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Dreams & Goals

How can I get more done?

Pizza and Pomodoro — how I get things done

Even though I’m not a parent I get the question of “How do you do it all?” quite often, despite the fact that this question is usually reserved for mothers who work outside the home. But considering I work a full time teaching job, run See Jane Write, freelance for several publications and try to have a social life while doing all this, people are always asking me for my secret. In fact, I get this question so often that I’ll soon be launching an e-course on time management. (Stay tuned!)

But I’m going to give you one tip right now for free. If you want to be more productive, stop multitasking. I know this sounds counterintuitive. I know we women feel that the ability to multi-task is in our DNA. But it is not the key to success.

You will actually get more things done and in a shorter period of time if you have laser focus on individual tasks instead of dividing your attention and energy among several different tasks at once.

Allow me to give you two examples. On Halloween I was home alone because hubs was hosting a lock-in for his church youth group. Whenever I am home alone I order a pizza and watch movies. But I also needed to clean my apartment because it looked like a pigsty. Typically, it takes me about an hour and half for me to thoroughly clean my home. But that’s because while cleaning I’m usually also writing a blog post, grading papers or checking email. On Friday I challenged myself to finish cleaning before my pizza arrived. I called and placed my order. The person who took my call said my pie would arrive in about 40 minutes. As soon as I hung up the phone I got to work — dusting, sweeping, washing dishes, etc. When the pizza delivery guy knocked on my door I was all done with my cleaning. Actually, I finished five minutes before my dinner arrived. Why was I able to finish cleaning in half the time it normally take me? Focus.

Here’s another example: Yesterday evening I had a stack of papers that I needed to grade before I left home for my church small group meeting. I needed to finish the pile by 6 p.m. which I didn’t think would actually happen. But I finished at 5:25 p.m. Why? Focus!

I used the Pomodoro Technique to plow through those papers. The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo is simple, yet brilliant. You break down your work in 25-minute intervals, taking five-minute breaks after each one. After four work periods you take a longer 20-minute break. The technique is based on the idea that the frequent breaks will keep you sharp and focused work will keep you productive. I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique for over a year now and it has worked wonders in my life.

So if you want to get more done, stop multitasking!

Each day in November for #bloglikecrazy I’ll be publishing a blog post that answers your questions about blogging, social media, writing, wellness or women’s empowerment. Send your questions to

The Birmingham Jane: Carrie Rollwagen


bham jane nail art
Carrie Rollwagen is representing for the Birmingham Janes! Contribute to her Kickstarter campaign and she’ll represent for your blog or business too. She’s also offering a nail art workshop as a reward.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I have a long list of answers to this question: do a one-year blogging challenge, write and publish a book, strive to run a profitable small business, launch a Kickstarter campaign. But my list could be summed up with one statement: Be Carrie Rollwagen.

Rollwagen is a small business owner, a prolific blogger, a social media guru and much more. She also has the cutest nails in town. And now she’s about to add something else to her resume — published author.

Rollwagen, co-owner of Church Street Coffee and Books and the writer behind the Shop Small blog, is now about to publish The Localist, a book that’s all about shopping locally. Rollwagen decided to self-publish the book and recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her project. She reached her fundraising goal in less than a month!

I had a chat with Rollwagen recently — at a locally owned coffee shop, of course — about her book project and her secrets to success.

Becoming a Localist

Carrie Rollwagen

Rollwagen’s interest in local shopping began when she managed a small book store in Mountain Brook. She believed that the camaraderie she experienced at that store was unique to locally-owned shops. But then she worked at Starbucks and found the same sense of community there as well. Rollwagen, a former full-time journalist, wanted to investigate.

“I’m a frustrated journalist,” she says.

And so in 2011 she challenged herself to only buy from locally-owned stores for one year. She launched the blog Shop Small to chronicle her adventure.

Rollwagen admits that she thought her “Shop Small” challenge would be extremely difficult and extremely expensive.

She was wrong.

“I spent far less money that year than I usually do,” Rollwagen says.

She explained that when you shop small there’s less of a chance for impulse buying. There are very few, if any, displays set up in locally owned shops to entice you to purchase things that aren’t on your shopping list. Furthermore, because local shops weren’t as easy to get to as big box stores, Rollwagen would often talk herself out of buying things. And she wasn’t eating any fast food.

Finding stores at which to shop was easier than she expected. She often found what she needed simply by asking friends or doing a quick Google search. Rollwagen was even able to go to the movies thanks to the Birmingham-based theater The Edge opening that year.

What was Rollwagen’s conclusion after this year of shopping small?

“Local is almost always better,” she says.

Rollwagen is a localist, but she’s also a realist and she makes no claims that small business owners are somehow better people than the owners of big box stores.

