Lemme tell ya a few things about research. First, you shouldn’t listen to anything I have to say, because I’m a blogger and you have no means of verifying any of my stated credentials. The only thing I can guarantee to you is that “my opinion” may or may not accurately state my actual opinion on any topic.
I may or may not be who I claim to be. I may in fact be an AI, a person who looks just like me and has my same name, or an unusually bright magpie that likes keyboards.
Now that we have that cleared away:
I have a bachelor’s degree in history. I “research” things all the time, because it’s how I like to spend my time. I’m motivated by curiosity. What I’m doing falls under different categories. They have official terminology.
“Gathering string”: Reading and skimming a bunch of stuff at random, not knowing where it might lead, and possibly finding an interesting pattern. This is a lot like looking through your fridge and cobbling together a dinner out of leftovers, or shopping at a thrift store. What am I going to find? Dunno, but let’s keep looking! Gathering string doesn’t work as well if you have a specific outcome in mind.
“Looking something up”: Checking information, like whether there is a location of a particular business nearby, or what restaurant options there are in a city we’re planning to visit. I might also look up the date that something happened, which historical figure invented something, or other verifiable data.
“Reading”: Reading things that other people wrote.
“Studying”: Trying to learn about something. For instance, recently I did a speech on Ignatz Semmelweis for my public speaking club. I wouldn’t claim to have done “research” because I don’t speak German and I lack expertise in medicine or public health. What I did do was to read half a dozen articles about Semmelweis and look for images from his time period. Most people would probably consider the work I did on this report to be “research,” but I would refer to it as “reading up on” something or “putting it together.”
“Reporting”: Investigative journalism, such as finding out that someone lied about their credentials or accepted funding unethically. Reporting is based on verifiable information that is not readily available, possibly because someone is motivated to hide that information.
“Original research”: Most of what I do as an historian is NOT original research. I know what it is, I know how to do it, and yet I generally have not done, nor claimed to do, original research.
What would be an example of original research?
Let’s say that I am extremely interested in the history of conspiracy theories. I am putting together a biography of Sir Edmund J. Whackaloon, noted conspiracy theorist. His chief claim to fame is the factual statement that “the Moon is made of green cheese.” (A factual statement says that something is a fact, even if that statement is demonstrably false. It has to be something that can be proved or disproved).
While researching Sir Whackaloon, I note that a collection of his personal letters and diaries was donated to the Noted Archive as part of the Eminent Library. It’s been catalogued, but as far as I can document, nobody has actually read anything in this collection. *OOOOOOOOH*
I ask for permission and go in to look over the special collection. While reading through it, I discover that Sir Whackaloon has kept a secret diary discussing his theories on performance art and mass hysteria. Over a period of eleven years, he had been pulling an elaborate prank, pretending to believe that the Moon is made of green cheese, just to see whether he could get anyone to believe him. Astounding!
What I’ve done is to consult primary source documents, discover new information, formulate my own version of events based on this evidence, and make it public. Once my paper is edited, published, and peer-reviewed, it’s up for debate. Naturally, other Whackaloon scholars are going to dispute my formulation and try to refute it, and that’s all part of the game.
Sir Whackaloon’s letters and journals are the primary source.
My academic paper referring to this collection of letters and journals, that’s a secondary source. Someone might rely on my research because the materials I referenced have not been published and are not publicly available.
A magazine article discussing the controversy over my research and that of other Whackaloon scholars, that’s, well, maybe you could call that a tertiary source.
If someone then blogs about that article, and then several people comment about it, whatever the name is for that, it’s a separate category. One could do original scholarly research on blog comments and trolling, if one wore a respirator, gloves, and protective clothing.
Primary sources generally are not available to the public. The vast majority of people do not conduct original research, unless we count whatever they’re growing on the leftovers they deposit in the office fridge. This is part of where the confusion about “research” comes in. Reading stuff off the internet is probably only going to count as research if you are *researching* the internet. Sociology, right?
I have a few topics that I follow, such as robotics, medical innovations, and autonomous vehicles. I don’t research those things. I read articles about them. I have my own opinions and my own guesses about trends in those areas, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert and I know that my reading isn’t the same thing as research.
I also have an investigation underway, a hypothesis about my personal health. I have some sleep issues, and I’m playing around with my behavior and my home environment to see if I can get some improvement. Even if I succeed, I can’t really call that “research” because it only applies to me. Whatever I come up with, it might be a starting point for someone else’s research, and that would have to involve at least a few hundred people to really count. It just isn’t a good idea for anyone to extrapolate and base their decisions on the personal opinion and anecdotal evidence of one single person.
