Monday, August 31, 2015

A Post in Parts

I have several unrelated things I want to share, and rather than try to force a connection, this is going to be a post in parts.

Part 1. There is a new Tungsten Hippo taster flight post.

Over the weekend, I posted a taster flight of short ebooks that are mashups of science fiction or fantasy and detective stories. I really like this subgenre, and should look for more stories in it.

Part 2. I have questions.

I have some questions for you guys.

(1) Do I know anyone who studies frogs? Or just knows a lot about them? Bonus points if you have kids (or otherwise read a lot of picture books). I have a children's book story about a girl who loves frogs that is almost ready for beta readers, and I'd like to have at least one of them be someone who knows a lot about frogs.

Other beta readers are welcome to volunteer, too. I'm not sure when I'll get the story to you- maybe within the next month. It is really close to ready, but I am really busy right now...

(2) Do I know anyone who is an illustrator or knows an illustrator? I have a business idea (no, not publishing children's books) and I don't want to pursue it unless I can convince myself it is economically feasible, and that involves talking to an illustrator about rates, compensation options, and the like. Any help finding someone to talk to would be much appreciated!

Part 3. Mailing list promo is over

I've picked the winners for my mailing list promo, so if you haven't gotten an email from me by now, you didn't win. I'm still waiting for one of the winners to reply with an address, though, so I guess there is a still a slim chance...

Thank you to all who helped spread the word. I've decided that reaching certain mailing list milestones will trigger a celebratory walk on the beach. I didn't hit any with this promo, but I got a heck of a lot closer, so I'm happy.

Part 4. Parenting is hard, but the beach is awesome

Now that my kids are older, I'm on a quest to recapture a little bit more of our old spontaneity. After the success of the late afternoon walk on the beach a few weeks ago, I got in my head that we should be able to do an actual late afternoon trip to the beach, with swimming and everything.

It was super hot (for San Diego, so high 80s) on Saturday, so we decided to give it a try. It went pretty well, but there are still a lot of kinks to work out. We stayed in the water a little too long, and Pumpkin and I got hangry. I'd forseen this, and had brought a bag of chips. That sorted me out quickly, but Pumpkin was a little bit past rationality and was freaking out about sand getting in her mouth. Eventually, we found a way to get a few sand-free chips in her, and she calmed down and started eating them on her own.

My original plan had been another low key Rubios dinner, but Pumpkin has decided she doesn't like Rubios anymore, and we've decided to humor her on that for awhile. (I suspect that eventually her love of their churros will override her distaste for their quesadillas, and we'll be back.) But we struggled to come up with something else. We ended up at a restaurant in our neighborhood, which would have been really good except it took way longer than anticipated to get there because there was traffic out of the beach area, and when we got there they had the Chargers game on ridiculously loud. I am getting crotchety about needlessly noisy restaurants in my middle age.

We had a hard time figuring out where to go because Pumpkin is a really nervous eater. I understand- I have a lot of the same tendencies to be really afraid to try new food- but I think we need to work on expanding her horizons a bit. She and I have talked about this from time to time, and tried to come up with ideas for how to get her to try new things, but none of them have stuck. I'm frankly stumped on how to handle this one. (Note: I've read Ellyn Sater. I know her advice. It works on Petunia, who is a fairly normal picky eater who is slowly outgrowing it. It has only ever partially worked on Pumpkin, who is perfectly happy to eat nothing but bread or go hungry, but will get upset because she knows that she's upsetting other people... and then spiral into a hangry, miserable mess.)

So anyway, I was thinking about this new phase of parenthood, when the challenges are much more intellectually difficult than they were in the baby/toddler stage. Parenting remains hard, but at least I get to sleep through the night now.

I may eventually write a bigger post about how overwhelming parenting can seem sometimes... but for tonight, I'll just note that hangriness and restaurant difficulty aside, the beach was pretty awesome.

Pumpkin learned how to boogie board and had a blast doing it. Petunia frolicked in the waves. Really frolicked. She was so happy. The grown ups all cooled off and chilled out a bit.

Sure, we have some kinks to work out, but we'll do this again.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Weekend Reading: The It is Too Hot to Come up with a Theme Edition

Welcome to one of the hottest days of the year here in coastal San Diego! It is 84 degrees in my house right now. Wheeee!

Even better, Petunia got sent home from camp sick on Wednesday, and stayed home yesterday and today. Poor kid has had a fever during some really hot weather. So, let's just say that I've been struggling to get through my to do lists. On the plus side, I've gotten a lot of quality snuggles. On the downside, snuggles in this weather are sweaty.

However, I won't let that keep me from providing weekend reading for you!

First, a couple of blatant self-promotion items:

If you haven't read Unspotted yet, it is not too late! Early reviews are linked in the release day post. I've been busy lining up more reviews for it, but would also appreciate any help you're inclined to give. Buy it, suggest your library buy it (it is now available in Overdrive!), tell your friends about it....

Next week, I'll switch to telling you about Annorlunda Books' next release, but I'll still be working at promoting Unspotted, too.

Also: you have a couple of days left to sign up for one of my mailing lists for a chance to win either 168 Hours or What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast print edition (which also includes the other two books in that series). Both books are by Laura Vanderkam, and details of the giveaway are in last week's links post. Sign up for either my Founding Chaos or Management Monthly mailing list to enter. I'll pick the winner Sunday night.

OK, enough of that. Here are the links you came for:

This story about what happened to one woman who went on leave from Amazon to have a baby, and then to deal with cancer is terrible, although it seems to have a happy ending for her. Amazon is a really big company, and I'm sure there are pockets there in which it is great to work. But this sort of thing should not happen. It happens at places other than Amazon, too, and if we're ever going to have real, meaningful family leave, we need to work to make it not be a matter of luck whether you get the experience I had (came back from leave and integrated right back in, no problem) or the experience Julia Cheiffetz had.

On a more hopeful note, the Hugo Awards did not go to the dogs (or puppies), as it were... and I really like Arthur Chu's essay about that.

And in something straight out of a dystopian sci-fi plot, it looks like the men on Ashley Madison were mostly interacting with bots.

