Eating That Frog

26 Jun

For the past week I’ve been listening to a CD narrated by author and lecturer Brian Tracy. It’s titled “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.” The book by that title was published in 2007, but I had never run across it before — even though I’m always on the lookout for “how to” advice from experts like Tracy.

You know — like how to quit procrastinating and how to use one’s time more effectively. How to get things done and have more fun in the process. Those things we should have learned in elementary school — and maybe we did, but then just forgot.

From the start, I could tell that Tracy wasn’t just spouting out words, not just uttering the same old/same old time management advice. Or if he was, it seemed fresh. He admits that he took his ideas from the experts, tried them out to make sure they worked, and then put his own spin on these 21 practical tips before passing them on. A look at his website (www.BrianTracy.com) will give you an idea of all this man has accomplished, all he continues to accomplish. There must have been a lot of “frogs” consumed along the way.

These are Tracy’s ideas that resonate with me:
* I will never get caught up. There will always be “something else” to do. This means I don’t need to keep beating myself up for not getting “more” done; as long as I don’t try to keep up to the likes of Brian Tracy and just content myself with getting something done each day, I can dispense with the guilt. That’s a freeing notion.

* The title of the book (and the CD) is really a metaphor: “Eating a frog” means I should tackle the most dreaded task on my To Do list the first thing every day. The logic here is that if we tackle our most dreaded tasks or projects, nothing else that day will seem too hard. A sense of empowerment and pride, which accompany this “just do it” mindset, will carry over into every other aspect of our lives.

* All of the ideas on this CD are tried and true principles practiced by the most successful people. In other words, they work. Tracy is not interested here in looking at the psychological reasons of why some of us procrastinate — he’d rather give us some simple steps to practice so we can build upon the success. And in every chapter he suggests something we can do right now.

I’m not going to list all 21 principles here, but I did come across an enthusiastic, well-written summary by business woman Yolanda Allen. (See http://ezinearticles.com/?Book-Notes,-A-Book-Summary-on-the-Book-Eat-That-Frog-by-Brian-Tracy&id=2047222) You can also hear an introduction to his book in Brian Tracy’s own voice at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W6ZBVsmCpw&NR=1&feature=endscreen.

In three months I will come back to this topic with a personal perspective. Did I “eat my frog” every day? What did I learn? Did it make my life better? What can I pass along to others who fight the procrastination habit?

Getting Sidetracked – Some Helpful Tips

13 Feb

Even before I began writing this blog, I started collecting ideas for my posts, and that list of possible topics is growing every day. One source of ideas comes from some of the other blogs and websites I visit. And some come when I’m searching for one thing but end up somewhere else. My tendency to get sidetracked can get to be a problem some days, so I was looking for advice on how to avoid “getting sidetracked,” when I found a helpful article by Lisa Montanaro, a professional organizer, on a website called Biznik.com.

Montanaro says, “Experts estimate that the average American is interrupted 73 times per day.” Her bottom line advice is to “Own your interruptions if you can.” Montanaro suggests: “Start to think of an interruption as an offer, and your decision as to whether you will take the interruption as a counter-offer. It is okay to say ‘Thanks for your call/visit. I do want to speak with you, but now is not a good time. Can we talk/meet at 2:00 p.m. instead?’ There. You just counter-offered. See if it works. It is certainly worth a try.”

My first reaction was to say, “Oh, this article is for people working full-time jobs, not for someone like myself.” Not true. Even though I’m retired, my To Do lists are always full and I’m never sitting around wondering what to do with my time. I was in the middle of writing this post, for example, when the phone rang – and it turned out to be an important call, not somebody I could ignore or call back later. So I took the time to talk – I owned my interruption.

Montanaro has five other words of advice that I’m going to pass along here: 1) Grade your interruptions. (In other words, consider the relative importance of each before you decide to pursue it or re-schedule. We need to learn to be more selective.) 2) Create do-not-disturb time. Let people know what times I’ve set aside for my serious projects and ask them to honor it. Then be sure to honor it myself. 3) Use a post-it note wisely. “Before you take an interruption, write down the very next action you were planning to take, how long you thought it would take, and whether you can delegate it to someone else.” Oh, I like this one – so simple. Just a note to myself, reminding me of what I fully intended to do if the interruption/distraction hadn’t come along. Montanaro says, “Often, the interruption itself is not as bad as playing catch-up after it. Taking the time to write down where you are and what you need to get back to can help you save precious time.” Yes, I can relate to that!