Especially without really knowing anything about who - or what - that person is. Researcher, crook, fabulist, actor, novelist, artificial intelligence, alien invader, bright magpie, or even a web-savvy Sasquatch.
I got a makeover. A pretty major one, this is a makeover of such a scale that it’s really messing with my head.
How is it that changing something about your external appearance can make such a huge difference in how other people see you, and in how you see yourself?
“You look thirty years younger!” cries the cosmetics artist. Thirty, really? I’m forty-three! That would imply that I’ve been going around looking older than my chronological age. Either that, or I now look like a middle-schooler, in which case I’m going to have to start listening to much peppier music.
I relish my privacy and, as a writer, I like to think of myself as invisible. I’ve felt that it pays to be modest, maybe even inconspicuous. I can walk around the city and get a free pass from panhandlers, who nod courteously as I go by.
Invisibility, though, isn’t our choice.
My friend and mentor tells me, in no uncertain terms, that just because I feel invisible does not mean I am. “People notice you and make judgments about you, whether you realize it or not.”
This is a harsh truth, but I am a proponent of radical honesty and I take it in.
Whatever was true for me at other stages of life, today I am forty-three. I have aspirations that will not be met at my current level. If my goal is to perform in front of an audience, then I need to look suited to the task. I need to be stage-ready, and, arguably, I am not.
The whole point of my existence up to this point has been about avoiding attention and staying out of the spotlight. Changing my look is letting go of that sense I have had, that feeling that I have the option to hang out in the shadows and be a passive observer.
It’s been hard enough dealing with the physical changes I made as I became a midlife athlete. I went from a size fourteen to a size two. I can get away with wearing a bikini in public. When I do, I feel like I’m adopting a temporary persona: Vacation Pool Babe. Wearing a bikini in public in Las Vegas is not the same as wearing business casual at home.
That’s my avenue to adjusting to my new post-makeover look. I can pretend that I’m someone else. I need a stage-ready persona that helps me feel like these are mere surface-level changes, that I have gained rather than lost options.
I can still find privacy when I need it. I don’t have to physically be on stage and in front of people every minute of the day. There are no requirements to this new look other than maintenance a few times a year.
Well, that, and the not inconsiderable technical skills involved in applying cosmetics.
I remind myself that men wear stage makeup, too. Some men wear cosmetics every day, because they like it. I remind myself that a lot of people think this is fun!
Honestly, having fun and looking pretty both feel like work to me. That might sound sad. What I mean is that when these come down as external requirements, it becomes self-conscious. It’s supposed to be “fun” to go to nightclubs, or watch team sports, but neither of those fun things are my style. I find myself asking, “Am I doing this right?”
I’m more comfortable doing things that probably sound un-fun, like mud runs, martial arts, or public speaking. It’s definitely better not to wear makeup in martial arts, since it gets in your eyes, although I have worked out in a cocktail dress and a rhinestone bib necklace, and a stiletto heel can make a respectable improvised weapon. Not in the mat room, though.
I remind myself that I wasn’t comfortable when I started any of those things, either. Surely eyeliner is no worse than a real black eye! Hair color is no worse than surfacing out of a water obstacle, dripping with mud. Public speaking as a hobby is what got me into this whole mess.
The point of the first impression is that it carries so many unspoken messages. Did you show up prepared and on time? Do you look glad to be there? Do you know how to shake hands properly? Is your hair three colors of gray on top, but reddish at the tips for some unknown reason? Now I have to accept the reality that I’m also being evaluated on not just my clothes and shoes, but my hair and makeup as well.
The terrible thing about all this is that I look fantastic. Objectively. My husband loves it. My best friend started squealing and hugged me. Even my barista noticed.
Once upon a time, I was a chronically ill, broke, overweight, underemployed, divorced, sad brunette who lived in a cold, rainy climate.
Now I’m a successful, fit, happily married... attractive redhead? Does “auburn” make you a redhead?
Nearly twenty years later, I look younger than I did at twenty-five. This hair color makes my eyes look enormous, which is disconcerting, a feature that should properly have gone to an extreme extrovert who loves attention. My big blue eyes have always felt like something of an unfair burden, traits that I can’t put away or hide on demand. I myself can’t hide on demand, not really.