In other dystopian news, the Republicans are now talking about doing away with birthright citizenship. That is appalling. Here is a great essay about what birthright citizenship meant to a couple of immigrants from Canada.

The GQ profile of Stephen Colbert is really, really good.

Techies need to learn about politics if they really want to change the world. I thought this was a good article, but I think it missed one reason why techies don't get politics- they're mostly trained as engineers, and if there is one generalization I will make about engineers after a career of working with them and over a decade of being married to one: they tend to expect things to be logical, and more so, to follow rules of logic they have learned from mostly working with deterministic systems: i.e., if you put in the same input, you'll get the same output. Politics do not follow the rules of this sort of logic. It involves people, and people are not deterministic systems.

Coincidentally, the most recent xkcd comic sums up the problem nicely. I'm linking, not embedding, because you should read the mouseover.

This NY Times article about creative careers continue to be viable is worth your time. Read it in conjunction with this open letter from Amanda Palmer to one of her worried fans. And maybe also consider the string of tweets from a comic book creator that starts here:

She didn't thread her tweets, so you'll have to go to her timeline to read all of them, but as of right now, they are near the top.

Often when I post about racism here, we talk about what white people can do. This interesting article about what social science can tell us about overcoming racism is a good place to start thinking about that. More and more, I think one of the most important things I can do as a white person is try to get other white people to a place where they are open to learning about structural racism. As the article notes, it is not an easy lesson for us to learn.

Here is the first really good thing I've read about the 10 year anniversary of Katrina. I urge you to read it, too.

If you've heard about Margaret Sanger supporting eugenics and wonder what the full story is, this is a good summary of it.

This looks like an interesting idea- helping keep the landlords of NYC honest on heat.

Forget the kids- I may buy some of these bookends for my new office once it is ready. Or maybe I should build something bigger out of these blocks?

Seeing that Cool Mom Tech post reminded me that they had a good post about email for kids a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot to put it in my weekly roundup then. It adds some things I didn't cover in my own Ask Cloud post on the topic awhile back. One interesting thing that I noticed looking up that old post: I first tweeted about email when Pumpkin was seven, but she didn't get it until she was eight... and then it took me a couple more months to write about it. Things don't always move fast here.

Ending on an awww, since I don't have anything funny:

These little butterflies are so adorable I almost want to learn how to knit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I Refuse to Get Used to This

I woke up this morning and read news of the on air shooting of two journalists. I quickly stopped reading and redirected my attention to getting my kids ready for their day, because although Pumpkin is old enough that we now tell her about tragic events nearby or that she's likely to hear about from her friends, I don't see the need to make her know about every single shooting event that makes news.

Frankly, knowing about ever single shooting event that makes the news is overwhelming for me. I don't know what it would be like for an eight year old, and I don't really want to find out.

By some definitions, we're now averaging more than one mass shooting per day. No matter how you define "mass shooting" or count the shooting events, there are too many.

Today's shooting occurred on the same day as the man who shot people in a Colorado movie theater three years ago was sentenced. He will serve 12 consecutive life sentences. But there is no accountability for the people who ensured he was able to buy his weapons and ammunition.

We will always have unstable, unhappy, and angry people. We don't always have to make it so easy for them to get weapons and ammunition. We just don't. Anyone who tries to tell you that there is no way to prevent these events is lying or deluded. Of course there is. Every other country in the world has figured it out. We could, too, if we had the will.

After I dropped the kids off at the camp for the day, I came back home and tried to settle in to work. Wednesdays are work at home days, and I primarily focus on my own projects. I looked at my to do list. Post a Tungsten Hippo recommendation. Tweet about the mailing list sign up promo I started last Friday. Write some posts for other places. Make a couple of phone calls. Work on formatting on the next Annorlunda Books release. And so on.

I managed to make my Tungsten Hippo post. It took me almost an hour to do something I usually do in less than 20 minutes. So I decided to close all my social media windows and focus on something offline. I worked on the book formatting and had my phone calls and went about my day.

By lunchtime, social media was mostly back to normal. I tried to get back to normal, too, writing one of the posts I had on my list.

But then I realized, I don't want to get back to normal so easily. I don't want to be able to shrug off the senseless murder of two young people. I don't want to be able to just go about my day when it starts with news of gun violence.

I'm not at all judging people for getting back to normal on social media. With so many shooting events, if no one posted about anything else on the day when one happened, we'd almost never get to talk about anything else.

And that is the problem.

We have too many guns, they are too easy for people to buy, and too many people are getting shot.

Yes, yes, I know. There are other problems at work, too. But as I said on Twitter before I signed off for awhile this morning: Yes, we should try to fix our other problems. But the guns make our other problems so much more deadly. We should try to fix that, too.

So, while I did go about my day, it wasn't really a normal day, and I'm OK with that. I refuse to force myself to act like nothing has happened and nothing is wrong, because something is very, very wrong.

Being able to have a normal day would mean that I'm used to this, and I refuse to get used to this.

I don't know how we change things. I think it starts by all of us refusing to accept this as our "new normal"  and by all of us believing that we can change things. It might take longer than it should, but I really do think it can change. If you're looking for some place to send your energies and/or money to support changing our national attitude towards guns, Moms Demand ActionAmericans for Responsible Solutions, and The Brady Campaign are all working on this problem from different angles. Pick the one that suits you best.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Trip Story: The Rest of the French Trip

I think I should try to finish off my blog posts about my summer vacations before summer ends. My kids don't go back to school until the day after Labor Day, so by my reckoning I have two weeks left to get this wrapped up. I'd better get going!

Today, let's finish off the French Trip. Last time I posted on this, we were in St. Jean de Luz, enjoying the laid back pace and excellent food. We had two more stops before we flew home: Dax, to attend the wedding that prompted this trip, and Lagrasse, to see my sister-in-law and her family, who happened to be vacationing in France, too. Now, if you look at a map and find Dax and then find the Lagrasse we visited, which is the one near Carcassonne, you will notice that this was a mighty big detour. However, it wasn't as big of a detour as from San Diego to New Zealand, which is where my sister-in-law lives. And she has a toddler son we had yet to meet.... enough said, right?

