Looking for the right tool

I have a lot of things I try to accomplish each day. Each week. Each hour. And I, like (I suspect) many people, have trouble keeping track of what I am doing and what needs to happen next. Things get away from me. I get lost in the mess of competing needs.

I’m obviously not alone in this. There are books, lectures, podcasts, entire systems of habit and action devoted to helping people get a handle on their tasks. And, of course, there are computer programs, websites, and apps.

I use a combination of things.

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1. I keep my Google Calendar updated, and color-coded, and I get notifications on my phone, and I pay attention to the schedule.

2. I keep my email inbox as empty as possible. I use labels and folders, also color-coded. I unsubscribe from spam and mailing lists, I read-and-delete or read-and-file or read-and-answer, even if it’s just a note to say “I can’t answer this right now, I will get to it later.”

Aside: A note on communication.

I used to be the world’s most terrible communicator. I wrote a short story, “No Return Address” (which you can still read here at Strange Horizons) specifically in apology to my mother for essentially not calling her for all of high school and college. More or less. Letters and emails would arrive from friends and family and I would feel so guilty about not answering any of the previous notes that I would fail to answer these new ones, too.

This is a non-functional system. Avoidance may look like a method of coping, but I promise you, it’s a method that will shatter and fail. Whatever you are avoiding, pick a different coping strategy.

As a former poor communicator, I have a convert’s zeal. I *believe* in answering my email. Your personal mileage may vary.

End aside.

3. I use Instapaper to bookmark things I will want to read later. This is where I store links from Twitter and Tumblr that I suspect I will want to look at in more depth. When I have a few minutes to kill, I go check those links and see if there’s anything I want to read. This works for me because I can access Instapaper from my computer, phone, or tablet. Once I read it I either delete it or I file it in Evernote.

4. I use Evernote to bookmark things I have perused, yet may want to refer to later. I keep links to things I might want to buy, conventions I might want to go to, art or reprint stories for Apex Magazine that I may consider in the future. Most of what I have on Evernote, right now, is recipes. Links after link of recipes.

5. I use Remember the Milk to send me daily reminders. This was not really working out for me. I tend to see the email from RtM and delete it without reading, because it makes me feel stressed. “Yes,” I say to the app, “I KNOW I have shit to do, thank you very much.”

However, I do find it useful for making near-time reminders of unusual things. Not calender-scheduling stuff, like doctor’s appointments — I use GCalendar for that — but “after doctor’s appt call J to see if kid needs a ride.” That sort of thing. I set a time, the notif pushes through as I am waiting for the pharmacy to finish up, or whatever.

6. I just started using Trello for more complex project wrangling. I’m not certain it’s The Answer — I don’t believe that human nature, with all of our procrastination, avoidance, and short-term-benefit-focused reward system, is a problem to be solved. So “The Answer” is a faulty construction of the situation. — but I think it may be a useful portion of my task-management. Trello has a couple things that I favor. One is that it lets me create subtask checklists, and then rewards me with a progress bar for checking off items. Another is that, when a thing is done, I don’t delete it. Instead I move it to a column of completed items. I can SEE how much I have accomplished! Look at me go! The third thing I like is that it’s incredibly customize-able. And, of course, I can use it on my laptop, phone, or tablet.

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Outside of computer management and apps, there are a couple methodologies I follow to help get things done.

1. I love the ethos of Unfuck Your Habitat. I believe in it. Perfect is the enemy of getting anything started. The goal is not “clean,” a mythical and unattainable state of perfection, the goal is cleaner than things are right now. UFYH is fairly no-nonsense, but it’s also incredibly cheerleading. UFYH is rooting for you.

2. I really like Nerd Fitness. Now, caveat — Nerd Fitness is not aiming its remarks at people with disabilities, chronic illness, or mental or emotional hurdles. It’s a fitness site for more-or-less healthy people looking to improve their fitness. There’s a certain amount of “if you don’t do it you have only yourself to blame” rhetoric which is not to everyone’s taste.

However. Within those caveats, NF is one of the most broadly welcoming fitness sites I’ve found. (If you have never surfed the Deep Schisms of fitness regimens, let me assure you that the Reformation has NOTHING on these people.) The principle tenet of NF is just do something. Crossfit? Sure. Barbell lifting? Great. Marathons? Fantastic. Marital arts? Tell us about it!

Moreover, NF pushes the idea that lasting change is made of SMALL STEPS. One manageable goal at a time. No clean-sweep-conversions, here. Take a deep breath, take your time, make a list, and pick one small goal to do this week. Sustainable fitness.