Her last two points are: 4) Plan for interruptions and 5) Stop the interrupter. “It is worth noting that supposedly 80% of our interruptions come from 20% of the people we come into contact with. Try to identify the frequent interrupters and start coming up with ways to cut them off before they occur.”

I’ve quoted selectively from Montanaro’s article. To read the entire article and save it for your own online files, go to http://biznik.com/articles/want-to-avoid-getting-sidetracked-own-your-interruptions.

You might also check out Lisa Montanaro’s up-to-date website and subscribe to her blogs. I just did! http://www.lisamontanaro.com/

“When Hannah Var Eight Yar Old”

10 Feb

“Were you a little girl, Hannah, when you came to America?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I var a big girl — eight yar old.”

I remember those opening lines from a story that I memorized and presented for the 1958 forensics competition, when I was a high school junior. Although I remember the details of this emotionally charged story, I couldn’t have told you the author or when it was published. Our small high school kept a supply of forensics material, and this was the one I chose for my “declamation” (as that category was named.)

My forensics coach was Mrs. Lord, and the two of us, working together, must have done a fine job, because I won the school competition in the Declamation category, and then two more levels of competition (one held in Montello, the next in Stevens Point.) That earned me the honor of moving on to statewide competition in Madison, where I received an “A.” It was one of my proudest moments from high school.

Although I know I gave credit to the author every time I delivered my declamation, I could not for the life of me remember her name today. So I decided to do a Google search and learned that Katherine Peabody Girling published this story in “The Atlantic Monthly” in 1913 — that’s just one year after my mother was born and one year before the start of World War I. The story was published in book form (44 pages) by Fredrick A. Stokes Company, New York, in 1915. It was illustrated by Alfred James Dewey.

Today copies of it can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes and Noble; it can be read for free online. I haven’t been able to find out much about Katherine Peabody Girling, though I did find a picture of her on the Girling Family website, and I learned her uncle founded the University of Illinois. I also learned the story is nonfiction — I wasn’t sure.

Here’s a brief summary of the story: The narrator of the story, Hannah, is telling a listener (presumably Ms. Girling) how she happened to immigrate to the United States. Hannah, the oldest of four children, had lived with her family in a remote area in Norway. It was winter, and her father, a fisherman, had been gone for months. Then her mother became very ill and, anticipating her own death, gave Hannah instructions of what to do when it was apparent she was not living. Hannah did everything her mother told her — dragged the body into the freezing woodshed, reassured the younger children, and took care of them until help came.

It was a real tear-jerker but Hannah’s voice was very matter-of-fact; there was no overt emotion. You’ve heard of stoic Scandinavians — well, Hannah was one of them.

I’ll continue to search for more details about Hannah and the woman who told her story; if I find anything, I’ll update this blog. If you happen to find something, please let me know.

Pre-Empting Ellen

8 Feb

There I was, remote in hand, ready to watch the day’s recorded session of the “Ellen” show. I don’t watch much TV, so when I have a few minutes toward the end of the day, this is my relaxation time. With the remote, I can zip past all the commercials and anything else that doesn’t hold my interest; most days it takes me 30 minutes tops, and I’m almost always guaranteed a few good laughs.

I was not laughing last night. In fact, as minute after precious minute fastforwarded by without a glimpse of Ellen or her guests, I grew increasingly angry. Why do TV producers think they need to pre-empt shows like “Ellen” to s how us an entire hour of weather? People who like to eat, breathe, and live weather information have the weather channel, for godssake. What is so cute about Kathy Mykleby in her fashionable snow togs standing on the sidewalk with big fluffy flakes landing on her nose? And there wasn’t even that much snow! We viewers would get one shot of traffic moving along I-43 – didn’t look like anyone was having too much trouble – and then the cameraman would treat us to a shot of an industrious fella shoveling two inches of the white stuff from his sidewalk. (The man told Channel 12 he wanted to get a headstart, don’t you know?)

Then it was “back to you, Dan” where another guy was bundled up in his winter coat, and “over to you, Clarence” where a dry suit and tie guy pointed to weather maps, sounding very serious and prophetic. Puh-leez! Since I’m watching this, safe and sound, four hours after the live broadcast and not seeing any concern for alarm even then, I can’t help asking, What is the big deal?

