This is the third post in our series of 52 Weeks of Getting Things Done, and in the month of January I am working on getting computer, blogging and social media goodies done. I have to ask, what was I thinking last week when I set myself numerous tasks the very same week that we started a fresh new school year. Let me explain for those readers that don’t homeschool… when you have taken a significant break from homeschooling and head back into it, even if you carry on from exactly where you left off, each of your students will take this as a sign to say “mam” every five seconds and claim they have no idea what they should be doing, other than just hanging about waiting for you to instruct them… truth is that isn’t how we homeschool and something they only try in the first week and then figure out that isn’t our style and carry on as usual. So you won’t see a new about page and you won’t see a new media page up on the blog, I do have roughs, and outlines, and I have a whole lot of new blog goodies that I have been working on, just waiting to launch.
Se7en Steps to Getting Your Work Flow in Order
Meanwhile I got to thinking, if I am getting things done then it is genuinely time to start organising my work flow – I know I can hear you laughing out loud… but until last year, I never considered blogging work at all. It was just something I added onto my day once everything else was done. So picture this… running a home (full time job), parenting a gang (full time job), homeschooling the same gang (another full time job), and add in a little volunteering, and my working day finishes at the earliest 11pm every night. And then I would start blogging, for as long as it took. This meant that I was getting little to no sleep for a number of years, long after my smallest children had outgrown sleepless nights, I was still up nights and all nighters, ahem, were far to routine. This does not a happy mother make and last year I took my appalling sleep habits in hand… and blogging got a whole lot slower. For the first time I realised that the amount of time I put into blogging was another full time job. So definitely time to figure out how to do all the things I do, and sleep and blog. I love blogging, it is here to stay, we just need to figure out a way to fit it into our day.
Find Your Sleep Rhythm: You cannot work if you haven’t slept. Period. If you get to your computer too tired to type, let alone too tired to think… then you should definitely be sleeping. I decided to make sleep a priority… and just go to bed, in fact I don’t blog every day and on nights when I am just too tired I no longer sit at my computer hoping that a blog post will jump out at me. Instead I reward myself with a trip to bed, I am tired enough to have earned it. The feeling of wellness after a good night’s sleep is phenomenal and the amount of quality work you can get done completely removes the effort that goes into trying to work when you are just too tired.
Split Your Work into Chunks: I always considered blogging to be a chunk of work at the end of the day. Turns out that just isn’t so, you can break it up. Turns out I have three distinct types of work that all fall under the umbrella of blogging. You may have more, you may have less… whatever you have, you can’t actually do them all at once. The first type of blog work for me is responding to email and social-media-ing… sharing and engaging with our community is imperative; the second type of blog work is the creative side of blogging, creating content, generating ideas, writing and taking photographs, actually doing the stuff that we blog about; and finally editing the photographs and getting posts ready to launch. I have always done all three of these tasks simultaneously at the end of the day. Realising that I was continuously multi-tasking and distracting myself from the task at hand, was a bit of an eye opener!!!
Finding the Time to Work: Believe it or not, epiphany warning, if you go to bed earlier, then you can wake up a little bit earlier. I know, things your mother tells you and you never believe… I am not your mother, and I am telling you… that if you are going to bed earlier… at the same time as your kids even, you will naturally wake up earlier. Truth. In that early morning slot, while the house is still quiet, before my kids begin their day and after I have read a little bit, I do all my social-media-ing… tweeting, instagram, pinning… and emails. What I don’t get done I leave until the next day and at the end of the week I drop it all together… I tend not to bother with emailing and such over weekends. The early morning turns out to be a good time for me to get all those little things done that you don’t necessarily love doing, but need to get done in order for our blog to keep rolling. Honestly, I am not at my best first thing, but I can reply to things and read other folks blogs and leaves comments.
Figure out Your Best Time: My best time to work, is towards the end of the afternoon. That time after school, after our rest, when I used to get into the kitchen and start dinner. Turns out that that is when my brain really gets into gear and likes to create, just before the evening rush. So now I know I try to do all my blog creating then. Dinner can start a little later, when I am relaxed because I know I have done the major work of the day. Just one thing, I have eight kids, and if it was easy to work with a gang of kids around I would never have started the bad habit of blogging all night. Turns out, that you can actually blog with kids around… and this is how I do it…
Consider Wearing a Hat!!!: I am not kidding… my kids need a distinct physical sign that says, “Now is not a good time to interrupt the mother person.” I don’t want to be in a room out the way, with the door closed, that would be crazy not to mention dangerous. I am guessing that with one or two kids asking for something once every minute… that it would be difficult to get anything done. Well with eight… it is impossible. After an entire morning spent doing school with them, and yes I do completely ignore my phone and the internet during school time, our kids have my full attention… and after lunch we read and chill together… they tend to drift away in the afternoon and work (some might call it play) on their own projects. It appears to be a good work slot for all of us, and they know that if I am wearing my hat… that they need not bother me for incidentals. I just have to point at the hat and they wander off again. It works for us.