Anyway, let's go back to the start of this leg, when we left St. Jean de Luz. We decided to see a little bit more of Basque country, and drove first to Espelette. This is a ridiculously charming village famous for its red peppers, which are hung to dry on the buildings in town.

See? Ridiculously charming.

From Espelette, we wanted to go to Les Grottes d'Isturitz and Oxocelhaya, which were our most convenient option for seeing some ancient cave art. The Isturitz cave was occupied between 80,000 and 15,000 BCE, and you can view carvings on one pillar in the cave. It is amazing to stand and see something carved by prehistoric people. However, we understandably could not take pictures of it, so if you want to see it you will have to visit for yourself.

We were not yet in high tourist season, so the caves weren't open until mid-afternoon. To occupy our time between Espelette and then, we drove to La Bastide -Clairence, which our guidebook noted had been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France. It was quite pretty, but we had been spoiled by Espelette and the other Basque towns, and everything was closed for the long lunch break... so it wasn't a very exciting stop. Still, it did the job of occupying us until we could go to the caves.

After the caves, we drove on to Dax, got settled into our hotel, and then went for a stroll around town. We had dinner at a pizza place- which some might consider tragic, since Dax is best known for its food. But I just couldn't keep up a steady stream of rich meals, and I knew that the wedding dinner the next day was likely to be impressive, so pizza it was. The highlight of that meal was me trying to order the apple tart dessert for Mr. Snarky and accidentally asking for a potato tart. (Apple = pomme, potato = pomme de terre, and I was tired.)

The following morning, we walked along the river and found ourselves at a park in which a petanque league was playing- it looked a bit like an American recreational bowling league. Teams wore matching shirts, but were clearly there primarily to have a good time. The park was in front of the bull stadium. This part of France has a tradition of bull running and bullfighting. This is controversial, and not something we delved into during our stay. On the day we wandered past the stadium, it looked like an event was about to take place, and we suspect we saw one of the athletes talking to fans while we ate our lunch- but we are not sure.

A statue in the park

Anyway, we continued on past the stadium for a bit, and then walked back for lunch. Here I made another error trying to order my food, and ended up with a plate of cèpes, not the crepes I thought I had read on the specials menu. Cèpes are a type of mushroom. Our waiter enthused about how wonderful they were, and how lucky I was that they had just come into season. Sadly, I am not really a fan of mushrooms, so my opinion of my lunch was somewhat muted, particularly since I had been aiming for a light lunch, and instead had a plate of mushrooms cooked in butter. Mr. Snarky tried them and agreed with the waiter, so at least someone appreciated them.

The wedding that afternoon was beautiful, and the party that evening was phenomenal. They are not my stories to share, so I will not go into details (other than to say that the food was indeed delicious and the wine free-flowing), but I was so glad I was able to be there.

French wedding receptions go until the wee hours of the morning, and this one was no exception. We got back to our hotel at about 2 a.m., and between the late night, the rich food, and copious wine, I wasn't all that happy at breakfast the next morning. But I made it through, and we drove east, towards Provence and my sister-in-law.

We stopped to visit Carcassonne, because it would have been strange not to. Carcassonne is a walled medieval village that is amazingly intact. It is a beautiful place, full of history. It is also jammed full of people, and full of tourist shops. Still, if you ever get the chance to visit it, take it.

Fairy tale time!

We went from Carcassonne to Lagrasse, a tiny little village that was every bit as beautiful and charming as the Basque villages we'd visited, just with different aesthetics.

Also ridiculously charming

We had a wonderful evening visiting my sister-in-law and her family and doting on our nephew... and then, the next morning, we got up early and drove to the airport in Toulouse. Three flights and roughly 24 hours later, I was home. Mr. Snarky went on to the UK for work. We'd had a great trip, and enjoyed the chance to travel on our own again, but I missed my kids and was so happy to see them. Traveling for long periods seems like something I should mostly do with them right now. We'll probably try for some shorter kid-free get aways in 2016 if my parents are up for it, but I think the big vacation will be a family one. That's just me, though- I know a lot of people swear by having regular "parents only" vacations. I'm not sure why it isn't something I want to do a lot of, but it isn't. As hard as it would have been to feed my "highly selective eaters" in France and as nice as the leisurely evenings out were, I kept seeing things I wished I could show them. I guess this phase of my life just feels like a "kids included" phase.

Still, the French Trip was a great one!

Completely unrelated to this post: I'm running a subscription drive for my newsletters. Sign up by Sunday to be entered into a drawing to win a free book by Laura Vanderkam! Details are in the last post. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Holy Smokes Things Got Busy Edition

I've started the formatting work on Annorlunda Books' next release. I should have a cover to show soon, and when I do, I'll put up a webpage with a blurb and all of that. So... stay tuned! And in the meantime, don't forget to check out the most recent release, Unspotted.

I've also got a talk coming up, and am planning some celebratory things around Tungsten Hippo's upcoming second birthday, and am also planning to offer my "intro to project management for non-project managers" class again. I originally called the class Get More Done, but then realized that there is a far more famous book by the same name, and so I need to rebrand my class. Suggestions for a new name will be gratefully accepted. I hate naming things.

And, as a I discussed a bit on Twitter last night, Petunia's 6th birthday is coming up, and we've decided to do the same thing we did for Pumpkin's 6th birthday: go to Disneyland. I need to get some aspects of that trip planned out and booked ASAP, because eating with the princesses books out early. And of course we want to eat with the princesses.

So, what I'm saying is, holy smokes! Things got busy! For the first time since leaving my full time job, I've felt the need to print out some monthly calendars and schedule out my work. I kept calendars with release dates, vacation times, etc., when I was a group leader, because I was trying to run multiple projects at once, and had five employees and a gaggle of contractors whose schedules I needed to respect. Now it is just me (and my family) whose schedules need considering, but I'm back to having multiple projects. I like it that way, so it is all good.

Before I get to the links, a little blatant self-promotion. One of the things on the calendar for next week is to run a promotion to sign up more mailing list subscribers, both for my Management Monthly list and for my Founding Chaos list. The inducement I have is two books by Laura Vanderkam to give away- I'll give a copy of the print version of her What the Most Successful People Do... series to a subscriber of the Management Monthly list, and a copy of 168 hours to a subscriber of the Founding Chaos list.

