Are you a gamer?

I’m a big fan of board games. I grew up in a family of gamers (video, board, card; you name it, we played it), and we spent a lot of time hanging out and playing generic and easy-to-access games like Jenga, Uno, Monopoly, Aggravation, Sorry…you get the picture.

Now that we’re all adults, we’ve become a hyper-competitive group of strategic gamers who are in it for the long haul. Recently, games like King of Tokyo, Stone Age and Galaxy Trucker have been on our replay lists. If you’re still stuck playing games from when you were 8 years old, you need to step up your game. (Yes, of course that pun was intended).

Seriously? Board games?

Yes, board games. They’re more engaging than television, and there are so many that stretch your imagination and engage your critical thinking muscles more than you’d expect.

One of my goals for this year is to play more games with the specific goal of interacting with my fiance and family more. While it might mean owning more “stuff” (I’ll have to develop a plan for curating my growing board/dice/card game collection), these games hold great value to me. They’re functional, and they bring joy to my life.They also bring a healthy dose of friendly competition (eh, let’s be honest – “out for blood” comes up a lot in my family). Success in games like Settlers of Catan often depends on both your negotiating skills and your ability to bluff (hey, I don’t want people to know that I’m going to steal “Longest Road” until I can take it without contest).

If you want to know what kinds of games I’m talking about, check it out:

We don’t mess around.

Games for two

Being away from my family leaves my fiance and I to our own devices. Do we turn on Netflix and waste away the night? Okay, yeah sometimes. It’s a habit we’re trying to break.

But we’ve been able to come across some really great games for just the two of us, and we’ve been having a blast. “Yinsh” is a new favorite of ours – and might be one for those interested in minimalist design to check out.

Yinsh

It’s like Othello on very confusing, triangular steroids. Only it’s not as difficult as it first seems, and is comparable to doing a two-person Sudoku puzzle where your opponent can scramble the numbers to muddle your plans for complete domination. Pattern recognition, strategy and a clear mind are required to get the most out of this game.

Yinsh Board

If you ever need board game suggestions or have any to share, let me know! I’m always open to learning new games and sharing what I find with others.

Note: if you’re unconvinced, consider what Seth Godin has to say about Candyland in his book Linchpin:

Author Steven Johnson hates the board game Candyland and all board games like it. I hate them even more than he does.

‘I realize that games of pure chance have a long history, but that doesn’t make them any less moronic,’ he writes. Here’s how Candyland is played: You pick a card and do what it says. Repeat.

This is early training in agenda following. Indoctrination in obedience. We teach kids that the best way to win is to mindlessly pick cards, follow instructions, and wait for it all to turn out okay.

Sheesh. What a disaster.

My decree: If you own a copy, burn it. Replace it with Cosmic Encounters or chess or a big box filled with wooden blocks. Please don’t look at school or even board games the same way again. If they’re teaching your kids or future employees to be map readers and agenda followers, make them stop.”  – Page 193

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Overscheduling (Or, Why I Flake)

Today, I get an F. A big, horrible red F. F for flaky.

Lately, it seems as if I’ve asked for rain checks or reschedules more than I’ve actually gone through with my plans. I’ve enthusiastically accepted invitations a week ago that I now have to turn down for one reason or another. It kills me. And I know it’s not helping me form any solid relationships.

What’s going on?

A huge misconception of time.

I’m a chronic overscheduler, a misinterpreter of how much time I really need to get things done. I have a feeling that many of my young, vibrant, social cohorts are the same way – we gladly RSVP for things well beyond our comprehension at the time. For me, that is often any time after 12 hours from now.

Any TimeOn top of work and more work, I have great (and sometimes overwhelming) aspirations: writing, exercising, crocheting, sewing, reading, playing music…the list goes on and on. I also have a fiance that I live with and that I usually get to see only briefly – although I’m so grateful to at least see him every day, since we’ve had our fair share of long distance.

But that list of excuses still doesn’t explain why I’m consistently letting down people I care about. It turns out, I’m just not good at saying no, at setting limits. But since everything around us has become on-demand, it’s easier than ever to pause and come back for it all later rather than passing on it the first time around.

I’ve had enough. It’s time to fix this weird, broken clock that I’ve been operating from for the past couple of years.Stop

My proposed cure(s) for flakiness

This isn’t one-size-fits all. It’s my starting point, so I’m sure it will evolve with time. I want to hear your tips, too!

  • Anything that is scheduled during the work week should be a no – until it can be reasonably defended as a yes. Or, maybe we all just need to be more aware that there’s really only 4 or 5 hours in the evening in which we have to eat, work, clean and the like. Not much time for gallivanting around town.
  • Don’t immediately tell someone “I’ll be there!” – take an hour or a day or two to confirm your plans and to evaluate your workload. Saves them the disappointment, saves you the embarassment.
  • Know priorities. Create a numbered list if you have to, and check your time against it – do you have room in your time budget for a quick coffee with a friend, or are there real and terrible consequences to delaying other tasks?
  • Schedule me-time, or downtime or naptime or whatever name you prefer – don’t book your days straight without having a little time to sit and stare at a wall or listen to classical music sans phone or conversation. That does so much more good than you think it might.
  • And finally, my largest struggle – single tasking. Personal schedules often look more like something a small army should handle, and so no matter how hard we work, the work is never done. I’ve started to resign myself to one big “to-do” per day after work. Not five. Not eight. One. At work, I’ve been in the helpful habit of listing a few little tasks to work on as well as one or two focuses for the day.

