquito who will not leave you alone; at a bully who humiliated you one too many times. (Once was usually sufficient for me.) With the possible exception of sociopaths, we are all made up of all qualities and all possibilities; we just act on them, or not, differently.

The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Power of Your Hidden Self is a collaborative effort on the part of three modern self-help authors to address the parts of us we don't or can't look at. From their individual perspectives, M.D. with a spiritual bent, recovering addict and teacher, spiritual seeker and teacher, respectively, the authors discuss the common threads in what holds us back from finding peace and joy, both as individual entities and humankind. If it can be boiled down to one thing, and maybe it can't, since the book is a little disjointed, it is that we suffer because of the way we divide and separate: ourselves, by not embracing the truth that we contain all kinds of impulses within us; and ourselves from others, mainly by denying our common humanity, looking for the differences between us, projecting and even magnifying them unduly rather than starting from the rather terrifying premise that (sociopaths excluded), we are mainly the same.

The process of re-integrating begins, as I'm finally realizing most things do, with noticing. (Damned meditators: they had it right all along.) You can start anywhere, but the authors seem to agree that a very useful place is to begin by observing how you project your own behavior onto others: he's a selfish ass; she's stuck up; they are imbeciles who refuse to listen to anyone. Very, very easy to demonize someone else. Much harder to use them as a mirror in which you view your own, horrifyingly unsaintly behavior. But really, any sort of embracing of truth will work, and there are multiple suggestions for getting started, as well as for understanding why we bury and cover and isolate in the first place.

As far as accessing the central theme of the book, that we contain multitudes, and that acknowledging the suppressed voices among them, however terrifying at the outset, is critical to becoming whole, which is critical to self-actualization, I found the first two sections, by Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford, to be the most useful. Portions of Chopra's were actually thrilling/chilling to read, and Debbie Ford is an easygoing, super-accessible writer. Try as I might (and I did!), I can't fathom the appeal of Marianne Williamson, on the page, anyway. She seems like a lovely and compassionate human, and she certainly has a large and loyal following of people for whom her words resonate, so it's probably just me. (I feel like the same obtuse maroon reading those other giants of self-help, Wayne Dyer and Eckert Tolle, too. If someone can 'splain it to me, please do.)

If The Shadow Effect as a book is a bit fractured, the messages relayed in it are of a piece, and the range of techniques and tools fairly ensure you'll find a way in that works for you. I'd suggest letting significant time lapse between reading the three segments, and picking the one to read first that resonates with you. The very practical, carefully laid out "diagnosis/cure/prognosis" method that Chopra takes works best for me. If stories are your way in, I'd maybe start with Debbie Ford, and if inspirational writing is your thing, by all means, start with Williamson.

It's valuable work, worth doing. Hopefully, one of the ways of doing will work for you...


Image by Horia Varlan via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. Cover © HarperCollins, designed by LeVan Fisher. Photos of Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford by Jeremiah Sullivan; photo of Marianne Williamson by Lisa Spindler.

Legalese, etc! Book furnished as a review copy, and links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links: if you click on them and buy something, I get Amazon dollars. Which is great, as it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

What accountability does and doesn't do

three young women running on beach

In a way, all the things we do to help us get things done are tricks: Carving up our schedules in this way or that. Eating our biggest frogs first.

Even accountability is a trick of sorts. If you take on an exercise buddy or join a mastermind group or self-help organization like AA or Weight Watchers, you're hoping that the specter of peer pressure will keep you on the straight and narrow where your stated intentions are concerned. (And if you're hiring a coach or therapist, in addition some part of you is probably hoping that the pain of spending money will be motivating.)

Of course, we're usually drawn to whatever outside resources we end up choosing because we think they'll have tools and processes that will make our task easier, whether it's learning how to speak or how to avoid lousy relationships. No one wants a dummy partner. But most of  the efficacy seems to come from establishing a set of mutual expectations for improvement, and then not wanting to bail on the contract. Why is that?

