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This Post is About Something

The point of this post is that I need to have a point to my posts.

I didn’t type that as an introduction, I typed that to try to stay on point.

Perhaps the problem is just A.D.D., but it’s not (usually) like I want to say random shit such as “I like eggs” in the middle of a post about something else. Although it is A.D.D. that made me stop writing to go search for a way to share how I meant “I like eggs” to sound (it’s at the 2:26 mark)

No, most of my veering is at least tangentially related to the original topic. I always thought I was a very analytic person, but apparently in my writing I’m a synthetic (wait, what?) person. I have a compulsion to cover topics from every angle. I spend hours drafting lengthy posts once a week or less when I could write two or even three shorter posts that people might actually read. Seriously, it usually takes me at least three hours to write a post and that is just counting ass in the desk chair time, not all the time I spend thinking or jotting little notes down here and there.

This is bad. It’s bad because it makes something I enjoy doing into a struggle. It’s bad because blogging “experts” say one of the keys to writing a good blog post is to keep it to a single point.

Since I need help deciding when I’ve entered the realm of “this should really be a separate post,” I’ve been disappointed with the specific guidance provided by blogging “experts,” which is not helpful.

They conflate topics with points. Like don’t write a post about your maple bacon cupcake recipe along with a review of the new Katy Perry movie (which Dave said he’d go see if it were in 3-D, by the way). No shit, those are two different topics? Although I could see Katy Perry wearing a bra with cups made of maple bacon cupcakes…maybe this could be one post.

Jesus, I just found out the Katy Perry cupcake bra is actually a thing. I knew she wore weird crap on her buzooms but I’m 38 years old, I haven’t seen an actual Katy Perry video. I thought I just invented the cupcake bra. Oh well.

I swear to all that is holy I didn’t know about this before writing the line about Katy Perry wearing a maple bacon cupcake bra.

Anyway, the Katy Perry maple bacon cupcake bra post is not my problem. My problem is isolating a single point within a topic area. I have no trouble selecting a single topic to write about, but my brain then wants to synthesize every possible point I could make about it. I am thorough, y’all.

Here’s a recent example:

I wanted to write a post about my backlog of post ideas. The idea was to solicit feedback from you to help me prioritize the list and see who was still with me (I hate the unintended but real consequence of losing subscribers with the move to self-hosting.).

This led to writing about wanting to figure out how to write posts that will resonate with people. This led to writing about the mystery of finding kindred spirits out there in the internet ether, when you are as weird as I am.

I wrote 1,300 words before realizing I hadn’t really made my original point and now had at least three posts going in one. I still haven’t finished writing any of them because I’ve exhausted myself.

Blogging isn’t going to last much longer as one of my hobbies unless I become more efficient. Solution #1: having a point!

I’ve decided to start every writing session by typing “the point of this post is….(insert point here).” If I don’t know what the point is, I will stop and figure it out. I will touch base with this topic sentence periodically to make sure I’m not writing a new post. Lather, rinse, repeat until I have a shiny new post without giving myself a migraine.

So how did I do on this post? I’m 1 hour and 40 minutes in and I’m about done. Even on a post focused on having a point, I still also wrote several nebulous strands that should be separate blog posts. I don’t think I can make my brain stop doing that, but I did manage to pretty quickly identify them as not on point and successfully table them. But I do seem to have given myself a migraine.

Do you have trouble staying on point? Do you have any tips for staying on point? How do you feel about eggs?

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Photo Friday: This is What Perfectionism Looks Like

On the surface, it may seem counter-intuitive for a perfectionist’s office to look like a cyclone hit it. But those of you who have the perfectionism affliction, or love someone who does, see the truth.

Am I comfortable with this picture? No. Do I enjoy working in this environment? No. While a normal person might think, “just spend a few minutes cleaning this up,” I know it would take hours or even days (hours and days I don’t have at work) to clean and organize it the right way. To do anything less is not comfortable, so it will just have to wait until I can do it right.

I’m a perfectionist; I’m hardwired to do shit the tediously inefficient but right way.

