Saying No

Yesterday when the new dare arrived in my inbox I took one look at it then closed it again. Part of it was the overwhelm at trying to figure out how to add one more thing to my already over-full plate. The other part was overwhelm at how could I possibly choose just one skill from an infinite number of possibly necessary skills that might make a critical difference for my project and my life. Luckily, with a little distance I discovered the answer to the challenge hidden in that second overwhelm–though upon reflection, it wasn’t hidden at all. In fact, it was pretty much grabbing me by the shirt collar and trying to shake me awake.

#DareToExcel Challenge – 5:

To live your question, what new #skillset do you need and want to develop this month and beyond to execute your one project exceptionally well? What existing skill set do you need and want to hone and sharpen? How can you do so more intentionally? Define it, claim it, share it.

Don’t over-do it here. One skill or skill set suffices for now for you to define.

Use the bottom half of your My Project Brief Sheet to help you define a habit skill set, one field-related skill, or one craft-related skill you want to claim and dare to excel in.

~ SAY NO ~

The need for this particular skill isn’t just project-related–it’s systemic to my whole life. I have always had trouble focusing on one thing, being able to figure out what is most important, and saying “no”–or at least, “not now”–to everything else. The proof is in my original project brief. Not because of the desire to hold space for the book to grow as I do other things which is a wonderful, valuable goal, but because that good goal disguises the truth–that I want those unfinished quilts finished and out of my life so badly that I made them more important than the book. And in doing so, I’ve created a situation where the drudgery of the sewing I don’t want to do bleeds over into the work I most want to do. Instead of feeding the book, it has drained my energy. And because two of the quilt projects are for other people, they have the added stress of deadlines and an ever expanding feeling of trying to create within a very small box which has been stifling my creativity across the board. The fact that, although two of my quilting projects are already overdue, I started with a donation quilt that no one is waiting for and has been sitting in a bin for more than three years, only underscores my deep need for increasing my discernment skills ASAP.

So, what does that mean? Starting this moment I need to:

  1. Deal with the two overdue sewing projects this weekend before I do anything else–that means spending Sunday at the computer creating the design comps to send to the clients, because it is too late to hand them off to someone else. Ideally at the office so I won’t be distracted by everything that needs doing here at home.
  2. Adjust my perception of the remaining quilts from chores I need to plow through, to mindfulness practice.
  3. Get back to relaxed nightly book research, letting the stories absorb slowly into my psyche.
  4. Remember what’s most important, which for some reason sounds like the voices of Haymitch and Finnick in my head, and say “no” to everything else:Katniss
  5. Revisit my project brief.

And once I’ve done that, I can begin methodically building my discernment skills so I can make better prioritization decisions earlier in the process and not find myself trying to extract myself from a bind as deadlines loom. This great resource from wonder tracker and our intrepid guide in this challenge Jeffrey Davis, is a good place to start.


Exercising Priorities

Sometimes, when feeling overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to put everything but the absolutely essential aside for a while. It can help give space and perspective. It can give a reprieve from the stress. The problem is, if allowed to go on for too long, opting out can lead to all kinds of nasty side effects. Like disconnection from people we care about, missed deadlines, or a crippling sense of ennui.

When those specters begin to raise their ugly heads, it’s time to face the overwhelm head-on. And one of the best ways to do that is to schedule an in-home, unplugged, full or half-day personal retreat. Now, I’m not talking about one of those personal pampering spa days, here. I’m talking about a serious work session, complete with lists, white boards, office supplies, and the whole nine yards.

Here’s what I did with mine:

  1. Pull your supplies together–For me, those included yellow legal pads, my favorite pen, 4″x6″ lined yellow Post-It notes, unlined 3″x3″ yellow Post-It notes, a tablet of 18″x24″ newsprint, a 2’x3′ cork board, some tacks, an easel, a box of crayons, my recent journals and project notebooks, and a couple of empty binders and sets of dividers.
  2. Set up your space–I cleared off my desk except for the items listed above, set the cork board on the easel, tacked the newsprint to the cork board, and lined up my crayons.
  3. Category / Subcategory Mind Map
    Category / Subcategory Mind Map

    Make your first list–I started with big categories, first writing them down on paper, then transferring them mind-map-style to the easel. That way I could brainstorm in a more free-form way, while also being able to see the relationships between the different categories. Mine were: Writing, Art, Prepping,,, and Self.

  4. Add subcategories for each big category–For example, my Self category included Spirit, Love, Fun, Learning, Health, Time, Home, and Money. Writing included Poetry, Short Stories, Novels, and Non-Fiction/Esssays. Once completed, my category list had 6 items, and my subcategory list had 37.
  5. Comprehensive Project Lists
    Comprehensive Project Lists

    Create an open-project list for each subcategory–This is where I pulled out the lined Post-Its and just started jotting down everything that I am currently working on, thinking of working on, or started working on but didn’t finish. Include all your ideas big and small–this is where the journals and notebooks come in handy.  It is also where the reasons behind the overwhelm begin to become abundantly clear. But don’t let that entice you to truncate your lists. Putting everything in there is crucial to later steps. In the category of writing, I had one novel in progress, three waiting to be written, three more waiting for edits, two non-fiction book ideas plus a memoir I’ve been making notes on for a couple of years, one short story, a comic book that is partially written, a variety of poems in various states from idea to finished, and a commitment to write a poem a day during the month of April, so 13 discrete items plus a hoard of poems. Under the Art | Quilts area I have 11 unfinished, 22 planned but un-started, ideas for 14 distinct quilt series, and a list of 8 skills I want to learn related to quilting, for a grand total of 56 discrete items.

