GTD Revisited, Week 2: Mind Like Teflon #amwriting

Some minds are like water; others are like Teflon


Certain things just slip off my brain, like a raw egg off a greased Teflon griddle.

Now, one of the stated goals of GTD is “mind like water.” To quote,

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.
—David Allen, Getting Things Done

I wish. I’m not calm like a still pond. Unlike his ideal GTD practitioner (or the karate student of his analogy), I am unable to control my level of attention. The result? I can build a habit (such as flossing my teeth), do it three months in a row, and have one day where I’m distracted—and it’s gone. I may as well give up on habits; I will always need a checklist for the simple things I need to do daily.

Right now, I’m struggling with simple things to do that aren’t getting done in a timely fashion—for the reason that I have serious trouble remembering them. Example: make a call to cancel an appointment during business hours. Whether I am able to do this is entirely dependent on

  1. Looking at Habitica or my calendar before end of business.
  2. Making the call right that moment.

If for any reason I can’t make the call exactly then (need to gather materials, need to keep the phone line open for an incoming call, need to keep lunch from burning—anything) it will slip off my Mind Like Teflon and I will be very lucky to remember it before end of business. Most often, I don’t.

Put an alarm on my phone, iPad, or Mac? (or all three at once—I’ve done that, too) That might work for a very rare event, but if I’m hyperfocused I’ve been known to not hear a Star Trek-like klaxon alarm going off at 90 decibels. If you think I’m exaggerating—well, I’m not. I nearly died as a teenager because I was hyperfocused on reading a book—in a car that was on fire. People were yelling and pounding on the windows—I didn’t hear.

Further, if I have a loud alarm going off every day, it shortly becomes background noise. I will turn it off and go right on with whatever I’m hyperfocused on, without ever registering that the alarm went off. I know, because I have.

Beeminder, like the alarm that goes off every day, is beginning to merge into the background.

This is a long, rather negative post, I’m afraid. This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, and it’s not getting better as I’m getting older. If anything, it’s getting worse as I add “senior moments” to all the other things that keep me from getting… stuff… done.

Habitica at least has the virtue of being free (though I choose to subscribe.) And there is a certain flurry of activity every night at about ten PM as I look at my Habitica lists and say, “Oh, s__t.” I’m therefore not about to abandon it, as I may well do with Beeminder. But I need to find a better way to get time-sensitive things that are not appointments—done.

Any ideas?

GTD Revisited, 2017 #amwriting

My current GTD system


I’ve been using GTD in various incarnations for a while now:

Other examples exist.

Of course, GTD itself is just a discipline for gathering stuff to do, prioritising stuff to do, and getting it done in decent order. Implementation method is optional—and I’ve gone through several iterations (as shown above) on how to make it work for me.

My problem with my implementation up until this week was that I’d stopped using it. I was using automation to stuff everything into Trello, using it as my collector. But I’d stopped looking there on a regular basis, and had started using Habitica’s To-dos as my collection point—not by intentional design, but by, well, laziness.

Habitica has many virtues. Being a collector for possible things to do is not one of them. The least productive (things that I should just decide Not To Do), the hardest (high-value things to do that need to be broken down more), and medium value but non-urgent things to do all end up at the bottom of my Habitica list, getting redder and redder, their experience points getting higher, and breaking the game by providing experience points, gold, and mana all out of proportion to their true value if and when I finally get them done. I find this horribly demotivating in terms of getting the high-value items (like finishing my novel draft or making an appointment for a physical) done in a timely fashion.

I’m not the only Habitican who’s noticed this problem—and the Habitica developers are considering several different approaches to making this more motivating for prompt attention to to-dos and working better with outside to-do systems. In the meantime…

I’ve cut out the middleman. In order to do my weekly GTD review, I once had to open Trello, and open Google Calendar, and consider where to put my Trello cards on the calendar once I’d decided to do them this week. I then had a rather elaborate and failure-prone protocol for putting the lucky Trello cards into a special column so that Zapier would automatically place them on the Google calendar on the chosen day. Then I had another Zapier automation which would stuff them into Habitica just before they were due.