I think I would have skewed this way no matter what, but my first grade teacher didn’t help. She split my classroom into the “good side” and the “bad side” and placed me on the bad side because I’d forgotten to turn in a permission slip. Mistakes, no matter how small, would be noticed, would be punished. Got it, thanks!

This experience lodged itself into my amygdala, where it still drives me toward a goal I can’t reach. When I was little, my thoughts on perfection were simple, “if I stop making mistakes, people will like me more.” I even had a code word, “NOW,” that I’d say to myself as a pep talk to be perfect from that point forward. Until the next time I made a mistake, of course. These days, “NOW” has been replaced by exhausting post mortems on what I could have done differently to avoid a mistake and often an internal berating for not knowing this already.

I’m sick of it and I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I’ve realized there’s so much I want to do. I just don’t have time to do everything I’m interested in doing as well as my brain tells me I have to do it.

But letting the perfectionism go has been hard, for at least two reasons:

1. My brain doesn’t seem to have the capacity for the kind of flexible thinking needed to create shortcuts.

2. Even if by some miracle, I think of a shortcut or someone offers me a different solution to a task, I don’t feel comfortable implementing it. It feels half-assed to me.

I didn’t even realize how crazy my methods seemed until the running shoes conversation. You see, a few weeks ago my knees started feeling wonky and I wondered if it might be time to buy new running shoes. I thought nothing of my process until I talked to a normal person about it. I mentioned how I needed to add up the mileage I’d run on my current pair of shoes, but before I could do the calculation I had to enter the back log of data from my Garmin GPS watch into my workout log spreadsheet.

I’ll never forget the look that passed across the normal person’s face.

Her: “How long will entering all that data take you?”

Me: “I’m not sure…probably two to three hours at least.”

Her: “Uh, what would be the harm in just buying new shoes without doing all that data entry?”

This suggestion blew my mind.

Today I reached two personal milestones. I achieved a goal I’ve had for over two years; to get my work email inbox of almost 1,600 emails back to zero. And, perhaps more importantly, I did it by implementing a shortcut that my perfectionist brain had previously convinced me was “cheating. ”

I moved everything older than 2012 into a separate archive folder labeled “unsorted.” If I get around to culling that great, if not, c’est la vie. I had told myself I needed to wait until I had time to cull 1,600 emails. But that was going to be never. After removing the old emails, I culled the 404 emails left in my inbox to zero in a few hours. Yea!


The Bread Loaf of Time

Dealing with time is one of my biggest struggles. Dave once told me about an experiment that showed the passage of time is actually slower if moving than if not by comparing two atomic clocks. As someone used to obtaining a non-treated counterfactual through random assignment of fairly large numbers of units, taking a difference of two clocks didn’t work for me.

I spat out a string of questions about the design of the study. “How did they actually measure elapsed time?” “What is the normal accuracy of these clocks?” “Did they repeat this more than once?” “Why didn’t they use several clocks in each location?” Since Dave didn’t really know, I sort of won an argument about physics against a physicist, which was fun but left me without an understanding of time.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time

Given my desire to understand time, I didn’t beg for the remote when I found Dave watching an episode of PBS’ NOVA called “The Illusion of Time.” This was part of a four-hour series based on a book by physicist Brian Greene, or as I like to call him, annoying string theory guy.

Annoying string theory guy has become a bit of a celebrity; he’s even been on Letterman. So he’s pleased with himself, is what I’m saying. He wears a leather jacket and a swagger during this show, but he wasn’t fooling me. If you are going to be a geek turned famous scientist, at least be lovable like Carl Sagan, who sounded like Kermit the Frog and seemed credible. When annoying string theory guy speaks, I feel like he’s trying to sell me a stolen car.

Five minutes into the show, one of the scientists interviewed, Max Tegmark, had this to say: “There’s basically no aspect of time which I feel we really fully understand.”

Great! Can’t wait to hear about it for an hour then.

Throughout the hour, I got the distinct impression physicists just make things up. I freely admit I don’t understand physics. Physics was an elective and I elected not to study it. I definitely think physicists are smarter than I am. But I also suspect they don’t really understand this stuff either, they are just smart enough to fake it.