The prizes

I was the random winner of them in a Twitter chat I participated in around the release of her latest book, I Know How She Does It (which I reviewed), and since I already have copies of both of these books, I'm going to pass the marketing love on and give the new ones away to randomly selected subscribers of my most relevant newsletters.

Both newsletters come out monthly. Management Monthly includes links to the management/productivity things I've written that month under my real name, links to other management and productivity things I've found on the web, and other relevant notes I feel like making. It also includes announcements of classes and seminars I'm giving. You can see its archive and sign up here.

Founding Chaos is a slightly more personal newsletter that includes a story about life as someone trying to start a company, promos of things I've released, and links that I've liked. You can see its archive and sign up here.

I'll be picking the winners next Sunday (8/30) at 9 p.m. pacific time. I'll make a few more announcements on Twitter next week, but you don't have to wait for those. Sign up now! And yes, you can sign up to both lists. The content overlaps, but not by much. It also only overlaps a little with these links posts.

Alright, enough of that. On to the links:

A new report from Bain and Company found that companies "drain" women's ambition in two years. Reading this was a bit like reading the intro to What Works for Women and Work- affirming, but a little too close to home for comfort. I guess I should be glad I lasted as long as I did? On the other hand, I don't think all companies are equal in this regard, and if I start the clock at the time I started at my last company... I lasted not much longer than two years. Interesting.

The timing found in the study made me think of this post on Corprette, which is my favorite site for ideas about how to dress like a professional, but also occasionally has posts about other career-related topics. Note the quoted comment about how anyone can do any job for two years. When I contemplate the fact that how the way biotech works made it likely that I wouldn't be in any job for more than two years...  yeah, a little close to home. (Although I had some GREAT years at some of my jobs, so it isn't all gloomy.)

Some of you may be wondering why I spend time on a site with ideas for how to dress like a professional. Surely, I can just go to a store and buy things? Well, I have big boobs. And the fashion industry doesn't make things for women like me. Anytime I have to do a targeted shopping excursion looking for something I need for an interview or a talk, I come home angry and depressed. Far better to keep an eye on a few sites and buy things that are likely to work for me when they come along. Also, Corprette is the site that led me to my Lo and Sons computer bag, which I outright love.

All of that is to say: dudes, you have no idea how easy you have it when it comes to dressing professionally.

Speaking of things that are different for women than for men... I really liked this post from Lara Hogan about celebrating achievements as a woman. I remember seeing one of her tweets of a celebratory doughnut and that is probably what planted the seed for my idea that I should celebrate my milestones. Maybe I should tweet out a picture of the shells I find each time? It is an interesting idea.

I had a couple of Twitter rants about that NYT piece on Amazon, over at my real name account. I was starting to think I would need to write a post summarizing the research we have on long hours. It is not as strong as I'd like, but it does at least suggest that working long hours is as counterproductive as I argue it is. Luckily for me, Sarah Green Carmichael summarized the research for me.

Speaking of work/life stuff: this Fast Company piece about the start up founder who had to bring a toddler with her to Y Combinator didn't get as much attention as I thought it would when I saw it. The founder in question has made it clear she bears no ill will towards Y Combinator... but I still think the rest of us can say "hey, this isn't alright." Y Combinator absolutely could afford to make things a little less terrible for parents who want to participate in its program. It just chooses not to, for whatever reason.

Reading that post and the little bit of response I saw, reminded me of an old post I wrote about trying to imagine a world in which the necessary work of raising the next generation could be better integrated into the other work in society. I still feel like my imagination needs to stretch more in this area. But I don't think the Y Combinator way is a good way, I really don't.

Gene Demby wrote an amazing, heartbreaking piece about the Black reporters who are covering the Black Lives Matter movement and related topics. Apparently the comments are a nightmare. I haven't dared to look.

This article on racism in the classroom makes me want to cry. I tweeted something about how everyone in a public job should get training on implicit bias. I don't think it would solve the problem, but it might make it better. I think people have to be in the right frame of mind to accept the message of the training, though, and I don't know how you achieve that in a society where someone like Donald Trump can poll as well as he does, and even the "moderate" Republican candidate for president is saying racist things about immigration, and where Shaun King has to write a post like this.

Some of the other prominent activists in the Black Lives Matter movement have started a project called Campaign Zero to end police violence.

This cartoon about converting ethics into economics questions is funny/sad.

This is a long essay about being a journalist right now... but I swear it is worth your time.

Albert Burneko's post on raising kids is awesome.

I really like today's Tungsten Hippo quote:

"It’s an odd sort of future, but sometimes the only thing to do is thank God there’s no zombies, and just make the best of it all."

It is from a novella by Maia Sepp called An Etiquette Guide to the End Times which I also loved.

This is a cool story about a bridge.

My husband sent me this video in an email titled "we should totally have another one:"

We aren't going to, but it does capture the awesomeness of having a toddler.

I love this:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ask Cloud: Time Management for List-Haters

I have a new Ask Cloud question, and it is a hard one. I'm really hoping my readers can help out!

List-Averse asks:

"I read your book [Note: that would be Taming the Work Week] and a lot of your blog posts on productivity.  I need all the advice I can get on being productive and keeping the work hours sane.  One thing that I keep seeing are making lists (daily lists... weekly... long-term).  Lists do not work for me!  I write things down and then I forget where I wrote things down/never get around to actually looking at the lists/priorities change and yesterday's lists become obsolete.  Do you have any suggestions for further reading on productivity/project management for people who are list-averse?"

I followed up to ask what problem List-Averse is trying to solve- not making good use of time? Forgetting important things? Something else? Here was the answer, lightly edited to preserve anonymity:

"My goal is to use time wisely.  I am somewhat disorganized and I am horrible at strategy.  There are all these different things (sometimes from different projects) that have to be done.  I end up wasting a huge amount of time because I tend to forget that before starting thing A, I need to prepare B, C and get G.  I drive 30 minutes to get G, but forget to ask about X and Y for project Z that I will need to start in two weeks.