Now I collect things to do on my calendar. I actually have four calendars in my Google account—one for real, timed “Appointments,” one for “Scheduled” to-dos , one for raw, “Unprocessed” to-dos, and one for “Processed”, prioritised to-dos that have not been scheduled (this is also where I put time blocks so I’m sure to leave enough time for writing and exercise.)

Note that I don’t use the Google Tasks thing. They show up off to one side. I need to see my things-to-do stacked up on the day I plan to do them, as in my illustration. The to-dos are the all-day items.

I’ve convinced IFTTT to dump raw to-dos from iOS Reminders and Evernote into that “Unprocessed” to-dos calendar and make them nominally due on the next Monday. On Monday I do my GTD review. I take anything undone from the last week, delete its to-do from Habitica and stuff its calendar item back into Processed and re-prioritise it. All the Unprocessed to-dos are either deleted or given a priority. Anything that is priority 3 or above is moved to an appropriate day in the “Scheduled” calendar. (I never put more than six items/appointments due on any one day, including writing and exercise—if I don’t have room for something, then either it or something else goes back into the Processed calendar.) I then move leftover Processed to-dos to the following Monday. Zapier then takes all the items added to Scheduled and stuffs them into Habitica at 00:01 am on their due dates.

This way, no to-do hangs around in Habitica for more than a week, growing more and more evil. Monday morning I don’t have to open both Trello and my calendar, because everything lives in my calendar now. Zapier doesn’t have to try to parse Trello cards and stuff them into the calendar, just stuff the scheduled calendar items into Habitica later.

Okay, I admit it. Programming all the automation is—dare I say it?—fun. And eliminating the Trello collection step makes it a lot simpler. So, onward to Getting Things (like more writing) Done.

Late Night Tech Wrestling: Vivaldi, Rescuetime, Adonit Pixel #amwriting

I’m a sucker for a new stylus in town—the Adonit Pixel


Last night was an all-nighter squaring away new tech in my writing universe.

First the Adonit Pixel. I love it—Adonit have made many small changes from its last incarnation (the Jot Touch), all for the better. The tip is improved. The diameter is slightly smaller. It has better battery life. The function buttons haven’t changed location, but they are stiffer, making it harder to click them by accident—and if you do click them accidentally in the middle of writing or drawing, the drawing is given priority over the button command.

What doesn’t it have? Look at the photo very carefully—what’s wrong with this picture?

No pocket clip, that’s what. Not only that, but the stylus is perfectly round, so that I don’t dare lay it down on a table or desk—it will roll if the surface is even slightly off level.

I finally got disgusted at 2 am and got two pairs of pliers and a Fisher Space Pen removable pen clip. I bent the tines of the round barrel grip outwards until it freaking fit the oversized body of the Pixel. Problem solved.

My new Mac browser—Vivaldi


Then there was the browser thing. Firefox for Mac has broken so that it can’t be used to drag webpages to Scrivener. I had replaced it with a new-ish entry into the browser sweepstakes, Vivaldi. It’s wonderful—speedy, flexible, and takes Chrome extensions as if they were made for it.

But at 3 am I found out to my sorrow that Rescuetime had not been logging my websites—it just had a great lump sum entry for Vivaldi as a “utility.”

At 3 am I was not making great decisions. I tried installing the Rescuetime Chrome extension into Vivaldi—no dice. I switched back to Firefox, but it still had its problems. I even tried switching to Safari—a mark of true desperation. Finally I tried looking at the Rescuetime help pages.

By this time it was 4 am. I had to read everything twice because I kept missing obvious stuff. I finally got it through my sleep-deprived brain that

  1. Rescuetime does not now nor has it ever supported Vivaldi, and probably never will.
  2. There is a workaround involving the very Chrome extension that I had given up on.

