Writing in 2013

I haven’t really written much since Nanowrimo (which I’m so glad I did, by the way). I’m trying to figure out a project to work on to help me develop my writing, save this blog that keeps me at the keyboard a few times a week. I have one small project on the go that I’ve been really enjoying. I was about to write “I need to find a project to do this year” without acknowledging that I’ve been writing this ebook for the past few months. It feels weird to say that. It feels weird to make it real by talking about it here. A few people know I’ve been writing out some vignettes of my life since I’ve moved to Montreal, but talking about it on the internet feels a lot more official. I’m not entirely sure what will come of it save that I have been writing it with the intention of sharing it with people. I do have a specific audience in mind, which is a lot more than I can say for most other things I’ve written. So that’s exciting.

Ok so I’ll tell you a little more about it: a little hope I have is to publish it for Kindle. If you’re familiar with my Bucket List, publishing an ebook is on that list. Wow, I can’t describe how scary it is to talk about this. Now you might ask me about it. Now you might want to read it!

So maybe it isn’t any more scary than me announcing I’m going to do my best to run a 5K in April. Or a 10K in Sept. Those are scary announcements too but they’re far, far less personal.

Anyways, that’s what’s going on in terms of moving towards my writing goals. I may never speak of this again until it’s about to get real. We shall see.

Decision making in the groggy moments of morning

This week has been unseasonably warm. It’s basically April up here right now this strange week of January. So I’ve been motivated to run again because the sidewalks are free from ice and snow. Three out of the last four days I said to myself before going to bed “tomorrow, you’re going to get up and go for a run right away.”

Didn’t happen. Any of those days.

Both yesterday and today, about thirty minutes after I had gotten out of bed, I noticed I regretted the fact that it was too late for me to go for a run.

So what’s the deal?

I realized this morning that my decision-making skills were non-existent. My grogginess factor was so powerful that if that continues in the morning, I will never ever accomplish anything until I wake up. That’s when I realized I was having all this success last fall because I had never once tried to get up and go right out the door for a run. The plan was always wake up, do light therapy, journal, then go for the run. By the time I had spent that 30 or so minutes waking up, I was awake and enthusiastic enough to grab the shoes and go.

According to EasyWake.me‘s 12 most important facts about sleep inertia (the grogginess after being woken up), “within the first three minutes of waking, decision-making performance can be as low as 51 percent of the person’s best decision-making ability before sleep. Decision-making performance may still be 20 percent below optimum performance 30 minutes after waking. Sleep inertia may affect cognitive performance for up to two hours.”

This is a super helpful realization for me because it’s the difference between me tweaking my plans and feeling demotivated and wanting to quit. Realizing I need at least 15 minutes where I get vertical (out of that comfy bed) or do light therapy. Then I will maybe be rational enough to make the right choice to go run or another form of exercise.

Here’s to tomorrow morning and outrageously warm weather for January!

What about you? Do you now have a little bit more hope for your morning routine with this information? Share your thoughts in the comments here.

Resolution + morning routine + running update

So I’ve started a lot of new things the last few months. I started a morning routine that I hoped would become habit. I started running using the Couch to 5K program. Then New Years came and I added to the list things I wanted to accomplish this year.

How’s that going?

Well. Notice how in the Resolutions, I only said “exercise” 3x a week? That’s because winter running is scaring me. So much snow! And my neighbourhood does not get salted very well. But today I felt some motivation and I did some research. I’ve found some places (allegedly) that are always salted by the city. So I think I’ll try to keep running at least once a week on weekends, mostly because that’s much easier to do in daylight because it’s not work hours.

Reading is a little on the harder side right now because I’m not all that motivated by any one book. Tonight I had a huge craving for a food memoir, found an electronic copy I could borrow from the library and then realized I had lent out my Kobo charger to a friend only hours before so I couldn’t transfer it to my Kobo. I couldn’t bear reading it on the computer. Sigh. I’ll make good headway on that this weekend.

Crafting has been a complete no-go until now. It requires so much organization and preparation. Again, a Saturday project.

Morning routine has been a gong-show all of december. A huge reason is because I stopped using my LAMP (bad idea) in december and had stopped exercising (another bad idea). So basically, my life falls to pieces when I stop exercising. Noted. How did I ever survive until 26?

Pressing on

I’m not giving up, though. I know habits take a long time to form. I remember how great I was functioning last fall when I was doing those things and so I’m motivated to figure out how to continue. So there’s that.

Two weeks in, are you still keeping up with your New Years Resolutions or goals or (whatever you call them to make yourself believe you’ll actually do them)? I wanna know I’m not in this alone! Leave your comment here.