I’m a writer transforming into a public performer. Many performers would like to go the other direction, developing their skills as lyricists, poets, playwrights, or memoirists. They can’t just put on glasses and some kind of special writer hat and make it happen. (If there were a special writer hat, I would definitely be wearing one, even in the shower). I remind myself that I’m lucky that all I really have left to do is to learn to live up to this made-over image.
With the image reset comes the attitude reset. Can I inhabit the body of an objectively attractive person? Can I learn to handle the constant 21st-century expectations of photography and video, the headshots and the spontaneous selfies?
We’re here to participate in the culture of our time. I want a meaningful existence in which I can contribute at the highest possible level. I want my legacy to be bigger than myself. If I have to be better-looking for that to happen, I suppose that’s a sacrifice I’ll have to make.
An Audience of One is a very intriguing book about the artistic process. Srinivas Rao clearly dwells in the other realms. There are plenty of inspirational books in the world on creativity. This one speaks with assurance on the untapped wellspring.
For those of us who do a lot of public-facing work, there can be a tendency to develop a sense of obligation and turn our output into a chore. Rao says this focus on external outcomes (such as profit) can make the work boring. We return to our involvement in the process when we let go of attempting to control the outcome. One way of doing this is to make something purely for ourselves, to remember why we first fell in love with this particular form.
A focus of An Audience of One is on people who do something creative only for themselves. No readers, no viewers, no customers, no followers or commenters, imagine! These examples of devoted creatives have a way of elevating more activities to the level of “art.” Maybe a home cook is more talented than a professional chef; how would anyone know?
On the one hand, this perspective should give courage to novices. Art is good for you! What you do matters! It’s fine to do it for yourself and nobody else! Rao cites something a lot of readers will want to know more about, which is Mindfulness Based Art Therapy. Apparently making art has measurable, positive health effects on everything from heart rate and blood pressure to cortisol levels and bodily pain.
On the other hand, the perspective that we should make our own art for ourselves alone, that’s a potent idea. What if we took it all the way? What if we really made every single last thing that’s been swimming in our fountains? What if we never held back, what if it all came out and kept coming out? What if we? Swam out full fathom?
These are the parts of An Audience of One that compelled me the most. Rituals, power questions, activation energy. Identifying and eliminating your tolerations. Dream work. Setting intentions before sleep. Wow! Some of these chapters maybe could be full-length books in their own right.
I loved An Audience of One. It pushed my barriers and made me feel that I can and should be doing more with my work. It reminded me that there is more potential in my craft and my process. Rao mentions having three books that you refer to at least once a month, and this may become one of mine.
When we focus on end results, we essentially defeat one of the main benefits of creative work: to derive joy from the work itself.
The work itself defeats resistance.
It’s rare for anybody to proudly state that they did “nothing.”
Hey habit nerds, here ya go! This is my own highly personalized system. How do I find the time in the day to do all the things I do? What is it that I do, anyway?
Over the course of a year, I put up five blog posts a week, review about 50 books (and read a couple hundred), put out a specialized tech newsletter for aerospace engineers five days a week, and record a podcast up to six days a week. I’m training in Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and situational combatives (a.k.a. weapons class). I do consulting work with chronic disorganization and hoarding. I’m an area director overseeing five regional clubs while I finish the requirements to become a Distinguished Toastmaster, and I’m also a club coach. I’m at my goal weight, I keep a clean house, and I journal every night. Believe it or not, these are just my side projects!
There are some tricks involved with all of this, which I’ll share before I get all “inside baseball” on my actual routines and habits.
I started out as a classic ADHD-leaning, chronically disorganized person with some chronic health issues. It took several years to discover the hidden gifts of my situation. The first among these is to stop tolerating boring or unsatisfying uses of my time. The reason I do all the projects I do is that they interest me more than binge-watching anything, recreational shopping, or unstructured errands. I used to spend a lot of time poking around with different productivity systems, and at this point I’m pretty sure I’ve tried and rated them all.
I do everything in time blocks.
I publish about 1000 pages a year on my blog. Almost all of that is done on weekend mornings while I hang out at the cafe with my husband. He often has to bring his work laptop and do expense reports or that kind of thing, so it’s a way for us to be together on the same wavelength. My standard is to work three weeks ahead and auto-schedule so I don’t have to write or post on vacation.
My husband travels quite a lot for business, so when he’s out of town, I work into the evening. When he’s home, we lounge around talking for hours. That’s my motivation for getting as much done as possible while he’s away.
