How I do morning pages

For the last year and a half I’ve been doing morning pages, a writing practice introduced in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I did them daily for the first few months of 2015, then fell off the wagon, returned in fits and starts for the rest of the year, and then committed to doing them as part of my 2016 productivity practices. I’ve written them daily (with two exceptions) since 3 January; there are a group of us on Twitter who check in with each other as well. Now that I’m on Twitter hiatus I’m not checking in but I’m still doing them.

I wanted to write about how I do them, because one thing that became clear was that the four/five/six of us on Twitter don’t all approach them the same way. Cameron is somewhat self-contradictory on whether there are rules: she says there is no “right” way to do pages, but she also says you should do them longhand and you should do them in the morning. She makes a distinction between journaling and morning pages, and she really does see them as the expression of your stream of consciousness. Her blog posts on the topic address quite a few of the questions that come up about the “best” way to do them.

My method has worked for me in part because I have followed the two basic directions, but also because they have been pretty low stress in terms of how I approach them, so even though what I write in them has changed over time, my ability and desire to write them hasn’t. I don’t always want to do them, but I know that if I’m really stuck I can just write “blah blah blah” over and over again. I haven’t done that yet, but having the option helps.

I have to do them in the morning, that much I’ve learned. It’s not just that I won’t do them later in the day, it’s that they don’t have at all the same function. My mind is in a different place at 3pm or 8pm than it is at 8am. Even doing them mid-morning rather than as soon after I wake up as is practical makes a difference in what I write and how I feel. And I really need that stream of consciousness approach. It leads to discoveries (intellectual, emotional, practical) that don’t emerge consistently any other way.

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Wake me up when November comes

I unsubscribed from my last remaining Tiny Letter this weekend and purged a few more RSS feeds. The Tiny Letter confirmation email asked if I would tell them why I unsubscribed. I like them, they’re not a company or overtly building a brand, so I answered.

Nothing personal, you are all fun to read. But I’m trying to cut back on my meta-reading, i.e., reading about people reading, and just read the things. Hope that makes sense.

I still follow quite a few individual blogs and get two newsletters, but I’m down to one large/corporate feed (I can’t possibly give up the Guardian Football RSS feed). I’m reading The New Yorker every week but ignoring the many blog posts it generates between issues. I’m seriously considering subscribing to a print newspaper again.

I also cancelled my Audible subscription. I have hundreds, probably more than a thousand, hours of audiobooks in my TBR and even one credit a month was more than I needed. They offered me the $9.95/yr plan where you continue to get the deals and discounts, but I haven’t bought anything because of an email blast in over a year.

Why the sudden purges? Partly because I do this every spring. When the semester ends we get ready to drive to the west coast, and we spring clean and organize in preparation for that. But it’s also a feeling that I spend way too much time finding virtual distractions rather than thinking, writing, working, knitting, and engaging with the physical world around me. Yes, I know that the online world is real and the people in it are real (and I have real relationships with quite a few of them). But TV is real too, and I don’t spend hours a day watching it.

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My ToDo list system

This is not a post about the wonders of the Bullet Journal. Just to get that out of the way so anyone looking for a BuJo discussion isn’t disappointed.

Now that I’m more than five months into my 2016 productivity setup I’d been thinking about writing an update, and a Twitter conversation today motivated me to do a quick post.

Standard caveat: Everyone is different, with different needs, interests, and psychological makeup, so whatever works for you is the best system ever. If anything I do resonates with you, or sounds like something that might work, feel free to ask questions in the comments or just go off and try it yourself.

The hardest part of my productivity system is figuring out a way to make ToDo lists that work for me, which means get me to do the things that are on them. I like lists a lot, but I hate having ToDo items hanging over me. These two feelings are contradictory, so I’m frequently tweaking whatever method I’ve adopted. Right now, what is working best, and has been working for the last few months, is combining four different lists in three different places.

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Chicago Pen Show 2016

As readers of this blog know, I’m a fountain pen user from way back. But I’ve never been to a pen show, and I didn’t even know they existed until the wonders of the internet enlightened me. This year I discovered that the Chicago show coincided with the weekend after the end of classes, so TheHusband and I decided to combine a quick holiday with attending our first show.

Neither one of us are pen collectors per se; we both have more pens that we can use in our regular rotation, which makes me, at least, anxious that I’m not treating them properly. We have old but not vintage pens, valuable but not “collector” pens. You get the idea. But I’d been having trouble with one of my nibs, and pen shows have highly skilled nibmeisters on the premises. Plus, all those pens. So off we went.