The workaround:

First, lie to Rescuetime the Chrome extension in Vivaldi and tell it you don’t have the Rescuetime the App installed on your system. Then, go to Rescuetime.com, drill through reports until you see Vivaldi time only, and tell Rescuetime.com (and therefore Rescuetime the App) to ignore all Vivaldi time.

Voila! The Rescuetime app records no time for Vivaldi. Meanwhile, Rescuetime the Chrome extension, thinking that there is no Rescuetime app, reports all the detailed website time. Rescuetime the App continues to report the time spent in Scrivener and in Solitaire. Problem solved.

(If you need the workaround, please go to the Rescuetime help link above for details missing in my description.)

The moral of this story: I should write down things to do like “put a pen clip onto my Adonit Pixel” and “Figure out why Rescuetime is barfing up Vivaldi website time” at 2 am and go to sleep.

But I probably won’t.

What font do you use when writing? (poll) #amwriting

It took me a while to decide what font to use while writing — a completely separate issue from what font to use when creating output for others to read. I finally settled on Verdana, for the following reasons:

  • It’s designed as an on-screen font, so it is equally readable on my tiny iPhone screen and on my non-Retina Macbook screen.
  • There is a distinct visual difference among the capital i “I”, lower-case L “l”, and numeral one “1”. Not being able to distinguish among the capitalized word ill “Ill”, the roman numeral three “III” and the number one hundred eleven “111” drives me absolutely bonkers when I’m writing. I want to know what letter I just typed, dang it.
  • It’s a proportional font, so I can immediately see the difference between a hyphen “-“, an en-dash “–”, and an em-dash “—”. It also makes the difference between capital o “O” and numeral zero “0” obvious—another case of wanting to know what letter I typed.
  • It has regular, bold, and italic variants. I tried American Typewriter for a while, but it has no italic variant. That meant that while I could italicise my text, I wouldn’t see it while writing in Scrivener. Boo.
  • It’s available on both Mac and iOS systems. In other words, it’s included at no extra cost and I mostly don’t have to do anything to have it available.

April #CampNaNoWinner2017 – Complete! #amwriting 

I did the Thing! That thing I said I’d do!


Three thousand and one minutes of work in April.

So far. And that’s only what I’ve recorded—when I’ve been working on my iPad, and lost track of time, and come out of the 1880 London fog to say, “Oh. Yeah. Gotta record some time…” I’ve been conservative on how much time I’ve spent.

Where am I in the process? I’ve actually started writing draft again after working through Chapter 9 in Story Genius. I’m on the Opening Scene (chapter to me), and am reworking the opening I’d originally written. Next is the “Aha! Moment” and after that I’m grinding through the first draft.

It feels good—it feels like I have direction now, where I didn’t before. I’ll want to refine this process later, but for now I’m happy to be slogging along a path that leads to the book I want to have written.

Cool.

April #CampNaNoWriMo – Attack of the Block Ness Monster #amwriting

How can something this big sneak up on anyone?


I’ve got my backstory prepped! Yay!

Now I’ve got to actually plot my story. Bummer.

“Scene” cards from Story Genius by Lisa Cron are what I’ll be using—they’ve been a bit difficult to wrap my head around. You see, what Ms. Cron calls a “scene” is what I call a chapter. To me, a scene is a block of action (yes, my screenwriting training shows here) that is continuous both in location and in duration—one “master shot.” In other words, you can set up the cameras and let ’em roll. If you have to move to a different location, change the lighting, change the actors, change the costumes, or change the set decoration—well, that’s a different scene.

The examples that Ms Cron uses, though, are what I call chapters—one or more scene(s) that represent a complete dramatic thought. My chapters are about three thousand to four thousand words long, and can contain anything from one to five scenes, depending on how much action is in.

In other words, I’ve been trying to outline at the scene level all this time, when I really needed to be outlining (or “blueprinting” as Ms. Cron calls it) at the chapter level.