I am good at concentrating and working on things that are right in front of me, but anything that requires strategic planning is a challenge...  I've tried making lists, but my brain just doesn't seem to be all that compatible with lists.  I either forget I made a list (and find it months later), or can't find it, or don't have it with me when I need it.

I can function reasonably well in [my] "as is" state, but I do waste time that I'd rather be spending with the family... or reading... or sleeping.  So, I am wondering - is there a method for planning projects and managing time, other than making lists?"

This is a hard question for me to answer, because I love lists! But I'll take a shot at it, and then I encourage my readers- particularly anyone who doesn't care for lists!- to weigh in.

I think List-Averse is off to a good start by recognizing what doesn't work. Too often, we are looking for a sort of one size fits all "trick" that will make this stuff easy. But improving productivity isn't easy. I still work at it, and I've been paying attention to my time use and productivity for years. So don't feel bad if it feels hard. It is hard, but (at least to me) it is worth the effort, because the reward is the feeling that you're spending your time on the things that matter to you.

OK, so what could List-Averse try? Here are my ideas, in no particular order.

Try a more visual list

I've noticed when I work with people on project management that some people who hate Work Breakdown Structures (the list-like "project plans" you often see) and Gantt charts really love card based systems like Trello. Maybe it is something about the visual nature, or the fact that you can organize your cards in multiple ways? I don't know.

I use both Trello and work breakdown structures. To me, one isn't better than the other- they have different strengths and weaknesses, and I use them in different situations. I've yet to find a tool better than a WBS for tracking dependencies, but I love the less-structured format of Trello for capturing my backlog.

(I've also used KanbanFlow, as discussed in this old post. I find, though, that if I'm doing really Kanban-like project management, I prefer a physical board.)

One of the great things about Trello is that there are many ways of using it. The best way is the way that works for you. However, sometimes it is helpful to have a point to start from, so I'll share my current Trello set up. I currently use it only for my work things, and it looks like this:

  • I have one "Master" board for the things that I'm working on now or will be working on soon. It has lanes named: Prioritized, This Month, Doing, Parked, and Done. 
  • I have a board for each area of focus, which right now means: Annorlunda Books, Design (i.e., my Etsy store), Tungsten Hippo, Writing, Consulting, and Overhead.
  • Each "focus" board has lanes named: To Do, Prioritized, and Done
  • I've set up labels that match the areas of focus. This allows me to "tag" the cards on my Master board so that there is a color code for the area of focus the card relates to.
  • When a new idea occurs to me or I decide I should do a new project, I add it to the appropriate board. 
    • If it is something I'll do "sometime," it goes in the To Do lane on the appropriate focus board
    • If it is something I'll do "soon," it either goes in the Prioritized lane of the focus board or the Prioritized lane of the Master board, depending on how soon I think I should do it. This is not an exact thing.
    • If it is something I'll do this month, it goes in the This Month lane on the Master board.
    • If I'm already doing it, it goes in the Doing lane on the Master board.
  • Once a week or so, I open up my Trello board, move things to Done or Parked, and move the other cards around based on my plans. I move things from the focus boards to the Master board as needed, and then add a color coded label. I also think a bit about what I should be doing, either now or in the future, and make cards for those. I consider this time spent on short term strategy. 
  • Every once and awhile, I move things from Done on the Master board to Done on the appropriate focus board. This serves no real purpose but makes me happy.
  • I try to limit the number of things in the Doing lane to 5 or less. That is my personal optimal number of things in flight. I like to have a lot of things in flight. Other people might like to set a smaller work in progress limit. (This is an idea I took from kanban.)
Try lists that cover shorter periods of time

I consider my Trello board to be my "grand plan." I know some people manage their day to day work off of a board, but I don't. I manage my day to day work off of an old school list on paper. I use a small spiral notebook these days, because one of my kids gave me a small spiral notebook as a gift (I can't remember for which occasion- probably my birthday or Mother's day last year), and this was my idea of how to use it. It has worked out really well. I currently work from home on my own projects (i.e., not onsite and a client) on Wednesdays and Fridays. I also generally spend an hour or two on the other days on my own projects. So right now, I make a page for Monday-Tuesday, a page for Wednesday, a page for Thursday (but it is a short list), a page for Friday, and a page for Weekend (this list might be empty or have only "fun" work, like writing blog posts, unless I'm on a crunch time). 

I write items on the list for the appropriate day as I decide I should do something on that day. This is also not an exact science. I tend to have items on lists a day or two ahead, and then when I'm sitting down to start work on a given day, I review the items and add to them as needed. Here is today's list, which is mostly completed because it is almost time to stop working:

My daily to do lists don't always get completed, but when they don't, I spend the last little bit of work time that day looking at what didn't get done and moving it to another day's list or consciously deciding not to do it right now.

I have a similar set of lists at my desk onsite with my main client, for the work I do there.

I also write mini-lists on sticky notes to shuttle ideas that occur to me at one place to the place where the list I need exists. I know that electronic lists would solve this, but there is a certain joy I get out of crossing things off on a physical list, so I stick to paper. (I have used Workflowy in the past, though, and it is a good option for people who like online lists. I've also heard good things about Evernote, but haven't used it much myself.)

Consider a schedule

I am painfully aware of the fact that my first two ideas are essentially "make different lists." Like I said at the top, I'm genuinely struggling to come up with other ideas for remembering what you need to do and having a more strategic approach to time use.

One other possibility, though, would be to try to schedule your time. Routines help us remember things, so if it is possible to set it up so that the disparate things you need to do settle into a routine, it might help. A trivial example is, I always do grocery shopping on Sunday, so I don't need to write "buy groceries" on a list for my weekend chores. (I still do, though, because of the joy of crossing things off... but that's my own little weirdness.)

If you can take the same basic idea and expand it to cover more aspects of the things you need to do, you might find that the frazzled feeling calms down, and you're more confident that you aren't forgetting things.

Change your mindset about lists

One theme I noticed in List-Averse's emails was that lists got forgotten or changed... and that was bad. I wonder if the problem with lists is that they seem like a prescription instead of a plan? I change my lists all the time. I scratch things out on my written lists (a line all the way through an item means "I'm not going to do this") and I delete things from Trello or kick something I put in Prioritized back to To Do. My lists are a commitment I make to myself. If I decide that the commitment needs to change, I can change it.