After struggling with all kinds of change for most of my life and finally, FINALLY, getting a handle on a small portion of it at the ripe age of almost-50, I now believe that the real "magic" of accountability itself lies within me, not outside of me. As I said to my friend Dave Seah in our little Google Wave Experiment, there are no real consequences to not following through on anything I say I'm going to do with any of my accountability setups. No one will make me walk the plank. With the exception of one weird bet with my first-shrink-slash-astrologer (and another, even weirder one with my mother), I don't ever lay cash on the line, so there's not even that to lose. While ultimately, my shrink might "fire" me or my friends stop hanging out with me if I set up a really bad pattern of reneging on my word, 99% of the time, no one gives a crap whether I do or do not go through with x, except for their concern as my friends that I stay aligned with my own intentions. And the reason I'm reasonably sure of this is because I love my friends, warts and all; unless they started regularly and egregiously and personally letting me down, or hurting themselves, to the point where my intervention was useless, I can't imagine throwing them over because they couldn't quit smoking again.

So how and why does accountability work, really? What's really going on? Here are some possibilities:

Wherever two or more are gathered in His name

I'm not religious, but there is a sort of freaky hoodoo-something that happens in community, when the purpose of community is for the betterment of anyone in it. Chris Wells, who created the Obie-winning artists' "church"/show/gathering, The Secret City, and who has begun teaching the Big Artist Workshop in New York and Los Angeles, said it in our final class last Saturday: "Everything is better in community." (This, after being struck by something extraordinary that came about as a result of a group exercise.)

And it is better in community. I sometimes hate that it is, because I'm an introvert and, as my friend Gretchen Rubin likes to say, most of the time I'd rather just stay at home by myself and read a book all day. But as she also says, she almost always feels better when she rallies and does go to the party, the event, the meetup, the whatever. Part of it is action, of course, but another part is action with other people. We're these weird, self-contained fragments but we get the Big Juice from proximity to other fragments.

Darkness made light, the invisible made visible

It is really hard to see myself. Really, really, really hard. The beautiful parts and the not-so-beautiful ones.

In company, though, all kinds of things start surfacing, because the people around us serve as mirrors for ourselves, good and bad. I started having massive breakthroughs in self-understanding when I moved past plain annoyance with an acquaintance and allowed myself to consider what in me she was reflecting. People everywhere can serve as mirrors, of course, but when you choose a challenging accountability partner or two, you get improvement on steroids.

In any kind of accountability relationship, though, even one without doppelgangers, a great benefit comes from just dragging my trolls out from under the bridge, or at least getting the gang to train their high beams on them. And professional or not, anyone you're in an accountability relationship with is bringing a different perspective to your problem, and a much more objective one. That is illuminating, and illumination disperses shadow and darkness.

More on that tomorrow. For now, I would be very interested to hear about other people's experiences with accountability, specifically, how you think the "hoodoo" works on you.


Image by Mike Baird via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The power of tiny pieces

close shot of someone drawing fine pen & ink detail

When I was very, very sick, my body served as its own governor.

I could not push myself further than I should, because I'd be overcome by a sleepiness that would stop me in my tracks. There were times before I learned this that I literally had to lie down right where I stood to rest a bit and gain enough strength to get myself into bed. And this, in an apartment with less than 800 square feet of livable space.

Now that my body is stronger, my mind has gone back to playing tricks on it. Do this thing instead of that other, it will say. We can get to that ugly bit later. Depending on the bigness or ugliness of the thing my mind senses it's up against, I can end up squeezing myself into timeframes that are ridiculously taxing, both because they are so condensed and because they were mostly avoidable.

Last Thursday, for example, I'd committed to performing a new story at the Porchlight series: eight minutes, memorized. But an eight-minute story is a long story, and memorizing it takes even longer. I knew I should have gotten started writing it weeks ago, but I didn't. And didn't, and didn't. The "why" is simple: fear. Nothing more, nothing less. I had plenty of time; I frittered away large chunks of it on nonsense and worry, worry and nonsense.