We were staying in the city near Lake Michigan and the pen show was held in the northwestern suburbs. Since we couldn’t leave home until Saturday morning, we spent the rest of the day we arrived in the city and then drove out to the pen show on Sunday. We got there around noon and bought daily passes. We were immediately drawn to the Franklin-Christoph table (more about that in a bit). I’d read about these pens but seeing them in person was much more satisfying, and they had the full range of nibs available for testing.

We wandered into the main room, which was about the size of a ballroom, and were immediately overwhelmed. So many pens. If you’re a Parker fan you have tables and tables to choose from, but all the brands were well represented. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming to newbie visitors. I chatted with one vintage pen collector/seller, who listened to my description of my faulty nib and thought it was just in need of a simple adjustment. He kindly pointed me to the nibmeister present, Linda Kennedy, whose named I recognized from the Fountain Pen Network website. I wandered over and put my name on her list.

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Q1 2016: Productivity/Planning Update

I keep meaning to write monthly updates but my blogging mojo has been wintering somewhere warm, apparently. So, here’s a quarterly update:

Hobonichi Techo: Still using it, still love it. I don’t miss the weekly diary format as much as I thought I would. I use a Fine nib Pilot Metropolitan pen and it works well with the Tomoe River paper, which I love writing on.

I’m time-logging with colored Muji gel pens to mark work, daily/regular practice activities, chores, and social stuff. I’m happy to report that my Too Much Internet spells have decreased quite a bit.

I write daily tasks in a list on the right-hand side of the daily page. I try not to write more than 3-5 tasks a day, with the optimal being the three Most Important Things from the Zen to Done system.

Midori Passport: Still using it as my wallet and notebook. I like the idea of the Bullet Journal, but I just haven’t been able to get it to work for me. I need more than a daily task list and I don’t need a monthly list or index because I use a planner. So I abandoned the daily Task List/Notes system I had been using for the past year or so for a GTD Inbox-type dump list. Every few days I write the date at the top of a new page and write down everything I can think of that I need to remember to do, whether it’s to be done immediately or further down the road. Then I refer back to that list as I make my daily task list in the Hobonichi.

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Life without apps and other musings on productivity

It is no secret that I have a love-hate relationship with smartphones and always-connected technology. I developed and regularly teach a course on the politics of privacy in the digital age, and every year there is something new to add to the syllabus. Last year it was the Internet of Things (which continues to grow in importance). This year it’s backdoors for national security agencies, with the current Apple-FBI legal battle illustrating the larger problem. Although it’s impossible to use online resources and not sell your soul to one of the Big 5, I try to minimize my digital trail and encrypt communications where I can.

An aside: there is a story making the rounds about a USA Today reporter who supposedly had his email “hacked” (sniffed, actually, but everything is called hacking nowadays) when he was using inflight wifi. Aside from the fact that the guy who “hacked” his email was sitting right behind him (so he may have snooped the old-fashioned way, over his shoulder), this reporter was working on the Apple-FBI story using unencrypted email on an open wifi network. People, do not do this. Use a VPN if you use open wifi connections a lot, and for heaven’s sake, use email that comes with https at a minimum. Why a USA Today reporter is still using Earthlink.net is beyond me. But I digress.

A couple of years ago I switched from a high-end smartphone to a feature phone, in part to understand the online opportunities for people who don’t have high-speed mobile broadband or can’t afford fancy smartphones, and in part to control my social media habit. I eventually went back to a smartphone, but I’ve regularly switched it out for a feature phone. (A feature phone is a phone which has data access for email and browsing, but doesn’t have the range of apps and mobile access that iOS, Android, and even WindowsPhone provide). Not only is life more peaceful, because your notifications go way, way down, but feature phones tend to be smaller and easier to carry around.

One result of my feature phone use is that I use very few apps, and I really don’t miss them. Aside from Twitter I’m not on any social media, I never played games much (Free Cell and Sudoku are about it in terms of video or phone games), and while I love to take photographs, I don’t get the allure of Instagram.

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Month in review

The month is question is January, even thought we’re now almost a third of the way into February. But I wanted to track progress on my various projects from the beginning of the year. So here you go.

C25K

In December I decided to try to Couch to 5K system of getting back into shape to run. I’ve been a recreational runner for most of my adult life, from college to well into my 40s. But over a decade ago I had nearly a year of intensive treatments for cancer (I’m fine now, no worries!), which pretty much destroyed my muscle mass and gave me arthritis on top of that. It turns out that arthritis can be a side effect of the steroids they give you to make chemotherapy easier to deal with. Who knew? I only had it in my knees and ankles, and more in one leg than the other, but it was enough to twinge every time I tried to get myself back into running shape. And that whole aging thing doesn’t help.

The older I get, the harder it is to stay fit and keep from packing on the poundage. I decided my trajectory, unaddressed, was bad enough that I would let someone tell me what to do, i.e., I would just follow the C25K program without talking back to it. The guy who came up with it did it to help his 50-year-old, never-an-athlete mother get into shape. I figured I was close enough to that profile that it could work.