Also, I have gone to the grocery store many times and realize I left my list at home. But I'll shop anyway, and usually I get most things that were on my list. The reason for this is that writing something down helps me remember it. So even if you lose a list you wrote, it might have helped you remember what you needed to do.

Maybe you will feel better about lists if you let go of the idea that there is a "right way" to use them? 

I don't know, though... List-Averse, I'm reading a lot between the lines in your emails, and this suggestion may be way off base. Please disregard it if it doesn't ring true to you.

Try different technology

If you lose your written lists, try writing them on a sticky note and sticking them in the appropriate location. I tend to stick lists to my laptop lid a lot.

There are also a gazillion to do list apps these days, and perhaps putting one of those on yoru phone would solve the problem of not having the list when you need it.

Another technological tool that might help is Google Docs. I will sometimes start a document with some free form notes about a project idea. Then, when I'm ready to start the project, I search Google Docs to find the document and use it as a starting point.

Reduce the number of things in flight

I know of some very productive people who do not use to do lists. They say that it is always obvious what they should be working on. This works for them because they have managed to arrange their work life such that they can focus on one or maybe two projects at a time. They do a "deep dive" into their project and so it is always obvious to them what the next priority should be.

Not everyone can set up their work life in this way, but we can all try to mimic it, by limiting our "work in progress." Like I mentioned above, I like to have about five things in flight. That is a fairly high number, but it works for me. Maybe List-Averse is someone whose natural "work in progress limit" is closer to one or two. People who have low "WIP limits" can sometimes mimic the "one project a time" work situation by have a backlog and only pulling allowing one or two things off the backlog at a time. 

The backlog is just a to do list, but it is a to do list that you specifically are saying you aren't going to do right now. I think of my deep backlog (the To Do lanes in Trello) like an external memory bank. I store things there so that I can take them out of my working memory. If you can do this and only have one or two things in progress at a time, the backlog might be the only list you need.

Get in the habit of doing a mental check

To tackle the problem of forgetting that you need to do A and B before you start C, try occasionally performing a mental check. Maybe do this first thing in the morning, or before sitting down to start work for the day, or whenever you feel like you are mentally freshest. Think about what needs to get done, and then take a minute to think about anything you need before you start. This is like a mental version of the chef's practice of gathering all your ingredients before you start.

That's all I can come up with, so readers, it is your turn? What ideas do you have for List-Averse?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Success, Big and Small

I intended to write this post over the weekend, but life had other ideas for me.

It was nothing bad or even dramatic- just gymnastics class, chores, play dates, birthday parties... and some unabashed fun: dinner at my sister's on Saturday and a family walk on the beach followed by dinner at Rubio's on Sunday.

All in all, it was a good weekend, although I was frustrated by my inability to squeeze some writing time in around the other things. Of course, if I'd really needed to write, I would have made the time. The simple fact was that the other things were higher priorities for me, so as much as I wanted to write, it didn't happen. Sometimes, you have more priorities than time to accommodate them. In my experience, it is usually best to just accept that and focus on the priorities you can fit in, rather than trying to bend the space-time continuum to cram more in. I managed to write my planned Tungsten Hippo post (a new Read Together post- check it out), but decided not to try to do more.

Anyhow, here I am writing the post today, so time marches on and yesterday's priority that got cut becomes today's priority that gets done.

We took the family walk on the beach because Pumpkin requested it and we had a mini heat wave this weekend, so it was 85 degrees in our house. Ocean breezes and dinner cooked somewhere other than our kitchen sounded great. I'm glad we went. We all had fun.


Pumpkin wanted to walk on the beach because she wanted to look for seashells. I had gone for a walk on the beach on Friday and I found a sand dollar. I only found one, so I wouldn't give it to her- if I gave her the sand dollar, Petunia would surely have demanded one, too, and I did not have another.

Besides, I've endowed some meaning into that sand dollar.

I was walking on the beach on Friday as a celebration for publishing Unspotted. I decided that I should celebrate my milestones, just like I would at a "real" company. I considered going to get ice cream, but then considered the effect that repeated success could have on my waistline, and decided to plan for both success and still being able to fit into my pants and went for a walk on the beach instead. It is something I love to do that I don't do often enough.

So after lunch on Friday, I drove to Pacific Beach (my old neighborhood!) and went for a stroll. It was beautiful. The weather was warm, but there was a nice breeze. The water was warm (for the Pacific) and very clear.

Clear water, happy feet.

As I strolled, I picked up shells I found that I liked. My original plan, in as much as I had one, was to give them to my kids. But then I found the sand dollar. OK, I'll confess. First I found a different sand dollar. Then I accidentally broke it, and laughed to myself about it being a good thing that I hadn't put a lot of meaning into finding it. Then I found another, and managed to get it home without breaking it.

So yeah, I may adopt it as a sort of mascot. Finding two intact sand dollars in one stroll on a busy stretch of Pacific Beach is.... unlikely. If that can happen, maybe my business can make it, too. Or something like that.

My finds.

I let my kids each pick one non-sand dollar shell from my stash, and then I put the rest into a mason jar. I'm calling it my success jar. It will hold the shells I find during all of my celebratory walks on the beach.

I have vague plans to glue the sand dollar to the lid.

I'm still deciding what will constitute a milestone worthy of a walk on the beach. So far, I've decided I get a walk for each product release (books and seminars, only- I'm not serious enough about the t-shirts for those to count) and each time a product crosses into profitability. I'm sure I'll come up with a few other milestones, too, as my business plans adapt and mature.

I'm going to fill that jar up.

There are no guarantees on sand dollars, though- we didn't find a single one on yesterday's walk.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Complicated World Edition

I, of course, think your weekend reading should be Unspotted.

But I understand that you may feel differently. So here are some links.

