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?

I’m Not Giving Up—But I Am Backing Off #amwriting

Time to advance to the rear (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Time to advance to the rear (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)


Well, I’ve injured my foot.

That makes it rather tough to keep up with my exercise goals—which in turn impact my other health goals. My health goals, in turn, impact my ability to focus, which means that my entire Beeminder-driven writing goal structure is in jeopardy.

Bummer.

For a change, I’ve decided to do something sane—I have taken every single health goal I have in Beeminder and added a week of flat spot. This means that while I don’t NEED to make progress to avoid a Beeminder payment, I do need to not slip backwards. And I haven’t given myself any slack on my writing or business goals.

With any good fortune, I’ll be back chugging on my step and weight goals in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I have no excuse to stop chugging ahead on my book.

And April Camp Nanowrimo is just around the corner. I think I’ll have a continuation/editing goal rather than a new project this time.

Fitness Tracker 2: #Fitbit, Son of Misfit


More than a year ago, I promised myself a day at a spa when I actually published a book. Formally. In Habitica. Two weeks ago, I finally started to set up an appointment—and realised I didn’t want a spa trip. I wanted a better fitness tracker. One that had a real watch, not twelve flashing LEDs I had to interpret. More than that, I wanted a Fitbit so that I could actually Beemind my net calories per day. So far as I know, Fitbit is the only tracker and/or fitness app that can connect net calories to Beeminder.

That’s important to me, because weight is a horrible measure of how a person’s doing at becoming more fit. It can have vast daily swings, as anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight can verify. I want to measure the actual inputs—exercise and calorie deficit—and keep weight as a backup long-term check.

I selected a Fitbit Alta as being cheaper than that day at a spa, and having all that I wanted—a Fitbit that is also a watch that tells the time without me having to interpret flashing LEDs. It even displays the date. It displays the actual numbers—steps taken, calories burned, and so forth—instead of using LEDs to display percent of goal complete. It looks much better than my old Misfit Flash in its third-party sturdy-but-uninspiring band. (The factory-delivered Flash bands were better looking, but notoriously fragile. I never bothered.)

Mind you, I’m not complaining about my old Flash ($15). It’s served me well, particularly considering that it was a ninth of the cost of my new Alta ($130). I never expected it to perform as well or look as nice as the Alta does. The Alta will be held to a higher standard.

I took photos of the unboxing, in the gallery above. The Alta arrived in decent packaging, with the rechargeable battery absolutely empty—I had to charge it to even get it connected. I was impressed with its looks; my humble standards of elegance are well-satisfied with a solid matte stainless steel case and a gleaming black display.

My experience so far:

If you read the Amazon reviews, you’ll find some major criticisms of the Alta. Here’s my experience so far:

  • It’s hard to fasten. Absolutely true. In fact, while I take it off by unfastening the clasp, I put it back on by fastening the clasp first, unhooking one side of the band from the tracker, then placing the tracker around my wrist and re-attaching the band to the tracker. It’s just easier.
  • It comes undone too easily. I’m reserving judgement on this. I can’t imagine the clasp coming loose when it’s so difficult to fasten. Maybe it loosens up after a few days, or perhaps the folks who complained about it coming undone hadn’t managed to get it completely fastened to begin with. I’ll keep you posted.
  • It’s hard to get the display to come on. Not so. The wrist flick technique is easy—much easier than turning on the Flash display by wrist flick. The double tap technique depends on learning the correct interval between the two taps. Tapping harder doesn’t help. The single tap to bring up the next item in the display (clock, steps, calorie burn—there are several options.) works fine, too.
  • It’s inaccurate. At this, I shrug. It’s on my wrist, not on my foot, and it works by an accelerometer, so yes, steps are probably not as accurate as they might be. This criticism also applies to sleep monitoring. I’m keeping records in Beeminder for both the Misfit and for the Fitbit for a week, so that I can correlate Misfit points to Fitbit steps, and compare how they do at tracking sleep hours. I likely won’t make a value judgement about which is “better”—I’ll adjust my targets to ensure a smooth transition to Fitbit tracking, that’s all.

Other observations:

The Alta’s nice shiny display surface is plastic, not glass, as far as I can tell. I’ll be getting a screen protector right away.

The connectors from the band to the tracker itself feel solid. They look to be made of the same stainless steel alloy as the tracker itself.

Having texts come through silently on my wrist is unutterably cool.

Setting up Beeminder goals for the Alta was easy—much easier than the corresponding goals with the Flash, which went through IFTTT. I may return to an IFTTT driven goal for sleep hours.

I like the band the Alta comes with. It’s heavy rubber (or plastic as the case may be) and doesn’t look to be breaking anytime soon. The textured matte surface is attractive. Truth be told, I’ve always loved matte black watches, and wanted an aviator’s watch with a black face, case, and band since forever. So I won’t be getting a fancy aftermarket bracelet-style band unless Hubby complains that my current one is too plain or too sporty when he’s taking me out. If he does complain, he can spend the money for an Alta bracelet. I won’t replace the band unless it breaks or starts coming undone.