“It is in the financial interest of a small business owner to be a nice person,” she says. “Small shop owners have a better incentive to treat people well and build community.”

If you have a bad experience at Target most likely you’re going to go back to Target nonetheless and even if you don’t chances are the Target employee you had a bad interaction with doesn’t care. Small shop owners know that it’s good customer service and a sense of community and camaraderie that will bring you back.

While Rollwagen doesn’t recommend that other people take on her extreme shop small challenge, she does stress that we should all buy local as often as we can as this is a great way to improve your community.

As Rollwagen explains in her Kickstarter campaign video, for every $10 spent at locally owned stores four to seven dollars goes back into your community. When you shop corporately only three dollars, at the most, goes back into your city.

Think of the local place first, she says. Amazon doesn’t pay taxes in your state.

Deciding to Self-Publish

DIY Publishing

Rollwagen admits that she hasn’t been a fan of self-publishing in the past — and for good reason. As many avid readers know, a book needs good editing, good design and a good marketing campaign to be successful. Most self-published authors don’t have all these skills or the resources to hire someone who does.

But Rollwagen’s book is centered on Birmingham and she thought a book a that was this, well, “localist” wouldn’t appeal to traditional publishers.

“Just because it doesn’t have a national market doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist,” she says.

Rollwagen’s Shop Small blog was quite successful thanks to her fresh, informative content and effective social media marketing. But she knew she had more to say.

“I wanted to tell this story in a new way,” she says.

So she decided to write a book and self-publish it.

The book is part memoir, focusing on her life as a localist and even offering a few tips on how people can shift their own shopping habits to support small businesses more often.

The book is also a study of buying patterns — why you like big box stores, why they’re not all bad, and the effects of our shopping on us as individuals and on our communities.

The book also offers a behind-the-scenes look into Church Street Coffee and Books.

To ensure that her self-published book would be of high quality, Rollwagen launched her Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to hire an editor and designer.

How to Rock Your Kickstarter Campaign

Rollwagen reached her fundraising goal of $5,000 in less than a month. Now she’s working on her stretch goal. She’s hoping to raise an additional $3,000 so she can go on a book tour to spread the localist gospel to other towns.

Rollwagen offered these tips on how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign:

  • Apply the tips that Kickstarter gives you and look at projects similar to yours for promotion ideas.
  • Produce a great video and in it be sure to convince people that your project is something that you can actually do. Also, explain exactly how you plan to use the money.
  • Have enticing and creative rewards and be sure to include their cost in your project budget. One of Rollwagen’s rewards was nail art! For a donation of $10 or more, Rollwagen would decorate her nails with the name of your company. Nail art was a perfect way for Rollwagen to help promote her project because whenever someone would say “Oh, I like your nails!” she could strike up a conversation about her Kickstarter campaign.
  • But these conversations could only happen if she was out and about. So Rollwagen’s other piece of advice is to be sure to network during your campaign. And carry business cards that include a URL for your campaign.


The Birmingham Jane is a See Jane Write series of profiles on women in Birmingham who are making a difference in our city. If you know of a woman who is making a difference in Birmingham please send your nominations to And don’t be ashamed to nominate yourself!

The Call to Be Bold

I should have known Friday would be a great day. 

During my personal Bible study time Proverbs 28:1 was brought to my attention: “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” And this was after a week of feeling God urging me to be bold in my prayers and to be more confident about my future. 

Marla and Marcia Pruitte
a.k.a. The Pruitte Twins

Then I went to Cupcakes and Conversations, a ladies empowerment night hosted by inspirational speakers Marla and Marcia Pruitte, better known as The Pruitte Twins.  

The night was full of motivational talks by local women who true are movers and shakers in our city. Women who spoke at the event included  radio and TV personality Eunice Elliott, Robin Ato, owner of Gracie Grove Venue where the event was held, Kimberly Davis and TaShara King of Davis and King Consulting, public relations pro Chanda Temple and Kanisha Shamburger of Created to Win Enterprises LLC. 

All throughout the night the message I heard over and over was to simply be bold. 

Be bold enough to dream. I knew I’d love the Pruitte Twins as soon as they started talking because they mentioned that they are fans of vision boards. A vision board is a visual representation of your dreams and goals. I make a new vision board every year or so because I believe that, as Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  (more…)

How I Landed My Own Column (Without Writing a Pitch)

Photo by Sherri Ross Walters

Just as I do at the end of every year, this past December I wrote down a list of goals for 2014. This time, though, I did things a bit differently. This time I wrote my goals as declarations not aspirations. So instead of writing “I want to land my own column in a local print publication,” I wrote “I will land my own column in a local print publication.” And by January 31 I had done exactly that.