The tech newsletter is a natural outgrowth of my reading habit. It started because I was sharing so many articles with my husband that he wanted to pass along to his colleagues, that I finally just offered to format them and send them in daily batches. All I do is save the good stuff to a system of categorized folders, and then copy and paste them into a template. It takes about ten minutes a day and makes (us) look like a genius. Usually I do it while I eat breakfast.
The podcast is a new part of my overall workflow. I’ve been challenged with it because I live next to a marina, in a tiny studio apartment, beneath a busy young family with a dog. There are perpetual construction projects, boat horns, weed whackers, car alarms, film shoots, and even a fashion model shooting a portfolio six feet outside my door. In other words, IT IS LOUD and I have to fit in recording sessions when it seems like it will be quiet enough for an hour.
Martial arts training happens in a single hour-long time slot three to six days a week. It’s the main time-bound part of my routine. The warmups are HIIT (high intensity interval training), so they will continue to get more intense as my fitness level increases. The belt system provides a lot of structure and challenge. I train with my husband now, so it doubles as date night!
Since we don’t drive, every time we go anywhere it’s a way to get something else done. Our commute back and forth to the gym is a bicycle ride along the beach, a fun and romantic part of our evening. Most of my time on the bus is my “helmet time” for outlining speeches, reading the news, and writing book reviews. If we had a car, how much of that would get done? Zero.
It’s much, much easier and more efficient to maintain anything than to try to reach a goal. All I have to do to maintain my goal weight and keep my apartment organized is to avoid the basic pitfalls. Do roughly the same thing every day. Laundry on Monday and Thursday, keep the dishwasher loaded, clean the bathroom for 12 minutes every week, start the robot vacuum when I leave. Eat the same size of breakfast, lunch, and dinner most days. Boom, done.
I currently use a Cossac day planner and... we’re getting married. Kidding, kinda. What I like about it the best is that it builds in a daily and weekly review, and that encourages strategic thinking. What did I attempt, did it work, and why or why not? With the amount of content I generate between the blog, the podcast, and my (ahem) ...other... projects, I need something very structured to track what I’m developing and posting and editing and formatting and illustrating and when. I check in when I first get up and also before I go to bed, with a longer weekly session on Sunday nights. That’s when I do my journaling, just a couple of minutes most days but sometimes several pages of rapid-fire ranting.
I use my phone to capture random thoughts, blog topics, and podcast ideas. I’m also constantly bookmarking articles, downloading podcast episodes, or reserving library ebooks and audio books as I learn about them. When it’s time to kick back with some entertainment, I don’t have to spend the “junk hours” scrolling that most people do, because that has happened a few seconds at a time throughout the week. The most important thing I do with my phone is to set my notifications and quiet hours to distract me as little as possible, while unsubscribing from email and blocking spam callers every single day, like smacking mosquitos.
I don’t have a “morning routine” because every day of the seven, I have a slightly different schedule. I certainly do not wake up early! I don’t meditate, I don’t put yak butter in my coffee or whatever, I don’t do “cleanses” (except my house), and I don’t do social media detoxes. If anything, I’d say what works the best for me is that I don’t spend five hours a day watching television, I don’t spend two hours a day on social media, I rarely eat snacks or restaurant food, and I sleep as much as I possibly, possibly can. I work outside of the time dimension as much as I can get away with, trying to make clocks and calendars more or less irrelevant to how I work.
Steven Pressfield has done it again. The Artist’s Journey is another touchstone so condensed and powerful that simply looking at the cover can reignite the inspiration it originally sparked.
I got chills as I read this book. Yes, nod, I agree, yeah, OH WAIT, that changes everything! Unable to dispute any of his assertions, I find myself led along by Pressfield until suddenly confronted with some seriously mind-altering concepts about what it means to be a working artist.
If you haven’t read The War of Art yet, what is stopping you? Artist, non-artist, it doesn’t matter. Pressfield does a phenomenal job of describing the Resistance, that inner feeling that stops us from doing anything interesting or important. I find it highly relevant that he breaks through his own lifetime of procrastination and irrelevance by washing a sink full of dirty dishes. Recognizing that feeling when it comes up makes it much easier to take action and break free.
Carrying on from there, what do you do after you’ve learned how to dispel the Resistance most of the time?
The Artist’s Journey carries on from that point, explaining in practical terms how someone can find and draw down that steady stream of creative inspiration. Pressfield assures us that no work is too inconsequential, that everything we make matters, because it is the work itself that makes us.