What method? How to find a productivity system that works for you (Part 3)

ActionMethod stationery featured here

So there are a few productivity methods out there. Some are really simple, other’s are more well-thought through. There are likely good things to glean from all of them. I’ll summarize a few here:

Getting Things Done (GTD)

This is a pretty well thought- through process (it’s kind of scary). I read half the book and started trying it. It’s got a lot of really good ideas. According to WikiSummaries, the book is divided into three parts. “Part 1 provides an outline for getting control of your life through the five stages of mastering workflow: collection, processing, organizing, reviewing and doing. Part 2, which is well over half the book, repeats a lot of what is said in Part 1, but provides much more detail on the application of Allen’s methodology. Part 3 explains why Allen’s methods work and the benefits to be gained from using his approach.”

The part I find most helpful from this book is his underlying philosophy: “Allen’s philosophy is that to be one’s most productive self, one must be able to think clearly. In order to think clearly, one must have completely downloaded from one’s short-term memory or RAM (like computer RAM) all the “open loops” — unfulfilled commitments one has made to oneself. This frees the mind to do naturally what it does best — think about things rather than of things” (WikiSummaries).

Collecting: putting everything that comes to your mind to do in an Inbox. That could be a FieldNotes book that is always in your back pocket like the way my brother does it. It could be an Evernote note called “Inbox” or note on your smartphone. It’s the place you write down everything that you will ever need to do, might need to do, want to do even if it’s sometime in the future.

Processing: the regular time you take to review the things in your inbox and do them/process them. When processing your inbox, if the next item on the list will take less than 2 minutes you do it immediately before moving it. I was actually angry when I started doing this because it was causing some serious cognitive dissonance. My heart wanted to procrastinate but my brain wouldn’t let me!

If you want to know more you can read the WikiSummary, check out this article on 43Folders.com, read anything LifeHacker.com has to say about it.

Action Method

The Action Method is made by creatives for creatives so if your mind is less systems oriented, this might work for you. Or, if you just like pretty things, you’ll probably like this one too. It operates on the same principle of GTD as having to-do items connected to different projects. You can read more about it/see the apps or paper goods here.

Getting Sh*t Done (GSD)

This one is a stripped down version of GTD. Bill Westerman was sick of his Palm Pilot stilus and too overwhelmed by GTD method and the pretentiousness of Moleskine (and the hipsterness of the hipster PDA) that he accidentally developed his own system using a grid journal and pen. He starts by dumping all of the things he needs to do that day onto the list. Then he refers to the previous day’s list and adds what hasn’t been finished the day before. He then processes the list by adding markings to indicate priority. You can see a more detailed (including pictures) explanation here.

SuperFocus

Two columns of to-do items, the left column is regular tasks, the right column is urgent. See more here including pictures and find all his posts about it here.

Dave Lee’s Productivity System (for creative/innovators who get bogged down by GTD)

Taken from his post explaining why GTD sucks for creative work:

“Most task/to-do software is based around the concept of projects and tasks. It’s really too bad. The tendency is to fill up your task software with dozens of projects and tasks under each project. But the more you look at your projects and tasks every day for the next few weeks, it gets discouraging. It feels like a never-ending river of stress.

The most important thing for the creative innovator is not a ton of tasks to do but rather the ability to see what’s important to focus on and to focus on that deeply. The creative innovator needs to go deep on a feature or issue, and the deeper they go the more creativity they unleash.. thus creating lots of value to the end user.”

  1. He breaks down his week into daily focuses that are the same each and every week. He’s chosen the five most important areas in his business and focus on them, one per day.
  2. He chooses his three most desired outcomes for that week. This gives him a goal and vision for his week.
  3. He chooses his three most desired outcomes for the day at the beginning of the day. All three outcomes should be related to your focus of the day.

He has a bunch more steps on that page if you want to know more, and a few more other posts that explains in more detail how it works.

Overwhelmed?

If you’re a real beginner I’d suggest GSD or SuperFocus. If you want something more robust, then start looking into these other ones. Remember: it takes practice and time to develop the habit of putting your system in place. It can take a few years of trying and evaluating to get it right, that’s OK! Three years right now can serve you a lot more in twenty-five years than if you never try anything.

So out of this list, which methods have you tried? Which ones are you interested in trying? Or do you now have enough ideas to figure something out for yourself? Leave a comment here and let me know!