But first, a note about something I'm not including. Last night, my Twitter timeline erupted about an article an editor at The Chicago Tribune wrote that included reference to Hurricane Katrina. There was a lot of anger, and I am fairly certain it was justified. I am not going to link to that article. I gather the author has now apologized, sort of. From the reactions I've seen, it appears to have been an onomatapology:

I started to write a post about this last night, and about my recollections of witnessing the horrifying aftermath of Katrina on my TV screen, but I am not up to the task. I have vivid memories of being utterly shocked and horrified, and deeply embarrassed that this was happening in my country. But I was not there. I was not anywhere close to there. This happened before I started reading a lot about racism and trying to understand its role in events in this country. Frankly, I just do not think I can do this topic justice.

I would love to include a link to something good that has been written about the upcoming 10th anniversary of that devastating storm, but I haven't really seen anything. Feel free to share anything you know of in the comments.

The other big topic in my Twitter timeline yesterday was the Sesame Street news. I am not thrilled to hear that Sesame Street is going to HBO, but I am glad they managed to structure the deal so that the episodes go to PBS eventually. This article from Alyssa Rosenberg is fairly close to my opinions on the matter.

I've written before how we, as a society, don't pay for content. There are a few companies that have figured out how to get us to pay: Netflix, Amazon, HBO... probably a few others. But I don't know that what they have figured out is anything general: I think each case is helped by some specific aspect of their company's history. I also don't know that they've figured out anything long term, even for themselves. It is a tough world for people who make "content," particularly if they aren't famous.

I am definitely no expert on entertainment, but I suspect the Sesame Street folks got the the best deal they could. I'm not sure what their other options really were, and that is never a strong negotiating position. Perhaps they could have tried a Kickstarter, a la Reading Rainbow.  (Side note: I understand that Petunia, The Girl Who Was NOT a Princess is going to be on the new Reading Rainbow app, and that delights me to no end.)

But to be honest, while I understand why people are so upset about this- it feels a bit like someone went back in time and stole candy from you as a 3 year old- I'm basically OK with this outcome. My kids have spent most of the summer watching the same few seasons of a show called Fireman Sam over and over and over.... I don't think the 9 month delay will impact the value of the show to kids.

What is truly outrageous is that we're relying on a TV show to provide early childhood education to any of our children. But that's another rant altogether.

This interview of Ta-Nehisi Coates by Roxane Gay is every bit as good as you'd expect, given the two people involved. Go read the entire thing. But this particular exchange is particularly great:

RG: How can allies best serve as allies? What is an ally? Are they needed?
TC: I don’t know. I think it’s probably terribly important to listen. It’s terribly important to try to become more knowledgeable. It’s important to not expect that acquiring of that knowledge — in this case of the force of racism in American history — to be a pleasant experience or to proceed along just lines. They certainly don’t proceed that way for black people. It’s going to be painful. Finally I think one has to even abandon the phrase “ally” and understand that you are not helping someone in a particular struggle; the fight is yours.
However, it doesn't sound like it would stop people like the one described in this rather heartbreaking story.
From now on, I'm going to imagine every trollish comment I read was written by this pathetic dude who would rather lose his marriage and the chance to live with his child than stop being an asshole on the internet. What a sad human being.
I really liked this piece from Web Smith about why Twitter is struggling. He makes some really good points about how Twitter has the capacity to expose us to the unvarnished truth about our world more than any other social network. It is a great strength of Twitter. It is what I love about Twitter.

But he also makes some good points about how overwhelming that can be, particularly for those of us who are not used to being confronting with those truths. I think he is right that this is part of the reason Twitter is struggling to grow or become profitable.

I also think that we all have to learn how to modulate that exposure for ourselves. Otherwise, we get overwhelmed and the temptation to go back into the relative comfort of our previous ignorance is too high. To use an overused cliche, the effort to make the world better is a marathon, not a sprint.

I know that it is easier for some of us to step away for a bit than others. In fact, that is part of the problem we're trying to solve. But I still step away sometimes (like, for instance, last night, with the Katrina story). I am only human. I commit to myself that I will look back at the truth soon, and I go and organize photos of my kids. Or watch a TV show with my husband. Or something else.

On a completely different topic: this is an interesting piece about why public transit tends to suck in a lot of the US.

In my own city of San Diego, transit is slowly, slowly getting better. It is still too downtown centric, but they long term plans I've seen are good. I am cautiously optimistic that we'll be OK and avoid the traffic nightmare of LA. (LA is working on its transit system, too- but they started at a later point and in a worse place than San Diego did, at least to my relatively naive viewpoint.)

I want to read more on transit and growth. I think figuring this stuff out is really important, but I never feel like I understand the topic well enough to have a good opinion.

I'm too old for this. I like that mantra.

Ending on a lighter note: I really love Laura Vanderkam's idea of a mini-retreat. I am going to try this out myself soon!

Also, I've added a new category to the Crappy Things I Made to Stop the Whining tumblr: toy tableaux! Here is the first installment. You can submit your own (or your own homemade toys), too.

And the funny at the end: this xkcd cartoon makes me laugh.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Different Sort of Release Day

I've done release day posts before- for my own books. Today's post is a different sort of release day post. It is release day for the first book written by somebody else that I'm publishing through my publishing company.

Unspotted, by Justin Fox, is a short ebook about the endangered Cape Mountain Leopards of South Africa, and about Quenton Martins and The Cape Leopard Trust, who are working to save these beautiful animals. It is also a travelogue of sorts as Fox journeyed into the Cederberg Mountains to try to see one of the elusive cats for himself.

Obviously, I really like this book- otherwise I wouldn't have bought it to publish! I think you'll like it, too, so check it out.

Two reviews from advance readers are already in:

You can find the links to all of the retail outlets on the Annorlunda Books page, but to make things easier for you, I'll put them here, too. Although I have a Kindle (OK, I love my Kindle), I don't want to see Amazon be the only source for ebooks- so I skipped the Kindle Unlimited program and have made this book widely available. You can get it for just $2.99 at:

  • Amazon
  • GumRoad (this is direct from me, and includes the MOBI for your Kindle, the ePub for other ereaders, and a PDF for those who want a hardcopy- you can print it out).
  • iBooks
  • Kobo
  • Smashwords

It is also available at two subscription services:

I'll add links to other channels to the Annorlunda Books page for the book as they become available. Specifically, for the librarians in my audience: Overdrive is in process (via Smashwords). If you have suggestions for other places you'd like to see the book, let me know.