Set Some Limits: The limits are mine… once I get started I can just keep at it… but I make sure that I have a working blog post before I get up from my desk, and then I stop. It is very easy to get distracted, check out a few blogs, have a look what happening in twitter and like a couple of photographs on instagram… and before I blink, all my blog time has been eaten up. So I do have a few ground rules, no engaging on the internet when I have a post to write and get the post prepared as far as I can before starting dinner. Just knowing that there is a physical limit, makes me concentrate harder and get the work out of the way. And trust me, a number of folk are quite happy to let me know that it is time to start dinner. Not to mention, quite a few folk are trained to start dinner if I am too busy.
The Very End of the Day: Once my kids are in bed, blog posts are pretty much pre-planned from earlier in the day… photographs are taken, se7en points are jotted down and I literally have to edit photographs and get the post ready to launch. With my new sleep plan, if I am too tired, I skip this and head for bed. Honestly, I don’t for a moment believe that our followers are holding their breath for the next blog post… and I know posting on a schedule is key and all that… but I am only human, and if a post has to wait a day or two, or even three… the internet will not break. Talking of breaks…
Take a Break it’s often the Most Productive Thing to Do: You don’t have to be in a state of collapse before you take a break… Long before that stage, you can actually stop and read a book you would like to read, watch a movie, take your kids for a walk… they will play and you will be in the great outdoors… it sounds crazy, but often the most productive thing you can do is refresh brain, so that it is good and ready for work a little later. In order to be creative, and blogging is creative, your mind needs time to potter about and relax… you can’t just go go go all the time. Rest is the key to creating fresh content.
The challenge to getting things done this week is to get the sleep you need, and once you have that, find your most productive time to work and really work then. If you can’t get to your computer because you are watching kids at that time, then make a plan to get something done… at the very least have a notebook and pen with you so that you can jot down ideas. In order to get anything done you need to be rested, and then you need to work with your rhythm and not against it.
Previous Posts in our 52 Weeks of Getting Things Done Series
Firstly, the books are printed on lovely strong paper (using sustainably sourced papers), young artists can use whatever materials they like to create beautiful art on the pages. The books are locally created and produced, covering topics that are familiar and interesting for young folk who want to know more about nature and the environment. Fabulous for local kids and for kids overseas who want to know more about our local wildlife. All the information is presented in a fun and interesting way and doesn’t feel like “school work” at all. Each spread includes a picture to colour, and a poem… as well as other fun snippets of information and puzzles to fill in, ideas on things to make and create and interesting factoids about the animal featured on the colouring page.
The fynbos book is filled with animals that you would find in a fynbos environment… animals that we might be familiar with and other animals that we are dying to see. Birds and reptiles, mammals and insects… a great variety of creatures great and small. Each animal has its name in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.
The seashore book includes a great variety of local sea life, and lots of environmental snippets that go with it. There is also information on plastic pollution, the currents around the coast of South Africa… and factoids on all sorts of interesting things, for instance how they put numbered rings on African penguins… and how long a seal can hold its breathe underwater.
We have a set of activity books to giveaway. A fynbos activity book and a seashore activity book to give to one lucky winner. If you would like to take a closer look at the books, then head over to the Creative Nature website, where you can download a couple of printable pages.
This GiveAway works in the usual way, leave a comment before the end of play on the 28 January 2017. We will draw and publish the winner in the following Fabulous Fun Post. I won’t respond to your comments as we do on our other posts because we don’t want to be included in our own giveaway. Our GiveAways are open to everyone: If you have already won a GiveAway before never fear – enter away. If you live on the far side of the world – enter away.
We would like to thank Creative Nature who supplied us with “Fynbos and Seashore Colour and Activity Books”, one set to review and one set to GiveAway. We were not paid for the review and the opinions expressed are as usual, entirely our own.
