New Zealand graphic designer and yoga teacher Alissa Smith shares her approach to balancing a life of diverse interests and commitments and being present in whatever you're doing.
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Being present in each area of your life
Alissa Smith is a graphic designer, Les Mills BODYBALANCE® (BODYFLOW® in North America) yoga teacher-in-training, mindfulness meditation teacher, cat lover, aerial hoop enthusiast, and a self-described Kiwi from Auckland, New Zealand.
Alissa left a 14-year job to start a freelance graphic design career. In addition to that work, she teaches yoga as a Lez Mills BodyBalance instructor, and she is completing a 200-hour yoga training, in order to be certified to teach yoga. Alissa also teaches kids yoga through YogaKids.
Keeping track of her schedule is a daily requirement for Alissa, as she works from home on her computer and then needs to be ready to head to the gym to teach yoga.
It is important to Alissa is to be really present in what she is doing at any given time. She can’t be thinking about yoga when designing, and vice versa. For the same reason, Alissa recently deactivated notifications on her phone, knowing that she doesn't need to know everything that is going on at all times. She feels that when you are always receiving notifications, you end up distracted by the sense that there's always some unfinished business.
Balancing interests and commitments
To help maintain the focus she needs, Alissa tries to use a different part of the house for different types of work. She also listens to different music when preparing for yoga class than when she is designing. She tries to mentally prepare for her yoga class by not working on her computer right up to the time she needs to leave to teach. She tries to step out of design mode, and step into yoga mode.
It's important to create a buffer when switching modes. Alissa spends a few days a week just on design work, so she can focus on inward tasks. Those days are typically spent at home, with a schedule of the work she hopes to achieve that day. Her outward work, such as yoga and meetings outside the home, is typically scheduled on the same day. Alissa’s mood and mindset are different on those inward and outward days.
When she's in her creative mode, Alissa enjoys working from home without interruptions. She recommends creating mental space and time to focus and dig deep, and do the work that needs to be done.
Alissa loves her work and has a hard time turning down opportunities. As a result, she can find herself overcommitted. She tries to manage her commitments by using tools such as Nozbe to manage projects and tasks. She's trying to be more realistic about what she can get done. To keep a handle on that, she uses the Nozbe feature that allows you to designate how much time you think a task will take. It is a good way to gauge if you're overcommitting yourself.
Alissa can easily get lost in a job, and hours will fly by. To stay on track, she uses the Pomodoro technique; she also uses an app called Focus Keeper to keep track of time. This gives her the freedom to simply focus on the task at hand, and not worry about watching the clock.
Productivity tools and resources Alissa recommends
Alissa uses TextExpander to help her with spelling mistakes and typos.
One of Alissa’s favorite podcasts is How We Work Now with Julia Roy. Alissa has organized the apps on her phone according to Julia’s suggestions, grouping apps in consistent ways.
A newly discovered favorite podcast for Alissa is The Mindful Kind with Rachael Kable. It gives her ideas as to how she can incorporate mindfulness into her yoga teaching and teaches the importance of being present.
Other favorite tools:
- Evernote (including browser extension) – information management
- Gmail or Inbox for all email
- Multi-forward for Gmail (browser extension) – mostly use this for sending multiple emails to Evernote
- HubSpot – email scheduling
- iCal on Mac / Calendars 5 on iPhone
- Toggl – timekeeping
- Xero – accounting software
- 1Password – password manager
- Newsfeed Eradicator (browser extension) – blocks Facebook newsfeed
- f.lux – adjusts screen color at night
- “Bedtime” feature in the latest iOS10 upgrade
What happens on a day you feel gets away from you?
If Alissa is feeling overwhelmed, she sits back and thinks about what is making her feel that way. Is it her mood, her health, a personal challenge, or lack of motivation? She's learned to take it easy on herself at those times. She tries to take a break by listening to some music, doing a yoga sequence, grabbing lunch with a friend, having some tea, or even sitting in the sun for a few minutes. She will allow herself a half-hour to relax, and then feels like she can get back into work.
If there really is too much work to do, Alissa tries to rearrange her schedule. She will move things around, and sometimes even cancel something, if she can. Once her mindset has shifted and she is calmed down, then she can invite some projects back into her schedule. Suddenly, everything is more manageable for her. This allows her to really look at the important tasks, and focus on that one top priority.
Alissa has realized that sometimes it’s just about knuckling down and just doing a task that sounds daunting. Recently, she had a job looming in front of her and it was late at night, and she just started and did some preparation on it for the following day. She ended up getting the entire job done that evening. Alissa suggests that once you get some traction and momentum going, then sometimes it just works out. We need to give ourselves permission to just start, and do that one little bit.
When working on a creative job, Alissa recommends taking a break when you have already spent a lot of time on it. She will put it down and walk away for awhile, and then come back and look at it with the client’s eye, and try seeing it for the first time. She said, “Sometimes we can sit and fiddle with something, when it is perfectly fine the way it is.”
What's on the horizon for Alissa?
Alissa is working on the 100 Days Project, which is a “simple creativity project that requires one thing, every day, for 100 days.” Alissa completed the 100 Days in 2014, when she had just started yoga; her project was a different yoga pose in a different location each day. She was able to share her project with other participants.
This year Alissa is “defying gravity” by always being off the ground in her photos. She has learned discipline, and has learned that done is better than perfection. She doesn't love all the photos, but they complete the journey for her.
Last Words on Making a Life That Matters
Alissa said to consider your past and future self, and then think about how you can help your future self. She suggests mindfulness, and really being present in what you do, and not just checking off a to-do list each day.
What do you think?
More about Alissa
Alissa is a competent and visionary graphic designer with 15 years’ experience in all facets of the design, signage, and graphics industry. Since 2015 Alissa has worked as a freelance graphic designer with Wonder Design and assists a wide range of clients with building and communicating their brands visually.
In yoga, Alissa teaches from the heart, as she really enjoys what she does, and her goal is to share that enjoyment. She wants to support people to love their body and appreciate all it is capable of. Alissa loves teaching to all levels of fitness, age, and flexibility, as she gets huge satisfaction from seeing each person’s progress and achievements. She is fascinated by the synchronicity of breath and movement, and hopes others will be inspired too.
Alissa lives in Auckland, New Zealand, just walking distance from beautiful beaches.
Connect with Alissa
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