Wednesday, July 29, 2015

10 Ways I Know it's a Backwards To-Do List Kind of Day

Blackout Cupcake

Several months ago, I wrote about my backwards to-do list. Like double chocolate cupcakes and strawberry daiquiris, backwards to-do lists aren't an everyday sort of thing. Here are 10 ways I know from a mere glance at my master list that it's a backwards to-do list kind of day:

  1. The list of things I need to accomplish is long. Very long. 
  2. I start procrastinating before I even get out of bed.
  3. The master list has a little bit of everything on it, and is spread out across two or more little snippets of paper in addition to the actual list itself.
  4. The things on the lists require different kinds of thought: creative thought, logical thought, no thought at all (this usually means laundry and restoring some semblance of order to the house).
  5. Did I mention that the list is long? Interminably so.
  6. I start thinking things like, "I'll never get all this done. I should just go play Words With Friends."
  7. I have enough control over the day's schedule (ostensibly) that I should be able to make significant progress if I stay focused.
  8. Someone in the neighborhood has decided to cut down a tree, mow the lawn for hours or play basketball right outside my office window, ensuring that every ounce of distractibility I possess will kick in with full force.
  9. I need a reward for powering through the master list, and a backwards to-do list has fewer calories than a double chocolate cupcake and less alcohol than a strawberry daiquiri.
  10. Reading the backwards to-do list at the end of the day will motivate me to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Monday, July 27, 2015

To Sleep, Perchance to be Productive

I slept in on Saturday. By the time I got out of bed, it was late enough to be "too late" by post-college grad standards, but not so late as to have become completely embarrassing.

I'm very good at berating myself when I think I've slept too late. So, to put things into perspective, I add eight hours to the time I went to bed to see if I'm as lazy as I fear a I am. It's rare that the time I get up actually exceeds that time frame; most days, it falls woefully short.

But on Saturday, it was a pretty close match. I actually got close to eight hours of sleep.

Once I was up, I kicked into high gear, and you know what? Saturday turned to to be a very productive day. Even without a nap.

Photo: kakisky via Morguefile
I've read a lot about sleep, some of it fact, some of it questionable. I know that sleep is essential to effective functioning, and that most of us who think we're operating at peak capacity have no idea what peak capacity really is. I've read that lack of sleep messes with our endocrine system, and contributes to obesity. I've also read that people who sleep later have higher IQs than those who rise early. That article even cited my default body clock (to bed around 1, up around 8) as common in that group, but I'm pretty sure I read that one on Facebook so I doubt it counts.

But for me, Saturday was verification of the first information tidbit. On several occasions throughout the day, I caught myself thinking, "So this is what enough sleep feels like." The correlation between sleep and productivity -- for me, on this one day, anyway -- was unmistakable.

I wish I could say I learned a life lesson and repeated the drill yesterday, but that's not true. Once again, my body clock and the plans we'd made were on different schedules, leaving me sleep deprived early in the day and leading into a Monday that, even by noon, felt a tad off-kilter.

So much for peak efficiency. Then again, it is Monday.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Special: BrightNest

I'm cheating a little today, linking to a blog post I wrote at about the BrightNest app and website. Cheating because I'm citing myself, but otherwise, the link meets my criteria for a Saturday Special: something informative that contributes to our continuing quest for an organized life.

BrightNest is kind of like a woman's magazine with really short articles on a variety of topics, organization among them. There are lots of fun hints on topics from organization to home maintenance to recipes, all easily digested (bad pun intended). Quickie questionnaires allow you to personalize the articles that pop up so they're suited to your needs.

Sure, there are lots of magazines out there that provide the same content, but BrightNest is tailored to those of us who might not have time to sit down and read a whole magazine, making it a great little resource for when you have only a little time.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Freebie: Smart Phones and Dumb Interactions

The other day, my husband accused me of being on Facebook all the time. While that's not exactly accurate, he does have a valid point. In the evening hours and in the car when he's driving, I'm on Facebook a lot. Way too much, some might say. In fact, a lot of our conversations in the car begin with "Listen to this...." followed by something I've read on social media.

I don't have any trouble putting my phone away when I make up my mind to do so, but it does have a way of creeping out of my purse and into my hand when I'm between tasks. Honestly, if I were childless, it would be out a lot less often, but still, I can't completely blame my daughter for my bad habits. Back when I had a flip phone, I used it only for phone calls.
And therein lies the problem. Back in the days of flip phones, I might have left my phone on the table during a meal with a friend if I wanted to make sure not to miss a call. And, since a call would have been the only thing to interrupt us, I wouldn't have been terribly distracted by the mere presence of the device. Now that I might miss a text, an email or the latest "news" on Facebook or Twitter, I'm quick to fill "down time" with a quick glance at my phone. Sadly, "down time" can consist of less than a minute between tasks.