And to close, don’t sacrifice sleep. If you’re truly overbooked and your calendar is bursting at the seams, the last thing you need is to do it all while running on a few winks and a leaky caffeine battery.

Knowing When to Unplug

photo 1

I’ve been having trouble unplugging lately. I work most of my day at a computer, bowing out of the office for a half hour walk at lunchtime, and arrive home and immediately boot up my laptop while cooking up some dinner. Most days, it’s my personal laptop instead of my work laptop, but still – this adds up to about 75% of my day being behind a screen.

Many Millennials are seeking jobs that offer an emphasis on work/life balance, and luckily for me, I feel I’ve found one. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m constantly on my computer or phone. What happens when this constant connection gets to us?

Headaches. Trouble concentrating. For me, my happiness levels drop and I become tired without having actually done anything. When do we stop? Ideally, before this all starts! Some of my best evenings have been where I’ve failed to charge a laptop so it winds up dead and unusable, or when I have forgotten my phone in the other room (or even better – at home).

I won’t claim to be even remotely well-practiced in unplugging and logging off – in fact, I’m writing this post for myself as a reminder of how much I need to make room for this in my life. I mean, how easy is it to sink into a Netflix marathon after work? Easier than Easy Mac. But, with that said, here are my best ideas for unplugging

  • Read a book. A what? A nook? No. A book. Sit on your patio or go find a bench or a grassy spot in a nearby park. Spend time in silence, reading whatever you want to read – you’re not in school anymore! You have the time to choose your own textbooks and novels now.
  • Nature, as much as possible. Even if it’s a few trees and a pond in the middle of an office park. My 30-minute walks at lunchtime are always a wonderful way to rejuvenate myself before finishing up a day of work. As a disclaimer, though, I do usually spend the time talking on the phone with a member of my family. I consider this second-best to in-person socialization, but since I’m not looking at a screen, I count it as being unplugged. Technicalities.
  • Spend time with animals. Stop texting while you’re half-heartedly petting your dog. Pet the dog like you mean it. Like you’re not a robot. My rabbits sure know when I’m not paying attention to them, and they take full advantage (my carpet is in tatters – another story for another day).
  • Cook dinner. I’m so anti-boxed foods these days. First of all, I’m scared of the weird, unpronounceable ingredients. Secondly, I cherish the time I get to spend away from screens and interacting with raw, beautiful vegetables. Is that just me? It might just be me.
  • Sit in silence. Do it alone. Do it with a friend, a significant other, a stranger. I don’t care. Just sit in silence and take in the noises around you. Immerse yourself in the real world, instead of lightly treading through a weird, digital reality. Practice listening and being a spectator instead of being actively involved with commenting, following, liking, emailing, chatting, etc. This is my biggest challenge. Silence makes me, and many people I know, uneasy.

I can’t say that I practice all of these every day. I can’t even say that I practice some of these some of the days. All I know is that these screens are starting to get to me, and I desperately need to make time to unplug. How do you skip the screens?

 

 

My Break from Pinterest

That’s right. I’m officially off of Pinterest for the next 9 or 10 months. I’ve already shared my opinion about Pinterest before on this blog, and I wanted to reiterate it now that I’m engaged (gasp!) I’ve spent my fair share of time pinning away dreamy things on Pinterest and thinking of the day when I’ll walk down the aisle.

Pinterest makes me think everything in a wedding looks so rosy. Not quite. I’m sure I’m going to be tired, my teeth aren’t going to be glowing white and I’m absolutely, 100% sure I’ll be sweaty. (Sorry for that–but it’s true). I’ve sworn off Pinterest while planning so that I can clearly imagine my wedding the way I want it to look and not be inundated with possible alternatives that might make me second guess myself about silly things like colors and the amount of mason jars I can realistically fit into my decor.

Pinterest has started to come out as an added stress during wedding planning, setting unrealistic expectations for the day. With all of those beautiful and widely varying images laid out in front of me, I can’t help but think I’d want it all and then be disappointed when it doesn’t come true.

My less-than-perfect fix? Google images. That way I can only see precisely what I type in to the search bar. I see pink and green weddings. I see paper flowers. I do not see royal blue weddings with 24-Karat details. I do not see purple macaroons or yellow and white fresh Easter Lilies. I’ve picked my colors and my flowers. Pinterest, you’re just too tempting.

See you on the flip side, Pinterest!

Getting Stuck in a Rut

I’ve been stuck in a rut lately. Wake, exercise, work, eat, sleep. I’ve been fairly removed from anything else. Occasionally I’ll read a chapter or so of a book that I’ve been meaning to read, and sometimes I’ll toss in a trip to the grocery store, but that’s pretty much my routine.

All work and no play...