3. I like the Mark Bittman school of cooking. His cookbooks emphasize that of course you are winging it. Of course you don’t have the perfect kitchen and all the ingredients. That’s fine. He emphasizes how real people coming home from work with only ninety minutes to cook and eat and clean up deal with healthy eating. It’s flexible, basic cooking that is accessible to a range of skill sets and economies. There is no perfection in his books. There’s good and then there’s room to improve.

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All of this is very personal, obviously. Your tastes will vary.

Specifically, your individual hangups and neuroses will vary. I mean, all of the above it just a complicated way of tricking myself into doing the things I should just cowgirl up and DO.

There are days, and today is one of them, where I feel very negative and self-critical for needing the tricks. For needing the lists and the rewards and the little gold stars. I think to myself, “Sigrid, if you were a REAL grown-up, a worthwhile and competent human, you would just fucking DO THE THINGS without all this dancing about. What’s wrong with you, that you feel you need cute little rewards and color-coded files? Why can’t you remember to do things and just do them? What makes you such a special fucking flower?”

That voice, there? That voice is bullshit. We’re human, we like to do things that are rewarding. Doing the dishes in not immediately rewarding. Answering project emails for a goal four months from now is not rewarding fast enough. Coordinating yet another endless round of who is driving the kids to what, when and where, is necessary for my long-term goals of raising competent and content human beings, but it doesn’t really compete with “oh my god I want to go to sleep now” in the reward front.

If you are stuck with something, figure out a reward that works for you. Fear and terror of failure is not a reward, by the way. The brief cessation of internally generated pain and anxiety is not actually a reward. It’s great, yes, by all means let us continue to avoid pain and failure! But maybe you could come up with something nice, too.

I like Trello. It gives me little progress bars towards completion. And then I put things in a big column which I have relabeled “WIKTORY.”

This makes me happy. There’s nothing that sinks your tasks and projects as fast as never feeling happy about them. So I constantly look for little bits of happiness in my workflow.

I hope that you do, too.

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December 10 2013

1. It is bitterly, nastily cold, here. And windy. And the roads are too cold for MNDoT to get them driveably free of ice.

2. I signed up for Snapchat, and started using the heck out of it. NOT, as most comments seem to indicate it is used, for porn shots and adult photos, but merely to send photos of my life and family to friends.

Honestly, the thing I am doing the most? Taking snaps of tiled bathroom floors and drawing classic, old-skool, AD&D dungeon maps on the grid. I happen to have hexagonal tile in my bathroom, and hence send HEX maps of caverns to my friends.

If, you know, you’re the sort of friend I would send a pic of my bathroom to. Erm.

Anyway, I like it a lot. I also use it a great deal, so don’t add me as a contact unless you want pics of my kids, my dinner, and (of course) my bathroom floor.

3. Did I mention it’s cold, and the roads suck?

4. Actually, if you add me on Snapchat, you’ll probably get pics of snow.

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Dear internet, I missed you!

Due to some computer troubles, I was largely away from a computer yesterday.

My phone doesn’t count.

Neither does my tablet.

Oh, come one, you know what I mean!

Anyway, Cavorter fixed the problem this morning. Thank goodness.

Never leave me again, internet!

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Twitter Desktop Client query

So, Seesmic Desktop stopped working for me. I don’t know why, I expect it’s personal.

What (Windows 7) desktop clients do you all use for Twitter, and WHY? What do you like about them? What features make you pick that client?

I know I am generally rather pants about answering comments, and I may not be any better answering these. But I would really appreciate any info or opinions y’all have. (About Windows desktop Twitter clients, that is. In this case.)

Thanks!

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February 25 2013

1. My internet access at work was compromised this weekend. (It’s fixed.) Now, some might view this as a welcome enforced break from the hurry-scurry of the internet, as time away from the informational firehose of distraction. I … I want more control over when I am going to be cut off from my family and friends.

It’s completely true that I used to go hours, DAYS at a time without knowing what people were doing or how their days were. But that hasn’t been true for me in probably ten years. I am accustomed to knowing, and not-knowing does not make me feel tranquilly zen. It gives me a profound sense of anxiety.

Yay internet.

2. Not to mention there are THINGS I need to do on the internet, dammit.

3. I think …

I think I’m going to try to read the books I have before I buy any more.

This means either read them, or start them in order to determine that I am never going to read them, and give them away.

Yes, I am applying this to ebooks as well.

I have approximately 40-80 unread books waiting to be read. I can’t be more specific than that because I avoid keeping track like a great avoiding thing. So. Yeah. Time to read the extant books.

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January 31 2013

1. Roast Brussel Sprouts

Pre-heat oven to 400 F.