Analog or Digital: How to find a productivity system that works for you (Part 2)

photo (9)

Google Calendar + Weekly To-Do tracking sheet

Of all the day planners that I’ve tried to use, the resounding gong in my head while using them was “this doesn’t make sense with my brain!” I don’t think in bi-column pictures of my week, nor do I think in little squares of a month. Every single day planner that I’ve found even to this day (I haven’t seen them all) doesn’t make sense with my brain. What I described yesterday, however, does (pictured below).

photo (10)

See the separate quadrants for different project/areas

Do what makes the most sense for you

If it doesn’t really make sense to you then you probably aren’t going to use it. If you brain works well with digital things, do that. If you need to write stuff down like my friend Amanda said in the comments, do that. If you love Moleskines, but look at their agendas and think “this isn’t going to work” don’t bother spending the money. Similarly, if you’re using something and thinking “I’ll try a new agenda next year, I just bought this one” you should just chuck it right now and find something that will actually work. The $20 it might cost for a new one will be worth it when you actually start properly managing your ever-increasing pile of tasks for the next 11.5 months. So go peruse Chapters/Indigo or check out this list I’ve made at Etsy of a bunch of “not your normal” agenda/day planners.

You probably wont find one thing that will have everything you need

I used to hate this. I wanted my Magic App that did everything. Even the GTD system is a productivity system, but not a calendar. It will help you get things done but not know when your appointments are. If you rarely have appointments, then that’s fine. If you decide to go all paper, you’ll likely only find something that does scheduling or you’ll have to look into ActionMethod paper goods and use a separate calendar to track your few appointments. Or you can find DIY stuff online to help you make your own GTD system if that’s what you want (like the hipster PDA, the offline time management software book, the DIY Planner and SuperFocus).

What will I use for scheduling? What will I use to help me Get Things Done?

These are your next questions. Connected with that is the analog/digital question. By now I imagine you probably have a good idea of what you want. In case you’re not sure, here are some pros and cons.

Pros of digital:

  • If you have different devices, your stuff can be synced with all of them and your info is always there
  • You have one less thing to remember to bring
  • Great if you travel a lot or don’t work primarily from an office or a static location.
  • The threat of losing your Most Trusted Work Partner doesn’t exist (it’s in The Blessed Cloud!)

Cons of digital:

  • You may not feel very comfortable using your smart phone or device.
  • If it will take you a lot longer to enter anything because you feel you’re slow on your device
  • You love the feeling of writing things down/ stroking the thing off your list doesn’t feel the same as checking a box digitally

Let’s get digital

I’ve already shared some examples of paper goods you can use. You can also make your own like I did. Here are some digital tools that you can consider:

Google Apps

If you’re a Gmail user, you likely already know about this. I use Google Apps every day in my personal life and at work since my work uses Google apps for our corporate email. We share documents, calendars, use Google Hangouts, make forms, budget finances etc ALL. THE. TIME. using Google. I used the Google Wedding Planning templates to plan my wedding when my then fiancé lived in Quebec City. Here are more ways you can use Google.

iCal/Outlook Calendar

You can sync a google calendar to your iCal or Outlook, or just use your iCal/Outlook on your devices. Simple enough, though I personally have finally accepted the fact I hate iCal and don’t use it at all (I use Agenda App on my iPhone/iPad with my Google Cal synced and use the browser to access GCal when I want to)

OmniFocus

I asked my brother who blogs about productivity and other tech stuff at Hack/Make to comment on OmniFocus, which I know is popular with tech geeks. He says it’s a power-user tool, which is why I don’t use it. It kind of scares me. He explains further, “It takes a decent amount of understanding both GTD and the app, but once you’re Intermediate to Advanced, you can do A LOT with the app.” If you’re just beginning, start with something less complex or you might get frustrated with the app before you get the system to work for you.

Evernote

Evernote is good for a lot of things. By simply making a new Notebook in Evernote you can store your to-do lists and other productivity stuff, ready to be accessed anywhere. Evernote has a Productivity Embassador that gives some instructions and tips on using Evernote this way. You can also checkout the Evernote message board for more ideas/info.

iOS/OSX Reminder App (Use the alerts!)

If you’re looking for a simple To-Do app, this is about as simple as it gets. It’s already on your Mac if you have the most recent operating system and already on your iOS5 device. You can have multiple lists and that’s about as complex as it gets. I use this because I desperately cannot remember things on time, so if I need a reminder, this is my go-to.

Asana

My friend Ian who is a Financial Planner left a comment yesterday saying “I’ve found Asana works really well as a project organizer. I GTD with asana way better than I did with Evernote. Of course Evernote is still my go to for all my reference material. The greatest part about asana is you can share workspaces with other people, ie. family workspace with spouse, ministry workspace with ministry partners. It takes a bit of searching to get it working well for GTD but overall the mobility and ease of use won me over. Check it out at http://www.asana.com

Have you tried any of these methods? How much success did you find? Were there things that weren’t quite right with them? What do you need to change with your current system? Leave a comment here with your thoughts.