But is leaving the phone (silenced) on the table such a bad thing? According to an article in Scientific American, "the mere presence of a phone affects how you relate to others." Yikes. I'm good at silencing my phone, and I rarely use notifications (definitely not for Facebook), but I must admit, I've grown increasingly careless about putting my phone away entirely.

Even if it is a cool trend, I certainly don't want to go back to using a one-purpose flip phone -- especially as a parent of a teenager whose first choice of communication is texting. I do, however, want to preserve manners and respect, so perhaps it's time to live by another old saw: out of sight, out of mind.

Challenging indeed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Little Nudge
July? How did it get to be July at all, let alone a week before the end of the month??

It's been a busy summer. Lots of fun, and a bit of work, but there's something about the midpoint of the summer (which has already passed, I'm sorry to say) that nudges us to shift gears and think about fall -- at least those of us who are retired in name only.

Two things have happened this week to strengthen that nudge. On Monday, I attended a "retreat" for all of the instructors teaching general psychology in the fall. Today, I reached for my writing planner and realized I had to break out a new one (my writing calendar runs July to July).

Yes, I realize there's still a significant chunk of summer left, and I'm not wishing it away. But as someone who needs a push to get started, I'm grateful for these nudges in a strange, twisted way. They function in the same way I imagine the electric start on a lawnmower does. Sure, I could start it myself the old-fashioned way, but it's so much easier with an assist.

I don't know why I have so much trouble getting started. If I could bottle all the delays and procrastination attempts I engage in and convert them to energy, I'd have my very own electric start. And once I get started, energy begets energy and it's easy to power forward.

Take last Monday for example. After the retreat was officially over, I closeted myself in an empty office and kept working. Why? I was on a roll. Sure, I could go home and continue what I'd started, but you know what? That's never how it works. Once I get home, something more interesting (read: less effort-intensive) lures me in, and the procrastination cycle begins again. But, by staying right where I was and taking advantage of a more professional (less enticing) environment, I got two more hours of work in, and left with a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

I'm lucky. I love what I do. And while I'll miss the freedom of summer when it ends (over a month from now, thank you very much), getting a jump start in July isn't such a bad thing. With no deadlines looming just yet, I can chip away at the things I need to do for fall, and then set them aside when I get tired of them, or simply want to do something different.
I have no illusions of breaking my procrastination habit, and, in fact, I plan to share the concept of structured procrastination with my students this fall. I won't go so far as to recommend it as a strategy, but as long as I can find that electric start when I need it, a few delay tactics don't have to be a big obstacle.

Monday, July 20, 2015

All the Little Ways We Play it Safe

I was sitting at a stoplight on Market Street about a month ago, assessing the length of the line of cars in front of me when the sign for "the highway" beckoned. I don't like that on-ramp, I reminded myself. Too difficult to merge.

And then I heard myself. Seriously?? Your spring chicken days may be behind you, but you're definitely too young to be shying away from such things as on-ramps in the town where you live.

Which got me thinking of all the little ways we play it safe. How many times do we:

  • Take the road through town instead of getting on the highway?
  • Eat at a familiar restaurant instead of trying something new?
  • Choose the same vacation spot instead of exploring new territory?
Routines can be beneficial. They can help minimize anxiety by giving us a sense of predictability. But if we're not careful, they can become ruts and morph into trenches that entrap us, making us hesitant to venture out of the tried and true...keeping us trapped in a routine that shuts out other new, exciting possibilities.

Although routines can become entrenched before we know it, they can also be easily disrupted. We can take the highway, eat at a new restaurant, try a new vacation spot. Venture out of our comfort zone.

Last spring, I attended my favorite writers' conference. I'd planned to take the train to the conference, then return home with a colleague who was driving Having fallen
into the habit of being the passenger on long trips (my husband likes to drive), I was reluctant to tackle the drive myself.

But then my ride fell through and I had a decision to make. Really, it wasn't much of a decision; since I had no intention of missing the conference, I needed to take the driver's seat.

As it turned out, it was a great trip all around.

Which is exactly what I reminded myself as I turned off Market Street and onto the exit ramp.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Special: Keeping Track of Important Papers

Italian leather binders from this
I'm not a big family history buff. My only brush with or anything of its ilk came when my daughter had to do a family history project for school and I passed off the research to my husband, who's more interested in this sort of thing. I enjoyed seeing all the photos, but had little interest in the family tree, maybe because I knew starting a project like this could suck me into one more thing that ate away at my already minuscule tidbits of discretionary time.

Although today's Saturday Special is about keeping track of family history documents, I liked it because it speaks to the greater issue of style. When I taught Organizing by STYLE to elementary school kids, even they, at their young organizational age, had strong preferences for binders vs. folders, for many of the same reasons described in this piece.

How about you? Are you a binder person, a folder person, or, like many of my former students, and aficionado of the accordion file?