I am now a columnist for B-Metro magazine. My first piece ran in this month’s issue and addresses the issue of whether or not there is a feminist aesthetic. In other words, can you tell a person is a feminist by looking at her?

My column, called Write Like a Girl, will tackle everyday feminism and women’s issues each month. You can read my debut piece “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” here.

When I wrote down my declaration last year I also determined that once I did snag this column opportunity I would write a post about how I did it. In the post I would examine the anatomy of the perfect pitch. But I didn’t write the perfect pitch. In fact, I didn’t write any pitch. I was actually offered this opportunity before I had the chance to ask for it.

Nonetheless, I do have a few tips to offer.


Living the Dream and Leaving a Legacy

Last week on my blog The Writeous Babe Project I wrote about having so many goals and so many dreams that I’m not sure where to start. I want to be a blogging star. I want to write and publish a book on feminism. I want to run a successful online magazine. I want to see my byline in all my favorite publications. I want to take my teaching career to the next level. And I want to grow See Jane Write.


While speaking at the 2011 skirt! Creative Conference, author Claire Cook told us ambitious ladies of letters in the audience that we can do it all, but not all at once. I’ve learned just how true this is. When I try to do too much, when I spread myself too thin, the result is mediocrity: I’m good at many things, but great at nothing.


So I declared on that I would choose one goal to make my top priority, at least for the next year. But I had no idea how to choose the dream on which I would focus.


Enter Eunice Elliot.


Eumice Elliott


Elliot is a TV and radio personality, comedienne, and motivational speaker based here in Birmingham. Saturday afternoon I had the privilege of attending one of motivational talks at the Smithfield Library. This year Elliot has been doing a series of lectures she calls “Living the Dream” at Birmingham Public Library branches. This particular talk was in honor of Women’s History Month and her goal was to inspire women (and any men in the audience) to boldly pursue their dreams.


Elliot first asked the crowd if we know what our dream is. I couldn’t answer, not because I don’t have a dream, but because I have too many. I shared this with Elliot and she gave me a simple question to consider: If, in your lifetime you could only pursue one of your goals, which one would it be?


The conclusion I came to was quite surprising. I thought I’d decide to focus on running a successful online magazine. To help us identify our dream Elliot told us to think back to what we loved doing or dreamed of doing when we were children. I’ve wanted to run a magazine since I was 15. But that wasn’t the goal that rose to the top.


The thing I want to do most is grow See Jane Write. 


I decided that what’s most important is leaving a legacy and the legacy I want to leave is See Jane Write. I want to leave a legacy of empowering women to speak their truth and nurture their creativity through the written word, a legacy of inspiring women to live a life worth writing about.


At the end of the day that matters so much more than being a blogging star or a best selling author per even the editor of a successful magazine.


Elliot encouraged us to maintain positive thoughts about our dreams by writing down our goals or even creating a vision board. I’m sure my eyes brightened when she said this, since I just made a new vision board last month.



Elliott believes in the law of attraction: what you think you’ll get something, you will. And I believe that too.


Late last year I kept thinking about how much I wanted to have a column in a local magazine. I wrote down this goal and even told a few friends about it. On January 31, I received an email from the editor of one of the city’s best magazine asking if I’d be interested in writing a column for that publication. (More details to come!)


But it wasn’t my positive thinking alone that landed this opportunity.


On Saturday night I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned in bed until 2:30 a.m. thinking about the question Elliott posed to me that afternoon. The thought that kept coming to me was to have a servant’s heart. Then when I went to church Sunday morning the message of the sermon was about… wait for it … HAVING A SERVANT’S HEART! What I’ve learned through See Jane Write is that when you do good for other people, good things happen to you. I’ve had the opportunity to attend blogging conferences for free and even speak at blogging conferences because of See Jane Write. Furthermore, most of the local freelance writing gigs I have  — including this new column opportunity — I acquired because of See Jane Write.


I believe that by focusing on See Jane Write not only will I help others, but I will also help myself. I believe that by focusing on See Jane Write, all my other dreams will come true too.

Eunice Elliott’s next Living the Dream Empowerment Workshop will be held Saturday, March 29 at 2:30 p.m. at Pratt City Library, 509 Dougan Avenue.  

Not someday, do it now

Most of us have our someday speech well prepared, that list of reasons that explains why we aren’t pursuing our dream project now but will do it “someday.” I’ll write that book someday, but I can’t now because I don’t have enough time or enough talent. I’ll start that business someday, but right now I don’t have the money or the knowledge that I need to do it. 

If this sounds all too familiar take a few minutes to read “The Someday Speech”, a recent blog post by food writer Monica Bhide. She says sometimes we all need a “swift kick in the behind” to push us to fight for our dreams. Read this post and consider yourself kicked. 

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