Revisiting Beeminder, January 2017 #amwriting @ScrivenerApp

My Beeminder Goals

I’ve expanded my use of http://beeminder.com quite a bit.


Beeminder has undergone a few changes in the past year—they’ve cut back on their free options (though it’s still usable free—just not as generously as in the past.) As a result, I’ve started a $4/month subscription. It’s worth it to me, just to be able to run more than three goals at once.

As you can see above, I’ve actually got seven Beeminder goals active. I’ve stated previously that I know I can’t handle more than three or four—what’s changed?

First, I’ve gotten myself a Bluetooth blood pressure monitor (Withings) as well as a WiFi-connected scale (also Withings). With these in place, a lot of data entry has gone poof. Instead, I can look at the tracking in Beeminder and say, “Oh, [Deity of choice], have mercy! WTF caused THAT spike?” and do something about it, without doing anything more than actually taking the readings. As long as all I have to do to get data into Beeminder is take readings, wear my fitness tracker, and work on my Mac (RescueTime), I’m good.

In fact, all is good except my word count. Lately my word count, to use the old Saturday Night Live line, “really bites the big one.”

I can’t get my word count into Beeminder directly. Scrivener remains stubbornly unconnected to things like IFTTT and Zapier. While I can track the amount of time I use Scrivener in RescueTime, I consider it highly unlikely that anything more sophisticated than tweeting word count automatically will appear in Scrivener 3.0. (Prove me wrong, Keith! Please!) Still, tracking word count in Beeminder is pretty hopeless if I have to have the discipline to do data entry every. Single. Freaking. Day. Even if Beeminder reminds me. Pleads with me. Flat-out nags me…

BUT—I’ve realised that I’ve stopped tracking only activities directly related to writing (Scrivener use, iThoughts use, Wikipedia (maybe), Evernote in my Writing notebook (maybe)). I started broadening what I had RescueTime consider “writing” back in October when I started the publishing push for The Bully Trap. That information is valuable, but it’s not writing time.

So I’m splitting “writing” into two goals—“Writing” and “Business_Hours”. Business hours will retain a goal of 22 hours per week. Writing hours will cut back drastically to 3.5 hours per week (included in the business hours goal) to make it easier to get started again. If it looks like I might derail, I’ll scale back the writing hours goal further, until I can succeed—and then start increasing it again. As I do this, I’ll adjust the activities (websites, apps, etc.) which are allocated to each category—on a daily basis at first, until they’re mostly right again.

I have to fight off feeling discouraged. It feels like starting over again—but it’s not. It’s cleaning up my act.

Besides, I have some True Fans out there. I have to keep on keeping on—for them. I’ve promised.

Winter Productivity Cleaning #amwriting

Holiday Productivity Slump?

Holiday Productivity Slump?


Happy New Year!

I’ve fallen behind on writing, as measured by my Beeminder writing time tracker. See that nasty flat spot? The one that starts with the jog down in the “path” on December 29? Yes, I “derailed”—I fell so far behind my intended performance that Beeminder charged me. Foo.

Default behaviour for Beeminder is to lower the bar slightly, and then give me seven days of “flat spot”—days on which I need not meet my performance goal. The intention of this is to build up a “buffer” of a few days of performance.

I’ve taken shameless advantage of this by getting some unpleasant non-writing tasks done that I’ve been putting off. Tasks like selling my old Mac Mini and various other small electronics, following up on an auto insurance claim, and taking a massive pile of unused stuff to charity. I’ve cleared my Habitica to-do list of a bunch of nasties that had been hanging on for months—things that really weren’t that hard (selling the Mac Mini, auto claim) but which were . . . emotionally draining (translation: scary). I dread bureaucracy (hence the auto claim delay) and I dithered for months about the Mac, which had a bad internal optical drive. (Sell it as-is, or provide a cheap external DVD drive? I finally decided to provide the cheap external.)

I also made the mistake of agreeing to beta read a friend’s novel draft. This resulted in days of agony while I tried to decide—take the risk of souring the relationship and tell him the truth as I see it? Or just do the “Looks great!” useless email? I finally got up courage and told him my real opinions. If he never speaks to me again—it’s better than having copped out. But I won’t do it again, for anyone outside my writing group. I don’t trust my level of tact (I’m reasonably certain I have none.) At least in the writing group, I can see the face falling and the chin quivering, and adjust my tone if I need to . . . or fall on my sword apologising.

So all those scary things are behind me, and progress on my draft is ahead (I hope.)

About Time I Got Back to Work — and a Question For My Blog Readers #amwriting

Cracks a Whip

Time to crack the whip… (Image courtesy of vectorolie at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Gradually moving my blog to Dropbox has had one notable benefit—it has made plain as day how little actual progress I’ve made on my (nearly there! Honest!) novella since March.