Most of the worry was about not being good enough. That's old hat, and not particularly interesting. The nonsense, however, is where the gold lies.

In the nonsense, there were the following gems:

  • You have an outline; the story will write itself. NONSENSE. Nothing writes itself. Nothing. Not one thing. An outline may or may not speed up the process, and is certainly a fine thing to have. But in terms of story, it represents nothing more nor less than some thought devoted to the story, which might translate to some work completed.
  • You've memorized longer stuff before, 8 minutes will take no time! NONSENSE. It takes as long to memorize something as it takes. There's no mathematical formula, and no guarantees. The only guarantee, in fact, is that a poorly-written piece will take longer to memorize than a well-written one.
  • You can quit! NONSENSE. I mean, of course I can opt out. People do; people did that night. It always happens. But I know I am not just telling these stories as a lark. I'm writing and telling them as training for telling bigger stories, i.e., going pro. And pros don't flake. Not if they want to be hired more than once.

I ended up writing and memorizing the entire story on Thursday, the day of the gig. The entire day of the gig, which is a luxury I have now, on sabbatical, that I will not always have. And I was still a nervous wreck, because I didn't have the story in my bones, so I wasn't much able to enjoy the experience, either.

On the opposite end of the planning spectrum, there's the newsletter I've been editing for BLANKSPACES, a co-working space here in Los Angeles. In the five months since I took over responsibility for the project, this is the first one that's gone smoothly, actually enjoyably. Why? Because I worked on it incrementally, rather than waiting for the last minute. I broke down the process into a kind of system, worked that system, and came out the other end with a product delivered on time, in good shape and without anguish. (I can't wait to tell my friend (and client, and mentor), Sam.)

I've read 25 books out of the 52 I'd planned for the year, just by reading 40pp per day. From an investment of 15 minutes or so a day, my apartment has gone from a depressing, cluttered and filthy wreck to something that looks like it might be ready to move out of on less than a year's notice. My half-hour of daily Nei Kung practice has wrought changes in my body that continue to astonish me. Why I persisted in thinking that stories (or blog posts) would magically write themselves even when, especially when I was exhausted from working crazy-sporadically rather than slow-and-steadily is beyond me.

The solution is not. Seek the smallest move forward. If there's a hard out, put it in the calendar on the far end and the Smallest Move Forward on the near one. Stick the other small moves in between. Arrive at destination rested, refreshed, and excited about the next challenge ahead.



Image by Vanessa Yvonne via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Book review: Improv Wisdom

watercolor of trees and mustard field by Patricia Ryan Madsen

Every once in a while, you read a book you wish came bundled in stacks of 11, so that you could keep your own copy but immediately, or maybe even upon finishing Chapter 2 or 3, share the experience with a solid two handfuls of people.

Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson is exactly that kind of book. By her own admission (an adorable mea culpa in the epilogue, reflecting on the irony of taking 20 years to write a book about improv), it's the work of a lifetime, her own lifetime of learning and teaching improv to a variety of students, "civilians" and thespians alike, and folding into it the other modalities of learning and living she picked up along the way: tai chi chuan, Zen Buddhism and Constructive Living, to name a few.

The book fuses all these modalities but uses 13 core tenets of improvisation to suggest a simple, sturdy framework for living. "Just show up" winds faith and action together into something more useful and beautiful than either is on its own (and, as any adherent of Woody Allen knows, is 80% of success). "Pay attention," a chronically underutilized tool that will change almost anyone's game in startling ways, makes for what is probably my favorite chapter: in addition to some especially useful (and illuminating) exercises, it includes a moving story of epiphany and a number of surprises that absolutely got my attention.