No one can hear me, of course, except my dog – and she doesn’t care. Is there a way to protest this usurpation of America’s favorite afternoon show? Will Channel 12 offer to give us a delayed broadcast? Speaking of channels, what are the channels a person can go through to reach someone from We Call the Moves Department and register a complaint?

This morning I talked to my daughter, who lives north of Boston. All the kids are off school today, and everyone who works in Boston has been told to stay home – now THAT’S a legitimate weather story.

Still, I hope the TV station in Boston will find a timeslot for Ellen.

Happy 100th Birthday, Mary Leakey

6 Feb

“I dug things up. I was curious. I liked to draw what I found.”

This quotation is attributed to a British archaeologist, Mary Leakey, who was born 100 years ago – February 6, 1913. I like that succinct quote – about a girl who liked to dig, who liked to draw – and who was impelled throughout her long life by an insatiable curiosity.

Although I had never heard of Mary Leakey before, I’m always glad to learn about women like her who have made their mark on history, contributing to the wealth of knowledge we all benefit from today. And I loved the Google doodler’s rendition of her. There she is, in Tanzania, coming across the fossilized footprints of a human ancestor (australopithecines.) Two Dalmatians are cavorting in the background, pleased – as she is – at this historic find. (A Google-related article tells us that Leakey’s beloved dogs accompanied her on many digs.)

Mary Leakey admitted she wasn’t much of a student in the classroom. Today her score on the required standardized tests would probably have brought down her school’s average; she most likely wouldn’t have passed the SATs. We need to let our children and grandchildren know this – there are many kinds of intelligence.

Natalie Evans, who writes for “Mirror News” in the UK, says that Mary Leakey’s “passion for fossils was influenced by her ancestor, antiquarian John Frere, and cousin, archaeologist Sheppard Frere.” Her husband, Louis, was also an archaeologist, as were their sons: Jonathan, Richard and Philip. The family often went on archeological explorations together. What Ms. Evans fails to mention are two other members of the Leakey family – both women – who are archaeologists as well. Meave Leakey (married to Richard) is among the most renowned contemporary paleontologists. She holds a Doctor of Science degree from University College, London. Richard and Meave’s daughter Louise is also an archaeologist. She and Meave work together at the Turkana Basin in Kenya. (See http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/leakeys)

Mary Leakey’s other discoveries include the fossilized Proconsul skull (another human ancestor) and the Zinjanthropus skull, “an early hominin, at Olduvai Gorge, in eastern Africa.” She is “credited with developing a system to classify stone tools found at the site.” [http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/mary-leakey-google-doodle-marks-1588624]

The Leakey family has established their own website, which includes a picture gallery of important finds: [http://www.leakey.com/gallery-archival]

This is the interesting thing about “digging up” facts, like the ones I came across today. One thing leads to another and another and. . .well, let’s just say I have some pleasant browsing time ahead, and maybe others who happen across this blog will do some browsing on their own. Thanks, Google, for helping to celebrate Mary Leakey’s birthday. Too bad she couldn’t have lived long enough to enjoy the party! (Note: She died in 1996 at age 83.)

P.S. As I came across these words — “hominoid,” “hominid,” and “hominin” – I was curious about their meanings. (While Mary’s curiosity led her to dig up old bones, mine leads me to dig up meanings of words. Here’s what I found – from “Science Week” August 1, 2001):

“Homonoids” is a broad term encompassing primates living and extinct. “Hominids” include both great ape lineages and human lineages within the hominoid “superfamily,” while “hominins” comprise only human lineages.

The Things They Googled

4 Feb

I was reading an old issue of “The Sun” and came across an essay by Marion Winik: “The Things They Googled.”
Winik starts her essay by taking a look at young people: “If they were young, they googled the things they didn’t know. Some were things they were supposed to know, like the habits of the hammerhead shark. The perfect squares under a hundred, the phrase ‘rite of passage.’ When they got bored, they googled images of peace signs, photographs of rainbows, a video of a girl singing about Friday, and another of a baby laughing and laughing.”

Then she offers examples of what old people googled – especially things they once knew but had now forgotten. A third paragraph was devoted to the lonely.

“The things they googled were determined by forgetfulness, by need, by desire, by curiosity, and by the endless availability of information,” Winik summarizes. “In fact, there was no point in remembering anything except how to google.”

There’s more too, of course, and every sentence sparkles with precise language and humor. Yet everything, though exaggerated, is so true – and sometimes, a bit sad.

