I’ve spent the last two days reading, and beginning to implement, David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. My blogging family over at Book Riot mostly swears by it, and they’re the most productive people I know. When I was a student, my first mentor (the woman who gave me my first academic-ish job and set me on this path, for better or for worse) swore by it and even bought me a copy by way of encouragement to apply it to my own life. The most together people I know all swear by this system.
I have resisted.
Why? I don’t really know. Because I’ve always been proud of my ability to keep it all together on my own, I guess. But the wheels have been coming off the bus for a while, now, and I am spending way too much of my time in a panicked state. I survived the entire fall semester without using an agenda — that was stupid, and I don’t need to do that again ever — and missed my first deadline and slipped my first meeting ever in my life this year. Something had to give.
Because many of my friends have been dabbling with this system, I thought I’d post some initial thoughts on implementation. You’ll still need to read the book if you want to see what this is all about, but these are some early thoughts on how Getting Things Done is finding its way into my life.
The problem with GTD, and what has alienated me from its obviously good ideas in the past, is that it is written in business-speak, that kind of simultaneously clear but jargonized, aphorism-prone gobbledygook that makes me bored and crazy. So I’m going to avoid engaging with any of that here, and just try to outline what I understand. As Allen says, “Share anything of value you’ve gleaned from this with someone else. (It’s the fastest way to learn.)”
The premise of GTD is really simple: your brain is not the best place to keep stuff. Here’s something that resonated with me: say you need to put the turkey leftovers in the freezer. How many times do you think of it before you actually do it? Maybe when you open the fridge to get something; maybe again when you’re thinking up meals for the week; maybe again when you’re trying to focus on the book you’re reading. Your brain sucks at prioritizing, and it just keeps thinking about turkey until you do it. It’s a minor example, but how much energy did you waste thinking about the damned turkey?
Obviously, the solution is to put the turkey away the first time you think of it, but you can’t always do that. Your brain, again, sucks at prioritizing, so it might remind you about the turkey when you’re trying to complete something time sensitive or delicate, or when you’re falling asleep, or when you’re not even home. So you don’t do it, and your brain files it to remind you about later.
The GTD method is really about making sure you only think a thing once, deal with it, and move on. What if the first time you thought about putting the turkey away, you immediately made a note to yourself to do that, set a time when you could, and move on? If your brain trusts the system — if you understand it fully and adhere to it religiously — it doesn’t need to tell you about the turkey again, because the turkey no longer represents an un-dealt-with-thing.
So the first step is collecting all the shit you need to do — professional and personal, big and small — and put it in a pile for sorting. To do this, I’m using another resource the Book Riot folks swear by: OmniFocus (academics, be aware you can get an educational rate on OmniFocus by clicking here). OmniFocus lets you first dump everything you can think of — a process that can take an hour to really do thoroughly — and then assign Projects and Contexts, as well as due dates or deferral dates, to each one.
Projects are straightforward. I have a “project” for every class I’m teaching, for example, and for each site I write for. I also have projects for my Reading Week trip to Ontario, for Education Council matters, et cetera. Contexts took me a lot longer to figure out, but basically it’s the shit you need to do the thing. So, I have an “Email: Send” context for everything that needs to go out, an “Office” context for things I can only possibly do at the college, a “Writing Time” context for things that require sustained writing attention, and so on. I also have a context label for my Department Chair, for things I can’t address without her, and one for my writing partner.
Everything that goes on the list, though, has to be an action. Every time you need to move forward on a project, you need an action that you can actually complete. So “haircut” doesn’t go on the list: “call salon to book appointment” does.
And your email inbox isn’t a to-do list in this system. So either answer the email, or turn it into an actionable item and put it into OmniFocus. My email inbox is sitting at zero and there’s no reason for it not to stay that way with this system.
Also, this works in conjunction with a calendar, but only if you stop using a calendar aspirationally. I am VERY GUILTY of this. I book off “writing time” that I don’t use for writing time at all, for example. Everything that goes on the calendar needs to be concrete and immovable. This way, you trust the calendar as gospel.
So here’s where I’m at, resource-wise:
What I’ve realized is that (a) I have a shit-tonne to do before I’m ready for the semester to start on Monday, and (b) I’m totally comfortable with that knowledge because I know it’s all been systemically addressed and I’m not forgetting or missing anything. For the first time in ages, I don’t feel like there’s a whole ‘nother to-do list lurking around a corner somewhere. That is a very liberating feeling indeed. It’s hard to explain, but the 102 items in OmniFocus right now feel totally and completely under control.
When I was nine, Jian Ghomeshi was the first boy who ever kissed me.
That used to be the start of a super-cute story about my life-long love affair with the CBC and Canadian culture, and thanks to the events of last week it now sounds like a headline in the Toronto Star.