Einstein = Genius

It was cute to see the man crushes these physicists have for Einstein. The first half of the program explained how Einstein overthrew “the common-sense idea that time ticks the same for everyone.” According to David Kaiser: “It’s mind-blowing that you and I will not agree on measurements of time…Why should my measurement of time depend on how I am moving, or how you’re moving? That, that doesn’t make any sense.” So far we agree, that doesn’t make any sense!

Apparently, there’s a link between space and time. Annoying string theory guy explained the clock experiment. The 1971 experiment compared elapsed time for an atomic clock flown around the world with the elapsed time of a clock on the ground. At the end of the experiment, the two clocks differed “by a few hundred billionths of a second.” I couldn’t believe measurement error was smaller than that difference, but Dave insisted there are atomic clocks accurate enough to detect an effect that small.

“In 1971?!?”


I’m supposed to believe we had technology that accurate forty years ago, but today I have to wait 20 minutes for PDF files to spool to my work printer? Can’t Microsoft hire these clock people?

Einstein’s genius didn’t extend to creative names. Annoying string theory guy explained that Einstein fused together space and time “in what came to be called…” …wait for it… “spacetime.” You don’t say? Even though the show contained no point more clear, they needed a second scientist to explain it. Max Tegmark explained it again, only even more slowly and with arm motions and an earnest look, just to be sure we were all clear.

SPACE + TIME = (say it with me) SPACETIME

Annoying string theory guy turned a visual of “spacetime” into a loaf of bread to illustrate. I found this both condescending and, grudgingly, helpful as I’m not a theoretical learner. He showed how slices of “now” can angle toward the past or to the future depending on the movement of aliens 10-billion light years away. So just as all of space exists, all of time exists as well, or so Einstein said and Einstein can’t be wrong.

Or as Sean Carroll said: “If you believe the laws of physics, there’s just as much reality to the future and the past as there is to the present moment.”

I don’t believe in physics, I just believe in me. Yoko and me.

The Arrow of Time

So 30 minutes in, I got it. Past, present, and future are an illusion. I didn’t see any practical application to care much about, as the aliens who can see our future are too far away to tell us about it before we’ve experienced it too, but I got it. Then the only woman in this telecast, Janna Levin, said: “Our entire experience of time is constantly in the present. And all we ever grasp is that instant moment.” Then I got confused again because I remember the past, how about you?

They spent the next few minutes discussing time travel, because otherwise most people will stop being interested in a show about science. Then the last 20 minutes painstakingly tore down all of the limited understanding I built during the first 30.

The last part tried to reconcile why time appears to move only forward when the laws of physics don’t require time to have directionality. Annoying string theory guy implied entropy might help explain this “arrow of time.” I fell in love with the entropy guy, both because he has a cool bust of himself on his gravestone and because his work shows my inability to stay organized isn’t a character flaw, it’s a law of physics.

But no! Entropy can’t explain the arrow of time because the laws of physics say disorder should increase both toward the future and toward the past. Annoying string theory guy then said: “And that makes no sense.” As if everything said before that point had made sense.

Since they were having trouble reconciling Einstein’s theory of relativity with the arrow of time, they decided to blame the discrepancy on the Big Bang. Annoying string theory guy: “So our best understanding is that the Big Bang set the arrow of time on its path…the universe has been unwinding since the Big Bang, becoming ever more disordered.”

So basically, really intelligent physicists can’t explain time either. In the next episode, I look forward to not understanding, and also possibly debunking, quantum mechanics. 

Check out this uncomfortable yet endearing video which increased the strength of my crush on Max Tegmark. Hopefully a future episode of NOVA will explain the power physics geeks have over me.

Master of Efficiency

The other day I took a little break from work to check on the Twitter. Cordelia Calls It Quits linked to an interesting-sounding post from Zen Habits, so I clicked the link.

The post was indeed interesting. It suggested doing something only once and doing it immediately when it first grabs your attention. This resonated with me like you wouldn’t believe. I definitely have issues with this. I’ll open an email and not feel like dealing with it right then, so I’ll just close it and move on. But eventually I have to deal with it and I have to read it again to do so. Waste of time.