That explains a lot. Aside from the fact that I’ve just been thinking of scenes that might happen without any real way to make them into a coherent chapter, let alone a novel… I was taking my outline way too fine for novel writing. At least, for me.

But I’m working, and that’s the important bit. Back to it…

April #CampNaNoWriMo—Light Dawns Over Marble Head #amwriting

Because I could not stop for the Darewolf, he kindly stopped for me (with apologies to the ghost of Emily Dickinson)


Story saved my life.

I’m in one of those recovery programs—you know the ones: similar to the one in Days of Wine and Roses. And the simple story in every member’s speech—“what we were like, what happened, and what we’re like now”—gave me hope and taught me what I needed to know to trudge that long road back from the brink of death. In the course of that journey I learned to tell my own story in such a way as to fascinate two hundred crazy people for an hour. What I was like, what happened, and what I’m like now.

In that process I learned that if I spent too much time in the “establishing shot” I’d lose my audience. If I spent too much time describing my insanity in full bloom, I’d lose my audience. I needed to allow time to describe exactly what I’d done to recover. And I needed to describe “what I’m like now” so that it clearly showed how what I had achieved was infinitely better than what I’d had before. But that timing didn’t come naturally—I had to learn it. Some recovering folks never do.

OK, then. Silver Dragon’s big astonishing epiphany for today: It works just the same in writing. All this stuff I’m learning in Story Genius and Save the Cat and all the other books I’ve bought is… the same stuff I use to tell my recovery story. Duh.

I just have to apply that to my writing. And all the books about story structure, outlining, beats, Goal and Motivation, etc. ad infinitum—are about how to tell “what my protagonist was like, what happened, and what he’s like now…” in such a way as to keep readers engaged.

Who knew?

April #CampNaNoWriMo—Moving Along

In pursuit of the elusive StorySquatch


I’m beefing up my backstory, based on Lisa Cron’s guidelines in Story Genius. It’s going faster than it was. In particular, I’ve worked out how I want to integrate her story card system into my Scrivener project. Since my project will contain all the episodes of my series, it’s just a bit more complicated than the single-novel example Ms. Cron provides (and more complex than Gwen Hernandez allows for in her Scrivener template.) And I am finding out all sorts of stuff about my protagonist, Spencer—including why certain scenes just felt off.

As of yesterday, I was 173 minutes (or nearly two days) ahead of “par” on my month’s goal of 3,000 minutes (fifty hours.) A new purchase is fueling my progress, as well—trust me to want to use a new toy, a Jot Pixel stylus, instead of typing.

Hey, if it gets me writing… who cares if using it for handwriting recognition is slower than typing? ANY words per minute are better than zero.

April #CampNaNoWriMo—Yes, I’m Participating

Let the jackalopes—er, Plot Bunnies, multiply


I apologise for posting so infrequently. I’ve been struggling with structure. I’ve re-read Story Genius by Lisa Cron, and even picked up and read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (which actually describes the same phenomenon from the opposite end of the telescope, as it were.) I’ve also dealt with a nasty case of the flu. Writing has been happening very little, I’m afraid. I know I’m not alone in the fear of Doing It Wrong, but it’s been debilitating lately.

I know when I pick up the Ulysses app demo and try once again to see if I wouldn’t like writing with it better than I do with Scrivener (answer: no, I wouldn’t), that I’m lost in the Procrastination Archipelago.

Well, that’s what NaNoWriMo is for, in all its variants—getting writers out of procrastination. So here I am, determined to meet my goal of fifty hours of structuring and writing for the month. With any luck, I’ll do a lot more. You can follow my stats on the Camp NaNoWriMo site. See you in the Land of the Storysquatch.

The nine stages of editing your book – with cats

That’s what I need in order to be able to edit: Another cat!

The Cat's Write

When most peoplefinish their first draft they have no idea of the mind-numbing and heroic journey they are about to embark on. Finishing the first draft is only the beginning… as editing may be one of the hardest f—— things you’ll ever do.

Here are the nine stages of editing your novel (with cats of course!)

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