A weekend of birthday fun, and ice creams from the Ice Cafe in Kalk Bay…
Because a birthday wouldn’t be a birthday without ice-cream…
We took an unexpected mid-summer break for a few weeks, the father person was on leave and who can do any school when he is around distracting us!!! All in the best possible way of course. I have that slightly raspy voice from back to school week, when I get back into the spirit of literally reading-a-loud all day…
Somehow the last thing I think about when it is time for a new phone is essential phone cover that you need to go with it. Last year when the father person got a new phone he went looking around for a phone cover and found one that, when you bought it helped to fund more trees, for our tree planting friends at Greenpop. How cool is that… so he came home with a cover with a map of Africa on it. And then and there I knew that I wouldn’t forget a phone cover next time my phone contract said it was time for an upgrade…
Last week I began our year of Getting Things Done Series, and oh my, we are going to need a year. I did get something done almost every day this past week, including deleting thousands of photographs. Tell me I am not the only person who has seasons when they delete so many photographs… and the further back I go the more I wonder why I had to hang on to so many photographs. I don’t anymore, its not that I don’t take photographs, but I do take far fewer that I did five years ago, say. Anyway, I digress. Sticking with the theme of Getting Computer-ish Things Done in January, I thought we could talk about getting a whole ton of blog stuff done. It turns out that there is a long list of things we can do to keep our blogs up and running smoothly… not to mention looking appealing and welcoming to the visitors that pass us by. This is the week that I am going to dive in and upgrade and tidy a couple of things on blog. Things I have been putting off forever and really it is time to just do them…
Se7en+ 1 Things to Get Done on Your Blog This Very Week
Refresh That Ancient About Page: Just stop reading this post for a second and take a look at your about page… and take a look at when you last updated it. I can just look at the age of our kids on that page and I know it has actually been years… years!!! I used to update mine annually… I kind of blogaversary tradition, in fact this past year when our blog turned se7en+1 years old… there should have been a big “rah, rah.” All I actually did was take a photograph in order to update our about page and then simply forgot about it.
Refresh Those Other Important Pages: Those other pages alongside your About page… for example your media page and your contact page probably need an upgrade too. I know mine do, and this is their week.
Feature The Work You Love: I need to rearrange the appearance of our blog significantly, the face of our blog just doesn’t represent the focus of our blog anymore. For example, once a year we build a library for an underprivileged school in our region… it is a major project, and we get help from followers all over the world… but a glance at our blog and you wouldn’t know that was a project of ours at all. It is definitely time to think about a redesign.
Clean Up Your Side Bar: Times change, seasons change and in the blog world, that which is cool this week, may not be cool in a year, or even a couple of months time. What most of us do is just add the latest and greatest trend to our sidebars. Go ahead and look at your sidebars and lose those things that really no longer belong there.
Review Your Categories: There is a lot you can do to refresh and renew a blog. When I began blogging I had exactly se7en categories… and it was easy for visitors to find what they were looking for. Not to mention, when we began blogging we had se7en kids under ten, now we have eight kids age se7en and up, and the things we blog about have a very different focus.
Explore Your Blog Stats: It’s time to take a look at the Dashboard page of your blog, not to mention Google Analytics. Take some time this week and really look at your statistics. Just knowing your stats is an interesting exercise. Click on the tables, look at the reports… spend some time there and familiarise yourself. Try things, explore… look at your blog over the past month, the past year… look for the highs and lows. Just do it!!!
Help Your Readers to Find The Posts They Love: It is one thing to expect your followers to find answers to their questions in a hundred posts, it is quite another when they are looking amongst thousands of posts. Your stats will tell you what your most popular posts are and that allows you to think about ways to give your readers more of what they are looking for, and how to answer the questions they might have according to that topic. I need to make a plan to make the posts our readers love the posts that they can easily find.
Get Your Blog Noticed: Another thing that you can glean from your statistics page is where where your readers are coming from. Yes, you can find out which country they are coming from, in fact which cities your readers are coming from and what language they speak. But here I mean, which other social media your readers come from. For our blog, by a very large margin, our readers arrive from pinterest, which means that I need to pay more attention to our presence on pinterest. Not only do I pin things that I think folk will be interested in, but I make sure that I pin posts from our own blog that would interest our pinterest followers. Go ahead… pin a couple of your own posts. Folk that follow you on pinterest don’t necessarily follow your blog… you have to show them a couple of your latest and greatest posts. And if this has you thinking about your other social media, never fear there is definitely going to be a post on how to practically achieve your social media goals.