And it is a cute story, by the way. I was nine and my friends and I had gone with someone’s mom to see Moxy Früvous play outside in the amphitheatre at the National Gallery in Ottawa. It was a summer day and a great show, and afterwards we got our tapes (the pre-Bargainville self-titled debut tape) signed and our pictures taken, and the guys hugged us and Jian kissed me on the cheek. A happy day.
I had that picture for years. I don’t have that picture anymore.
Since then, I have followed Jian’s career (as well as Mike Ford’s, and Dave Matheson’s, and Murray Foster’s): I read all the Globe and Mail essays, listened to the solo tracks, watched the segments on The Hour, watched Play, and listened, avidly, to Q. And it was when Jian got to Q that I, like so many others, celebrated: his talent seemed to have finally stuck the landing. I was — still am — a devoted listener to the program.
When I was in grad school in Fredericton and Q came to town to cover the East Coast Music Awards, my friends and I waited in the cold to get into the Playhouse and watch him record the show. Joel Plaskett was there, and Wintersleep I think, and the whole thing was perfect; afterwards, we waited around to have our photo taken with him, and were generally star-struck (too star-struck to tell him the story about when I was nine, which I really regretted).
I had that picture for years, too. I don’t have that picture anymore.
Right up until Sunday afternoon, I would have described myself as a Jian Ghomeshi super fan. But as soon as the CBC broke the news, even before Jian’s Facebook post, I knew. I knew in the way you know you’ve just failed an exam, in the pit of your stomach, far below reason and sense. In the guts. In the viscera. I knew.
As a minor league book blogger, I am so tangentially related to Canadian arts and culture as to be a fruit fly in the bowl in the green room at the Giller Prize Gala, but even I had heard the rumours. That he was a bit of a sleaze, a bit of a womanizer. But then, I rationalized to myself, what media guy isn’t? I had never heard anything of the magnitude that has emerged in the last few days, but I’m struck by feeling complicit in the abuse of god-knows how many women.
That’s a bit insane. But then, is it? Jian Ghomeshi is incredibly talented — one of the most gifted interviewers in Canada, surely — and his status protected him from so much. But not just his status: his image. His image as a Good Guy. Because he goes on Q and says the right things about feminism and promotes female artists and says all the good, progressive things and we think, “He’s a Good Guy. He’s an ally. He’s one of us.” And because our image of what it means to be a good guy and an ally doesn’t include predation, sexual violence, and trauma.
Except guess what? It should. Guys who rape and strike and ignore withdrawn consent don’t wear the mark of Cain. They’re all around us: in our classrooms and our faculty meetings, on the bus and at the Starbucks, in the grocery store and at the movies. They are people who, in other facets of our lives, we call Good Guys. When we try to tell ourselves that these acts can only be perpetrated by monsters, we tell ourselves a comforting fiction.
Jian Ghomeshi is a Good Guy in Canadian arts and culture. Jian Ghomeshi is a violent predator. There is evidence in support of both these claims. These claims can both be true. And the reality is that we all just have to be uncomfortable with this; we can’t make these women’s claims disappear and we can’t erase Jian’s contributions to our cultural lives. And god, does it ever suck to not be able to square the circle.
I feel betrayed. Disappointed. Let down.
I feel desperately naive.
I feel foolish.
I feel like part of the problem.
The reality is (and this is also the tragedy) that Jian will be fine. Just like Sean Penn is fine and Woody Allen is fine and Roman Polanski is fine. And people will always say, “Well, we don’t know what happens behind closed doors.” And people will always say, “Why didn’t they go to the police?” And people will always say, “She’s just trying to get her fifteen minutes.”
And there will always be a group of people who hate women so much that it makes more sense to them that eight (or more) women would collude on a story of sexual violence for literally no benefit or gain — ladies, remember that time we all promised to bring down Jian Ghomeshi because reasons — than that one guy whose folk rock sounds they grooved to in the mid-nineties is also a violent sexual predator.
But we can choose not to be those people. We can choose to look at the facts and say, “It is reasonable to believe the women.” We can extend the presumption of innocence to alleged victims that we do to alleged perpetrators.
Some advice to Jian, in the words of Früvous:
Look straight at the coming disaster,
Realize what you’ve lost.
You keep handin’ out horseshoes,
Horseshoes have gotta be tossed.
(And it only took me to the end of October to remember to post.)
This summer has been completely insane. I actually managed to meet all my most important goals. I finished the collaborative book chapter early in the summer, wrote and revised another chapter mid-summer, and just recently finished a chapter for a third book project — and revisions for that one just came through and are pending.
Oh, yeah. And. Uh. I finished the book. It’s en route to peer review as we speak, and so far no one at the publisher has recoiled in horror, so that’s a pretty good plus I think.