I think that was the biggest surprise of the book, how delightfully light and unexpected the lessons were. As a survivor of the improv-as-career-propellant school, I girded my loins for Chapter One, which of course draws on the cardinal rule of all improv: "Say yes" (or, as the game goes, "Yes, AND..."). But rather than a heavy-handed, in-your-face talking-to about the necessity of throwing yourself off a cliff over and over again, it is a series of simple and slyly compelling nudges towards taking the kinds of small risks which will instantly and forever change your world. The words took me back to the pure joy of those early days of improv, when glory was so non-imminent the only sane reason to do it was for fun, and reminded me that when I apply those lessons to my daily life, waking up, releasing attachment to outcome, turning my attention outward rather than inward, how much more joyful and rich are my experiences.

Some chapters will resonate more or less, depending on where you're at in your journey. Some people will want to use Improv Wisdom as a guidebook, doing the exercises chapter by chapter, turning their focus to a different aspect of awareness-sharpening each week (or month or day). Some will read it all the way through for inspiration and insights; some will dip in here and there for the same reasons.

I'm hard-pressed to think of the person who could gain nothing from reading this wonderful little book, though. It's gentle, kind and inspiring in exactly the way you'd expect the work of a lifetime to be.


Watercolor ©2010 Patricia Ryan Madsen.

Yo! Disclosure! Links to the book in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Book review: The Four Agreements

moonrise over snowy Four Peaks mountain range

For someone who never actually read The Four Agreements, I have thought an awful lot about it in the three years since I didn't actually read it.

Generally, I thought about how great it would be if there really was some very simple and straightforward "Practical Guide to Personal Freedom," as the subtitle promises, a four-part pact one could make with oneself that provided a clear-cut path of guided self-instruction.

Specifically, I kept turning over Agreement #1, "Be Impeccable with Your Word", in my head, wondering if its stickiness meant that for me, that particular agreement was the key. In the three years since I've been paying attention to my habits, I've noticed that my mouth gets me in more trouble than any other part of me after my brain: I'm forever over-promising and under-delivering, when every smart business guide out there advises doing exactly the opposite. So when a copy jumped out at my on the "Most Requested" shelf at my beloved Bart's Books on a recent trip to my equally-beloved Ojai, I figured I'd pick it up and use it in tandem with my friend Jason Womack's new book, The Promise Doctrine, and once and for all, I'd whup this over-promising thing.

Imagine my surprise when I found that for three years, I've had the wrong takeaway rattling around in my poor, overloaded brain. Memory is faulty, but it's faulty in reliably illuminating ways: what I'd conveniently forgotten was that being impeccable with one's word meant not using it in vain, against yourself or anyone else. Negative self-talk? The root of most problems, since the Toltecs (the tradition author don Miguel Ruiz hails from) believe that you need to get right with yourself before you can truly get right with the rest of the world. Being impeccable, literally, not doing harm with one's word means not using it as a destructive force in any way, but instead using it to tell the truth, to express love (which, in a bit of sneaky-pete dovetailing, turns out to BE the Truth) and build good things, like bridges of communication.

And there's a special circle of hell reserved for those who use their words to gossip. Bonus-extra? You're living in it. No, really, you're making a hell on Earth when you participate in word slime, either by spreading it or letting it land. Very practical, those Toltecs, to hell with the Hell of certain religions who shall go unnamed: let's get this man-made hell sorted first, anyway.

The other three agreements, not to take things personally, not to make assumptions, and always to do one's best, fall naturally from the first. While any one of them could certainly stand alone, it seems like they work especially well as buttresses for that primary agreement. Not taking things personally, in this context, is the inverse of being impeccable with one's word: if you adhere to it, it stands to reason you'd have some protection against other people not being impeccable with their word. Not making assumptions works the same way (as if Felix Unger's stunning bit of definitive logic wasn't enough to convince you). And always endeavoring to do one's best is not just supportive of the first agreement, it's Do-Bee 101.

One warning for those interested in a four-simple-steps approach: if I haven't made it obvious, simple doesn't mean easy, especially here. I've screwed up enough times at both really simple and really easy stuff to know. It's not even easy to get through: at 138 pages, The Four Agreements is a short book but not an especially breezy read.