I’m still very much under the spell of this book and I can’t stop flipping back and forth through it. Like a couple of his others, I know I’ll read it again and refer to it often. This one is a keeper.
We have wasted enough years avoiding our calling.
“I don’t have a spirit raccoon.”
It’s that time again! Goals and resolutions time! This year we’re doing our annual review and planning session on the Las Vegas Strip, because we’re party animals and because planning leads to awesomeness.
This is the mistake so many people make, to choose a “resolution” that is grim and dire, the kind of thing that any sensible person would of course immediately want to sabotage. Get out of here with your “drink more water” and “Get Organized” and “lose weight,” just crumple all that into a ball and toss it over your shoulder, and let’s do this with a little more anticipation and delight, okay?
I’ve been interviewing various Las Vegan personages and asking them to tell me their “New Year’s wish.” Everyone had one. EVERYONE! A TSA agent: “To get paid.” A dreadlocked young fellow: “Growth and prosperity.” A balding guy, blushing: “A new baby.” A bearded kid: “To go back to school.” Wanting something better for the New Year is the driving force behind all human progress.
Personally, I don’t stop at one, because there is no upper limit on wishes. It’s also a technicality, because if you make a longer list, then your chances of succeeding at least once are increased. I’ve been doing this process in one form or another since I was nine years old, and each year’s failures and near misses have simply made me better at formulating my plans. First I’ll share how I did last year, and then I’ll go into my plans for 2019, because publishing my quarterly results keeps me accountable.
These were my goals and resolutions for 2018:
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS+
Career: Launch a podcast - SUCCESS
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together - POSTPONED
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop - SUCCESS?
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses - SUCCESS
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent - POSTPONED
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE - SUCCESS?
I’m making some changes to my template this year. First, I tried doing a mantra for two years, and both times it wound up feeling like I somehow managed to troll myself. Dropping that. If I do one, it will be to come up with a word or phrase at the end of the year instead of the beginning. Instead, I’m publishing the metrics I plan to track. What gets tracked gets managed. I’m also being more careful about not trying for a twofer, because then if it doesn’t happen for some reason, it screws up two categories instead of one. Another thing is that I realized I keep screwing up my “couples goal” because it IS a goal, rather than a resolution, and goals are much less likely to lead to long-term success.
Goal: a specific outcome. Resolution: an implementation intention. Project: a planned piece of work with a specific purpose. Plan: the part most people leave out of their resolutions!
Personal: My personal project is typically something on what I call the Challenge Path, the specific purpose of which is to push my limits drastically and force me to run full speed in the direction of my greatest fears. Contemplating these projects in advance always makes me queasy. At some point within the first three weeks (aka The Gauntlet), I tell my husband I’m going to quit because it’s too hard and I’m wasting everyone’s time and I don’t belong there. Then I stay with it and within three years I’m as good as anyone. This time it’s to submit a book proposal to a publisher. I keep telling myself that I’m going to do many of these and that they will eventually become a regular, predictable part of my life, but bawkbawk-baGAWK! [chicken sounds]
Career: See above. Also, I’m in the final stages of completing the work for my Distinguished Toastmaster. If I can hold the line on all the projects I’ve been doing over the last six months, I can finish this by June 30. If I slip on anything, it will take an entire extra year. The further I go in Toastmasters, the more I see how directly relevant these skills are to what I want to do with my life. That being said, the DTM represents a massive amount of work. It will take the majority of my focus for the first half of the year.
Physical: My fitness resolution is to work on hip openers. If this works the way I want it to, it will help me with my roundhouse kick, my goal of doing the splits, and maybe even my heartfelt desire to turn a cartwheel. Currently I have the ludicrously tight hips of any distance runner and I’m ready to leave that behind. There are a LOT of people in Las Vegas who can do the splits, and most of them can do them while doing a handstand on one hand. This is possible.
Home: My home project is to set up an outdoor writing area. I spend a lot of time on our tiny patio, so my parrot can get some nice daylight, but it makes us visible to a steady stream of foot traffic. We get interrupted a lot by looky-loos. I’m going to set up a folding screen so the wandering public don’t have line of sight with my chair.
Couples: Our couples resolution is to do bulk meal prep. We’ve been taking an evening kickboxing class together, and because it runs from 7-8 it has been making weeknight dinnertime and cleanup complicated.