Cut the ends off of a mess of brussel sprouts. Peel away any loose or brown leaves. Put into an oven-safe dish that has a lid.

Trim a small head of broccoli into bite-sized pieces. I only use the florets, because I don’t like the stems. Add to the dish.

Pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil over the veggies. Add a teaspoon of pepper, and some amount of salt between a pinch and a teaspoon, depending on how much salt you want. Stir until everything is coated evenly.

Cover the dish, put it in the over. Cook for 20 minutes. Stir everything a bit. Cook another 10-20 minutes, depending on how much stuff you have in your pot.

Eat.

2. The thing I am most enjoying about Tumblr is that I can follow television shows I would not enjoy watching, and only see the Parts Relevant to My Interests. Because other people, interested in the same stuff I am, make gifs and images and fanart and fanfic and post it to Tumblr. And I get an EXTREMELY biased view of what the show is about. A happy, happy view.

3. Hawkeye #7 came out yesterday. Portions of the sales of this comic are being donated to disaster relief. But, if you just want to donate without getting the comic, donate and give it as a gift in honor of Hawkguy.

#hawkguy #greatwithboats #redcross

Spread the word.

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Tumblr policy revision

It was brought to my attention, after yesterday’s blog post, that for those people who follow my Twitter yet are NOT fans of at least some of the media properties I enjoy, the Tumblr tweets are spam.

Well, I do try to accommodate reasonable requests.

I’ve created a new Twitter account, SigridsTumblr. If you want the media content — the gifs, the vids, the images of comic book characters and actresses — follow that Twitter account. My Tumblr will auto-tweet there.

If you are already ON Tumblr a lot, the Twitter account will be redundant. If you are on Tumblr and you follow so many people that things get lost, you may want to follow @SigridsTumblr to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Ymmv. People use tech in different ways. I love Tumblr for the ease with which I can find and post visual content. But not everyone wants the visual content. Or those who might want the media images might be Tumblr-averse.

So, this is an experiment!

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January 10 2013

I haven’t done one of these in a while! Okay, here’s some random stuff:

1. My Tumblr updates a lot. This is because I have a queue set up to autopost between 5 a.m. and midnight. I also will manually post something from time to time. Right now I have Tumblr set to autotweet each queued post.

This is because … because I use Tumblr to bring things to people’s attention. Or to say hi to a friend. Or to let someone know I saw a thing and thought of them. Or that I think the thing I am re-posting on Tumblr is important and I want a wide audience to see it. More people follow me on Twitter than on Tumblr. Therefore, I tweet each Tumblr post. I want people — specific or in general — to see the thing in question.

However, since these are queued autoposts, I am not always paying attention when the tweet comes through. I may be driving, or at work, or asleep. So if you say something to me about it on Twitter I may not immediately reply because I am not actually there.

2. Circus resumed! K is very happy to be back at her classes. Also, they are all starting to discuss Spring Recital costumes, which always makes me O_o.

3. M is sick, the poor pook. Which means we are all likely going to get it.

In related news, The 2012-2013 flu season is apparently one of the worst in a decade, and there’s a new and more aggressive norovirus strain going around. So, good times.

4. We took the kids to the Minnesota History Center for school yesterday. Not only were the exhibits great, as per usual, but we had the museum almost entirely to ourselves. This meant that the docents and guides spent a certain amount of time enthusiastically talking to my kids about History.

My kids both proved that they really know their stuff. All kinds of stuff relating to Minnesota and U.S. history. I was really very pleased. We don’t quiz the kids, particularly. And at this point they both get a lot of their general knowledge from reading library books without close supervision. So it’s not immediately evident how much they are learning.

But, clearly, they are learning.

Both the kids are at the very edge of that point in the accumulation of facts, whereafter the accumulation of more facts is easier because you already have a mental system designed for the storage and use of facts. This is a good place to be.

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New phone!

My household, we think a great deal about the purpose of technology. This comes about in large part due to the differing attitudes the three adults have towards technology and its newness.

N: NEW! It’s NEW it’s NEW it’s NEW! Look at it! It’s NEW!

Me: Huh, I think there are some things I could find to do with that. I bet it would be useful to me.

J: … But my old thing still works.

But this does mean that I, personally, find myself having to explicate my position regarding a new piece of technology. To sum up, I buy new tech when I want to do a thing I have heard of which my current tech does not do for me.

For example, I resisted buying a tablet for forever. Why would I? What would it do for me, that my laptop and smartphone would not do? But, then, the infrastructure and market, the, the ecosystem of ebooks and of digital comics finally developed to the point that both of those things are easier and more comfortable on a tablet than on my phone or computer. So I got a tablet.