Or the time I did hours of internet research on places to go in Belgium in my initial excitement of deciding to go there for our 10th anniversary. I told myself I was just brainstorming. I didn’t bookmark stuff or make any real notes. Then a week before our departure, I had to scramble to do all that research again. So dumb.

About halfway through reading the Zen Habits post, I started feeling guilty about checking Twitter when I should be working. Without irony, I made a mental note to finish reading that post later…you know, the post about dealing with things only once.

It would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.

How about you? Do you put things off that you could do right then or do you take care of them right away as they come up? How do you balance your own to do list with the things other people bring to you throughout the day?

I Got No Patience and I Hate Waiting

Yesterday, when my dog wouldn’t come downstairs right away after I called him for his evening walk (what the hell, Chuck?), I realized the world is conspiring to make me ADD. My time management skills need work, and it is pretty easy for me to get sidetracked, I’ll admit it. But my distractibility is not all my fault. And I swear I wasn’t always like this.

I hate waiting. If I have access to anything even remotely interesting (let’s say for the sake of argument, the internet) while I wait, then I go off task.

While I waited for Chuck to get his fluffy ass downstairs yesterday, I got the idea for this post. I found some paper and a pen and started to jot down my thoughts before I forgot them. In the middle of this, Prince Charles Fluffbatten-Windsor finally decided it was time to walk. I made him wait. Apparently he doesn’t like to wait either, so he left the room. Vicious cycle perpetuated.

The ungodly slowness of my work PC has filled my soul with rage. It hates waking up in the morning even more than me. Each morning when I log on, it’s all “WHOA! You again? Back so soon? Hold up, you’re interrupting my REM sleep. I’m dreaming about crashing Outlook when you try to send an email it took you half an hour to craft.”

I hate wasting time, so waiting for my computer to respond to my commands for more than 30 seconds makes me mental. I’ve started angrily muttering to myself like a crazy person. This is charming, No really, take your time, I really don’t have time for this shit, I’d like to take you outside and beat you with a baseball bat, oh hi, Boss!

I start a task, my computer inevitably hangs, tempting me to do something else while I wait. Next thing I know, it’s an hour and a half later and my chai is cold, I have 12 browser tabs open, my iPad on my lap, and a finally-opened window on my PC I can’t remember the purpose of opening.

I wonder how much efficiency is lost due to whatever in the hell gremlin causes technology to screw with us. I guess I could make more effort to stay focused on the task at hand, but I just don’t believe anyone should have to focus on waiting.  Plus, they pay me too much to stare at the hourglass on my PC and seeth.

My home computer is starting to behave like this too (Macs, they just work!), only instead of an hourglass I get the spinning beach ball of death. I worked from home today and the beach ball spun in Firefox for 30 minutes when I tried to check my work email.

Maybe my computers are trying to tell me something about work?

Do You Have A Minute?

I’ve been meaning to link to this for weeks, but I’ve been steady busy, as my Dad would say. cracks me up, but this (semi) recent entry really spoke to me given my task-timing experiment.

Is the fact that this entry is funny a sign that it would be rude to use my timer to limit office intrusions??? Because my first reaction to this entry was to laugh, and my second reaction was, what a brilliant idea, Elaine…

Thanksgiving To Do List

Timing my tasks and scheduling tasks to days based on estimated time (to avoid over booking) has been going really well at work. This time management scheme has helped me stay more focused and be more productive.

Following this scheme is more difficult on the weekend. On work days, it’s clear that my planned tasks shouldn’t add to more than 8 hours. It’s harder to know what figure I should use for a day off. Last Saturday, the buckeyes consumed my day so I just wanted to relax on Sunday. And I hadn’t taken any time to prioritize my to do list for Sunday so I ended up spending too long troubleshooting a problem with my Flip camera which wasn’t even on my to do list.

