As a kid, I hated rules. That’s because rules weren’t fun. They were meant to mould my behaviour and, perhaps unknowingly, stifle my creativity.
Rule: I had to eat everything on my plate before I left the table (that was hard, especially on the nights my father served burnt, chewy liver for dinner).
Rule: I couldn’t stay out late on a school night.
Rule: As long as I lived in my parents’ house, I’d do as they say.
Rules sucked. Big time.
Breaking the Rules
It probably comes as no surprise that, growing up, I was a rule breaker. Tell me I couldn’t do something, and I’d set out to prove that I could. Tell me I had to do something one way, I’d do it a different way and achieve the same result. ‘Rebelling’ was second-nature to me. In a way, it led me down the path to becoming who I am today.
Breaking the rules taught me a valuable lesson: that I had what it takes to be who I am, and not who others wish me to be. It came with a ‘price’ in that the people who wanted me to remain the same — friends and family alike — eventually slipped out of my life. To be honest, for a time that bothered me. But only until I understood that being my truest self is the greatest gift I could give to myself and the world. Marianne Williamson says it best:
Not being small meant doing the thing that I love the most: writing. As I gave myself over to it, there was a mega shift in how I looked at rules. I saw their potential, how they could help me create the life I wanted.
From Rule Breaker to Rule Setter
When I first knew I wanted to be a writer, my goal (naïve as it was then) was to sign on with a well-known publishing company like HarperCollins or Penguin, or a literary agency. Self-publishing and being an indie author like we know them today didn’t exist. The one thing an emerging writer like myself wanted to avoid was being swindled by a vanity press.
Since then, the publishing industry has been completely turned on its head. Now, it’s easy and affordable for writers to publish their own works through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and other platforms. The competition is fierce, which makes it hard to get your book to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
But when you do what you love, you don’t throw in the towel when the rejection letters start piling up. You don’t give up, either, when your first book flops (as mine did). You try, try, and try again because this is the thing that you must do. It’s the reason you’re here on earth. It’s your calling. And you must heed the call.
I write for the love of writing, to tell a story, to [I hope] offer a unique view of the world. And even though most days the idea of ambition and being successful makes me squeamish — almost like I don’t feel I deserve it — my aim is to write full-time. It’s why I show up every day to write. My dream won’t come true without me putting in the time and doing the necessary work.
Working to build a writing career around a day job, familial responsibilities and life in general, it’s pretty easy for me to get distracted. To stave off distraction — procrastination, resistance, self-doubt, etc. — I needed rules to get me through each day. When I became a self-published author, and responsible for marketing and promoting my book, rules became even more important. I had to find balance, especially when dealing with social media, which permeates all aspects of our lives.
Yes, I needed rules to stay focused and increase my productivity as I worked to achieve my goals. For me, it all comes down to this:
5 Rules to Live By
- Get up early: I’ve always been a morning person, but for over a year now I’ve been getting up around 4:30 am to jumpstart the day. That quiet time of day is when I do some of my most focused work without distraction. And by the time noon rolls around, I’ve checked off quite a few items on my to-do list.
- Do the most important thing first: Most days I succeed in tackling the most important task on my to-do list first. Usually, this is the project that requires the most focus and effort. Doing it first thing in the morning when I’m at my best makes the work feel ‘effortless.’
- Eliminate distractions: For the longest time, I tried to eliminate distractions on my own. You know, power down the phone and hide it somewhere out of sight. Close the internet navigator. Turn off the TV. Yet I often found myself saying, “Oh, I’ll just quickly check my e-mail.” Two hours later, I’ve not only checked my e-mail, but I’ve also squandered away time on Twitter, Facebook and CNN.
About three years ago, I discovered StayFocusd, a Google Chrome extension that blocks the internet. And earlier this year I started using Freedom, which blocks the use of all apps on my iPhone. Together, StayFocusd and Freedom have decreased the time I waste online (procrastination) and significantly increased my productivity. I’m writing more. I’m finishing more projects. I feel like I’m actually moving forward.
- Manage social media engagement: I think I’ll always have a love-hate relationship with social media. I love it because of how I can connect with writers and readers from all over the world. I feel like I’m a part of a vibrant, supportive and encouraging community. I hate social media because it can suck you in and, before you know it, half the day is gone. (That’s another reason why I use StayFocusd and Freedom.)
Apps like Freedom can only do so much. At some point, I had to practice self-control and self-discipline. And that meant learning to be purposeful in my use of social media. With Facebook, for example, I aim to post three or four times a week. Some may say that’s not enough, but it works for me and I don’t feel pressured to produce content that no one’s going to pay attention to.
Twitter is my pandora’s box. I had to find a way to not let it overwhelm. So, about six weeks ago I made two important decisions that would impact my use of Twitter. 1. I’d only check in (reply to or like tweets) on Wednesdays and Fridays (days were chosen arbitrarily); and 2. I’d no longer check Direct Messages (DMs). These two decisions have helped me to reclaim my day, allowing me to focus on what really matters.
- Take care of yourself: As a child, I didn’t have an iPhone or xBox, and I wasn’t racing around the city playing Pokémon Go. (We had Atari and the Commodore 64 … do you remember those?) So, on sunny days I was always outside playing. In my late teens and my twenties, especially as a university student, I was a nerd and loved to be inside reading and writing.
In 2008, I stepped on a scale (for the first time in over five years because I had the Blanche Devereaux mindset that my weight of 175 pounds never changed) to see the needle move past the 200-pound mark. I was devastated. It was the middle of February, -25°C, and in the cold of the night I decided to start running. Not knowing how to dress for a winter run, I ended up sick as a dog for two weeks.
But that day changed my life. Not only did those unwanted pounds fall away in the weeks that followed, but running became a habit, one that’s held strong for ten years now. Best of all, running got me out of the house and living a more active life.
And more recently, I’ve stopped drinking, reduced my sugar and salt intake, and in addition to running I’m also working out regularly (thanks to the Nike Training App). I have more energy, feel a lot better about myself and am enjoying all that life has to offer. I love running because it helps to clear my head, zone out … become one with myself. It’s also the time when I have my ‘Conversations with Oprah.’ In the zone, I can hear Ms. Winfrey asking those big life questions to one of her guests on Super Soul Sunday. Only I’m the guest, and when I hear myself give the answer there’s clarity — about how to move a story forward, or how to deal with a situation that I’ve been struggling with. I always come back from a run enlightened and energized, ready to take my game to the next level.
We mustn’t neglect ourselves. We are our most valuable resource. When we take care of our body, mind and spirit, we are ready for whatever comes our way. And we know that there is nothing we can’t do.
Be Who You Are
These are my rules. They work for me as I strive to create the life I imagine — to let loose the truest, ultimate expression of who I am. I can’t afford to break them. Breaking the rules creates havoc and puts everything I’ve worked hard to achieve at risk.
As I continue to evolve, the rules may change or need to be tweaked.
But for now … I’ll keep playing by the rules.
Do you have any rules you live by? How do you stay focused? What is the one thing that is holding you back? What is the one thing you can change to allow yourself to move forward? Let me know in the comments section below.