Stop goal: Every year, I think of a way I’ve been annoying myself (and usually others) and decide to stop doing it. It’s always something I have no idea how to handle, or I would have already done it. Spending an entire year examining my worst character flaws and most obnoxious habits helps me to figure out how to work on them, at least a little. This time, I’m trying to figure out how to clear up the wreckage of my poor health from 2018, a year of chronic colds and the worst sleep I’ve had in fifteen years. Waking up crouched on my living room floor, crying from a night terror that lobster-sized scorpions were crawling on the bed, was the last straw. In 2019 I resolve to stop being sick and tired.
Lifestyle upgrades: My lifestyle upgrade resolution is to buy a new desktop computer. I should have freaking done it last year, after I decided I didn’t want another laptop, but I’m such a tightwad that few forces on Earth can convince me to spend money on myself.
Do the Obvious: “Do the Obvious” is my thing, because as a divergent thinker one of my best skills is overcomplicating things without even realizing it. It means looking at something so commonplace, such a routine keystone habit, that even a stranger on the street could point it out within five minutes of meeting someone. This year it’s to schedule a time block for everything, every last single thing I want to be a part of my life. I’ll write more about this as I work it into practice. Basically it means I need to have an extra “power hour” every week for random tasks that don’t seem to fit into any other category. I also need to be more protective of my writing time.
Metrics: I track a lot of stuff. It’s what helped me figure out how to eliminate my migraines, for one thing. I track my hydration, I wear a fitness tracker, I record all the books I read, and I follow a budget. This year I’m going to try out gear to track my sleep metrics. I’m going to track specific HIIT exercises, because it will be funny to know how many burpees I do in a year. I’m going to track how many martial arts classes I attend, and I’m going to track how many speeches I give. A big one is that I’m going to track how many news articles I read, because that trend line should be going down. I’m also going to track my daily word count. A whole page of metrics! If I make a project of it I’m more likely to catch everything.
Quest: My quest this year is to pursue a Sleep Project and figure out how to get more and better-quality sleep. I’m enlisting the assistance of my husband, who is willing to apply astrophysics-level mathematical analysis to my metrics, just as he did to help me finally reach my goal weight.
Wish: My wish is to be signed by a literary agent. Did I just say that out loud?
Personal: Book proposal
Career: Distinguished Toastmaster
Physical: Hip openers
Home: Outdoor writing area
Couples: Meal prep
Stop Goal: Stop being sick and tired
Lifestyle Upgrades: New desktop computer
Do the Obvious: Schedule time blocks
Metrics: Sleep, fitness, reading, writing, speaking
Quest: Sleep Project
Wish: To be signed by a literary agent.
Read this book even if you have no particular curiosity around the practice of bullet journaling. Read The Bullet Journal Method, because it happens to be one of the greatest productivity books ever written. Ryder Carroll makes a truly compelling case for why Getting Organized can be so transformative for so many people, whether their struggles are with attention deficit, PTSD, or, memorably, talking to emergency medical responders while a child is having a seizure. This book has so much to offer that the artistic aspects are really just a side bonus.
I use a paper day planner with bullet journal techniques even though I also use a tablet and a smartphone. Writing longhand really does work to help focus, think clearly, and remember details. Another benefit that Carroll describes is differentiating between our memories of what happened and what actually happened; we may have positive memories of something negative and vice versa. Writing down accurate details can help us see the truth that a job or relationship isn’t going quite the way we thought it was. This is why a written journal is so instrumental in spotting patterns and deciphering mysterious health problems.
Part of the practice of bullet journaling is the daily reflection. Carroll points out that it’s better to spend even one minute a day on this, as long as it’s done every day, because that is more valuable than longer but more sporadic sessions. He says he usually spends 5-15 minutes per daily session, and I can back this up. With a clear system in place, it takes very little time to maintain. More, it becomes a pleasure, even a stolen thrill, rather than a chore. This is where the beautiful artwork and hand-lettering of so many BuJo aficionados begins, because it’s a treat we give ourselves.
Productivity is all about gamification, or how we choose the metrics that will measure our success. Carroll includes some very interesting ways to gamify goals, including the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. (Set some goals for five years, four months, three weeks, two days, and one hour). He also teaches Agile methods, Sprints, and the Five Whys, which transfer readily between the home and the workplace: my husband relies on this system as an aerospace engineer, and we use it in our marriage as well.