Or perhaps I should say that for some of us who could really use the information contained within, extraction will be easier if we take it slowly...


Image by midiman via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Control what you can

healthybreakfast_justatemporarymeasure I'm like a broken record about a couple of things with my actors, and yes, I think of them as MY actors, because I put my heart and soul into schooling them on every hard-won lesson I've got. And also because I am possessive about them the way I am about MY readers and MY boyfriend and MY dog, even though my dog is technically The BF's.

The first thing I nag them about is opening their big Dummy Actor minds to the idea that they can learn about acting from learning, period. From studying another art or craft, from learning another (completely unrelated to acting) skill, from reading something, anything, about something other than acting. It's why I hammer them to sign up for my newsletter, which is jam-packed with stuff any human being with words can use every day of their lives, in or out of the audition room, and it's why I despair every time I see an "unsubscribe" from one of them. Actors, some of them, anyway, are into learning EXACTLY what it will take to get from A to B, where "A" is where they are and "B" is up on the stage of the Kodak Theatre, clutching a tiny gold man by his crotchal area. (You think I'm kidding, you haven't met enough actors. Or enough honest ones.)

The second thing I nag my dear, darling, maddening actors about is to put their time into what they can control and let the rest GO. I don't think I've ever stated it explicitly the way I do in February's column (coming soon to an inbox near you!), but really, if you're any good at extrapolating, that's what these endless exhortations to get one's shit in order are about.

I bring these things up because today I stumbled across the website of a fascinating lady in New York* who happens to teach actors about how to do good monologues (which are, like, the hardest thing in the world to do, and actors HATE them), and happens to have been taught, at one point, by one of the world's finest living persons of the theater, Mr. David Mamet. Whose teachings she compares to, of all people, FlyLady, whom I've also exhorted people to pay attention to if they really, really want to get their shit straight. And who has written an article about auditioning for actors that civilians (that's "non-actors" to you non-actors) who have more than two brain cells to rub together and who want to get somewhere in their lives should go read right now. (Now. Here it is again.)

I've learned about marketing design by reading a terrific blog about marketing by a guy who does it for lawyers, who, trust me on this, could not be further from designers in terms of perceived value and service business models. A guy who writes a (terrific) blog about job seeking for super-tech types became a fan of this blog because...well, I have no idea why. But he is great and we are now real-life friends and learn from each other.

The list goes on. I can't, because I've got to go run and meet a bunch of designers, a group I no longer count myself among, but you can dig around in my links and find all the other people who are nothing like me and yet getting at the same truth via different means. Or go back to this woman's site and read everything she's written for actors (check the right sidebar, partway down). Or go to FlyLady, and start practicing being an excellent, nice-to-yourself human being who gets things done without punching yourself in the face repeatedly.

All roads lead to Rome, baby. If there's a traffic jam or washout or a bunch of potholes on one, go find another.

See you at the Spanish Steps...



*Also weird: her name is Karen Kohlhaas, which freaked me out because I already have a long-distance doppelganger thing going with my now-real-life/Biznik pal, Seattle consultant Karrie Kohlhaas, and if things keep going at this rate, the world is going to collapse in on itself way, way in advance of any Mayan calendar prediction. I mean, come on: REALLY.

Image by Just a Temporary Measure via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Get your motor runnin', Day 6: Make 10 minutes make a difference

eggtimer If you're old enough, you've heard the joke already, and if you're not (or you just haven't), it's high time:

Man in NYC #1: Excuse me--how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Man in NYC #2: Practice. You %$#@*!

Note to young people: in the joke as it was told to me, the second guy--clearly a native New Yorker--did not curse. As a former New Yorker, I can assure you the cursing version is more accurate; New York moves fast, brother, and has no time for fake politeness*.