Oh, I’ve gotten some random scenes written that don’t really belong in the first section. I’ve made the changes my beta reader suggested back in February. I’ve used ProWritingAid and gotten a lot of overused words and other drek taken care of. I’ve realized that I have to rename one of my two main characters, due to conflict reasons with other fiction—yuck. But beyond that, I’ve been essentially stuck.

I have plenty of excuses for this lack of fiction production. Beta testing iOS Scrivener made it tough to focus—in retrospect going back to Tech Weenie mode was a big mistake. And a two-week vacation has kicked a four-week hole in my writing output (I now have plenty of experiences to add to my repetoire—but experiences add no words to my documents. At least, not right now.)

In truth, I’ve derailed twice on my writing goals in Beeminder since March. I only kept it to two by cheating and calling writing up iOS Scrivener bugs “writing.”

Shame on me.

Well, no more Ms. Nice Guy. Back to work! (cracks whip)

But I really do have a problem with my character’s name. I need a name for a detective

  • who is a Victorian Englishman.
  • who is not, really not, Sherlock Holmes, thank you very much.
  • who has a partner named Fraser, as in “_______ and Fraser Investigations.”

Any ideas?


Camp NaNoWriMo, April 2016 #amwriting

CNW_Participant_TwitterScreenshot 2016-04-05 14.05.56Yes, I’m doing a Camp NaNoWriMo project in April this year — though I usually wait until July. I’m doing an editing project — Camp suggests that an hour of editing translate to 1000 words. I’m therefore committing to 50 hours of active editing this month. So far, I’m not doing too badly, and I hope to be able to finish early. I credit Beeminder for this optimism — this is the first time I’ve tackled a NaNoWriMo while using this tool.

I’m still working on that strange beast that my November novel turned into — it’s hard to shoehorn into any genre, but I suppose you could call it a fantasy mystery. I’ve incorporated the changes my beta reader suggested — solid, all of them — but there are many more chapters to go…

Draft, Revisited #amwriting

Screenshot 2016-02-28 12.34.02It’s not working out.

My recent romance with the web-only text editor Draft has ended as my previous fling ended — with regret that it doesn’t let changes from Scrivener be synced to it automatically. It’s one step too many; it’s too easy to be in Scrivener, and say, “Wait a moment — that can’t be happening then because this other thing needs to happen first…” and just make the change, forgetting that I was supposed to be doing my editing in Draft. As well, I love the “scrivenings” mode in Scrivener, where several small texts are displayed as if they were one big text. It’s just not available in Draft — or anywhere else but Scrivener itself. So, Draft is not happening for me, automatic word count transfer to Beeminder notwithstanding.

At this point, I may use the automated simplification feature of Draft, or use their staff copy editors. But for actually doing my own revisions, I think I’ll stick with Scrivener. Yes, my MacBook and Scrivener are spoiling me for other writing solutions. Oh well.

Time for a Progress Update #amwriting

Focused Writing Time

Focused Writing Time

I’ve gritted my teeth, and started using RescueTime. I didn’t want to; as a (failed) employee, I hated bosses who actually kept track of how much time I worked because — well, because I spent so much time off in my head in the stories I never wrote down.

But now, I’m a boss with an employee (me) who spends her time off in her head in the stories she doesn’t write down — or rather, the stories she hasn’t yet written down. What I thought I would get when I started using RescueTime was a picture of how I “wasted” my time, and ways to help me stop doing that.

What I got was rather different.

I’ve told RescueTime which websites and apps are actually tools I use to write. I’ve set up Beeminder to automatically suck down how much time I spend writing (on my Mac only; RescueTime doesn’t support iOS). I’ve set a very gentle goal of (currently) 12 hours per week. When I started, it was only 6 hours per week.

Look at the graph to see how far I’ve come — despite my anxiety hiccup last week.

I never look at how I’ve “wasted” time, or even at how much time I’ve “wasted.” I pretty much know; always have. I’m gaming, or shopping, or reading. If I’m on my phone or on my iPad, it’s pretty much a given that I’m “wasting” time these days; if I’m actually writing, I can post it in RescueTime as “offline time.”

But there is a subtle push now, that if I’m off in my head in storyland, I really need to be putting it on the page, or saving the research, or starting a new project, or documenting my backgrounds. Something productive, because I’ve known for a long time that if I don’t record it, it doesn’t count. So, I open up my Mac and I do that. The results are obvious.

Most of the time I don’t think about the fact that RescueTime is “looking over my shoulder.” I asked it to, just as I’ve asked Beeminder to crack the whip. But these subtle little changes in my attitude, as a result of deciding that I want to be more focused, get more work done, get a freaking story out the freaking door, are adding up.

I don’t know if it impresses you, but it impresses the hell out of me.