How to make a productivity system that works for you (Part 1)

Source: See-Ming Lee

When I started working after I graduated from university, I quickly realized that I had no sweet clue how to keep track of my schedule and responsibilities. I knew it was the thing that would make me sink or swim on the job. I started by learning about productivity and trying things out. I tried to-do lists, tried filling things into my daytimer, I tried different kinds of day-timers. I tried all-digital and all analog. Over the course of a few years I had figured a few things out. I read parts of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and found one thing to be shockingly true: open loops (ideas/thoughts floating around in your head) take up mental space/energy. Closed loops (writing things down in an inbox) freed up my brain for other things. Getting the systems to work for me has been an ongoing process.

So are you, like I was a few years ago, a complete noob at organizing your life? Have you figured some things out and not others? I still feel like both. Here are some things that I’ve come to understand about myself.

  1. I like writing things down.
  2. I like accessing them anywhere.
  3. I need to be able to think in Projects or Areas of responsibility (because it helps me manage my time).
  4. No matter how hard I try, doing everything digital doesn’t actually work for me, despite being a technophile and desperately wanting to be all-digital.
  5. Productivity stuff really helps but it’s still easy to let the processes run away from me.
  6. I haven’t found anything that’s 100% natural, and that’s probably natural.

The best combination I’ve come up with so far is:

  • Google Calendar where I keep my appointments (work and personal on the same one, my husband shares his calendar with me so I know when he’ll be home for supper etc.) and slot in times to work on things that are priorities/how I want to spend my time.
  • A list of projects/areas of responsibilities with ongoing To-Do lists associated.

calendar

Digital Calendar

I can’t seem to manage without the digital Calendar. I need reminders to be sent to my phone to start working on the next activity, or to leave to go to a meeting. I value the ability to be able to invite people to meetings or them schedule meetings with me and that seamlessly integrates into my calendar with little effort (I use Google invites or Doodle). I find it valuable to take 30-45 minutes to schedule my week at the beginning of the week to make sure priorities stay priorities and reduces decision fatigue because I need to decide “what’s next?” less. Some of these things can be done with an analog (paper) agenda. I personally like digital because I can move things around without it making my agenda page ugly.

Is a calendar right for you?

It’s surprising how much time we can waste. Having everything written in my calendar either before or after I do it helps me manage myself. Did I spend 15 minutes joking around with my coworkers? Did I only take 30 minutes to do the thing I had scheduled an hour to do? Did the metro break down and my meeting at UQAM get pushed back? Are these things patterns? I turns out I like to evaluate enough that this information is helpful to me. Plus, I just like to feel like I accomplished something at the end of the day and a calendar full of pink helps me see what I accomplished. If you agree you like those things, then you should try out using a calendar. If you’re not sure, give it a whirl for a few weeks and decide whether it’s helpful or not — NOT whether it’s easy or not.

To-do list of Project/Areas of responsibilities

Something I took away from Getting Things Done is the idea of Projects and Areas. In my job I can work from various different places on various different things. Tasks range from Administrative things (emails, phone calls, reimbursements) related to one project or another. Projects can be as simple as running an event or retreat or as complex as a month-long overseas trip involving smaller projects inside of it. When I can divide my brain into Université de Montréal responsibilities or UQAM responsibilities, or this staff or this website I can think through the next steps easier. When I plan my day out, I have a better idea of what I need to take along with me depending on where I’m working and what I need to do. This is less relevant for people who work at the same office every day. I don’t.

I’m still figuring out which is best for me on this one: digital or analog. Last year I found a system that worked pretty well that was on paper. I grew a bit tired of how I always had to carry this bulky thing along with me and was helpless if I forgot it. In September I tried out a new digital version of what worked last year (read about it here). It worked pretty well, but it required more work to maintain than I was used to in my paper version. I’m going to take some time to evaluate which is better for me in the long-run.

What about you?

As you start to figure out what does and does not work for you think about these things:

  • Do you need something portable? How portable?
  • Do you like striking things off a list?
  • Are you obsessed with digital things? (This doesn’t mean it works for you, I can testify to that!)
  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • Do you work with long-term projects or short term projects?
  • Do you work in different locations?

I’d love to hear your thoughts since I’m still learning about what works best for me. Leave a comment here and let me know what you swear by and what you’ll never try again!

EDIT: Check out Part 2: Analog/Digital and Part 3: What method? as well.
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