The examples of problem-solving that come up in The Bullet Journal Method say everything about how universally useful it is. Everything from how to plan a vacation to I CAN’T PAY RENT is in here somewhere. Carroll writes lucidly about self-compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, and all those catchphrases that seem so abstract, until we see how directly they apply to daily life. This is a remarkable book that far exceeds its remit, turning “productivity” into pure poetry about how to live life well, even amid the massive jumble of it all.
Few things are more distracting than the cruel stories we tell ourselves.
Often all it takes to live intentionally is to pause before you proceed.
If everything is a priority, nothing is.
Yes means work, it means sacrifice, it means investing time into one thing that you can no longer invest into another.
Productivity is about getting more done by working on fewer things.
This is a book about how to bring ideas into reality. Those of us who are great at coming up with inspired new ideas aren’t always quite so great at doing anything with them. We’re hooked on the fun part. Everything after ideation feels like work! Then we look up and find that we’re surrounded by unfinished projects, maybe with piles of notecards or materials or art supplies, and little else to show for the incredible gift of creativity. We need to ask ourselves, Good Idea. Now What?
Charles T. Lee is an entrepreneur, so this comes across as a business book. This might be off-putting to some artistic types, until we realize that once we start finishing larger-scale projects, they do start to intersect with the world of business. How do you show or publish your work? How do you get your projects into the hands of their natural audience? I happen to think that it is the duty of any artist to channel the work in a form that reaches people. It is selfish and unfair to hog our talents to ourselves. We don’t have to do it for money (although why is that wrong?), but what good is the work if it remains hidden and locked away?
Good Idea. Now What? covers everything. It covers everything from how to collaborate and handle criticism to how to structure your schedule and make time for your family. The book includes examples of people who have built businesses and philanthropic organizations; it could easily have included musicians, sculptors, writers, actors, cartoonists, and all the rest of us. Even poets. I’d love to see what happens when more artists and creatives start reading it and putting its ideas into practice.
Destiny is found in the collective result of the small, intentional decisions you make in life.
Too much is at stake to exert energy toward criticism.
If you’re going to fail, fail forward!
Don’t just settle for being a lover of inspirational ideas.
Our world needs you and will be a better place when your ideas come to life!
I did my second-ever meetup at WDS. Remember how I started forcing myself into public speaking two years ago because I was so petrified by stage fright that I could barely stand up to speak my name? I have to keep reminding myself how far I’ve come in such a short time, because I’m being eaten up by what Michelle Barry Franco so aptly calls a “vulnerability hangover.” This is why I’m sharing, because I suspect it’s a natural part of the emotional arc of learning to inhabit a stage presence.
Our Thursday was all about public speaking and storytelling. Our first academy of the day was “Make Instant Friends and Raving Fans” by the inimitable Marsha Shandur. We had the great luck of getting into her sold-out storytelling academy last year, because we were fast and decisive. Until they manage to generate an AI avatar so there can be two Marshas, or we can get her to bilocate, her raving fans are going to have to be pretty fast on that reservation button! Today’s topic was a matter of serious study for an awkwardly shy person like myself. My “dork goblin” isn’t a separate version of me, it simply IS me, only realizing I bumbled my opportunity for a conversation in retrospect. “Hi, you’re amazing, please allow me to tell you a completely pointless and boring anecdote about myself and then forget why I was telling you.” Hours fly by. I believe Marsha’s claims to have once been shy and awkward, although they do seem tenuous; if true, then maybe there is hope for us all.
We had a lunch break and came back to the same building for our afternoon academy, “Speak So It Matters” by Michelle Barry Franco. She is a highly accomplished speaker and captivating in her own distinct way. While Marsha’s focus is more on forming a personal, emotional connection through storytelling, Michelle’s is more on clarifying a message and using public speaking to get traction on it. She had specific tips on how to find an audience - like physically find them - and create your own public speaking career. We broke into groups, and my hubby and I were very fortunate to click with a pair of podcasters who each already have a clearly defined audience.
I walked out of that academy with half an hour to get to my own meetup, Wishing Permission, feeling excited and focused and empowered. It’s hard to believe for anyone who is physically overpowered by stage fright, but it is indeed possible to get over that stage fright and anticipate a speaking opportunity with excitement. It is! It does take time, because what’s involved is reframing, neurohacking that physical anxiety response, stress inoculation, simple practice, and learning specific, straightforward presentation skills. If you have something you want to say badly enough, and you can push through the first couple of months, you too can be free of stage fright.