At any rate of speed, New Yorkers are a great lot for getting things done, because they have to be ingenious about it, the non-wealthy ones, anyway. Time and space are at a premium, so you both learn to make the most of what you've got and to appreciate the hell out of it. Many of the good habits I've learned, writing fast, cleaning up as I cook, how to eat while walking, when necessary, I picked up during my three years living in New York as a rich-in-opportunity, poor-in-money intern at Ye Olde Madison Avenue Sweatshop.

If email response is any indication, I recently wrote my most popular column ever for The Networker, the monthly newsletter that goes out to LA (and SF and NY) Casting members. The subject? 10 things you can do in 30 minutes each to improve your career. (Well, to market yourself, but that falls under the rubric of improvement, I'd say. I guess it's human nature to feel overwhelmed by the big, perhaps because when we compare ourselves to the infinite, we see how small we are.

So while I generally eschew all these "100 ways you can skin a cat" posts, I'm relenting this once, because it is, after all something new for me to try, which should help get my own motor running. And because we're all looking for ways to do more with less time, they're short, 10 minutes or less each. (And NOT ONE OF THEM is about taking a walk, doing jumping jacks or meditating. So there!)

Basically, these are ideas to break down huge, colossal projects like:

  • find new job
  • get a life
  • find a romantic partner
  • start a blog/learn what this #@%* social media thing is all about
  • etcetera

into manageable chunks. Most of them (surprise, surprise) will work to make you a better communicator, which is a skill that cuts across all kinds of desired goals. It's one of those fundamental, don't-skip steps that some of us step-skippers (cough-cough) try to skip anyway.

Here, then, are my...