I also made it the pick of the week at Tungsten Hippo, so you can read more of what I thought of the book there.

And I added this edition to GoodReads (it had previously been published in South Africa by a now-defunct publisher).

If you want to help me make this book (and my publishing company!) a success, you can buy the book, read it on a subscription service, write a review (these really help), tell your friends about it, add it to your GoodReads shelf, or share it on social media.

If you want easy ways to share, you can reshare my Tungsten Hippo posts:

Here is the post about the book on the Tungsten Hippo Facebook page

and  here is the Tungsten Hippo tweet:

Although one of the great things about ebooks is that sales can build slowly over time, a big boost on release day can still really help a book, because it helps get the book promoted by the retailers' algorithms. So if you think you'll buy the book, please consider doing so today. A sale at anytime is great, but a sale today is extra helpful.

Regardless, thanks for reading. I'll be back to my usual random mix of posts soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Beware the Narrative

I'm still catching up after my vacation/staycation. I never finished the posts about the trip to France,
A picture from the LA trip, representing both balancing acts
and the enduring power of a good story!
and now I have a short trip to LA I'd like to write about, too. I may not get to it. I had the best intentions to write about my last trip to Arizona- I even took pictures to use in a post!- and then I never wrote a post. It is a shame. I don't think my trip story posts are the most popular with readers, but I like to have them to refer back to.

Anyway, I read an article I'd saved by Lisa Miller about why we need older women in the workforce, and I realized that by Miller's definition, I've left. She is looking for women to show the way forward in what I'll call a "regular job"- i.e., one where you go into an office and do your part in a larger organization. I can understand why she wants this. It is hard to navigate your way through office politics and career decisions without role models, and although men can be helpful to a certain extent, they are playing by different rules. I couldn't emulate a former boss' direct and confrontational style, for instance. That would have been career suicide for me, although it worked well for him.

There's been a lot written about why women leave the workforce. People argue about whether it is motherhood, or overwork, or sexism, or something else. I've been thinking a lot about this given my own recent exit from the corporate world. I still consider myself very much in the workforce (and so far at least, still have a paycheck to prove it), but I'll grant that I've left the corporate world. I left at the stereotypical time: mid-career, partway up the ladder but still definitely on a middle rung. I have more than one kid, too, which studies have indicated correlates with a greater likelihood of leaving.

So what made me leave? Here are the possible reasons:

  • The company moved and the new commute was making it hard to get a full work week in.
  • The culture in which I was working evolved into something I didn't enjoy that much.
  • I'd reached my limit on the low key sexist BS that was constant background noise in my career. I have a few jaw-dropping "you have GOT to be kidding me" sexism in the workforce stories, but I honestly think it was the constant low level stuff that did more harm. As I explained to a friend recently, it was like that stuff was just silently accruing, and all of the sudden I'd hit some sort of pre-set BS limit that even I didn't know existed. The men I was working with at the time weren't particularly sexist. They were just the guys in the vicinity when I hit the limit.
  • I had other interests I wanted to explore.
  • The job I was in had policies that made it very hard to have any sort of side gig- including writing. That was annoying and made me feel overly constrained.
  • I wanted to try being completely in charge.

There are probably more reasons that aren't obvious to me right now, but those are the big ones. So which was "the reason" I quit? None of them. All of them. It was a combination of things. Depending on what larger point someone wanted to make, my story could be spun to emphasize some of the factors more than others, but I honestly can't say that any one factor was more important than any other in my thought process the day I quit.

People want there to be a clean answer for why so many women decide to opt out of corporate life, but in my case, there isn't a clean answer. I suspect this is true of most people who decide to leave. Would decreasing the background sexism convince more to stay? I have no doubt that it would. But it would be easy to take a story like mine and argue that women like me leave the corporate world for more positive reasons. It would also probably be easy to go through my work history and find things I'd done wrong, or suboptimal decisions I'd made that led to some of my other frustrations.

In the end, I left because I wanted to explore different things, and my exhaustion with the environment in which I was working made it appealing to go do that.

Or did I leave because I was exhausted by a hostile culture and realized I had other options?

Even I don't really know.

We love narratives and personal stories. On the surface, they make it easier to understand complex issues. By personalizing them, we make the issues more accessible and harder to ignore. But there is a downside, too, because narratives are rarely clean. People's lives are messy. Decisions are made for a confusing mix of reasons. People do less than ideal things, making it easy for people who are looking for reasons not to see a particular problem to dismiss their stories.

We see this playing out in a far more horrifying context in the reaction of some people to the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black men and women who have lost their lives were "no angels." They'd "made mistakes." No one will ever be perfect enough. The protesters will never use the exact "right" tactics. For people who don't want to see the issue, there will always be a reason to dismiss the most recent story.

As much as I love stories, individual stories alone will never allow us to understand what is really happening in our society. Luckily, we have social scientists who have studied how to aggregate our stories and better understand the whole picture. We have historians who can help us see the broader meaning of our individual stories, by placing them in a historical context. Unfortunately, these viewpoints aren't always well represented in our discussions. It is hard to find people who can take an individual story and weave it into the wider context and help us understand what that story really means, but those are the voices I'm seeking out these days. After all, if I can't even understand the narrative my own story in isolation, how can I hope to understand anyone else's?

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Not Quite a Vacation Not Quite a Links Post

I don't have a real links post today. I am on vacation. Sort of. We decided we couldn't afford a real family vacation this year after our "just the grown ups" vacation in France, but we took this week off, planning a "staycation" here in San Diego. Then we decided to spend a couple of days in LA. Then we (note: actually just my husband) decided to start painting the new room this week.

At this point, I'm thinking I should have just considered the LA trip a vacation and worked during the days here in San Diego, because I do not consider painting a vacation activity. (Petunia does, though- she says she loves painting.)

However, I did't work, and I mostly stayed off the internet, so... no links. Sorry! If you're bereft without links to read, try these:

Nicole and Maggie usually have some good links- they'll post them Saturday morning.

Here's one link about college admissions and how out of control the process has gotten, which I read before vacation really started.

And now I'm off to "vacation" some more.