And readers, it has. I walk home from work most days and take public transportation a lot, so I’m not completely unfit. But as everyone says, running is mental as much as physical. The first weeks were not a big deal, but when I first had to run for 25 minutes straight? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done that. But I did it. I’m now on Week 8, which has me walking 5 minutes, running 28 minutes, then walking 5 minutes, three times over the week. The program ends at 9 weeks, when you run for 30 minutes between the 5-minute warmup and warmdown walks.

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Organizing 2016

2016 planners

I was perusing my old blog to see what I’d written about planners and diaries and discovered that I had written organization posts in both 2014 and 2015. So it seems only right that I post about my 2016 planner setup. For the past four or five years I’ve been using only paper calendars, diaries, and task list systems, no electronic ones, and my class prep has stabilized into paper form as well (I’ve switched back and forth between paper and computer-based notes over the years).

For the third year in a row I’m switching up the type of planner I use. I really liked the bound weekly planner I used last year and I’d intended to use the 2016 version. But the one drawback was that even with 30-minute increments, sometimes I didn’t have quite enough room for all my appointments. My year is shaped by the academic calendar, so I have quite a bit of stuff to write down during the semesters and fewer routine engagements and meetings between them. Within the semesters, though, my administrative responsibilities bunch up in specific weeks, and I can have a dozen appointments in a day. Add to that having to change appointments because students or faculty (or I) suddenly can’t make a scheduled time, and the pages can get really messy and there’s not much room to rewrite in those slots.

I’d used a day-per-page diary in a Filofax a few years ago, but that format winds up being very bulky and you don’t get a good look at the week unless you add in a weekly diary (or it comes included). There are bound A5 diaries that come with monthly, weekly, and daily pages, but I find the A5 too big as a daily carry and again, they get thick and heavy. So I was really intrigued by the Hobonichi, a Japanese planner that comes in both A5 and A6 size, with the A6 also coming in an English version. It’s a daily format, but the paper is Tomoe River, which is very thin while still being fountain-pen friendly (another requirement of mine).

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New Year

I wanted to write down my New Year’s goals somewhere public, so that I could go back to them down the road and feel bad about all the things I didn’t get done.

Wait, that sounds defeatist. Let’s try again.

I wanted to write down my New Year’s goals somewhere public, so that I could refer to them through the year and encourage myself when I’m starting to fall off the wagon.

Much better!

In no particular order:

Internet less. Everyone says this, of course, and we all mean it sincerely, with good reason. Online reading and surfing and social media are not the same as reading a book or magazine. They’re more like binge-watching TV, where your senses are bombarded without your cognitive capacities being used in a way that refreshes them. But following through on this goal is the hard part. So I’ve started writing down in my daily planner the times I spend too much time on the Internet. That’s what I call it: Too Much Internet. I write the words in red pen and I block out the hours I’ve spent. I’m hoping that logging my behavior will help me see it more clearly and make changes.

Read attentively. I started to type “read more,” but that doesn’t quite capture what I mean. I’ve written up my 2016 goals and challenges over at Booklikes, where I keep track of my reading. In 2015 I read more SFF and more general/lit fic than I had for a few years, and I really enjoyed that. Right now I’m reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is accessible but which isn’t a book I can read in a weekend. I read it, set it aside, and then come back to it. I’m still reading romance and mysteries, but I want to read more books that are outside my comfort zone.

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Decluttering update: The joy version

Somewhat against my will, I have been swept up in the enthusiasm for Marie Kondo’s bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I picked up both the ebook and audio versions and listened to/read a bit, but then I got sidetracked. When Marilyn reviewed it at her blog a couple of months ago, though, I was sucked back in. I listened to the whole thing on audio (the narrator is quite good), and while parts of the approach seemed a bit much, the overall idea was intriguing and made sense to me.

I wrote a quick post about my experience over at Booklikes, and I’ll probably write a proper review of the book at some point. Here I’m going to talk about my experience following one part of the plan: tidying up my clothes. A couple of years ago I did a big purge of clothes and shoes with the help of a friend. I did another, smaller one in my main closet this past winter and I found it very useful.

Kondo’s method is drastic and potentially overwhelming: you take everything in a category (clothes, books, papers, etc.), pile all of the items on the floor, and then pick each piece up individually and ask yourself, does this give me joy? If it does, you keep it to one side. If it doesn’t, into the bin it goes.

The joy requirement sounds odd at first, at least it did to me. But it turns out to make a lot of sense. We all buy things on impulse, or because someone told us we look good in that particular color, or because we needed a particular item for an event. And then there are the things that we used to love and don’t anymore, or that is well past its prime but we can’t give up.

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