So I’m trying to be more explicit about plans for my Thanksgiving vacation time. I have four days off (plus travel days) and would really love to tackle the following tasks (not to mention enjoy the time off!):

The screenshot of my to do list above shows how I’ve been assigning estimated completion times to tasks so that I can assign tasks to days. When I finish a task, I add the actual completion time to the end of the task. Some of the tasks on the list are very quick errands while others are long-standing “someday” to dos that I want to get some traction (not to be confused with Sal’s definition of traction) on during my time off.

Tomorrow I plan to assign these tasks to days. One of the things I am thankful for: that cooking Thanksgiving dinner isn’t on my to do list. My lovely and talented husband is the chef in the family. My assistance will involve taking the dog on a long walk while Dave cooks, stopping at the store in the morning to pick up the required yet somehow forgotten item (you forgot cranberries too??), and refereeing the bickering between Dave and my Mom about the kind of turkey she bought.  Happy Thanksgiving!

No Time This Time

Several time management books I’ve consulted recommend comparing estimates of how long tasks will take with actual times. Last night I estimated how long I thought each task on my list for today would take and then prioritized them and ensured that the work-related tasks didn’t total more than eight hours. Then today at work I timed how long I spent on my tasks. I brought in a timer that counts down as well as up and that I could wear around my neck so that I could look like a moron if anyone saw me (actually so that I wouldn’t forget about my experiment during the day). I was pretty pleased with the experiment, and think I’ll keep doing it for a while, until I have a better sense of how long my usual tasks take to complete.  However, I think the clock app on my iPod Touch will sound less like I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner in my office than the timer I used today, so I’ll try that tomorrow.

My key goal for today was to limit e-mail management time to 30 minutes, which was completely ridiculous given that I’d just had a 4-day weekend. I planned on checking e-mail three times and spending 10 minutes on it each time. Yeah, not so much. The check I did first thing this morning ended up taking 2 hours.  In total, I spent almost 3 hours dealing with e-mail. Also, I checked e-mail more than the three times I had planned to, but on the plus side, I didn’t obsessively check it all day long like I usually do.

Although the actual amounts of time I spent on each task didn’t equal my estimates, some of my estimates weren’t too far off and getting better at estimating is the point of this exercise. Part of this exercise seems worth continuing indefinitely — adding my time estimate to each task on my to do list. Today I added my time estimates right to the front of each task and seeing that (accurate or not) helped me immensely in prioritizing tasks for today and the rest of the week.

So now all I need to figure out is where the hell those two hours I can’t account for went today…

Good Todo

Good Todo is an online to do list that I use. It is a vast improvement over my old paper-based system that involved me writing tasks on whatever slip of paper I could find (often post-it notes) and constantly having to consolidate and re-write the list. I’ve been using Good Todo since August 2007 and now I don’t see how I would get along without it.

About three years ago, my e-mail situation at work got so out of hand that I was reaching the storage limit daily. Just to send a simple e-mail or respond to one, I spent demoralizing amounts of time frantically searching for e-mails to delete while cursing more loudly than I should at work. Somewhere I heard about a book on increasing productivity by letting your “bits” go called “Bit Literacy.” I ordered the book for e-mail management help, but the key thing I gained from the book was learning about Good Todo.

Good Todo is a “bit-literate” online to do list created by the author of “Bit Literacy.” The key feature of Good Todo is its compatibility with e-mail, which is critical in helping with e-mail management. Emptying your inbox and keeping it empty is easier using Good Todo because you can forward e-mails that are tasks directly to your to do list. With your task safely on your to do list, you can delete the e-mail. Since each task is associated with a specific day, you no longer have to use an overflowing inbox as a to do list. You can also create your own tasks via e-mail or on the Good Todo website. Each task has a brief title and the program also allows you to add a longer description or instructions for the task (analogous to the subject and body of an e-mail).

I use Good Todo to store all my tasks: work and home, recurring, errands, and big projects and ideas. I look at Good Todo each day to remind me what tasks to do. I try to forward all tasks that enter my e-mail inbox to Good Todo right away if I’m not going to work on them immediately. You can also use Good Todo to make it appear that you never forget anything, which is fun. Just include Good Todo on any e-mails you send to assign a task to another person (for example 7 days from today). This adds a task to the future date you specify so you remember to follow up on that date.