  6. Take a short break to calm your respiratory and heart rate–Drink some water, have a snack, go for a short walk. The good news is, dumping all of these items out of your brain and onto a page frees up a lot of space for the next phase of the process.
  7. Pick a category, review all its project lists, and highlight the most important item(s) –Start with the easiest one first. For me, it was the project lists under Writing. They were easy for two reasons. First, there weren’t that many items on each list, and second, I already had my priorities in mind. I had decided before I started the 30 day poetry challenge that I would be focusing exclusively on writing poems this month, not reviewing or editing. I also am planning a research trip for the current novel early next month, which means I will need to review my notes and content before I go, to make the most of the trip, so Consequence gets highlighted. And because I prefer to focus on one big project at a time, and because I’m not super inspired by any of the others, everything else goes on hold. So that’s two items under writing–a daily challenge, and some novel research. Not too bad. A couple of other hints: 1. Choose a specific period of time to help focus your prioritization–I chose the month of April.  2. Unless you are doing a 6 month plan, try not to highlight more than a couple of items per category unless they are really small/easy or already habitual. That also means that some lists and even some categories may not have any items prioritized–and that’s okay.
  8. Do the same for the rest of the categories.
  9. Compile a master priority list sorted by category–If you find yourself balking at the length of your list, or you have too many big projects, take another pass to review which ones belong on the list. If they all have to stay, consider breaking down your time period into smaller increments, for example, I prioritized by month, but created action lists by week. So even though reviewing my novel’s content has to be done in April, it doesn’t have to be done until the end of the month.
  10. Priority Lists
    Priority Lists

    Create a list of first/next steps for each priority item–For example, there are two small quilts on my quilting list. I know there is no way I can get them both done this week, especially with so much else going on. But I can still make progress on them. For the first quilt, my first/next step is to cut out the fabric. For the second, it’s to schedule time for the long-arm quilting machine. There may not be time available this week, but at least I’ll have it set up, so I can move on to the next step–basting. The simpler and easier the first step, the more likely you will be to get it done. If you want to get really organized, consider creating a list of all the steps for you key projects so you won’t get delayed by having to figure out what to do next.

  11. Assign dates to each item on the list–Add them to your calendar and don’t forget to book time on your schedule to get them done.
  12. Hang the list where you will see it every day–ideally multiple times a day. Mine’s next to my computer where I can’t miss it.
  13. (OPTIONAL) Consider setting up a binder to hold the lists you’ve created and any other information relevant to this planning process or that might help the next time around. I’m including my current project lists, as well as a running tally to add to or check things off of as projects are completed or priorities change. It will probably also include book and other resource lists, lists of classes, and whatever else speaks to me.

And now, one caveat. You know how I told you to make sure you write absolutely everything down on your project lists? You don’t always have to. Some categories or subcategories themselves may still be in the idea phase without any projects yet assigned. For example, Prepping–I know that there are 10 more subcategories after Assess and Plan, but I’m not even going to think about them until I get to Plan. And even then, I will probably only think about one at a time as I finish the one before.

Despite the 12 point checklist, I found this exercise extremely helpful and focusing. And now that I have my weekly list, I can forget about all the other projects until my next planning session. And, of course, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Are you thinking about giving this a try? I’d love to hear how it goes.



Sometimes answering is hard because you don’t know where to start. Other times, it’s hard because you don’t know where to stop.

#LiveTheQuest – 4:
What skill set do you need and want to develop or to hone? #skill
Between a naive hobbyist amateur and a signature artist is a curious apprentice. If you ever lose the apprentice’s edge, you risk either keeping your head in the sands of fear or in the clouds of arrogance.

To live your question and respond to your challenges differently, what new skill set do you need and want to develop this quarter in order to execute your one project or something else exceptionally well? What existing skill set do you need and want to hone and sharpen? How can you do so more intentionally?


Just because I’ve managed to keep myself alive all these years, doesn’t mean I have a clue about how to treat myself well. Eight times out of ten, I consider food a chore. The ninth time it fills me with dread. And that last one, it fills me with joy (but usually only when it involves things that are bad for me). And sleep? I love the idea, but somehow that love doesn’t translate into action.

I need to learn the difference between taking care of myself and treating myself with care. And once I do, I need to develop the skills that those unfamiliar actions require, like cooking, and turning off the computer before midnight, and learning when to say no. Which brings us to skill set number 2…

Letting Go

Today at work, my boss and I were talking about my work schedule. She told me she has hesitated to ask me about taking on more hours because she knows how busy I am. But when pressed, neither one of us could say what, exactly, I am so busy doing. Working, cleaning, errand-ing, Facebooking, planning, recovering, writing, blogging, sewing, dreaming, seeing… living?