With all this talk about improving your blog, the question that is crying out for attention is when… when on earth do you find time to blog and raise more than a handful of kids and actually sleep. That’s a question I am going to tackle in next weeks post in our 52 Weeks of Getting Things Done Series…
Previous Posts in our 52 Weeks of Getting Things Done Series
A new year and new projects and so many of our friends have said that they would like to get outdoors more with their kids, so I thought I would share a natural factual nature project that we did. We chose an area of land to monitor… we looked at the wildlife, mostly insects, reptiles and birds, and we learnt about the seasons form looking at the plant life and we got outdoors and had a lot of fun.
Most folk have kept a weather chart with their kids from time to time… and as you know that can be as simple as hot or cold, to very accurate weather data sourced from a weather station… how deep you go into it the details is up to you and your family. This kind of monitoring is exactly that, only it is a little bit more than just the weather. You can observe a bird feeder or a tree in your garden… or go further afield to a local park or even a nature park. The great thing about a Nature Watch is that it can be done by folk of all ages, as a team or on your own… you can create a photo album or keep a journal… the level of work and involvement is entirely up to you.
Read on, read on, down to our video…
Se7en Easy Steps to Nature Monitoring
Decide where your nature spot is going to be: You need to pick a spot that is easy to visit, every day, or each week or once a month… an area close at hand that you can get to without too much trouble on a regular basis. It can be a tree at the bottom of the garden, it can a hedge you walk past on the way to the library each week. Somewhere where you naturally visit in your rhythm of life is good. It is critical not to be too ambitious at this stage, imagine your spot in all weather, at the start of the day, at the end of the day… could you get to it after a long day of work? Think about it carefully. We chose to hike the mountain behind our house every month… but you can choose somewhere much easier if you like… even a pot plant is a spot of nature that you can observe and monitor.
Decide when you are going to take your observations: At the start of the project we marked on the calendar, a day off each month to do the hike for project… it was set and unchangeable. We did not wait for good weather days, or the perfect day. It was a simply pack your backpack the night before and whatever the weather we would head out. We had some really hot days, we had some freezing days and we had some extremely windy days… we learnt a lot about endurance, and doing stuff when you really didn’t feel like it, and the joy of seeing the project through and having something to show for it was worth it. Not to mention many of the days that we thought were not good days turned out to be the best days.
Decide What you want to Monitor – More or Less: You need to decide if you are just going to record everything you see, or if you are just going to look at birds, or plant life. We decided to take a few key photographs each month and then we looked at a different topic more closely… one month we looked at soil, another month rocks, one month the mountain was alive with butterflies so we dashed home to research butterflies. You can’t know exactly what you are going to look for until you are out there… nothing like saying you are going to look at only animals and then you don’t spot any.
Each month we took notes of:
The weather – which you can get from your local weather station.
Birds keeping a list of those we had seen.
Reptiles – watching them closely and looking out for tracks of them.
Insects – where hard to miss… but looking at them a whole lot more closely.
Mammals – we saw traces of them like skat, tracks and so on. Only recently after a year and a half of hiking did we spot an actual mammal while we were hiking.
Sounds – we had a spot we always stopped and where absolutely quiet for, where we just listened to sounds and kept a list of what we had heard.
Birds… we went from knowing zero, to more than handful… our interest is peaked and we will definitely be learning more.
Clouds and Weather Patterns… and weather maps.
Ocean currents and wave action,that we could view from above.
Gather your Gear: My kids absolutely love gear… if a project has gear they are totally into it. We gathered materials to take with us: Maps, a sketchbook and pencils, binoculars, test tubes for tiny collections – like soil samples, a tape measure and so on. And we put together a shelf of reference books as well, so that we could look up things we had seen as soon as we got home.
Gear Up and Get Out: We tried to keep our hikes absolutely the same each time, we left at the same time, we ate the same food, we packed our bags the same way… after a while we had refined to literally “get up and go.” The easier your monitoring spot, the easier it will be to actually get there. My kids knew it was a hike day the next day… bread was baked, water bottles filled and bags were packed so we could easily roll out. I tried to make sure that our days had no other activities on them so that once we were out there we could take our time… stop and photograph things of interest, stop and sketch… chatter about what we see, read a little bit and spend time with each other.
Keeping Track of what we saw: As we hiked some folk kept lists and jotted down a few things and then on a follow up day later in the month we would take out all our reference books and have a nature journaling day. What began as one or two lines at the beginning of the project became pages of things that discovered in books, to enrich the things they had learnt from real live observations.