Did I need a tablet? Of course not. Do I enjoy having one? Yes, yes I do.

My old phone was an HTC Evo. I had not wanted this phone. I had gone in to Sprint when my Nexus S4 broke, and asked for a replacement. Sprint gave me the Evo. I sulked. I disliked a huge number of things about the Evo. And, for a device that I hold in my hand about once every ninety seconds, I hated the way it felt. This was irritating.

After much consultation with N, we decided to jointly get Verizon plans and share the costs. So I went to Verizon last night intended to get the Samsung Galaxy III. I picked it up. I held it. It was fine. Then I went and picked up the Droid Razr Maxx HD. And this felt fantastic. It fit. The size and shape and feel of the phone was great. And, incidentally, it supposedly has the best battery life of any smartphone available today. So, cool!

Despite the name of the phone, I bought it. (Razr Maxx HD. Seriously. Who thinks that’s a good name for a phone? It’s just flat-out stating, “the person who came up with this name is very concerned about their ability to maintain an erection.” Someone at work has a truck in the parking lot with the name “Dodge Ram Extended Max Explorer” on the side of it. Every time I see it I snicker, because my head reads that as “I cannot pleasure women sexually.”) It’s a great phone. It does the things I want to do, and I enjoy using it.

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Terrible customer service from Sprint

So, I went to the Sprint store yesterday.

Okay, no, wait, let me explain.

I really like my local Sprint store. The local store is why I’ve kept a Sprint account for, oh, a kajillion years. They don’t always have exactly what I want, but I find the process of going in and getting things fixed or replaced to be really easy.

Or, possibly that whole paragraph is now in the past tense.

The power jack on my phone is not working properly. I took my phone in to have it replaced under the warranty plan I am paying for. When I arrive, the woman at the desk takes my name. I spell it for her, since my name is Sigrid, and this is very difficult for some people to hear properly, pronounce, or spell.

I go wait.

I see on a wall screen the list of people waiting. I do not see my name. I see “Sucrig,” though. I go back to the front.

Excuse me, I say, I think that’s me, and my name is spelled wrong. The man at the desk asks how I spell it. I spell it for him, twice. He says yes, that’s me. I nod and say thank you. I go wait.

After a while I notice the sign flashing “Sucrig we are ready for you.”

I go to the desk.

I explain to the third person that I think that’s me. He says okay, and we go to tech support. I tell him that my power jack is broken, that no matter what it indicates 80% power, neither more nor less, and that the jack itself requires wiggling to get it just right.

The tech tries a few things, and tells me the power jack is broken. He then says that the phone is showing 80% power, so that’s good.

I tell him it always shows 80% power, as I said.

He says, so the indicator never gets to full power, only up to 80%?

No, I say, it never moves from 80%, either higher or lower, as I mentioned.

Well, it’s broken, he says.

Yes, I say, I would like to replace it under the plan I pay for.

Tech looks at the computer. We don’t have your phone.

Okay, can you order it?

The warehouse doesn’t have your phone. We can get you an EVO, or you can buy a different phone.

I don’t want an EVO, I say. I would like a Nexus. Can you order it from somewhere else?

No, the warehouse doesn’t have your phone.

I pause.

Okay, I say, does that mean, there’s no phone in the entire Twin Cities? Is there one in Chicago?

I don’t know, he says. There’s no phone in the warehouse.

I sigh. Okay, I tell him. Let me look at the EVO.

He brings out the EVO. I look it over, I shrug. I really want a new phone before I leave for Worldcon next week, so, sure, this will likely be okay. Yes, I tell him, I’ll take the EVO.

Okay, he says, typing. That will be here next week. Maybe this week.

Oh! I exclaim. You don’t have one here?

No, he says, we’re out. I have to order it from the warehouse.

I take a deep breath. Okay, I say, when can I expect it.

He checks a few things. Maybe tomorrow, maybe Friday. Don’t worry, we’ll call you.

I would prefer you email, actually, I say. I don’t answer the phone much.

Oh, he says, email isn’t in the system. The system will leave you a voicemail if you don’t pick up.

He stands up as I stand. By the way, he says, you will be called about our service. I need a five to pass. Anything less is a fail. He looks me in the eye. It’s about me, he says seriously, not whether or not we have your phone.

Dear Sir.

You are correct. It is about you. It is about the fact that not at any single point did you give a hoot whether you were helping me or not. At no point did you apologize. At no point did you express regret that you could not give me the service and products I desired. At no point did you or any other person at Sprint even spell my name correctly, or apologize for getting it wrong, despite having said name spelled for you repeatedly.

That is poor customer service.

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