The version printed in “The Sun” (August 2012) was reprinted in “Utne” (December 2012); an earlier version was published in the Baltimore Fishbowl (an online resource.) The revised version ends with this cryptic paragraph:
“But after all that searching and finding, all the slapped foreheads and the ahas, after all of it, there was still something missing. It was the size of a gingersnap, a two-week-old koala, a liquor store. It looked a bit like Kelly McGillis or Walter Mondale. It was excellent for soothing burns and heartaches. It was not in their computer or their phone or on any file server anywhere. Older search engines would be required.”

I’m glad I discovered Marion Winik; I intend to read more of her essays in the Baltimore Fishbowl and check out her website from time to time: http://www.marionwinik.com. I’ve also requested her memoir from my local library: “First Comes Love.”

If you have any favorite columns by Winik, please let me know. In the meantime, to read the entire version from which I’ve quoted, check out this link:
http://www.utne.com/science-technology/googled-before-google-zm0z12ndzlin.aspx#ixzz2JyFtj32b

Writing for the Hales Corners Hub

4 Feb

In the early 1970s I started writing for the local weekly paper. It was called The Hub, and it served two suburban communities, Hales Corners and Franklin, Wisconsin. I remember getting an idea for a feature story, which I pitched to the editor. Pitching, in those days, meant typing up my idea on my manual Smith-Corona and sending it to the editorial offices by the U.S. mail. I was ecstatic when the editor called and asked me to go ahead and write the story – my very first assignment.

The article was about three boys from the area who were cast in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” I arranged the interview at one of the homes and the editor sent the paper’s photographer. My success with that first article, “The Kids in the Carol,” led to more assignments for both features and news stories. I even had a column for awhile.

I remember typing stories with carbon paper so that I would have my own copy. Those of us who did regular reporting were expected to have our stories out in the roadside mailbox in the morning three days a week, and a “runner” would stop by to pick it up. Those were the days when copy was typeset. Soon I bought an IBM electric, which made a really clean copy, and then came computers. Reporters working out of their homes (like me) would send copy over dial-up modem. Though at the time that all seemed high-tech, today’s high speed internet has made everything from those days obsolete.

The Hales Corners Hub has evolved into a 10-page weekly called “Now” — all the suburban communities are named “Now.” The printed paper that comes out on Thursdays is mostly police reports and high school sports. Independent writers can blog online – and I did that for a couple of years, but that was never the same as being part of a team working together week after week to publish community newspapers delivered by mail to thousands of readers.

These are some of my thoughts as I launch my new blog. I don’t have to pitch my idea to an editor; the editor doesn’t prune my prose style; there is no staff proofreader to go over my copy. It’s all up to me. Of course, not having a paid editorial staff behind me, along with a marketing team, means I can’t count on any readers either, unless I study some marketing strategies. For now, though, it’s enough to write “as if” I am writing for an audience.

I happen to be one of those people who likes to write, even for a handful of readers.

Naming My Blog

2 Feb

I’ve been dilly-dallying about getting started blogging with WordPress and now that I’m here, I can’t believe how easy the WordPress people have made it! Last week, when it was still January and I committed, recommitted to starting a blog, I told myself to “Jump in with both feet.”  So that’s what I’m doing.

I’ve considered several names, including “The Next Chapter” — which is positive sounding for a 71 year old (which I am) rather than “The Last Chapter.” Then I found out that Oprah named her TV network “The Next Chapter” and didn’t want to compete with that.  In fact, I don’t want to compete with anyone. I just want to get a little writing discipline going, and I aim to write something here every day. I was inspired by Shannon Jackson Arnold, author of Flowering Wisdom who started a blog just as a practice or discipline, and ended up writing a book and launching her own business. I’ll be interviewing her for a profile spot on this blogspot later.

Another thought I had for this blog is “I get by. . .with a little help from my friends” (John Lennon, the Beatles) because it is so true. Besides Shannon, I plan to feature other people. People I’ve known for years, new friends and acquaintances, and some special peoplel I’ve met only online, through their websites or e-letters.

In a writing workshop I’ve attended off and on through the years, I found I enjoy taking some of my journal entries and rewriting them for a wider audience. I call these MP’s MPS (Marjorie Pagel’s Morning Pages.)

That’s enough for one blog. I look forward to coming back here to share more of my thoughts.

If you’re one of the people who stops by to read this blog, I hope you’ll take the time to say hi.