30 Ways to Start Initiating Big Change in 10 Minutes (or Less)

  1. Park your ass in the chair, pull out your resume, rewrite the Objective or Summary so it's interesting. (Think movie synopsis, story for a SMART 8-year-old, catching up an old friend on what you've been doing, etc.)
  2. Re-record your voice mail message so that it is shorter, friendlier and more charming. (Smile while doing it; it really does help.)
  3. The Improve My Relationships Hack. Call a friend you haven't spoken to in a few weeks, but not someone you haven't spoken to in a few months. Tell them at the outset of the call that you can only talk for 10 minutes, but you want to spend it telling them how much you like them, and why. Or tell them you'd thought of calling them when you saw x the other day, but you forgot, and now you are. But do the 10 minutes thing up front. (You can schedule another time to talk later if you want.)
  4. The Be Here Now Hack. Set a timer, then go play with the dog for 10 minutes. You're setting the timer because chances are you will not want to stop after 10 minutes (I never do, unless I'm winded), and your dog certainly won't. Only your dog will be fine with this; they're great at living in the moment, are dogs.
  5. Go to your hard drive. Find your pictures folder. Create a subfolder called "Happy". Pull out as many photos from your main folder that make you smile as you can in 10 minutes. Put them in the folder named "Happy" and save that folder as your screensaver. You can do this in 10-minute chunks if you're slow or an overthinker, like me. (Cursed Virgo tendencies, they give, and they take away.) Again, set a timer. Big rabbit hole potential with this one.
  6. Pull out your favorite book, open at random and read one page.
  7. Pull out ANY piece of hard-copy reading material and read it one paragraph out loud. Now read it out loud as if you were telling someone a secret. Now read it out loud as if you were furious at someone.
  8. Put on a favorite song, one you know most of the words to. Sing out loud with it. Twice, once, just full out, to yourself, and once as though you're singing it to someone you love. (They don't have to be there. Or use the dog.)
  9. Take a piece of paper and draw yourself. Even if it sucks. Try repeating this every day.
  10. Write an email to someone you admire telling them why. You don't have to send it, although you certainly can. Later. Not these 10 minutes.
  11. Take three deep breaths. (Okay, this is CLOSE to meditating, I'll admit. But it takes way less time and is also very effective and awesome.)
  12. Ladies! Clean out your purses! (Mens! Clean out your man purse or wallet!)
  13. Go through a magazine you've been meaning to read, rip out the articles you actually think you might read, and throw the rest in the recycle bin. (Alternatively, go around your workspace or home collecting stray magazines and corral them in one place. Do the 10-minute scan later.)
  14. Clean out old files, paper or electronic, for 10 minutes. (Timer thing.)
  15. If you're a GTD-er, spend 10 minutes with your Someday-Maybe list. Pick one thing you want to still do and figure out how you could move toward that thing in 10 minutes. (Hint: think practice if it's something you want to get better at, or research if it's something you know nothing about.)
  16. Go leave a comment on someone else's blog. A good one, that adds something, not a "Great post!", dig-me kinda comment.
  17. If you haven't the night before, write out the list of things you need to do today with the time estimated for each. Check your real time against your estimated time and revise accordingly, moving forward. (I am so still working on this one.)
  18. Clean your computer monitor or your eyeglasses.
  19. Go pee. (Okay, this one won't make sense to some of you, but for others, you're going to be all "WOW. I feel SO much better!")
  20. Write out, by hand, your favorite quotation. (If you don't have one, and you should have many, I think, Google "quotations + happiness" for starters.) Do this every day for a month. I still have a journal of these I started way, way back in college. It's hilarious in some ways, but kind of inspiring in others; we really are what we spend our time thinking about and doing.
  21. Think of an object. Write a haiku about it.
  22. Think of a country. Write a limerick about it.
  23. Select a book you've been meaning to read but have been blowing off. Preferably of a helpful, edifying nature but not TOO smartypants. Preferably one you don't mind getting a little messed up. Put a bookmark in the front of it. Bring it to your bathroom. Leave it there, and remove any magazines on your way out (or ones that belong to you, if you're sharing.) From now until it's done or you've decided that it actually sucks and you're not going to read it and you're ready to pass it on to the used bookstore (or Goodwill, depending on how beat to sh*t it is), that's what you're reading in the bathroom.
  24. Repeat #22, only make sure this book is inspiring. Put it next to your bed. That's what you're reading before bed until it's done or you're done with it.
  25. Make a folder in your bookmarks toolbar called "daily." In it, put all your time-wasters: email, Facebook, Twitter; you know your poison. Pick a time once or twice per day. That's when you go to that folder, period.
  26. Make a list of your favorite books as a kid. (I hope to god you have something on this list. If not, feel free to use mine, Bread and Jam for Frances, or any of the Frances books.) The next time you are at the bookstore, buy one of these books. (Or if you're broke, the next time you're at the used bookstore or the library.) When you start beating yourself up, pull out the book and read for 10 minutes.
  27. If you don't already, get and install the StumbleUpon toolbar for your Firefox browser. NOT SO THAT YOU CAN SURF. You will use this to "thumbs up" great things you read. NOT CAT VIDEOS OR MEAN GOSSIP. (Well, okay, some cat videos.) And guess what: each thing you "thumbs up" or Stumble, I want you to write a brief review of why people should read this. If the little box doesn't pop up automatically, go into your toolbar and click on the speech bubble thingy. Do not be a lazy-ass surfer: add to the greater good; make yourself smarter in the process.
  28. If you have never heard of StumbleUpon, take 10 minutes and read this, or Google it.
  29. If you're still using Internet Explorer, take 10 minutes and read about what Firefox is. Then take another 10 sometime and install it. Seriously. You're going to be left behind if you don't.
  30. Leave a comment on this post. You don't have to take 10 minutes; in fact, I'd rather you just write. It can be some great tip; it can be something you've tried implementing before that sucks. It can be some fear about starting that you're releasing. Be imperfect. Share yourself. Use your words.

Ready? Go...

xxx c

*On the other hand, New Yorkers are some of the most genuinely kind people I've met, not to mention generous, tolerant and open-minded. City people get a bad rap, but I've found most of them to be pretty creamy in the middle, once you scratch the hard-candy shell.

Image by tanakawho via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.