The Photograph Collection: A big part of our project was taking photographs, we started by taking millions of photographs… and then reduced it to something a little more realistic… The same couple of photographs each time: one at the start of the hike, one or two landmarks special to us, one at the very top of the mountain and finally one over looking the bay. We always took photographs of anything in flower and evidence of animal life. And yes… this project finally got us to print photographs after years of not printing anything at all.
Putting it all Together: At the end of last year we put all our pages and photographs together into a sketchbook. We added a few things that we had collected while hiking, the odd feathers and porcupine quills, as well as a couple of sand samples. And now we have a family sketchbook to remember the time we studied Elsie’s Peak for a year.
A Peak Into Our Monitoring Project on Elsie’s Peak
We made a little video presentation for our friends… (click on the arrow in the picture above, mum, and you will get to see it!!!).
The mountain appeared to recover well, and each time we hiked more new plants were growing and it was exciting to see how the regrowth literally exploded. And then in January 2017 another fire occurred on the mountain and this time our hiking trail was closed for a fair while and we only went up again two months later. At this stage the mountain had not even slightly begun to regrow… the effect of another huge fire within the year had a devastating effect on the fynbos, months later there was little to no recovery. Now almost a year later, the growth is slowly returning and there is a good growth of ground cover and heaps of wild flowers in bloom.
One of the most significant stops on our hike was at a fork in the path where we stopped every time, and were absolutely quiet, listening to all the sounds we could hear… just that moment of quiet in a busy world.
Apart from the hiking we spent a lot of time just looking and observing the world around us, and some folk always loved to draw. This was a project where hands on really did win the day, but there were some great days around the kitchen table where we researched what we had seen, using books that we have reviewed for Struik Nature.
So there you go, a Nature Watch project is as easy or as complicated as you would like it to be. The best thing about a Nature Watch project is that folk of all ages and stages in life, can contribute in a real way to making the project a success. If you count acorns and spiders’ nests in a nearby oak tree, or if you document the life cycle of tadpoles in the local puddle… or if you climb the mountain behind your house, they are all great nature watch projects. May I suggest that you just start, grab a notebook and pen for keeping records and get out there. You can record from just one thing to twenty things, it doesn’t matter what you record… the point is firstly, that you get outdoors and secondly that you notice the ever changing world around you.
I had this idea to sort through all the school stuff before we begin schooling again… one thing led to another and there is chaos on every surface. None of the gang are complaining… clearly if we can’t find a single thing that we need for school then we will just have to carry on playing, as one does!!!
Reading Myself: I made my way through Harry Potter the first, since my gang have challenged me to read the series in two weeks. I am sure it was a month when we spoke about it first… but they have reduced the goal posts somewhat… to the point of unachievable… so I moved on to a new book, a quick holiday read and I am really enjoying it. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, I can see why everyone raves about her writing… it is compelling reading to say the least. I had no problem sitting on the couch reading this book for hours, I had to know what happened next and then next again. Contemporary writing about a guy and a gal… he is a paraplegic because of a motor accident… and she is employed as his carer. Not your traditional boy meets girl kind of a story, and it leaves with a fair amount to think about. Just what I needed to turn the weekend into a holiday for me…
Listening: The plan was that I listen to one classic a month throughout the year and I thought I would begin with something that I knew I liked… and wander my way through it while I cooked dinner. So I chose Pride and Prejudice, narrated by Rosamund Pike. Well forget about a chapter or two while I am cooking dinner… this is all consuming, life is on hold while I listen away. I had so forgotten how I enjoyed the classical classics.
Watching with the Kids: The Tale of Despereaux… Note to self: never watch a movie the day you finish the book… you are still far too much in the heart of the story to enjoy the movie.
Watching Myself: The Dakar Rally… I am a huge fan… I just love the hard work and effort that goes into it. It ticks all the boxes for me: great outdoors, never give up attitude and travel to such a variety of places…
Planning: My 52 Week Series of Getting things done… as one does!!!
Feasting: Roast Peaches for the win… a sugar free desert that all but one love!!!
Discovered: Create a Book Track App… I am going to check it out this week and see how it goes… The idea is that as you read your e-book and there are tons to choose from and plenty of free ones as well, the book has a backing track to go with it… while it rains in your story it will rain in your ears… very cool and something that a couple of my kids will love… I’ll check it out and get back to you all.
Exercise: Well hiking of course… and wondering if we should take the #52Hike challenge… or just keep it low key and rolling along like we normally do…