All that’s left on my plate are the CFPs for this year’s Congress which are due soon. Very soon.
But once those are finished (tomorrow? later today?) the #summerofwriting will really be over. I have accomplished a lot this summer, and I’m proud of that. But. But. Whooo doggie, the cost. I am so far behind at everything at work (I had to grade all night last night, because I am the worst… ever…) and it’s hard to see when it will all be righted again. And I’m very tired.
When these things all start to emerge as real publications, this will all feel like it was worth it, right? Right?!
I’m so tired.
Hello. Hello! I know I am the worst at remembering to blog. But for once, I wasn’t avoiding blogging because I felt guilty about not writing. I was… wait for it… actually writing. Actually, actually writing.
Here were the original goals for the summer:
And here’s where I’m at:
All in all, I feel pretty good about how things are going with this #summerofwriting. Oh, and did I mention that the book is drafted? THE BOOK IS DRAFTED.
This week, I wrote a lot.
In fact, I wrote my two papers for Congress (and their attendant Keynote presentations); at 3000-odd words each, that’s 6000 words of productive academic prose this week. Finally covering some ground!
I’m away for the next two week, first at Congress and then in New York City for Book Expo America, so I don’t anticipate a lot of writing time. But I have packed an absolutely massive stack of articles to dig into so that I can start thinking about the next project in line: a book chapter due the first week of August.
And then. Of course. There’s the book.
But I’ll get there. Slooooooooooooooooooooowly.
You know. If I don’t get distracted by…
I really want to post about ALL THE WRITING I did this week, but I can’t. Because I got distracted.
But the whole point of blogging is accountability, right? And next week is a whole new week that I haven’t completely wasted yet. To be fair, I didn’t completely waste this one (I did well on the blogging front, submitting two posts to Book Riot and one to Food Riot, and I did write 600 words for one of my conference papers), but I do have to get my head in the game, pronto.
I seem to only resurrect this blog when I need public accountability about my writing, and then I hide from it the rest of the time… Hmm…
So today is May 1, and that’s the launch of my #summerofwriting. This is the first summer in a while that I’m not leading a field school to Wales, so I want to take full advantage of it. I’m trying to refocus myself from the phenomenal amount of energy I spend on pedagogy and service during the fall and winter semesters to really focus on my academic writing for the four months of summer. That’s the goal, anyway.
Actually, the goals are more concrete than that:
Which is a lot, I know. But I’ve broken it into weekly goals:
At the start of this term, I’m looking at having already written about 23,000 of the 60,000 words I need to complete my manuscript draft (that’s 23,000 of completed prose; I’m not counting notes, etc. in this total). So I have a long way to go and some other projects to get in my way. But the commitment is the hardest part, or has been for the last few years.
Today, I reread Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (for my CACLALS paper) and made a few pages of notes.
Just 844 words — an article review I had promised to do for today. Baby steps, babies. Baby steps.
So, you know, I only have to write 10,000 words tomorrow to meet my goal. Hahahahaahahaaha.
But! Guess what I realized? My first goal? To write 500 words per day? That one I met! Even if I wrote nothing tomorrow (and I have a good writing day planned, so I don’t anticipate I will write nothing tomorrow), I have written 518 words, on average, every day of November. That’s AWESOME. Compared to where I though I was when November started? Yeah, I’m smugly self-satisfied, goshdarnit.
I’ve had a really good day, just me and my MacBook and my Spider-Man snuggie. This is what grown up people look like when they work, right? And though I’ve had two good days — maybe because I’ve had two good days — I’m flipping tired, man. This is what I have to say about my work right now:
Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooh my god wake me up when November ends.
Funny story: every October 1 I delight myself by wondering aloud, “Did anyone remember to wake up the guy from Green Day?”)
I don’t think I will get a lot of writing done this week — I have a lot of assignments to mark and return before classes end on Friday — so I needed a productive day. (There’s basically no chance of my meeting my #AcWriMo goal. I’m okay with it.) And it was a good day. Today’s work:
Now. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to treat myself to decorating our apartment for Christmas. Because we’re one month to Christmas Eve, baby!
How do other people manage the grading bonanza that is November alongside #AcWriMo? Cuz I think I’m failing! There has been writing in these here hills, but not enough of it, really.
So there’s been:
So my original #AcWriMo goal would, it appears, be a little pipe-dreamy. But one has to try. And really, this process has taught me that I need to move the book to the front of my mind, which means I need to keep a word count goal around — something a lot more reasonable — once #AcWriMo wraps. I think 10,000 words / month on the book is a reasonable goal to hold myself to — that’s 2,500 each weekend even if that’s all I get to, which fits the pattern I’ve been on so far.
Someday I might blog about something other than the book…