I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve improved, it’s easier, it’s easier, it got better, because right now I’m still in that mopey, limp rag of a state that I get in after a presentation. Beforehand I’m so excited about everything I have to say. During, I just talk really fast. I was proud that I started exactly on time and ended on time, from 5:00 to 6:01. Good job, me!
Afterward I felt small, homely, useless, pointless, boring, wrong, confusing, drained, sagging from sleeping only four hours, and that surely any rational person would abandon any idea of ever doing that again.
Same exact thing that happened last year.
It’s like when an elephant seal has her pup, and the pup gains its weight by effectively consuming her accumulated body fat reserves, pound for pound, until it’s grown enough that she can go out to get some fish for herself. The speech comes out of me, depleting my life force, until I’m a pasty imitation sock puppet version of myself. Flopped over with its sock mouth hanging open derrrrrrrrp.
Then the feedback starts coming in. I had people who had attended my Curate Your Stuff meetup last year, who still remembered everything I had to say!
Then I got this: “...I’d love to talk to you more about this wish stuff, I feel like you’re really on to something.” AHA!
What I’m sharing is that when we have an idea, an invention, an innovation, or an artistic creation, it becomes an entity in its own right. It deserves to enter the world of reality. We are not able to judge our own work; we can’t possibly know where it will find its audience, or when. It doesn’t belong to us at that point. It belongs to the world. We can’t let emotional foo interfere with the creation of the work. My feeling that “I am a terrible public speaker, my ideas are ludicrous, I’m funny-looking and nobody wants me” is a direct reaction, a physical letdown from the adrenal buildup of anticipating the event. It’s very much like every marathoner who reaches the finish line and then never runs again. One day, with practice, this will just feel like an ordinary thing that I do, and I’ll be more skilled at recognizing the emotional ebb and flow. Until then, I have to keep reminding myself that if even one person benefits from my work, then I can’t not work.
Hey. HOW DARE YOU not give us your project? Who the heck do you think you are, to keep your ideas for private entertainment and not release them?
What both Marsha Shandur and Michelle Barry Franco had in common was that they both emphasize: they are not naturals at this. They worked at it. It was contrary to whatever they were doing up to that point. “Doing what comes naturally” was not going to lead either of them to a public speaking career; they got there by NOT doing what comes naturally. We can trust by their example that the path is there. We can respect that it takes years of steady effort. We can hold the line when every instinct in our bodies says to run away and quit doing it. We can believe that with dedication and focus, we can learn to captivate and get a message across. We just have to be willing to be dorky the first few tries.
This is the book to get if you’re curious about dot journaling. It’s really funny, for starters, and it did a brilliant job of explaining a topic that, as a neophyte, I found really confusing. What the heck is dot journaling? What does it do? Why should I try it? Rachel Wilkerson Miller answered every question I had, in the most engaging way imaginable. Dot Journaling is indeed a practical guide, one packed with full-color photos as well.
Let me explain something really embarrassing. I read this book and then set up a paper journal, even though I carry an iPad with a keyboard everywhere I go. And by everywhere, I mean that I eat breakfast and lunch with it, use it while I brush my teeth and do my hair, and sometimes even sleep with it in the bed. What would a dedicated technophile get out of a dot journal? Plenty, as it turns out.
What confused me about dot journaling, also known as bullet journaling, is that it is so customizable. When I first heard the term and realized that it was becoming a major trend, I did a bunch of image searches. I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing. The reason for that is that every individual diarist is using a highly personalized system. It’s an art, not a science. The rainbow-inked wild layouts and gorgeous penmanship are half the fun. There tends to be a feeling that non-fiction how-to books are no longer necessary, now that we have the internet, but this book is a beautiful example of why they will always have a role. This guide distills the essence of long study and practice into a simple, straightforward launching point for the total novice. It also appears to be quite the useful reference for more experienced practitioners of the craft.
There’s something about writing on paper that activates the mind differently than typing. I write 10-20 pages a day electronically, and people often express astonishment at my typing speed. Longhand still gets certain things done. I think there’s also a certain discipline in the focus on writing neatly. My mom used to write a to-do list every night before bed, and I learned from her how this habit can bring clarity and restore mental bandwidth.
The New Year is fast upon us. It’s a natural time of reflection and strategizing. Also gift-giving! Journaling is a really great keystone habit, something endlessly rewarding and deeply fascinating. Dot journaling is one way to make this habit approachable, creative, and fun. Dot Journaling - A Practical Guide is the perfect place to start.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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