All work and no play…

There’s nothing wrong with routines, in fact I think they have enormous potential to make us more productive and creative. Scheduling time to pursue our creative endeavors can allow us the freedom to truly express ourselves. But what happens when there’s not enough hours in a day to schedule our creative time? For me, writing this blog is something that I try to pencil in as often as I can, but other obligations override it: more work, trying to keep up with my exercise routine, playing with my rabbits, sleeping.

I’m working on getting out of this rut and getting back into a well-rounded schedule and these are the activities and exercises I’m going to try.

  • Taking ten minutes a day to truly do nothingThe idea of meditation intimidates me, but when it’s rephrased as simply “doing nothing” and observing my thoughts, I’m more inclined to try it. I haven’t yet sat down to do this, but I’m looking forward to seeing how well I handle sitting still for that long.
  • As soon as I find myself in a rut, I’ll get up and take a walk. This morning, I found myself completely unmotivated, so I put on one of my signature pump up songs and hopped on my stationary bike for five minutes. Last night, I was getting tired as I was chipping away at some work on my computer, so I dropped everything and went for a ten minute walk. My usually racing mind appreciates this time to just focus on physical activity instead of brain-draining tasks.
  • Accomplish something smaller. This morning, after attempting to motivate myself, I didn’t start right in to my to do list. I washed my dishes and then cut up a bunch of plastic bags and made them into a bouquet. I felt accomplished (and a bit ridiculous), and I was then able to make myself some coffee and jump in with this blog post. Starting off by accomplishing smaller tasks makes me feel more prepared to tackle larger ones.
  • Creating habits. This is something that I’ve been attempting to do by working out every morning. I’ve been horrible about talking myself out of this lately, so I need to get back to it. (I recently read The Power of Habit–a fascinating read if you’re interested in the science behind habits) Insert your desired habit after a certain trigger in your life–like waking, eating lunch, or after you brush your teeth at night. It doesn’t matter when you do it, but by giving your mind a trigger to complete your desired habit, you’ll be more likely to create a routine. (Hello , flossing!)
  • Create a real (or even imagine) community that depends upon your progress. My goal is to run a mini-marathon with my mother in the fall. Honestly, that might not happen, but she’s able to check in on me and encourage me to continue running. When I think about blogging, I find myself noting that I have a few followers, and that they may be looking forward to my next posts. I have friends who ask about my blog. Creating this sense of responsibility may be limiting to some, but I personally am motivated by being held accountable for things I say I’m going to do.

So what do you do when you’re stuck in a rut?

Learn to Love Solitude

It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. Rainer Maria Rilke

Living and being alone is difficult. But loneliness isn’t always a curse. In fact, it’s nice.

I’ve lived alone for a total of about two years and have had the good fortune of being able to practice quite a bit of solitude. I’ve learned to hang out with myself and rekindle some of my old favorite hobbies–I’ve started running, writing and reading like mad again. I don’t have TV or even Netflix to distract me. My evenings are quiet, but productive.

Resist the temptation to always fill your solitude with your cell phone and laptop. Take it seriously and use it to create habits that you can keep once you’re no longer alone. Pare down, organize, create, focus on what you love. Don’t seek distraction.

It’s good to be alone. Once you get into it, you’ll find it’s a simple way to clear out your mind. “How to Be Alone,” a YouTube video I came across quite by accident last year, is ultra-inspiring if you’re just starting your solitary journey:

 

While it does help me to have rabbits to interact with, I’m sure I’d find myself just as occupied without them. Have you had the privilege of enjoying solitude for an extended period of time?

The Cleanse: Mobile Games

So, I’m going to start off my tech cleanse series by highlighting mobile games. Let’s face it, we’re all attached to our phones. Unless you’re still using a flip phone (and really, kudos if you are), you likely have one or two games or applications that you’re hooked on. It’s easy to start up Angry Birds while you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting for friends, waiting at a coffee shop, the list goes on.

It’s certainly fun, BUT what happens when the mobile game gets in the way of our work and our time with loved ones? I got into a rut playing a particularly addictive jewel-matching game as soon as I woke up and right before bed. I’d play it instead of sharing my day with my boyfriend and friends. In short, it poisoned my social life. It added no value to my life, and was a black hole for my free time.

I uninstalled most of the games on my phone. I only have 6 games nowadays, compared to 16 or so. I never played them all, I kept them around because I thought someday I’ll get back into this. I don’t allow myself to play those games at home or at work.

But what do I do with all my time?

SoundGecko

I found it easier to replace gaming with another mobile activity, in order to ease the transition. I created a SoundGecko account and downloaded the app, and began listening to blogs that I had always wanted to read whenever I had a few minutes. The nice thing is that the length of each blog post is listed, so I can pick and choose various articles depending on how much time I have.

Now I’ve been catching up on blogs like Becoming Minimalist and Mr. Money Mustache, and loving every minute of it. What’s more, I can also do other things I’ve put off like doing dishes and putting the final touches on my latest crocheting project. Productivity at last!

Remove the trivial distractions. I challenge you to uninstall three of your mobile games today, and spend a whole week without touching the rest of them. You’ll find you have more free time than you think you do.