But the fact is, much of what I spend my time on (and sometimes who I spend my time with) has nothing to do with my priorities, or even my interests. A lot of it has to do with digging through piles trying to find things. A lot of it has to do with things that other people want from me. A lot of it has to do with should-ing. A lot of it has to do with distracting myself from all of those things. And a lot of it has to do with trouble prioritizing amid a sea of too many daily decisions.

So how do I fix it?

  • Let it go
  • Just say no
  • And…

Habit Building

One good way to cut down the overwhelm of excess decision making, aside from culling clutter and other distractions, is to automate as much of our routines as we can by turning them into habits. According to, a habit is:

An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

Almost involuntary–that’s what I’m talking about. And so is SJ Scott, author of Habit Stacking. Not only does he talk about the best ways to create repeatable, habit-forming routines, he also gives us tons of great suggestions for the kinds of things that work best (spoiler: discreet, simple actions that take less than five minutes to complete). String together a set that can be linked to each other and last no more than 20 minutes, and you have a recipe for success. Identifying these actions and honing their order is a skill that I’m already working on, and once I get my morning and evening routines set, I’ll see what others I can come up with (like writing perhaps).

Writing & Editing

The truth is, I already write every day–in my journal, the contents of which vary widely from story building, to bitch sessions, to To Do lists, to dreams, to whatever else flits through my early morning (and often late night) mind. But working on actual projects–a novel, poetry, blog posts–is something that happens sporadically at best (or in an intense, focused burst usually inspired by a challenge like NaNoWriMo). To be able to work on a project consistently, perhaps even slowly (dare I say mindfully?) over time? That is a skill I would love to build. Because let’s face it, as a crafter, November is insane enough without trying to squeeze in 50,000 words.

And while we’re on the subject of words, I need to add editing to my skills list–not just editing in general. I’ve already been told by many people that I have both talent and skill for that… just not when it comes to my own work. I have full drafts of 5 novels, three of which may even be worth polishing, an assortment of short stories, and enough poems to fill a book (maybe more) which are all currently languishing in some form of filing black hole, because when it comes down to it, the razor-sharp perception and eagle eye for character, story, and prose that I can wield with precision for other people’s work, goes all cloudy when I look at mine. And if I am ever going to make a real go at this writing thing (aside from a few published poems here and there) I need to figure this out.

Sewing Techniques, & Technology

As with writing, I have a ton of ideas for quilts I want to make–many of which I just plain don’t have the skill for. Hand piecing, quilting, appliqué (regular and reverse), and embellishment for example. Structural 3D for another. Also, piecing curves, making my own patterns, dyeing my own fabric, making, mending, and altering clothes and accessories. And I’m still a beginner with free-motion quilting, paper piecing, machine appliqué, working with non-fabric materials, and can always use more work on my rotary cutting (I just never really got the hang of it).

And then there is the world beyond fabric and thread–the world of sewing technology. I have a computerized sewing machine with over 250 decorative stitches, including two alphabets, none of which I have ever used. It also includes a memory feature where you can save stitch settings and combinations for repeated use which I have also never used. Sure I can stitch, and ditch quilt, and even do some limited free-motion, but I want more. Why shell out the money for a hot rod if you’re never going to take it out of first gear? And there are other machines out in the world that I want to learn. I’m pretty good with the sit-down long arm which is basically a mechanical with a speed control and needle up/down, but what about the 26″ long arm on the 10 foot frame that I played with at AQS QuiltWeek? The one with the stitch regulator that it’s almost impossible to outrun and the advanced computer where you can select pre-programmed designs (or upload or create your own) and have the robot stitch them out for you? It’s the kind of machine that could launch 1000 ships (or a serious quilting business) and since we will be hosting one in the store, I plan to learn that thing inside out.

And I can’t forget the EQ7 software (finally out for Mac) that lets you design quilts digitally, even create and print patters (that can even be sold), and the Artistic Edge digital cutter that can whip through appliqué cutting in a flash… and the list goes on.

Sure, I can’t do it all now, but with a little discernment, I should be able to prioritize, starting with two techniques that I want to learn for one more reason than just improving my craft.

Mindfulness Practice

I have known for a long time that I need to find a mindfulness practice that works for me. Sitting never has. Fortunately, I believe I finally have a couple of leads: hand stitching and free-motion quilting. Aside from learning the hows of the techniques themselves, I will also need to build skill in the mindfulness components: remaining present, observing without judgement, letting go of the chatter in my mind. I’m planning to try doodling and coloring in mandalas as well.


And lastly, discernment, because the truth is, I want to learn or improve my skills at all the things. Prepping, homesteading, house building, sustainable power, blogging, French, Japanese, Spanish, Scots Gaelic, Celtic history and lore, photography, spec-fic, tarot, experimental poetry, how to build a business, how to decide which business to build, to read all the books, to see all the movies… you get the picture.

Luckily, this year, I have my priorities to help guide me: Health, Creative Work, Relationships, and Learning, in that order. Reading all the books can wait. First comes eating, sleeping, and being kind to myself. Eye on the prize.