It’s not free, but the cost is reasonable ($18/6 months) and the customer service is impressive. After I signed up, they asked for my feedback and they actually make changes based on user suggestions. Most of the things that concerned me about using Good Todo have been remedied. For example, I think categorizing is critical for keeping those “someday” tasks from taking over your to do list. Good Todo didn’t allow any categorization of tasks at the beginning but now does. Also, there used to be only one option for prioritizing tasks within a day–clicking on up and down arrows allowed you to move a task up or down one spot at a time or to the top or bottom of the list. The arrows were cumbersome and drove me crazy. Now you can drag and drop tasks to re-organize their order, which is much better. While you could always search for a specific task and click on any future date to see if there were any tasks planned, originally there was no week or month view, which is important for longer-range planning. They recently updated to allow viewing tasks for the next 7 or 30 days, or all tasks in a category.

Some nit picks remain. Creating recurring tasks is now possible, but the available frequencies are limited. Good Todo won’t create tasks that recur biweekly (time sheets at work, changing bed linens…what? you do that more often?) or yearly (sending birthday cards, etc…), which are two of my most used frequencies. Something else that I’d like to see is automatic tracking of the date a task was added. For logy procrastinators like me, I think the shame of seeing just how long some tasks have been on the list uncompleted might help light a fire under my ass.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have a lot of tasks.  Each task assigned to a day that is not completed by midnight automatically moves to the next day. This means that on Fridays, I spend a good amount of time moving uncompleted work-related tasks to the next week so that I don’t have to look at them on the weekend. Weekend days often have so many tasks listed that I have to scroll to view them all, which is not conducive to prioritization. Creating a “someday” category to dump things that I want to do but aren’t going to happen anytime soon has helped.

Overall, Good Todo includes all of the features I think are most important in a to do list, the price is right, and the customer service is excellent.  I highly recommend Good Todo to anyone looking for an online to do list.

Welcome to Logy Express!

One of the main topics I will write about here is my attempt to be more productive.

Here is an earthy summary of my thoughts on productivity. I have a lot of shit to do and it’s taken about 15 adult years of not getting as much of the shit done as I would like to reach the following “you don’t say?” realization. There is no gadget (love you iPad, but sorry not even you) or tool (even the fabulous Good Todo online to do list that I use) that can substitute for good old-fashioned time management skills. My key issues seem to be getting my head out of my ass about estimating how long tasks will take to complete, and then actually scheduling my days with a reasonable number of tasks. Shall I even mention the difficulty of staying focused on tasks that aren’t very intellectually stimulating in the era of instant entertainment gratification?

I wish I could say that some gadget or tool has totally revolutionized my life and drastically increased my productivity, but I can’t. In my case, too many tasks clog up my to do list to the point of distraction. Here is a screenshot of my to do list for today (my review of Good Todo is forthcoming). You don’t have to be familiar with Good Todo or my specific tasks to know there’s no way I’m going to get all that stuff done today. This isn’t even today’s original list, which contained 41 tasks when I woke up. Since only about 30 tasks fit on the screen without having to scroll to view them all, I postponed some tasks before making the screenshot.

I’m having some difficulty deciding what the appropriate scope of individual tasks should be. Some tasks are pretty simple like making a grooming appointment for my dog, but others are multi-faceted tasks that are quite time-consuming to complete. The “clean house” task makes me laugh every time it pops up, which is every Saturday because I keep moving it from one weekend to the next. Tasks that involved usually aren’t going to get crossed off my list in one day, so they just keep moving forward again and again. Breaking up larger tasks into smaller pieces is somewhat helpful, but also adds to my list’s clutter.

My next step for increasing productivity is to be more critical in my assessment of how long tasks will take me to complete and then to limit each day’s tasks to a set I can reasonably complete that day. I also need to schedule my time more explicitly (assign tasks to specific days and times). A few years ago, I was surprised to receive a package from my mother-in-law. She had seen Julie Morgenstern on Oprah and was impressed enough to order her time management book for me. At the time I remember my thoughts included WTF?, but now my main thought is hopefully there are some words of wisdom in this book that will resonate with me. We’ll see…